Notes on Prayer: 2 Corinthians 1:10-11; 9:12-15; 13:7-9

As we continue in these Notes on Prayer for the Fall season, examining prayer in the letters of Paul, we now turn to the references in 2 Corinthians.

2 Corinthians 1:10-11; 9:12-15; 13:7-9

There are three main references to prayer in 2 Corinthians, indicated by the heading above. Paul typically reserves his prayer-references to the introductory (thanksgiving) and concluding (exhortation) sections of his letters. This is also true here, though the situation regarding 2 Corinthians is complicated by certain signs, recognized by many commentators, that the 2 Corinthians may be a composite work—comprised of at least two distinct letters (or parts of letters). Perhaps most common among New Testament scholars is the recognition of 10:1-13:10 as representing a separate and distinct letter (the body of the letter), though some would also view chaps. 8-9 as stemming from a separate letter, and there are other more complex scenarios involving multiple letter-sources (not to mention the thorny question surrounding 6:14-7:1).

Fortunately, these critical theories regarding the composition, structure, and integrity of 2 Corinthians are only marginally relevant to our study on Paul’s references to prayer.

The first reference, in 1:10-11, comes at the close of the introduction (1:3-11), and is typical of the thanksgiving context we saw, for example, in the Thessalonian letters. There is a two-fold emphasis to Paul’s prayer references in this context: (1) the close relationship between Paul and the congregations, and (2) the success of his continued missionary work. In terms of both of these points of emphasis, there is a mutual duty of prayer, between Paul and the congregations.

On the one hand, he prays for them, that they will continue to respond to the Gospel (growing and becoming stronger in faith and virtue), even as they first responded in faith to the message proclaimed by him. And, on the other hand, they are to pray for him, that he will continue to be strengthened and protected in his missionary work of proclaiming the Gospel. It is the second aspect that is emphasized here in the introduction to 2 Corinthians—namely, his request that the Corinthian congregations continue to pray for him:

“…God, the (One) raising the dead, who, out of such a great death (also) rescued us, and will (continue to) rescue, in whom we have hoped [that] even yet He will rescue (us), indeed (with) your working together over us by making (urgent) request [deh/si$] (to God), that, out of many faces, (for) the favor (shown) to us, (and) through many, thanks may be given for (this) favor over us.”

These verses are part of a typically long and grammatically complex sentence by Paul, such as we often find in the introductions to his letters. The thrust in verse 11 is on how the Corinthians believers, through their prayers, “work together” (vb sunupourge/w) with God to protect and rescue Paul in his time of need. It is also a sign of unity that they work together with each other—a unity reflected by the bond of prayer. Paul believes that the prayers by the congregations, on his behalf, play an important role in God’s saving and protecting work.

The noun used here for prayer is deh/si$, which denotes a request made (to God) for a particular need. Here, believers pray, not for their own needs, but for the needs of others—in this case, Paul and his fellow missionaries (“over us,” u(pe\r h(mw=n). It is this selfless and sacrificial quality that makes such prayers both efficacious (meaning God will answer) and meritorious (they result in reward/blessing for the one praying). The sense of blessing is indicated by the verb eu)xariste/w, which often is used for giving thanks to God for the “good favor” (eu) + xari$) that He shows; however, here, the emphasis is just as much on the favor that believers show to Paul by praying to God over him. Thus, as a result, the thanks for this favor falls upon the praying believers (as a blessing).

A similar sort of idea is expressed at the conclusion of chapter 9 (vv. 11-15), even though the focus of the passage is somewhat different. The focus in chapters 8-9 is on the ‘collection for the saints’, Paul’s fundraising campaign to provide much needed relief for the poor and suffering Christians in Judea. Paul mentions this campaign a number of times in his letters—and especially in 1 and 2 Corinthians. It was an important part of his missionary work, and one that was close to his heart, organized throughout all of the territorial congregations that he had helped to found. At the end of Romans (15:31), he mentions how he is taking this relief money to Jerusalem, indicating that the fundraising effort has been completed; but here in 2 Corinthians, it is still in progress.

As with the prayers for Paul by the Corinthians, their generosity in giving money to the relief campaign will result in blessing:

“In every (way) you are being enriched for all (this) single (purpose), which works fully through us (to bring) thanks to God (for His) favor, that the service of this work being performed not only is filling up the (thing)s lacking for the holy (one)s, but is also flowing over through many (expression)s of thanks to God (for His) favor.” (vv. 11-12)

The thanks that is given to God falls to the believers, for their selfless generosity, as well. Indeed, other Christians will give thanks and honor to God precisely because of the work that the Corinthians do in this regard (v. 13). Their single-minded willingness to provide for the needs of the Community (the expression a(plo/th$ th=$ koinwni/a$) is a powerful sign of unity among believers, and of faithful obedience to the Gospel of Christ. This leads other Christians to pray for them, just as they prayed for Paul in his ministry work (cf. above):

“…and (by) their urgent request [deh/si$] (to God) over you, (they are) longing upon you, through the overcasting favor of God upon you.” (v. 14)

Paul’s syntax here is a bit complex and contorted, but the logic of his statement is relatively simple:

    • Their prayers to God over your needs are a sign that they are longing for you (vb e)pipoqe/w)
    • At the same time, the act of praying only serves to increase and intensify this longing
    • This longing over the Corinthians mirrors the favor that God Himself spreads out over (vb u(perba/llw, “cast over”) the Corinthians, and the two actions—longing over (with prayer) and spreading over (with favor)—are related. As noted above, the fervent prayers of believers, for the needs of others, is tied to God’s response, working in tandem with it.

Indeed, it is, in large part, because of the generosity of the Corinthian believers, that Paul can proclaim: “Thanks to God for (his) favor, upon His indescribable gift!” (v. 15)

The final reference to prayer in 2 Corinthians is found at 13:7-9, the close of a major division of the letter (10:1-13:10) that is thought by many commentators to be so different (from the remainder of 2 Corinthians) as to stem from a separate letter entirely. Certainly, the tone and focus is very different in these chapters. The positive and exhortational emphasis gives way to a vigorous and harsh polemic. For commentators who would defend the unity of 2 Corinthians, it is difficult to explain just how chaps. 10-13 relate to the rest of the letter.

Paul’s harsh words in chaps. 10-13 are directed primarily against certain influential missionaries or church leaders whom he disparagingly (and sarcastically) refers to as people “much above (the other) apostles” (u(perli/an a)posto/lwn), 11:5; 12:11; elsewhere he calls them “false apostles” (11:13). Though Paul does not provide us with much specific detail, it appears that he regarded these people as opponents or rivals who were usurping his apostolic authority at Corinth, exerting an undue and negative influence on the Corinthian congregations. He also offers a stern rebuke to the Corinthians themselves for allowing themselves to be led astray by these ‘super-apostles’.

As part of the warning he gives in 12:14ff, Paul also mentions immoral and unworthy behavior among the Corinthians (vv. 20-21), but it is not entirely clear how this might relate to the influence of the ‘super-apostles’. It may simply be mentioned as a way of adding to the rebuke—i.e., not only have the Corinthians turned away from Paul (in favor of other leaders), but, at the same time, they have allowed immorality to take root within the congregations.

