True and false bits from Isaiah

A Bible study last week reviewed Isaiah 51 and 52 in less than an hour.  This was a bit too quick but better than most.

Being far less familiar with the Old Testament than I should be, it was new to me that “Rahab” can by symbolic of Egypt.  I did a little software “homework” and found that the instances that refer to Egypt occur in Isaiah and the Psalms.  In the history book Joshua (accounting for all the other OT uses), Rahab is not Egypt but is the woman of some fame.  In the New Testament, there are but three instances, and they all refer to the same woman Rahab.

I also learned that, while Isaiah prophesied to the Southern Kingdom (Judah/Benjamin), Jeremiah prophesied to the Northern Kingdom.  That bit didn’t sound right, and sure enough, on checking a source or two, it appears to be false.

It’s also false that the tribes of Judah and Benjamin are found reconstituted in the modern nation-state of Israel.  I don’t think I’ve ever heard it put quite so blatantly, although it is commonly held (but also false, I believe) that modern Israel has biblical, prophetic, and/or theological significance.

It is commonly supposed, that the book we call Isaiah had multiple authors.  Deutero-Isaiah (2nd Isaiah), beginning in our chapter 40, was likely written by at least one other person other than Isaiah—and probably centuries later.  This likelihood was not acknowledged during the study.  More significantly, the nature and identification of the “Servant” character in Isaiah 52 was assumed to be singularly foretelling the Messiah.  I had previously learned that that cannot be the case all the time.  One source identifies a seemingly sensical range or “pyramid” of possibilities for the “Servant”:

  1. The collective nation of Israel
  2. A remnant from among the nation
  3. A single figure

The single figure is particularly easy to interpret as speaking prophetically of Jesus Christ, but it is good first to let the text be heard as it would have been heard in, say, the 8th or 6th or 3rd century B.C.  The nation of Israel was first to be a light and a servant to other the nations.

Gal 1&2: gleanings (2 of 3)

The last post dealt with a Galatians structural feature.  Another aspect of the letter’s form (again, credit to the work of H. Van Dyke Parunak) is that five passages within the narrative section, each beginning with a temporal particle/adverb, constitute successive “build ups” that lead first to the transitional section in 2:15-21, and ultimately to chapters 3 and 4.  Objectively speaking, we may first observe that each one of the following five verses starts with a “when” or “then” or something similar:

1:15 | 1:18 | 1:21 | 2:1 | 2:11

Each of the five passages mentions geography, and “the divisions among the build ups are confirmed symmetrically by an alternation between action out of Jerusalem and in Jerusalem.”¹  Also, in instances 2, 3, and 4, the time-related word is the same one, whereas the bookends, formed by the first and fifth instances, use a different time word.  Taking note of such symmetry—not always apparent in English Bibles, I might add—surely helps to understand Paul’s persuasive rhetoric in the narrative.

Below are are a few gleanings that are more on the “micro” level.  These will be less proven, and not scholar-reviewed in the slightest, but still intriguing, I think.

I thought I might have been onto something in connecting three words used in 1:8/1:9, 2:2, and 2:6, but now I think that was probably a rabbit trail.  The root words in question are transliterated anathema, anatithemi, and prosanatithemi.  The words are in a cognate group, so they are at least distantly related.  These words are not synonyms, but I was thinking the etymological and sonic connections might have played a subconscious role in the construction—that is, that some thread was possibly at work in the background, tying them together.  In this case, though, the concept of being cursed or devoted to an outside/pagan purpose (1:8/1:9) does not appear to be related, even at arm’s length, to setting forth or laying out the gospel privately before the influential leaders (2:2) or to (non-)addition to what Paul was preaching (2:6).  Ergo,² a rabbit trail.

2:10’s  reference to “the poor” could have to do with the well-known Jerusalem collection project referred to in other NT passages; it’s worthy of note that the phrase “the poor” is taken by some as a coded reference to the Jerusalem poor.  On the other hand, Gal 2:10 could deal with a general, developing Christian practice of benevolence.  Either way, Paul mentions it by way of a defense of his place in the scheme:  not even this was a requirement added to his missionary operations, i.e., he was already helping the poor, and those thought to have clout in Jerusalem weren’t requiring it.  It is good for a reader-interpreter to be aware of various levels of context when trying to understand engaged in interpreting possibly ambiguous passages.  2:10 may well refer to Jerusalem benevolence, or Galatia benevolence, or both; in any case, efforts to interpret should deal in some measure with the immediate context, in which Paul makes his apostolic case and relates his work to that of the Jerusalem apostles.

I’ve decided to extend these comments on chapters 1 and 2 in a third post.  Please look for that in a day or two.

¹ H. Van Dyke Parunak, “Dimensions of Discourse Structure: A Multidimensional Analysis of the Components and Transitions of Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians,” 225.  In Linguistics and New Testament Interpretation: Essays on Discourse Analysis.  David Alan Black, editor.  Broadman, 1992.

² Incidentally, “ergo” apparently is not derived from the Greek ἔργονergon—a labor, work, deed, or action.

Galatians 1:10

How’s that for a nondescript, non-attention-getting title?  The thing is, Galatians 1:10 is interesting in itself (if you’re into this kind of thing)!  Here are the main things I find in this brief text:

  • two present-tense verbs and two questions in the first half of the verse
  • two imperfect-tense verbs and a statement in the second half
  • three instances of “man” in three successive clauses, followed by “Christ” in the final clause
  • bookends suggested by the use of “God” and “Christ” (and a resulting chiasm or sandwich structure)
  • perhaps one “performance” feature that would have been spotlighted in 1st-century oral reading (but no other “poetic” features such as alliteration, assonance or rhyme)

First, here is the unadorned English text from the ESV (line endings are my own, for sake of consistency):

For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God?
Or am I trying to please man?
If I were still trying to please man,
I would not be a servant of Christ.

