Monday, September 27, 2021
Summary: This is a very difficult passage, causing shame for many and perhaps even smugness for some. Many commentaries have been written about it. I'd like to focus on a few Greek words, especially some "απο" words, that might provide a framework for considering divorce and preaching about it. Again, very tough because everyone brings so much personal experience and heartache on this topic.
Side comment: Another helping tool for looking at these passages is to compare the words of Jesus in Matthew 19 and Luke 16 (if not 1 Cor 7).
πειραζοντες ("test or tempt", from πειραζω, 10:2) We see this come up often in the Gospels, where the Pharisees (or some other group) are trying to test Jesus. This case is a bit different. John the Baptist was imprisoned because he spoke out against the marriage practices of Herod. The Pharisees questions are intended to have Jesus imprisoned, if not killed. Our society has great culture wars going on now about marriage; perhaps each one of us will face persecution for our views. Lastly, if we wonder why Jesus is so harsh in his words, it is because the Pharisees are inviting him to his death.
αποστατιον ("divorce", 10:4) This word "explodes" off the page if you look at it in the Bible or in the Greek language. First, in Greek, this word meant leave one's station ("απο" means away; just read the letters in the word: a-p-o-s-t-a-t-i-o-n!). It meant a military defection from your captain, the one ahead of you in rank. Moses gave permission to write a certificate of defection!! What if we started calling divorce defection?? Ouch.
Jesus actually changes the law here. If you look up the word, you are taken to Deuteronomy 24:1, where a man is given permission to kick out his wife if she doesn't please him. Jesus today is calling men to a greater level of faithfulness than previous generations ever did; men cannot simply leave their wives because they don't please them! Jesus also even admits the reality that women might leave their husbands on their own accord, something unthinkable. In this way, Jesus alters the law (a radical concept), even enfranchising women, but finally asks for greater commitment. (Note however, that even though the Bible's teaching divorce shifts over time, the teaching on marriage remains the same).
απολυω ("free"; 10:4) This word can mean "release" or even finally "divorce" but it is worth looking simply at what the word means: to set free. As a pastor, I have seen this, where divorce is a freeing of someone from an abusive and unfaithful relationship plagued by addiction and anger.
So here is the million dollar question: When is the divorce "αποστατιον", namely, a defection? And when is it a απολυω, a freeing?
σκηλροκαρδια ("hardness of hearts"; 10:5) The word here contains the root "σκηλρος" which means hardness -- an awful disease is "multiple sclerosis", the hardening of certain body parts until finally the person cannot move. In a downward spiraling relationship, there is a hardening of the heart, until finally the person cannot love. As Christians, we believe that God creates new hearts (Psalm 51); however, Jesus admits (see also Matt 19) that certain conditions, like adultery, create such a hard heart, that the two are permitted not to be yolked any more. I would add abuse and addiction, both forms of adultery, you could argue, to this list of permissible divorces.
αρχη ("beginning"; 10:6) Jesus affirms that marriage is a long-long, committed relationship between a man and a woman, grounded in creation and the particular creation accounts we have in the Bible. This means that marriage has a few purposes: to offer companionship, to create new families and bring a couple into full intimacy, even union. I think one could further argue that marriage is a tool of God's sanctification in us, in that we discover our sinfulness very clearly, need forgiveness and become of great use to God through the love given to us by our spouse. Jesus returns the focus to God's goodness and intentions for marriage.
My haunch: The Christian church needs to spend a great deal of time and teaching on what marriage truly is and what it is for.
PS κατευλογεω means to bless -- literally a form of "good speaking." What is interesting is that Jesus' blessing, like just about every biblical blessing, includes a laying on of hands. To bless someone is not an abstraction, but a tangible entity. When we bless a union, we do not simply offer words, but we should also lay on hands!
Monday, September 20, 2021
Summary: Jesus warns his followers about "gheenna," often translated Hell. This week we will look at the three words for Hell in the Bible. The terms and their interpretation reflect various schools of thought over time. No matter how you slice it, there is death and judgment. I have rarely encountered a topic where I have had as much trouble wrapping my hands around it. This blog summary does not achieve "Summa", but rather gives one a general map of the territory.
Christians translate three Greek words as "Hell."
αδης ("hades") The first word for Hell is hades (Hebrew: Sheol). Interestingly, only the King James translates this word as Hell; most leave it as Sheol or Hades. It normally refers to the house of souls after death, rather than a place of judgment. Let's be clear, it is not a place you or I want to be, but it is not the home of Satan with fiery demons.
Basically, there are two helpful ways to understand Hades/Sheol. The first is that is a warehouse of souls (a la purgatory). So for example:
Psalm 138:8: If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
Ecclesiastes 9:10 Whatever your hand finds to do, do with your might; for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going.
