New Interpreter's Bible (12 Vols.) - Pre-Publication Examples

Page 13 of 14 (272 items) « First ... < Previous 10 11 12 13 14 Next >
This post has 271 Replies | 7 Followers

Posts 255
Sogol | Forum Activity | Replied: Mon, May 6 2013 10:09 PM

I'm bummed to see that another major mobile Bible software company is having a sale on New Interpreter's products, including the NIBD (dictionary) for $149.99. I'm tempted to get it because the prospects of the NIBD coming to Logos anytime soon don't look so hot right now (the pre-pub status of the dictionary is even lower than that of the commentary).

Posts 5318
Dan Francis | Forum Activity | Replied: Mon, May 6 2013 10:51 PM

They are well done, the only issue is citing is not well done (although I did request it as a feature and thy said they would see about implementing citations in a future version). The software offering the sale is without a doubt the best mobile platform out there. The Macintosh program (windows too I would guess???) is adequate but very bare bones.

-dan  

Posts 5318
Dan Francis | Forum Activity | Replied: Tue, May 7 2013 11:54 AM

This weeks sample….

EPHESIANS 1:15-23

THANKSGIVING PRAYER REPORT COMMENTARY

The thanksgiving of Pauline letters often signals themes taken up in what follows. The second, long periodic sentence in Ephesians serves that function. Ephesians combines phrases from Colossians (Col 1:3-4, 9, 18) with its own emphasis on knowledge of God's saving power in Christ to create its thanksgiving. Rhetorically, the thanksgiving can be a way of gaining the goodwill of one's audience. The eulogy joined author and audience in the praise of their common benefactor, God (v. 13). Now the thanksgiving assures Christians who had not known the apostle Paul that their reputation for faith and love has won them a place in his prayers. Paul used a similar strategy in addressing Christians in Rome, whom he had not yet visited (Rom 1:8-15). The thanksgiving falls into three sections: (a) the formal thanksgiving and prayer report (vv. 15-16); (b) the content of Paul's intercession (vv. 17-19); and (c) a christological expansion on God's energizing power in the exalted Christ (vv. 20-23). The intercessory report asks for insight and wisdom (vv. 17-19). The content of that knowledge returns to phrases from the eulogy: (a) Spirit, wisdom, revelation, and one's ability to “come to know” (ejn ejpignw"sei en epignosei) in v. 17 echo the wisdom, insight, and making “known <Page 380 Ends><Page 381 Begins> to us the mystery” (musth"rion mysterion) of vv. 8-9; (b) hope, riches, and inheritance in v. 18 pick up the earlier “first to set our hope” (v. 12), wealth (v. 7), and inheritance (v. 14). Many commentators detect a hymnic formula describing the exaltation of Christ in vv. 20-21, which has been expanded by a scriptural proof text (Ps 110:1) and its application to Christ and the church. Emphasis on the role of the church in God's plan (v. 22) is an addition peculiar to Ephesians.83 The combination of Ps 110:1 and Ps 8:6 describes the eschatological triumph of the Lord independently of ecclesial imagery elsewhere in the NT (see 1 Cor 15:25-27; Heb 2:8-9).84 The image of the risen Christ as head of the church derives from Col 1:18. The puzzling concluding clause (v. 23c), “the fullness of him who fills all in all” (to; plh"rwma tou' ta" pa"nta ejn pa'sin plhroume"nou to pleroma tou ta panta en pasin pleroumenou), reformulates the mystery of God's plan from v. 10. 1:15-16. The prayer report combines Col 1:3-4 and Phlm 4-5. Pauline thanksgivings make it clear that the appropriate response to evangelization is a reputation for Christian faith. The apostle's preaching would not be successful if his churches did not become known to others as places of faith and mutual love (see 1 Thess 1:3-12). 1:17-19. The thanksgiving modulates into the prayer wish for the readers in these verses. The theocentric focus of the eulogy continues. A key element in the praise of God was “glory” (do"xa doxa, vv. 12, 14). This emphasis leads to a reformulation of the title for God. The earlier “Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 3) becomes “God of our Lord Jesus Christ” and “Father of glory” (v. 17a). The phrase “Father of glory” (oJ path"r th' do"xhv ho pater tes doxes) is not a common expression for God. Paul refers to Jesus as “the Lord of glory” in 1 Cor 2:8. The phrase “God of glory” occurs in Ps 28:3 (LXX), where “glory” (doxa) is associated with the storm-god theophany tradition. James 1:17 refers to the “Father of lights” as the source of every good gift, a sentiment similar to that in Eph 1:3. The initial content of the petition also reminds readers of the earlier emphasis on wisdom and knowledge of God's plan (vv. 8-9, 17b). Given the earlier reference to believers as being “marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit” (v. 13), the expression “spirit of wisdom” (pneu'ma sofi"av pneuma sophias) probably intends more than human perception of divine wisdom. God's Spirit is the source of all wisdom and knowledge among the elect. The author is not thinking of particular charismatic gifts that are possessed only by some members of the community, such as the special insight possessed by the apostle (3:3, 5). Verse 18 describes the result of wisdom as “the eyes of your heart enlightened” (pefwtisme"nou"v tou"v ojfqalmou;v th"v kardi"av pephotismenous tous ophthalmous tes kardias). This expression resembles the Essene language of election as in the blessing pronounced over those who enter the covenant: “May he illuminate your heart with the discernment of life and grace you with eternal knowledge.”85 By the second century, baptism was commonly described as enlightenment.86 Ephesians 4:18 speaks of Gentiles who do not know God as “darkened in their understanding.” The addressees are warned not to return to that state. Ephesians treats the darkness-to-light image as a reference to the moral conversion associated with turning to God. The fact that individuals might revert to darkness shows that illumination of the heart is not a transformation that becomes permanent as soon as someone becomes a Christian. Although the OT regularly uses “heart” (bl leb) for the seat of human understanding (Ps 10:11; Prov 2:2), the phrase “eyes of your heart” (tous opthalmous tes kardias) has no biblical antecedents. However, Prov 20:27 (LXX) speaks of the breath of humans as the light of the Lord searching out hidden storerooms of the belly. Other Jewish texts refer to the darkened or clouded eye as equivalent to a depraved will.87 These examples suggest that the expression “eyes of your heart” is associated with change in conduct. Greek moralists may have contributed to <Page 381 Ends><Page 382 Begins> such expressions. Matthew 6:22-23 also refers to an “eye” (ojfqalmo"v ophthalmos) that is healthy and one that is evil or diseased. This saying refers to the inner light required for ethical discernment. Platonic and Stoic philosophers commonly link that light with reason. Matthew challenges the philosophic assumption that humans can rely on such inner light, since the eye can be darkened.88 The content of enlightenment reiterates earlier statements about Christian hope (vv. 18b, c, 14a). Since the passage speaks of “his [God's] glorious inheritance,” some commentators presume that the meaning of “saints” (a{gioi hagioi) has shifted from saints as God's elect to saints as “the holy ones”—that is, angels (so Deut 33:2-3; Ps 89:6, 8; Dan 8:13). On this reading, Ephesians would be similar to the Essene writings in claiming that the heritage of the elect lies with the angelic hosts.89 Against this interpretation of v. 18, v. 15 has used “saints” (hagioi) for those who are fellow Christians within the audience. Verse 19 shifts from knowledge of one's place among God's elect to recognition of the power of God at work in those who believe. An echo of Col 1:11, the phrase is replete with words for power. The author does not focus on the cosmological manifestations of divine power.90 Just as the eulogy's account of God's activity in creation (vv. 3-5) was not cosmological but soteriological, so also v. 19 describes the power of God as “for us who believe” (eijv hJma"v tou"v pisteu;ontav eis hemas tous pisteuontas). Verse 19b shifts from “you” (plural) to the inclusive “we” in order to set up the parallelism between God's work in the believer and what God has done in raising Christ (v. 20).91 The expression “working of his great power” connects v. 19b with v. 20a. Some interpreters treat it as the introduction to the next section.92 Colossians 1:29b speaks of God's powerful energy at work in the struggles of Paul's ministry. Colossians 2:12 speaks of God's power (“energy”) to raise the dead. Since Ephesians uses expressions associated with divine energy and power to connect God's activity within believers and the resurrection of Christ, the phrase may be derived from earlier Christian formulae. 1:20-23. The concluding section of this chapter is widely recognized as the development of a creedal formula. Attempts to isolate the specific words of a hymn have not been persuasive.93 Verse 20 alludes to the ancient tradition of resurrection as heavenly exaltation at God's right hand (Dan 12:2-3; Acts 2:32-33; Phil 2:9-11). The audience already knows that Christ serves to mediate God's gracious blessings from the heavens (v. 3). Ephesians treats the exaltation of Jesus rather than the cross as the focus of God's saving power.94 Paul links the resurrection of Jesus and divine power in contexts that contrast resurrection with the cross (Rom 1:4; 1 Cor 6:14; 2 Cor 13:4; Phil 3:10). Ephesians may have shifted the traditional emphasis in order to highlight the permanent victory of God's power. Hellenistic Jewish court tales celebrated exaltation as the victory of a righteous sage over the enemy (see Daniel 1:1–7). Daniel 7:13-27 depicts a human figure ascending to God's throne. With his ascent comes vindication for the righteous and eternal dominion for the “holy ones of the Most High” (Dan 7:27). With the corporate interpretation of the heavenly figure as representative of the righteous, Dan 7:13-27 provides a key to the connection between heavenly exaltation of a figure to God's throne and the eventual triumph of God's elect. This apocalyptic scenario also includes two other elements that are represented in Ephesians: (a) use of the “holy ones” (Dan 7:18, 21, 25, 27) in a way that could refer to the righteous or the angelic hosts95 and (b) exaltation as victory over powers that threaten human and divine order (Dan 7:23-25). The exaltation christology of Ephesians requires that Christ be superior to all the heavenly powers (v. 21). The text does not indicate whether the reader should consider this catalog of powers as hostile (so Daniel) or angelic (so Heb 1:3-4). Colossians 1:16 associates a list of powers with the affirmation that the cosmos was created in Christ, “whether thrones or dominions or rulers <Page 382 Ends><Page 383 Begins> or powers” (ejxousi"a exousia). Ephesians 1:21a omits “thrones” and includes du"namiv (dynamis; NRSV, “power”; for exousia the NRSV shifts to “authority”). Similar lists in apocalyptic texts can be associated with angels96 or with Satan's cohorts.97 Ephesians concludes the list of powers with the statement that Christ has the name above every name. This topos appears elsewhere in early christological formulae (see Phil 2:9-11, “Lord”; Heb 1:4-5, “Son”). The concluding phrase (v. 21c) evokes the apocalyptic picture of present and future ages. Just as the Son of Man and the holy ones in Dan 7:13-27 receive an eternal dominion, so also the exalted Christ enjoys eternal rule. This affirmation raises a theological question when this passage is compared with Paul's account in 1 Cor 15:23-28. There the Second Coming will be needed to complete the Son's domination of all the powers. At that point, Christ will hand dominion over to the Father. Though Ephesians focuses on the Father in its depiction of divine power, the author does not anticipate a “handing over” of the kingdom to God. The scenario in Ephesians cannot be squared with the historical perspective of apocalypses like Daniel, which correlate heavenly or symbolic figures with political powers. In such historical apocalypses no claim to dethrone hostile powers could be sustained without the corresponding defeat of evil in its sociopolitical manifestations. The significance of language about Christ's exaltation over the powers in Colossians and Ephesians remains contested. Ephesians refers to an angelic leader of the hostile powers (2:2; 6:11). If the powers of this list are hostile, then Christ is a victorious conqueror.98 Others have highlighted the reference to Christ's superior name. They suggest that Ephesians is concerned with the use of angelic names in magical texts. The Christ whose name is superior to those of any such powers has rendered the powers of magic impotent.99 When Ephesians is read over against the ideology of the Roman emperor cult, its encomium to the exalted Christ (esp. 2:11-22) appears to copy the style of speeches in praise of the emperor.100 Identification of the list of powers with causes of sociopolitical or individual evil presumes that the powers in this list are the demonic powers referred to later in Ephesians. Since the eulogy and the thanksgiving both depend upon traditional formulaic phrases for divine blessing, the positive use of angelic powers and name formulae in christological acclamations and hymns seems to be more appropriate in this section. God has made all things subject to the risen and exalted Lord (1 Cor 15:25). That same power will be effective in the resurrection of the faithful (Phil 3:21). In the earlier Pauline letters, references to the future completion of salvation indicate that the present subjection of all things remains a stage in an ongoing process: (a) Christ turns all things over to the Father (1 Cor 15:28); (b) believers are transformed into the image of the risen one (Phil 3:21). Unlike these examples, Ephesians remains focused on the present evidence of salvation. Verse 22b takes from Ps 110:1 the image of Christ as head over the universal church: “He has put all things under his feet.” This motif picks up the earlier statement that God's preordained plan was to bring all things together in Christ (v. 10). Ephesians consistently uses “church” (ejkklhsi"a ekklesia) in the universal sense found in Colossians (e.g., Col 1:18, 24). In 1 Cor 12:12-27 (and Rom 12:4-5) Paul adopts a common philosophical image for the political community as a body in which each has an assigned role. Differences in status, activity, and power are necessary for the well-being of the whole. Paul's appropriation of this image to promote concord in the Corinthian community also fits common philosophical usage.101 Colossians 1:18 has universalized the image by alluding to philosophical traditions that transferred the communal sense of “body” (sw'ma soma) to the harmonious coordination of the cosmos. The universe was considered to be a living being. Hence the move to describing it as a body was not as great <Page 383 Ends><Page 384 Begins> as it would be for today's readers.102 For Colossians, the image of Christ as head of the body makes a natural transition between the creation of all things in Christ and the church that comes into being through the death and resurrection of Jesus. Ephesians has adopted the imagery of Colossians for a different purpose: to express the completeness of salvation. Christ's superiority to the powers of the cosmos makes the existence of the church possible. However, Ephesians distinguishes the subjection of the powers from the function of Christ as head of the church. Christ is not a distant potentate ruling the church.103 The concluding description of the “body” (soma) as “fullness” (plh"rwma pleroma) involves several exegetical difficulties. Is “fullness” in apposition to “body” or to Christ (as in Col 1:19; 2:9)? In Ephesians, “fullness” (pleroma) makes better grammatical sense as a reference to the body. The meaning of the term “fullness” (pleroma) is more problematic. Elaborate discussions of a divine “fullness” as the goal of salvation appear in gnostic writings from the second and third centuries CE. There “fullness” refers to the realm of divine light that is permanently separated from the darkness, chaos, and evil of this world. A primordial fall led to elements of that light being held captive in this world by the rulers of the planetary spheres (often equated with the OT God). Christ, or some other redeemer figure, must break into this world in order to provide the souls that possess light with the means to return to the “fullness.”104 Gnostic texts often suggest that when all the light has been restored the “deficiency”—that is, the lower world—vanishes.105 However, Ephesians shows no evidence of the gnostic dualism.106 Therefore, it is more probable that Ephesians has taken the term from a hymnic tradition like Col 1:19.107 The noun “fullness” (pleroma) can have an active sense (“that which fills”) or a passive sense (“that which is filled”); it can also refer to the activity of filling. In the OT the noun is used in the active sense (Pss 95:11; 23:1; 49:12; Jer 8:6; Ezek 12:19; 19:7; 30:12). Ephesians 1:23 echoes OT descriptions of God or a divine attribute filling all things (Isa 6:3; Jer 23:23-24 LXX; Isa 6:3; Wis 1:7; 7:24). Later in the epistle, both Christ (4:10) and the Spirit (5:18) are agents of filling. Since Eph 4:10 refers to the ascent of Christ above the heavens in order to fill (plhro"w pleroo) the universe, the phrase “fullness of him who fills all in all” probably belongs to the same tradition. Nothing remains outside the Christ who fills all.108 Ephesians does not indicate how the church as Christ's fullness is related to his presence to all things. The ecclesial conclusion of the thanksgiving sounds a motif that will reappear in the letter. Christ's body, the church, experiences the divine life and power of God that fills all things. Readers sometimes assume that the equation between the church and “fullness” (pleroma) is a call to action, that the Christian mission is responsible for filling the world with Christ. Ephesians does not identify the church with the “all things” (pa"nta panta) of the cosmos. Instead, without explaining how the two activities of “filling” are related, this section of Ephesians suggests a special relationship between the church and Christ by using the image of head and body. The opening of the thanksgiving period gave a more conventional picture of the addressees as the community of the elect. They have become known to others as a community that has faith in the Lord Jesus and demonstrates that faith in love. They believe that the risen Lord has been exalted at God's right hand and have experienced God's power in their lives. When the prayer report turns to imagery of the cosmic power of Christ, Ephesians moves beyond the world as structured by human powers and communities to a world that includes the heavens and ranks of angelic (or demonic) powers. Verse 21 insists that Christ has the name greater than any other, not only in the present age but also in the future. Whether involved in magical practices or not, many persons in the first century CE would have agreed that proper knowledge of angelic or magical names <Page 384 Ends><Page 385 Begins> was critical to one's life. Magicians could use the knowledge of such names to enlist the aid of cosmic powers. Angelic powers might be named to facilitate the soul's journey into the heavens either at death or as part of a mystical vision. For the apocalyptic visions of the rise and fall of earthly rulers, the angelic or demonic figures behind the human community were also perceived as a real threat. Consequently, the vision of Christ's exaltation found in Ephesians removes believers from the influence of all other powers. The lists of powers in Colossians and Ephesians aim to embrace all forces that are thought to control humans and events in the cosmos. Since neither angelic nor magical names are used, the claims made for God's effective power in the risen Christ are not wedded to a particular mythological scenario. A modern list of cosmic powers could be substituted for the ancient examples.109 Perhaps the ambiguity over whether the powers are demonic or angelic was also deliberate. Ephesians intends to fold all “powers” in the cosmos into the power of God expressed through the exalted Christ. Christians should not assume that other powers in the cosmos, or in the political order, stand between them and salvation. Nor do other powers contribute positive benefits to human life. The “filling” (pleroo) already exists as a divine reality (v. 23). Christians are not subject to powers that must be overcome, as was the case for those who thought that heavenly powers stood between the soul and salvation in the heavens. If Christians recognize the presence and power of God in all things, they have a secure basis for the hope for the “riches of [God's] glorious inheritance” (v. 18). The theology of election in Ephesians reminds Christians that God is the source of their hope and faith. Hope (ejlpi"v elpis) as a Christian virtue is not a psychological trait but a response to what God is.110 Finally, Ephesians challenges the tendency to define the church from the perspective of its existence as a sociopolitical institution. It stands the earlier Pauline usage of church on its head. The local assemblies to which the earlier letters refer have given place to the cosmic vision of church as a divine reality. The “body” image was used for both sociopolitical entities and for the universe as a whole. Consequently, Ephesians builds on the earlier tradition in order to expand the vision of church from local to cosmic community. Since Ephesians shows no signs of the gnostic dualism between the divine realm and the material world, the “fullness” (pleroma) of the body is not limited to the heavenly realm where Christ is exalted. Ancient thinkers who depicted the divine spirit or wisdom pervading the universe111 presumed that this spirit had a natural affinity with human intellectual and spiritual capacities. Ephesians rejects the view that human knowledge of God is part of creation as such. It is received as divine gift. The shift from cosmological to soteriological imagery highlights another central conviction of this letter: Redemption belonged to the divine plan prior to creation. Unlike gnostic myth, creation is not a hostile trap for light that belongs to the divine world. It is oriented toward salvation that comes in Christ. Knowledge of God comes with the conversion of human understanding through revelation (vv. 17-18).

REFLECTIONS

Reputation or publicity? How do our churches become known for their faith in Jesus and loving service to others? In the ancient secular letter form, the ones sending the letters often indicated that they had heard some good news from or about the recipients and expressed pleasure about learning it. In an age before instant global communication, people could go for weeks or months without news of family, friends, or business associates, and such news was always treasured. Likewise, in the thanksgiving sections of Paul's letters, he also often expresses pleasure about some news he has heard about the recipients, but the news he mentions is <Page 385 Ends><Page 386 Begins> always more than routine events. The news for which Paul gives thanks has to do with the fundamental Christian virtues: faith, love, and hope (1:15, 18). All churches, it could be argued, have some measure of these virtues, but what impresses the author of Ephesians is that this congregation has a word-of-mouth reputation for them. “I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints,” Ephesians says in the thanksgiving prayer section. What is the difference between a reputation based on word of mouth and one generated through a publicity blitz? One big difference is the source. We know who is making a recommendation or telling us a bit of news when we hear something by word of mouth. Paul names sources of information about particular churches in some of his letters (e.g., 1 Cor 1:11; 1 Thess 3:6-10). Since Ephesians is a general essay in the Pauline tradition, we do not find specific details, but the opening formula suggests the intimacy of a word-of-mouth report. We are familiar with the fact that “word of mouth” can take what filmmakers consider a small movie to big-time status. Some record companies started paying teens in tickets, posters, and CDs to talk up their favorite stars on the Internet. But for all the marketing research, focus groups, and big-budget advertising, no one has found a way to turn publicity into reputation. How does “the buzz” get going around a particular church? Not by advertising. When people come to our worship, our Bible study, our church school, our church suppers, and all the other things we do, they have to feel that special spirit. And Ephesians reminds us that the source of the energy, power, and spirit at work in the church is ultimately God (1:19-20). Ephesians' thanksgiving prayer tells us something else about the genuinely successful church. The people in such a church have a goal, a destination. And because they know where they are going, they are people of hope. Sometimes people find it difficult to distinguish hope from faith, but Ephesians makes the distinction very easily. Faith is “in the Lord Jesus” (1:15); that is to say, faith is entrusting our lives to Jesus today, in the present tense. Hope is about the future, about where it is that our present trust in Jesus eventually leads. Hope, therefore, requires wisdom, knowledge, or insight into the glorious heavenly inheritance that awaits believers (1:17-18). What is it that we need to know about that destiny? Some Christians think that the way to find out is to study reports about near-death experiences. Scholars have compared these modern reports on brushes with death to medieval accounts of mystical journeys into the heavens.112 Ephesians shows no evidence of “traveling to the other side,” of advocating a spiritual asceticism aimed at gaining visions of the enthroned Christ and his angels.113 Instead, Ephesians relies upon a theological insight grounded in early Christian exegesis of Pss 8:6 and 110:1. The risen Christ is exalted above all the powers in the universe (Eph 1:20-22a). Combining that insight with the Pauline metaphor of the church as the “body of Christ,” originally an image of local churches, produces the striking new image of Eph 1:22b-23: Christ is head of a body that fills the entire cosmos. The main purpose of this image is not to give us a secret peek into the heavenly places but to give us confidence in the power of God, “who fills all in all.” What has that to do with the Christian need to know? Many Christians still think of heaven in spatial terms as a house or a castle or a park area filled with people. They fail to adjust their imagination of heaven (or, to use the odd term favored by the writer of Ephesians, “the heavenlies”) to suit this cosmic picture of God's power and glory. <Page 386 Ends><Page 387 Begins> The danger in thinking of heaven in spatial terms rather than in terms of God's power was brought home to me one day when a woman timidly knocked on my office door. It was several months after her mother's funeral, and the woman, in obvious distress, said that she had to have an answer to a question because one of her siblings was in real despair over it. The problem? Given the billions and billions of people who had died since humans first emerged on earth and were likely to die before the end of the world, she feared that her mother had to be lost in so vast a crowd. Given the enormous number of people jammed into heaven, she could not see how God could restore the bond of love, the relationship between the mother and her children. “No problem,” I assured her. As far back as the Middle Ages this question has been argued. People have wondered how God could get the bits of bodies shattered by martyrdom or accident back together again. It must be by God's creative power, they concluded. Today we have an even easier way to imagine it. Think of that DNA code or the capacity of computers to store, sort, find patterns, and match data. If puny little human brains can figure out ways to do that, God can restore bodies and families. Remember, God is not an object generated by the laws of physics and biology. Neither is the reality of being transformed into God, being with the holy ones in heaven. It is that creative power of God to touch, be embedded in, or linked to every single part of the universe. A few weeks later, I ran into her in the market. “That was so helpful,” she said, “but how did you know it?” “Just theology,” I replied. So even though the metaphors in this section of Ephesians seem strange, both the working of God's power (1:19-20) and the exaltation christology that has the body of Christ “filling all in all” (1:23) have an important message about Christian hope. <Page 386 Ends><Page 387 Begins>

Posts 5318
Dan Francis | Forum Activity | Replied: Mon, May 13 2013 3:36 PM

This week's sample….