Paul repeats much the same warning in the closing section (13:1-10), mentioning again instances of blatant sinning among the Corinthians. It is in this context that we find the reference to prayer (vv. 7-9); and here the focus of prayer is on the restoration of unity within the Corinthian congregations, and between Paul and the Corinthians. This restoration will only be possible if the Corinthians examine themselves and repent of any misconduct or attitudes that have damaged the bond of unity among them (verse 5). His prayer for the Corinthians is that the relationship will be restored and that their behavior will be reformed:

“But we speak out toward God (for) you not to do anything bad–not (so) that we would shine forth as accepted (by God), but (so) that you would do the beautiful (thing), even (if) we might be (seen) as without acceptance.” (v. 7)

Here the expression for prayer is the verb eu&xomai + pro$, equivalent to the compound verb proseu/xomai (“speak out toward [God]”) that is regularly used to express the idea of prayer. Paul makes clear that his desire for them to do good (“the beautiful [kalo/$] thing”), and to avoid evil (“anything bad [kako/$]”), is for their own sake, and for the sake of truth (v. 8), regardless of how it makes himself look. This selfless (and sacrificial) mindset represents prayer in it purest form, expressed by Paul most poignantly in verse 9:

“For we rejoice when we should be without strength, but (when) you should be powerful; and (indeed) this (is what) we speak out (to God for): your being made fit.”

The noun kata/rtisi$ is difficult to translate concisely; the related verb (katarti/zw) means something like “make completely fit, put (completely) in order”. Here it is related to the idea of the Corinthians being “powerful” (dunato/$). Paul would rather give of himself and become weak (“be without strength,” vb a)sqene/w) if it meant that the Corinthians would become strong. This strength can only be achieved through turning away from sin (repentance) and the restoration of unity within the congregation. This, indeed, is the focus of Paul’s prayer. As noted above, such selfless prayer, praying for the needs of the others (rather than one’s own needs) is assured of being answered by God, and will result in much joy and blessing.

 

Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 55 (Part 3)

Psalm 55, continued

We conclude our study of this Psalm with an examination of the third and final section:

The first section (the lament) was discussed in Part 1, the second section, in which the Psalmist prays to YHWH, asking God to act on his behalf, was studied last week in Part 2; now we proceed to the final section, in which YHWH’s answer to the Psalmist’s prayer is anticipated, with the expectation of deliverance.

VERSES 17-24 [16-23]

Verse 17 [16]

“(And) I, to (the) Mightiest I called,
and YHWH saved me.”

This initial couplet has a 3+2 meter, generally returning to the metrical pattern of the first (lament) section. The answer to the Psalmist’s prayer in this section, balances the opening lament. Though Ps 55 is categorized as an ‘Elohist’ Psalm, in which the term/title <yh!l)a$ (Elohim, “Mightiest [One]”, i.e., God) is used in place of the Divine name hwhy (YHWH), here both of the ‘names’ are used. The imperfect verb forms are used to express past action, as is often the case in Hebrew poetry.

Verse 18 [17]

“(At) sunset and daybreak and mid-day,
I muttered and I moaned,
and He heard my voice.”

The 3+2 meter continues here in v. 18, though, apparently, the couplet has been expanded into a tricolon (3+2+2) with the inclusion of an extra line. The extended rhythm heightens the tension and provides a dramatic effect.

The extent of the Psalmist’s suffering is summarized by the three periods of the day: the setting of the sun (br#u#, i.e., evening), the breaking through of daylight (rq#b), daybreak, i.e., morning), and a point between the two (halves) of day (dual <y]r^h(x*, i.e., mid-day, noon). All this time (i.e., all day long), he makes his lament and prayer to God. This activity is summarized by the two verbs in line 2, which I translate concisely as “I muttered and I moaned,” in order to capture the rhythm of the line. Both verbs, however, have a relatively wide semantic range and can be difficult to translate. The verb j^yc! generally refers to the act of going over a matter (repeatedly), either in one’s mind or in speech; often an agitated state of mind is implied, and it can specifically connote the act of complaining or even repenting. The second verb (hm*h*) is more intensive, denoting the primal act of moaning, roaring, howling, etc, like an animal.

Verses 19 [18]

“He ransomed my soul in fullness from (the) approach against me,
for with many they were standing (against) me.”

The MT as it stands appears to be an elongated 4+3 couplet. However, some commentators (e.g., Kraus, p. 519) view the text of vv. 19-20 as corrupt and requiring some measure of emendation. Essentially the verse describes the nature of how YHWH answered (or is expected to answer) the Psalmist’s prayer. God rescues the soul of the Psalmist from his enemies.

This rescue is described using the verb hd*P*, which refers to the making of a payment to achieve the transfer of ownership; it can be used in a more general or figurative sense for the deliverance of someone out of bondage or oppression, etc, and the English “ransom” captures this all fairly well. Based on this ransom/payment idea, there likely are three aspects of meaning for the noun <olv* that are involved here: (1) the soul has been rescued in its fullness (i.e., completely safe/intact), (2) the ransom was paid in full, and (3) the soul is allowed to go free/safe in peace.

There is indeed a military context to the imagery. The Psalmist’s soul is rescued “from (the) approach” (br*Q&m!) of his enemies, and the noun br*q= can specifically refer to a hostile encounter or battle. Moreover, the crowd of “many” (<yB!r^) enemies suggests the image of an attacking army.

Verse 20 [19]

“(The) Mighty (One) heard and answered them,
even (He the) Ancient (One) sitting, [Selah]
in that there is no changing for them,
and they do not fear (the) Mightiest.”

The lines of verse 20 are admittedly difficult, and may be corrupt; the situation is complicated by the odd placement of the hl*s# (Selah) marker apparently in the middle of the verse. If the Masoretic text and verse division is correct, then we have a quatrain—a pair of irregular, but conceptually (and syntactically) related, couplets. This may explain the curious placement of the Selah-marker—i.e., the pause is intended to make clear the shift in subject/person between the second and third lines. This, if correct, strongly increases the likelihood that the second line does not refer to the enemies of the Psalmist, but to YHWH.

The meaning of the second line is thoroughly obscure and ambiguous (at least to us). The noun <d#q# could have several different meanings in context here:

    • It could refer to a confrontation, either from the enemies of the Psalmist set against him, or by YHWH against his enemies.
    • It could refer to sitting in the front/first position
    • It could indicate a geographic location, in the east (sitting/dwelling in the east)
    • It could be a temporal designation, i.e., times long before, in old/ancient times.

In my view, the latter is correct, and <d#q# should be read as a divine epithet of El-YHWH, meaning something like “the Ancient (One)”, as in Deut 33:27. Probably the participle bv@y) (“sitting”) should be understood literally, in reference to God sitting in judgment.

If the word-division of the MT in the first line is correct, and if the suffix <– on the second verb is an object suffix (3rd person plural), then this may explain the placement of the Selah-marker. The first line would read “(The) Mighty (One) heard and answered them“. After the second line, which further describes God sitting in judgment (by which he ‘answers’ the wicked), the final two lines refer back to “them” (i.e., the wicked). The Psalmist (or a later editor) may have wished to avoid any possible (grammatical) misunderstanding, which could happen if these four lines were read/recited together quickly; the pause helps to clarify the situation being described.

The wicked will not repent or change their ways (“there is no changing for them”), primarily because they have “no fear of God”. They are thus deserving of the severe punishment they face from YHWH in the judgment.

Verse 21 [20]

“He sent out his hands on (the) bonds of peace,
he broke his binding (agreement).”

The shift in subject from YHWH (“He”) to the friend (“he”) who betrayed the Psalmist can be confusing at first glance, and raises the possibility that the the Selah-pause marker was intended to be placed at the end of verse 20 (rather than in the middle, cf. above). A pause at that point would help to clarify the shift in subject. This friend-turned-betrayer was introduced in vv. 13-15 [12-14] (cf. the discussion in Part 2).