Next, below is the transliterated Greek text.  For the non-Greek-reading followers (probably 94% of you), all you need to do is notice the similar spellings, and maybe the Theon and Christou (God and Christ) in the first and fourth lines, respectively.

arti gar anthropous peitho ē ton Theon?
ē zeto anthropois areskein?
ei eti anthropois ēreskon,
Christou doulos ouk an ēmēn

Next, here is a rough translation—weird-sounding because it’s in the same word order as the original:

Now for to man do I appeal or to God?
          or do I seek man to please?
          If yet/still man (actively) I were pleasing,
of Christ a slave not I would (myself) be being.

I have intentionally indented lines two and three not because Paul would have laid it out that way with his own hand, but because the wordings and syntax suggest that layout.  We may without question assert that Paul is saying something with gusto here.  Arguably, the entire introductory text (1:6-10) includes and predicts the substance of the letter as a whole, and the specific content of v. 10 certainly serves Paul’s aims and emphases.  Clues to his emphatic passion include (1) the initial, emphatic placement of the word for “now,” (2) the repetitions, and (3) the switch from the present to the imperfect tense.  I have some question about the precise import of the imperfects, so I have the word “actively” in parentheses.  I also acknowledge the awkward “be being” at the end (but stay with me to the end here).

The final line amounts to a very strong, culminating emphasis.  Perhaps that phrase would have struck the early hearers something like the “punchline” of threefold question-and-answer with Peter in the courtyard after Jesus’ arrest—or perhaps the “Simon, do you love me” sequence of John 21, in which the third question uses a different word.  It seems to me that, in any language, repeating something two or three times and following it with something else sets up an emphasis on the last item.

It bears mention that the conditional statement (essentially an “if . . . then . . .”) in the second half of v. 10 is constructed as a so-called “second-class condition,” which means that the “then” or second part of the statement (above, the last line) is to be seen as contrary to fact.  We might paraphrase this way:  “If I were yet trying to please men and women, you might end up thinking that I was no longer being Christ’s servant, which is obviously not the case!”  The verb “peitho” has several possible renderings but is often thought of meaning “trust in.”  Paul’s sense here might involve trust, but a contextual reading seems to lean more toward “please,” “win the approval of” or even “curry favor with.”

Another translation issue appears in the third line above:  “eti” may be translated “yet” or “still,” and it can also carry a numerical connotation, i.e., “in addition to,” but this last possibility is very unlikely here.  Bob Deffinbaugh explains and interprets as follows:

The issue in question is whether Paul deliberately diluted his message to suit his audience in order to gain status among them.  Paul’s defense begins with the word “still” in verse 10.  He thus turned the tables on his opponents.  His conversion was not a change for the worse, but a change for the better.  It was not that he had begun to be a man-pleaser since his conversion, but that he had ceased to be so.  As a zealous Pharisee he was a man-pleaser.  Had he not been converted, he would still be a man-pleaser.  In verses 11 and 12 Paul gives a general answer in his own defense:  “For I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man.  For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.”  – Bob Deffinbaugh (full article here)

Paul’s “still” or “yet” in v. 10 could perhaps refer to a hypothetical time in the mind of his audience when they thought was seeking people’s approval.  Given the literary context here (at least chapter 1 and possibly into chapter 2), the scenario described by Deffinbaugh above seems more likely.

The final verb (a “being” verb) is in the imperfect tense, suggesting an ongoing, incomplete action.  I imagine there’s a legitimate way to translate that verb directly into English, but I can’t figure out how.  In the literal-order, word-for-word rendition above, I had “not I would be being,” but that’s obviously awkward.  Although the term “servant” or “slave” (Gk doulos) is a noun, not a verb, it makes sense to me to render that concept as part of the verb (serving instead of servant)—in a moderately expansive paraphrase, that is.  Below, then, is my paraphrase of Galatians 1:10:

So . . . at this juncture, who do I appear to put my trust in or seek the approval of—people or God?  Seriously!  Do you really think I’m attempting to please people at this point?

If I were still seeking the approval of people (as I admit was the case before my conversion), then I would not be actively serving Christ.

That’s smoother than the exact-word-order version, for sure, but I consider it a work in progress.  Do you think I’ve translated the meaning reasonably well?  Does this passage aid your understanding of Paul and early Christianity?  Is there any impact on your view of your own discipleship?  Tell me what you think.


Issues with literalism

Some literalism is a good thing, but I’m afraid my son is now in training for the ranks I unwittingly joined long ago—those or us who are often over-literal (and who are hindered in life because of the trait).

Image result for literal wordsThinking and hearing and reading over-literally can keep me from understanding things.  I’m not dealing here with the overuse of the word “literally” in common speech.  No, it’s more of a sometimes-exaggerated sense of what isolated words mean within a passage of text or in a spoken message.  In the middle of a conversation, my brain can get hung up on a word, trying to make sense out of it and wondering about its strict meaning . . . and going into an exploratory hermeneutical limbo while the unsuspecting person finishes her sentence.

When I read the redundant, presumably erroneous phrase “recapitalizing the operating capital,” I wonder if I need to adjust my literal understanding of at least one of the instances of the root “capital,” or perhaps the phrase wasn’t written well.  (And I miss the rest of the paragraph.)