Genesis 11:1-9, The City of Babel

Link to: NIV NRSV

COMMENTARY

The reader may find difficulty in fathoming the import of this final narrative of chaps 1–11. The first problem involves its relationship with chap. 10. The linguistic division of peoples has already appeared in 10:5, 20, 31, as has the spreading abroad (drp pArad, 10:5, 32) or scattering ($wp pûz; $pn nApaz, 9:19; 10:18; cf. 11:4, 8-9) of the nations; moreover, Babel has already been named (10:10). Source critics provide a “solution” by assigning the sections to P and J. In the text’s present form, however, interpreters often view 11:1-9 as a supplement to 10:1-32 (and 9:18-19), perhaps especially the segment concerning Nimrod and Babel (10:8-12). The two sections do not stand in chronological order; rather, the second reaches back and complements the first from another perspective. In 10:1-32 the author has associated the realities of pluralism with the natural growth of the human community after the flood. This positive word may have seemed important to state first (structural considerations may also have dictated placement). Genesis 11:1-9, however, gives these developments a negative cast in terms of human failure and divine judgment. The writer depicts the same reality from different points of view (11:1-9 does not cover all that happens in 10:1-32) by juxtaposing texts rather than interweaving them. This same literary tactic also occurs elsewhere in chaps. 1–11 (see Overview). Genesis 2:4–4:16 <Page 410 Ends><Page 411 Begins> relates to chap. 1 in this way (cf. also 6:1-8 with 4:17–5:32; 9:20-29 with 9:18-19; 12:1-9 with 11:10-32 breaks the pattern). In the admixture of story and genealogy, the editor places continued creational blessing in the ongoing generations alongside continuing evidence of breakdown in various relationships. These images do not occur simply as pictures in white and black; genealogies contain elements of disequilibrium (see 10:8-12) and stories exhibit acts of human goodness and divine graciousness. As we will see, Gen 11:1-9 returns to the concerns of creation in chaps. 1–2, providing an inclusio for chaps. 1–11. No other story like this has been found in the ancient Near East, but some parallels in detail exist, such as the origin of languages, matters of building construction, and the function of towers in Mesopotamian culture. Traditional links between creation and temple building in Mesopotamia may be reflected in the structure of chaps. 1–11, though Gen 11:1-9 does not refer explicitly to a temple. In the flood story preserved by Berossus, the survivors migrate to Babylon, as in the biblical account. The journey of Abraham’s family from Ur (11:31) could be understood as a part of the migration from Babel (11:9). The author clearly intends the text to be a typical story of humankind (“whole earth”), not a reflection on a specific event. Hence, we may read the text from a variety of contexts. From an exilic perspective, the city could represent Jerusalem and the exile, a theme prominent in prophetic materials from that era (Ezek 11:16-17; 12:15; 20:34, 41; 34:5-6, 12). Less probably, the text might be viewed as a critique of royal building programs in Israel or as a negative comment on the history of the Babylonians, a judgment on the prideful stance of such nations in the world. Yet, the text offers no sign of this building project as an imperial enterprise; in fact, the discourse and motivation are remarkably democratic, reinforcing the view that the problem here is generally human, not that of any particular institution or nation. The writer has structured this narrative symmetrically, wherein the situation of vv. 1-4 is reversed in vv. 6-9.88 The direct speech of the people’s plans in vv. 3-4 parallels that of God’s plans in vv. 6-7 (note esp. the consultative “come, let us”). The divine decision to conduct a judicial inquiry (v. 5) sits between these speeches; its central position constitutes the turning point. The bracketing verses (vv. 1-2, 8-9; note the reversal “language” and “whole [all the] earth”) describe the human situation before and after the discourses of vv. 3-7, from the human (vv. 1-2) and the divine perspective (vv. 8-9). The fact that the divine and the humans do not stand in dialogue with one another constitutes one of the most ominous elements in this text (in contrast to the divine-human conversation that begins once again with Abraham). The careful structure suggests that this story should not be read as an amalgam of originally distinct narratives. 11:1-4. The story describes the “whole earth” from a communal perspective (no individuals are mentioned), which is consistent with the emphasis on families, soon to be noted (12:3). All members of this community, relatively few in number, speak the same language and have a common vocabulary. They migrate to (13:11; or in, 2:8; or from, 4:16) the east and settle in the land of Shinar (Babylonia; see 10:10). Verses 8-9 specify that this “whole earth” community moves from this one place (now called Babel), and various peoples who speak different languages (see 10:5, 20, 31) emerge across the “whole earth.” Hence, the narrative describes how peoples of common origin had come to speak various languages (despite the historical unlikelihood). The building of a city with a tower (vv. 3-5, in v. 8 only the city is mentioned, an instance of synecdoche, though the import of the tower is thereby diminished) reflects knowledge of Mesopotamian construction methods. In the absence of natural stone, people made bricks of kiln-baked clay; burning gave them greater durability. The text offers no reason to suppose that the building efforts as such are pernicious; we might in fact think of human creativity and imagination in developing such materials and projects. The author focuses on their motivations, not that they build or what they build. The precise nature of their failure remains elusive, however, resulting in various scholarly formulations. The effort to secure a place to call home seems natural enough, not even new (see 4:17), and the builders raise no explicit theological issues. Even the tower may not be an issue, as either a fortified city tower (see Deut 1:28; 9:1; Judg 9:46-47) or <Page 411 Ends><Page 412 Begins> a temple tower (ziggurat), a stepped, mountain-shaped structure. In Babylonian culture, the latter provided for communication between earthly and heavenly realms through priestly intermediaries. The base of the tower was on earth and “its top in the heavens”— a popular description of ziggurats.89 The ziggurat represents an indirect relationship between heaven and earth; in 28:10-22, a writer implicitly faults the ziggurat for the distance it creates between God and the world. As such, it seems insufficient to carry theories about a storming of heaven or transgressing the limits of creatureliness or usurping the place of God. There may be some gibes at Babylonian religious practice, but this seems too specific to constitute a “whole earth” problem. Besides, Babylon appears at the end of the story; thus it does not stand at the center of attention. The objective of “making a name (!v sem) for ourselves” is more problematic. This phrase may recall the renown that accrued to kings associated with major building projects in Mesopotamia and Israel or other heroic efforts (see 6:4). It may signal an autonomous attempt to secure the future by their own efforts, particularly in view of the use of sem in 12:2, where God is the subject of any accrued renown (note also that the genealogy of Shem encloses the account). The name they actually receive—though not a divine judgment—becomes Babel (“confusion”), ironically testifying to the futility of their efforts. The project may also intimate a search for the kind of immortality implicit in a famous name (but not in the sense of 3:22, which implies a literal immortality). Yet, David does not come under judgment for such efforts in 2 Sam 8:13 (see 18:18); the desire for fame, even self-generated, does not seem reprehensible enough in and of itself to occasion the magnitude of God’s response. The key is in the motivation, “otherwise we shall be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.” This central human failure inheres in the straightforward moral-order talk (the punishment fits the crime); it corresponds precisely to God’s judgment (vv. 8-9). Most basically, humans fear what the future might bring, evincing deep anxiety and insecurity about what lies ahead. We do not discover fear of other human beings, but fear of not being able to keep their community intact in the face of a perceived peril of dispersion into a threatening world. Only because of this motivation do their objectives of building a city/tower and making a name for themselves become problematic. The building projects constitute a bid to secure their own future as a unified community, isolated from the rest of the world. Hence, their action constitutes a challenge to the divine command to fill the earth (1:28, renewed in 9:1; already seen by Josephus. Antiquities I.iv.1), but not simply in a spatial sense. Their resistance to being scattered (this word occurs positively in 10:18; cf. 9:19; 10:5, 32) occasions a divine concern for the very created order of things, for only by spreading abroad can human beings fulfill their charge to be caretakers of the earth. According to 1:28 and 2:5 (cf. 2:15), the proper development of the creation depends on human activity. For the builders to concentrate their efforts narrowly on the future of the (only) human community places the future of the rest of creation in jeopardy. An isolationist view of their place in the world, centered on self-preservation, puts the rest of the creation at risk. The building project thus understeps rather than oversteps human limits, for it prevents scattering and taking up the creational command that put the creation at risk. 11:5-9. In v. 5 God “comes down” to conduct a judicial inquiry (see 18:21; their project was not so meager that God, ironically, had to descend to see it). God’s descent (see Exod 3:8) demonstrates God’s deep engagement on behalf of the creation. Heaven is that place within the created world where God’s presence remains uncontested.90 The relation between this descent and that of v. 7 represents the difference between inquiry and action. As in 18:21, the inquiry appears genuine, preliminary to a final decision (the NIV’s “were building” recognizes that the project was incomplete, v. 8). Verse 6 constitutes a summary of the results of the inquiry; v. 7 calls on the council to assist in taking the necessary actions. Verse 7 indicates that in v. 6 God speaks to the divine council (see 1:26; 2:18; 3:22), with whom God consults about the matter (Abraham assumes the role of the divine <Page 412 Ends><Page 413 Begins> dialogically between God and the council. While Yahweh carries out the sentence (vv. 8-9; the text does not report the actual act of confusing, suggesting that the scattering is central), v. 7 indicates that this punishment stems from the divine council. God’s response focuses, not on their present project, but on other possibilities of united human endeavor (v. 6). The unity of peoples with isolationist concerns for self-preservation could promote any number of projects that would place the creation in jeopardy. Their sin concentrates their energies on a creation-threatening task; even the finest creative efforts can subvert God’s creational intentions. Although the text does not impugn cities, it does recognize that sin and its potential for disaster accompanies human progress of whatever sort. In response, God judges, but in the interests of the future of the creation, “the face of all the earth” (vv. 8-9). God’s judgment, though creating difficulties, has a fundamentally gracious purpose. The garbling of languages and consequent scattering prevents any comparable projects that could be carried out by a self-serving, self-preserving united front; humans might engage in feats that could be even more destructive of themselves and God’s creation (Job 42:2 uses similar language of God). God’s gracious action places limits on human possibilities for the sake of creation (see 3:22; 6:3). God thus counters their efforts to remain an isolated community by acting in such a way that they have no choice but to obey the command. God does this by making their languages so diffuse that they can no longer communicate, having to leave off what they are doing, move apart from one another, and establish separate linguistic communities. The confusing that leads to their scattering (confusion is the only means cited by which God does this) thus becomes a means to another end: the filling of and caring for the earth in fulfillment of the creational command. God thereby promotes diversity at the expense of any form of unity that seeks to preserve itself in isolation from the rest of the creation. The divine action of scattering corresponds exactly to what the people sought to prevent (v. 4). The verb bAlal (“confuse”; vv. 7, 9, see footnotes) plays on the word Babel (in English it would approximate “babble”). The very name they sought to make for themselves becomes a name for confusion, making them famous for their failure. (The literal meaning of Babel, “gate of god” [see 28:17] is given an ironic, if imaginative, etymological link.) Verse 9 functions similarly to 2:24 (“therefore”) by the way the narrator steps outside of the story and summarizes what has happened.

REFLECTIONS

1. The story has a universal (“whole earth”) perspective, speaking of what is true of humankind generally; yet the function of that universalism in a context where historically identifiable peoples are very much in view, and itself speaks of Babel, makes it somewhat different from the other primeval narratives. This universalistic/specific combination probably shows that 11:1-9 serves as an illustration of the typical developments in 10:1-32; this darker side of developments among the peoples of the world could be multiplied indefinitely. In other words, what is described here characterizes the peoples mentioned in the previous chapter.

2. One tension in the text involves an ambivalent view of unity and diversity. On the one hand, the spreading abroad correlates with God’s creational intentions of filling the earth. On the other hand, such scattering constitutes God’s judgment. One should distinguish between divine judgment and punishment in any conventional sense. God evaluates the situation negatively and moves to correct it. Brueggemann notes that human unity is a complex reality in this text.91 Ordinarily, we regard unity in the human community as desirable and in tune with God’s purposes for the creation. But here, because the unity desired and promoted stands over against the divine will <Page 413 Ends><Page 414 Begins> to spread abroad throughout the world, a unity that seeks self-preservation at all costs, God must resist it and act to advance the divine will for scattering. Those who seek to save their life will lose it. The right kind of unity occurs only when the community encompasses the concerns of the entire world and encourages difference and diversity to that end. Proper unity manifests itself in an ability to live together without conflict, oppression, and having common objectives in tune with God’s purposes for the world. At the same time, scattering should not result in fragmentation or divided loyalty to God. The story of the chosen one, Jacob, also conceives of a false unity that focuses on self-preservation; he also receives the call to “spread abroad” (pAraz, 28:14) throughout the world so that all the families of the earth can be blessed. Diversity inheres in God’s intention for the world, as is evident from the marvelously pluriform character of God’s creation in the first place or the blessing evident in the table of nations. In tune with those creational intentions, God makes a decisive move here on behalf of diversity and difference.92

3. We find a contemporary parallel in the often-isolated way in which the church relates to the world. In the interests of unity and preserving its own future, the members often stay close to home and don’t risk venturing forth (see Jonah). The command of Matt 28:18-20 calls for the church to scatter across the face of the earth. If the church refuses this call, God may well enter into judgment against the church and find some way of getting us beyond our own church cliques out into the world on behalf of the creation. The unity of the church is not to be found by focusing on unity, building churches and programs that present a unified front before the temptations of the world. We receive true unity finally as a gift, found in those things that are not tangible or centered on one’s own self-interests. Unity will be forged most successfully in getting beyond one’s own kind on behalf of the word in the world. 4. At Pentecost (Acts 2), each of the peoples present heard the gospel in their native tongue. The gift of the Spirit results in a linguistic cacophony, but all receive the gospel. This gift of a new hearing transcends language barriers, but at the same time maintains the differences that languages reflect. The testimony of Acts 2 does not then overturn the multiplicity of languages, but enables people who speak various languages to hear and understand the one gospel for all the earth. The people are then scattered over the face of the earth (Acts 8:1-4) to proclaim the gospel rather than their own concerns (Acts 2:11). Speaking different languages probably presents more blessing than bane, more gift than problem. Linguistic diversity enriches people’s understanding of the world around them and is expressed in the world’s literature. Speaking and hearing, broadly conceived, become a more complex reality in everyday life, and include not simply hearing other languages, but truly hearing others in their various life situations. Difficulties in communication can often lead to difficulties in relationships, but this usually involves the failings of people who seek to communicate than the reality of differences in language as such. <Page 414 Ends><Page 415 Begins>

Posts 5318
Dan Francis | Forum Activity | Replied: Wed, May 22 2013 11:53 AM

Sample for this week….

John 16:4b-33, “It Is to Your Advantage That I Go Away”

Link to: NIV * NRSV

<Page 768 Ends><Page 769 Begins>

<Page 769 Ends><Page 770 Begins>

COMMENTARY

The final section of the Farewell Discourse begins at 16:4b (see Commentary on 15:18–16:4a for discussion of the reasons for this division). This section returns to the themes with which the Farewell Discourse opened in John 14: Jesus’ departure and its effect on the disciples’ future. The farewell situation governs both 14:1-31 and 16:4b-33. The thematic overlap between chaps. 14 and 16 leads some scholars to suggest that 14:1-31 and 16:4b-33 are duplicate discourses—that is, two versions of the same tradition.535 Yet, as discussed in the Overview to John 14:1–16:33, this solution to the composition of the Farewell Discourse tends to discount the role of repetition as a literary technique throughout the Fourth Gospel. There are undeniable echoes of John 14 in Jesus’ teachings in 16:4b-33 (e.g., John 14:13-14; 16:23-24), but one does not need to resort to a complex redactional theory to explain them. Rather, as in other discourses in the Fourth Gospel, the Farewell Discourse employs a web-like construction. The argument of the discourse often moves forward by moving backward, by returning to what has been said before and restating it in a new context. There are subtle yet important distinctions in the way the farewell theme is handled in John 14 and 16. John 14:1-31 introduces the theme of absence and departure and focuses on words of assurance and consolation. It is as if Jesus is assuring his disciples that the future is possible even though he is leaving them (14:1-4, 18, 27). John 16:4b-33, by contrast, brings Jesus’ farewell instructions to a conclusion and focuses less on assurance and more on the shape of the future itself. In these verses, Jesus is showing his disciples that his departure is necessary so that they can fully embrace the future. He repeatedly points them to the benefits of his departure (16:7, 22-27, 33). John 16:4b-33 can be divided into three parts. The first part, vv. 4b-7a, reintroduces the theme of Jesus’ departure and the disciples’ response to it. This introduction is followed by two sections that show why Jesus’ departure is to the disciples’ advantage: vv. 7b-15, which contain two new teachings about the advent of the Paraclete; and vv. 16-33, which focus on Jesus’ victory over the world in which the disciples will share. 16:4b-7a. Jesus’ reflection on his own words once again marks a transition in the discourse (v. 4b; cf. 14:25; 15:11; 16:2, 4a, 12). “These things” (“all this,” NIV) refers to Jesus’ prediction of the community’s persecution in 15:18–16:4a, but it also applies more generally to all of Jesus’ teachings in the Farewell Discourse, particularly his teaching about his departure. Verses 4b and 5a highlight the contrast between the time of Jesus’ ministry (“from the beginning”; “I was with you,” v. 4b) and the present moment of the hour (“now” [nu'n nun], v. 5a; cf. 12:31; 13:31; 17:13). The arrival of the hour, of Jesus’ death, resurrection, <Page 770 Ends><Page 771 Begins> and ascension, determines what Jesus teaches his disciples (cf. 12:23; 13:1; 17:1). Verses 5b-7a introduce the theme of 16:4b-33: the disciples’ “sorrow” (lu"ph lype) at Jesus’ departure. Although many scholars point to v. 5b as evidence of the compositional problems in the Farewell Discourse,536 Jesus’ complaint here (“none of you asks me . . . ”) does not contradict 13:36 and 14:5, but is primarily a rhetorical device. Jesus is not really concerned with the disciples’ questions about his departure, but refers to their present speechlessness as a way of introducing their “situation of sorrow.”537 As Dodd suggests about v. 5b, Jesus reproaches the disciples, “not because they are not enquiring about his destination, but because in spite of knowing that he is going to the Father they are dismayed about the future.”538 The disciples’ “sorrow” (lype ) at Jesus’ teaching about his departure (note the repetition of “these things” in 16:6) provides the occasion for his words in this final unit of the Farewell Discourse. In 14:1-31 Jesus offers the assurance of his peace to the disciples’ troubled hearts (14:1, 27); in 16:4b-33 he now offers their sorrowful hearts reasons for rejoicing (see 16:20-22).539 Verse 7a confirms this intent. The expression with which this verse begins, “I tell you the truth,” can be read simply as a solemn asseveration, synonymous with the more common expression “very truly I tell you.” Yet the noun “truth” (ajlh"qeia aletheia) may also suggest that Jesus’ promise that his death is to the disciples’ advantage is grounded in the truth of Jesus’ revelation of God (cf. 1:17; 3:33; 8:45-46; 14:6). At 14:28, Jesus urged his disciples to love him enough to see his death as a reason for rejoicing, because through it Jesus completes God’s work. Here he urges the disciples to see the good in it for them as well. 16:7b-15. 16:7b-11. These verses contain the fourth promise of the Paraclete in the Farewell Discourse (cf. 14:16-17, 26; 15:26-27; 16:12-15). The two conditional clauses of v. 7b-c identify Jesus’ departure as the prerequisite for the advent of the Paraclete. At 7:39, the Evangelist explained to the reader that the gift of the Spirit could not occur until after Jesus’ glorification, and v. 7b places that same claim in the words of Jesus himself. The Paraclete’s ministry is to make Jesus and his work present and available for the community in his absence. Since Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension complete his revelation of God (17:1-5), his departure must precede the advent of the Paraclete. Verse 7b thus defines the relationship between Jesus and the Paraclete; the Paraclete’s work cannot be undertaken until Jesus’ work is completed. Verse 7c identifies Jesus as the sole sender of the Paraclete. This identification does not contradict earlier references to the mutual involvement of God and Jesus in the sending of the Paraclete (cf. 14:16, 26; 15:26), but rather is worded this way to highlight the inseparable bond between Jesus’ departure and the advent of the Paraclete. Verses 8-11 paint a vivid picture of the Paraclete’s activity in the world. The picture is clearly one of a trial, in which the Paraclete has the role of prosecuting attorney and the world is the defendant, standing before the believing community. The trial motif has been prevalent throughout the Gospel of John, although prior to this passage, the focus has been on Jesus himself as prosecutor and judge (e.g, 3:19; 8:26; 9:39; cf. 12:47-48). Jesus’ active role as judge of the world will reach its dramatic climax in his trial before Pilate (see Commentary on 18:28–19:16), and 16:8-11 shows how that role will be ceded to the Paraclete after Jesus’ departure. The Paraclete’s share in the judgment of the world is another example of how the Paraclete continues the work of Jesus. It is important to note the distinction between the juridical roles of the Paraclete in 15:26-27 and 16:8-11.540 In 15:26-27, the Paraclete’s role is that of the defense counsel, bearing witness with and for the community in the world’s case against it. This shift in roles confirms the importance of not limiting the translation of Paraclete to one English noun (e.g., “Advocate”; see above at 14:16) and of noting the variety of functions that define the Paraclete’s presence and ministry in the faith community (see Excursus “The Paraclete,” 774-78. <Page 771 Ends><Page 772 Begins> The precise contour of the Paraclete’s role is more difficult to identify than its broad forensic function. The key difficulty is how to translate the central verb phrase in v. 8 (ejle"gxei . . . peri; elegxei . . .peri). The verb ejle"gcw (elegcho) can be translated either as “expose” (as at 3:20) or “convict” (as at 8:46). The NRSV (“prove the world wrong about”) and the NIV (“convict the world of guilt in regard to”) both adopt the basic meaning of “convict,” although they must paraphrase this verse in order to communicate that meaning (neither the word “wrong” nor “guilt” appears in the Greek). “Expose” seems a better translation, however, because it has the same double meaning as the Greek verb: both “bring to light” and “hold up to reprobation.”541 To say that the Paraclete will expose the world regarding sin, righteousness, and judgment means that the Paraclete will bring out into the open the true meaning of sin, righteousness, and judgment and hold the world accountable to those standards. As in 15:18-25, “world” is not a neutral term, but means “that which is opposed to God in Jesus.” The Paraclete’s exposure of the world is narrated in a strict symmetrical pattern in vv. 9-11; each verse opens with the key noun, followed by a hoti clause (“that” or “because”) that simultaneously “exposes” the meaning of the noun and the world’s relation to it. In each instance, the exposure has a christological core. Sin, righteousness, and judgment thus are not abstract concepts, but derive their meaning from the life and death of Jesus. Verse 9 provides the Gospel’s most straightforward statement of the Johannine understanding of “sin” (aJmarti"a hamartia). As has been noted already (see Reflections on John 9), for the Fourth Gospel, sin is a theological, not a moral, category. The world’s sin is not to believe in Jesus—that is, not to believe that Jesus is the incarnate Logos of God (cf. 8:24; 15:22-24). The present tense verb in the expression “they do not believe” (ouj pisteu"ousin ou pisteuousin) shows that the Fourth Evangelist’s primary concern is with the world’s ongoing rejection of the revelation of God in Jesus, not simply with one particular rejection of Jesus by the Jewish power structure. The noun “righteousness” (dikaiosu"nh dikaiosyne) occurs only in this passage in the Fourth Gospel (16:8, 10). The juridical context of vv. 8-11 suggests that it is used in the legal sense of what is right and just, as in the use of the adjective “righteous” (di"kaiov dikaios) to modify “judgment” at 5:30 and 7:24. In the context of the world’s trial by the Paraclete, then, righteousness should be read as synonymous with “vindication,” and not as referring to the believer’s justification by faith, an interpretation overly influenced by the Pauline use of the term (e.g., Rom 4:25).542 Righteousness is exposed in two ways (v. 10). First, Jesus’ death is not defeat, as the world assumes. Rather, his death shows forth the righteousness (“rightness”) of God, because in death Jesus goes to God and completes his work. This will be confirmed in Jesus’ address of God as “righteous [dikaios] Father” at 17:25. Second, the disciples no longer see Jesus. This expression here does not refer to the contingency of the revelation (as, for example, 7:33-34; 8:21; 13:31). Nor is it related to Jesus’ abiding presence with his disciples, and therefore is not followed by a promise that the disciples will see him again (14:19; 16:16-19). Rather, Jesus’ absence is offered as corroboration of his departure and hence the seal of his vindication. The trial motif governs the interpretation of v. 11 as well. This verse brings to prominence the cosmic and eschatological dimensions of the world’s trial; the ultimate judgment is the judgment of “the ruler of the world” (see also 12:31; 14:30). The verb “judge” (ke"kritai kekritai; “condemn,” NRSV, NIV) is in the perfect tense. The NIV captures the meaning of the Greek perfect tense well: The ruler of the world was judged in the past (at Jesus’ hour), and that judgment continues into the present. In Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension, the ruler of the world, the devil, the embodiment of all that is opposed to God, is defeated and God is victorious. The life and death of Jesus are ultimately about the governance of the world. It is important to read v. 11 in the light of v. 8, which says that the Paraclete “will expose the world concerning . . . judgment.” The future tense, like the perfect tense of “to judge,” shows that the Paraclete continues God’s eschatological judgment beyond the time of <Page 772 Ends><Page 773 Begins> Jesus’ life and death into the life of the faith community. The world is continually judged by God’s work in Jesus. 16:12-15. The focus shifts from the role of the Paraclete in the world to the functions of the Paraclete within the faith community (cf. 14:16-17, 26). Verse 12 sets the context for the fifth and final Paraclete teaching in the Farewell Discourse (vv. 13-15). Jesus confronts the disciples with the constraints that time imposes on his teaching to them and points them toward their own futures. The verb “to bear” (basta"zw bastazo) is normally used to refer to the physical act of supporting or bearing a heavy load (e.g., Matt 3:11; 20:12; Mark 14:13; Luke 7:14; Acts 3:2; Rom 11:18). Here it is used metaphorically to point to the burden of the disciples’ future. The future will test them in ways that they cannot now anticipate; Jesus, therefore, can teach the disciples nothing more about the future in the present moment. Bultmann moves to the heart of Jesus’ words here when he writes, “The believer can only measure the significance and claims of what he has to undergo when he actually meets it. He anticipates the future in faith, not foreknowledge.”543 This does not mean, however, that Jesus’ teachings have come to an end for the disciples nor that they will have to face the future without the supporting words of Jesus. Jesus’ words about the Paraclete in vv. 13-15 show the disciples how, even in his absence, their futures fall within his providence. The functions of the Paraclete spelled out in these verses will ensure that the disciples do not face the future alone (cf. 14:18), unequipped with the necessary words of Jesus. The Paraclete will carry Jesus’ teachings into the future. As at 14:17 and 15:26, the title “Spirit of Truth” (v. 13) underscores the reliability of the Paraclete and points to his link with Jesus, who is the truth (14:6). Verse 13 describes two interrelated functions of the Spirit of Truth in the future life of the community. First, “he will guide you into all the truth” (v. 13a). The verb “to guide” (oJdhge"w hodegeo) occurs only here in John and is a compound verb from the roots “way” (oJdo"v hodos) and “lead” (a[gw ago), thus literally “lead in the way.” This verb is used in the Psalms (LXX) to point to the instructional role of God (cf. Pss 25:5, 9; 85:10) in leading the community into right and faithful behavior. In Wis 9:11 and 10:10, it is used to describe the teaching function of Wisdom. This verb thus points to the teaching role the Paraclete will have in the future life of the faith community. Its combination with “truth” is a direct echo of 14:6, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life,” and thus specifies the content of the Paraclete’s teaching. To say that the Paraclete will guide the disciples into all the truth is to say that in the future the Paraclete will lead the community into the life-giving revelation of God in Jesus. Verse 13b offers the warrants for the Paraclete’s guidance (“for”): The Paraclete will not be an independent witness to the truth, but speaks what he will hear. The textual witnesses are divided over whether “hear” (ajkou"w akouo) is in the present or future tense. The future tense fits the context best, because Jesus is describing the future activity of the Paraclete. The future tense is the reading preferred by the Nestle-Aland2 edition of the Greek text, although the NIV and the NRSV both opt for the present tense variant. This description of the Paraclete echoes earlier descriptions of Jesus (7:16-17; 8:26, 40; 12:49-50), in which Jesus is described as speaking what he hears from God, and is thus another example of the continuity between Jesus and the Paraclete. Second, the Paraclete “will declare to you the things that are to come” (v. 13c). The verb “to declare” (ajnagge"llw anangello) means to proclaim what has been heard (cf. 4:25; 16:25)544 and as such builds on the claim of v. 13b. It is not a verb of prophecy or prediction, and thus does not describe the Paraclete as one who foretells the future. Rather, it highlights the proclamatory function of the Paraclete within the community. “The things that are to come” may refer specifically to the events of Jesus’ hour (which the Paraclete will help to interpret to the community; cf. 2:22; 12:16), but it also refers to the community’s future, to the events for which Jesus cannot prepare them now (v. 12). The Paraclete thus will proclaim the teachings of Jesus to them in the new and changing circumstances of their lives. That is, Jesus’ words are not locked <Page 773 Ends><Page 774 Begins> in the disciples’ past, restricted to a particular historic moment. Nor does Jesus’ death rob future believers of the chance to receive the word of Jesus in the changing circumstances of their lives. The promise of v. 13c is that the presence of the Paraclete in the life of the community will ensure that all believers’ futures are open to fresh proclamations of Jesus’ words. The repetition of the expression “he will take what is mine” in vv. 14-15 supports the definition of anangello as “to declare what has been heard.” These verses offer supplementary definitions of what it means to speak of the Paraclete as the one who will declare what he has heard. First, in v. 14, Jesus describes the Paraclete’s declaration to the community of “what is mine” as an act of glorification. Jesus’ words and actions glorified God, made visible the identity of God (1:14, 18; 17:4-6), and the Paraclete’s proclamation will do the same for Jesus. This description again underscores continuity between Jesus’ ministry and the Paraclete’s ministry. Second, in v. 15 Jesus returns to one of the central affirmations of his ministry (“All that the Father has is mine”; cf. 5:19-20) in order to underscore the grounding of the Paraclete’s ministry. For the Paraclete to take what is Jesus’ is for the Paraclete to participate in the fullness of Jesus’ revelation of God and then to declare that fullness to succeeding generations of disciples.

v v v v v v v v v v

EXCURSUS: THE PARACLETE

The Farewell Discourse places a rich portrait of the Paraclete before the Gospel reader. As the Commentary on the five Paraclete passages has shown (14:16-17, 26; 15:26-27; 16:7-11, 12-15), the Paraclete is intimately tied to Jesus’ preparation of his disciples for their life after his return to God. In none of the other Gospels does the Spirit play such a central role in the teaching of Jesus. Furthermore, by speaking of the Spirit as the Paraclete, the Fourth Evangelist seems to be attempting to free his portrait from early Christian preconceptions of the nature of the Spirit in order to get a fresh hearing for the role the Spirit plays in the life of the believing community. For example, John does not identify the presence of the Spirit in the Christian community with specific spiritual gifts (cf. 1 Cor 12:1-11, 27-28; 14:1-33; Acts 2:4). The Gospel does not portray the Spirit as actively directing the activities of the believing community (cf. Acts 8:29, 39; 10:19; 11:12; 13:2, 4), nor does it point to the role of the Spirit in baptism (cf. Acts 2:38; 8:16-17; 10:44-48). The portrait of the Paraclete in the Farewell Discourse is thus one of the most substantive and distinctive theological contributions of this Gospel, and it warrants the interpreter’s careful reflection. The Commentary has discussed the details of the Johannine portrait of the Paraclete. Two aspects of that portrait can be singled out as the basis for theological reflection on the Paraclete: the Paraclete as the continuing presence of Jesus in the post-resurrection community and the Paraclete as teacher and witness.