The problem with this understanding is that you get a universal soul sleep, without judgment or resurrection.
The other way to understand Hades/Sheol is simply as "the grave." So for example:
Genesis 37:35 "All his sons and all his daughters sought to comfort Jacob; but he refused to be comforted, and said, "No, I shall go down to Sheol to my son, mourning." Thus his father bewailed him."
Jonah 2:2 "I called to the LORD out of my distress, and he answered me; out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and you heard my voice."
In this sense, Hades/Sheol may have nothing to do with souls, simply the place where the body exists after death. The theologian is then free to discuss the judgement and resurrection of souls. This solution creates another dilemma though, in that you have separated bodies and souls, something rather foreign to the Hebrew mind.
So, Hades in the OT remains problematic! It is clear that the Old Testament ideas about the afterlife changed over time. There never emerged in the Old Testament, however, the idea that Hades/Sheol was a place solely of fiery judgment, the location of sinners after death. Everyone went to Sheol. It wasn't until much later (Isaiah 25-27) that you get the idea that God will defeat death and raise the righteous up to life.
The New Testament turns Hades into a darker place, with a bit more judgment associated with it. For example:
Luke 16:23: "In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side.
In Matthew, Jesus even declares the gates of Hades to be the enemy of the church! (16:18)
Finally, in Revelation, Hades will be consumed, and it will give over the dead for judgment.
To summarize: Hades refers to the place the dead go to await judgment. Besides one brief mention in Luke, it is not a place of judgment, much less fiery judgment. It is not seen as the home of devils and demons. The Bible leaves open the idea that Hades/Sheol might be a two tiered place, of pain but also bliss, awaiting resurrection; the Bible also leaves open the idea that Hades/Sheol might be understood literally and metaphorically as the grave, without much connotation of the soul's current or final destiny. Either one presents a systematic theological challenge.
γεεννα ("gheenna"). Unlike Hades, gheenna refers to a specific place, in fact, it is a place where a lot of bad stuff happened in Israel's history.
"Gehenna (Greek γέεννα) derives from a place outside ancient Jerusalem known in the Hebrew Bible as the Valley of the Son of Hinnom; one of the two principal valleys surrounding the Old City. In the Hebrew Bible, the site was initially where apostate Israelites and followers of various Ba'als and Caananite gods, including Moloch, sacrificed their children by fire (2 Chr. 28:3, 33:6; Jer. 7:31, 19:2-6)."
In depth look at citations of gheenna in the Bible, you can read here:
So, gheenna does refer to a hell-like place of judgment. It may have even been a burning trash heap!
An important take away about the OT citations of hell: It was not the place of individual judgment, but of national judgement.
The New Testament continues this idea of judgment, but makes it a place for individual judgment as well. This includes the passages for this week (Mark 9:44-50) but also:
While Revelation does not use the word gheenna, after Hades has been consumed, there is still a lake of fire to consume those not in the book of life, including the devil. Even John speaks of fire consuming the branches that bear no fruit! I think it is fair to say that association of fire and judgment is Biblical. However, a place where people roast alive slowly under the tridents of demons does not fully comport with the Biblical evidence.
To summarize: The Bible includes real judgment here, including the idea that fires of judgment occur. Yet, this is not the place where the devil and demons live. (If anything, it is where demons go to die, not to live!) Gheenna describes a tomb in the midst of eternal fires. Lastly, this place of judgment becomes more personal in the NT than in the OT.
κατώτατα ("lowest places") This word does not appear directly in the NT, but does so in our Creed (based on Ephesians 4:9, which uses a form of this word). It does, however, occur in the OT:
Lamentations 3:56 I called on your name, O LORD, from the depths of the pit;
So, what is better? Descended to the dead or to hell? First Peter references (1 Peter 4:6 and 1 Peter 3:16-20) suggest "dead," or place of the dead. I prefer hell because the word in the creed means "lowest of low." By using "hell" we capture the emotional suffering of Christ Jesus, in that he had been emotionally to hell, namely, feeling abandoned by God.
All in all, a complicated topic. The "hell" of popular imagination is not based on one image or word from the Bible, but a compilation, an imaginative blending of these various Scriptural passages. The Bible does not speak of a fiery pit with devils tormenting individuals. However, the Bible speaks of final judgment, including destruction by fire.
Summary: This passage does seem like two different smaller passages, but perhaps they are linked in that they both deal with how interact with other people's faith. In a day of partisan and even tribal politics if not religion, this passage can serve a powerful reminder of the need to be generous to other people's faith. If someone else is serving other people; if someone else is following Jesus, then they are on our team!