I get stuck on the list of “principal parts” of Greek verbs, because I try to figure out what the parts are parts of, literally speaking.  (And I remain confused about, say, imperfect middle/passive vs. aorist middle, and pluperfect middle/passive.  [I know.  Who wouldn’t be confused?  But my comprehension issues can be partly related to over-literalism.])

I hear the prophetic phrase “every mountain will be brought low,” and I wonder just how the figure of speech might have been intended 3,000 years ago, and how it should be understood today.  Is it topographical mountains or conceptual ones?  Maybe both?  And what does it mean to be “brought low,” exactly?  A given interpretation might be more or less literal, and more or less related to mountain type.  (And I try not to worry too much, for many greater minds have read and understood prophecy in terribly different ways, to each other’s chagrin.)

I rather randomly turned to a page of scripture in a supposedly “literal” translation and found these phrases without even trying:

  • “deserting Him who called you” (not a physical desertion; and, except in Paul’s case, not likely an audible calling)
  • “beyond measure” (a phrase that expresses extreme actions, not literal measuring)
  • “advancing in Judaism” (a verb that suggests physical motion used with reference to some kind of conceptual progress)
  • “He who had set me apart, even from my mother’s womb, and called me through His grace” (I count four figurative expressions here—two actions and two prepositional phrases)

– Galatians 1, NASB

Literalism in scripture reading and interpretation can actually be a bad thing, although the phrase “take God at His word” is generally meant as a positive notion.  It is possible to read some expressions of scripture (and, verily, to understand common phrases spoken in daily life) quite figuratively, thinking all the while that one is reading literally.  Even the idea of taking words in the Bible “at face value” can be a smokescreen for taking them as some individual wants you to take them. 

It is often a particularly bad idea to take prophecy literally, but even phrases in the epistles and sections in ostensibly narrative texts can involve symbolism and figurative meanings.  Quite a few of scripture’s idiomatic expressions, if understood truly literally, would make an exegete bark up the wrong tree.  (See what I did there?)  Poetry appears in scripture, too (sometimes, right alongside historical narrative!); surely it is clear that poetically conceived words should not be confined to “literal” interpretation.  Ponder Peterson’s preface to poetry in prayer:

Poetry is language with used with personal intensity.  It is not, as so many suppose, decorative speech.  Poets tell us what our eyes, blurred with too much gawking, and our ears, dulled with too much chatter, miss around and within us.  Poets use words to drag us into the depth of reality itself.  They do it not by reporting on how life is, but by pushing-pulling us into the middle of it.  Poetry grabs for the jugular.  Far from being cosmetic language, it is intestinal.  It is root language.  Poetry doesn’t so much tell us something we never knew as bring into recognition what is latent, forgotten, overlooked, or suppressed.  The Psalms text is almost entirely in this kind of language.  Knowing this, we will not be looking here primarily for ideas about God, or for direction in moral conduct.  We will expect, rather, to find the experience of being human before God exposed and sharpened.

– Eugene Peterson, Answering God:  The Psalms as Tools for Prayer
(c) 1989 Harper & Row

I wish I had at hand a similarly provocative introductory piece on prophecy.  Failing that and staying with poetry, please consider a few songs with me.  These are examples of song lyrics that I once took literally and decided, at least for a while, that I could not conscientiously sing:

1.  “I know not when my Lord may come—at night or noonday fair, or if I’ll walk the vale with Him or meet Him in the air.”  – st. 4 of I Know Not Why God’s Wondrous Grace

Sometime in my twenties, I decided not to sing that stanza.  The either-or statement in the second half of the stanza appears to preclude the possibility of interpreting “vale” as “valley of the shadow of death (if one takes the grammar literally).  The only remaining possibility is allowing for the possibility of a millennial reign on earth, and that is not part of my eschatology.  These days, although I still don’t expect that kind of reign, I don’t really care how it eventually turns out for the good of those on God’s side, so I suppose I could go with a less literal approach to the song and sing along.  The thing is, I think I’ve missed the chance, because this song really isn’t sung much anymore.  I can still remember the strength of its chorus.  When discouragements run rampant, it’s a good one (and pretty literally taken from scripture, at that):

“I know Whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I’ve committed unto Him against that day.” (2Tim 1:12)

2.  “Through this world of toils and snares, if I falter, Lord, who cares? ” – st. 3 from Just a Closer Walk With Thee

When my college chorus sang that song, I would confidently clam up during those words.  I wouldn’t sing them.  I felt quite justified in my literalism, but I was stupid (or, if you’re into showing grace, “stupid” could be paraphrased as “befuddled by college-aged, pseudo-spiritual passion”). 

As with pretty much everything, the idea in that verse is better interpreted in context (wait … what? context? like, it matters in songs as well as in scripture?).  The verse continues, “Who with me my burden shares?  None but Thee, dear Lord.”  I now think the entire verse means something like, “If I falter in this world, I won’t let it cloud my overall view that you are with me!”

Thinking that the expression “Lord, who cares?” should be taken literally is as dumb as thinking that Ps. 51:5¹ is proof of the Calvinists’ hallmark doctrine of total depravity.  Here is an excellent example of Peterson’s suggestion of “intestinal” import of language, of expressions that leave the “experience of being human before God exposed.”

It’s poetry, people, not literal doctrinal instruction.

3.  Farther Along (Tempted and Tried)

This one may not fit in the same category.  It wasn’t the same type of question of literalness that kept me from singing this song, really.  It was the whole idea of the song.  It just bothered me to be so whiny.  At some point I allowed myself to lead and sing only the final stanza and chorus—and that only after one of the darkest discouragements of my life—but I still didn’t want to whine through all the whiny stanzas.  The fourth sufficiently expressed the negatives of this life in perspective:

“When we see Jesus coming in glory, when He comes from His home in the sky, then we will meet Him in that bright mansion.  We’ll understand it all by and by.”