THE PARACLETE AS THE PRESENCE OF JESUS

It is impossible to overstate the crisis that the believing community faced as a result of Jesus’ death. The shape and scope of this crisis can be illustrated by looking at the conversation between Jesus and Peter at 6:67-68. At 6:67, Jesus asked the Twelve whether they, too, wanted to leave him because of the difficulty of his teachings. In response, Peter replied, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life” (6:68). Peter, speaking for the disciples, recognized the life-giving power of Jesus’ revelation. At Jesus’ death, the disciples face the inversion of the situation proposed at 6:67: Jesus is leaving them, and Peter’s question becomes even more poignant, “Lord, to whom can we go?” Is Jesus’ death the end of his “words of eternal life”? <Page 774 Ends><Page 775 Begins>

Figure 12: Paraclete Passages in the Gospel of John*

14:16-17 “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever—the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.”

14:26 “But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.”

15:26 “When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me.

16:7-11 “But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment; in regard to sin, because men do not believe in me; in regard to righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; and in regard to judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.”

16:12-15 “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you. All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you.”

It is important to be clear about the theological dimension of this crisis. In John, Jesus’ revelation of God hinges on the recognition that Jesus is the incarnate Logos, the Son of God. Jesus’ revelation of God is not a general, abstract revelation of the character of God. The essence of God cannot be abstracted from the incarnation and represented as some general notion of the “divine.” Rather, the reality of the incarnation is the essence of Jesus’ revelation of God. It is in the Word become flesh, in God’s gift of his Son, that believers come to know who God is. That is, the incarnation has brought believers into new relationship with God and has opened up the possibility of their becoming children of God (1:12-13). Jesus’ death and departure thus presented the disciples, and the church, with a crisis far greater than simply the loss of their teacher and friend. Jesus’ death and return to God marked the end of the incarnation. If the revelation of God is lodged in the incarnation, what happens when Jesus is gone? Was Jesus’ revelation of God possible for only the first generation of believers, available only to those who had physical contact with Jesus and his ministry? Was Jesus’ revelation of God thus limited to one particular moment in history, or does it have a future? <Page 775 Ends><Page 776 Begins> It is the theological genius of the Fourth Evangelist to present the Paraclete as the solution to this crisis. Throughout Jesus’ words about the Paraclete, the emphasis repeatedly falls on the Paraclete as the one who will continue Jesus’ work after his absence, as the one who will make it possible for the experience of God made known and available in the incarnation to be known after Jesus’ death. The Commentary on the Paraclete passages repeatedly noted the ways in which the description of the Paraclete echoed the Gospel’s description of Jesus. For example, the verbs “to witness” and “to abide,” both identified in the Gospel with the life and ministry of Jesus, are associated with the Paraclete in the Farewell Discourse (“witness” [marture"w martyreo], e.g., 3:32; 8:13-18; 15:26-27; “abide” [me"nw meno], e.g., 14:17, 25; 15:4). The Paraclete is explicitly described as speaking the words of Jesus and reminding the disciples of Jesus’ teaching (14:26; 15:13-15). The Paraclete’s origins are explicitly linked to the agency of God and Jesus, and the Paraclete is described as being sent by God and given by God (14:16, 26), verbs that are also used to describe Jesus’ advent into the world (e.g., 3:16; 4:34; 6:38; 12:44-45). The very language of these promises thus establishes the connections between the ministry of Jesus and the ministry of the Paraclete. The Paraclete is positioned as the link between the historical ministry of Jesus and the future life of the church after Jesus’ death. Through the promise of the Paraclete, the Fourth Evangelist is able to portray Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension not as the end, but as the beginning of a new era in the life of the believing community. Indeed, in 16:7-8, Jesus goes so far as to speak of his departure as being for the disciples’ good, so that they will be able to share in the advent of the Paraclete. Future generations of believers are not left alone, bereft of the experience of God made known in the incarnation, because the Paraclete takes that experience of God and extends it beyond the limits of Jesus’ life and death. The Paraclete makes it possible for all believers to share in the good news of the incarnation, because the Paraclete makes Jesus present to believers, even though Jesus is now physically absent. The promise of the abiding presence of the Paraclete highlights the interconnection of all aspects of the Johannine theological vision. In addition to clarifying the Johannine understanding of the Spirit (its pneumatology), the Paraclete passages also contribute to the Fourth Evangelist’s portrait of Jesus and point to the writer’s understanding of the nature of Christian community. As the Farewell Discourse is at pains to make clear, Jesus’ death will not leave the disciples orphaned, because Jesus and God will send the Paraclete to the believing community. Jesus will leave the world, but the disciples will not (17:11, 15), and the promise of the Paraclete shows Jesus as one who will continue to support his followers for perpetuity. The promise of the Paraclete thus stands as a testament to the reliability of Jesus and his love, because Jesus has not ignored the future of those who will live on after he leaves them. It is a stunning portrait of Jesus that has at its heart a conviction about the abiding presence of Jesus with those whom he loves and who love him. Jesus is, indeed, the good shepherd who loves and cares for his own both in his death (10:17-18; 13:1, 35; 15:12-13) and beyond. The promise of the Paraclete thus provides the ultimate definition of what Jesus means when he says, “Abide in me as I abide in you” (15:4). The presence of the Paraclete means that there are no temporal or spatial limits on Jesus’ love and on believers’ access to that love. The love of God made known in the incarnation continues into the life of the community through the gift of the Paraclete. What is critical about the promise of the Paraclete is that Jesus and God send the Paraclete to the community, not to individuals. Readings of the Fourth Gospel that emphasize the individual believer’s mystical relationship to Jesus through the Spirit distort the Johannine picture of the Paraclete. The Paraclete is not a private possession, nor is its presence discernible as an internal experience of the individual believer. The Paraclete is given to and known in the community. Because the Paraclete is the presence of Jesus after Jesus’ departure, it is not simply a subjective experience of “God,” but is always linked to the revelation of God made known in the incarnation. The Paraclete keeps the community <Page 776 Ends><Page 777 Begins> grounded in Jesus’ revelation of God, not in an individual’s private experience of God. The Paraclete is thus the unifying mark of Christian community, because it gives all believers access to Jesus.

THE PARACLETE AS TEACHER AND WITNESS

Jesus’ teachings in the Farewell Discourse consistently depict the Paraclete as teacher and witness, and this depiction illuminates the role of the Paraclete in forming and shaping Christian community. Two passages are especially important in this regard. First, at 14:26, Jesus says that the Paraclete will “remind you of all that I have said to you.” As noted in the Commentary, this verse points both to the connection between what Jesus said and what the Paraclete will say (see also 16:14) and to the nature of the Paraclete’s teaching role. For the Paraclete, to teach is to remind the community of what Jesus himself said. Second, at John 16:12-13, Jesus says, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of Truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth.” In these verses, as the Commentary suggested, Jesus points to the importance of fresh encounters with the words of Jesus, given at the time of need, not in advance of that time, and identifies the Paraclete as the medium of those encounters. These descriptions of the Paraclete are pivotal for contemporary Christian communities of faith, because they point to the ways in which the Paraclete enables past, present, and future to converge in the life of the church. The Paraclete enables the words of Jesus to resound afresh in ever-changing circumstances. On the one hand, the Paraclete’s role is essentially conserving. That is, the Paraclete enables the Christian community, at any time in its life, to reach back to the teachings of Jesus and “remember,” to bring Jesus’ teachings to life afresh with new understanding (see Reflections on 12:12-18). On the other hand, the Paraclete’s role as teacher is also creative. The Paraclete enables the word of Jesus to move forward from its moment in history to the present life of the church. The Paraclete gives new meanings to the teachings of Jesus as the changing circumstances of faith communities and the world demand. The words of Jesus that community members are able to receive before a crisis are quite distinct from the words that the community is able to receive during or after a crisis. For example, if someone tried to tell an adolescent what he or she would need to hear from Jesus to endure what life will bring at thirty, fifty, or seventy years of age, the adolescent would not be able to “bear” them. The words of Jesus that a community will need to endure the destruction of a church building by fire would also be insupportable in advance of the event. The words of Jesus that the community needs to hear to make sense of the church’s place in changing social and economic circumstances are likewise unbearable in advance, because there is no context for such words in advance of the situation of need. The Fourth Evangelist portrays the Paraclete as the guarantee that the words of Jesus will always be available as fresh words for any and all futures. The Paraclete thus ensures that there is an ongoing communication between Jesus and contemporary communities of faith. As with the Gospel’s emphasis on the abiding presence of the Paraclete, this interpretation of the Paraclete’s role as teacher and witness is also a stroke of theological genius. This understanding of the Paraclete as teacher both honors the integrity of the historical ministry of Jesus and at the same time recognizes that Jesus’ ministry must always be interpreted in order to keep its offer of God alive. The Paraclete’s teaching, witness, and interpretation can take many forms in the life of the faith community. The first place where the reader of the Fourth Gospel experiences the work of the Paraclete is in the Gospel narrative itself. In telling his story of Jesus, the Fourth Evangelist shares in the work of the Paraclete. He does indeed “remind” his readers <Page 777 Ends><Page 778 Begins> of what Jesus said and did, thus carrying the teachings of Jesus forward from the past into the present. But in his reminding, he also places the story of Jesus into conversation with the circumstances in which his readers live, so that they are able to hear Jesus’ words as if he were speaking to their own lives and needs. The two levels of many of the Gospel’s narratives, in which Jesus’ relationship to the Jewish authorities of his day melds with the Jewish controversies of the Evangelist’s time (e.g., John 5:31-46; 7:11-13; 9:22-41), can be interpreted as the work of the Paraclete, to show that Jesus’ story is both a past event and a contemporary story.545 The Fourth Evangelist understands, perhaps better than any other evangelist, that story and interpretation, history and theology, are inseparably linked in the life of Jesus and the church and that is incumbent upon the faith community to engage in disciplined conversation between the story of Jesus and their own stories. The contemporary Christian also experiences the Paraclete in the preaching of the church. Each time a preacher attempts to proclaim the Word of God in a new circumstance, he or she shares in the work of the Paraclete. At its heart, preaching belongs to the ongoing conversation among past, present, and future in the life of the church. Like the work of the Paraclete, preaching is both conserving and creative. It is at the same time both old and new, past tense and contemporary. The preacher is bound both to the traditions of the church, so that his or her work is an act of reminding, and to the present moment, so that his or her work is also an act of discovering how the Word of God speaks in a new day. The gift and presence of the Paraclete allows both the preacher and the congregation to share in a fresh experience of the Word of God.

v v v v v v v v v v

16:16-33. As noted in the Commentary above, John 16:7b-33 provides two responses to the disciples’ sorrow at Jesus’ impending departure (vv. 7b-15 and vv. 16-33). Jesus’ words in v. 16 provide the transition between these two responses, because they turn the focus from the Paraclete back to Jesus’ departure per se, the theme with which he began in vv. 5-7a. 16:16. Jesus has used the expression “a little while” (mikro"n mikron) to speak of the imminence of his departure and hence the limited time of his presence (7:33; 13:33; cf. 12:35). Against this background, it is clear that the adverb mikron in v. 16a refers to the time leading up to Jesus’ death. With the second mikron in v. 16b, however, Jesus points beyond his death to the disciples’ future experience of Jesus (“you will see me again”). In the context of the Farewell Discourse, this second “a little while” seems to refer to the time between Jesus’ death and his resurrection appearances. In the OT, the expression “a little while” is often used to refer to the interval of intense eschatological expectation and to evoke the imminence of God’s new age (e.g, Isa 10:25; 26:20; 29:17). The prominence of OT imagery, particularly from Isaiah, in 16:21 (see below) supports reading Jesus’ words in v. 16b against that background. Some interpreters (e.g., Augustine), therefore, find a reference to the resurrection too limiting and instead see mikron as referring to the time before the parousia, Jesus’ Second Coming.546 These interpreters rightly emphasize the eschatological dimension of Jesus’ promise here, but misread the Johannine understanding of the resurrection. For John, the hour—Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension—is the eschatological event, marking the beginning of God’s new age, and as such the significance of the resurrection appearances extends beyond the experiences of his first disciples on Easter day (see below on 16:22 and 20:1-29).547 16:17-18. The disciples’ confused questioning <Page 778 Ends><Page 779 Begins> underscores the ambiguity of Jesus’ words in v. 16. These verses are the first time the disciples have spoken since 14:22, although at this juncture they speak only among themselves (v. 17) and do not address their words directly to Jesus (cf. v. 19). Their questions to one another link the two parts of the discourse in John 16, because not only do they repeat the immediately preceding words of Jesus from v. 16, but they also repeat his words of v. 10 (“because I am going to the Father”; cf. the similar function of the disciples’ questions to one another at 4:27). Their questions show that they have recognized that Jesus is speaking to them about his departure, but that the meaning of that departure still remains beyond their grasp. Their continual repetition of Jesus’ words sounds almost like stammering (note the NIV’s correct translation of the Greek imperfect at v. 18, “they kept asking”). The language of vv. 17-18 conveys the disciples’ inarticulateness in the face of Jesus’ departure and thereby confirms Jesus’ words of vv. 5b-6: the disciples’ sorrow at Jesus’ departure seems to have rendered them speechless. 16:19. Jesus’ knowledge of the disciples’ questions points again to his ability to know “what was in everyone” (2:25; cf. 1:47-48; 6:15, 61; 13:11). As is typical of the teaching of Jesus throughout this Gospel, Jesus does not answer their questions directly, but instead moves their questions in a new direction (cf. 3:2-9; 4:12-14). The expression “very truly, I tell you” with which v. 20 begins is used once again to introduce a new teaching (cf., e.g., 3:3, 5; 5:24-25; 8:34). The teaching that follows in vv. 20-24 addresses the disciples’ sorrow (lu"ph lype; “pain,” NRSV; “grief,” NIV) and its resolution. 16:20. Verse 20a depicts the contrasting effect of Jesus’ death on his disciples and the world (cf. 15:18–16:4a). The verbs “to weep” (klai"w klaio) and “to mourn” (qrhne"w threneo) describe the lamentation and grieving at a death (John 11:31, 33; 20:11; Luke 7:13; 7:32; 8:52; 23:27; see also Jer 22:10). The contrast between mourning and rejoicing in v. 20 recalls the contrast in the blessing and woe of Luke 6:21 and 25 between the disciples of Jesus and their adversaries. Jesus immediately promises the transformation of the disciples’ sorrow into joy in v. 20b, but will not address its counterpart, the transformation of the world’s joy into its opposite, until the final words of the discourse (16:33).548 16:21. Jesus employs a short parable to illustrate the relationship between present sorrow and future joy in the disciples’ experience. In John’s Gospel, Jesus often draws on proverbs or short parables to illustrate his claims (e.g., 4:37-38; 5:19-20; 8:35; 10:1-5; 12:24).549 Dodd offers an excellent analysis of the form of this parable, noting the formal balance of its composition: two parts that each have the same pattern, “when A occurs, B occurs, because C has occurred.”550 In v. 21a, the interrelated elements are labor, pain, and the time of delivery; in v. 21b, the mother’s delivery of the child shifts the balance between pain and joy. This parable, which draws on a common life experience, thus serves as an apt illustration of Jesus’ teaching about sorrow and joy. Yet this parable is much more than a general illustration. Its imagery, while reflective of ordinary experience, draws on a wealth of OT imagery in which the metaphor of childbirth is used to describe the advent of God’s salvation. Of particular relevance are two texts from Isaiah. Isaiah 26:17 employs the childbirth metaphor to describe the experience of God’s people as they await God’s deliverance. (As noted above, an echo of Isa 26:20 can be heard in Jesus’ words in v. 16.) In Isa 66:7-17, the metaphor of childbirth is used to envision the restoration of Jerusalem. Both of these texts use the childbirth metaphor as a communal metaphor; it evokes the experience of the people of God as they move from suffering to renewed joy. The language of v. 21 has other theological resonances. First, the Greek word translated “pain” (lype) is an unusual word to describe a woman’s pain at childbirth, since it is normally a word for emotional, not physical, pain. Its use here is probably to call the disciples’ (and the reader’s) immediate attention to the connections Jesus is establishing between the conventional parable and the particularities of the disciples’ situation at Jesus’ departure. Second, Jesus speaks of the woman’s time of delivery as “her hour.” This use of “hour” evokes both Jesus’ own hour <Page 779 Ends><Page 780 Begins> (2:4; 8:20; 12:23; 13:1) and the anticipated eschatological hour (4:21, 23; 5:25, 28). Third, the noun qli'yiv (thlipsis, “anguish”) is used to describe the woman’s ordeal in labor. This noun, normally translated “tribulation,” is usually used in apocalyptic contexts to describe the suffering and persecution the community will endure in advance of the inbreaking of God’s kingdom (e.g., Matt 24:9, 21, 29; Mark 13:19, 24; Acts 14:22; Rom 8:35). In this parable, then, Jesus draws on OT childbirth imagery to communicate the eschatological transformation that will occur within the faith community as a result of his death. The disciples will become a new people, a people of joy. Images of birth are important metaphors in the Fourth Gospel to describe the new life that Jesus makes available to those who believe (1:12-13; 3:3-10; cf. “little children” at 13:33). The imagery of childbirth is especially significant in the context of the Farewell Discourse, because it is, indeed, new birth for the disciples that will be effected through Jesus’ death and resurrection (see Commentary on 20:17). It is a distortion of the parable to interpret its symbolism as depicting the birth of the Messiah, along the analogy of Rev 12:2-5, because such a view misreads the essential communal referent of the metaphor.551 As in the Isaiah texts, the woman stands as a symbol for the community, suffering through tribulation in order to receive God’s awaited salvation and new life. 16:22. Jesus makes the direct comparison between the parable and the disciples’ sorrow (“so you have sorrow now”). He identifies his reappearance to them as the act that will transform their sorrow to joy. Jesus’ words seem to be a promise of his resurrection appearances, and, indeed, in John 20 Jesus’ appearance will cause Mary to cease weeping (20:16) and cause the other disciples to rejoice (20:20). The Easter stories thus show the reliability of Jesus’ farewell promise and the truth of his words. Jesus’ promise in v. 22 is the perfect complement to v. 6 (cf. the relationship between 14:1 and 27), and at the same time seems to contain a deliberate allusion to Isa 66:14 (“You shall see, and your heart shall rejoice” [NRSV]). The wording of the promise in v. 22 (“I will see you again”) highlights Jesus’initiative toward the disciples in the resurrection (cf. the wording of 16:16). Verse 22 ends with a statement of the permanence of the disciples’ joy. Like the birth of the child in the parable, Jesus’ resurrection will irreversibly change the course of the disciples’ lives. 16:23-24. As at 14:20, “on that day” (v. 23a) underscores the connection between Jesus’ resurrection and the time of eschatological fulfillment. Because of Jesus’ resurrection, the disciples have entered into eschatological joy. The sign of this eschatological joy will be their lack of questions (v. 23a). The precise meaning of Jesus’ promise here depends on how one interprets the Greek verb ejrwta"w (erotao). The NRSV gives it the meaning of “petition” (“ask nothing of me”). According to this reading, vv. 23-24 form one teaching about the believers’ petitions. This reading seems unlikely, however, since the expression “very truly, I tell you” with which v. 23b begins always introduces a new teaching in John and so marks a shift in Jesus’ teaching. The more common meaning of erotao is “to ask questions,” and this is the meaning accepted by the NIV and most scholars (see also the NRSV footnote).552 “On that day” the confused, anxious, and stammering questions that have marked the disciples’ relationship to Jesus during his ministry (e.g, 6:9; 11:8; 13:6, 25, 36) and especially during the Farewell Discourse (14:5, 22; 16:17-18) will cease. As Bultmann has eloquently stated, this is “the eschatological situation: to have no more questions! . . . This is to say that the believers live in joy; because it is the nature of joy that all questioning grows silent, and nothing needs explaining.”553 In vv. 23b-24, Jesus describes a second characteristic of eschatological joy: answered prayer (cf. 14:13-14; 15:7, 16). Answered prayer is a sign of eschatological joy because it is a sign that the disciples share fully in Jesus’ relationship with God. The manuscript evidence is divided over whether the phrase “in Jesus’ name” should be linked with the disciples’ asking (the reading followed <Page 780 Ends><Page 781 Begins> by the NIV and the NRSV) or God’s response (NRSV footnote). Both readings emphasize the interrelationship of God, Jesus, and the community in prayer. As a sign of God’s new age, the disciples can pray, like Jesus, in the full confidence that God hears their prayers. This confidence in prayer will be enacted for the disciples in Jesus’ prayer of 17:1-16. 16:25-33. 16:25. The final section of the Farewell Discourse is introduced by the transitional expression “I have said these things to you” (v. 25a; see also 14:25; 15:11; 16:4). The Greek noun translated “figures of speech” by the NRSV (paroimi"ai paroimiai) can refer to a range of literary forms, including parable, proverb, and riddle (see Commentary on 10:6). Its use in the plural in v. 25a (as opposed to the singular at 10:6; 16:29) suggests that it is being used adverbially(note the NIV’s “figuratively”)—that is, it describes a general mode of speaking rather than a specific literary form.554 “These things,” therefore, should not be read as referring simply to the parable of 16:21, but to all of Jesus’ teaching in the Farewell Discourse.555 On the surface level, the contrast to which Jesus points in v. 25b is clear. In the Fourth Gospel, “plainly” (parrhsi"a parresia) is used to characterize the public cast of Jesus’ ministry (e.g., 7:26; 18:20), but it is also used to describe direct speech (10:24-25; 11:14). Jesus thus accentuates the difference between the present, when he speaks in “figures of speech” (paroimiais), and the future, when he will speak “plainly” (parresia). But the real emphasis of this verse is not on Jesus’ mode of speaking per se, but on the changes that will be accomplished by “the hour.” The expression “the hour is coming” (cf. 4:21; 5:28) makes clear that the eschatological vision that shapes Jesus’ words in vv. 19-24 continues in vv. 25-28. In vv. 23-24, Jesus gave two promises of the disciples’ participation in eschatological joy: the end of their need to ask questions (v. 23a) and their answered prayer (vv. 23b-24). In vv. 25-28, Jesus moves those eschatological promises to their conclusion. Verse 25 complements v. 23a, vv. 26-27 complement vv. 23b-24, and v. 28 states the grounds of all of Jesus’ eschatological promises. Jesus’ promise in v. 25 is not a general promise about direct speech, but is a very particular promise about his revelation of the Father. Jesus’ hour—his death, resurrection, and ascension—completes his revelation of God and as such marks a decisive change in the believer’s access to God. “The hour is coming” when Jesus’ revelation of God will be “plain” because “the hour is coming” when Jesus will return to God (13:1). What has been anticipated during Jesus’ life will be fully available as a result of his hour. Jesus’ promise in v. 25b thus confirms his promise in v. 23b : the disciples will not need to ask questions because Jesus’ revelation will be “plain.” Jesus’ promise in v. 25b must also be read alongside his promises of the Paraclete in 14:25 and 16:12-15. The verb “I will tell” (ajpagge"llw apangello) in 16:25 echoes the verb used to describe the future work of the Paraclete in 16:13-15: “he will declare” (ajnagge"llw anangello).556 The Paraclete will give the disciples access to Jesus’ full revelation of God after Jesus’ return to God (cf. 16:7). 16:26-27. The eschatological dimension of Jesus’ promises is reinforced by the opening words of v. 26, “on that day” (cf. 14:20; 16:23). Verses 26-27 place the eschatological promise of answered prayer (cf. vv. 23b-24) in the context of God’s love for those who love Jesus. The disciples’ prayer is grounded in their relationship with Jesus (“you will ask in my name,” v. 26a), and Jesus’ disclaimer of his own role in their petitioning confirms the strength of this relationship. Jesus is not renouncing his role as petitioning mediator with God in v. 26b, as his prayer in John 17 shows (cf. 14:16). Rather, his words here accentuate the authenticity of the disciples’ own relationship with God and the claim that relationship has on God. Verse 27 specifies the character of this relationship: love. The vision of a community shaped by love, intimacy, and mutuality that formed the core of Jesus’ teaching in 15:1-17 receives its fullest expression here by explicitly naming God as a member of that community. Just as Jesus and the disciples are friends, “loved ones” (fi"loi philoi, 15:13-15), so also God and the disciples are friends, <Page 781 Ends><Page 782 Begins> united by love.557 The disciples’ love of Jesus is not a prerequisite for God’s love of them, however. Rather, v. 27 points to the organic connection between the believers’ love of Jesus and God’s love of them, a connection that mirrors the organic connection between Jesus and his followers (14:20-24; 15:10). Both verbs in v. 27 (“have loved” [pefilh"kate pephilekate] and “have believed” [pepisteu"kate pepisteukate]) are in the perfect tense, pointing to the duration through time of the disciples’ love and faith. Verse 27 is the ultimate eschatological vision of union with God. 16:28. This verse is a summary of the Johannine Gospel. It returns to the theme first hinted at in 1:51 (“angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man”) and first stated fully at 3:13 (“No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man”). Both halves of v. 28 are essential to the Fourth Evangelist’s theology. Verse 28a, which emphasizes Jesus’ origins with and from God, is the key to the Fourth Evangelist’s understanding of the incarnation and Jesus’ revelation of God. Verse 28b, which emphasizes Jesus’ return to God, is the key to the Fourth Evangelist’s ecclesial and eschatological vision, because Jesus’ return completes his revelation of God, makes possible the gift of the Paraclete, and so opens up the community to the possibility of a new relationship with God and with one another. In the context of the Farewell Discourse, this summary serves to remind the disciples and the readers that it is not enough to focus on Jesus’ origins with God. Jesus’ descent must be complemented by his ascent; his story is incomplete without his death and departure. Verse 28 thus brings the discourse of John 16 back to its beginnings in vv. 5-7; Jesus’ departure is indeed to the disciples’ advantage.558 16:29-30. In contrast to the questions that have previously characterized their contributions to the farewell conversation (e.g., 14:5, 22), the disciples respond to Jesus with boldness and certainty in these verses. Their confidence is readily apparent in the NRSV translation of the opening exclamation of v. 29: “Yes, now you are speaking plainly.” The disciples repeat Jesus’ words from v. 25 almost verbatim, thus offering a seemingly appro-priate response, but the few differences between their words and Jesus’ original words are telling and offer another example of Johannine irony.559 First, as noted already, paroimia is used in the plural in v. 25 (“figures of speech”). The disciples, however, respond to Jesus’ words as if only one figure of speech is in view. The disciples’ confident response to Jesus’ words, then, misinterprets the words’ central premise. By using “figure” in the singular, the disciples seem to assume that the contrast of which Jesus speaks is between the parable of v. 20 and the “plain” words of vv. 25-28. Second, and much more significant, the disciples completely overlook the eschatological dimension of Jesus’ words. Jesus pointed to a time in the future when he would speak plainly, a time after his departure, but the disciples respond as if the present moment is already the time of Jesus’ plain speaking. They misconstrue the meaning of “figures,” because of their exclusive focus on their present conversation with Jesus. The irony of the disciples’ response becomes even clearer in v. 30, which opens with a hyperbolic statement of confidence (“Now we know that you know all things”) and ends with a confession of faith (“by this we believe”). The irony of v. 30 arises because the disciples think they are making an appropriate confession, but they are not. First, v. 30a seems to refer to Jesus’ ability to discern their questions at v. 19. Their “knowledge” about Jesus is not based on anything he said about mutuality of relationship among God, Jesus, and the believer as a result of Jesus’ departure (vv. 26-28), but is instead based on his omniscience. Jesus spoke of the disciples’ love for him (v. 27), but they respond solely in terms of knowledge. Second, in v. 30b the disciples’ confession of faith only acknowledges Jesus’ words about his origins with God (cf. Nicodemus’s opening words at 3:2); it says nothing about his departure. This omission underscores the incompleteness of their bold confession, because they do not acknowledge the necessity of Jesus’ death and departure to complete his revelation of God. 16:31-32. Jesus’ words in v. 31, “Now you believe,” ironically echo the disciples’ words in <Page 782 Ends><Page 783 Begins> vv. 29-30 and shatter any illusions about the adequacy of their confession. Verse 31 is not introduced by an interrogative particle or adverb, so it is unclear whether Jesus’ words should be read as a statement or a question. The Nestle-Aland8 text punctuates the sentence as a question, and that is the reading followed by the NRSV and the majority of scholars. The NIV, however, punctuates it as a statement. If v. 31 is punctuated as a statement, it is important to remember that Jesus is mocking the disciples’ earlier confession, not congratulating them. The emphatic use of “now” (a[rti arti) parodies the disciples’ emphatic use of “now” (nu'n nun), and the repetition of “believe” (pisteu"w pisteuo) challenges their confession. The disciples’ words assumed that the time of eschatological fulfillment of which Jesus spoke had already arrived, and in vv. 31-32 Jesus reorients them to the true meaning of “the hour.” “Now” is not the time of glib confessions; “now” is the hour of death and betrayal. The shift in Jesus’ words from “The hour is coming” (v. 25) to “The hour is coming, indeed it has come” (v. 32) points to the link between the time of eschatological fulfillment and Jesus’ death. The hour that is upon Jesus and his disciples is the hour of Jesus’ death, and the disciples’ confession in v. 30, with its omission of any mention of Jesus’ return to God, shows that they still do not recognize the significance of the hour. This lack of recognition and comprehension is poignantly underscored by Jesus’ prediction of the disciples’ abandonment of him at his death. This prediction is cast in language that echoes Zech 13:7: “Strike the shepherd, that the sheep may be scattered” (NRSV). Matthew and Mark also use this tradition from Zechariah to predict the disciples’ abandonment of Jesus (Matt 26:31; Mark 14:27), but the prophecy has special poignancy in the Fourth Gospel because of its echoes of the scattering of the herd in the good shepherd discourse (John 10:12). Jesus’ prediction of the disciples’ abandonment is rendered even more poignant by the contrast in v. 32 between the disciples’ relationship with Jesus and God’s relationship with Jesus. Scholars are divided on whether the Fourth Evangelist intends Jesus’ affirmation of God’s presence in v. 32 as a correction of the “cry of dereliction” found in the synoptic tradition (Matt 27:46; Mark 15:34). Hoskyns and Barrett, for example, maintain that v. 32 is a deliberate correction, but Jesus’ words do not need to be read with that polemical note here. The Farewell Discourse has repeatedly emphasized that Jesus’ hour brings the disciples into the union that he shares with God (e.g., 14:20; 15:9-10, 16) and has promised the disciples lasting relationship with God and Jesus (e.g., 14:18, 23), but the disciples do not hold to that relationship at the moment of Jesus’ death. Jesus does, however; even at his death, he knows that God is with him (cf. 8:29). 16:33. Jesus once again reflects on his own words (“I have said these things to you”) as a way of bringing the discourse to its conclusion. Verse 33 makes clear why and how Jesus’ gift of his peace is not like the world’s peace (cf. 14:27). The disciples’ relationship with Jesus (“in me you may have peace”), the significance of which has been spelled out for them over and over again in the Farewell Discourse, enables them to experience peace even in the face of the world’s “persecution” (qli'yiv [thlipsis ]; cf. 16:21). The disciples’ place in the world and the world’s power over them is transformed because of Jesus. This is stated in absolute terms in the ringing announcement with which the Farewell Discourse closes, “But take courage; I have conquered the world!” Jesus’ peace is the definitive eschatological gift, because it marks the ultimate defeat of the powers of the world (ko"smov kosmos) that stand in opposition to God (cf. 12:31; 14:30-31). Jesus’ words of hope and reassurance in the Farewell Discourse thus are not idle words of hope, but are grounded in the reality of the guaranteed victory of God’s love in Jesus. The language of victory in John 16:33 is very similar to Paul’s language in 1 Cor 15:57, but the eschatological perspective is different. For Paul, the victory is future, but for John, it is already present.

