Friday Facts: Lectionary A – Advent 2

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 15:4-13

4 For as much has been written before, all of it has been written for our learning, in order that we would have hope through perseverance and through the encouragement of the writings. 5 May the God of encouragement and perseverance give to you the same mind in each other according to Christ Jesus, 6 in order that together in one voice you would praise God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, receive one another, just as Christ also received you into the glory of God. For I say that Christ became a circumcised servant for the sake of the truth of God, in order to confirm the promises to our ancestors 9 and in order that the Gentiles would praise God on account of his mercy, as it is written: On account of this I will sing praise to your name. 10 And again he says, Rejoice, gentiles, with his people 11 and again, Praise the Lord all nations, and give praise to him all peoples. 12 And again, Isaiah says, The root of Jesse will be the one who comes to lead the Gentiles, in him, the Gentiles will hope. 13 May the God of hope fill you with all grace and peace in believing, so that you overflow with hope in the power of the Holy Spirit.

For former Greek students, the mention of the subjunctive may cause flashbacks of angst and woe. Just when you thought you had gotten a handle on the multiplicity of Greek verb endings, your professor revealed that Koine Greek had another complete set of endings for you to learn. And as in many cases where two languages have different manners of expression, the reason for the existence of the subjunctive is not always self-evident to native English speakers. Luckily for us, St. Paul provides an object lesson in the subjunctive in Romans 15.

There are three subjunctive verbs in our pericope: “have,” “give,” and “fill.” If you look up at the translation that I’ve provided, I’ve translated those verbs with words like “May” and “would.” The reason for this choice is that the subjunctive expresses eventuality. Eventuality means that the speaker fully expects the the things he or she has said to come to pass, but acknowledges that they are not yet reality.

So what’s the upshot of all of this (aside from delighting grammar nerds like me)? How can a preacher talk about the subjunctive without boring their congregation to death? In the case of our pericope, the key lies in realizing that Romans 15 comes at the end of the letter. In fact, by Romans 15, Paul has begun the conclusion of his letter, and so, he switches to the subjunctive in order to express his hopes and blessings for the congregation at Rome. Remember, at the time of writing his letter, Paul had never met the Christians in Rome. Thus, he can’t talk about the reality of their situation, but he can talk about the eventuality of their situation. With full confidence, Paul shares his faith that the God of hope will fill them with all grace and piece in believing, so that they overflow with hope in the power of the Holy Spirit.