Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Matthew 3:1-12

This passage occurs in the Advent season of the Revised Common Lectionary (Year A).
Summary: The great fun of this passage is that everything is happening all at once and then over and over again.  First, John commands the people to repent, but tells them to do this repeatedly.  Then, people are continually getting baptized while at the same time continually confessing.  The order of baptism-confession-repentance is not entirely clear.  Well, actually, it is clear:  They all happen at once.  Over and over again.  Does this mean baptism happens again and again?  I think the baptism of fire does happen again and again, even if the ritual only happens once in our lives.  What is not in question is that baptism, at least for John, is connected with repentance.

Key Words:

μετανοιετε ("repent"; 3:2).  This verb is in the present tense.  This is significant because it implies that the action ought to be on-going.  In other words, the action of repentance is not a one time event, but a life-time one.  Interestingly, this is the verse that begins the 95 thesis.  When Luther read a similar passage in Greek, he saw that the Latin had removed this continuous aspect of the Greek and said, "Hey!"  "When our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, said "Repent" he willed that the whole life is one of repentance." 

βαπτισμα ("baptism"; 3:7).  Originally, this word did not have religious meaning.  It simply meant to dip.  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

Try preaching that:  Baptism as a dip in poison; as a dip in dye; as a drawing of water from God; as finally, a sinking ship!

πνευμα ("spirit"; 3:11).  The word can mean "breath" as well.  What is worth noting, especially as we begin the year of readings from Matthew's Gospel, that the Holy Spirit plays an integral role in Matthew's Gospel.  It is not fair to simply say Luke is about the Spirit...In Matthew he is there too, connected with the birth of Jesus (1:18) and the command to make disciples (20:18). 

This word also shows up in this week's Isaiah text (11:2).  The "Spirit of the Lord" is upon me.  The NRSV, always trying to avoid the Trinity in the OT, makes it "spirit of the Lord."  Everyone else, of course, gets it right and makes it "Spirit of the Lord" if not "Lord's Spirit."

Grammar point: 
Greek and Hebrew punctuation.  Well, they're ain't much!  Especially in the earlier manuscripts when things were all capitals (in Greek).  Anyway, there is some and Mark does a little slight of hand here:
"A voice cries in the wilderness:  "Prepare the way of the Lord."  The Hebrew more accurately reads:
"A voice cries, "In the wilderness, prepare the way of the Lord."  Ie, get ready to go back from exile on the road through the wilderness.  Mark and Matthew take the verse and give it new meaning!  A reminder of the freedom that the Spirit gives us to interpret the Word for our context.  Or maybe a warning too!

Verse Translation:
Matthew 3:6 και εβαπτιζοντο εν τω Ιορδανη ποταμω υπ αυτου εξομολογομενοι τας ἀμαρτιας αυτων

Sometimes, before you divide and conquer, just try reading the sentence by sticking in vocab you know and see where you get. When it comes to this verse, if you know a bit of Greek, you should be able to get: 

And baptize in the Jordan under/by/of him ?? the sins of them

Let's save that nasty participle and look at the first half of the sentence (ie, now divide)

και εβαπτιζοντο εν τω Ιορδανη ποταμω υπ αυτου

The key to translation here is to recognize that baptize is a passive voice verb.  This allows you to make sense of "υπ αυτου" which is how Greek tells you who did the action in passive voice:

"And baptized in the river Jordan by him." 

Now we nail down our verb a bit more:  imperfect, 3rd person:

"And they were continuously being baptized in the river Jordan by him."

So, now onto:  εξομολογομενοι τας ἀμαρτιας αυτων

 τας ἀμαρτιας αυτων should be clear:  Their sins or the sins of them.

However, the participle is a mess here.  It turns out it means "confess"  It is a middle present participle.  Hmm...middle means you can translate it as active.
So:  "confessing their sins."

What is the connection of this clause to the rest of the clause?  Well, the participle is a circumstantial participle...but what circumstances?  Well, the key here is the tense.  It is present tense.  That means the action is on-going.  However, the main verb is in the imperfect.  So does this mean the baptizing happened before the confessing?  No!  The present tense of the participle means that this action happens at the SAME time as the main verb.  In other words, the people did not baptize and then confess; or vice verse.  What is means is that while they were being baptized, they simultaneously were confessing.  So we get:

"And they were continuously being baptized in the river Jordan by him, while they were confessing their sins."

In the wilderness of life, our baptism and confession...and repentance are all related.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Luke 23:33-43

This passage occurs on Christ the King Sunday in the Revised Common Lectionary (Year C).
There is an ambiguity in the Greek this week.  Do those mocking Jesus disbelieve he is king or, knowing this, misunderstand what this means?  I think the world has often suffered, not simply because we deny Jesus' his title, but because we misunderstand what it means for him to be king.  This passage offers great contrasts between Jesus' rule (or even economy) and that of Rome (and the world):  Jesus willingness to die and forgive.  A smaller detail also offers a large contrast:  Jesus earlier had commanded his disciples to divide the bread during communion; here the soldiers divide his garments.  The world divides the spoils; Jesus shares the wealth. 

Key Words
σταυρόω (23:33; 'crucify')  As scholar Martin Hengel writes, “Death on the cross was the penalty for slaves, as everyone knew; as such it symbolized extreme humiliation, shame and torture.”  People wear crosses around the necks and jewelry today.  Not so in Jesus' day.

διαμερίζω  (23:34; see also 22:17, "divide")  The soldiers divide Jesus garments by lot.  Interesting, a scene early in the passion Jesus has the disciples divides the bread.  Quite a contrast between the kingdom of Rome and the Kingdom of Jesus!

χριστος (23:35,39, "Christ" or "Anointed.")  This word is from the Hebrew: "Messiah," which means anointed.  Worth pointing out is that Jesus has been called the Christ before.  First, by angels (2:11), then by Peter (4:41) and perhaps one could argue, by the penitent thief.

σωσάτω εαυτόν (23:25, 37 and 39, "Save yourself")  This is clear in the English, but worth pointing out.  Three times Jesus is commanded to save himself (or "save yourself).  Jesus was tempted three times in the wilderness.  At the end he is tempted three times as well.  This reveals the real purpose of the original temptations -- to avoid Jesus dying on the cross.  The kings of this world save themselves.  Jesus saves others.  (It also brings up an interesting question:  Could Jesus have saved himself at that point?  I believe the questions suggest he could of, but until the end, suffered willingly).

βασιλεύς (23:38; "King")  As BDAG puts it, "one who rules as possessor of the highest office in a political realm."  This doesn't mean mayor.  King.  In Athens, he had charge of the public worship and the conduct of criminal processes.

Grammar Review:  εἰ
Once again we come to the lovely word "εἰ."  This can mean "if" or "since."  The correct translation depends on context but especially on the mood of the verb.  If the verb is in the subjunctive, "εἰ" should most likely be translated "if."  If the verb is in the indicative mode, then "εἰ" should be translated as "since."  In this particular passage, the verbs are indicative, so perhaps we should go with "Since you are the son of God."  Perhaps it makes little difference, but the translation begs a question:  Are the passers-by, the soldiers and even the thief wrong about him being the son of God; or are they wrong about what it means to be the son of God.  If you translate εἰ as "if" then you are arguing they don't know that he is the son of God.  If you translate εἰ as "since" then you are arguing that they know he is the son of God, they just don't have a clue what this means for the world.  I think the later translation probably makes us more uncomfortable and hence why we go with the grammatically incorrect (or at least less correct) "If you are the son of God..."

Sentence Translation. 23:33
καὶ ὀτι ἠλθον ἐπὶ τὸν τόπον τὸν καλούμενον Κρανίον, ἐκει ἐσταύρωσαν αὐτὸν καὶ τοὺς κακούργους, ὀν μὲν εκ δεξιων, ὀν δὲ εξ ἀριστερων

(NRSV) When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left.

I picked this sentence because its not that hard in the Greek, but you need to know a trick or two to get through it.