REFLECTIONS

In John 16:33, the eschatological perspective that has governed the Farewell Discourse is stated explicitly. Jesus’ “future” victory—his glorification in the events of his hour—is indeed the present reality. The Jesus who speaks in the Farewell Discourse is the Jesus who has <Page 783 Ends><Page 784 Begins> already conquered the world; the voice of Jesus that reassures the disciples and points them to their future is the voice of the risen Jesus. John 14–16 is an ingenious eschatological discourse, because it brings God’s future into the present of the Gospel narrative by announcing that this is the moment of victory. John 16:33 announces that God’s new age, initiated by Jesus’ victory over the world, has entered the present. Jesus’ victory over the world thus transforms conventional understandings of present and future.560 Much has been said in this commentary about the richness of Johannine eschatology (see, e.g., Commentary on 5:24-28; 11:25-26). It simplifies the eschatological options in the NT to characterize them as “realized” versus “future” eschatology, because by definition eschatology has to do with the future, with “the last things.” Johannine eschatology is no exception, because it, too, is concerned with the future. What varies among the different eschatological perspectives in the NT is the relationship between present and future in the eschatological vision. In some eschatologies, the emphasis is on the present’s giving way to the future (e.g., 1 Cor 15:23-28), whereas in others the emphasis is on the future’s breaking into and transforming the present. Johannine eschatology belongs to the second category, but that does not mean that the Fourth Gospel portrays all of the possibilities of God’s future as “realized” in the present moment. On the contrary, as John 16:16-33 shows quite clearly, Johannine eschatology points to the confidence with which Christians can face into the future, knowing that God’s sovereign presence in and governance of the present and the future is assured. When contemporary Christians think about eschatology, then, they come face to face with some of the core questions of Christian faith: How does the believer move from the present to the future? What is God’s place in that future? What is the nature of Christian hope? John 16:16-33 provides the interpreter with one perspective from which to engage those questions, because it is above all an eschatological text. In this concluding section of the Farewell Discourse, Jesus offers the disciples (and the readers) ways to imagine the possibilities of life beyond the present moment and points them toward their future life with God. Key to the Johannine eschatological vision is the cosmic significance of Jesus’ hour—his death, resurrection, and ascension. Just as the “beginning” (1:1) of the Jesus story, the incarnation, has cosmic significance (see Reflections on 1:1-18), so, too, has the conclusion of the Jesus story. Jesus loved his own “to the end” (13:1), and because of that love the believers’ futures are forever altered. The last things, like the first things, are redefined by the incarnation. In the return of the Logos, the Son, to the Father, the world is decisively changed. Indeed, the world is conquered by Jesus, the ruler of the world rendered powerless (14:30) by the fullness of Jesus’ love made manifest in the gift of his life. The full possibilities of life with God are revealed in Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension, because death did not defeat Jesus. Rather, Jesus defeated death, laying down his life to take it up again (10:17-18), laying down his life in love so that he could return his life to God in love and so open to all believers the possibility of communion and union with God (16:27-28; 17:23). Jesus repeatedly stresses the necessity and advantage of his departure in John 14–16 (e.g., 14:28; 16:7, 28), because without his death and departure the cosmic changes begun at the incarnation are incomplete. Without Jesus’ death and departure, the old order remains in place. With Jesus’ death and departure, the old order is judged and peace and joy take its place (14:30-31; 16:8-11, 23-24, 33), even in the face of persecution (16:1-3). That Jesus’ offer of eschatological peace and joy is not an instance of “cheap grace” is evidenced by the repeated references to suffering and persecution in the Farewell Discourse (15:18–16:4a, 20-22, 33). This persistent reminder of the persecution the community will endure and the courage that will be required of them belies any easy labeling of Johannine eschatology as “realized eschatology.” The Farewell Discourse does not paint a picture of the <Page 784 Ends><Page 785 Begins> Christian life devoid of present hardship and trial, in which all of God’s promises are fully actualized in the present moment. The prediction of the disciples’ abandonment of Jesus at his hour underscores this (v. 32). Just as Jesus’ victory over the world could not be effected without his death, so also the believers’ share in Jesus’ victory will be accompanied by suffering, sorrow, and pain. What the Farewell Discourse does promise is that the movement from present sorrow to future joy is possible and, indeed, guaranteed as a result of Jesus’ victory in his hour. It is this guarantee, the sure, unshakable confidence in Jesus’ victory over the world and the peace that the victory makes possible, that provides the grounds for Christian hope. Hope is not idle speculation about the future, about what might be or what might happen, although contemporary parlance often reduces “hope” to that range of expectations. Rather, Christian hope is the conviction, grounded in the victory of Jesus’ death and resurrection, that one’s present and future belong to God and that, as a result, all things are possible (16:23-24). The measure of what is possible in the present is the victory of Christ (16:33). The measure of what is to be hoped for is the promises of Christ (16:23, 26-28). Both the present and the future are redefined by Jesus’ death and resurrection and are held together in a delicate balance. When one lives in hope, the present moves toward the promises and possibilities of the future, and the future transforms the sorrows and seeming impossibilities of the present. The Fourth Gospel’s distinctive contribution to the church’s conversation about hope and the future is the value that it places on the present moment as the arena in which God’s future is already underway. For the Fourth Evangelist, the decisive Easter proclamation is “In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!” Jesus’ victory over the world is neither partial nor only anticipated, no matter what present struggles, suffering, and sorrow suggest. Because of that decisive and absolute victory, both the present and the future are now the locus for the enactment of the promises of God. John 16:16-33 invites the faith community to enter the eschatological domain of its life, to embrace God’s future that has been opened up for them even in the present moment because of Jesus’ death and departure.

Posts 5318
Dan Francis | Forum Activity | Replied: Fri, May 24 2013 7:12 PM

 New Interpreter's Bible (12 vols.) I am not too sure if it;s moving at all or not it looks to me to be about 3/4 now.

-dan

Posts 5318
Dan Francis | Forum Activity | Replied: Mon, Jun 3 2013 6:09 PM

Here is this weeks example.

1 KINGS 17:1-24, THE LIVING GOD WHO SUSTAINS AND REVIVES

OVERVIEW

In this chapter, the reader encounters the prophet Elijah for the very first time. This prophet will be the focus of the narrator's interest in 1 Kings 17:1–19, 21 and 2 Kings 1:1–2. The chapter itself may be divided into three subunits: (1) vv. 1-7, God's provision for Elijah through the ravens; (2) vv. 8-16, God's provision for Elijah through a Sidonian widow; and (3) vv. 17-24, God's resuscitation of the widow's dead child. Unifying the literary unit are two themes: Life is made possible by the Lord alone, and the importance of the word, meaning the word of the Lord as spoken through the prophet. Accordingly, various forms of the Hebrew verb hyj (hAyâ, “to live”) recur (vv. 1, 12, 22-23), alongside repeated occurrences of the Hebrew term rbd (dAbAr, “word,” vv. 1-2, 5, 8, 13, 15, 24). Over against Baal, the Canaanite god of life, it is affirmed that Israel's God is the true Lord of life, with power over the forces of nature and even over death itself. <Page 125 ends>><Page 126 begins>>

1 Kings 17:1-7, Elijah Is Fed by Ravens

Link to: NIV * NRSV

COMMENTARY

Elijah appears on the scene abruptly. Apart from his name, he is identified only as “the Tishbite,” an obscure designation that the ancient versions understood to be a reference to his place of origin, an unknown site somewhere in Gilead called “Tishbe” (so NIV, NRSV).60 His first utterance is an oath in the name of the Lord: “As the LORD the God of Israel lives . . .” (v. 2). Although this oath formula is quite common in the Hebrew Bible, its usage in this context is particularly suggestive, for the issue at hand is the Lord as the source of life. The formula is especially poignant inasmuch as it is addressed to Ahab, who, we learned in 16:31-33, has married Jezebel, a devotee of the Canaanite god Baal, and has built an altar and a temple for Baal in Samaria, thus provoking the anger of “the LORD, the God of Israel.” In Canaanite religion, Baal the storm god is the one who brings rain and, thus, the possibility of life on earth. When there is drought, it is presumed that death (which is deified in Canaanite mythology) has been victorious and that Baal is dead. Conversely, when there is rain, it is presumed that Baal is alive and that death has been defeated: Let the heavens rain oil, The wadis run with honey Then I will know that Mightiest B[aal] lives, The Prince, Lord of the earth is alive.61 Elijah's oath, however, affirms that it is the Lord who lives, and the rest of the narrative will make plain that it is the Lord who makes life possible (see, esp., v. 23). Elijah, as the servant of the <Page 126 ends>><Page 127 begins>> Lord (“before whom I stand,” v. 1), also dares to declare that there will be “neither dew nor rain,” except by his word. The servant of the Lord thus challenges the power of Baal directly, for drought is a sign of the powerlessness of Baal, according to Canaanite lore: Seven years Baal is absent, Eight, the Rider of Clouds: No dew, no downpour, No swirling of the deeps, No welcome voice of Baal.62 The narrator does not tell us the reaction of King Ahab, but it is obvious that Elijah's life is in danger, for he is instructed by the Lord to flee to the Wadi Cherith, presumably one of the many deep and wide ravines east of the Jordan. Elijah is called to leave the promised land, as it were, and to go east of the Jordan, whence Israel came. There he is to drink from the wadi, and the Lord ordains ravens to feed him. The latter element is ironic in two important ways: Ravens are regarded in the Torah as unclean birds (Lev 11:15; Deut 14:14), and they are birds of prey (Job 38:41; Prov 30:17; Isa 34:11). These unclean birds of prey miraculously feed Elijah, and he is, indeed, fed well—with bread and meat twice a day. The narrator is clear that this feeding is done at the command of the Lord. The water in the wadi, however, dries up because there is no rain. In other words, the provision that might possibly be construed as having come from Baal, who is understood in Canaanite religion to be the lord of the rain, ends. In contrast, the provision that is explicitly a consequence of the Lord's command is abundant. The Lord provides miraculously and in ways that people might not expect—even through creatures that are deemed unclean. (See Reflections at 17:17-24.)

1 Kings 17:8-16, Elijah Is Fed by a Sidonian Widow

Link to: NIV * NRSV  <Page 127 ends>><Page 128 begins>>

COMMENTARY

Elijah is ordered by the Lord to go to the city of Zarephath (“Sarepta” in the Greek), a Phoenician commercial capital known for its exporting of various goods, including wine, grain, and oil. Yet, this city in Baal's territory is ironically in dire straits because of a drought. Just as the Lord ordained the ravens to feed Elijah, so also the Lord now ordains a widow to feed him. Although she apparently does not know it, this Sidonian woman is to be used by the Lord for salvific purposes. In this she stands in contrast to the other Sidonian woman, Jezebel, the Sidonian princess whom Ahab married (16:31) and who would be a champion for Baal in Israel. Again, it is ironic that the Lord would have a Phoenician, presumably a worshiper of Baal, to feed Elijah. Not only that, but she is a widow, which in ancient Near Eastern cultures means that she is probably destitute. In the OT, widows are typically associated with the neediest elements of society, the orphans and the poor (Job 24:3-4; 31:16-17; Isa 10:2; Zech 7:10). Yet, it is this widow in a land devastated by drought who is to feed Elijah, and it is to her that he turns for sustenance. She who has such scarce means is instrumental in God's plan to provide for others (cf. Mark 12:41-44). The widow swears that she has little to spare, using the very oath formula that is put in the mouth of Elijah at the beginning of the passage: “As the LORD your God lives . . .” (v. 12; see also v. 1). According to Elijah, the Lord gives assurance that the provisions at hand will not be diminished: “The jar of meal will not be emptied and the jug of oil will not fail until the LORD sends rain on the earth.” If it had not been clear before in the narrative, it is certainly clear now that it is the Lord who gives rain, not Baal. This is, indeed, the word of the Lord proclaimed to a worshiper of Baal in the territory of Baal, the homeland of Jezebel. (See Reflections at 17:17-24.)

1 Kings 17:17-24, The Resurrection of a Dead Boy

Link to:  NIV * NRSV <Page 128 ends>><Page 129 begins>>

COMMENTARY

The final crisis in the chapter involves the fate of the Sidonian woman's son, who had become so severely ill that “there was no more breath left in him” (v. 17). The stakes are raised higher in this instance than in the other two vignettes in the chapter. Whereas the Lord has been able to avert death by providing first for Elijah through the ravens (vv. 1-7) and then through the widow (vv. 8-16), the challenge is now posed in the form of a boy who has already died. Elijah, who has apparently been received as a guest in the house of the woman, intercedes on the boy's behalf. The Lord hears his intercession, and the boy is miraculously revived. Thus the story claims that Elijah's deity, the God of Israel, is truly the Lord of life, for even one who has already died could be brought to life again by that deity's power. Important, too, is the claim that the miracle was accomplished as a result of the prophetic word (v. 24).

REFLECTIONS

1. Along with other stories pertaining to Elijah, the miracles in this chapter have been commemorated in music and in art. In these re-creations of the story, attention is invariably drawn to the supramundane origin of Elijah's experiences. That is, indeed, the main point of the passage: It is the Lord, the God of Israel, who brings about these wonders. So, too, we dare to believe that things that seem impossible to human beings can be brought about by the Lord: Birds of prey may provide nourishment; the poor may have their victuals wondrously replenished; and even the dead may be resurrected. It is the Lord and no other god who performs such miracles. So we are called to believe as well.

2. The wonder of these stories resides not merely in their supernatural character, however. One is amazed, too, at the wondrous freedom and sovereignty of God. The deity uses even creatures that are regarded as ritually unclean to fulfill the divine purpose. So, too, the sovereign God is free to act beyond the borders of Israel, even through Gentile worshipers of foreign gods. This point is picked up by Jesus in his inaugural sermon in his hometown synagogue (Luke 4:25-26). Jesus observes that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah's time; yet, the man of God went to a foreign land and sought out the foreign woman. The Sidonian woman is apparently not a worshiper of Elijah's God, for she refers to Elijah's deity as “your God” (17:12). Yet, she is the recipient of God's miraculous provision. In receiving divine favor, the Phoenician woman becomes a prototype for other Gentile women who receive God's grace <Page 129 ends>><Page 130 begins>> through their encounters with Jesus (see Matt 15:21-28; Mark 7:24-30). God's universal love reaches beyond the boundaries of nationality, ethnicity, and even religious affiliation.

3. Elijah is seen in the New Testament as a forerunner of Jesus. Explicitly and implicitly, Elijah's ministry is seen as a model for the ministry of Jesus. Appropriately, therefore, most lectionaries that list 1 Kgs 17:17-24 juxtapose the passage with the account of Jesus' raising of the son of the widow of Nain (Luke 7:11-17). There are, indeed, suggestive parallels between the two accounts: the city gate, the plight of a widow, a son who has died, the miraculous resuscitation, the return of the son to his mother. The miraculous resuscitation of life in each case leads to the recognition that God has acted through an earthly intermediary. In the New Testament, however, Jesus surpasses Elijah. Whereas Elijah is the beneficiary of God's miraculous provision of nourishment and he proclaims that God will sustain the hungry despite the meagerness of what is available, Jesus himself would miraculously feed a multitude with a seemingly meager amount of food (Matt 14:13-21; 15:32-39). Whereas Elijah appeals to God to revive the widow's son, Jesus himself commands the dead to rise again. Indeed, the culmination of the story of Jesus in the New Testament is that he represents the power of God to grant and sustain life, his own resurrection from the dead being the ultimate testimony to the triumph of God over death (1 Cor 15:20-26).

Posts 1602
Deacon Steve | Forum Activity | Replied: Tue, Jun 4 2013 3:44 PM

It's getting some traction, Dan.  Smile  Thanks for your encouragement!!!  As you already know, I'm in.

Posts 341
Steve Farson | Forum Activity | Replied: Tue, Jun 4 2013 10:36 PM

I placed an order on May 23rd after looking through the NIB at the seminary library.  Very impressed.  Hope it receives enough interest soon.

Posts 1602
Deacon Steve | Forum Activity | Replied: Thu, Jun 6 2013 4:48 PM

Dan Francis:

  New Interpreter's Bible (12 vols.) I am not too sure if it;s moving at all or not it looks to me to be about 3/4 now.

-dan

I may be seeing what I want but I think it has moved significantly in the last 2 weeks. 

Smile

Posts 5318
Dan Francis | Forum Activity | Replied: Fri, Jun 7 2013 10:11 PM

Steve:

I may be seeing what I want but I think it has moved significantly in the last 2 weeks. 

Smile

Not that I have noticed I keep hoping one day to see that under contract but would be little encouraged to see the "Almost There" stage….. I still think Logos is nuts to not get this in their system. If Accordance gets it released before it goes under contract here I am not sure it will ever make it to Logos… but it is not a top priority over there it is "under contract", but Accordance is putting all it's effort into getting the Yale Anchor Bible Commentary series done. I own it already in Logos and have no interest in duplicating it there. I do appreciate the scholarship in YAB but for me NIB is much more useful and essential. Indeed as I have said before I would miss my other commentaries if i did not have them but I would say it would be enough for me if I had only NIB.

-Dan

Posts 5318
Dan Francis | Forum Activity | Replied: Tue, Jun 11 2013 9:02 PM

This weeks sample….