These days, I’m not so sure I wouldn’t heartily sing the whole song.  There have been many times since that I have been “made to wonder why it should be thus all the day long” and have dealt, on a pretty literal basis, with other questions the song raises.  At this point, despite the ostensibly bad attitude and the hick-ish musical style, I suppose the whole song is okay by me.

Maybe you think I’ve caved with respect to my later decisions on the above songs.  On the other hand, maybe I’ve succeeded, in these few cases, in not being an over-literal interpreter.

¹ Ps. 51:5:  Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me . . . (KJV)

For more on literalism and literal interpretation:

Literal instructions (1/30/10)

Do we really take it literally? (Leroy Garrett) (12/11/09)

Interpretations and ironies (B) (interpretation of prophecy—pretty heavy) (12/8/15)

Strike That:  A Take on “Battle Hymn of the Republic” in Hymnals (today!)

BONUS:  A fresh Logos Academic Blog writer on words, semantic range, context, and more.  This is not for the faint of heart, but it’s also entertaining, mixing Humpty Dumpty, Japanese missionary humor, linguistic instruction, and context.

Image result for literally

James 3

History.  Maxims and aphorisms.  Wordplay.  Textual discrepancies.  Alliteration.  Textual criticism.  And, of course, context. . . . All these factors (and more) are significant in James 3.

Last Sunday, our small group worked through the first section of James 3.  This letter, supposed to have been written by Iakob (Jacob) (James), the half-brother of Jesus, displays connections with Matthew’s gospel in particular and seems to have strong internal unity and intentional construction.  A few have said this could be the earliest extant Christian document.

3:1-13 constitutes one of the more clearly self-contained sections in the letter, making analysis of the micro-context not only key to interpretation, but also easier to manage.  One hint of the fact that this is a discrete section is the book-end-ish instances of the word-pair adelphoi mou (brothers my) in 3:1 and 3:12.

A few miscellaneous comments . . .

That teaching/teachers are at issue is clear in 3:1; the questions of who’s doing the judging of them (3:1b) is curious. At least these three possibilities appear to me:

  1. that God ultimately judges (i.e., final judgment) those who teach by a higher standard
  2. that God expects more of (judges more stringently) teachers on an ongoing basis during this life
  3. that human peers judge public teachers by a higher standard

Many in our group leaned toward #3; this feeling might have resulted, in part, from reading onto the text the 20th– and 21st-century “public teacher” scenario of paid clergy, senior ministers, and televangelists (not that all of those terms are of the same stripe).  Folks were at first interested in how teachers and preachers are often held to a higher standard than run-of-the-mill Christians because they live in a glass house.  That is a syndrome, to be sure, but I’m not convinced it was what James had in view.

No firm answer appears for this question, but I lean toward a combination of 1 and 2, based on the context provided toward the end of chapter 2.  No matter, though:  the import of the warning to those who teach holds, regardless: speech (the tongue) is a huge pitfall, and those who speak words of instruction ought to keep an especially vigilant watch.  The warning is extended to others, as well.

A built-in question appears in v2 related to the “perfect man”; James’s intent (and he did have one, regardless of whether we dig it out and wash it off enough to see the potsherd’s edges) may be illuminated by recognition that “perfect” might be translated “complete” or “mature,” as well. With one of those readings, the thought could become less an ironic assertion—obviously, no one can be perfect with the tongue—but more a call to mature thought and action.

Word order appears to be significant in v6: the word gehenna appears in a prominent, final position in Greek.  (Many English translations obscure this fact.)

“Doubles” appear frequently in James, starting with the “double-minded” man of chapter 1.  Here, the tongue is pictured as capable of two diametrically opposing results (blessing/curse, sweet/bitter, etc.).

A neat, little textual variant occurs in James 3.  The first characters in the Greek 3:3 could be one of these three:

  1. ιδε (ide, “see”)
  2. ει δε (ei de, two words, roughly “if then” or “and it”)
  3. ιδou (idou, “behold”)

Like so many such variants among the best Greek texts we have available, this one is a curiosity that allows conjecture over which is the most likely.  It is also like most variants in that one’s chosen answer to the question doesn’t change the big picture.

In mentioning alliterations, I’ll give three of the six or seven English transliterations of the Greek words highlighted by Luke Timothy Johnson in his Anchor Bible series commentary:

  • mikros melos . . . megale (3:5)
  • phlogizousa . . . phlogizomené (3:6)
  • damazetai . . . dedamastai (3:7); damasai dynatai (3:8)

An English reader might notice possible assonance or rhyme in the last of the three above, but that is not necessarily a valid a perception; the “ai” ending is merely a function of verb declension and not a “rhyme” per se, although the aural effect might well have played some role when first hearers heard the letter.

There is much more here—some, discussed in our small group, and some, of more specialized and/or esoteric interest. It is a good review for me to write out a few mentionables for sharing here.  And ya know what’s great?  I get to be part of another Bible investigation tonight!

Context and language

A few semi-connected, context-related musings will begin tonight and continue for two more days.

The historical context of Paul and Silas (Acts 16)
A. The python spirit of 16:16 is a curiosity that has been obscured by most English versions.  Many agree that the allusion is more specific than to a random sort of “foretelling” or “divination.”  A writer for Charisma Magazine goes way (way!) too far into the current day, so no convenience link is provided here, but there was quite a tradition out at the Oracle at Delphi, Greece.  It was related to Apollo and priestesses who were thought to advise visitors, including dignitaries, through a “pythian” or “python” spirit.  See next post for observations about a couple of related literary elements.  Spoiler alert:  I don’t think Paul was merely “annoyed” or “irritated” on a personal level.