First task, as always is to divide the sentence in to smaller pieces.  Use the commas:
1) καὶ ὀτε ἠλθον ἐπὶ τὸν τόπον τὸν καλούμενον  Κρανίον
2)  ἐκει ἐσταύρωσαν αὐτὸν καὶ τοὺς κακούργους
3)  ὀν μὲν εκ δεξιων
4)  ὀν δὲ εξ ἀριστερων

Looking at section 1: First, look for a verb.  Ah!  Notice the nice verb: ἠλθον.  This normal, nice looking aorist verb tells you two things -- one, you have a relatively straight-forward part of the sentence here and two, the subject of your sentence is I or they.  Remember, Greek can bury the subject in the verb.

Fill in what you know:  "And when they upon the place the "something-ugly" Kranion."

The "something ugly" is an adjective participle.  Easy to translate; easy to recognize.  Notice the pattern:  the +noun+ the + participle:  τὸν τόπον τὸν καλούμενον

The formula is "the noun who/which does the verb of the participle."
Or in this case, "The place which calls Kranion."
You also need to recognize (perhaps again through software) that it is a passive participle.  You should be able to figure this out on your own...know how?  Hint:  μεν
So you fix for the passive voice:
"The place which is called Kranion."  Kranion, or Cranion, means skull.  So we fix this up:
The place which is called "Skull"

"And then they came to the place which is called "Skull"

2)  ἐκει ἐσταύρωσαν αὐτὸν καὶ τοὺς κακούργους

Again, find the verb.  Notice again, its a nice verb:  ἐσταύρωσαν   Long, but not too bad...classic aorist.  Adds an "ε" in the beginning and "σ" toward the end.  Also tells you the subject:  "They"

So another basic sentence with a little twist:  "Here they cruficified him and the-something or other"

Here we have the "substantive" participle.  Easiest in the book to translate.  Formula is:  "the+participle" and transaltes, "The one/ones who/which verb"  In this case:  "The ones who do bad things."

So we put it all back together:  "Here they cruficified him and the others who did bad things."

3) ὀν μὲν εκ δεξιων

4) ὀν δὲ εξ ἀριστερων

A little hint:  μὲν and  δὲ is a parallel structure hint:  "on the one hand...and on the other." 

To translate ὀν you should put in "who."  "who on the one hand of his left, who on the other hand of his left."
In fact, since ὀν is accusative, this should be"  "whom on one hand..."  But this is all too confusing and we let the words we've heard most of our life suffice:  "one on his left and the other on his right."

Two questions for you:  why is ὀν in the accusative?   (Because the sentence is describing the two bad guys.  The bad guys were in the accusative and so the writer is letting you know he is still talking about them by keeping things in the same case.)

And why is it εξ instead of εκ before ἀριστερων?  Because the Greeks like a harder sound before words that begin with vowels.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Luke 21:5-19

This passage occurs in the Revised Common Lectionary in Year C, most recently November 2019.
Summary:  The translators do a good job in this passage of not "covering up" the intensity of Jesus words.  As I played around in the Greek, I found a number of odd parallels between this passage and the resurrection account in Luke 24.  First, both this story and the resurrection story are haunting.  Here Jesus warns the people not to be terrified (πτοέω).  When his disciples encounter Jesus after the resurrection, they will be terrified.  Next, Jesus warns of the listeners they will be betrayed (παραδίδωμι); after the resurrection, the disciples will hear the angels announce that it was necessary for Jesus to be betrayed.  Finally, Jesus tells them about their future witness (μαρτύριον); after the resurrection, Jesus will send them out to be his witnesses to the world. 

These are loose parallels, I admit.  The basic point of the passage is that witnessing to Christ is connected with our suffering and finally, our own resurrection.  I would argue, both from the text and theologically, however, that witnessing to Christ finally is grounded in the suffering and resurrection of Jesus.

Theological curve ball, completely unrelated to the Greek:  This week Jesus promises to give words; in Mark's account, the Holy Spirit will give the words!

Key Words:
μαρτύριον ('witness'; 21:13; see also 24:48)  Originally this word simply meant "testimony."  Because so many Christians gave their life as a martyr, however, the word eventually came to mean one who would die for a cause; ie, their willingness to die became their witness.  Jesus, after the resurrection will say, "You will be my witnesses." (Again in Acts 1:8)

πτοέω ('terrified'; 21.9; 24.37)  This word means terrified; the only other appearance of this word in the New Testament is used in Luke 24 to describe the reaction of the disciples to the risen Christ, who they believe is a ghost.

παραδίδωμι ('hand over'; 21.12; 16)  A very common word in the NT (roughly 100 times!)  Jesus ministry in the Gospel of Mark, for example, begins with the handing over (or betrayal) of John the Baptist.  Interesting to point out here is that this word will also appear in the resurrection accounts -- from the angels and then from Cleopas.
- Oddly enough, sometimes handing things over can be good -- Paul, for example, says he is simply handing over the words of institution (11:23) and the core kyrgma (15:3).

ὐπομονή ('endurance'; 21.19)  Although rare in the Gospels, the epistles in the NT are filled with calls for endurance!  6x in Romans; 7x in Revelation.  The word means to endure and is often connected with suffering.  See Romans 5:3:  "Suffering produces endurance (NRSV)"

κτάομαι ('acquire'; 21.19)  This word appears rather infrequently in the NT.  One example is from Acts, where an official mentions he acquired his citizenship for a large amount of money (22.28).  This word does not mean hold but means acquire.

Grammar Review:  Non-necessity of an implied subject (its easier than it sounds)
In Greek, because you conjugate the verb based on who is the subject, you don't always need to list the subject.  For instance:  "λεγω" tells you both the action (speaking) and the subject (I).  Normally, in fact, Greek doesn't explicitly say the subject, but the reader/listener figures it out from the conjugated verb. 
Sometimes though Greek will leave in the non-necessary subject for emphasis.  This is true in a particular expression:  "I am" or "εγω ειμι."  This particular expression is often used as a name of God -- the one who is!  A handful of times Jesus will use this in the Gospels, most pointedly in John.  In this particular passage, Jesus says that many will come and that "I am," using two words, the subject and verb.  Again, the subject is unnecessary.  So why the emphasis?  First, because anyone declaring they are the messiah would probably want to emphasize the fact that they were indeed the Messiah.  Secondly, someone could employ this construction to indicate, in short hand, that they are God.

What is really worth pointing out is that only once will Jesus use these words for himself in the Gospel of Luke.  After the resurrection he stands in the midst of his disciples and say, "εγω ειμι."  (24.39)  A reminder that its not only in John that Jesus uses such expressions!

Sentence Translation: 21:9
οταν δε ακουσητε πολεμους και ακαταστατιας, μη πτοηθητε; δει γαρ ταυτα γενεσθαι προτον, αλλ ουκ ευθεως το τελος

First step, as always, is to break down the sentence into smaller parts.  Let the punctuation help you here.
1) οταν δε ακουσητε πολεμους και ακαταστατιας
2) , μη πτοηθητε;
3)  δει γαρ ταυτα γενεσθαι προτον
4) , αλλ ουκ ευθεως το τελος

Now you've got four fragments, each of which is really translatable
1) οταν δε ακουσητε πολεμους και ακαταστατιας

First step to translating a clause is to figure out its subject-verb.  Here this is ακουσητε , which is conjugated (thanks Bible Works) for a 2nd person plural.  But you knew that anyway, right ;-) 

The basic of the sentence is then:  You hear

- Do you know yet why the verb is in the subjunctive mood?

πολεμους και ακαταστατιας is the object:  wars and destruction.  Its in the accusative case telling you its the object of the action.  So in proto-english:
You hear wars and destruction
You gotta add in the "of" because in English the verb "hear" needs this
You hear of wars and destruction

Now lets go back (skip the de) and figure out this conjunction οταν.  Actually, pretty straight-forward again.  It means "when" or "whenever."  It also demands the subjunctive mood of the verb. 

Clause 1:  "Whenever you hear of wars and destruction."
2) , μη πτοηθητε;

Translation:  Do not be terrified.  Worth noting here.  Simple aorist subjunctive regarding a future event/action we are not to engage in ;-)  Normally in the Bible, the words "do not fear" are in the present (and not aorist) tense, suggesting that the person who hears them is currently fearing.  The aorist subjunctive doesn't assume the person currently engages in such actions!

Clause 2:  Do not be (or perhaps even become) terrified.

3) δει γαρ ταυτα γενεσθαι προτον

When you see a dei clause, look for a verb in the infinitive.  In this case - γενεσθαι.  So we know that the basic translation of this passage will be :  "It is necessary to happen/be/occur."  Once you know you are in an infinitive clause, then find your subject, which will be in the accusative case. 