GALATIANS 2:11-21, TWO TABLES OR ONE? CONFRONTATION AT ANTIOCH

OVERVIEW

Up through 2:10, it looks as though all is well. Paul has emphatically claimed the authority of divine revelation as the source of his preaching, and he has recounted a major triumph in the Jerusalem meeting: The “false brothers” were defeated, and the leaders of the Jerusalem church affirmed their approval of Paul's mission to the Gentiles. In the next section of the letter, however, the plot of Paul's narrative takes a sharp turn; the unity achieved at Jerusalem was shattered by a subsequent conflict at Antioch. The account of this conflict (vv. 11-21) is the climax toward which Paul's story has been building. Paul highlights his confrontation with Cephas (Peter) because it provides the background against which he views the present controversy in Galatia. The issues in the two situations are not identical, but they are closely parallel. Thus Paul can frame his account of his speech to Peter on the former occasion (vv. 14b-21) as a programmatic statement that speaks indirectly to the Galatians as well. Indeed, this speech can be seen as a concise summary of the themes of the letter as a whole.80 Translations and commentaries often place the termination of Paul's address to Peter at the end of v. 14 (as in the NRSV) and treat vv. 15-21 as a separate unit. It must be remembered that ancient Greek manuscripts did not employ the convention of placing quotation marks around quoted direct discourse; therefore, the question of where Paul's speech ends is a matter of interpretive judgment. This commentary will argue that the speech extends through v. 21 (as in the NIV; cf. NRSV footnote). There is no indication in the text of a change of addressee until 3:1, and the first-person plural pronouns in vv. 15-17 show that Paul is continuing to address a Jewish audience (i.e., the Jewish Christians at Antioch), not the Gentile Galatians. Consequently, vv. 11-21 should be treated as a single coherent unit. Indeed, several obscurities in Paul's highly compressed language in vv. 15-21 can be clarified if they are understood in relation to the dispute over table fellowship in Antioch. At the same time, Paul artfully narrates this story in such a way that it serves as a transition into his direct address to the Galatians in 3:1. A movie director making a film of this text might reproduce the effect in the following way: The scene opens in a public meeting of the church at Antioch with Paul confronting Peter; as Paul speaks (vv. 14b-21), the camera pans in on his face so that the members of the Antiochene church gradually disappear from view after v. 18. Then, at 3:1, as Paul says, “O foolish Galatians,” the camera pans back again to reveal Paul in an entirely different setting, pacing the floor and dictating the letter to his secretary. The desired effect is that the Galatians will hear the speech to Peter as being addressed to their situation as well.81 <Page 230 Ends><Page 231 Begins> One result of this rhetorical technique is that Paul never finishes the story of the Antioch controversy; we do not find out how Peter responded to Paul's challenge, and we do not hear how the Antiochene church decided to resolve the dispute. Almost certainly this means that Paul lost. If he had, in fact, convinced Peter and the other Jewish Christians to accept his arguments, he surely would have said so in this letter, just as he did in the preceding narrative of the Jerusalem meeting (vv. 1-10). Regardless of the outcome, however, the telling of this story allows Paul to articulate the theological principles that undergird his present response to the Galatians. The major theme of the unit is that the gospel mandates the formation of a new community in which there is no division between Jew and Gentile, a community in which Jews and Gentiles eat at one table together, not two separate tables.82 The speech of vv. 14b-21 supports this claim by arguing that right relation to God depends fundamentally on “the grace of God” (2:21), and not on observance of the ethnically particular signs of covenant membership (circumcision and food laws). This grace has been made effective through the death of Jesus Christ, which avails for Jew and Gentile without distinction (cf. Rom 3:21-31). Consequently, Peter's withdrawal from table fellowship with Gentile believers at Antioch was, as Paul sees it, a symbolic rejection of God's reconciling grace. Galatians 2:11-14, Paul's Rebuke of Cephas

COMMENTARY 2:11-13.

The coming of Cephas to Antioch (v. 11) marks a major complication in the story. Antioch was a great and prosperous city in northern Syria, the third largest city in the Roman Empire (after Rome and Alexandria).83 According 83 to Josephus, its large Jewish population mixed freely with the Gentiles there. The Jewish race, densely interspersed among the native populations of every portion of the world, is particularly numerous in Syria, where intermingling is due to the proximity of the two countries. But it was at Antioch that they especially congregated....Moreover, they were constantly attracting to their religious ceremonies <Page 231 Ends><Page 232 Begins> multitudes of Greeks, and these they had in some measure incorporated with themselves.84 Even allowing for Josephus's penchant for hyperbole, we may safely conclude that Antioch was home to a substantial Jewish community that had attracted a large number of “godfearers,” Gentiles who were drawn to the worship of the one God in the synagogue. Thus it is not surprising that as the early Jewish Christians began to spread the gospel message, it was at Antioch that they first began to preach extensively to Gentiles. Indeed, Antioch became a major base of operations for the mission to the Gentiles (see Acts 11:19-26; 13:1-3). The multicultural Antiochene Christian community presented new challenges that had been neither anticipated nor resolved by the agreement at the Jerusalem meeting, which had dealt only with the issue of circumcision (vv. 6-10).85 Paul understood the agreement to imply a comprehensive recognition of the equality and fellowship of Jews and Gentiles in Christ (cf. 3:28), but some of the strictly Torah-observant Jewish Christians at Jerusalem interpreted the agreement less liberally. In effect, the Jerusalem agreement had acknowledged a separate-but-equal Gentile mission, but it had not addressed the problem of social relations and table fellowship between Jewish and Gentile Christians. The Christians at Antioch, recognizing the grace of God in their midst (Acts 11:21-24), made a practice of eating together, Jews at table with Gentiles (v. 12a). Some Jewish Christians from Jerusalem, however, found this practice objectionable. Why? The Law of Moses contains no prohibition of eating with Gentiles. The people of Israel were commanded to abstain from unclean foods and from meat or wine tainted by association with idolatry; but as long as certain fundamental dietary precautions were observed, there was no reason why even strictly Torah-observant Jews could not share table fellowship with Gentiles.86 What, then, was the nature of the issue at Antioch, and why did the “men from James” pressure Peter to stop eating with Gentile believers? Paul gives no explanation of their reasoning; therefore, we can only make guesses. It is possible that the food at the common meals was not kosher, that Peter and other Jewish Christians were disregarding basic Jewish dietary laws by eating meat with blood in it, or pork and shellfish. If so, this would explain Paul's remark that Peter had been living “like a Gentile” (v. 14). On the other hand, it seems unlikely that such flagrant violations of Jewish norms would have been practiced at Antioch, particularly if the Gentile converts were drawn primarily from the ranks of the “godfearers,” who presumably would have already assimilated to Jewish dietary practices. It is more probable that the “men from James” were objecting to the practice of associating with Gentiles at table. This seems to be the implication of Paul's language in v. 12, which says nothing about the food as such but speaks of eating “with the Gentiles.” Such association was not forbidden by Jewish Law, but it would have been perceived, in certain circles, as risky and impolitic: “Close association might lead to contact with idolatry or transgression of one of the biblical food laws....James worried that too much fraternization with Gentiles would have bad results, and that Peter's mission [to the circumcised, 2:8] would be discredited if he were known to engage in it himself.”87 It is possible that the pressure to shun such associations may have come from a faction in the Jerusalem church that wanted to make the emergent Christian movement look good in the eyes of their fervent Jewish countrymen. Robert Jewett has proposed that both the Antioch incident and the controversy in Galatia should be understood against the historical background of a rising Zealot movement in Palestine that advocated radical separation from Gentiles; in such an atmosphere, Gentile sympathizers among the Jewish people might have been targeted for reprisals. The early church was a movement within Judaism, but the Gentile-friendly form it took in Antioch posed difficulties for Judean Jewish Christians who wanted “to avert the suspicion that they were in <Page 232 Ends><Page 233 Begins> communion with lawless Gentiles.”88 Consequently, the response of this faction at Jerusalem was to urge Peter, with the blessing of James, to avoid contact with Gentiles, perhaps in hopes of pressuring the Gentile converts into accepting circumcision and full Torah-observance. Jewett argues that similar motives lay behind the pressure for circumcision of the Galatian Christians: “If they could succeed in circumcising the Gentile Christians, this might effectively thwart any Zealot purification campaign against the Judean church.”89 (Note how well this hypothesis explains Paul's otherwise puzzling statements in Gal 6:12-13.) In any case, whatever political pressures may have been exerted on Peter, Paul had no tolerance for his waffling actions. Paul “opposed him to his face” (v. 12) in a public showdown (“before them all,” v. 14) at Antioch. In Paul's view, God's verdict was already pronounced upon Peter's behavior: “he stood condemned.” The renderings of the NIV (“in the wrong”) and the NRSV (“self-condemned”) both soften the severity of Paul's judgment; because Peter's action was a betrayal of the gospel, Paul saw him as standing under God's condemnation. Who were the “people from James”? Paul does not identify them, but he indicates that they were a delegation from Jerusalem seeking, with the approval of James, to urge Peter to eschew fraternization with Gentiles. We do not know why Peter was in Antioch or how long he had been there, but the imperfect tense of the verb “used to eat” (sunh;sqien synesthien) implies that his sharing table fellowship with Gentiles had been a habitual practice over some period of time, not merely an isolated incident. When confronted by the messengers from Jerusalem, however, Peter “drew back and kept himself separate.” The verb “draw back” (uJposte;llw hypostello) suggests a tactical retreat, like an army pulling back from an exposed position.90 By “separating himself,” Peter was accommodating his actions to a well-established Jewish belief that the people of God should keep themselves free from defiling contact with the evil and idolatrous Gentile world. As already noted, eating with Gentiles was not a technical violation of Torah, but many Jews may have preferred to separate themselves from Gentiles as much as possible, out of a general sense that Gentiles were unclean and distasteful. The Letter of Aristeas, a Jewish apologetic work of the second century BCE, articulates the reason for such separation: To prevent our being perverted by contact with others or by mixing with bad influences, [Moses] hedged us in on all sides with strict observances connected with meat and drink and touch and hearing and sight, after the manner of the Law.91 Such an interpretation of the purpose of the Torah could readily lead, in some circles, to a generalized attitude of wariness toward Gentiles, as we see in Jub. 22:16: “Eat not with them...for their works are unclean.”92 A similar indication of Jewish aversion for Gentiles is found in the Acts of the Apostles, in the story of Peter's vision and commission to preach to the household of the Gentile centurion Cornelius. Peter begins his conversation with them by saying, “You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit any one of another nation” (Acts 10:28 RSV).93 The Roman historian Tacitus confirms the stereotypical impression of Jews as a misanthropic people who “eat separately” from others.94 Even if such statements are exaggerated, they offer a broad sketch of a general perception that relations between Jews and Gentiles were fraught with tension, a tension focused particularly on eating practices. Nothing in Paul's language suggests that the dispute focused specifically on eucharistic fellow- <Page 233 Ends><Page 234 Begins> ship between Jewish and Gentile believers; the issue seems to have been whether they could eat together under any circumstance. If, however, Peter and the other Jewish Christians were avoiding all table fellowship, this would have included the Lord's supper, which at this early time seems ordinarily to have been celebrated in the context of a communal meal (see 1 Cor 11:17-34). In 1 Corinthians, Paul insists on interpreting the Lord's supper as a powerful symbol of communal unity, but he makes no such argument in Galatians. This suggests that the manner of celebrating the Lord's supper was not a central issue at Antioch. At the same time, it also suggests that Paul could not assume the experience of sharing the eucharist as a basis for his broader argument about table fellowship. It would have been a powerful argument for Paul to say, “If you share the bread and wine with Gentiles at the table of the Lord, how can you refuse to eat ordinary meals together?” Paul's silence on this point suggests that Peter, Barnabas, and other Jewish Christians were not celebrating the Lord's supper with the Gentile Christians in Antioch. Paul charges that Peter separated himself from the common table because he feared “the circumcision faction” (oiJ ejk peritomh'v hoi ek peritomes). It is not precisely clear what group Paul has in mind here. Does he mean Jewish people in general, or does the term refer to a specific group of Jewish Christians? In view of Paul's use of this expression elsewhere (Rom 4:12; cf. Acts 10:45), it seems that he is referring not to Jews in general but to members of the early Christian movement who have Jewish ancestry. Furthermore, Luke's use of the same terminology in Acts 11:2 suggests that it could sometimes designate members of a particular party or faction within the Jerusalem church that focused on maintaining clear Jewish group boundaries.95 Thus it appears that Paul is accusing Peter of fearing other Jewish Christians; the problem is intra-ecclesial. Even though the messengers from James may have focused their suasion on Peter alone, his withdrawal from the common table predictably influenced others, so that the other Jewish Christians, including even Paul's close associate Barnabas, followed his lead (v. 13). From Paul's perspective, this was a disaster. The previously unified Antioch community was now split into two different ethnic communities, with Torah observance as the dividing wall between them. In place of one common table, there were now two separate tables. Paul describes this mass withdrawal from the one table as “hypocrisy” (uJpo;krisiv hypokrisis, v. 13). The Greek word does not have quite the same connotation of malicious duplicity that is present in the English. In Greek, the uJpokrith;v (hypokrites) is an actor, someone who wears a mask and plays a role. Thus hypokrisis is the act of playing out a scripted role. Paul's point is that Peter and the other Jewish Christians at Antioch are caught up in playing a part that does not represent their own considered convictions; they are caving in to external pressure, carrying out someone else's agenda. This is another way of expressing the charge of people pleasing (see the Commentary on 1:10). The fact that Barnabas joined in this role playing must have been especially galling to Paul.96 It was Barnabas who had stood with him at Jerusalem in resisting the “false brothers” (vv. 1-5). According to Luke's account in Acts, Barnabas had originally rejoiced when he came to Antioch and found Gentile believers experiencing the grace of God along with Jewish believers (Acts 11:19-26). Now, however, as Paul saw it, Barnabas had been “carried away” (v. 13) by group pressure, and Paul was left to stand alone as an advocate for God's new creation of a community in which Jews and Gentiles could eat at one table. 2:14. Paul's sharp public rebuke of Peter may seem excessive, particularly if Peter was acting out of a concern to protect Jewish Christians in Jerusalem from persecution by fervent Jewish nationalists. Paul seems to give him no credit for good motives or to make any attempt to talk the matter out privately (cf. Matt 18:15-17) or even to correct Peter “in a spirit of gentleness” (Gal 6:1). What accounts for Paul's vehement response? The answer can only be that he saw in Peter's action “the effective preaching of an anti-gospel in the midst of the Antioch church.”97 Consequently, Paul did not hesitate to take an <Page 234 Ends><Page 235 Begins> uncompromising stand, because “the truth of the gospel” was at stake (v. 14; cf. 1:6-9). Paul had used the same phrase in 2:5 to describe what was at issue in the controversy over circumcision in Jerusalem. In both cases, “the truth of the gospel” is linked directly with the fellowship of Gentile and Jewish believers on equal terms: Neither circumcision nor observance of dietary laws should divide the church. “The truth of the gospel,” therefore, is not merely a doctrine but a social reality, a truth that must be embodied in the practices of a community. This truth was being violated by the exclusionary social practices of Peter and those who joined him in a policy of separate tables. Paul saw in their withdrawal a failure to “walk straight” (ojrqopode;w orthopodeo) toward the truth of the gospel. (The NRSV's “not acting consistently” is a pallid paraphrase; better is the NIV's “not acting in line with the truth of the gospel.”) Thus he addressed to Peter a passionate speech seeking to re-call him and the other Jewish Christians to the one table with the Gentiles. Paul opens fire with an ad hominem argument charging Peter personally with bad faith and gross inconsistency: “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?” (v. 14b). To “live like a Jew” means, in this case, to observe Jewish dietary restrictions. The question presupposes that Peter does not ordinarily live a strictly Torah-observant life—and that he would make no pretense of doing so. This would be consistent with his custom of eating with Gentiles at Antioch before the arrival of the delegation from James. Paul charges that by caving in to the pressure from the Jerusalem delegation, Peter is in effect requiring the Gentile converts at Antioch to adopt a higher standard of Torah observance than he himself would normally follow. As noted earlier, the “compulsion” in view here is not a matter of violent coercion but of manipulative group pressure; Peter and the other Jewish Christians at Antioch were in effect “compelling” Gentiles to adopt Jewish observances by boycotting the common table. There is no indication here that the delegation from James was pressing for Gentiles to be circumcised; that issue had already been clearly settled—with the approval of James—by the meeting in Jerusalem (vv. 1-10). The verb ijoudai>>;zein (ioudaizein), translated here as “live like Jews” (v. 14), does not necessarily denote converting to Judaism;98 rather, it means to adopt Jewish practices.99 Presumably, the Gentile Christians could have overcome any objection to table fellowship by conforming their diets to the dictates of Jewish Law. This might appear harmless enough, but in this outside pressure for Gentile Christians to conform to Jewish dietary standards, Paul sees a betrayal of the gospel. (See Reflections at 2:15-21.)

Galatians 2:15-21, Jews and Gentiles Alike Are Rectified Through Christ's Death <Page 235 Ends><Page 236 Begins>

COMMENTARY

The reasons for this judgment follow in the highly compressed argument of vv. 15-21, which serves as a précis of the argument of the entire letter. As noted, Paul has composed his account of this speech with the Galatians in view. Thus the theological argument of vv. 15-21 applies equally to the conflict at Antioch and to the Galatians' present quandary over circumcision. The interpreter's task is to see how the argument functions at each of these levels. 2:15-16. Still addressing Peter, Paul affirms (v. 15) his own participation in the hereditary Jewish tradition that defines its identity sharply against Gentile outsiders: “We ourselves are Jews by birth [lit., “by nature”] and not Gentile sinners.” In this traditional Jewish frame of reference, the Gentiles are categorized as “sinners” (aJmartwloiv hamartoloi) simply by virtue of their being outsiders to the covenant people. Given the more receptive attitude toward Gentiles that Paul has come to hold as the apostle to the Gentiles, we may assume that he employs this categorical label with some degree of irony. Nonetheless, the point is a serious one: He, along with Peter and the delegation from Jerusalem—and, it must be noted, along with the rival Missionaries in Galatia—is a Jew, a sharer in the heritage of Israel (see Phil 3:4-6). His purpose for emphasizing this common ethnic identity emerges as the rest of the sentence unfolds; even those Jewish Christians who are most conscious of their ethnic identity share a common confession about justification through Christ. Paul points to this shared confessional tradition in order to use it as the foundation of his argument that Torah observance is not necessary for Gentiles in the new situation that God has brought into being. The confession articulated in v. 16—which Paul presents as the common belief of Jewish Christians—is the heart of the message of Galatians, the gospel in a nutshell. This confession is so concisely formulated, however, that it presents numerous exegetical problems. Paul writes here in a theological shorthand, and each phrase must be unpacked carefully.100 Consequently, we must make several crucial interpretative decisions here that will determine our reading of the letter as a whole. The issues that demand attention are (a) the structure of the sentence in vv. 15-16; (b) the meaning of the verb “to justify”; (c) the meaning of the phrase “by works of the Law”; (d) the meaning of the expression “through the faith of [or in] Jesus Christ” (dia; pi;stew"v Ihsou' Cristou' dia pisteos Iesou Christou); (e) the allusion to Psalm 143:1 in the last clause of v. 16. <Page 236 Ends><Page 237 Begins> (a) The Structure of the Sentence. The NRSV produces a simpler and more readable English text of vv. 15-16 by turning the participial phrase at the beginning of v. 16 into an independent clause and starting a new sentence in the middle of the verse: We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; yet we know that a person is justified not by the works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ. And we have come to believe in Christ Jesus. Unfortunately, this translation loses some important nuances of the Greek syntax. The verb “know” in v. 16a is actually a participle (eijdo;tev eidotes); thus a more literal translation would read as follows: We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; yet, knowing that a person is justified not by the works of the law but101 through the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have trusted in Christ Jesus. The emphasis here falls on the words “even we” (kai; hJmei'v kai hemeis), with the kai understood as explicative (not a conjunction introducing an independent clause, as in the NRSV), reminding the reader that the “we” of v. 16 is precisely the same Jewish constituency signaled in v. 15. Paul's point is that “even we Jews by birth” (i.e., not just Gentiles) have placed trust in Christ instead of in works of the law as the ground of justification. (b) The Meaning of the Verb “to Justify.” The crucial verb “to justify” (dikaio;w dikaioo), which occurs three times in this verse, appears here for the first time in Galatians. To be “justified” is to be declared in the right or placed in right relationship to God.102 The term has its origins in the language of the law court, but in Israel's prophetic literature and psalms the term takes on a distinct eschatological connotation: Even though the pres- ent may be a time of suffering and oppression, the prophets and the psalmists look to God as the source of future vindication. God will ultimately act to “justify” the covenant people by rescuing them and overthrowing their enemies and oppressors. In many OT contexts, the best English translation of the verb is “to vindicate.” For example, in Isa 50:7-8a the mysterious “Servant” figure declares: The LORD God helps me; therefore, I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame; he who vindicates me [oJ dikaiw;savme ho dikaiosas me] is near. (NRSV, italics added) Thus the verb “justify” points not merely to a forensic declaration of acquittal from guilt but also to God's ultimate action of powerfully setting right all that has gone wrong. Consequently, when Paul speaks here of “being justified,” he repeatedly uses the passive voice. The implied agent of “justification” is God; it is God alone who has the power to set things right. That is why—virtually by definition—no human being can be justified by works of the Law; such works, even if undertaken in obedience to God, remain limited human acts. “Justification,” however, is the eschatological act of God. Thus, when he refers in v. 16 to being “justified,” Paul is speaking of God's world-transforming eschatological verdict as it pertains to individual human beings. Because this verdict effectively sets right all that had gone wrong, the best English translation of the verb dikaioo is “to rectify” (see the excursus: “The Language of Righteousness,” 238). <Page 237 Ends><Page 238 Begins>

v v v v v v v v v v EXCURSUS: THE LANGUAGE OF RIGHTEOUSNESS

The verb dikaio;w dikaioo bears a very close relation to the adjective di;kaiov (dikaios) and the noun dikaiosu;nh (dikaiosyne). These words are often translated into English as “righteous” (as in 3:11 NRSV) and “righteousness” (as in 3:6, 21; 5:5 NRSV; 2:21 NIV), while dikaioo is usually translated as “justify.” Such translations run the risk of obscuring for the English reader many of the inner connections in Paul's thought. The following chart illustrates the relationships between these terms: Greek English (Latin root) English (Anglo-Saxon root) dikaio;w justify rectify di;kaiov just righteous dikaisu;nh justice righteousness or rectification The coherence of Paul's argument becomes clearer if the English translation consistently employs one or the other of these systems of related terms.103 Accordingly, subsequent discussion in this commentary will ordinarily employ the terms “rectify,” “righteous,” and “righteousness/rectification.”