B. A military history and presence likely pervaded in Philippi.  The word στρατηγοῖς | strategois is used several times to refer to the authorities as this story unfolds.  This word is relatively rare, is used for the captain of the temple in Acts 4 and 5, and is at least etymologically connected to the word for “soldier,” although presumably it has different connotations.  Many retiring Roman soldiers populated the city.

C. An earthquake occurred (16:26), and Luke’s portrayal of this one may hint at the supernatural; on the other hand, earthquakes are known to have occurred naturally and regularly throughout the region.

D. I learned from reading . . .

  • that inscriptions in Latin have been found at roughly double the rate of other cities–strengthening the perception that this was a uniquely Roman colony-city
  • that Philippi was famous for its school of medicine (further, there is some suspicion that it might have been Luke’s hometown)

Next:  a few items from the literary context of Acts 16

A chiastic communion prayer

Following an extended “confessional meditation” about my experience of communion/the Lord’s Supper, I offer now a meditational prayer I wrote for communion some years ago.

This prayer is in chiastic form; the structural feature was primarily a personal, spiritual exercise, but I did mention it to a couple others who were present that morning.  Possibly, the oral reading of the prayer wasn’t in vain for others’ sake:  I suspect that some of the repetition (part & parcel of rhetorically based, chiastic structure) is universally helpful—as people hear words aloud, that is.

As you read it, you could notice the conceptual and verbal connections between indented pairs (first and last, then move inward toward the center).  You could think particularly about the very center:  the participating.  Or, you could simply pray the prayer.

Now, Father, we come.
We come, in the stillness of this time, to do something You asked us to do often.

We come, according to the desire of Jesus, and because we believe He forever opened the door (and left it open!), for us to commune.

We Christians come not to “take communion,” as though it were a thing … a possession being offered and accepted in some sort of material transaction.

We come not even to “communion,” as though it were an event more than a familial union of spirits.

We come to commune with You, YHVH the gracious Father,
and with You, Jesus the Son.

We are needy and ready to experience Your grace …

to share in Your Nature …

to participate

with our whole selves

in the most stupendous of Your provisions:

Jesus, our Emmanuel,
the grace-gift of the Father.

We come to not to an event,

Or to some magical, grace-giving transaction, but to commune with You—
and with all these who call You “Father.”

We come in the name of Jesus.

We come, on this October morning, still now in Your presence, as You desire.
We approach You in spirit, Father God.

© Brian Casey, Fall 2006

I have presented this as copyrighted not because I wish to sell it but because I would like to know if someone finds this prayer useful somewhere else.  These are “my” words, but they are words intended for the Kingdom at large.  Please don’t hesitate to ask me — publicly here, or privately, at BLCasey14 {at} g mail – dot – com.  If you don’t feel like taking the time to ask, that’s OK — you hereby have advance permission anyway, but I’d love to hear from you after the fact.

Rhetorical aids in Mark

Examination of the text of Mark reveals quite a few structured textual arrangements—likely intentional—that rhetorically aid this gospel.

I.  One of these possible structures is found in 10:33a-34, where a barrage of verbs and pronouns may well be intentionally “poetic.”  One notices the similar, repeated “suffix” sounds when reading the Greek aloud, but some of it may be happenstance since some Greek verb-endings sound alike by nature (they can’t be said to “rhyme” per se).  The endpoints of this section, though, are the future middle/passive verbs that indicate Jesus 1) will be handed over, and 2) will Himself rise again, and those seem intentionally placed.  The middle of this mini-section contains the dramatic declaration (here, for the 3rd time) that Jesus will be handed over to the Gentiles.

paradothesetai   (will be handed over)
tois arxiereusin
kai tois grammateusin,
kai katakrinousin
auton thanato
kai paradosousin
auton tois ethnesin

kai empaixousin
auto kai emptusousin
auto kai mastigosousin
auton kai apoktenousin,
kai meta treis hemeras
anastesetai           (will myself rise up)

II.  Some have identified Mark’s¹ “triptychs,” and one of these may be seen in 2:1-12.  In point of fact, most or even all of Mark may be analyzed in terms of mini-“sandwich” structures of a few verses at a time.  (See here for an exhaustive listing.)  Some of these are centric, i.e., the middle of the sandwich is the point of emphasis; others are parallel sets of thoughts.  Some seem more significant than others, but looking into these structures can sometimes help the reader see the intended emphasis.

III.  Taken on the whole, Mark appears to have an intentional form:

A Beginning – the “forerunner” (John) points to Jesus (1:4-8)
B Jesus’baptism – The splitting of the heavens, “You are my son” (1:9-11)
C Jesus is tested in the wilderness (1:12-13)
D The parable of the sower (4:1-9)
. . .
D’ Parable of the vineyard (12:1-11)
C’ Jesus is tested in the temple (12:13-27)
B’ Jesus dies, the temple veil is split “Truly this was God’s son.” (15:33-39)
(also note in this gospel other declarations of Who Jesus is)
A’ The “post-runner” (the young man) points to Jesus (16:1-8)

IV.  Another serious Bible student I know has noticed the following large-scale chiastic structure just past the core/middle, which is found at 8:22-10:52:

A The Pharisees and the Denarius                    12:13-17

B The Sadducees and the Scriptures     12:18-27

C The Most Important Commandment – Jesus’ Answer 12:28-31

C’ The Most Important Commandment – Restated    12:32-34

B’ Jesus and the Scriptures                                12:35-40

A’ The Poor Widow and Her Two Coins           12:41-44

– Lee Patmore (used by permission)

As Lee has it (and I certainly see no reason to disagree), the center of 12:13-44 section involves a rather singularly emphatic, positive interaction with a scribe.  In the next post, I’ll highlight more of this very significant conversation in a different way.