The word wym*l)v=B! is almost impossible to translate with precision in English and still preserve any sense of the poetry. As discussed above, the noun <olv* has a wide range of meaning. Fundamentally, it means “fullness, completion”, but it is often used specifically in the context of a covenant bond, and that is certainly the case here, where <olv* is parallel with tyr!B= (“binding [agreement]”, i.e., covenant). Here <lv denotes one who is obligated to fulfill the terms of the agreement, establishing a bond of unity, welfare, and peace between those bound by the same agreement. For lack of a better alternative, I have translated the plural above as “bonds of peace”. By betraying the Psalmist, this person broke the binding agreement between them and violated the ‘bond of peace’.

Metrically, this verse returns to the 3+2 couplet pattern of the section.

Verse 22 [21]

“Smooth from cream were (the words of) his mouth,
but a (hostile) encounter (was in) his heart;
soft (indeed) were his words from oil,
but they (were) open (sword)s.”

My translation distorts somewhat the meter of these lines, which in the Hebrew are a pair of metrically similar 3+2 couplets (following the pattern of this section). The two couplets also exhibit similar antithetical parallelism, contrasting the smooth words (i.e., friendly and alluring) of this person with the hostile and wicked intention of his heart.

Grammatically, the preposition /m! (“from”) is used, in the first line of each couplet, in a comparative sense; in English idiom, the lines would properly read:

“Smoother than cream were (the words of) his mouth

(indeed) softer than oil were his words…”

The same sort of military imagery is used here (including the noun br*q=, “approach, encounter”), as in v. 19 [18] (cf. above). Probably this imagery is figurative, used in a general sense for the ‘attacks’ of the wicked; however, the royal background of many Psalms also allows for the possibility that an actual political-military rebellion is involved (i.e., against the king).

Verse 23 [22]

“Throw upon YHWH that given (to) you,
and He will hold you (up);
He will not give, (even) into (the) distant (future),
(any) shaking for the righteous.”

The sudden inclusion of a proverbial exhortation here in v. 23 may seem peculiar, but it is important to remember that the Psalms have been influenced considerably by Wisdom traditions. Besides this, in a good many Psalms, the closing verses show signs of adaptation to a communal worship setting, a likely indication that an original composition has been adapted for use in public worship.

The two couplets are parallel, with the first line of each playing on the concept of giving—using the different (but conceptually related) roots bhy and /tn. The noun bh*y+ literally means “something given”, but here the implication is that it refers to something placed upon a person as a burden. The exhortation is to “throw” this burden onto YHWH, and he will hold it for you (meaning also that he will hold you up, i.e., sustain/support you, in the process).

This idea of firm support is expressed in the second couplet in a negative sense, as a lack of any shaking (fom, i.e., slipping, faltering). Not only does YHWH support the righteous, but He also will not do (lit. will not give [vb /t^n`]) anything that will cause the righteous to slip and fall.

For a different way of reading these lines in detail, cf. the discussion in Dahood, II, pp. 37-8.

Verse 24 [23]

“But you, O Mightiest, will bring them down
to (the) Pit of destruction,
(these) men of blood and deceit!
They will not reach half their days,
while I find protection in you!”

Verse 23 [22] is best viewed as an parenthetical aside, if not an editorial insertion (cf. above); verse 24 [23] properly continues the thought from v. 22 [21]. The Psalmist expects that, in answering his prayer, YHWH will bring judgment upon his enemies (the wicked), including the friend who betrayed him. This judgment entails an untimely death, as is clear from the directional verb dr^y` (in the Hiphil, “bring down“) and the expression “pit of destruction” (tj^v^ ra@B=, cf. Psalm 7:16; 9:16; 16:10; 30:10; 35:7; 49:10).

This verse has a complex (and dramatic) poetic structure. It begins with a triad (3+2+3 meter), perhaps best viewed as a 3-beat (3+3) couplet expanded with an intervening 2-beat line (for dramatic effect). The intervening line consists of the terse expression “pit of destruction”, qualifying what it means for YHWH to “bring down” the wicked (i.e., where it is that He brings them). The syntax is clear from the surrounding couplet:

“But you, O Mightiest, will bring them down
…..
(these) men of blood and deceit!”

The pairing of blood (i.e., violence) and deceit is a typical characterization of the wicked, and provides a neat summary of their wicked behavior. The plural <ym!d* (lit. “bloods”) is used for acts of violence, even when there is no actual shedding of blood. For the interpretation of <ym!d* here as a reference to images (idols), derived from the root hm*D* I (“be like”), cf. Dahood, II, p. 39 (and I, pp. 31f).

The Psalm concludes with a short 2-beat (2+2) couplet, contrasting the fate of the wicked and the righteous. The wicked will meet with an untimely death, expressed by the idea of reaching only half (vb hx*j*) of their days. This should not be read in an overly concrete sense, as if it were limited to a shortened life-span here on earth; it can also be understood in terms of missing out on a blessed afterlife (with God), doomed simply to dwell in the realm of the dead. By contrast, the righteous finds protection (vb jf^B*, used frequently in the Psalms) in YHWH, and so has his/her life preserved and kept safe, even into the Age to Come (i.e. the blessed afterlife).

References marked “Dahood, I” and “Dahood, II” above are to, respectively, Mitchell Dahood, S.J., Psalms I: 1-50, Anchor Bible [AB] vol. 16 (1965), and Psalms II: 51-100, vol. 17 (1968).
Those marked “Kraus” are to Hans-Joachim Kraus, Psalmen, 1. Teilband, Psalmen 1-59, 5th ed., Biblischer Kommentar series (Neukirchener Verlag: 1978); English translation in Psalms 1-59, A Continental Commentary (Fortress Press: 1993).

Saturday Series: Galatians 1:6-10

Exordium (Galatians 1:6-10)

Last week, we began our rhetorical-critical study on Galatians, starting with the opening (epistolary prescript) of the letter (1:1-5). We saw how Paul’s rhetorical purpose resulted in the adaptation of the traditional opening (even as realized in the majority of Paul’s letters). Both the superscription and the greeting (salutatio) were expanded to include thematic elements that will become important for the rest of the letter—namely, (1) the legitimacy of Paul’s status as an apostle, and (2) an emphasis on the Gospel message (kerygma) proclaimed by Paul (as an apostle). Today we will move on to the start of the body of the letter proper, the introduction or exordium (to use the classical rhetorical term).

This opening section of a speech (or letter) can also be referred to as a proeemium or principium. From the standpoint of classic Greco-Roman rhetoric, the exordium is treated, for example, by Aristotle (Rhetoric 1.1.9; 3.14.1ff), Cicero (De inventione 1.4.6-7.11), and Quintilian (4.1.1-79); see Betz, p. 44. The exordium can serve a number of different purposes for the speaker/author. The author (in the case of a letter) can state his/her reason for writing (causa), introduce the subject to be addressed, present the facts of the case, and/or prepare the audience so that they are more likely to be receptive and respond favorably to the message.

For the exordium of Galatians (1:6-10), Paul has several key purposes or themes which he wishes to introduce. One may divide the exordium into three parts. In the first of these (vv. 6-7), Paul gives the reason for writing to the Galatians; in Latin rhetorical terminology, this is the causa (or cause) for his writing.

“I wonder that so quickly you (would) set yourselves away from the (one hav)ing called you in (the) favor [of the Anointed], (and) to a different good message, (for) which there would not be another, if (it were) not (that) there are some (people) troubling you and wishing to turn away [i.e. distort] the good message of (the) Anointed.”

Paul’s approach here is indirect, in that he does not adopt a standard direct and straightforward opening (principium), but takes a ‘subtler’ and more creative approach, using a method called insinuatio. This approach tends to be used when the audience has (already) been won over by the arguments of the author’s opponent(s) (see Betz, p. 45). Note the present tense verbs in vv. 6-7, indicating that the influence of Paul’s opponents on the Galatians is something current and ongoing.

