Friday Facts: Lectionary A – First Sunday in Lent

Friday Facts is a  weekly feature here on Trout and Cast Iron. Every week, I’ll read through the lectionary texts for the following Sunday in their original Hebrew and Greek. On Friday, I’ll choose one of the texts, provide a new translation, and highlight one point of interest from a linguistic, ancient history, or concordance point of view. The hope is that Friday Facts can provide a spark to preachers who find themselves preparing their Sunday sermon on a short schedule. 

Matthew 4.1

Then Jesus was led out into the desert by the spirit in order to be tempted by the devil.

Today’s reading offers a good opportunity to talk about the difference between a concordance and a synoptic word study.

A concordance word study, as I’ve done several times in Paul’s epistles (see here or here), is a study that takes a particular word and looks at its use over a body of text. That body can be as small as a single book, e.g. studying the use of the word υδωρ [water] in the gospel of John. Or it can be slightly larger, e.g. studying the use of the word πιστις [faith] in the epistles of Paul. Or it can extend to an entire testament, or with a little translational work, it could encompass the entire Bible. The goal of a concordance study is to examine how a word is used over a variety of different circumstances in order to draw out its meaning.

On the other hand, a synoptic study does the opposite. Rather than looking for parallels or contradictions in usage of a particular word, a synoptic study looks at the different ways in which different authors talk about the same story. Because a synoptic study requires authors to report on the same story, the opportunity to conduct them is much more limited than for concordance studies. In the Old Testament, the books of Kings and Chronicles provide one such opportunity. In the New Testament, the first three gospels provide the same opportunity, and because of that have earned the collective title of Synoptics.

But how exactly does a Synoptic study work? Matthew 4.1 provides a good example. The Greek word πειρασθῆναι, often translated “tempted,” can also mean “tested” or “tried.” And in the context of Jesus’ contest with the devil, either seems appropriate. But a synoptic study looking at the parallel passage in Mark helps to weight the translation of Matthew towards “tempted.”

Looking at the parallel passage, we see that Mark describes Jesus as being ἐκβαλλει [thrown out] into the wilderness, a word often associated in Mark with demonic exorcism. Mark’s uses of the word sets up Jesus’ encounter with the devil as a contest like the other exorcisms, and so translators are justified in rendering πειραζόμενος as tested. However, in Matthew, the word is not ἐκβαλλει. It is ἀνήχθη, a much more sedate verb choice. It means to “to lead,” and the thus sets up a less confrontational, but perhaps more tempting encounter between Jesus and the devil. Thus, by comparing the two passages, we can mark that Matthew sees the event in a different light than his fellow evangelist, and we can choose “tempt” as our translation for πειρασθῆναι.

Friday Facts: Lectionary A – Sixth Sunday after Epiphany

Friday Facts is a  weekly feature here on Trout and Cast Iron. Every week, I’ll read through the lectionary texts for the following Sunday in their original Hebrew and Greek. On Friday, I’ll choose one of the texts, provide a new translation, and highlight one point of interest from a linguistic, ancient history, or concordance point of view. The hope is that Friday Facts can provide a spark to preachers who find themselves preparing their Sunday sermon on a short schedule. 

Matthew 5.21-22, 27-28, 31-32, 33-34

21 You have heard that it is said…22 but I, myself, say to you…

27 You have heard that it is said…28 but I, myself, say to you…

31 It is said…32 but I, myself, say to you…

33 Again, you have heard that it is said…34 but I, myself, say to you…

There is rhythm in this week’s gospel lesson from the Sermon on the Mount. Over and over, Jesus introduces his teachings with this formula, contrasting what has come before with what he now brings. There’s a lot to unpack within Jesus’ new teachings themselves, but they also provide an opportunity to reflect on a broader topic.

You see, the formulaic nature of this section of the Sermon on the Mount reflects the fact that Jesus didn’t write his sayings down. He was a preacher, not a scribe, after all. The repetition within the sermon is a common feature of oral cultures. It both serves as a organizational principle, and it’s a help towards memorization. The repetition helps the words to stick in a hearer’s brain.

And for the Lutheran preacher, this leads to a further reflection: The gospel is living word. It is primarily a speech act, transmitted by the living voice of one person to another. Therein lies the rub. We live within in a culture of strange media. On the one hand, we are dominated by the text around us. In books, on the internet, on signs. On the other, we are also dominated by an ephemeral audio/visual culture. From cable television, Netflix, and Youtube we consume vast amounts of information, but it is information that is not designed to stick. Think about the last television show you watched and how many lines of dialogue you can remember.

But, as you sit down to write your sermon, read these words and remember that they are designed to stick. With their built in repetition, they are intended to work their way into the brains of their hearers. The Gospel is a living word, which does its work far beyond the few minutes that you spend preaching it from the pulpit. But, if your sermon obscures the oral nature of the Gospel, if your sermon cleans off the stickiness and turns the Word into just another chunk of the mass of audio that people consume, it becomes nothing more than dead letter.