B. Casey, 5/24/15

¹ It bugs me to type “Marcan” as scholarly convention has it, since the consonant in Mark’s name is a kappa (κ), not a chi (χ) or a “hard C” of any kind.  Maybe the “Marcan” spelling got started because of the Vulcans?  Anyway, if I type “Markan,” someone might object.  So, I avoid the issue.  I also don’t like the standard pronunciations of “Pauline” and “Johannine,” so I avoid those, too.  🙂

Two births

I might more aptly have titled this “Two Generations,” but I didn’t want to imply I was talking about parents/children or genealogy, as such.

It isn’t my intent here to toe any party line (or even to rebel against one) around concepts like regeneration or being “born again” or baptism.  My interest in those things is strong (see footnote 1 for links to prior essays, if interested), and some of that may well be predicted here, but . . . this is intended simply to exegete a short John text within the complete document. 

I find that John 1:13 contrasts two senses of being generated or born.  This text appears (although it might not have been originally scripted  in this sequence) pre-Nicodemus, and long before any 16th- or 19th- or 20th/21st-century concepts, e.g., of being “born again.”

Here is the NASB95 rendering of verses 12-13 together:

But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

And here is my attempt at a word-for-word, interlinear Greek-English rendering of the last part of the same verse:

who   not   out of     bloods
οἳ     οὐκ     ἐξ          αἱμάτων | haimaton — pl., think hematology, the study of blood

not    out of    will              of flesh
οὐδὲ   ἐκ         θελήματος   σαρκὸς | sarkoscf. sarcoma, a flesh-eating tumor

not    out of     will               of man
οὐδὲ   ἐκ        θελήματος     ἀνδρὸς | andros — think androgen, a male sex hormone

but    out of   God’s    generating
ἀλλ᾿   ἐκ        θεοῦ    ἐγεννήθησαν | egennethesan — see below

Although most English translations don’t render these thoughts in a way that shows the parallelism, the connections are there.  The word choices and syntax in this remarkable text are . . . well, remarkable.  So I am remarking!  🙂

The only bona fide verb in 1:13 is the final word.  It comes from γεννάω | gennaoto become the father of, to produce  (BAG Lexicon 1957).  Taking this range of meanings perhaps a step further in English, we might add to generate.  The aorist tense of this verb is not particularly significant; it indicates, relatively simply, that something was done in the past.  The “mood” of the verb is passive, and that aspect seems more significant here:  God is the active agent, and the human is simply the passive  recipient of God’s productive/fatherly action.

The NASB, the NIV, the ESV, and other English translations I glanced at have all opted to insert the idea of being born/birthed at the beginning of this verse.  This word-order inversion isn’t necessarily a bad idea if one is interested in the general import.  It does, however, obscure some of the specific beauty of this text, which contrasts two births/”begettings” and delays mention — with strong effect — of the supernatural one:

  1. the one that arises out of blood, out of flesh, and out of the sexual desire or will² of a male
  2. the one that arises out of God (the last four words in the original)

It appears to me that the idea of being begotten/produced is significant — both in the literary micro-context and in the book-level context of John.  A similar word (see footnote below) is used six times prior to v13.  Furthermore, these notions of being begotten/produced/birthed/generated appear first in v12, with a somewhat related idea in v13, followed by a repetition of the v12 idea in v14:

12 to them He gave the right to become ____,

13 those who have been begotten  by God

14 the word became  flesh

In the above verses, the words for “become” and “begotten” are not the same.  Please see footnote 3 below if interested in more detail here.  At the least, the verbs in vv 12 and 14 are the same, and they flank the important notion of being fathered/begotten by God.  This insight into generative origin may be just as theologically significant as the more-often-quoted, poeticized v14 in its entirety.

Via e-mail, Dr. Paul Pollard has made this observation about the micro-context of v12:  “. . . that for those who have received him (12a), and continue to believe in him (12c), they are entitled to become God’s children (12b).  Verse 13a then shows that becoming the children of God is not by appeal to family connections, or genealogy. . . .”  Exegetically derived points such as this are always, always helpful in our efforts to read the text — and to hear God — more thoroughly.

The word ἀλλ’ | all’  (the antecedent of “but” at the beginning of the last phrase in v13) is considered to set up a strong contrast with what has gone before.  There is another word that could have been used here, if the contrast weren’t so clear-cut, so emphatic.  What the text of John has is something like this (ignore the redundant English, if you please):  ” . . . but instead were begotten by God.”

The two kinds of begettings/births are distinct.  It is my hope that this little insight about God’s action in spiritual birth has brought someone closer to this great Father.  It has done that for me when I needed it today — to the point that I regret that I now need to do some work that I get paid to do.

Brian (1/9/15)

¹ Here are three links that refer to, and/or attempt to explicate, portions of the interaction between Jesus and Nicodemus:

That Christianese wasn’t original with John

Rebirth, as Jesus taught it

The misread part of John 3

² Here, some might choose the word “lust” for “will” or “desire” — but presumably not in a negative sense.  Immediately prior, “flesh” appears to be used without the later, negative Docetist or Pauline connotation — e.g., in Romans 7 and 8, where it is contrasted with the πνεῦμα | pneuma (spirit) nature.  It is significant that, in the next verse, Jesus is said to have become (ἐγένετο | egeneto)  flesh.  Neither flesh nor a man’s will appears to be cast negatively here.