The forcefulness of Paul’s language is also an indication of the urgency of the situation. He begins, “I wonder/marvel [thaumázœ] that…”, a deliberative rhetorical technique that draws attention to the course of action being taken (or about to be taken) by his audience; similarly, his use of the adverb tachéœs (“[so] soon/quickly”). It is a device of ‘indignant rebuttal’, implicitly attacking the things said and done by the opposition side. On the rhetorical use of the verb thaumázœ in this regard, see Betz, p. 47.

Note the two parallel verbs in vv. 6-7:

    • metatíth¢mi (“set [something] after”, i.e. change the place of)—metatíthesthe “you have moved (yourselves) away from [apó]”
        • The transfer is away from the one calling the Galatians to faith and salvation, i.e. God (but in a secondary sense, also Paul as apostle), and toward (“unto”, eis) “another Gospel” (héteron euangélion)
    • metastréphœ (“turn after/across”, i.e. turn to a different place or condition)
        • Paul’s opponents (the ones “troubling” [tarássontes] the Galatians) wish “to change/pervert/distort” [metastrépsai] “the Gospel of Christ” [to euangélion toú Christoú]

As Betz notes (p. 47), much of this vocabulary reflects a partisan political context—being applied to a religious setting. Paul immediately establishes two sides, tied to a particular view of the “good message” (Gospel) proclaimed by the early Christians. On one side, we have the Gospel as proclaimed by Paul (and his fellow missionaries), and, on the other side, the version of the Gospel held by his opponents (yet to be introduced in the letter).

This sense of conflict relates to the two rhetorical themes introduced by Paul in the opening (epistolary prescript) of the letter (vv. 1-5, see above). We have: (1) the essence of the Gospel message, and (2) the legitimacy of Paul as an apostle proclaiming this message. His primary focus is on the first point—the essence and truth of the Gospel. This is why he speaks of a “different” (héteros) or “another” (állos) Gospel—that is, a version of it different from the one he has proclaimed to the Galatians. It is not clear, at this point in the letter, what this “difference” entails, only that the matter is most serious, in his mind. This explains the forcefulness of the language here in the causa, but also the introduction of the curse-formula that follows in vv. 8-9 (see below).

The second theme is also present: the legitimacy of Paul as an apostle. The expression “the (one) having called you” (ho kalésantos hymás) is ambiguous. It is best understood in terms of God the Father as the One who calls believers to faith in Christ (“in the favor [i.e. grace] of Christ”); however, it could also refer, in a subordinate sense, to Paul as the one who calls them through his proclamation of the Gospel. Almost certainly, Paul has both levels of meaning in mind.

Paul cleverly disparages the view of the Gospel held by his opponents, in verse 7, by emphasizing that there really cannot be a different Gospel—i.e., there is only one Gospel, and by implication it corresponds with Paul’s version of the Gospel. Indeed, he goes on to say that he would not even bother to speak of “another” Gospel, were it not for the fact that there have been some (tinés) people “troubling” (vb. tarássœ) the Galatian believers with their claims and teachings. Paul states that these ‘other’ people actually wish to the distort/pervert (vb metastréphœ, see above) the truth of the Gospel. Certainly, Paul’s opponents would not see the matter this way, and would claim just the opposite, attributing any distortion of the Gospel to Paul.

The seriousness with which Paul views the matter is indicated by the double curse (anathema) he gives in verses 8-9. It is not uncommon for classical orators to make use of threats as a means of persuading their audience, nor is the use of curses in a speech (or letter) unknown. However, typically, any curse formula would appear at a later point, toward the end of the speech or letter—a portion referred to as peroratio. It is unusual to include a curse formula as part of the introduction, as Paul does here. Rhetoricians tend to view threats or curses as something that should be used only as a last resort, when other means of persuasion do not seem likely to succeed (see Betz, p. 46). Paul’s use of it here illustrates two pertinent facts: (1) that his opponents have been successful, to some measure, in persuading the Galatians; and (2) it shows the seriousness and urgency with which Paul views the matter. It was most serious, indeed, for a missionary or leading figure in the Church to proclaim a “different” Gospel:

“But, even if we, or a Messenger out of heaven, should proclaim as (the) good message [to you] (something) alongside of [pará] the good message which we proclaimed to you, may he be set up (as cursed)! As we have said before, even now again I say: if anyone proclaims as (the) good message to you (something) alongside that which which you received along (from us), may he be set up (as cursed)!”

Implied within the curse is an affirmation of Paul’s own apostolic authority—this will be the main focus of the narration section (narratio) that follows in vv. 11ff. Paul’s position and authority as an apostle (representative of Christ) is also indicated in verse 10, which serves as the transitus, or transition, between the exordium and the narratio. This transitional declaration is also important for a proper understanding of Paul’s application of rhetorical techniques in his letters:

“For do I now persuade men or God? Or do I seek to please men? If I would yet please men, a slave of the Anointed (One) I would not be.”

Paul seems to deny that he is trying to persuade (vb peíthœ) people, and yet clearly that is what is is doing in his letter. The point is, however, not that he makes no use of persuasive (rhetorical) techniques, but that he does not rely upon them to convey the truth of his message. Nor does he seek to “persuade God,” an idea which he perhaps includes here because of the curse-formula in vv. 8-9. God is not to be swayed or persuaded by quasi-magical means. More critical is Paul’s final point in verse 10: that he is not writing to please men. His duty, as an apostle, is to proclaim the Gospel; to this end, he is effectively a “slave” (doúlos) of Christ.

This statement leads to the question of Paul’s apostleship—and the relation of his apostolic authority to the truth of the Gospel message that he proclaims. It is this theme which comes more firmly into focus in the next section of the letter (the narratio, 1:11-2:14), which we will examine in next week’s study.

References above marked “Betz” are to Hans Dieter Betz, A Commentary on Paul’s Letter to the Churches in Galatia, ed. by Helmut Koester, Hermeneia Commentary series (Fortress Press: 1979).

Sola Scriptura: Mark 12:35-37 par

Sola Scriptura

Jesus’ View of the Authority of Scripture: The Prophets

In our brief study on Jesus’ view of the authority of the (Old Testament) Scriptures, we are following the two-fold categorization of the Scriptures in terms of “the Law and the Prophets”, with the Psalms being included in the second category. The previous study focused on the Law (Torah/Pentateuch), now we turn to consider the Prophets (Isaiah-Malachi, and the Psalms).

For early Christians, the authority of the Prophets (as Scripture) lay primarily in their relation to Messianic expectation. That is to say, the emphasis was on those passages (in the Prophets and Psalms) which were understood as prophesying the coming of the Messiah—the term (“Anointed [One]”) encompassing a number of different Messianic figure-types. These figure-types are discussed at length in the series “Yeshua the Anointed”, each type identified as being fulfilled by Jesus; the main figure-type is the Davidic Ruler type (Parts 6-8), but there were also several Messianic Prophet figures (Parts 2-3), a heavenly Deliverer figure (Part 10), and possibly others. The Messianic interpretation of key passages in the Prophetic books builds upon Old Testament and Jewish tradition, being applied to the person of Jesus by early Christians. However, there is also evidence from within the Gospels (and the Gospel Tradition) that this Messianic application was begun by Jesus himself. A number of sayings by Jesus in the Gospels cite or reference the Prophets (incl. the Psalms) in terms of a Messianic self-identification.