Friday Facts: Lectionary A – Fifth Sunday after Epiphany

Friday Facts is a  weekly feature here on Trout and Cast Iron. Every week, I’ll read through the lectionary texts for the following Sunday in their original Hebrew and Greek. On Friday, I’ll choose one of the texts, provide a new translation, and highlight one point of interest from a linguistic, ancient history, or concordance point of view. The hope is that Friday Facts can provide a spark to preachers who find themselves preparing their Sunday sermon on a short schedule. 

Matthew 5.13

13 You are the salt of the earth. If ever salt becomes tasteless, with what can it be made salty again? It is good for nothing except to be thrown out to be trampled on by people.

Over the next few weeks, the Revised Common Lectionary presents different selections from the Sermon on the Mount, and so I have taken the liberty of presenting a selection of a selection here. This particular verse, a miniature, salty parable, contains an interesting verb. That verb is ἁλισθήσεται. The word that Jesus uses for salt in this passage is ἅλας, and so, ἁλισθήσεται means literally “to make salty.” Or, if we wanted to be a little more clever with our English usage, we could say to “saltify.” In other words, Jesus is saying if “salt loses its saltiness, how it be saltified again?” Saltiness, of course, is an intrinsic quality of salt. It seems nonsensical to talk about salt without its salty taste. But, remembering that this is a parable, and that Jesus is not actually talking about salt, things get more interesting. Jesus’ parable is aimed right at the paradox of the human condition: “If a human loses their humanity, how can they be humanized again?” or perhaps more biblically, “If a creature loses their creatureliness, how can they be creaturified” again? As humans in revolt against our God, we live a monstrous existence. We’re as nonsensical as salt that’s not salty. But, what can make us salty again? Despite their salt content, not our sweat and tears. Nothing but the blood of Jesus can do it.

Friday Facts: Lectionary A – The Third Sunday after Epiphany

Friday Facts is a  weekly feature here on Trout and Cast Iron. Every week, I’ll read through the lectionary texts for the following Sunday in their original Hebrew and Greek. On Friday, I’ll choose one of the texts, provide a new translation, and highlight one point of interest from a linguistic, ancient history, or concordance point of view. The hope is that Friday Facts can provide a spark to preachers who find themselves preparing their Sunday sermon on a short schedule. 

Matthew 4.12-23

12 Having heard that John was arrested, he went up to Galilee. 13 And leaving behind Nazareth, he settled by the sea in Capernaum, in the region of Zebulon and Naphtali 14 in order to fulfill the saying of Isaiah, the prophet 15 “Land of Zebulon and land of Naphtali, way by the sea, on the other side of the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles. 16 The people who sit in darkness have seen a great light and light shines on those who sit in a dark land of death.”

17 From then, Jesus began to preach, saying “Repent! For the kingdom of heaven draws near!”

18 Walking along the sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon the one called Peter and Andrew, his brother, for they were fishermen. 19 And he said to them, “Follow after me, and I will make you fishers of people.” 20 And, leaving behind their nets, they immediately followed him. 21 Going forth from there, he saw two other brothers, Jacob the son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets. And he called them. 22 And, leaving behind the boat and their father, they immediately followed him.

23 And he wandered in the countryside of Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and preaching the gospel of the kingdom and healing all disease and all sickness among the people.

Rather than present the text all in one block, I’ve chosen to divide it up today, in order to illustrate an important principle of exegesis. Namely, that the first task of interpreting a lectionary text is to figure out whether you agree with the way that the editors have cut up the text. In this case, I think that the compilers of the Revised Common Lectionary have lumped together four separate stories. From top to bottom, they’ve lumped 1) Jesus’ move to Capernaum, fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah 2) the beginning of Jesus’ preaching and his first public sermon 3) the calling of Jesus’ first disciples, four fishermen 4) the beginnings of Jesus’ public ministry in Galilee. Get four other students of the New Testament in the room and they’ll give you four other ways of dividing this text. All this is to point out that it’s important to remember that lectionary selections, titles of sections, even chapter and verse numbers are not Holy Writ. It’s good to be cognizant that organization of a text is itself an act of interpretation. Not only that, but I’ve found that thinking about the organization of the text is a helpful way to focus my own sermon preparation.

For example, in organizing the text as I’ve done, I’ve noticed something: leaving aside the last clause of verse 23 (which in my opinion properly belongs with verse 24 and 25), Matthew sets up the beginning of Jesus’ ministry as involving two things: moving and speaking: Jesus goes up to Galilee, leaves behind Nazareth, settles in Capernaum, walks by the seashore, and walks further by the seashore. When he’s not walking, Jesus preaches, talks, and calls. And it’s in the walking and the talking that the church begins. Jesus calls the first four disciples before he ever does a miracle. He selects the rocks that he builds his church on before he even the sermon on the mount. The disciples who carry the Gospel to the ends of the earth follow him when all that he’s said is “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven draws near” and “Follow me.” And if you plaster verse 23 on to the end of this section, you might miss that.