τινα ("someone", 9:38) The translations generally say "someone" or "a man" was trying to cast out demons. However, the Greek is a bit more vague. It simply is "tina" which can mean, someone, something, any, certain, a -- generally an indefinite marker. In other words, the disciples have dehumanized their opponents! The disciples did not stop to get the person's name or know his story!
εκωλυομεν (imperfect form of κωλυω, meaning "prevent", 9:38; 9:39) The tense of this verb is imperfect, indicating on-going action: "we continued to stop" or "we kept preventing." (The verb ηκολουθει "follow" is also in the imperfect tense). The disciples are really putting effort into stopping this man.
[[Greek grammar: One thing worth noting is that the participle for cast out is in the present tense. In translation though, its tense is governed by the finite verb, in this case "we saw" which is in the aorist. So the action of the casting out is present relative to the action of seeing.]]
μη κωλυετε ("no longer hinder", 9:39) Another lesson on Greek imperatives; the "μη" + present imperative construction suggests that the person was doing this action already (as in "do not be afraid" implies that the person was already afraid]. To translate then, "No longer hinder..."
υμιν ("us", 9:38) The pronoun is worth noting here: "υμιν" -- "not following us"! It is not about following Jesus, but about following the disciples. This can be a big trap for churches and denominations, worrying more about following us than about following Jesus! We are called not to hinder the faith of others and there are times when other people can believe things that are false or incredibly unhelpful. However, we must always ask ourselves -- not whether they have the doctrine all right -- but if they are following Jesus.
κακαλογεω ("renounced", 9:39) The word for "speak against" is a great one: κακαλογεω, from κακα (bad) and λεγω (speak). The word is more akin to blaspheme/renounce than simply slander. I wonder how much time we spend as Christians κακαλογεω-ing each other!
εχετε εν εαυτοις αλα, και ειρηνευετε εν αλλήλοις (9:50): Have salt in yourself and have peace among yourselves. There is a bit of a parallel structure here: εν εαυτοις and εν αλλήλοις; in yourself; in each other. The second time the word εν is used it almost has to be translated as "among." This doesn't change the meaning, I just wanted to show you how pithy Jesus made this ;-) But here is the deal, salt by itself is fairly useless, in fact, it is caustic. When it is used in proper doses with other things, it can be incredibly useful and flavorful. Don't be a big salt block by yourself :-) Share the love!
Some other little tid bits that one day I may work into a more coherent post:
9:39 Here we have a little play on words. The word for "deed of power/wonder" is "dynamis." The word for "able" is "dynamai" -- same root. If you do power in Jesus name, you do not have the power to speak evily of him.
9:41 The Greek text as "give a cup of water in name." What is missing? Jesus! It should read "name of Jesus" or "name of mine," which a good number of manuscripts have, including the classic case where editors were scribbling out each other's work. I think it is implied though!
9:41 Here we have the word from early in the call to discipleship: "Lose your life" (apollu-mi).
9:42 Both 9:41 and 9:42 describe to conditional events, namely, what happens to non-believers (or believers) based on their interaction with believers. Both cases are the "hos an" + subjunctive construction.
9:47 There are some fun words in here in these verses (skandaliz-oo; apokopt-oo) worth noting in this one is that Jesus returns to the exorcism and tells them that they should "cast out" (exball-oo) their own eyes...
Monday, September 13, 2021
This passage is found in the Revised Common Lectionary Year B (Most recently: Sept 19, 2021)
Summary: "Serving others" sounds like an exciting idea in high school - volunteering is hip these days. But serving others is actually quite difficult. Jesus even ups the ante by commanding that we should be servant to all! Here is what I find beautiful and hopeful in this passage: Jesus follows this command to serve everyone by touching one particular person. A reminder that service to world means service to individuals, often the very individuals the world forgets.
διακονος: ("servant", 9:35) The meaning of this word has come under great fire in the last generation. Some background: In post-Vatican II Catholicism and post-Holocaust Protestantism, there reemerged a strong desire and need for the church to serve the needy. (Not that this had ever gone away totally!) This lead to surge in the interest of what it meant to "serve" under various forms, offices and theology related to "διακονος." διακονος came into English as "deacon"; this office, often started or renewed in Western churches, came to embody the need for the church to serve the poor, especially those outside of its walls. Often this idea of serving others became discussed and conceived of as a ministry born of the Word, perhaps sustained by the Word, but not tied to proclamation of the Word. A generation or two later, some, including the previous Pope, have become concerned that we have replaced the ministry of the Word with charity. If you research "Collins diakonia" you can read all about it. Within the Lutheran context a rather pointed and academic article is here: http://www.ctsfw.net/media/pdfs/donfriedministry.pdf
The word διακονος does have a variety of meanings, from "waiter" as in someone who waits on tables, but also someone who acts as an agent on behalf of someone. In Mark's Gospel the word describes angels and women who attend to Jesus. In this way, Mark's usage attests to the idea of service to the needy, but the service always involves Jesus.