Agh!  There are two things in the accustative:  ταυτα and προτον.  Well, it turns out that Greek likes to stick neuter accustative adjectives in there as adverbs -- προτον (first) in this case.  So you get "It is necessary for these (things) to happen first."  But even if you didn't know about first functioning as an adverb, "It is necessary for first to happen this" doesn't work.  Add back in the "gar" and you get:

Clause 3 "For it is necessary for these things to happen first."

4) , αλλ ουκ ευθεως το τελος

"But not immediately the end."  If we recall from last week, sometimes Greek drops the "to be" verb.  So we can get:  "But the end is not immediately."  Or perhaps better: "But the end will not happen immediately."  It is not so hard to conceptually figure out what the Greek means, but its kind of awkward English.

Clause 4:  "But the end will not happen immediately."

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Luke 6:20-31 (Luke 6:17-26)

This passage occurs in Revised Common Lectionary for All Saints Sunday in year C, most recently November 2019.  A similar passage, Luke 6:17-26, also occurs in the RCL, year C, Epiphany, most recently February 17, 2019.

You don’t need Greek to catch the big picture here: Jesus is turning the world upside down and is, well, happy about it!  The Greek helps us wrestle with the thornier issues of 
WHO are blessed;
WHEN are they blessed;
& WHAT does this blessing look like?

The Greek doesn’t change the radical nature of the passage but rather invites us into the rugged yet rejoicing terrain of Jesus’ thought.  My most radical thought, the poor are blessed because we, who hear God’s Word, have the kingdom from God to give away to them!

A Warm up:

επαρας (from επαιρω, meaning "lift up", 6:20).  Jesus did not simply look up, but he lifted his eyes into them. Luke begins this passage with emotional intensity!

Key Words:

μακάριος (‘blessed’ or ‘happy’: 6:20; 21; 22): The theological Lexicon of the New Testament (Spicq) helps us understand the striking nature of Jesus' use of this word.  After a long summary of the Greek understanding of what it means to be blessed (pretty much what average Americans think), the Lexicon finally reviews Jesus' words: “It is impossible to insist too strongly on the meaning of this μακάριος …This is much more than contentment; it is an interior joy that becomes external, elation translated into shouts, songs, and acclamation. …Secondly, the new faith implies a reversal of all human values; happiness is no longer attached to wealth, to having enough, to a good reputation, power, possessions of the goods of this world, but to poverty alone.”

οι πτωχοι ("the poor", 6:20).  Blessed are the poor. The Bible does not say, “Blessed are you who are poor.” It simply says, “Blessed are the poor.” I prefer talking about people as individuals first and adjectives second (the people who are poor vs the poor).  But it brings up the question here -- is Jesus talking about the individuals who are poor or the whole group?
πλουσίος (‘rich’; 6:24): Luke uses this word more times than the rest of the Gospels combined. Generally, Luke has a fairly negative attitude toward the rich, however, it would be unfair to say that Luke, or therefore Jesus, simply criticizes them. Zacchaeus, for example, is rich; Jesus comes to his house!

οὐρανος (‘heaven’: 6:23): It might be tempting to think of heaven as a “state of being” rather than a place. However, in Luke’s Gospel, heaven is not simply a relationship or a state of the world, but a place. Luke uses the word 35 times, almost exclusively to refer to the dwelling place of God, and in a very concrete way, namely, the space above us.  According to Luke, Jesus is not saying:  Well, you will be poor but you will have me. Jesus is saying, you are suffering now but have a reward (μισθός) in heaven. But we will return to this point!

μισθός (‘wages’ or ‘reward’: 6:23 also 6:35). This word literally means pay, as in a worker receives his pay for a day’s work (Luke 10:7; Matthew 20:8).

A Classic Theological Translation Problem  

η βασιλεια του θεου (6:20)

η βασιλεια του θεου: “Kingdom of God” is tricky. The genitive case has a lot of possibilities. In English this ambiguity is preserved because the word “of” is ambiguous too. A few examples of possible translations:

a) “Kingdom belonging to God” (The house of my family)

b) “Kingdom from God” (Sound of water drops)

c) “Kingdom done by God” (Singing of a choir)

d) “Kingdom for God” (Love of money)

e) “Kingdom consisting of God” (as in “bag of money)

So, which is the right one?  First, we can leave it ambiguous, as almost every translator does:  “Blessed are the poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.”

But we could translate a bit more boldly:  “Blessed are the poor, for yours is the kingdom from God.”

In other words, the poor are blessed because we, who hear God’s Word, have the kingdom from God to give away to them!

Missing word:  'To Be'
In Greek, as in Hebrew, a sentence can occasionally lack a verb. For example, Psalm 25:8 is translated as, “Good and upright is the LORD.”  The Hebrew simply reads "Good-upright LORD."  Admittedly, Hebrew always seems to be missing words the English reader longs for. However, here Hebrew is simply putting the adjectives (good and upright) in predicate form. This is how grammar people, whose addiction to Latin is scary, describe the placement of the word “brown” in: “The cow is brown” instead of “The brown cow.” The point is that the author is saying that the rest of the stuff in the sentence (like in Psalm 25: Good and upright) describes the subject (God). Because of the rules of Hebrew, you don’t have to use a verb when you do this. You let the reader do the work.

Greek does this less frequently (far less frequently) but on occasion it still happens. In verse 6:23 we have such a construction:ιδου γαρ ο μισθος υηων πολυς εν τω ουρανω
or literally “Behold for your wages great in heaven.” A predicate adjective, meaning, the phrase “great in heaven” describes the wages (even though we lack the verb "is" or "will" or any form of "to be").

So has our grammar helped us derive meaning? Well, maybe. The point is that the wages are great and are in heaven. We know then, the WHAT (great) and the WHERE (in heaven). The question then is WHEN do we get them! The sentence grammar suggests they are in existence now.  But do we have access to them?

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Luke 18:9-14

This passage occurs in the Revised Common Lectionary, Year C, most recently October 2019.

Note:  In 2019, this passage occurs on the same Sunday as Reformation Sunday (traditionally commemorated the last Sunday in October).  Many choose to preach that Sunday on the 'classic' Reformation texts, including John 8. However, I offer the Reformation themes of justification, forgiveness, atonement, sinner-saint, law and Gospel are all present here!


This is a small passage, but loaded with meaning! A little thing worth pointing out: The worshipers go up to worship and come back down. A reminder that worship isn't just like every other experience. We come into the presence of the living God. Like the tax-collector in this passage and Isaiah before him, this demands our confession!

Key words:
αναβαινω (go up; 18:10) and καταβαινω (go down; 18:14); It is a small note, but it is interesting that the worshipers go up to worship and come down into their homes. Luke does not seem to use the language often (Jesus does go up into the mountain to pray in Luke 9:28) but this seems like something worth mentioning in our casual culture -- even the sinners must go up to worship.

τελονως (tax-collector; 18:10,11,13): The word tax-collector is used almost exclusively in the same breath as sinners. Tax-collectors (publicanus in Latin) were notorious for taking more than their fair share.  I've read more recently that tax-collectors though lived a terrible life in that they were always under fire from above to collect more; the people hated and despised them.  In short, they were lonely folks.

εξουθενεω (despise; 18:9): This word is not just reserved for tax-collectors, but Christians run into this problem...(See Rom. 14:3, 10; 1 Cor. 1:28; 6:4; 16:11; 2 Cor. 10:10)

δικαιοω (justify; 18:14): Lovely word for us Lutherans (and all Christians). A reminder, God justifies. Never used in the active sense correctly; by this I mean that in the Bible and in real life, we can try to justify ourselves, but finally, only God makes right. Even in James, when works do the making right, the person is still only passively justified! (See James 2:21-25). (There are times when the verb appears in the active voice; but this normally occurs when God speaking or the people asking for God to bring justice).

κτωμαι (κταομαι; 18:12):  The word here means to earn.  The person is attributing their success to themselves!

ιλασκομαι (have mercy on; Luke 18:13). A rare word in the NT; only mentioned as verb in Hebrews 2:17. This word and its cousins are always a matter of intense debate: How do we translate the concept of appease/expiate for sins? What does Paul means by this in Romans 3:25??