v v v v v v v v v v

Although “rectification” is an important motif in Paul's theology, there is nothing about his use of the verb that is unusual in the context of first-century Judaism. (To be sure, his understanding of how God acts to bring about rectification is sharply distinctive; see the section “The Faith of Jesus Christ,” below.) His usage is thoroughly consonant with the OT examples noted above, and it is closely paralleled by the language of grateful thanksgiving found in the Dead Sea Scrolls: As for me, my judgment is with God. In his hand are the perfection of my way and the uprightness of my heart. He will wipe out my transgression through his righteousness.... As for me, if I stumble, the mercies of God shall be my eternal salvation. If I stagger because of the sin of my flesh, my judgment shall be by the righteousness of God which endures forever. (1QS 11:2-3, 12) Thus, when Paul asserts that Peter and other Jewish Christians share his fundamental understanding of “rectification” as God's action made effective through Christ, there is no reason to doubt his claim. The controversy arises only when we seek further clarification about the roles of “works of Law” and “the faith of Jesus Christ” in relation to the process of rectification. (c) Works of the Law. Martin Luther found in Paul's dichotomy between “faith” and “works of the law” a hermeneutical principle that provided the theological impetus for the Reformation. Luther interpreted “works of the law” as a metaphor for all human striving for God's approval. Thus, he saw in Gal 2:16 a contrast between earning salvation through meritorious performance of good deeds and receiving salvation through faith alone (sola fide).104 This doctrine provided him with a powerful polemical weapon against the practices and teachings of the sixteenth-century Roman Catholic Church. Luther's reading of Paul exercised widespread influence on subsequent Christian interpreters, who associated <Page 238 Ends><Page 239 Begins> the attempt to earn salvation through good works with Pharisaic Judaism and, therefore, saw Paul as announcing a radical break with the Jewish understanding of God and salvation. The difficulty with this account of the matter is that it rests upon a caricature of Judaism, as E. P. Sanders has demonstrated in his watershed study Paul and Palestinian Judaism.105 Judaism has never taught that individuals must earn God's favor by performing meritorious works; members of the covenant people are already embraced by God's gracious election and mercy. Obedience to the Law is not a condition for getting in; rather, it is a means of staying in the covenant community. Sanders describes this Jewish pattern of religion as “covenantal nomism.” Nearly all scholars who study early Judaism and Christianity now acknowledge that Sanders's description of Palestinian Judaism is basically correct. How, then, are we to understand the contrast that Paul draws in 2:16 between being rectified by faith and being rectified by works of the Law? Is Paul setting up an artificial foil, a false depiction of his own Jewish heritage? A solution to this problem has been offered by J. D. G. Dunn, who has proposed that the expression “works of Law” (e[rga no;mou erga nomou) refers not to meritorious deeds in general but specifically to those practices that stand as outward symbols of Jewish ethnic distinctiveness: circumcision, dietary observances, and sabbath keeping.106 If that is right, we could paraphrase Paul as follows: We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; yet, knowing that a person is rectified not by wearing the badges of ethnic identity but through the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have trusted in Christ Jesus. Thus Paul's critique would be targeted not at “Pelagianism” (seeking to earn salvation through good works) but at ethnic exclusivity (claiming soteriological privilege on the basis of racial or sociocultural distinctiveness). One advantage of this interpretation of “works of the Law” is that it so clearly fits the situation Paul is addressing at Antioch.107 By withdrawing from table fellowship with Gentiles, Peter was not seeking to earn salvation through good deeds; rather, he was seeking to maintain the boundary between the ethnic Jewish-Christian community and its Gentile neighbors. For this reason alone, Dunn's explanation is to be strongly preferred to the traditional “Lutheran” reading of the passage. To be sure, the phrase erga nomou does not refer only to markers of ethnic identity; in principle, it refers—as Dunn has acknowledged—to the comprehensive range of actions required by the Torah.108 (Martyn translates it as “observance of the Law.”)109 Still, the immediate context in Galatians suggests that the expression “works of Law” points especially to the few litmus-test practices where Jewish identity was symbolically at stake. (Indeed, it is probable that the phrase erga nomou was being used by the rival Missionaries in Galatia to characterize the obedience they sought to impose upon Paul's Gentile converts.) (d) The Faith of Jesus Christ. If, then, Paul's confessional formula declares that no one is rectified through Law observance or adherence to the identity-marking practices of Judaism, what is the positive alternative? Here once again we must consider whether Luther and the Reformers were informed by an adequate exegesis of Paul. The Western Christian tradition has generally understood the phrase dia; pi;stewv ijIhsou Cristou'' (dia pisteos Iesou Christou) to mean “through believing in Jesus Christ.” This suited Luther's theology well: In place of human striving for acceptance, salvation is conditioned solely upon believing the proclaimed gospel message. But is this what Paul meant to say? There are reasons to think that he had something different in mind; the phrase dia pisteos Iesou Christou points not primarily to our cognitive response to the preached gospel but to Jesus Christ's act of fidelity in undergoing death for our sake. Paul's prepositional phrase is semantically ambiguous. The genitive case (Iesou Christou) could be either objective or subjective—i.e., gramatically <Page 239 Ends><Page 240 Begins> speaking, Jesus could be either the object or the subject of the action implied in the noun pi;stiv (pistis, “faith”). It is impossible to reproduce the ambiguity exactly in an English translation of the phrase, but we can illustrate the point by constructing a parallel expression: “We are rectified by the love of Jesus.” Does that mean that we are rectified because we love Jesus (objective genitive) or because Jesus loves us (subjective genitive)?110 The ambiguity can be resolved only by situating the sentence in a larger discourse or structure of thought. Furthermore, the noun pistis offers a range of semantic possibilities for English translators. It can be rendered as “faith,” “faithfulness,” “fidelity,” or “trust.” It probably does not, however, mean “belief” in the sense of cognitive assent to a doctrine; rather it refers to placing trust or confidence in a person. The cognate verb pisteu;w (pisteuo) can be translated as “believe” or “trust.” English, regrettably, lacks a verb form from the same root as the noun “faith.” All of this contributes to the uncertainty over how to interpret Paul's statements in v. 16. Paul uses similar expressions about the faith of/in Jesus Christ in Gal 2:20 and 3:22 and again in Rom 3:22, 26, as well as in Phil 3:9.111 The interpretation of all these passages has been extensively debated in recent critical literature,112 and recent English-language commentators on Galatians have lined up rather evenly divided on both sides of the question.113 While acknowledging the lack of scholarly consensus, the commentary that follows here will develop a reading of Galatians that understands pistis Iesou Christou to mean “the faithfulness of Jesus Christ” as manifested in his self-sacrificial death.114 As v. 16 suggests, this formulation does not originate with Paul; it is the common property of early Jewish Christianity. But what does it mean? The phrase “the faithfulness of Jesus Christ” makes sense only if we read it as an allusion to a story about Jesus, “who gave himself for our sins to set us free from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father” (1:4). His self-giving was interpreted by early Christians as an act of pistis, faithfulness. When all humanity had fallen away into unfaithfulness, he alone was faithful to God. At the same time, his death was an act that showed forth God's faithfulness (cf. Rom 3:3), God's determination not to abandon his people to slavery and death. Thus, when Paul writes that a person is rectified only dia pisteos Iesou Christou, he is thinking of Christ's faithfulness as embodied in his death on a cross, which was the event through which God acted to rescue us (cf. Rom 5:8: “God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us”). In the light of this understanding, we can paraphrase vv. 15-16a once again to clarify their sense: We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; yet, knowing that a person is rectified not by observance of the Law but through Jesus Christ's faithful death for our sake, even we have trusted in Christ Jesus in order that we might be rectified through the faithfulness of Christ and not through observance of the Law. This interpretation is confirmed by Paul's last sentence in this paragraph (v. 21), where he sums up his argument by insisting that rectification comes not “through the Law” but through “Christ's death.”115 (e) Paul's Allusion to Psalm 143:1. The last clause of v. 16 (“because no one will be rectified by works of the Law”) appears redundant, but it is actually Paul's appeal to a scriptural proof to clinch his point.116 His language here echoes Ps 143:2: “Do not enter into judgment with your servant, for no one living is righteous before you” <Page 240 Ends><Page 241 Begins> (NRSV). The parallel is more clearly evident in the Greek texts than in most English translations: Ps 142:2 LXX (= Ps 143:2 MT Gal 2:16d And do not enter into judgment with your slave Because before you Because by works of the Law no living being no flesh will be justified will be justified (dikaiwqh;setai (dikaiwqh;setai dikaiothesetai) dikaiothesetai) The psalm does not include the phrase “by works of the Law” (Paul has added this phrase to highlight the point he is making), but the psalmist does affirm that no human being can stand before God's judgment and that all hope for deliverance rests in the power and righteousness of God. Twice in Psalm 143:1 the speaker invokes God's righteousness (dikaiosu;nh dikaiosyne): Hear my prayer, O LORD; Give ear to my supplication in your truthfulness; Answer me in your righteousness. . . . . . . . . . . For your name's sake, O LORD, you will make me alive. In your righteousness you will bring my soul out of tribulation. (Ps 143:1, 11[142:1, 11] NRSV) By alluding to this psalm Paul underscores his claim that the gospel of justification/rectification through God's act in Christ is entirely consistent with what those who are “Jews by birth” already know—or should know—through the witness of Scripture: We are set in right relationship to God only through God's own act of grace. The ground of our hope is the righteousness of God, not any human “works” or ethnic status. When Paul changes the wording of the psalm from “no one living will be justified” to “no flesh will be justified,” he is perhaps subtly anticipating the argument he will make later in the letter against “those who want to make a good showing in the flesh” by compelling the Galatians to be circumcised (6:12).117 Thus, in vv. 15-16, Paul has set forth his grounds for challenging Peter in Antioch—grounds that serve also as the theological basis for his challenge to the Galatians to reject the pressure to be circumcised. In the sentences that follow (vv. 17-21), Paul answers some anticipated objections and elaborates his position. 2:17-18. In v. 17, Paul dramatically articulates the objection that the emissaries from James (v. 12) had raised against the Jewish Christians at Antioch who were eating with Gentiles (and perhaps also the objection raised by the Missionaries in Galatia against Paul): Those who eat with Gentiles thereby become “sinners” (the same word as in v. 15) just like the Gentiles and thereby drag the name of Christ through the mud, making him an accomplice in sinful actions—and therefore, in effect, the table-waiter118 of sin! The conditional sentence in v. 17 is formulated not as a contrary-to-fact condition but as a real condition: Paul and others who join him at table with Gentiles are “seeking to be rectified in Christ” (v. 16), and they are in fact being perceived as sinners by those who disapprove of their actions. The protasis of the sentence reflects the evaluative perspective of those who condemn the practice of the common table. For the sake of argument, Paul momentarily grants their point of view, saying, in effect, “All right, then, so eating with Gentiles means that we (Jewish Christians) ourselves are sinners.” If that is the consequence of solidarity with the Gentiles, so be it! But then Paul asks whether it follows that Christ, by bringing together Jews and Gentiles, is thereby aiding and abetting sinful behavior: “Is Christ then a servant [dia;konov diakonos] of Sin? Certainly not!” Paul conjures up and then emphatically rejects an absurd image of Christ waiting upon Sin as a personified power; the term diakonos (“servant,” often used of table servants) links the objection vividly to the scene of Jews and Gentiles eating at one table. It is impossible to say whether this image was already suggested by Paul's detractors or whether Paul has formulated it as a rhetorical strategem to show the absurdity of the objection. Paul next explains why he regards it as a mistake for Peter and Barnabas and other Jewish Christians to withdraw and separate themselves <Page 241 Ends><Page 242 Begins> (v. 12) from eating with Gentiles: “For if I build up again the very things that I once tore down, then I demonstrate that I am a transgressor” (v. 18). Paul shifts here from the first-person plural pronouns and verbs that he employed in vv. 15-17 to the first-person singular, which he uses throughout vv. 18-21. It is sometimes suggested that he does this for reasons of rhetorical tact. By using himself as an example, he makes the point more gently than if he directly confronted Peter with the accusation of transgression. In view of the confrontational tone of vv. 11-14, however, this explanation is not very satisfying. A better explanation is that Paul is already beginning the mental transition from the situation at Antioch to the situation in Galatia, no longer addressing Peter directly but beginning to address the issues raised against him personally by the Missionaries in another setting. (In terms of the cinematic analogy suggested above, in v. 18 the camera now pans in for the close-up shot of Paul's face.) The language of tearing down and rebuilding something suggests the image of the Torah as a wall that separates Israel from the Gentiles.119 Paul's gospel declares that Jesus Christ has torn down this wall. The image is powerfully developed in Eph 2:14-16: For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is the hostility between us. He has abolished the Law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it. (NRSV) This passage, probably the work of one of Paul's immediate followers, expresses well Paul's understanding of his apostolic commission as the outworking of God's design to bring Jews and Gentiles together into one new people. By pressuring Paul to separate himself from eating with Gentiles, Peter and the emissaries from Jerusalem are asking him to build up again the wall of separation that he had previously torn down not just at Antioch but throughout his mission to the Gentiles. If he does rebuild that wall, Paul insists, he will establish that he is a transgressor. There are two possible readings of this statement. Paul could mean that the very act of rebuilding the wall of commandments and ordinances would itself be an act of transgression against God's will. This would be a radical and ironic inversion of what the term “transgression” had meant in Paul's “former life in Judaism” (1:13), in which transgression referred to violations of the Law's boundaries, not to reestablishing them.120 On the other hand, Paul could mean that rebuilding the wall of separation would show that his entire apostolic labor of preaching the Law-free gospel to Gentiles had not been a fulfillment of the will of God but a flagrant violation of God's holiness; to follow Peter in leaving the common table would show that Paul's whole apostleship had been in vain (cf. 2:2), an extended defiance of God. His practice of disregarding dietary restrictions and bringing Jews and Gentiles together in the church would have been, from this point of view, nothing but transgression against God.121 This latter interpretation is the one that Paul's original hearers would have been more likely to grasp. 2:19-21. The issue is not left long in doubt, however. Paul moves quickly to declare that the old frame of reference, in which the Law must separate Jews and Gentiles, no longer applies. It has been abolished by the crucifixion of Jesus. Paul understands this crucifixion as a cosmic event in which he participates, with the result that he has “died to the Law” (v. 19). Because he has died to the Law, going back to it is impossible; rebuilding the wall is impossible for Paul, because, having been crucified with Christ, he has come into an entirely new life animated by Christ. One puzzling feature of v. 19 is Paul's statement that “through the Law” he died to the Law. If he had written, “through the cross I died to the Law,” his line of argument would be clear. But why does he say instead, “through the Law”? Nothing in the immediate context offers an explanation of what Paul means by this opaque formulation. Certainly Paul is not thinking of <Page 242 Ends><Page 243 Begins> “dying to the Law” through discovering the futility of his own attempts to observe it; according to his own self-description, he was “as to righteousness under the Law, blameless” (Phil 3:6). (The inappropriateness of the popular picture of Paul prior to his conversion as laboring under the burden of a guilt-ridden conscience was eloquently demonstrated by Krister Stendahl in his classic essay, “The Apostle Paul and the Introspective Conscience of the West.”)122 Commentators sometimes refer to Rom 7:11, which says that Sin working “in the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me” (NRSV). In fact, however, this passage sheds no light on Gal 2:19; in Romans, it is clear that one dies to the Law not “through the Law” but “through the body of Christ” (Rom 7:4 NRSV)—i.e., through union with his death in baptism (Rom 6:1-11). Dunn proposes that when Paul says “through the Law” he is referring to his activity as a persecutor of the church, motivated by zeal for the Law.123 This interpretation leaves unexplained how this activity caused Paul to die to the Law; apart from God's intervention and call, he could have gone right on persecuting the church. The explanation that finds the greatest support within the text of Galatians itself is that the Law played an active role in the death of Jesus and pronounced a curse upon him (Gal 3:13). Thus, since Paul's death to the Law came about through his being “crucified with Christ” (v. 19; cf. 6:14), the Law played an instrumental role in this process. In fact, however, Paul does not offer any explicit explanation of this point, and we may be well advised to concede that we do not know exactly what Paul meant by the aphoristic statement “through the Law I died to the Law.” The point that matters for Paul is that he has passed through this death, leaving the Law behind, “so that I might live to God.” This extraordinary assertion—driving a wedge between the Law and God—would be scandalous to the ears of Jews zealous for the Law.124 The more usual Jewish perspective on the relation between the Law and life before God is illustrated by two passages in 4 Maccabees (4 Macc 7:19; 16:25) that apply the expression “to live to God” to those who undergo martyrdom precisely for the sake of the Law. The latter passage states the matter concisely: By these words the mother of the seven encouraged and persuaded each of her sons to die rather than violate God's commandment. They knew also that those who die for the sake of God live to God, as do Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the patriarchs. (4 Macc 16:24-25 NRSV, italics added) Unlike the Maccabean martyrs, Paul has died not for the Law but to it, and he claims thereby to have found life before God. This new life includes, of course, the fellowship of Jews and Gentiles together in a single worshiping congregation gathered in the name of Jesus. Those who are calling for a retreat from this radical new form of community are simply, in Paul's view, living on the wrong side of the cross, in the old age. When Paul says that he has been “crucified with Christ,” he is not referring merely to some sort of private mystical experience. (The “I” throughout vv. 18-21 is a paradigmatic “I,” rhetorically inviting readers of the letter to join with Paul in these confessional statements.) Union with Christ's death is the common experience of all who are “in Christ.” This is articulated most clearly in Rom 6:3-6 (see also Rom 7:6; 2 Cor 4:10; Phil 3:10; Col 2:20; 3:3): Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. (NRSV, italics added) The cross is a transformative event that has changed the world and incorporated Paul—along with all who receive the gospel—into a new sphere of power. It is noteworthy that the verb “crucified with” (sunestau;rwmai synestauromai) is in the perfect tense, signifying a completed past action whose effects continue into the present; <Page 243 Ends><Page 244 Begins> Paul's union with Christ's crucifixion is not merely a once-upon-a-time event but a reality that continues to determine his present existence. That is why he goes on to say, “It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me.”125 Having died to his old identity, and to the Law that shaped that identity, Paul lives in the mysterious power of the risen Christ. This means that all his values and practices are reshaped in accordance with the identity of the crucified one. The character of that identity is sketched by the latter part of v. 20: “The life I now live in the flesh I live by faith—that is, by the faith of the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me.”126 The hallmarks of this new identity are love and self-giving, rather than circumcision and Law observance. All of this has obvious implications for the debate over table fellowship with Gentiles. The two participles in v. 20b that are translated “loved” (ajgaph;santov agapesantos) and “gave” (parado;ntov paradontos) are both aorist participles, pointing to the singular past event of the cross as the locus of Jesus' love and self-donation. In other words, the love of which Paul speaks here is not Jesus' warm feeling of affection toward humanity; rather, it is an enacted love, a love that was made manifest in action and in suffering. Precisely that action gives content to the expression “the faith of the Son of God.” Here, once again as in v. 16, we face the question of whether to translate pistis, followed by the genitive case, as “faith in” or “faith of.” Here in v. 20, the balance of probability tips strongly toward the latter. Paul is not claiming that he lives now by “believing in” the Son of God; he has, in fact, just (rhetorically) denied any continuing personal agency at all. Instead, it is now the pistis of the Son of God, Jesus Christ's own self-giving faithfulness, that moves in and through him.127 The life that he now lives “in the flesh” (i.e., in embodied historical existence) is both animated and determined by Jesus Christ's faithfulness. As J. Louis Martyn articulates it, “Christ's faith constitutes the space in which the one crucified with Christ can live and does live.”128 Here the function of pistis parallels the role of “grace” (ca;riv charis) in Paul's story of salvation, as a comparison to Rom 5:15 shows:129 Rom 5:15 Gal 2:20 ...the free gift ...I live in grace, in faith, namely the grace namely the faith of the one man of the Son of God Jesus Christ It is, therefore, no coincidence that Paul's next sentence (v. 21) refers to the theme of grace: Grace is embodied in Christ's faithful death for our sake. With 2:21, Paul summarizes what he has been saying in the whole of this compact but powerful speech in vv. 15-21: Righteousness/rectification comes not through the Law but through Christ's death on a cross. The implication of this is that those who continue to insist on Law observance as a necessary condition for Gentiles' full participation in the people of God are in effect declaring Christ's death null and void and returning to social and religious norms that defined the status quo before Christ's death. They may be accusing Paul of nullifying the grace of God by ignoring the requirements of God's graciously given Law, but Paul turns the tables on this accusation. “I do not nullify the grace of God,” he says. Unspoken but strongly implied is the counteraccusation: “It is you who nullify the grace of God by acting as though Christ's death was of no importance.” We may put Paul's point in the form of a question: If righteousness were available through the Law, why was it necessary for Jesus to die? Here we see how Paul's pattern of confessional logic begins with the kerygma and then works toward resolution of disputed points. The foundational truth is that Jesus Christ died “to set us free from the present evil age” (1:4). It follows that the Law was powerless to achieve that end. Thus rectification cannot be achieved through the Law. Verse 21 illustrates the truth of Sanders's dictum that Paul's thought moves “from solution <Page 244 Ends><Page 245 Begins> to plight.”130 That is, Paul does not begin with an analysis of the human predicament under the Law and then offer the gospel as a solution; instead, he begins with the confession that Christ died for us and then works out the implications of that confession for diagnosing the human plight and determining the role of the Law. Paul's formulation in v. 21 contains a deft wordplay that is difficult to translate. The word translated by the NRSV as “for nothing” is dwrea;n (dorean), an adverb formed from the accusative case of the noun dwreav (dorea), which means “gift,” as in Rom 5:15. We can come close to capturing the ambiguity of Paul's sentence by translating, “If rectification comes through the Law, then Christ died gratuitously.” The Son of God did in fact “give himself” as a gift, but those who think rectification comes through Law have turned this gracious gift into a gratuitous superfluity. That is the bottom line of Paul's charge against Peter at Antioch (and by implication against the rival Missionaries in Galatia). As Paul sees it, by caving in to the pressure of the emissaries from James, Peter has “set aside the grace of God.” Their insistence on Law observance as the necessary hallmark of the identity of the people of God turns out to nullify the grace of God and render Christ's death meaningless. Paul proclaims that God has chosen to set things right in the world through the cross and through bringing into being a new people in which the old barrier between Jew and Gentile is broken down and made irrelevant. The cross cuts away all the systems of distinction by which we set ourselves apart from others, including the distinction between Jew and Gentile. Thus, when Peter refuses to eat with Gentiles, he is living as though the cross were of no effect. Those who have been crucifed with Christ will no longer separate themselves from one another but will gather around one table.

REFLECTIONS

At the end of the day, was there to be one church or two “separate but equal” churches? That is the issue brought sharply into focus by Paul's confrontation with Peter at Antioch. Was there to be one table where Jews and Gentiles could eat together as brothers and sisters in Christ, or was it necessary to maintain two separate tables, symbolizing the separate cultural identity of the Jewish Christians? The issue was a difficult one, because the Jewish Christians who separated themselves from the common table believed that they were acting in obedience to the revealed Law of God. It was one thing to accept—as the “pillar” apostles had done at the conference in Jerusalem (2:1-10)—that Paul had a legitimate mission to preach the gospel to Gentiles; however, it was quite another thing for Jewish Christians to share table fellowship with the Gentiles who became believers. Would this not lead inevitably to compromising the distinctive identity of God's people? The actions of Peter—and the other Jewish Christians such as Barnabas who followed him in withdrawing from table fellowship with Gentiles—pointed toward the formation of two permanently separated churches, divided along ethnic lines. (And inevitably such a division implied the superiority and greater purity of the Jewish-Christian church.) This concrete social and political setting must always be kept in mind by the interpreter of Gal 2:11-21. Preaching on this passage can be difficult because Paul's account of his passionate response to Peter (2:14-21) is compressed into an unusually dense discourse, prefiguring the major themes of the remainder of Galatians. The themes are weighty, and Paul sketches them so concisely that the congregation may struggle to grasp what he is saying. In order to keep the major issues in focus, the interpreter of Gal 2:11-21 will find it helpful to bear in mind four questions:1. Who sets things right? 2. What role has Jesus played in setting things right? <Page 245 Ends><Page 246 Begins> 3. What is the character of the new life that the death and resurrection of Jesus have inaugurated? 4. How is the truth of the gospel embodied in social practices? The following reflections are keyed to these four central questions.

1. Rectification as God's Doing. Who sets things right? As the exegetical discussion above has emphasized, “rectification” refers to God's action of setting things right. God “rectifies” his people by coming to their rescue and instituting right order in a world gone wrong. The noun dikaiosu;nh (dikaiosyne), usually translated as “righteousness,” is closely linked to the idea of God's covenant faithfulness: Those who are “rectified” are claimed by God's grace as belonging to the people of God; thus “righteousness” (the status of being rectified) is virtually equivalent to covenant membership. Paul's gospel shakes the world by disconnecting this status of belonging to the people of God from observance of the Law and attributing it instead solely to the gracious action of God, through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ. Thus rectification is God's doing from start to finish. Only God can set things right, and God has chosen to do that through the death of Jesus rather than through the Law. One of the world-transforming implications of this message is that the Law no longer defines or limits the boundaries of God's grace. The full implications of this paradigm shift in understanding “righteousness” are difficult to grasp. Paul protests that most of his Jewish-Christian contemporaries failed to understand the logic of their own confession (2:15-16) about rectification through Christ and, therefore, inappropriately sought to police the boundaries of the covenant community. Once we understand that rectification is God's doing, not ours, important consequences follow. First of all, this truth sets us free from fear and anxiety. As Paul writes elsewhere, “It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn?” (Rom 8:33b-34a NRSV). Realizing that rectification cannot be a human attainment sets us free to rely fully on the boundless grace of God, disclosed in Christ's death for us. We can let go of our anxious need to make things come out right, our anxious need to ensure the “purity” of the church. Another important consequence of this teaching is that “righteousness”—understood as “rectification”—is never a present possession, because God's final verdict lies in the future. God has not yet set all things right. That is why Paul speaks in Gal 5:5 of awaiting “the hope of righteousness.” When we recognize that rectification is God's doing, we will find ourselves looking to the future for God to fulfill that hope, rather than supposing that we can forcibly set everything right in the present. Thus learning who sets things right is the great antidote to violence and intolerance.

2. The Faithfulness of Jesus Christ. What role has Jesus played in setting things right? Consistent with the message that rectification is God's doing, not ours, is Paul's proclamation that we are rectified only “through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ.” We are not rectified by the strength or purity of our own believing. If Paul had meant that, then “faith” would be a new kind of “work,” a human achievement by which we place ourselves into right relation with God. As was pointed out in the Commentary, when Paul says that “a person is rectified not through Law-observance but through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ,” he is pointing to Jesus' act of loving self-giving on the cross. The shorthand expression “the faithfulness of Jesus Christ” refers to Jesus' death for our sake. The phrase interprets Jesus' death both as his act of radical trust in the God who gives life to the dead (cf. Rom 4:17) and, at the same time, as God's act of faithfulness toward a humanity that needed to be rescued from the grasp of sin and death. As Paul declares in Rom 5:8, “God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us” (NRSV). That is why Paul can proclaim that “the righteousness of God” (i.e., God's faithful covenant love) is disclosed “through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ” (Rom 3:21-22).131 <Page 246 Ends><Page 247 Begins> This interpretation does not deny that Paul saw Jesus as the object of faith; Gal 2:16 goes on to say explicitly that “we placed our trust in Christ Jesus.” But the whole emphasis of Paul's message shifts, on this reading, from the subjective state of the believer to the proclamation of what God has done for us in the event of the cross. The difference is subtle but important. Those who preach on Galatians need to drive the point home forcefully: The gospel that Paul preaches is the story of Jesus Christ, “who gave himself to deliver us from the present evil age” (1:4); it is the story of “the faithfulness of the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me” (2:20). This means that preaching on this text should invite us not to introspective assessment of our own believing but rather to grateful acknowledgment of what Jesus Christ has done for us. What he has done for us is not merely to enable us to believe and thereby find individual forgiveness of sins. Instead, his faithful death has created a whole new world and liberated us from bondage to powers that once held us captive. Preaching that attends to this aspect of the message of Galatians will have a narrative character, and the narrative will not be just the story of our journey from unbelief to belief; rather, such preaching will recount the story of Jesus' death as the destruction of the old regime and the inauguration of the new creation. It is unintelligible to preach Gal 2:11-21 apart from the passion and resurrection narratives.

3. Crucified with Christ/Christ Lives in Me. What is the character of the new life that the death and resurrection of Jesus have inaugurated? Despite the previous observations, the gospel narrative will also address the individual hearer. In 2:19-21, Paul does speak of his own experience in this new creation. What he reports, however, is nothing less than the annihilation of his old identity through the cross. He has entered into union with Christ's death in such a way that he can make the remarkable statement, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” What are we to make of this decentering of the personality, this replacement of the ego by the presence of the living, risen Christ? Sam K. Williams wisely remarks, “Here (vv. 19-20), as so often elsewhere, Paul is at least as much poet as theologian as he searches for language and reaches for images appropriate to his experience of Christ.”132 Paul is describing the experience of having his former life-world terminated and entering a new sphere of reality where he is no longer in charge. This is not merely a matter of having his sins forgiven (indeed, Paul never mentions “forgiveness” in this letter); instead, it is a matter of being transformed for service. Paul finds himself—to his own great surprise—the instrument of Christ's reconciling love, the agent of Christ's mission to a world of Gentiles whom he previously regarded as unclean “dogs.” Over time, Christians have found in Paul's words an apt description of the mystery of being caught up into God's transformation of the world in such a way that the very core of the self is claimed and transmuted by the power of the living God. Paul is not speaking of some sort of momentary mystical “high”; rather, he is describing the ongoing experience of living “in the flesh” as the embodiment of “the faithfulness of the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me.” By the power of that faithfulness he finds himself living a new high-risk existence, leaving behind the securities of Law and ethnic affiliation, proclaiming the message of God's love and embodying that message by sitting at one table with those whose way of life he once counted unclean. This involves concrete and costly political choices; it may mean initiating contacts with the poor in Third World countries or serving the homeless in our own cities. Christians who find themselves crossing cultural boundaries to do the work of God in ways that they never could have imagined will often find themselves explaining what has happened by echoing Paul's words: “It is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me.” <Page 247 Ends><Page 248 Begins>

4. The Truth of the Gospel: One Table. How is the gospel embodied in social practices? Paul insists that “the truth of the gospel” (2:14) is a social reality: The gospel must be embodied in the practices of a community that shares a common life. One can betray the truth of the gospel not only by preaching false doctrine but also by engaging in false practices—particularly practices that fracture the unity of the church. The foundation of Paul's opposition to Peter is his conviction that, through the death and resurrection of Jesus, God has brought into being a new community that embraces Jews and Gentiles together as God's people. This is not merely an implication of the gospel or an inference from the gospel; rather, it is an integral part of the gospel itself. Wherever we see Christians trying to rebuild walls of separation in the church, walls that separate people along ethnic or cultural lines, we can be sure that the integrity of the gospel is being violated, and, like Paul, we should feel compelled to speak out against such practices. As noted in the Reflections on 1:1-10, systems of apartheid or racial segregation offer particularly clear contemporary analogies to the abuses that Paul opposed in Antioch and Galatia. But it may be far too easy to pronounce condemnations on apartheid-era South Africa, while ignoring equally insidious abuses closer to home. The Jewish Christians at Antioch were not passing legislation to restrict the activity of Gentiles; they were merely withdrawing into private, privileged enclaves for their meals and worship. When the problem is stated that way, we are forced to ask whether in fact many of our churches practice a de facto ethnic and cultural exclusivity, reflecting the ethnic and socioeconomic exclusivity of our residential neighborhoods. When that happens, our assemblies deny in fact, if not in principle, the truth of the gospel. On the other hand, the history of the church provides numerous impressive testimonies of the power of the gospel to break down the wall of separation between different races and cultures. One of the most remarkable stories of this kind from recent history emerged from the bloody conflict in Rwanda, where in 1994 members of the Hutu tribe carried out mass murders of the Tutsi tribe. At the town of Ruhanga, fifteen kilometers outside Kigali, a group of 13,500 Christians had gathered for refuge. They were of various denominations: Anglicans, Roman Catholics, Pentecostals, Baptists, and others. According to the account of a witness to the scene, “When the militias came, they ordered the Hutus and Tutsis to separate themselves by tribe. The people refused and declared that they were all one in Christ, and for that they were all killed,” gunned down en masse and dumped into mass graves.133 It is a disturbing story, but it is also a compelling witness to the power of the gospel to overcome ethnic division. Paul would have regarded these Rwandan martyrs as faithful witnesses to the truth of the gospel. Having been “crucified with Christ,” they preferred to die rather than to deny the grace of God that had made them one in Christ. <Page 248 Ends><Page 249 Begins>

Posts 5318
Dan Francis | Forum Activity | Replied: Fri, Jul 19 2013 9:54 PM

Sample for this week….