The most difficult aspect of the identification of Jesus as the Messiah, for early Christians, was the fact of his suffering and death, which did not in any way square with Messianic expectations in the first centuries B.C./A.D. Christians were forced to confront this difficulty, and to find Scripture passages—spec. Messianic prophecies—which could be understood as predicting the suffering and death of Jesus. Indeed, this tends to be the focus of the references to the Prophets in the Gospels, going back to the sayings of Jesus. It is notable that a number of these references to the Prophets (as Scripture) occur in the context of Jesus’ Passion. The key Synoptic references in this regard are Mark 14:49 and Matt 26:54-56 (cf. also Luke 22:37), in which Jesus clearly indicates that his suffering and death (beginning with his arrest) were prophesied in the Scriptures. There are similar references in the Johannine tradition (Jn 13:18; 17:12; cf. also 19:24, 28, 36-37).

The Gospel of Luke presents most clearly this aspect of prophetic fulfillment, as rooted in the words of Jesus himself. This theme is introduced at the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry (4:21), and again toward the end of his public ministry—in the Lukan version of the third Passion-prediction by Jesus (18:31):

“See, we (are about to) step up to Yerushalaim, and all the (thing)s having been written through the Foretellers [i.e. Prophets] will be completed for the Son of Man…”

This Lukan theme comes even more clearly into view at the close of the Gospel, following the resurrection of Jesus, as Jesus begins to instruct his disciples that all of things that took place (spec. his suffering and death) were prophesied beforehand in the Scriptures (24:25, 27, 32, 44-45). This becomes an important aspect of the Lukan narrative of the early Christian mission in the book of Acts (1:16; 3:18ff; 8:28ff; 13:27; 17:2; 18:28, etc).

We do not know for certain which Prophetic Scripture passages Jesus pointed out for his disciples, but I present a survey of possible candidates in the earlier article “He opened to us the Scriptures”. Several of these references from the Prophets and Psalms are specifically emphasized elsewhere in the New Testament and early Christian tradition (see, for example, the use of Isa 52:13-53:12 in Acts 8:28ff).

Mark 12:35-37 / Matt 22:41-46 / Luke 20:41-44

An interesting example of Jesus citing the Prophets (here, the Psalms) occurs in Mark 12:35-37 par. On purely objective grounds, the authenticity of this tradition is accepted by virtually all commentators, though some may debate to what extent Jesus, at the historical level, is referencing the passage as a Messianic prophecy per se.

In this Synoptic episode (set during Passion week in Jerusalem), Jesus himself raises a question regarding the relationship between the “Anointed (One)” and the “Son of David”, based on an exposition of Psalm 110:1. The precise meaning and intent of Jesus’ argument continues to be debated by commentators. Only traces survive of the historical setting—it appears to be part of a scholarly discussion between Jesus and certain authorities on Scripture (Scribes/Pharisees), a context that is best preserved in Matthew’s account (Matt 22:41-43ff) which records at least part of an exchange. In Mark and Luke, this is framed as a pair of (rhetorical) questions by Jesus:

    • Question 1: How do they count/consider the Anointed (One) to be the son of David? (Lk 20:41)
    • Question 2: (But) David calls him “Lord” and how is he (then) his son? (Lk 20:44)

The second question is based on the common-place idea that the son would call his father “Lord” (“Master, Sir”), not the other way around. The first question assumes that the “Anointed (One)” —here the future Anointed King/Ruler—would be a descendant of David, which is attested in Jewish writings of the period, as well as in the New Testament (cf. the Parts 68 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”). The identification is derived from Scriptures such as 2 Sam 7:11-16; Psalm 132:10-12, etc. It is in this context that Jesus cites another Scripture—Psalm 110:1 (Lk 20:42-43 par), and the way he uses it would indicate that it was commonly understood in a Messianic sense; however, there does not appear to be any other surviving evidence for such an interpretation in Judaism at the time of Jesus.

As in the case of the Torah, the authority of the Prophets (here, the Psalms) is realized for believers, in the teaching of Jesus, through his interpretation. The meaning of the text itself can be debated (which the very point of the scholarly discussion in this episode), and so an authoritative interpretation is required. Indeed, in this instance, Jesus plays on a certain difficulty and ambiguity in the text of Psalm 110:1, which may be summarized as follows.

Central to the episode is Jesus’ citation of Psalm 110:1, which in the Greek version (LXX) begins:

ei@pen o( ku/rio$ tw=| kuri/w|
eípen ho kúrios tœ kuríœ
“The Lord said to my Lord…”

The dual use of ku/rio$ (“lord”) at first glance is confusing, and is due to specific circumstances surrounding the recitation (and translation) of the Divine Name hwhy (YHWH, Yahweh). The original Hebrew reads,

yn]d)al^ hw`hy+ <a%n+
n®°¥m YHWH la°dœnî
“Utterance of YHWH to my Lord:…”

Early on in Jewish tradition, the Tetragrammaton hwhy (YHWH) was replaced with “(my) Lord” (ynda) when the text was recited; this, in turn, generally led to the common practice of translating hwhy with Ku/rio$ (“Lord”) in Greek, and to the double-use of ku/rio$ in LXX Psalm 110:1. A similar wordplay could be attested for Aramaic—ya!r=m*l= ar@m* rm^a& °¦mar m¹r¢° l®m¹r°î .

In the original context of the Psalm, the Lord (YHWH) speaks to “my Lord” (the king). Most scholars would hold that the setting (as in Psalm 2) involves the enthronement or inauguration of the (new) king, a time at which nobles and vassals might choose to rebel or to gain power and independence for themselves (Ps 2:1-3; 110:1). God gives to the king assurance of His protection and support, including victory over all enemies, i.e. the surrounding nations (Ps 2:4-11; 110:2-3, 5-7). Much like Psalm 2, this Psalm refers to the king in exalted, ‘divine’ language, very much in keeping with ancient (Near Eastern) ideas of kingship.

I would divide the Psalm as follows:

    • Declaration (utterance/oracle) of YHWH— “Sit at my right-hand…” (verse 1)
      • Promise by YHWH of (divine) power/victory over the king’s enemies (verses 2-3)
    • Declaration (oath) of YHWH— “You are a priest…” (verse 4)
      • Promise of the king’s power/victory over the peoples, in terms of YHWH’s judgment against the nations (verses 5-6)
    • Concluding declaration of YHWH’s establishment of the king’s rule (verse 7)

It should be noted that much of the vocabulary and syntax of this Psalm remains obscure, with verses 4 and 7 being especially difficult to interpret.

Psalm 2 was interpreted and applied to the coming/future Anointed King (from the line of David) in a number of Jewish writings of the period (such as the 17th Psalm of Solomon). However, apart from its use in the New Testament, there is little evidence for a similar Messianic interpretation of Psalm 110 at the time of Jesus. In one text from Qumran (11QMelch [11Q13]), Melchizedek (Ps 110:4) appears as a Divine/Heavenly figure who functions as Judge against the wicked (Belial), but this scenario (col ii, lines 9-13) is derived from Psalm 82:1-2 rather than 110:1. His appearance (as Judge and Deliverer) is also connected with the Anointed One of Daniel 9:25 and the Messenger of Isa 52:7 who brings the good news of salvation (col ii, lines 15-25). A similar paradigm may underlie the “Elect/Righteous One” and “Son of Man” figure in the Similitudes of Enoch (1 Enoch 37-71), which many scholars hold to be roughly contemporary with Jesus and the early New Testament writings.