What is interesting here is that the person does not offer a sacrifice of bulls (see Deut 21.8) or any animal following Old Testament codes, but simply a broken and contrite heart, recalling Psalm 51.  This person is appealing to the mercy of God without any other mediator than his own confession.  Which Jesus declares acceptable.

This would then bring up the preacher's dilemma.  How can we help people arrive at a point of having a broken and contrite heart, a point of recognizing their deep and utter need for God?  This requires preaching the Law!  However, this must be done with skill so that it does not simply remain an objective criteria for a good sermon (did you preach the law?) but becomes the internal monologue of the hearer (I have fallen short).  However, this must move finally toward the Gospel and the person must still have space and be in a place to hear the good news.  In short, preaching a sermon in which the sinner is put to death and the new creation arises is not as easy as it sounds...the more one tries it, in fact, the more one realizes that it is a work of the Spirit and not our own!

τω αμαρτωλω (sinner, 18:13)  The word here for sinner includes the article:  THE sinner.  He is not just a sinner, but THE sinner!

υψοω (exalt; 18:14) The word here, interestingly, is used in Luke 1:52; God promises to exalt the humble! (And again in Luke 14:11, an almost copy of 18:14). Luke uses this word in an adjective form (exalted) quite frequently to refer to God.

Grammar review: Substantive participles

These are the easiest participles to translate. You get definite article+participle.

Easy formula:

The one/ones who do X.

The only thing that can trip you up is that occasionally you will get other words around them and in between them like: "de" or "pas" (all).

So: o δε ακουσας (Luke 18:23) is simply
The one who listens.

Verse analysis:
Luke 18:14 λεγω υμιν κατεβη ουτος δεδικαιωμενος εις τον οικον αυτου παρ' εκεινον οτι πας ο υψων εαυτον ταπεινωθησεται, ο δε ταπεινων εαυτον υψωθησεται
NRS Luke 18:14 I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted."

See also Luke 14:11 for the almost same sentence!
First step is to divide this sentence into three parts:

1) λεγω υμιν
2)  κατεβη ουτος δεδικαιωμενος εις τον οικον αυτου παρ' εκεινον
3) οτι πας ο υψων εαυτον ταπεινωθησεται, ο δε ταπεινων εαυτον υψωθησεται

How did I decide on this breakdown? Well, the comma and dot (semicolon essentially) suggest this. οτι (hoti) is a conjunction that also tells you as a reader that a new clause is starting

1) λεγω υμιν: Simple interjection -- I am saying to you.

2) κατεβη ουτος δεδικαιωμενος εις τον οικον αυτου παρ' εκεινον -- this is a big one, so let's break this down. Take the low hanging fruit first:

εις τον οικον αυτου: Into his house. εις takes the accusative case; αυτουis genitive to describe the relationship of the house to the man. Simply translate with "of" as in "into the house of him." Or more elegantly, "into his house"

παρ' εκεινον:
note:  I had translated this small phrase incorrectly.  Here are my revised comments:
The word "para" can mean "alongside of."  Some have then pushed this phrase (including NT scholar Amy Jill-Levine) to argue for the translation, "Justified, he went into his house along with the other one" arguing that the justification to which Jesus refers is given to both the pharisee and the publican.  I'd like to argue this is not the best translation, but rather "as opposed to the other one" as it is usually translated, is the preferred translation.

First, in terms of textual criticisms, there are a few different traditions in the manuscripts regarding this passage.  The other variants add in (or replace para with) η meaning "rather."  If you have a variety of manuscripts, it seems more logical, at least to me, that people would replace words with synonyms, than words that would signify an entirely different ending to the parable.

Second, grammatically para in the accusative suggests a parallel position --  an "adjacent comparison of reference" in the words of my-becoming-friend Matthew Frost.  Any time you have para+accusative in the New Testament, para refers to someone living along a water body or it refers to something in opposition to something else.  I.e., comparison is the function of the preposition in the New Testament when used with the accusative.

Third, prepositions are hard to nail let's even say we agreed that the changes from παρα to η were cover-ups of the uncomfortable nature of the story...and that this should mean "along with."  At this point, para ekeinon appears after the prepositional phrase "into his house" and not "justified" suggesting that this phrase would be modifying with "into the house" or functioning as an adverb for the main verb (went down.)  In short, at best, you could argue that the man walked along with each other.  But this seems really counter intuitive to the story.

Fourth, the whole context -- the whole story -- is one of contrast.  It seems entirely out of character to sandwich a moment of cooperation and grace in a story of over exaggerated contrast with a conclusion that says the outcomes are different for these different groups of people (the humble and the exalted).

Now...can you talk about how the pharisee is justified by grace and that in the Kingdom of God, both walk along side each other.  Yes.   But this is not a grammatical possibility for this story, although theologically always a a possibility!

Okay, so now you've got: κατεβη ουτος δεδικαιωμενος into his house as opposed to the other one.

The κατεβη is the east part: Simple means he/she/it went down, which makes sense because you have "into his house" and also, earlier the Greek says they went up to worship (vs 9).

The ουτος is a bit trickier because you don't see it that much. It simply means this/that. If Jesus had used "autos" it would have simply read: "He went down" By using ουτος Jesus can say, "This very one" adding a bit of emphasis.

Now you've got: "This very one went down into his house from there." You can officially tackle the participle! Which in this case means "being made righteous," or "being justified." A circumstantial participle to boot...So he did all of this going down under the circumstance of being justified.

So, let's put this all together: "This very one, having been made righteous, went down into this house unlike the other one.

Now we come to the last part of the sentence:
3) οτι πας ο υψων εαυτον ταπεινωθησεται, ο δε ταπεινων εαυτον υψωθησεται

Basically you have a little parallel going here:

substantive participle+infinitive; substantive participle + infinitive

So you get, "all who do X, then Y; all who do Y, then X."

(See above for substantive participle translation)

All who exalt themselves will be humbled; all who humble themselves will be exalted.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Luke 18:1-8

This passage occurs in the Revised Common Lectionary Year C, most recently in October 2019
This parable does not simply commend us or even command us to pray; rather it humbles into prayer. The Greek used indicates Jesus told them this parable to make it necessary for them to pray. The particular construction and use of the word "necessity" do not suggest a teaching moment, but a transformation one, where people are humbled into prayer. What kind of God would compare himself to an unjust judge, who only gives in when brow-beaten? Furthermore, the particulars of the grammar -- the inclusion of the word "they" -- reveal this is not simply about the need for prayer in the abstract, but this parable is intended for us who hear it that we would pray.

The preaching task then is not simply to teach about prayer but fill the peoples hearts (and guts) with a hunger for prayer.  For those preaching with the Revised Common Lectionary, this passage is paired with Jacob wrestling with God, perhaps the example of God making it necessary for someone to pray.

Key Words
δει: (It is necessary; 18.1). The translations suggest Jesus used this parable to 'show' people they should pray. Actually, the word in Greek carries more force then should; It is used, for example, when Jesus says, "it is necessary for the son of man to die." Furthermore, the word "show" is never used. Luke (in the Greek) does not say this parable shows them why prayer is necessary but the parable makes prayer necessary! See below for more on the construction.

εκδικεω (revenge, 18.3;5) This word is hardly used in the NT; it does not simply mean justice, but really vengeance (as in Romans 12:10; Vengeance is mine.")

υπωτιαζω (wear out or beat; 18:5) This word does not simply mean annoy or wear down, but means to give a black eye. Paul talks in 1 Cor 9:27 about beating his body (and not punching the air).

μακροθυμια (delay, 18:7). This word does not really mean delay. It means be patient (as in love is patient, 1 Cor 13:4). It seems that the verse ought to be translated, "Will God not be patient?" This is really strange because patience is one of the key characteristics about God.  Jesus really seems to be pushing his point here.  In the abstract, God is patient, but in our prayer life God becomes something more immediate and involved.