PSALM 15:1-5, THEY SHALL NOT BE MOVED

Link to: {NIV} {NRSV} <Page 731 Ends><Page 732 Begins>

COMMENTARY

Along with Psalm 24, Psalm 15 is ordinarily classified as an entrance liturgy (see also Isa 33:13-16; Mic 6:6-8), a question-and-answer ritual enacted as persons prepared to enter the temple gates. There is evidence from Israel and other ancient Near Eastern sources that there were requirements for entering a holy place (see Deut 23:1-8; 2 Chr 23:19); however, Psalm 15 concludes not with a judgment about admission but with an observation that has the character of a promise. While perhaps modeled on an entrance liturgy, Psalm 15 in its present form has more the tone of liturgical instruction. In its present literary context, it serves to portray the shape of the lives of those who have been mentioned frequently in preceding psalms—those who take refuge in God (Pss 2:12; 5:11; 7:1; 11:1; 14:6), the poor/oppressed/afflicted/meek (Pss 9:9, 12, 18; 10:2, 9, 12, 17-18; 12:5; 14:6), the righteous or “company of the righteous” (Pss 1:5-6; 5:12; 7:9; 11:3, 5; 14:5). In fact, there is a revealing progression from Psalm 13 to Psalm 15. The movement is from the threat of being “shaken” (13:6) to the affirmation that “God is with the company of the righteous” (14:5) to the portrayal of the righteous dwelling with God, the result being that they “shall never be moved” (15:5c ; “moved” here is the same Hebrew word [fwm môt] as “shaken” in 13:4 NRSV). The questions in v. 1 are followed by a series of answers in vv. 2-5ab, the origin and organization of which are variously understood. Many scholars suggest that the answers have been shaped by the influence of the Ten Commandments, but it is not clear that there are actually ten items. The organization of the items is also debated. Bratcher and Reyburn detect twelve items, arranged in an alternating pattern of three positive statements (vv. 2, 4abc) and three negative statements (vv. 3, 4d-5b; the last line of v. 4 actually contains a positive and a negative that are obscured by the NRSV and the NIV—lit., “he swears to his hurt and he will not change”). In their view, “the contrast of plusses and minuses . . . serves the purpose of focusing attention upon the exemplary conduct of those who would enter the Temple for worship.”96 A different (or perhaps complementary) proposal construes v. 2 as an answer to v. 1 in general terms, while vv. 3-5ab offer specific illustrations in the realms of dealing with neighbors (v. 3), with the religious community (v. 4ab), and with people and practices in society at large (vv. 4c-5b).97 Support for this view may be derived from the fact that each item in v. 2 is introduced by an active participle, whereas the other items use finite verb forms <Page 732 Ends><Page 733 Begins> (with the exception of v. 4a, where the NRSV’s “the wicked” is the subject and is accompanied by a passive participle). Complicating this proposal is the observation that each item in v. 2 is paralleled in v. 3—that is, vv. 2a and 3a have to do with walking (the word “slander” [lgr rAgal] in v. 3a is more literally “tread” or “foot it”); vv. 2b and 3b have to do with acting (see “do” in both cases, although the Hebrew differs [l[p pA (al in v. 2b and hc[ ( AZâ in v. 3b]); and vv. 2c and 3c have to do with speech. It is possible that several structural patterns are operating simultaneously. 15:1. The word “tent” (see Exod 33:7-11; Num 12:5, 10; Pss 27:5-6; 61:5) and the phrase “holy hill” (Pss 2:6; 3:4; 43:3) may certainly refer to the Temple on Mount Zion, God’s chosen dwelling place on earth (see Pss 24:3; 46:4-5; 48:1-3; 132:13-14; 1 Kgs 8:1-11). The Temple symbolized God’s presence. Thus, in effect, v. 1 inquires about the identity or life-position of those who belong to God (see Ps 1:1, 5). The first verb in v. 1 (rwg gûr) means literally “sojourn, be a resident alien.” It suggests that no one can deserve to reside in God’s presence. Rather, persons dwell with God only because of God’s gracious permission (see Ps 5:7). 15:2-5b. God’s gracious acceptance of persons into the divine presence has an important implication for understanding the answers in vv. 2-5ab. These answers should not be understood as requirements; rather, they portray the character of persons whose lives have been shaped in conformity with God’s character. Mays suggests of vv. 2-5ab, “It is a picture, not prescription.”98 Not surprisingly, the words that describe the deeds and speech of those who belong to God are used elsewhere to describe God’s own character, work, or word. For instance, God is “blameless” or “perfect” in God’s way (Ps 18:30), work (Deut 32:4), and instruction (Ps 19:7). Those who belong to God mirror God’s character. This is not to say that they are absolutely sinless (see Commentary on Ps 14:1-3) but that their lives are completely oriented to and dependent upon God (the Hebrew root of “blameless[ly]” [!ymt tAmîm] means essentially “to be complete”; see Deut 18:13 NRSV, where this word is translated as“completely loyal”). Persons identified elsewhere as blameless include Noah (Gen 6:9), Abraham (Gen 17:1), David (1 Kgs 9:4; NRSV, “integrity”), Job (Job 1:1, 8; 2:3), and the psalmist (Pss 18:23; 26:1, 11; NRSV, “integrity”; see also Ps 119:1). Psalm 101 is particularly reminiscent of Psalm 15, for here the psalmist, probably the king, studies “the way that is blameless” (101:2), walks “with blameless heart” (101:2), and admits into his presence those “whose walk is blameless” (101:6; cf. Ps 101:4-5 with 15:3 and 101:7 with 15:2). Those who belong to God also mirror God’s character as they “do what is right,” for God is righteous (see Pss 5:8; 7:9, 11; 9:4, 8; see esp. 11:7). God is also characterized by “faithfulness” (see Exod 34:6), and those who speak faithfulness or truth mirror God’s character and embody God’s will (see Jer 9:5; Zech 8:16; cf. Ps 5:6; Amos 5:10). As God’s character is manifested in concrete actions, the character of those who belong to God will be manifested as well. Their tongues will not be instruments of deceit or oppression (v. 3; see Pss 5:9; 12:4). They will bring no harm upon their neighbor by speech or action (v. 3; see Exod 20:16-17; Lev 19:18; Pss 28:3; 101:5). They will oppose those who oppose God, and honor those who honor God (v. 4ab ; see Ps 1:1). They will keep their word even when they suffer for it (see Ps 24:4; Matt 5:33-37). Just as God acts on behalf of the poor and oppressed (see Pss 9:18, 10:17-18; 12:5), so also the business practices of those who belong to God will benefit the poor (v. 5a ; see Exod 22:25; Lev 25:36-37, where the refusal to exact interest is to protect the poor; see also Deut 23:20; Ezek 18:8, 13, 17). As God avoids bribery to enact justice (Deut 10:17-18; Ps 9:4), those who belong to God will do the same (v. 5b ; see Exod 23:7-8; Deut 16:19-20; 1 Kgs 8:3; cf. Ps 10:8). 15:5c. This verse concludes the psalm with a statement that is both an affirmation and a promise. Just as God has established the earth (Pss 93:1; 96:10; 104:5) and Zion (Pss 46:5; 125:1) so that they cannot be “moved” or “shaken” by chaotic forces, so also God secures the lives of those who belong to God. In view of the rest of the book of Psalms, this clearly does not mean that the righteous will live unopposed (see Pss 3:1-2; 5:7-8; 7:6; 9:13-14; 10:1-2; 12:1-4; 13:1-4; 14:4; 34:19). Rather, in even the worst of circumstances, <Page 733 Ends><Page 734 Begins> the righteous will have in God’s presence and power a resource to sustain their lives. That promise is equivalent to the promise of happiness to those who take refuge in God (Ps 2:12) and of prosperity for the righteous in all they do (Ps 1:3). That is to say, those who trust God will always have a solid foundation for facing the world; they will not be moved (see Pss 10:6; 13:4; 16:8; 17:5; 21:7; 30:6; 62:2, 6; 112:6).

REFLECTIONS

The refrain of a well-known African American spiritual consists of references to both Ps 1:3 and Ps 15:5c : “Like a tree that’s planted by the water, we shall not be moved.”99 The juxtaposition reveals a profound understanding of both psalms. While Psalm 15 may be modeled on an entrance liturgy, its present form and context suggest that its primary purpose is to portray what it means to be constantly open to God’s instruction (Ps 1:2), to take refuge in God (Pss 2:12, 5:11, 7:1, 11:1, 14:6, 16:1, 17:7), to live under God’s rule (Pss 2:11, 5:2, 7:7-8; 8:1, 9; 9:7-8, 10:16, 11:4, 14:2). The answers to the questions in v. 1, therefore, are not requirements or prescriptions. Rather, like the content of the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5–7, vv. 2-5b portray what life is like when it is lived under God’s reign instead of in reliance upon oneself (see Commentary on Psalm 24). While the answers in vv. 2-5b and the teachings in the Sermon on the Mount are not requirements, both do suggest that the lives of those who are loyal and faithful to God will look different from the lives of the wicked and foolish, who autonomously deny God’s claim (see Pss 10:3-4; 14:1; see also Matt 7:21-23). The character and behavior of the righteous will inevitably mirror God’s character and God’s values. Recipients of grace (see Commentary on v. 1) will inevitably be gracious. Consideration of Psalm 15 in terms of entry into the Temple, or simply in terms of preparation for or participation in worship, raises the question, What does God desire from the worshiper? A traditional answer was that God desires sacrificial offerings; however, the prophets proclaimed that sacrifice was not sufficient. God desires justice, righteousness, knowledge, goodness, and love (see Isa 1:12-17; Hos 6:6; Amos 5:21-24; Mic 6:6-8). Psalm 15 is consistent with these prophetic texts. In short, God desires the loyalty of the whole self—lifestyle (see “walk” in v. 2), action (see “do” in v. 2), and speech (see “speak” in v. 2). The proper gift to bring into God’s presence is the gift of one’s life (see Pss 25:1; 50:12-15, 23; 51:15-17; 86:4; 143:8). Psalm 15 calls for “a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” (Rom 12:1 NRSV). As Paul recognized, such a gift involves being transformed rather than “conformed to this world” (Rom 12:2 NRSV). In other words, those who live under God’s rule rather than the rule of self will be different (see Reflections on Psalm 12). Such faithfulness will invite opposition, as the life of Jesus reveals, but God’s promise to the faithful is a peace greater than the world can give (see John 14:27). Indeed, persons who entrust themselves to God “shall never be moved” (v. 5c). <Page 734 Ends><Page 735 Begins>

Posts 5318
Dan Francis | Forum Activity | Replied: Tue, Jul 30 2013 5:02 PM

Sample for this week….We still need more people to get behind this fabulous resource. 

Colossians 3:5-11

Put to Death What Is Earthly

<Page 641 Ends><Page 642 Begins>

COMMENTARY

:5-8. The ascetic regulations insisted upon by the advocates of the philosophy were designed to deal with people's “members on the earth”—that is, their physical bodies, which are dependent on the lower, material realm. In v. 5, the writer takes up this notion but gives it his own ethical twist. Both the NRSV and the NIV miss the force of this with their paraphrases of v. 5a. The language at first sounds as if the writer is contradicting his previous polemic against asceticism and severity to the body: “Put to death the members on the earth.” But then comes the list, not of physical parts of the body, as the reader might expect, but of vices. His point is that a genuine concern for the heavenly realm arising out of believers' union with Christ will not lead to the gratification of the flesh, for which he has criticized the philosophy (cf. 2:23). In the thought of Paul there is an “already” and a “not yet” to dying with Christ, whereby those who have died to sin (Rom 6:2-4) still need to be exhorted to put to death the deeds of the body (Rom 8:13). Similarly here, those who have died with Christ (2:20; 3:3) still have to be told to put to death sinful practices. The writer is fond of lists of five. In v. 5 he lists five vices, as also in v. 8, while in v. 12 he will catalog five virtues. The first five vices start off as explicitly sexual ones and gradually become more general. Heading the vices is “fornication” (pornei;a porneia), a broad term denoting general sexual immorality that is also used more particularly of adultery and intercourse with prostitutes. “Impurity” (ajkaqarsi;a akatharsia) is usually associated with sexual sin and is also found in combination with porneia in 2 Cor 12:21; Gal 5:19; and 1 Thess 4:3, 7. Because of its context here, the third vice, “passion” or “lust” (pa;qov pathos), also has a primary connotation of uncontrolled sexual appetite. “Evil desire” (ejpiqumi;akakh epithymia kake) takes the list in a more general direction, referring to all forms of sinful desire, to what Paul might call “the desires of the flesh” (Rom 13:14; Gal 5:16, 24). The fifth vice, “covetousness” (pleonexi;a pleonexia), is the insatiable greed whereby people assume that things or other people exist simply for their own gratification. Interestingly, and in line with Jewish tradition, covetousness is equated with idolatry.116 The thought is that all idolatry involves some form of covetousness. When humanity refuses to acknowledge the various aspects of life as the gifts of the Creator, it attempts to seize these things for itself and thereby elevates some desired object to the center of life. In the language of Rom 1:25, humanity ends up worshiping and serving created things rather than the Creator. This is the opposite attitude to the thanksgiving that recognizes God at the center of life (cf. 3:17). An eschatological motivation is provided for putting to death these practices. The vices are so serious that on account of them the wrath of God is coming, and the implication is that those who are found indulging in them will experience that holy anger of God and the judgment that results from it. The implication is clear, although the original text in all likelihood did not contain the phrase “on the children of disobedience” (so NIV).117 The <Page 642 Ends><Page 643 Begins> “once...but now” contrast of vv. 7-8 (cf. 1:21-22) recalls the decisive change that has taken place for the readers, so that, whereas their lives were once characterized by such vices and deserved the coming wrath, this is no longer the case. Instead, the present is to be characterized by a total transformation in which the readers are responsible for putting aside or discarding like old clothes all vices. A further list of five is provided to ensure that the readers understand the extent of their responsibility to abandon the old way of life. Anger, which heads this new list of sins, is given an overwhelmingly negative evaluation in the OT (see Prov 15:1, 18; 22:24; Eccl 7:9), in Hellenistic Judaism (see Sir 1:22; 27:30; T. Dan 2.1–5.1), and in the NT (see Matt 5:22; Gal 5:20; Jas 1:19-20), presumably because of the estrangement from others that nearly always accompanies its expression. “Rage” or “wrath” (qumo;v thymos) is synonymous with “anger” (ojrgh orge), though Stoic writers sometimes distinguished them, with rage denoting the initial explosion of anger.118 “Malice” (kaki;a kakia) includes any attitude or action that intends harm to another. Malice can express itself through “slander” (blasfhmi;a blasphemia), the abuse and vilifying of others; shameful, foul, or obscene language (aijscrologi;a aischrologia) can be the form such abuse often takes. The vices listed here, then, would all be destructive of harmonious relationships, and there can be no place for them in the new way of life, in which believers are related to one another in the body of Christ. 3:9-11. The emphasis on sins of speech, which comes to the fore at the end of the catalog of vices, is continued in the prohibition of lying. There can be no room for lies in the new community, because they poison communication and breed suspicion instead of mutual trust. The warrant used for the exhortation is formulated in terms of the transformation believers have undergone. The imperative is based on the indicative of having stripped off the old person and its practices and having put on the new. The language of “stripping off,” instead of simply “putting off,” again picks up the ascetic terminology of the philosophy (cf. 2:11, 15) and this time gives it an ethical twist. This is not the stripping off of the physical body in acts of severity and self-abasement (cf. 2:16, 23) but a stripping off of the old sinful way of life. Paul talks of the old person's having been crucified with Christ in Rom 6:6 and about putting on Christ in Gal 3:27, where this is equivalent to being baptized into Christ; but he does not use the language of putting off the old person or putting on the new person. Some claim that this language derives from an early Christian baptismal practice of removing clothing before being baptized nude and then putting on a new garment.119 This is possible, but the evidence for such a practice is actually from after the middle of the second century with The Gospel of Philip 101 and Hippolytus's Apostolic Tradition. The meaning of the imagery in The Gospel of Thomas 37, which contains no reference to baptism, is too doubtful for it to count as an allusion to the practice. In any case, the clothing imagery of putting off vices and putting on virtues was widespread among Greek and Hellenistic Jewish writers. It is far more certain that the imagery in Colossians is connected with the significance of baptism than with baptismal practice. The translation of to;n palaio;n a[nqrwpon (ton palaion anthropon) as “old self” and to;n ne;on (ton neon) as “new self” (NRSV and NIV) though better than “old nature” and “new nature,” tends to narrow the reference of its literal meaning, “person.” The old person is the person as identified with the old humanity, living under the present evil age and its powers. The new person is the believer as identified with the new humanity, the new order of existence inaugurated by Christ's death and resurrection. Verse 10 makes clear that this new person is not yet totally new but is in process of renewal. The underlying thought is the familiar “already” and “not yet” of the new age. The present focus of renewal is on knowledge. This is significant in the light of the letter's setting. Any search for further esoteric knowledge is to be seen as unnecessary for those who, as part of the new humanity, are continually being renewed in and growing in knowledge (cf. 1:10). The readers should expect to experience a constant development of perception that will result in their ability to live lives appropriate to the new order, a thought equivalent to Paul's formulation in Rom <Page 643 Ends><Page 644 Begins> 12:2 about being “transformed by the renewing of your minds.” That the renewal in knowledge of the new person is in conformity with the image of the one who created it underscores, through the allusion to Gen 1:27, that the believer is part of a new creation, a new humanity in whom the image of God is restored. If v. 10 has focused primarily on the individual aspect of the new humanity, v. 11 highlights the corporate aspect, as it asserts that within the new humanity the barriers of the old order are abolished. This is an adaptation of the baptismal formula found in Gal 3:28. It is noticeable that here, however, as in 1 Cor 12:13, there is no mention of male and female. Given the problems Paul perceived about the conduct of women in the Corinthian church, the omission of this aspect in 1 Cor 12:13 is understandable. The omission may also be significant in Colossians, which will go on to introduce the household code, which demarcates more firmly different roles for husbands and wives. This should not, however, be overemphasized, since the code also discusses the roles of masters and slaves, and yet slave and free are mentioned in the Colossians version of the formula (v. 11). Nevertheless, women's asserting their freedom in Christ was a factor in the Pauline churches, while slaves' demanding their freedom apparently was not. In the adaptation of the formula “Greek” is mentioned before “Jew” in the first pairing, possibly on account of the Gentile readership, although the dividing of humanity into Greek and Jew in the first place reflects the writer's Jewish perspective. The second pairing, “circumcision and uncircumcision,” repeats the contrast, but this time puts greater emphasis on the religious aspects of the ethnic and cultural division. The thought of the new creation in v. 10 may have influenced this addition, since in Gal 6:15 Paul had written, “For neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything, but a new creation is everything!” Here the proclamation of Christ among the Gentiles (cf. 1:27) entails that the old humanity's categorization of people into these two classes is no longer meaningful in the new humanity. If Jews divided humanity into Jews and Greeks, Greeks divided it into Greeks and barbarians, with the latter category denoting non-Greek speakers and conveying the additional overtones that such people were uncultured and uncivilized. The term “Scythian” intensifies the note of cultural contempt. The Scythian tribes around the Black Sea were considered the lowest kind of barbarian. Josephus considered them “little better than wild beasts” (see also 2 Macc 4:47 for an ironic statement indicating the low regard in which Scythians were held).120 The terms “slave” and “free” will be discussed further under the household code. They are found in the earlier formulations in 1 Cor 12:13 and Gal 3:28; here the claim of the Pauline churches that this basic social division makes no difference in terms of believers' standing in Christ and in the new community is continued. While the philosophy, with its condemnation of those who did not follow its rules and were still bound to the realm of the physical, introduced divisive distinctions into the body of Christ, this formulation stresses inclusiveness and does away with all distinctions based on ethnic, religious, cultural, or social criteria within the new humanity. The relation to Christ is all that matters and transcends these other categorizations. This is the force of “Christ is all and in all.” He permeates and pervades the new humanity. This emphasis on Christ's centrality recalls the focus on his supremacy in both creation and redemption (1:15-20) and his paramount place in the realm above (3:1). If Christ is all in all in relation to the cosmos, then nothing less can be the case within the community of the new humanity.

REFLECTIONS

1. The thrust of this passage provides another reminder that for the writer of Colossians the real issue is not learning special techniques to deal with the powerful forces at work for evil in our lives and in our society but is instead learning how to live the Christian life individually and corporately. He holds that there is no need for a diminished view of the self <Page 644 Ends><Page 645 Begins> in which the body is deemed inferior and people are put in thrall to hostile powers that have a divisive influence. What is wrong is not an inherent flaw in the material world; it is sin, a flawed relationship with the Creator, that has produced alienation. Being restored in the image of the Creator through Christ, therefore, is what makes possible life as it was intended to be lived. The lists of vices and virtues reflect the writer's assumption that the behavior of believers should at least match that enjoined by the conventional ethical wisdom of the day. In fact, the expectation that these standards will receive general consent adds to the persuasiveness of the appeal. In their new context, as part of the characterization of the old and new humanities, the vices and virtues selected are those that will either disrupt or enhance the life of the Christian community. The vices, for which there is no longer any room in Christian existence, are of two main types: (1) sexual immorality and greed and (2) anger and hateful speech. That the exhortations are still needed today is indicated by the existence of some Christian groups and churches that are strongly judgmental of any failure to maintain the strictest standards of sexual conduct but are rife with malicious intrigue and spiteful gossip and of others that are so tolerant and keen to avoid any dissension that they are loath to rebuke or discipline even flagrant breaches of sexual morality. It is easy to pass over these lists simply as conventional examples of early Christian moralism. Yet it may be worth pausing to reflect on some of the vices in a broader context. For example, it is because Christians want to celebrate the goodness of the sexual expression of human love in committed, lifelong relationships and to affirm the option of a healthy celibacy that they will be concerned, with the writer of Colossians, that the distorted practices of an uncontrolled and exploitative sexuality be rooted out or “put to death.” The mention of “covetousness” invites us to broaden our reflections. It is, of course, colored by its context in a list that begins with sexual immorality, but it takes the issues in a more general direction. Greedy desire not only produces sexual exploitation but also fuels the materialism that controls the lives of individuals and societies, leading so frequently to a despising of the poor whose worship of this particular god of mammon is alleged not to be devoted enough. Anger, hatred, and malicious speech are at the roots of violence, whether that violence is domestic, leaving battered wives and children in its wake; national, producing civil wars and ethnic cleansings; or international, leading to the stockpiling of weapons through the arms trade and both the threat of their use and their actual use to wipe out human lives. A broader perspective also compels us to ask whether anger is always a bad thing. What about the victims of violence and oppression? Should not they be allowed righteous anger? Have we not also learned that suppression of anger leads to repression and depression? A more qualified theological evaluation might well want and need to discuss how to express anger and resentment without being overcome by it, while still taking with full seriousness the destructive effects with which it is linked in Colossians. After all, anger can be evidence of the fact that evil is being taken seriously. The inability to be angry about injustice is surely a character deficiency. At the same time, anger and hatred can be a means of reestablishing a sense of self in the face of violation. Perhaps what needs to be stressed is that these appropriate human reactions are never meant to be the permanent characteristics of a life lived in the new order but a part of the costly process of moving to a love of one's enemies, not from a position of weakness but from one of appropriate strength. The listing of anger as a major vice reminds us, however, how easy it is even for victims of violence to perpetuate its cycle if they allow anger to fester and smolder into vengeance. Repressed bitterness and prolonged hatred, even as the result of acts that have wrecked our lives, have their own destructive effects. The seriousness with which these lists of vices are to be treated emerges from the way they are evaluated theologically. In particular, the greed or covetousness that also underlies the <Page 645 Ends><Page 646 Begins> sexual impurity the writer indicts is to be seen as idolatry. When we treat any part of the created order as ultimate, as a god, it then in fact functions like a god for us. But its control has destructive, rather than beneficial, ends. In terms of these lists of vices, sexual immorality, greed, and anger, seen as worship of the gods of Eros, Mammon, and Mars, can take over a person in a destructive way. The same is true of other objects of covetousness, such as power and prestige. But also the conduct of both lists is seen as characteristic of the old way of living, which incurs the righteous wrath of God (3:6). Two implications can be drawn from this assertion in its context. On the one hand, God's wrath, the divine judgment, is not on account of the body but on account of sin. On the other hand, the ultimate problem with sinful actions is not the harm they cause us or others, real though it is, but their affront to a holy God, with the consequence of that God's judgment.