In any case, Jesus cites Psalm 110:1 as though a Messianic interpretation were understood, but he shifts the meaning of “Anointed One” (o( xristo/$, Christ/Messiah) away from the royal Davidic figure-type and toward a different reference point—a Divine/Heavenly figure, closer, perhaps, to the “Son of Man” of 1 Enoch and Jesus’ own sayings (cf. Mark 8:38; 13:26; 14:62 pars; Luke 12:8, 40; 17:22, 24, 26, 30; 18:8, and pars in Matthew; also John 1:51; 3:13; 5:27; 6:62). Certainly, it was understood this way in early Christian tradition, associated specifically with the resurrection and exaltation of Jesus to the right hand of God in Acts 2:34-36 (cf. also Mark 16:19; Acts 2:33; 5:31; 7:55-56; Rom 8:34; Col 3:1; 1 Pet 3:22, etc). In the Synoptic saying of Jesus in Mark 14:62 par, he identifies himself (as “the Son of Man”) who will appear at the right hand of God, in connection with the coming/end-time Judgment (Mk 13:26 par). Thus Jesus may be identifying himself with a pre-existent Heavenly/Divine figure akin to that in 1 Enoch 37-71. In Hebrews 1:13, Psalm 110:1 is cited in the context of belief in the pre-existent deity of Jesus, though in Heb 5:6 an association with the resurrection (and exaltation) seems to be more in mind.

In my view, Jesus uses Psalm 110:1 as a clever way to shift the meaning of “the Anointed (One)” from the Davidic King figure-type over to a different reference point—that of a coming Divine/Heavenly figure, generally referred to elsewhere by Jesus as “the Son of Man” (from Daniel 7:13).

Another important instance where Jesus cites from the Prophets (spec. the Psalms), treating and an implicit Messianic prophecy, which he applies to himself, is his quotation of Psalm 118:21-22 in Matt 21:42 par, part of the Synoptic episode (also set in the context of Jesus’ Passion) in Mark 12:1-12 par. For the use of Psalm 118 in the Gospel Tradition, cf. the discussion in my earlier article (spec. on Psalm 118:26).

Notes on Prayer: 1 Corinthians 14:13-15

1 Corinthians 14:13-15

“Therefore, the (one) speaking in a tongue must speak out toward (God) (so) that one might explain (it) thoroughly. [For] if I speak out toward (God) in a tongue, my spirit is speaking out toward (God), but my mind is without fruit. What is it then? I will (indeed) speak out toward (God) in (the) spirit, but also with (the) mind; I make music with (the) spirit, but I also make music with (the) mind.”

In the previous study, we saw the importance of prayer within the congregational worship. Public (spoken) prayer was treated by Paul in 1 Cor 11 along with prophecy—that is, a gifted person who communicates the word and will of God to the congregation. In this context, both prayer and prophecy were special gifts of the Spirit, and the speaker should be understood as one speaking under the inspiration of the Spirit. As a spiritual gift, prayer and prophecy were available to both men and women (so long as they were genuinely gifted). Paul affirms the ability of a woman to fulfill this role in the congregational worship, so long as a certain gender-distinction was maintained (symbolized by the use of a head/hair covering).

Paul’s main concern was that everything in the congregational worship be done in an orderly manner, so as to avoid divisiveness and disunity within the congregation. He has the same goal in mind when addressing the congregational worship in chapter 14.

Paul discussed the matter of different spiritual gifts in chapter 12 (vv. 1-11), maintaining as the principal point, that the different gifts (and the individual use/expression of them) must serve the unity of the congregation—i.e., the illustration of different members comprising a single body (vv. 12-31). The single body (of Christ) is parallel to the idea that a single Spirit (of God and Christ) works through all of the different gifts (vv. 4-11).

Along with the Spirit, the unifying bond among the congregation is that of love (chap. 13). All of the gifts which individuals may use within the congregation are subservient to the principle of love.

It is in this context that Paul addresses the spiritual gifts again in chapter 14, focusing on the same two phenomena within the congregational worship that he discussed in chapter 11 (cf. above and in the previous study): prayer and prophecy. With regard to prayer, Paul deals with the specific phenomena of praying (lit. “speaking out toward [God],” vb proseu/xomai) “in a tongue” (glw/ssh|). This raises the longstanding question regarding the early Christian phenomenon of “speaking in tongues”.

In the book of Acts, the coming of the Spirit upon believers frequently results in their “speaking in tongues”. The principal episode in the Pentecost event (2:3-4ff), where it is clear that the “tongues” are actual foreign languages (v. 11). This is tied to the central theme of the book of Acts: the proclamation of the Gospel out into the surrounding nations (1:8, etc). The speaking in foreign languages symbolizes the early Christian mission and illustrates the empowerment of believers (by the Holy Spirit) for this task. The same phenomenon (apparently) is mentioned in three other narratives, with the “speaking in tongues” occurring in the same manner, following the coming of the Spirit, usually after the laying on of hands by an apostle (19:6, cf. also 8:17-18), though on one occasion (10:46) the Spirit comes upon believers prior to baptism (and the laying on of hands).

Elsewhere in the New Testament, ‘speaking in tongues’ is mentioned only in 1 Corinthians, where it seems to have a somewhat different meaning—as a specific gift possessed by only certain believers. Also, Paul’s language strongly suggests that the gift involves a special (heavenly) prayer-language, rather than an actual foreign language. It is, however, a strange/foreign tongue that other people would not normally be able to understand. That is why Paul mentions both the gift of speaking in tongues and a separate gift of interpreting such speech (12:10, 28, 30).

If we read between the lines in chaps. 12-14, it would seem that some believers at Corinth were particularly enamored with the gift of tongues, and Paul carefully (and gently) seeks to dissuade them of this. Chapter 13, which emphasizes the subordination of the spiritual gifts to the principle of love within the congregation, begins the point of contrast, notably, with the gift of tongues (vv. 1, 8). Moreover, in chapter 14, Paul is quick to point out the superiority of prophecy over the gift of tongues. The reason for this is, among other things, the practical reality that many people simply will not understand something spoken in tongues, compared with a prophetic message in the hearers own language (vv. 1-5ff).

Paul’s specific instruction in vv. 13-15 involves speaking in tongues. The implication is that the gift of tongues is a gift for prayer, a kind of heavenly ‘prayer-language’ that one uses in speaking to God (vb proseu/xomai). Paul warns against using this prayer-language in public, in the congregational worship, unless there is someone who is able to interpret (explain, vb diermhneu/w) the words. One suspects that some in Corinth were doing precisely what Paul warns against—that they were eagerly speaking in tongues (praying) in public, without anyone interpreting.

As mentioned above, the ‘gift of tongues’ seems to relate to a special prayer-language, that one utters, speaking to God in an inspired state, speaking with one’s spirit. The Spirit touches the believer’s own spirit, inspiring (gifting) it to be able to pray to God in a kind of Spirit-language. This is almost certainly what Paul is referring to in Rom 8:26-27. In any case, he clearly states here in v. 14 that, when one prays “in a tongue”, it is with the spirit, and not the mind, that one prays. That is to say, it is not prayer made in ordinary, intelligible language, but rather a special kind of prayer. Paul emphasizes, however, that it is also important to pray “with the mind” (tw=| noi+/), especially when prayer is made in the congregation, so that all people can understand. One ought not to pray in tongues in the congregation without an interpreter.

Paul himself prayed in tongues (as he states in v. 18), but his instruction in verse 19 comes right to the point:

“But in the e)kklhsi/a I wish to speak five words with my mind [i.e. in normal intelligible language], (so) that also others I might teach, rather than a multitude of words in a tongue.”

The term e)kklhsi/a here retains the basic denotation of a public gathering to which the people have been “called out” (vb e)kkale/w) to attend. In this context, of course, it refers to the congregational worship meeting.