Grammar point
See sentence review about articular infinitives. Read this and then try 18:5, the first five words. Hint: δια here means "because."
Also 18:4 is a great example of an "ει" clause where "ει" means "since" and not "if"

Sentence review
NRS Luke 18:1 Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart.
18:1 ελεγεν δε παραβολην αυτοις προς το δειν παντοτε προσευχεσθαι αυτους και μη εγκακειν

ελεγεν δε παραβολην αυτοις : "Then he was telling them a parable." The four words here are all learned in the first few weeks of Greek: λεγω, to speak; δε, and; παραβολη, parable; αυτος, he/she/it. However, you've got to work a bit to put then together. Let's start with "δε." You can ignore this, or add a "then/when/and" to connect this sentence to the previous one. The next word to look at is "παραβολην." Easy enough -- you just have to realize that in Greek, they rarely ever include an indefinite article (τις) and so you have to add "a" before the word.

"λεγω" is simply to speak, but because it is in the imperfect (parsing review: why not aorist or future?), you have to give a little bit of umph here: "Was continually telling...", something that reflects the on-going nature of the action. Finally you go to "αυτοις ." This is "he" in the plural dative. First, make it plural: "they" now dative: "to/with/for/through them." Put this all together and you get: Then he was telling them a parable.

προς το δειν παντοτε προσευχεσθαι αυτους: "so they would need to pray all the time." The παντοτε is the easy part; simply an adverb meaning always or at all times The tricky part is the "articular infinitive with preposition." In this case, "προς το δειν." Pros means toward; when used in an articular infinitive, it shows purpose or reason. The purpose of the parable then, is the necessity of prayer. The parable is not really "to show them it is necessary" but really, "so that they would need to pray."  More tricky here, the verb "dei" requires another verb (it is necessary to do something), which in this case is "pray" (προσευχεσθαι ). So you get: "for the reason of being necessary to pray." The αυτους is simply here an accusative form of autos, or "they." Because its part of an infinitive clause, it behaves not as an accusative, but as a nominative, namely, the subject. This might not seem like much, but by adding this word it moves it from "the necessity of prayer" to "the necessity of them praying."

και μη εγκακειν: "Not be discouraged." The μη is the Greek "no" for non-indicative moods. What does that mean? Well, if the sentence is "I do not go to the store" the 'no' in Greek would be "ουκ." However, if you have a command or an infinitive or a participle, you get "μη " In this case, the word discouraged is connected with the verb, "δει" or it is necessary. You know this because it is an infinitive and not an imperative (a command). So the parable is also for the purpose of them not losing heart.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Luke 17:11-19

This passage is found in the Revised Common Lectionary, Year C, most recently October 13, 2019.
This week has just about every key theological word: glory, salvation, Eucharist, healing, mercy. The word I want to draw you attention to, however, is "πιπτω," or fall. The man literally falls on his face to give God thanks. When was the last time you were not simply knocked to your knees, but you actually fell flat on your face in thanksgiving -- got so low to the ground you could smell the carpet??

I also spend some time throughout this blog reflecting on faith and healing, which have a fascinating relationship in this passage!

Key Words

αλλογενης (17:18, "foreigner"): This word is used only once in the NT. It literally means "other genes." That is the kind of God we have in Jesus Christ, one who welcomes ones with other genes; not other customs, but other genes!  (Okay, we know that all humans share like 99.9% of the same genes, but the point is that Jesus cares for those who have a different "genesis" than we do).

πιπτω (17.16, "fell", "threw himself" or even "prostrated"):  The word here is not kneel, or pray but literally fall on his face. When was the last time you prayed with your face flat on the ground?  This is common in other religions, but I rarely see Christians do this (at least, in American contexts with which I am familiar).

λεπρος ('lepros', 17.12, "leper"): The Greek is interesting here in that the word 'leper' appears before the word for man (andros). The first thing we find out is not their humanness, but their disease. The NIV and NET cover up this fact their translations.  How often do we identify people by their disease and not their humanity!  Perhaps part of healing is the restoration of the primacy of our human identity!  To push is further, Christ's salvation means we are no longer called "fat" or "white" or "athletic" or "nerdy" but instead we are called "child of God."

ελεησον ('eleison', 17.13, "mercy"): The men today cry out, "Jesus have mercy" in the Greek, a chant we cry out weekly in our worship.

Some other words to notice:
ευχαριστω ('eucharistoo', 17.16, "give thanks"): Literally "Eucharist"; the man, from his knees, gives thanks to God!

δοχαζω ('doxazoo', 17.18 as noun; 17.15 as verb, "glory") Here it means give praise, but the word in Greek is doxe, as in doxology.  Orthodoxy is meant to ensure the glory is given to God!

σωζω ('sozo', 17.19, "save") The granddaddy of 'em all -- salvation -- appears in this sentence, a reminder that, as always, spiritual and physical healing are related.  When Jesus says that the man's faith saved him, we see very clearly that Luke is not suggesting "your belief in a set of propositional truths gave you keys to heaven."  What Jesus seems to be saying is more on long the lines: "your trust in my word and power motivated action from you that transformed your life in a way that have experienced the salvation of God." 

- For all good theologians, faith leads to action!  One might even argue that in this case, it was the action resulting from the faith which produced the healing.  I am not sure I want to go there, but at the very least, we see that the life-saving trust praised in the New Testament leads to action.

- Salvation and healing are bigger than life-after-death.  (The only caveat from a Lutheran perspective is that even when faithful, sin mars our actions and certain our capacity to judge the actions and therefore faith of our neighbors).  This is not to argue against ever-lasting life, but rather to suggest that the salvation of God comes to us here and now.

- Another possibility is to consider that the real healing did not involve leprosy, but restored relationship with Jesus, which only one participated in.  I am not sure that I buy this either, but hey, this blog is about asking questions and not providing all the answers, right? :-)

ιαομαι ('iaomai', 17.15, "healed) This word comes into English in "psychiatry"

Grammar point: "Articular Infinitive"
Luke uses a whole bunch of articular infinitives. It is a construction we really don't have in English but it makes sense. 17.11 literally reads: "And it happened in the walking into Jerusalem." ' In the walking' is an articular infinitive with preposition. Which sounds complex but it means you have the following: preposition (in, with, for)+the+infinitive. In this case in+the+walking. To translate you need to figure out two things. First, who is doing the action. And second, what does the preposition mean. In this sentence, the subject of the infinitive phrase is not really given, but you can guess its Jesus and the disciples. (Reminder -- the subject of an infinitive is given in the accusative). Second, the preposition in this case, "en" signifies concurrent action. So... "And it happened in the walking into Jerusalem..." becomes "While they entered Jerusalem,"

See 17.14 to test yourself if you understand this.  In fact, 17:14 highlights that the being cleansed did not happen when they heard the word of Jesus (go to the priests) but when they left Jesus.  They were told to present themselves to the priests while they were unclean, either meaning that Jesus was giving them permission to be lepers in the temple or that they had faith in the certainty of their healing.  A fascinating debate -- either case would be a tremendous example of their faith!

Sentence breakdown:  Luke 17:16
NRSV He prostrated himself at Jesus' feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan.
Greek  και επεσεν επι προσωπον παρα τους ποδας αυτου ευχαριστων αυτω και αυτος ην Σαμαριτης

και επεσεν : Easy way to start a sentence. Ignore the kai (for now at least) and then translate the verb, 3rd person singular aorist: "He fell"

επι προσωπον: Easy preposition: Upon (a) face.

παρα τους ποδας αυτου: Similarly an easy phrase to translate: "at the feet of him." Reminder: αυτου and its various forms, 95% of the time, refer to prepositions. They can mean "very" and "same" but this happens rarely.

So "he fell upon a face at his feet." The NRSV simplifies: He prostrated himself.  I like it, although some many not know what "prostrated" means.

ευχαριστων αυτω: Now the sentence gets a bit trickier. However, its still pretty straight forward (as far as circumstantial participles go!). To translate the preposition, let's plug it in:
step one: Determine what type -- circumstantial
step two: rough translation by adding "ing": "giving thanks"
step three: figure out who: "the leper"
step four: adjust tense and voice -- in this case, unnecessary.
step five: put it in the sentence: "He prostrated himself at the feet of Jesus, (the leper) giving thanks."
In this case, because neither the subject nor even the verb tense changes from sentence to participle, its plug and play!

και αυτος ην Σαμαριτης: And he was a Samaritan.

This sentence can be a good review of your pronouns!