2. Again there is benefit to be gained from seeing particularly 3:5-6 in the broader lectionary context (Year C, Proper 13). While Col 3:1-11 is the epistle reading, Hos 11:1-11 is the Old Testament reading and Luke 12:13-21 the Gospel. The parable of the rich man who fails to see his life and possessions as being on loan from God follows the warning, “Be on your guard against all kinds of greed.” Hosea 11:1 depicts God's anguish in the face of people's propensity to idolatry. In the end, the divine anger and wrath, though merited by humans, will not be executed. They are real, but they do not have the last word, because they are in the service of God's kindness and love, which prevail. Here, too, in Colossians, despite the seriousness of the warning, it has become clear that the God of judgment is also a gracious giver, who has not only provided reconciliation instead of alienation (1:21-23) but has also made available new resources of life and power through Christ's resurrection (3:1-4) and has created the new person that is to be appropriated (3:10). Humans are required neither to save themselves from their plight nor to search for additional means to supplement the solution provided in the gospel. They are to realize that the one who knows the depth and seriousness of their plight has already provided at great cost a solution fully sufficient to match it and that all that is needed is to appropriate fully and thankfully what has been offered.

3. What are the contemporary equivalents of the categories listed in 3:11 that ought not to be obstacles to unity and reconciled relationships within the church? Certainly male and female still need to be added, and, in the light of contemporary understanding of sexual orientation, gay/lesbian and straight should be included. In a global context, the disparity between “First World” and “Two-thirds World” Christians scarcely reflects a universal community displaying the overcoming of differences in a loving and just reconciliation in Christ. Depending on our particular social location, we will also know how far there is to go in the church's being any different from our society's marginalization of particular ethnic groups, whether they be African American, Hispanic American, or Native American. The categories of “slave” and “free” in Colossians also remind us of the economic and class differences that are meant to be overcome in the church today. As if such categories do not present enough of a challenge, since the time of Colossians the church has also experienced the barriers to unity produced by denominational and theological labeling. Is it more important to be known as evangelical or to promote a common gospel? Is it more important to be known as catholic or to focus on the one church and its sacraments? Is it more important to be thought liberal than to be concerned for a reasoned and critical articulation of the gospel in interaction with our culture? Is it more important to promote the charismatic movement than to be open to the variety of workings of the one Spirit? <Page 646 Ends><Page 647 Begins>

Posts 5318
Dan Francis | Forum Activity | Replied: Wed, Aug 7 2013 4:57 PM

We are to the "almost there" point but we still need more people to get this under contract… Here is another sample...

Isaiah 1:2-20, A Lawsuit Against Israel

Link to: [NIV] [NRSV]

Isaiah 1:2 <Page 50 ends>><Page 52 begins>>

COMMENTARY

In terms of both form and content, this first section of chap. 1 consists of no fewer than three, and likely as many as five, distinct units that have been organized thematically. The structure as a whole resembles the movement of a lawsuit, and the initial summons to heavens and earth (v. 2) indicates that this is a prophetic lawsuit in which the Lord brings a case against the people of Judah and Jerusalem. While keeping in view the broader picture, it is helpful to see its individual parts as well. Even if arguments for the original independence of these units are not always convincing, individual paragraphs or stanzas still make sense when read independently. Consequently, and especially when reading prophetic literature, one must be careful to see both the trees and the forest, the individual sections as well as their part in the larger whole. 1:2-3. Although it now stands as part of a larger discourse, this initial speech can be viewed as a unit, conveying a complete message. It leaves a great deal unstated, some of which becomes explicit in subsequent verses. But the ambiguity and imprecision of this poetry also evoke the imaginative response of the hearers. The peculiar form of address already suggests something rather specific about the sort of discourse before us. Yahweh, speaking through the prophet, calls on “heavens” and “earth” to hear a charge against these wayward children. Such divine calls to heaven and earth mark the prophetic lawsuit. What follows the summons is the presentation of the case, or accusation against these “children,” which the hearers must recognize as themselves, the people of God. They are the ones “reared” and “brought up” by Yahweh. The accused are mentioned in the third person, as in a trial when the prosecution addresses the court with a complaint against an offender. In the background of this case is the prior relationship between Yahweh and Israel—that is, a covenant—although Isaiah reflects no awareness of the covenant and election traditions of the Pentateuch. Hence, some scholars have identified this and similar addresses as covenant lawsuits.23 However, the language is <Page 52 ends>><Page 53 begins>> even more intimate than that of the covenant between God and people. The relationship between God and people is like that of a parent and children. The charge is symmetrical—that is, in the first two lines the Lord’s faithfulness is contrasted with Israel’s rebellion, and in the next four lines the faithfulness of the domestic animals (the ox and the donkey) is contrasted with Israel’s lack of knowledge. “To know” and “to understand” are complex expressions in the OT generally and in Isaiah in particular. In Isa 5:13 lack of knowledge leads the people into exile and suffering. In 7:15-16, “to know” refers to the stage of awareness that enables one to judge between right and wrong, and thus to be accountable for decisions, and in 8:4 it refers to a developed level of intellectual maturity. In other instances (12:4; 19:12; 28:9; 38:19), “to know” seems to refer fundamentally to cognition, while in some instances it means “to acknowledge” (19:21; 26:13; 33:13). In certain cases, such as the book of Hosea, “to know” is a covenantal expression, concerning the relationship between God and people. Certainly the expression in these verses concerns the relationship between God and people. But “understand” (˜@yb bîn) in particular suggests the point of view of wisdom literature. Other features of this unit likewise parallel wisdom literature. These features include the motif of sonship (Prov 4:1; 5:1; 6:20) and the parable with its analogy from experience and an application to the contrary.24 What is it here that Israel “does not know” or “understand”? The children do not know or understand that it was the Lord who “reared” them and “brought them up,” who made them who they are. It is implied, but not stated, that they do not know what to do or how to respond to the one who cared for them. But “knowledge” here also means “acknowledgment.” The ox and the ass “know”—that is, acknowledge—their master as master, but Israel does not. The fundamental purpose of these two verses is to accuse Israel of its transgressions, to indict the people for their failures. However, those failures are set out only in the most general terms: Israel has “rebelled,” “does not know” or “understand.” Such accusations make no sense except in the context of a long and intimate relationship between God and people. The general and metaphorical—but not vague—presentation of the accusation leaves a great deal unstated. No specific transgressions are mentioned, but they will be specified in due course. The general character of the accusation allows these verses to serve very well as the introduction to the sequence of prophetic speeches that follow. Thus the book begins with the tone of encounter and incrimination. 1:4-9. This unit could stand alone, but it does not. We have seen how these verses function as part of the larger composition of 1:2-31. Nevertheless, there are indications that these verses are a distinct discourse that probably once circulated apart from its surroundings in Isaiah 1. The cry with which it begins (ywh hôy) is a typical opening formula in prophetic speeches; there is a shift of addressees from the heavens and earth in vv. 2-3 to the nation and the city in vv. 4-9 to the “rulers” in vv. 10-17, and both the tone and the specific purpose of these verses are distinct from what precedes and from what follows. Moreover, in spite of some inner tensions—v. 4 speaks of the people in the third person, vv. 5-8 address them in the second person, and v. 9 uses the first person—these verses comprise a coherent thematic unit. The translation of hôy as “Ah” in the NRSV and the NIV reflects the judgment that the word is simply an exclamation, a means of getting the attention of the hearers or readers. The word may be translated “Woe,” as in the RSV, signaling either condemnation or disaster. This cry appears frequently in the prophetic literature, and typically—as here—is followed by a description of the addressees in terms of their shameful behavior (see Isa 5:8-24). Here the cry “Ah” initiates an indictment of those addressed by describing their reprehensible activity in two ways. First, the prophet characterizes the nation with four terms for bad action: “sinful,” “iniquity,” “do evil,” and “deal corruptly” (v. 4a). Second, three relative clauses display the people’s rebellion against “the Holy One of Israel”: “forsaken,” “despised,” and “estranged” (v. 4b). In the remainder of the section (vv. 5-9), the results of this sinfulness and rebellion are spelled out. This account of disaster <Page 53 ends>><Page 54 begins>> is not a prophetic announcement of punishment that the Lord will bring upon the nation because of their sins, but a description of what they have already brought upon themselves. Beginning with a rhetorical question (v. 5a), the speaker moves to an analogy of the sick and wounded body (vv. 5b-6) and then to a specific description of a national catastrophe. The destruction plainly is the result of a military invasion that leaves the countryside desolate, cities burned, and the land eaten up and occupied by foreigners (v. 7). Graphic similes portray the effects of the invasion on Jerusalem (“daughter Zion”). The first two use agricultural images to show the isolation of the holy city: “like a booth in a vineyard” and “a shelter in a cucumber field.” The third simile is both metaphorical and literal. Jerusalem is, in fact (or has been), “a besieged city.” Characteristically, Jerusalem is called “daughter Zion” (v. 8; see also 10:32; 16:1; 37:22). This is an affectionate personification of the city as a young woman. The translation “Daughter of Zion” (NIV) is misleading. On the other hand, in 3:16 “daughters [plural] of Zion” refers to the women of Jerusalem. The key to the meaning of this discourse is its conclusion in v. 9. The prophet applies a well-known metaphor for destruction to the situation of the nation, “like Sodom and Gomorrah,” which ancient hearers, as well as modern readers, would connect with the tale of the destruction of the two corrupt cities (Gen 18:1–19:29, esp. 19:24-26). But the reference is in the subjunctive and the past tense: “If the Lord of hosts had not left us a few survivors, we would have been like Sodom and Gomorrah” (NRSV, italics added). The sinful nation has brought the disaster upon itself. But the Lord intervened to stop the effects of evil and disloyalty just short of total destruction, leaving a few survivors and, significantly, the city of Jerusalem. Therefore, both in itself and within the context of Isaiah 1, these verses function as indictment, accusation, or reasons for punishment. Following the general accusation in vv. 2-3, this indictment is more elaborate, if not always more specific. Only the account of the disaster (vv. 5-8) is more concrete: Look at the trouble your sins have caused! But the concluding verse turns accusation into warning. The “us” of v. 9 are among those “survivors” who are to hear the woe, the accusation, and the description of destruction as a cautionary tale. The speaker implies, but does not state, that these hearers should change their ways. By contrasting Yahweh’s mercy with Israel’s iniquity, the prophet wants those survivors to learn their lesson. The next time the people rebel, the Lord of hosts might not stop the effects of sin and disloyalty, and Jerusalem might then become like Sodom and Gomorrah. Because vv. 7-9 present such a graphic portrait of a military invasion of the country with an unsuccessful siege of Jerusalem, it has been common to see in those verses allusions to specific historical events. Typically, commentators conclude that the invasion and siege were those of the Assyrian king Sennacherib in 701 BCE.25 This campaign is reported in Isaiah 36–37 (see also 2 Kings 18–20) and recorded in Assyrian inscriptions.26 It is entirely possible that this particular campaign was the background for this discourse, and even that Isaiah delivered it shortly after the siege had been lifted. If that is the case, this would be one of the last of the prophet’s speeches. But it is notoriously difficult to date ancient literature so precisely, especially when it is poetry. The land of Israel saw many invasions that decimated the countryside but left Jerusalem standing. However, the fact that one cannot correlate the text with a specific historical event should not lead to the conclusion that it does not relate to concrete historical events. This prophetic poetry is addressed to a populace that has experienced a horrible military campaign but who lived to tell about it and look to the future. The prophet is less concerned about telling the story than interpreting the events in the light of cause, effect, and the future. The cause of the disaster, he concluded, was sin and rebellion. That the destruction was not total was the effect of divine intervention. Now, he suggests to the people, consider your future actions in that light. The God who has held back total destruction is identified by means of two distinct expressions. The first title, “Holy One of Israel” (v. 4), seldom appears outside the book of Isaiah. It seems likely that this expression is distinctly related to Jerusalem and the Temple (6:3). The holy is the radically other, which cannot be approached with- <Page 54 ends>><Page 55 begins>> out proper preparation (Exod 19:8-15) or viewed without danger (Isa 6:5). Thus it is even more remarkable that this God has intervened to avert total disaster. “Lord of hosts” (v. 9) is one of the most common designations for the deity in Isaiah 1–39. The title couples the name of Israel’s God, Yahweh, with the word for “armies.” The background of the designation must lie in the holy war traditions of Israel, in which Yahweh fights on behalf of the people (see Exod 15:1-3; Josh 5:13-15; 6). “Hosts” in this expression has come to refer to the heavenly armies. Thus the title evokes the image of God intervening against enemy troops. The reference to “a few survivors” (v. 9) suggests the idea of a remnant left after judgment. Although this particular word for “survivor” (dyrc ZArîd) occurs only here in Isaiah, the motif is both common and important in Isaiah 1–39. The roots of the expression clearly are militaristic, referring to those who escaped the sword (e.g., Josh 8:22).27 In Amos 5:3, the announcement that the city that sent a hundred will have ten left serves to emphasize the bad news rather than the good. In Isaiah, good news is frequently announced to or for the “remnant” (rav su)Ar) beyond judgment (e.g., 10:19-21; 11:11, 16; 28:5). In the text before us, the fact that some were left is the good news, testimony to the grace of God. 1:10-20. This section has a clear beginning with a summons to hear, but its conclusion is not so obvious. It certainly continues through the ringing conclusion in v. 17, and v. 18 begins with a new call for attention. However, vv. 18-20 extend and interpret the fundamental point of vv. 10-17, making the instructions to the people explicit and the results of their actions unmistakably plain. The basic pattern is a prophetic introductory call to hear (cf. Amos 3:1; 4:1; 5:1), followed by a speech of Yahweh. The introductory call (v. 10) consists of two parallel sentences, each with three parts: the call, the characterization of what is to be heard, and the identification of the addresses. The summons is addressed to the leaders and the people of Jerusalem, identified derisively as “rulers of Sodom . . . people of Gomorrah.” In the preceding verse, the cities had represented destruction, and citation of these names will always evoke the threat of judgment; but in this verse they exemplify the sinfulness of the leaders and citizens. Thus the very identification of the hearers in the address contains an indictment and sets the tone of accusation. The message to those hearers is identified as “the word of the Lord,” a prophetic formula, and “the teaching (hrwt tôrâ) of our God,” an allusion to a priestly function. Already this opening sets up the tension to be developed in the body of the address. (The traditional translation of tôrâ as “law” in the NIV is not entirely incorrect, but given the burden that term carries for readers of the Bible, it is somewhat misleading. In view here is not a fixed and authoritative body of revealed legislation but the living process of instruction. That is what the subsequent verses contain.) Beginning in v. 11, the words of Yahweh are quoted directly in a two-part speech, first the negative and then the positive, stating what Yahweh rejects and then what Yahweh requires. A ringing rejection of cultic practices is followed by a forceful plea for justice. The speech moves from the rejection of specific cultic practices in the form of rhetorical questions (vv. 11-13a) to a rejection of religious practices with reasons (vv. 13b-15) to a series of positive instructions (vv. 16-17). The divine speech continues in vv. 18-20, but with the inclusion of the prophetic formula “says the Lord” (v. 18a). In these verses the fate of the people is set out before them. The Lord is willing to purify them of their sins, but the future depends on their response. Obedience will bring blessing, but rebellion will bring the sword. Something of the tone of the courtroom continues, with confrontation and accusation, but beginning with v. 10 the discourse shifts from indictment or accusation to another genre, specifically identified as “torah,” instruction. This unit, which closely parallels Amos 5:21-27 and Mic 6:6-8 in both form and content, could be seen as a response to the question posed in Mic 6:6; “With what shall I come before the Lord?” (NRSV). It has long been recognized that these prophetic texts derive from the priestly torah, or instruction to the laity concerning ritual questions, such as the distinction between clean and unclean.28 Thus the prophet has employed a <Page 55 ends>><Page 56 begins>> priestly procedure to address the question of ritual. But whereas the priest would have interpreted or explained the law, the prophet speaks forth in the voice of Yahweh. Some scholars have argued that the prophetic torah speeches are rooted in Israelite wisdom literature and practices.29 Although there are some parallels to such teaching, with the call to pay attention and the concern for right behavior, the links with the priestly instruction are stronger. The catalog of ritual practices rejected is extensive. The prophet first hears the Lord rejecting various kinds of sacrifices (vv. 11-12). The general word for “sacrifice” (jbz zebah) includes all gifts burned on the altar. “Burnt offerings” (twl[ (olôt) of animals are only one of several sacrifices. Such gifts are not required when one appears before God, and processions (“Trample my courts”) are rejected (v. 12). The disapproval of “offerings” (twjnm minhôt, the broader category, including sacrifices as well as other gifts to God) is then extended to encompass incense (v. 13a) as well as all forms of religious celebration and assembly (v. 13b), including regular and unscheduled services of worship. At this point the hearers are given the first hint of the Lord’s problem with religious observances, expressed with deep irony: “I cannot endure solemn assemblies with iniquity.” Verse 14 repeats and underscores the Lord’s repudiation of religious festivals: “Your new moons and your appointed festivals my soul hates”—that is, “I hate.” Perhaps the most radical announcement of all comes in v. 15 with the rejection of prayer itself (“stretch out your hands” refers to the posture of prayer), and the reason for the Lord’s refusal to hear makes the ironic rejection in v. 13 plain: “I will not listen; your hands are full of blood.” Thus the negative sequence concludes with the vivid image of bloody hands, a metaphor for unspecified acts of violence. The language of vv. 16-17 continues the form of direct address with a series of instructions or admonitions. This positive section, in which the Lord turns from what is rejected to what is required, implicitly continues the imagery of v. 15. “Wash yourselves” is a rich and complex expression. It refers at the same time to the literal cleaning of bloody hands, to ritual purification, and to the transformation of one’s life: “cease to do evil.” The instructions that follow move from the general to the specific, making it perfectly clear that learning to do “good” and seeking “justice” are not empty abstractions; nor do they refer simply to changing one’s attitudes. To seek justice is to care for the powerless members of the society: the oppressed, the orphan, and the widow. The aura of the courtroom, of legal process, and of justice in society is explicit not only in the call for justice but also in the terms “defend” and “plead for.” Thus the leaders, in particular, and the people, in general, are instructed to use the courts for their fundamental purpose, to protect those least able to protect themselves. The tone shifts with v. 18, and the speech in vv. 18-20 resumes the metaphor of the trial or lawsuit begun in 1:2, with one side arguing with the other. In ancient Israel there was no formal difference between civil and criminal judicial process. Both were adversarial procedures in which one party accuses and the other responds. The parties presented their cases, called for the judgment they considered to be fair, issued pleas to agree or accept, and even set forth alternatives. In vv. 18-20, the Lord, as plaintiff, no longer accuses and argues that punishment is necessary. Now the plaintiff or prosecutor assumes that the case has been made: Their sins are “like scarlet . . . red like crimson.” The Lord pleads the case with the people, arguing for an outcome other than judgment. Remarkably, this prosecutor now calls for the people to repent of their sins and change their ways. God holds out the possibility that the sins of the people can be washed away (v. 18) and spells out the blessings for them if they are obedient (v. 19). But the sword still hangs over their heads. If they refuse to repent and continue to rebel, judgment awaits. So the plea for change includes both a promise and a warning. <Page 56 ends>><Page 57 begins>>

REFLECTIONS

Readers who take these verses seriously will find it difficult to avoid consideration of a number of crucial theological problems. These include the issue of God as judge, the question of worship and social justice, and the relationship between human sin and divine grace.

1. The image or theme of the Lord as judge appears throughout prophetic literature, and many readers may consider this to be the only God known to the prophets. After all, the prophets commonly announce the Lord’s judgment against Israel or against particular groups or against foreign nations. The issue arises in Isaiah 1 because of both the form and the content of the verses before us. There are both positive and negative dimensions to the metaphor of God as judge. On the one hand, the confidence in a just and fair, rather than arbitrary, God is the foundation for all understandings of human justice in the scriptures. Moreover, when the prophets hear Yahweh pronouncing judgment, it is always in the light of laws and other expectations long known to those who are being judged.30 On the other hand, the image may suggest a distant and dispassionate deity more concerned with right defined juridically than with individuals or nations. That recognition evokes reflection on the relationship between justice and mercy, between God’s justice and God’s love. That may be why the understanding of God as judge is so frequently qualified and modified in the biblical tradition. Perhaps the best-known case is Hosea 11, where Yahweh’s compassion is heard to struggle with the sense of justified punishment, and compassion wins. When God listens to the prayers of the Ninevites and decides not to execute the promised destruction, Jonah says, in the tone of accusation: “You are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing” (Jonah 4:2 NRSV). That is very similar to the direction Isaiah 1 moves on this issue (see Reflection number 3). Moreover, the sense of divine judgment is not the whole story of the prophetic understanding of the relationship between acts and consequences. The disastrous effects of sinful actions are not always seen as legal sanctions imposed by Yahweh. Another idea or preunderstanding is a dynamistic view of acts and consequences—that is, a point of view that sees actions, whether good or bad, as entailing or setting into motion their consequences. At the very least, actions or events themselves are viewed in some contexts as portentous. More than that, such an understanding of reality sees justice as built in. Hosea 8:7 expresses such a perspective: For they sow the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind. (NRSV) Isaiah 1:4-9 reflects that perspective as well. That rebellion itself produces estrangement (1:4) is obvious to the prophet. The disasters spelled out as the consequences of iniquity, evil, corruption, and rebellion (1:5-9) are not future punishments or judgments, but the present effects of such actions. Likewise, at the end of this chapter, those who participate in fertility cults are not punished by the divine judge but set themselves on fire with their own deeds and are consumed (1:31). This perspective parallels the common proverb, “Those who play with fire get burned.” Consequently, the interpretation of modern disasters as God’s punishment of sin is not the only alternative available to those who take the prophets seriously. Acts have consequences, and foolish or sinful acts can lead to disaster.

2. Isaiah 1:10-17 in particular raises important issues concerning the relationship between worship and social justice. In fact, it is tempting to take these verses as a total rejection of cultic activity and a call for ethical behavior in its place. Many interpreters, especially in the Protestant <Page 57 ends>><Page 58 begins>> tradition, have been unable to resist that temptation. The words are strong and tinged with contempt. The clear contrast between this range of ritual activities and the resounding call for purification, rejection of evil, and justice and righteousness elicits serious consideration of the legitimacy of religious ceremonies. The prophet clearly places limits upon the sufficiency of ritual. However, it would be a mistake to use this text to drive a wedge between piety and social action, between the life of prayer and worship, on the one hand, and intervention on behalf of the oppressed, on the other hand. This text does not force a decision for one and against the other. It seems unlikely that Isaiah himself ever put aside ritual. He was in the Temple when he had the vision of the Lord of justice (chap. 6). Moreover, Israel’s songs of worship constantly emphasize the link between piety and concern for equity in society. The liturgies for entrance into the Temple make this explicit: “O Lord, who may abide in your tent? . . . Those who walk blamelessly, and do what is right” (Ps 15:1-2 NRSV; see also Psalm 24). Fundamental to coming into the presence of the Lord is living a life of obedience to that Lord’s will for justice. This affirmation by both prophets and the worship tradition (cf. Deut 26:12-15) emphasizes that worship is legitimate when accompanied by attendance to justice in one’s daily life. Nor is the interpretation of legitimate worship here concerned fundamentally with the attitudes or feelings of the worshiper; for example, it is not concerned with the sincerity of the worshiper.31 The prophets, like most of the Old Testament tradition, focus on right actions rather than right thinking, on orthopraxis rather than orthodoxy. Thus to wash oneself in preparation for worship is to deal justly in very specific ways.

3. Throughout this section moves the poignant, almost heartbreaking, contrast between human sin and divine mercy. The contrast brings both human failure and divine concern into sharp focus. Just as human rebellion is demonstrated in acts of corruption and injustice, so also the vulnerability of God becomes visible in God’s willingness to bargain, to hold back the deserved punishment. The movement has a chronological dimension, from past, through the present, and into the future. Isaiah 1:2-3 contrasts God’s past care—like that of a parent—with the people’s rebellion and stupidity. In 1:4-9, the past is not forgotten, but the tension is brought into the present, particularly in the description of the effects of rebellion. Most of 1:10-14 concerns the present failure of worship without justice, and then in 1:15-20 the focus shifts to the future. Here Yahweh is heard to argue for change that may lead to renewal. The word “repent” does not appear, but the concept does. The people are urged to be willing and obedient—that is, to turn around. It may be implied, but it is not stated, that confession of sin is required. Significantly, when cleansing and pardon come in 1:19-20, they are conditional: “If you are willing and obedient . . . but if you refuse and rebel” (NRSV, italics added). God takes, and will continue to take, the initiative, but human response will determine the future. This tension between sin, with its judgment, and the promise of salvation persists throughout Isaiah 1–39. Israel is guilty over and over, and what will God do? This differs from Amos, where the answer is clear and unambiguous: The end has come.s In Isaiah one finds both good news and bad, leaving each reader to struggle with the possibility that the word of God is not always the same in all times and places. The book, and this section, also invites all readers to take responsibility for their own actions—indeed, for their own lives—in the context of that struggle. <Page 58 ends>><Page 59 begins>>

 

Posts 1602
Deacon Steve | Forum Activity | Replied: Wed, Aug 7 2013 6:59 PM

Thanks, once again, Dan!  Keep reminding us of the great value of the New Interpreter's Bible.

Smile

 

Posts 5318
Dan Francis | Forum Activity | Replied: Thu, Aug 8 2013 12:09 PM

Steve:

Thanks, once again, Dan!  Keep reminding us of the great value of the New Interpreter's Bible.

Smile

 

Please convince your friends…  Surprise I know a major Bible software will get it. But Logos integration would be nice, but I fear when it arrives in other software Logos will not get the numbers to get it into production. I know for myself when it arrives in Accordance I will likely get it there as I already have quite a few works in it and it is fast and has a good mobile platform. It's windows app is almost ready to be released. I have tried to make a case that Logos would bing new costumers in by getting the NIB first but it has fallen on deaf ears.

-Dan 

Posts 9623
Forum MVP
Bruce Dunning | Forum Activity | Replied: Sat, Aug 10 2013 4:31 PM

Dan, you should win some award for being so tenacious in recommending this resource. Another person that might be nominated is PA for continually pushing the REB and the NEB - http://community.logos.com/forums/t/72607.aspx

Using adventure and community to challenge young people to continually say "yes" to God

Posts 5318
Dan Francis | Forum Activity | Replied: Sat, Aug 10 2013 5:13 PM

Well I will not be posting anymore now, I am not sure why it is not listed as being under contract, but I have heard it is being worked on… I had been given an estimated date but it is too tentative to be mentioned… 

-Dan

Posts 537
Fasil | Forum Activity | Replied: Tue, Mar 11 2014 4:30 AM

I'm glad It's under contract!!!!!!!!!

Page 13 of 14 (272 items) « First ... < Previous 10 11 12 13 14 Next > | RSS