 

 

Friday Facts: Lectionary A – Christmas 1

Friday Facts is a  weekly feature here on Trout and Cast Iron. Every week, I’ll read through the lectionary texts for the following Sunday in their original Hebrew and Greek. On Friday, I’ll choose one of the texts, provide a new translation, and highlight one point of interest from a linguistic, ancient history, or concordance point of view. The hope is that Friday Facts can provide a spark to preachers who find themselves preparing their Sunday sermon on a short schedule. 

Matthew 2.13-15

13 After they [the Magi] had gone away, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, “Get up, take the child and its mother and flee into Egypt and stay there until I speak to you. For Herod intends to seek the child in order to kill it.” 14 And getting up, he took the child and its mother and went away by night into Egypt, 15 and he was there until the death of Herod. This was in order to fulfill the utterance of the Lord through the prophet, which says “Out of Egypt I called my son.”

Why into Egypt? Why not Syria or Asia Minor? Of course, first there are the religious reasons. As the quotation from the prophet Hosea (1.11) points out, the very core of God’s peoples identity is caught up in the exodus from Egypt. And so, Jesus, as the fulfillment of his people’s religious hopes was also brought up out of Egypt. There is an interesting resonance here with Luke’s account of the transfiguration. In Luke 9.31, Moses and Elijah talk with Jesus about his “exodus” to Jerusalem to die on the cross.

In addition, it is important to remember that Joseph was not taking his family and fleeing into the unknown. In fact, the Jews had a long history of settlement in Egypt, beginning with the destruction of Judea in 597 BC (narrated in 2 Kings 25:22-24). According to tradition, the prophet Jeremiah was among those who fled. After Alexander the Great founded Alexandria in the 4th century BC, it became the center of Jewish civilization outside of Judea. It was there that Jewish scribes translated the Hebrew scriptures into Greek, the book that we now know as the Septuagint. And so, when Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus set out for Egypt, they set out for a community of fellow ex-pats, so to speak. They probably didn’t camp out in a tent in the desert for several years, but lived among a people familiar  to them. It took a round about way to get that Jewish community into Egypt in the first place, but the upshot of this history is the knowledge that God provided familiar faces for Jesus and his family in their flight from danger.

Friday Facts: Lectionary A – Advent 4

Friday Facts is a new weekly feature here on Trout and Cast Iron. Every week, I’ll read through the lectionary texts for the following Sunday in their original Hebrew and Greek. On Friday, I’ll choose one of the texts, provide a new translation, and highlight one point of interest from a linguistic, ancient history, or concordance point of view. The hope is that Friday Facts can provide a spark to preachers who find themselves preparing their Sunday sermon on a short schedule. 

Romans 1.1-7

1 Paul, a slave of Christ Jesus, called, an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, 2 who long ago promised through his prophets in the holy writings 3 concerning his son, the one who became the offspring of David, according to the flesh, 4 the one appointed son of God according to the Spirit, consecrated by means of the resurrection of the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, 5 through whom we have received grace and a calling into the obedience of faith among all the gentiles for the sake of his name, 6 in whom you also are called by Jesus Christ, 7 to all the beloved of God who are in Rome, the called saints, grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.

In reading my translation, you may notice that the opening seven verses of Romans are long, rambling, and not quite a sentence. The reason for Paul’s rambling lies in the genre. Romans is an ancient letter, and at the beginning of an ancient letter, the author often listed three things: 1) their name 2) their credentials 3) to whom they wrote. In today’s post, I’d like to focus on number two, Paul’s credentials, and one of the credentials in particular.

Paul calls himself several titles at the beginning of his letter. While there’s different ways the relationship between them, I’ve chosen to list them separately in my translation, because I’d like to discuss one in particular: “called.” The word that Paul uses for “called” is κλητός and it occurs ten times total in the New Testament. Eight of the occurrences come in letters (seven in Paul, once in Jude), usually during the greeting, as we have here in Romans. It seems to be a standard word to describe Christians in the 1st century AD and in fact, Paul uses it three times in these seven verses alone: Paul is called, the Christians in Rome are both called by Jesus Christ, and called saints. At face value, the adjective (which comes from the verb καλέω “to summon”), simply means that Christians have been summoned by Jesus Christ, just as he summoned the disciples on the lake shore. But, there’s another resonance in the word that comes out when we look at its only occurrence in the Gospels.

κλητός appears only once in the Gospels. It makes its appearance in Matthew 22.14, usually translated “For many are called.” However, in looking at the context of 22.14, coming at the end of the parable of the banquet, it becomes clear that “called” is too blase a translation. Better would be “for many are invited” or even more strongly “for many are summoned to the banquet.” And a look in a lexicon of Koine Greek confirms that the primary sense of κλητός is “to be invited for dinner.” To be κλητός is not simply to have your name read out at the beginning of God’s eternal roll call; to be κλητός is to have your name on the guest list for the eternal feast of the Lamb. Taken together with the Gospel reading for the day, a preacher could even say that God has invited us in for Christmas dinner.