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Luke 16:19-31 (Lazarus and the rich man)

This passage occurs in the Revised Common Lectionary, Year C.  It last occurred in September of 2019.
The story begs for a different ending, one where someone can go back and straighten out the sinners, in this case, the rich man's brothers. The story also begs for an ending because it ends in Hades with Abraham speaking a word of hopelessness. The idea though of resurrection from the dead sends us away from the story of Lazarus and to the story of Jesus. Ironically, Jesus will wear clothes of splendor; both as Herod mocks him (Luke 23:11) and finally as he comes, as the splendid morning star, who has overthrown death and hell (Rev 22.16). For me, I will emphasize that Christ has defeated death the chasm, but I don't think it would be fair to Jesus' words to let people off the hook when it comes to how we treat the poor!

This week I have some longer notes on hell which resolve little but give much to ponder...

Some words to note:

αδης (16.23; hell, hades; the α has a rough breathing mark meaning its "ha" ): This word appears throughout the New Testament. Some poking around is interesting here; it kind of makes me want to do a further discourse on what the Bible says about hell.   For more on hell, see my post on hell here.  A few levels here:

1) Luke doesn't mention the word very often, except in the context of punishment (see also 10.15).
2) The word and idea of Hades has its own meaning in the Greek mythological world. However, because the Septuagint translates Sheol so frequently as Hades, it is fair to look at Jesus comments in light of the OT.  Curiously, Matthew uses the word "geenna" instead of "Hades," but how Matthew use "geenna" and Luke use "Hades" seem the same. 
3) The Bible seems to shift/develop its thoughts on hell and resurrection.
3A) On one level, Sheol is simply the place of God's absence. Psalm 88:5 says God doesn't even remember those in Sheol. Psalm 113:25 and Isaiah 38:18 suggest the dead in Sheol cannot praise God. In this sense, Sheol simply means death as the end.
3B) On another level, however, the OT also envisions Sheol as a place of punishment: (Psalm 9:17; Proverbs 5:5). In this sense, Sheol means hell.
3C) On another level, Sheol seems not entirely absent of God or goodness: God can hear prayers from Sheol (Jonah 2.3) and still find us there (Psalm 139:8). In this sense, Sheol almost functions like purgatory.
4) Shoel and Hades become a personified force set against God in the Bible (Psalm 49:15; Matthew 16:18). At some points, it seems that God is in control of Sheol (Hos 13:14; 1 Sam 2:6). Regardless, Sheol/Hades finally loses: Rev 20.

To summarize all of this, the more you get into this stuff, the more of chasm you find yourself in. What is hell? Is it a judgment pit? It is a time of separation? In this parable, it is both. Is there rescue from it? This is the most haunting part of the parable. The rich man doesn't get out of hell.

I wonder, having heard some other interpretations on this parable, if the rich man does not get out because the sinner inside of him has not died yet! 

βασανος (16.23;28; torture; pain): This word origin is interesting: "a dark-coloured stone on which pure gold, when rubbed, leaves a peculiar mark." (Liddell-Scott)  In the NT, Matthew and Luke uses this word to imply more than simply testing, but also physical pain. One might be tempted to translate this word as "testing" here; that Hades was simply a place of testing for Lazarus, but the existence of fire in verse 24 suggests something more than simply mental anguish.

χασμα (16.26; chasm): The word appears only once in the NT, but it should be familiar enough to English readers: chasm; a pit!

λαμπρως (16.19; splendidly): You will not find this word easily in concordances; that is because it is the adverb form of the adjective: "lampros" (omicron vs omega)

The word is akin to the word for "lamp" and means bright like the sun or stars. In the NT, Jesus will wear a lampros robe, but only before Herod.  Jesus will actually declare himself the morning star; the star portion here is literally "lampros." (Rev 22:16). James warns against people who wear such nice clothing thinking highly of themselves (James 2:2-3).

Sentence break-down:
BGT Luke 16:19  Ανθρωπος δε τις ην πλουσιος και ενεδιδυσκετο πορφυραν και βυσσον ευφραινομενος καθ' ημεραν λαμπρως
NRS Luke 16:19 "There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day.

Ανθρωπος δε τις ην πλουσιος: "A certain man was rich." You can ignore the "δε"; the "τις" is the "indefinite" article in Greek, ie "a, any, certain."  It is not before the word "man" as it should be in English, but you can tell they are linked because they are both nominative singular masculine.  But even if you didn't know that, if you see some "ti..." word not at the beginning of a sentence it almost always will function as an indefinite article, you just have to find which word it matches.  Perhaps you could poetically phrase this, "There once was a rich man."
Significance here:  Lazarus, the poor man, gets a name.  The rich does not.  This is the opposite of our world.

και ενεδιδυσκετο πορφυραν και βυσσον : Verb here is imperfect, emphasizing the continuous nature. I would translate this with an adverb: "he was ALWAYS dressed in purple and fine linen."  I saw this poetically translated as "He was used to dressing in purple..."   (Side note:  Purple was an expensive cloth and reserved only for the rich and noble).

ευφραινομενος: circumstantial participle (note: no "the" near by and no "to be" verb). Easy to translate: rejoicing

καθ' ημεραν: idiomatic for "every day"

λαμπρως: splendidly, like the sun; exceedingly luxurious.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Luke 16:1-13

This passage occurs in the Revised Common Lectionary, Year C, most recently September 2016.

The Greek for this week does nothing to improve the harshness of the text. Quite the opposite! According to the Greek, the manager (literally the economist) is praised for being shrewd, but Jesus point blank calls him αδικια (adikia), which means unrighteous. Furthermore, the eternal homes of the wealthy are σκηνας "skenas" or tents, the word used for the tabernacle in Exodus or the tents on the mount of Transfiguration.  Finally, we are commended, not simply to use "worldly wealth" but actually -- "unrighteous mammon." What is going on!?!

In spite of the bizarre metaphor of the shrewd manager, I think this parable reflects a few consistent themes of the Bible relating to money and possessions: 

- All our money and possessions ultimately belong to God
- Money and possessions are scarce and so we are called to be good stewards -- good economists!
- Money and possessions can become a god, a god who cannot prevent death; a god who will only demand more.

I think what is unique is this:
- We are eternal beings; our life on earth is somehow connected to our life in heaven.  How we use our money has eternal consequences.  This is most challenging for me conceptually to consider the relationship between heaven and earth.  In terms of preaching, it makes me ask -- where is the grace in this passage?  Where is the cross and resurrection in the midst of this?  I feel like we must push this parable to its breaking point to get to the cross -- all of us worship money and none of us would have an eternal home without Christ. 

Side note:  In 2019 I preached about how this passage in no way presented an image of how God intends for the world to be, but rather describes how the world actually is.  I contrasted the economy of God in Luke 15 against the economy of the shrewd in Luke 16.  We are in, but not of this world.  This resonated with people

Key words:
Relating to heavenly things:

σκηνη (skenas, meaning "house", 16.9):   This word does not simply mean house.  The word literally means "tent" or really "tabernacle."  It is used in both the OT as the word for Tabernacle (think Exodus) and then in the NT when Peter wants to build tents during the transfiguration. People no longer lived in tents by the time of Jesus, so this term is clearly used to suggest something other-worldly.

This is especially true when it is combined with αιωνιους, meaning eternal.  To give you a sense of the power of this word, consider 2 Corinthians 5:1 "For we know that if the earthly house (οικος) we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal (αιωνιους) in the heavens."  Humans does not make eternal things.  Only God does!

δεχομαι ("welcome" or "take" 16,4,6,7,9):  This word appears more in Luke then any other verb. Look where else it comes into play:
2:28 Simeon "receives" the baby Jesus
18.7 Children "receive" the kofG as a child
22.17 Jesus "took" the cup and gave thanks...
There is something central about welcoming in Luke's Gospel!  The reason I include this verb is because welcoming someone into an eternal tent is a beautiful and wonderful thing. 

Relating to earthly things:
οικονομος; οικονομια ("oikonomos" or "oikonomia", meaning "manager", 16:1,2,3,4; other cognates appear in this passage):  This word comes into English as "economics" or "economist." BDAG translates it as "estate manager" and "steward" or "treasurer."  In my first economics class as an undergrad, we learned that economics is about the allocation of scarce resources.  This person is shrewd with his scarce resources, that is for sure.