Paul’s main concern, again, is that the congregational worship proceeds in an orderly way that will benefit all of the people who attend. This reflects the principal theme in 1 Corinthians, of the need to preserve unity among believers, and to avoid anything that might cause division. His advice regarding speaking/praying in tongues in eminently practical in this regard. He would not wish to deny the use of tongues in the worship, but only sets the requirement that they should not be used unless someone is present who can interpret the language. That point is made again in verse 28, along with the directive that only two or three people at the meeting should speak in tongues, and that they must proceed in turn, in an orderly manner.

In next week’s study, we will turn to Paul’s references to prayer in 2 Corinthians.

Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 55 (Part 2)

Psalm 55, continued

Here is a reminder of the three-part structure of this Psalm:

The first section (the lament) was discussed in the previous study (Part 1); here we turn to the second section, in which the Psalmist prays to YHWH, asking God to act on his behalf.

There is an interesting dramatic structure to this section. The prayer takes the form of an imprecation, in which the Psalmist would bring a curse down on his enemies. The imprecation frames the section in vv. 10-12, 16; however, in vv. 13-15 the protagonist focuses on a specific enemy, addressing him directly, as a supposed friend who has betrayed him.

VERSES 10-16 [9-15]

Verse 10 [9]

“Confuse (them), my Lord,
bring division to their tongue;
for I have seen (much) violence
and strife in the (great) city.”

The Masoretic text as it stands suggests a pair of 2-beat (2+2) couplets. Each line of the first couplet begins with an imperative, by which the Psalmist calls on YHWH to act. In the second line it is gL^P^, from the root glp (“split, divide”); in which case, the matching imperative uL^B^ in the first line would have to derive from a second root ulb II, meaning “confuse, confound,” rather than ulb I (“swallow”). This second root is similar in meaning to llb, which which it would be related. If the MT is correct, then we would seem to have here a poetic allusion to the Tower of Babel tradition; and the Psalmist’s prayer-curse calls upon YHWH to repeat his action in the Babel episode (Gen 11:7ff).

Dahood (II, p. 33) takes a different approach, reading glp as the noun gl#P# (“split, division”), and as the object of the line (reading the first two lines of the verse as a single 4-beat line):

“Swallow [i.e. destroy], O Lord, (the) split of their tongue [i.e. their forked tongue]”

Kraus (p. 519) finds an even more serious problem with the MT and adopts a more radical emendation of the text. The city motif that is developed in vv. 11-12 tends to support the MT, with its apparent allusion to the Babel scene—Babel (= Babylon) being symbolic of the wicked city, as we see elsewhere in Old Testament tradition (and cf. Rev 14:8; 16:19; 17:5; 18:2, 10, 21).

Verses 11-12 [10-11]

“Day and night they go around her,
upon her walls (are) both trouble and toil;
in (the) midst of her (evil)s befall,
in (the) midst of her it never departs,
in her wide street, oppression and deceit!”

A 3-beat (3+3) couplet is followed by a slightly irregular 2-beat tricolon. These lines pick up from verse 10, and presumably the subject of the first line (“they go around her”) is the pair of “violence [sm*j*] and strife [byr!]” from v. 10. They “go around” (vb bb^s*) the city, functioning as watchmen; and they are joined by the pair of “trouble [/w#a*] and toil [lm*u*]” who stand guard on the walls. Thus the wicked city is governed and patrolled by wickedness.

Adding to this image of the wicked city is the double emphasis that great evils are in the midst of her, and that they never depart (vb vWm). The plural noun toWh^ is derived from the verb hw`h* I, and refers to some evil or calamity that falls upon (befalls) a person; I have translated the plural noun here with intensive verbal force. The expression “her wide/broad (street)” is generally synonymous with “in the midst of her” —we should understand a central square or main street. Both oppression (implying violence) and deceit—two fundamental characteristics of the wicked—are present, and especially active, in the heart of the wicked city.

Verse 13 [12]

“For (it was) not a hostile (one)
(who) brought on me (the) scorn that I bear,
nor (was it one) hating me
(who) brought great (slander) on me,
that I should hide myself from him.”

Both the meter and structure of this verse are difficult and problematic. However, the first four lines clearly form a pair of parallel couplets (with loose/uneven 2-beat meter). This specific opponent of the Psalmist is identified as neither a “hostile (one)” (vb by~a*) nor “(one) hating” (vb an@v*) him—that is to say, he was not obviously or openly an enemy.

The second line of each couplet is rather difficult. In the first couplet, the difficulty is syntactical, with the MT reading “he reproached me and I bore (it)”. However, the relationship with the first line indicates that the phrase should be translated as a relative clause: “…who reproached me and I bore (it)”. The poetic sense of this line is improved if we treat the w-conjunction on the second verb like a relative particle (cf. Dahood, II, p. 34): “…who brought the scorn on me that I bear”.

In the second line of the second couplet, the difficulty lies in the specific meaning of the verb ld^G` (Hiphil stem, “make grow, make great”) in context. Literally, the phrase would be “he made great over me” (or possibly, “he grew over me”). However, as in the first couplet, this second line also should be read as a relative clause, with a wicked act implied (such as slandering someone), i.e. “…who brought great (slander) over me”.

The final line (“that I should hide myself from him”), as a coda to the two couplets, relates to the idea that this person was not an obvious enemy (at first) to the Psalmist, implying that we was a friend of sorts, so that the Psalmist would not have felt the need to protect himself from this person.

Verses 14-15 [13-14]

“But (it was) you, a man of my (own) order,
my companion and (one) being known by me,
(so) that as one we had sweet intimacy,
in (the) house of (the) Mightiest,
we walked in (the) surging (crowd).”

Verses 14-15 make clear what was implied in v. 13—viz., that this enemy was a man previously considered by the Psalmist to be a friend. He was of the same social rank (lit. “order,” Er#u@) as the Psalmist, both a companion ([WLa^) and someone well-known to him.

The second couplet, expanded into a tricolon, indicates that the Psalmist and this man had some measure of intimacy in their friendship. The noun dos connotes intimate conversation, and the verb qt^m* refers to the fact that the two men had a number of “sweet” moments together. These moments are specifically located in the “house of God”, which suggests the occasion of religious festivals. If the Psalm preserves a royal background, they it could also refer to the king and his court (with his loyal vassals) attending religious festivities in the Temple. The motif in the final line, of walking together in a crowd, certainly suggests a festival and/or ritual occasion.

Verse 16 [15]

“May death take over them,
may they go down (to) Sheol living!
For evils (are) in their dwelling-places.”

Having addressed the friend who betrayed him, the Psalmist returns to the imprecation, asking God to bring a curse (of death) down upon his enemies. This imprecatory language naturally makes Christians and modern readers uncomfortable, but it was very much part of the ancient Near Eastern tradition, and many examples can be found in the Old Testament. This section allows Psalm 55 to be counted among the imprecatory Psalms.

Most commentators (correctly) follow the Qere, parsing the first word of the MT (Kethib) as two words: tw#m* yV!y~. Dahood (II, p. 34) would derive the verb form yV!y~ from the rare root hvy, otherwise attested (only) in the noun hY`v!WT (Job 12:16, etc); the basic denotation would seem to something like “advance, succeed”. The verb used together with the preposition lu^ could fairly be rendered “take over” (overtake): “May death [tw#m*] take over them”. Parallel with death is loav= (Sheol), the realm of the dead. To be taken alive into Sheol would be an especially stunning and miraculous form of death, only to be achieved through the power of God. Here, however, it is probably simply an exaggeration, as befits the curse-formula.