³ The ice is getting thin, and my ear for similar sounds and potential Greek etymological connections has gotten me in trouble before, but the ideas of the ginomai and gennao word families seem related.  In other words, to become (a being verb) seems possibly connected to the original begetting, which endowed them with the right to become/be in the first place.  I am becoming damp here and may soon be “all wet” — and not just for mixing English ice/water metaphors.  🙂  The abridged Kittel’s Theological Dictionary of the NT gives this gloss for ginomai (vv 12 and 14):  “to be born” (adding very little other than the mention of John 8:58 — ” . . . before Abraham was born, I am“), where both the contrast and connection again appear).  Kittel’s gloss for gennao (v13) is “to bear, beget.”  Moreover, in Warren Trenchard’s Complete Vocabulary Guide to the Greek New Testament, these two words are shown in the same “cognate word group.”  Essentially, I would suggest that, though the two verbs may be as distinct as the two births I’m attempting to delineate, the verb-concepts are at least syntactically related in John.

Chiastic meditation (#1200)

Prelude (composed after the main material below)

This is post #1200 on this blog, which has been up and running for more than six years.

There have been periods of “fasting” from writing for almost a month or so.  Other times, I wrote nearly every day.  I’m pretty sure that I spend too much time tending this site, in the grand scheme of my little life.  On the other hand, I feel spiritually and emotionally energized by thinking and writing about significant matters, so I hardly think it would be a good idea for me to stop just yet.  So, onward. . . .  If you only have time to read a little, read the actual meditation (Part B).

I had noticed I was approaching #1200 a couple weeks ago.  Then, without thinking about the number anymore, I finished up 3-4 posts, including this one, and scheduled them all to be published on future dates.

Thinking back a year and a half  . . . as a bibliophile (not a numerologist), this is a significant number — more so than #1000, which I had specifically orchestrated in April 2013 to end up in that position, and I’d also noticed #777.  It’s kinda cool that this one ended up being #1200 without any specific, advance thought about the milestone.

Why is it appropriate that this one is #1200?  Because it combines some of my areas of great interest and effort:  1) rhetorical and exegetical studies in ancient scripture and 2) worship, teaching, and leadership among Christians.  I suppose it’s appropriate, too, that I publish this one early on a Sunday morning.  If you’re a) feeling rushed and b) are responsible for some aspect of worship leadership this morning, please skip to the middle of this post — the actual meditation — and feel free to use it somehow.

Part A

Sometimes I type in essay titles that simply describe or summarize the content.  Sometimes the titles foreshadow a line or thought or wording to come later in the essay.  Sometimes, the slugs or titles are designed to attract interest because they’re different.  This title is mostly the last type, although I suppose it attains to the other motivations, too.

I was about to offer a wager that no other blog this month — or this year, for that matter — would have this title.  I decided to Google it, and got five results:  three bits about some Mormon malarkey, and two more interesting documents related to chiasm and secular poetry.  Basically, I think I’ve proven my point, not finding any blogs with this title and only five marginally related results, so the bet is off.

Aside:  if you don’t use quotation marks (guaranteeing that the results will be exact replications) around the expression, you get 381,000 results, and it’s worth noting that chiasms appear in Psalms and other meditative literature.

All the above was just so much prefatory hot air.  Here is the actual chiastic meditation:

Part B

My Lord, You lived so that You could ultimately die.
Now, You ask us to believe
in Your awful, wonderful cross –
that astounding, yet terrible instrument
that we accept as necessary and grace-filled …
so we can die in order to live eternally with the Lord of all.

– bc, from communion meditation for Sheridan church, 11/9/14

Part C

The “chiasm”² is so named because it may be diagrammed in thε shapε of the Greek letter Χ  (chi).  You may be able to imagine this X superimposed over the green words above.  That X would almost “connect the dots” of the related concepts, in this case, although it doesn’t always work out that visually neatly.

In this form, the references tie together from the outside, moving inward:

“Lord of all” is related to “My Lord.”
“Live” and “die” relate to one another.
“Believe” is tied to “accept,” so this use of “believe” might be seen more as mental assent than trust of the heart.

In the center — and the center of a chiasm constitutes the emphasis — are paradoxical descriptors of the cross.  Even this post, taken as a whole, might be seen chiastically:  1) the prelude and postlude are material about  the material — its “whys”¹ or motivations, and thoughts about its uses/functions; 2) the explanatory words in Parts A and C are somewhat related; and 3) the center, Part B, is the emphasis.


Why¹ would I bother to compose a communion meditation in chiastic form?  For two reasons, in no particular order:

  1. Because it helps me to structure the thoughts and meditate in my own spirit, and I need all the help I can get.
  2. Because I think forms that use repetition (and quite possibly the chiasm/inclusio/”sandwich structure” is the granddaddy of ’em all) are more likely to result in meaningful retention in the human soul.

Please, feel free to use the meditation above in your own communion time.  These words are not protected by copyright law!  Rearrange, change, add to them at will, for Kingdom purposes.


¹ Sometimes, form can be a little messy in a biblical chiasm.  It doesn’t seem as though biblical authors were always interested in perfect form; rather, primarily, they seem to have been impelled to communicate persuasively, using any rhetorical aids they had at their disposal.  In my essay above, the form isn’t perfect, either:  there’s a brown Why in the prelude, and a brown “why” in Part C, and a brown why in the postlude, which is probably the only place the word “why” should appear if the form were “perfect.”  Like I said, the form can be messy sometimes.

² An interesting site that displays some biblical chiasms may be found here.