αδικια ("adikia " meaning "unrighteous", 16;8,9):  This word is often translates in this context as "dishonest" or "shrewd."  The word does not mean dishonest.  It means unrighteous or evil.  (Like in Genesis 6, God sees that the world is full of αδικια and decides to flood the whole thing).  δικαιος - the root word here - means righteous.  What is also striking is how Jesus uses this word specifically. 
οικονομος της αδικιας:  economist of unrighteousness

It if makes you feel better, the owner never praises the man for being dishonest, but does call him shrewd, φρονιμος (16.8)

εκλιπη (from εκλειπω, meaning "fail", 16:9)  I think the whole passage rises and falls on this verb.  The money always runs always fails too.  As does living on this earth.

μαμωνας (mammon, meaning "wealth", 16.9,11,13):  The word used by Jesus toward the end of the passage is not simply possessions but "mammon."  This could possibly refer to an ancient Syrian deity of wealth.  This may or may not be the case, but it is certainly true that Jesus is personifying money here.  We have seen this in our lives where money becomes a thing to be loved, feared and trusted above all things.

At one point Jesus refers to "μαμωνας της αδικιας":  mammon of unrighteousness.  I think that Jesus would maintain that all mammon is unrighteous.  But is all money unrighteous?

οφειλω (opheilo, meaning "debt", 16:5,7): This word can used in all sorts of beautiful ways (Lord's prayer, Matthew 6:12). Here it is more straight forward in its use. A reminder that this passage is very real; debt is as old as currency. For many in the Bible -- and today -- debt is also a massive problem. What if Jesus really meant cancel your literal debts each time we pray the Lord's prayer! That might be easier than forgiving others our sins. Now, you might say, wait, nobody owes me anything. Really? If you own business stocks or an investment accounts, somebody, somewhere, however indirectly, owes you something.

 Greek grammar concept:  Circumstantial participle.
The thing that causes most Greek readers to stumble is the circumstantial participle. While some are very tricky, probably 50% are very easy. Let's look at one. In verse 16.2 the sentence starts out with one:
Bible Works parses this as "verb participle aorist active nominative masculine singular"

Scary, right? Well, look, there is no "the" near by it, so its not an adjectival or substantive participle; there is no form of "is/was/to be" nearby, so its not supplementary. So its going to be circumstantial. Which means we need to figure out three things: What happened? Who did it? And how does this connect to the rest of the sentence?

What happened: Get the BW translation of the verb, or just pull it from your memory: phone...means hear. So, what happened, well, someone hears/got heard

Who did it? Well, your brain probably figured this one out already -- the rich man. But if you need help here, you need to break down what BW tells you into two buckets. First bucket is "aorist active." That relates to the action. The second bucket is "nominative mas...singular" which relates to who does the action. Who is the nominative, masculine, singular? Well, it is the single man subject of the sentence, who is, as your brain knew already, the rich man.

And how does this connect? Well, in this case you first got to put the verb in its tense. Which is here an aorist: "Heard" Now you add in the what and who + the phrase "under the circumstance"
"Under the circumstance of the rich man heard"...
Yuck. Make it English:
"After the rich man heard" or "When the rich man heard."

It sounds like a lot of work, but your brain probably pulled out "heard" and "rich man" right away. See how you do with the second word in 16.5.

Sentence break down:
εγνων τι ποιησω ινα οταν μετασταθω εκ της οικονομιας δεξωνται με εις τους οικους αυτων
NRS Luke 16:4 I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.'

εγνων: I know. Just looks funny. Simple verb.

τι ποιησω : Notice the direction of the accent on "ti" Indicates it is a question. The verb poihso can be either future or aorist subjunctive. In this, does not matter. What will vs. what shall I do.

ινα οταν: Double whammy of conjunctions. Both demand subjunctive verb: "In order that whenever..."

μετασταθω: Verb conjugated based on conjunctions

εκ της οικονομιας: ex takes genitive. Not sure what kind this here. genitive of separation?? Doesn't really matter: "Out of this administration."

δεξωνται με: Here the "me" is the object and not the subject. Question -- how does one know this? Why could, in this infinitive phrase, this been a question at all?  [Because in an infinitive phrase the subject is also in the accusative case]

εις τους οικους αυτων: 2nd week of Greek: Into his house.

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Luke 14:25-33

Regardless of the great imagery used in Jesus passages, the word "hate" is the stumbling block to this passage. BDAG suggests a softer translation, as in "disregard." I think this is better than "hate" but this doesn't really save the day! Jesus words to disregard our family is difficult to understand. Let's assume for a second though, that Jesus really means some sort of emotional aggression. What should we then do? Well, Jesus teaches us to do good to those who hate us (6.26). Trying to do good for people is actually a fairly exhausting activity which is why Jesus reminds us that bearing our cross is not a one-time activity but a continuous one. In fact, all the verbs in this passage are in the present tense, suggesting that renouncing our possessions, disregarding our loved ones, bearing our cross and following Jesus are on-going, life-long activities. That sounds difficult. Good thing the most gracious chapter in the entire Bible is next!

Key word:
μισεω: (14.26; "hate") Hate may not be the best translation here. BDAG puts it, "depending on the context, this verb ranges in meaning from 'disfavor' to 'detest.' The English term 'hate' generally suggests effective connotations that do not always do justice, especially to some Semitic shame-honor oriented use of μισεω (שנא in Hebrew) in the sense 'hold in disfavor, be disinclined to, have relatively little regard for.' In fact, BDAG even suggests translating it "disfavor, disregard" in contrast to preferential treatment"

Some other intersting words:
* οχλοι (14.25; "crowds") This word does not mean leaders or elite, but really the everyday mass of people; can also mean 'mob'

* ψηφιζω (14.28; "calculate") I don't think it is important for this passage, but this is the verb that is used in Revelation to indicate it is time to "add" up the number values for a word such as "KASER NERON" (666).

* εμπαιζω (14.29, "ridicule") In Luke's Gospel, Jesus is the only one mocked (18:32;22:63, 23:11, 23:26)

* αποστασσω (14.33, "give up") This word means basically "say good-bye." This is a fun image, saying good-bye to one's possessions.

Grammar concept: present tense
A number of verbs in 14.25-27 are in the present tense. Greek does not distinguish between present progressive (I am running) and present like English (I run). Generally the present tense connotes present progressive. When I was taught Greek, I was taught to even add the adverb "continually" to present tense translations, "I am running continually." I am not sure if this is as helpful in all cases, but the basic point of my teacher bears itself out in Greek. The present tense generally signifies an action that is on-going. In this case, the verb of carrying the cross, following and (gasp) hating are all in the present tense.

Sentence break-down: 14.33

Greek: ουτως ουν πας εξ υμων ουκ αποτασσεται πασιν τοις εαυτου υπαρχουσιν ου δυναται ειναι μου μαθητης
"So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions."

ουτως ουν: "Thus, therefore" or "Likewise." Two little words here. Don't change much; they appear a combined nearly 2000x in the NT/OT so its good to recognize them for that they are, namely, fill-in words that don't alter too much!

πας εξ υμων: "All of you" This you can literally translate word for word. The pronoun is in the genitive, but your brain figured this out automatically.
ος : hos is a relative pronoun. They behave a lot like in English. Relative pronouns start a relative clause, like, "I love the one whom I married." Whom I married is the relative clause here. The relative pronoun, like in English, is in the case that it functions within the relative pronoun. Back to my example, this would not be correct English: I love the one who I married. Who must become a whom because it is not behaving as a subject in the relative clause. This happens in Greek too. Greek relative pronouns behave a bit differently, or perhaps one could say, a bit more advanced. Because the nouns (and thus pronouns) have a gender, you can connect the pieces a bit more clearly in Greek, because the pronoun contains more information that will link it back to what it refers. In English, it is considered poor writing to move the "antecedent" (the thing to which the relative pronoun refers) far away from the pronoun. Greek has less of a problem doing this. Moreover, Greek can build massive sentences that continue to add relative sentences.

ουκ αποτασσεται: "is not saying good bye." Reminder here -- the verb is in the present tense. This suggests Jesus is not talking about a one time action.
πασιν τοις εαυτου υπαρχουσιν: "all your possessions." A couple of things here. First, it is all in the dative, because it is the object of the verb "αποτασσεται." This is a case where the dative takes the direct object (normally accusative). Don't ask why. Just accept that some verbs take a direct object in the dative! If it helps, think about it this way. To translate the dative, you often can add the word "to" in front of the word. In this case we add in, "say good-bye TO all your possessions." The only word here not in the dative is "εαυτου " which here is a genitive of possession (ie, belonging to you.). It is slightly out of order for our English eyes. Literally you get here: "to all the belonging to you possessions." Or more eloquently: "All your possessions."