Without being overly argumentative, you can assert this: διακονος did not simply mean service to the poor but also service on behalf of Christ. This week's passage shows a beautiful example of what διακονος entails: bringing the least in society to the arms of Jesus. I think this is a challenge for any congregation and ministry -- how do we serve the needy, not just as a service agency, but in a way that leads them to Christ's embrace?
παιδιον ("child", 9:36, 37) The word here can mean "kid" but can also mean "child" (as in my kid) or "slave." In our culture, we have seen this passage almost exclusively in light of the idea of "my child," a precious offspring of someone. However, the social context of youth ought not to be lost -- children did not have great social status and were not the focus of parental energy. In this sense, Jesus is acting toward the "least", namely, the people without voice, vote, income or status.
εναγκαλισμενος ("hug", 9:36 and 10:16) This word is only used twice in the whole New Testament, both times in Mark!, when Jesus takes children into his arm. This is also a reminder of what it means to welcome someone in the name of Christ, to bring them close enough that you can see their beauty, but also their warts, stinky breath and dirty fingernails.
Less important, but interesting
ηγνοουν ("be unaware", from αγνοεω, 9:31) This word is literally: agnoeoo, which comes into English as "agnostic." The disciples were agnostic toward the Word. A reminder that Jesus words about death and resurrection have always been puzzling.
This word is nearly impossible to translate. It sort of means "if" but not really. It is best just to learn all the ways in which it is used (ie, consult a grammar aid when you come to it). In verse 37, it is used with ος, which always gets translated "Whoever." This might not make sense, but this combination is a bit like: "Who, who?,..." to make a "whoever."
Monday, September 6, 2021
Over time I've worked on three posts related to this passage.
- First, a smattering of Greek tid-bits that will one day become a more coherent post
- Second, an investigation into the brilliance of Mark's Greek tenses
- Third, an reflection on Mark's Greek to highlight the nature our confession (This post!)
I also have a longer post on this passage from Matthew's Gospel that goes into more detail on Caesarea Philippi and the claim of Messiah.
Summary: Mark masterfully uses Greek to emphasize the dramatic nature of our confession of Christ. Our confession of Jesus as the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God, will consume our life and finally consume us.
The Greek behind Jesus' question:
* Use of tenses: Mark carefully selects his tenses in this passage. When Jesus asks the question, he is using the imperfect tense, which implies repeated action. Jesus repeatedly asks them: "Who are people saying that am?" and "Who do you say that I am?" In our life, we will repeatedly be asked who Jesus is.
* Use of pronouns: In Greek, the verb conjugation contains the subject pronoun. Thus, it is not necessary and it used primarily for emphasis. Here Jesus adds in the pronoun "You"; as if to say, "You - I mean you -- who do you say that I am?" In our life, we cannot simply say, "Christianity teaches XYZ" but each will have to say, "I believe..."
* Use of a town name: Mark could have just told us about this confession, but he adds in the detail of its location. Casearea Philippi was a major center of pagan worship: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caesarea_Philippi
To put all these together, Mark lets us know about the confession of faith: Where it will be done (in the face of paganism), when it will be done (again and again), and who will do it, we the disciples of Christ.
The Greek of Jesus demand:
* Play on words: οπισω ("after", verses 33 and 34). Jesus has just told Peter to get behind him. Now he commands Peter once again to get behind him. Earlier Peter was told to get behind Jesus and become a fisher of men (8:33). The invitation to get out of the boat (kind of fun and scary) leads to the invitation to die (very scary).
* Use of tenses: The verb tenses are helpful here -- deny (απαρνησασθω) and carry (αρατω) are in the aorist tense, but follow (ακολουθειτω) is in the present tense. Following Jesus is an on-going task. So, to the Greek it probably sounded like: "If any of you want to follow after me, let him deny himself, pick up his cross and day-after-day follow me," (Okay day-after-day is a bit of a Lutheranism...)
* Use of verbs: To translate απολλυμι in verse 35 as "lose" is perhaps one of the most watered down translations possible. The verb can mean lose but more likely it means destroy (as in Herod wanted to destroy the child). Something more active is called for here than simply misplacing our life.
Grammar: Accusative cases in the infinitive
8:27 and 8:31 contain infinitive clauses. Notice how the subject is in the accusative? This is especially complex in 8:27