A declaration of sovereignty, aided by vowels

When in the course of kingdom events it becomes helpful to declare God’s sovereignty, someone like the Jewish-Christian-apostle-formerly-known-as-Saul might just articulate that sovereignty.

And it might just come across rather emphatically!

Today, I’d like to highlight a declaration by Saul-Paul — found in 1Timothy 3:17 — in an uncommon way.  By way of reminder, here’s a standard translation:

Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever.  Amen.  (NIV)

And here’s an alternate, paraphrastic translation:

Now to the King of the Ages, indestructible and everlasting, unseen, the Only-God, let there be glory for all time, for evermore . . . amen.  (bc)

The meanings of many of the words and phrases there are emphatic enough.  For instance, the phrase we get as “for ever and ever” in the NIV is an idiomatic one and reads something like “into the ages of the ages.”  Yet if one were to pronounce the original words aloud, one would also hear a great number of sonic connections – assonance or vowel relationships, actually — that tend to add to the emphatic nature.

So, let’s take a Greek peek.  Please read the words below — aloud if at all possible — noticing all the instances of the letter “o.”  (Notice particularly the ones with long accents over them . . . those are the long omega vowel, pronounced “oh,” as opposed to the shorter omicron vowel, which tends to be pronounced something like the “aw” in “Fawlty Towers”).  The second line below is the Greek sounds transliterated into English — presumably easier for most of us to read.

τῷ δὲ βασιλεῖ τῶν αἰώνων, ἀφθάρτῳ, ἀοράτῳ, μόνῳ θεῷ,
tō de basilei' ton aiō'nōn, aphthar't­ō, aora'tō, mo'nō theō',
τιμὴ καὶ δόξα εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας τῶν αἰώνων· ἀμήν.
time' kai do'xa eis tous aiō'nas tōn aiō'nōn: amen.

Although I attempted a paraphrase above, I really have no idea how to translate into English the kind of syllabic emphasis present in those vowels in 1Tim 1:17.

I can imagine, though, that the word “mono” (μόνῳ), meaning “only,” was something Paul added later, for one last bit of emphasis.  I can see him as he thought through things, after the rest of the letter was written . . . adding the adjective with a twinkle.  “Aphthar’t­ō, aora’tō, theō’,” he might have muttered to himself, continuing to think about how to declare God’s sovereignty emphatically.  And then an extra bit of inspiration hit — the word mono:  “Aphthar’t­ō, aora’tō, mo’nō theō’!”  And he might have smiled, since he quite personally knew this great God to whom he was directing Timothy’s attention. . . .

It might be significant that “only God” is a term not found in any other Pauline writings;¹ in any event, this expression seems especially emphatic here.  The King of the Ages, the immortal One, the invisible One, the only God!

~ ~ ~

And so, yes, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all humans are created equal,” but that they are not equal to God, being made “just a little lower than the angels” (and higher than the other animals).

“And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other” that we will not pledge ultimate allegiance to any other than this great God.  He alone is Sovereign.  He alone is God.

So be it.

¹ A variant expression is found in Romans 16:27, with the added adjective “wise.”  Some later, less well-attested manuscripts also have “only wise God” in 1 Timothy . . . leading to the supposition that later scribes might have borrowed the “wise” part from Romans and inserted it inappropriately in 1Timothy.

Johannine insights #3 — a device?

John’s gospel says a few things about food.  In at least five specific contexts in the document, “food” or “bread” shows up.

John’s gospel also says a few things about “works.”  In 25 verses in John (found in chapters 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 14, 15, 17) the root εργον (ergon — think ergonomic — work-laws) shows up.  The reader should understand that, in John, “works” are presented¹ pretty much exclusively positively, despite how they are painted in some Christian circles these days.

Hear Jesus as John has quoted Him:

4:32  But He said to them, “I have afood to eat that you do not know about.”

4:33  So the disciples were saying to one another, “No one brought Him anything to eat, did he?”

4:34  Jesus *said to them, “My bfood is to do the cwill of Him who sent Me and to accomplish His work.

a.  In the first instance of “food” above, the Greek word is “brosin.”  This word appears again in John — twice in chapter 6.
b.  In the second instance, the Greek word is “broma.”  This word is not used anywhere else in John.
c.  The Greek word translated “will” is “thelema.”  Its final two letters are the same as in the word “broma.”

I suspect that John changed from “brosin” to “broma” (both meaning “food”) in v. 34 for a reason.

Below is the text of 4:34 a) in Greek, b) in transliterated English, and c) followed by an awkward translation in the same word order.

4:34  Ἐμὸν βρῶμά ἐστιν ἵνα  ποιήσω τὸ θέλημα τοῦ 
      emon broma estin hina poieso to thelema tou 
      My    food  is   that I do   the will  of the one

πέμψαντός  με καὶ   τελειώσω   αὐτοῦ τὸ ἔργον
pemphantos me kai   teleioso   autou to ergon
 who sent  me and    complete  His (the) work

With thanks to Raymond Brown and others, I suggest that the word choice “broma” (food) may be intentional, and that the intentionality may be related to the word “thelema” (will).  Although the expression “my food is that I do the will” is fairly clear, the expression is also symbolic.  Food  isn’t actually will,  but Jesus is linking the two figuratively.

The emphasis lent by assonance in the -ma syllable — broma … thelema — may be seen as clarifying and stressing Jesus’ words, as recorded by John.

For additional posts on the gospel of John, click here.


¹ I started to write “the concept of ‘works’ is presented positively,” but I suspect that would have been eisegesis, to some degree — reading current-day concerns into an ancient text.  I don’t know that there was a “concept” of works per se in the 1st century.