ου δυναται ειναι: Not able to be! This is a case where to describe what is happening is complex (helper verb taking an infinitive) but translation is easy: "not able to be." (normally to translate an infinitive in English (from Greek) you need to add "to" in front of the verb).

μου μαθητης: Like with the word "εαυτου " we have a genitive possessive occur before the noun: "my disciples."

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Luke 14:1;7-14

This passage occurs in the Revised Common Lectionary, Year C, most recently on September 1, 2019.

At first glance, this passage seems practical moral advice with a heavenly reward. Jesus' use of δοξα (doxa) and δοξη (doxe) suggest something deeper is going on. δοξη is a fairly uncommon word meaning "banquet." In fact, in the OT, the people who throw such banquets are normally Persian kings! Also unusual is the word δοξα, or glory. Although it is a fairly common word, here it is translated unusually as "honor." This is possible, but really stretches it. The word is not really a word one would associate with mortals. In fact, the last time we heard the word in Luke's Gospel was when the angels announced Jesus birth. These two words, in other words, are fairly out of place for a typical meal. Which suggests that what is at the stake (and not steak) is hardly a common meal, but the feast of the humbled yet exalted one! He is the one to whom glory will be given.

Key Words:
δοξα (14.10; "honor"): Normally we think of δοξα as glory (Think OT and the "glory of the Lord"). Here, however, it is translated as honor...ςell, maybe. Luke only uses this word three other times. When Jesus is born and the angels sing (2.9 and 14) and when the people cry out during Jesus' entry in to Jerusalem. The context permits translating δοξα as "esteemed." However, it has such divine implications that it points us back to Christ, to the one to whom glory is given.

δοξη (14.13; "meal"): This word is very rare in the New Testament; only used twice. The other time it is in Luke when Levi, the tax-collector, invites Jesus to his house. When this word is used in the OT, it normally refers to banquets put on by Persian kings. In other words, this is a big, rich party that few can actually host.

If you put these words together, you get a very surprising twist at the end of the story:  Who is invited to this feast of glory?  Jesus commends us to invite those on the outside.  Jesus here is introducing table fellowship to the unthinkable.

Other words worth pondering:
ταπεινοω (14.11; "humble"): This word is often paired with exalts (υψοω).  In Philippians 2 and Hebrews 12, we are reminded that Jesus humbles himself that he might be exalted.

μακαριος (14.14; "blessed"): This is the word Luke (and Matthew) use for the beatitudes, "Blessed are..."

καλεω (14.7; used 7 times in this passage!; "invite") This word is used virtually very sentence. It means invite and call.

αισχυνη (14.9; "disgrace" or "shame"): One would expect to find this word quite frequently in the NT, especially given the 'fuss' about honor/shame societies. While this word appears quite frequently in the OT, it is rather rare in the NT. This might be an avenue for more reflection. Is Jesus neglecting this dynamic in his society?  Is it so much a part of the world that the writers do not need to mention it?  In this case, Jesus seems to be appealing to people's sense of honor and shame, telling them that seeking honor is itself shameful.

Aside: One of the places "shame" (αισχυνη) is used in the NT is Philippians 3:19 -- "their glory is their shame." Classic line.

Sentence deconstructed:
και εγενετο εν τη ελθειν αυτον εις οικον τινος των αρχοντων των φαρισαων σαββατω φαγειν αρτον και αυτοι ησαν παρατηρουμενοι αυτον

14.1 On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the Sabbath, they were watching him closely.

και εγενετο : This is a typical way to begin a sentence. It simply means: "And it happened." It is unnecessary.

εν τη ελθειν αυτον : Technically this is an "articular infinitive with preposition." This means a couple of things. It combines a preposition (in) with an article (the) with an infinitive (coming). Literally: "In the coming." You have to translate the preposition as an adverb: "While he comes..." The problem with an infinitive is that it is, well, infinite. This means it is un-conjugated. You don't know who is doing the action. So, to indicate this, they stick the subject of an infinitive clause in the accusative. In this case, auton, or he.

εις οικον τινος των αρχοντων των φαρισαων: "into the house" is fairly straight forward. The rest is a genitive where we just put in a lot of "ofs": 'of one of the leaders of the pharisees.'  Worth contemplating that the Pharisees had leaders.  Those seeking holiness found a way to hierarchy very quickly...

σαββατω : The sabbath here is in the dative; here this is a dative revealing when something happens, ie, "on the sabbath." So you can combine this with the earlier infinitive (we are still in the infinitive phrase here): "When Jesus went on the sabbath into the house of one...pharisees...

φαγειν αρτον: Here we have another infinitive, which completes the other verb, "went" as in, "he went to eat." Oddly enough, the object of this infinitive phrase is also in the accusative, "arton" or bread. In an infinitive phrase, both subject and object can be in the accusative!

και αυτοι ησαν παρατηρουμενοι αυτον: Let's take care of the "autoi"s here. The first is plural, they; the second is mas. sing, him. 95% of "auto"s are not going to be translated as "self" or "very" but are simply pronouns.

ησαν παρατηρουμενοι: A really complex way of making a verb in the imperfect -- put an imperfect for of "to be" with a perfect tense participle. Used quite frequently with middle/passive verbs. But simple to translated: "were watching."

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Luke 12:49-56

This passage occurs in the Revised Common Lectionary, Year C.  Typically this passage occurs late in the summer, when pastors are on vacation or in the midst of a summer preaching series.  In short, no one likes to preach on this passage.  Most recently it occurred: August 18, 2019

Summary:  This is my 4th time seeing this passage.  Each time I cringe, especially in our current political environment.  I've included some thoughts about how we might understand Jesus difficult words about division.

Key words:
πυρ ("fire", 12:49)  Throughout the Bible, fire is associated with God's judgment.  Here are few verses that put them together, but you can find this over and over.

  • Isaiah 66:16 For by fire will the LORD execute judgment, and by his sword, on all flesh; and those slain by the LORD shall be many.
  • Amos 7:4 This is what the Sovereign LORD showed me: The Sovereign LORD was calling for judgment by fire; it dried up the great deep and devoured the land.
  • Revelation 18:8 therefore her plagues will come in a single day-- pestilence and mourning and famine-- and she will be burned with fire; for mighty is the Lord God who judges her.
  • Hebrews 10:27 but a fearful prospect of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries.

The dominant and most natural interpretation here is the reminder that Jesus has come to bring judgment.

While this may seem strange in our society, which seems on the verge of civil war, I wonder if we too quickly throughout the baby with the bathwater.  Judgement is necessary, even for the ultimate goal of unity.  For until all realize that they have fallen short of God's glory, that the only line in the sand is those who have sinned and those who have not, we will always find ways to create other divisions in our culture.

διεμεμερισμενοι  (from διαμεριζω, meaning "divide", 12:52, 53).  Divide can mean divide like Rome: Divide and conquer.  But maybe divide has a different Biblical sense.  Especially when connected with fire.
Fire is not only used for judgement, but also commissioning, specifically the call of Moses (burning bush, Exodus 3:2), Isaiah (burning coals, chapter 6) and the call of Ezekiel (firey chariots, chapter 1).  In each of these cases, the fire produces a division, but this division is more of a setting aside.  The fire indicated a holiness that transforms the one who experiences it.  

This really comes full circle in the book of Acts, where the tongues of fire, divided (same word) rest on the apostles.  In this case, the early followers of Jesus have been divided from everyone else, but for a purpose, to share the good news.

Could we read this verse here as Jesus is saying he has come, not simply to judge, but to divide us from the rest, to call us into a new way of being?  This initial division will produce further division, but ultimately it serves a broader and unifying goal.

Lastly, I find it noteworthy that this whole section of Luke begins with a question about division, namely two brothers fighting over how to divide an inheritance (12:13).  Perhaps Jesus is reminding us that the real division isn't over money, but over loyalty to him.  Just like all other allegiances, this will cause division.

βαπτισμα 50