The final line hearkens back to the “wicked city” motif in vv. 10-12 (cf. above). Great evils (plur. tour*), passing through the wicked city, find lodgings in it. They are temporary lodgings—indicated by the noun rWgm*, derived from the root rWg, typically denoting a stranger who comes to live/reside within a population. Evil will only dwell in the city for a short time, since the wicked population will soon face death (viz., the Psalmist’s curse). That the wicked of the city would give lodgings to Evil is altogether proof of their wickedness.

References marked “Dahood, I” and “Dahood, II” above are to, respectively, Mitchell Dahood, S.J., Psalms I: 1-50, Anchor Bible [AB] vol. 16 (1965), and Psalms II: 51-100, vol. 17 (1968).
Those marked “Kraus” are to Hans-Joachim Kraus, Psalmen, 1. Teilband, Psalmen 1-59, 5th ed., Biblischer Kommentar series (Neukirchener Verlag: 1978); English translation in Psalms 1-59, A Continental Commentary (Fortress Press: 1993).

Saturday Series: Galatians 1:1-5

The Saturday Series studies this Fall will focus on the area of Rhetorical Criticism, a specialized field of Biblical Criticism, in which a Scripture passage (or book) is examined from the standpoint of rhetorical analysis—that is, a study of how the message is communicated by word (spoken or written), particularly the art of persuasion and the techniques and arguments used.

Rhetorical Criticism is a relatively new field of Biblical Criticism, introduced and applied primarily to the New Testament Scriptures, in light of Classical Greco-Roman rhetoric. To be sure, rhetorical analysis can be applied to any book or passage, but for the most part it has been the reserve of New Testament scholars, and its application has yielded many valuable insights.

In particular, study of the New Testament letters—and especially the letters of Paul—has benefited greatly from application of rhetorical analysis, as part of an examination of the epistolary form and techniques used by the author. Rhetoric is perhaps more commonly understood in terms of oral speech, but many of the techniques relate nearly as well to literary communication of a message, especially when presented in an epistle or letter.

As a way of introducing the methods and techniques of rhetorical criticism, we will take an inductive approach, working from Paul’s letter to the Galatians, which happens to possess one of the clearest rhetorical structures of any New Testament book. Paul is trying to communicate a very particular (and important) message in this letter, and he effectively uses a number of rhetorical techniques to achieve his goal. Despite the self-effacing tone Paul adopts at times (e.g., 2 Cor 11:6), he was quite well-versed and adept in classical rhetorical techniques, and did not hesitate to apply them in an effort to persuade his audience (his protestation in 1 Cor 1:17; 2:1ff notwithstanding).

Epistolary Prescript (Galatians 1:1-5)

The technical term for the opening of the letter (here 1:1-5) is the epistolary prescript. The openings of Paul’s letters tend to follow the standard framework of Greco-Roman letters, though not infrequently he adapts this in small but important ways. In the case of Galatians, the adaptations to the epistolary prescript are rhetorically charged—meaning that he includes here, in the opening of the letter, in seed-form, key lines of argument that will be developed in the following sections.

The standard elements of the prescript (opening) are: identification of the author(s) (superscriptio, vv. 1-2a), identification of the addressee(s) (adscriptio, v. 2b), and the greeting (salutatio, vv. 3-5); here the greeting includes a doxology (v. 5). Paul’s rhetorical adaptations occur in the superscriptio and salutatio (greeting, vv. 3-4). Let us look at each of these.

“Paulus, an apostolos, not from men and not through a man, but through Yeshua (the) Anointed, and God (the) Father, the (One hav)ing raised him out of (the) dead, and all the brothers with me…” (vv. 1-2a)

Paul often begins his letters by identifying himself as an apóstolos (lit. “[one] set forth”, i.e. sent forth); we typically transliterate this word in English as apostle. Occasionally he qualifies this by including an expression or short phrase, such as “called through (the) will of God” (1 Cor 1:1; cp. Rom 1:1; 2 Cor 1:1; Col 1:1). Here in Galatians, however, he has included a much more expansive insertion (in green above); this insertion can be divided into three parts:

    • “not from men and not through a man” —i.e., the source of his apostolic commission (and authority) is not human
    • “but through Yeshua (the) Anointed and God (the) Father” —i.e., identifying Jesus Christ and God the Father as the source of his commission
    • “the (One hav)ing raised him out of (the) dead” —further identifying God the Father in terms of the resurrection of Jesus

The middle element essentially echoes the phrase “called through the will of God” (see above). It is the first and third elements which relate to two key components of Paul’s rhetoric in Galatians: (1) his apostolic authority, and (2) the Gospel that he proclaims (as an apostle).

1. His Apostolic Authority. Paul as an apostle, that is, one who is set forth as a special emissary and representative (of Christ). This will be a central theme in establishing the argument of the letter—Paul’s role and authority as an apostle to the Gentiles. Note how he qualifies the term “apostle” in verse 1— “not from men and not through a man, but through Yeshua (the) Anointed and God (the) Father”. In other words, his apostolic authority comes directly from Jesus Christ and God the Father. It does not come from a human being (“from [apo] men”), nor was it established through a human intermediary (“through [dia] a man”).

There appears to have been some controversy around Paul’s identification as an apostle, since he was not an eyewitness to the resurrection of Jesus, nor was he commissioned by Jesus personally (prior to Jesus’ ascension)—see Acts 1:21-22. We can sense this tension at various points in his letters (1 Cor 4:9; 9:1ff; 15:9), and Paul’s opponents may have emphasized the illegitimacy of his apostleship (see esp. the polemic in 2 Cor 11:5ff). In Galatians Paul similarly defends his apostleship.

2. The Gospel he proclaims. Consider also how his apostleship is connected to the Gospel message here in v. 1 with the concluding formula “…the (One) raising him [i.e. Jesus] out of the dead”. The nature of the Gospel that Paul proclaims, as an apostle, is very much at issue in Galatians, since he argues throughout that the Jewish Christians who have been influencing the Galatian congregations essentially proclaim a different Gospel.

Turning to the greeting or salutation (salutatio), the standard Pauline greeting occurs in verse 3:

“Favor [i.e. grace] to you and peace from God our Father and (the) Lord Yeshua (the) Anointed”

As in verse 1, God the Father and Jesus Christ are mentioned together.

Verse 4 applies to Jesus a more extensive Gospel formula than we saw in verse 1; indeed, it functions as a kind of summary of the Gospel proclamation (kerygma):

“…the (One) giving himself over our sins, that he might take us out of the standing evil Age, according to the will of our God and Father”.

This is important, since a proper definition and understanding of the Gospel (“good message”) is likewise central to the argument of Galatians, as we will see.

These expansive insertions within the framework of the epistolary prescript are a bit unusual, and reflect the importance (and urgency) of the issue that Paul is addressing here. They anticipate the forceful rhetoric that he will use throughout the letter.

In next week’s study, we will turn to the next section of Galatians, the introduction (exordium) in 1:6-11.

Sola Scriptura: Matthew 5:17-20

Sola Scriptura

The studies this Fall in the “Reformation Fridays” series examine the Reformation principle of Sola Scriptura (“Scripture alone”). Following our introduction and a short study of the key Scripture-declaration in 2 Tim 3:15-17 (cf. the previous study), we now turn to consider Jesus’ view and treatment of the Scriptures.

The term “(sacred) Writing(s)” (grafh/, plur. grafai/) occurs 14 times in the Gospel sayings of Jesus, almost always in a context that points to the fulfillment of Scripture (prophecy) in the person of Jesus. This is also the specific emphasis where the word is used elsewhere by the Gospel writer (Luke 4:27, 32, 45; John 19:24, 28, 36-37; 20:9). Jesus’ use of the term “Writing” (i.e. Scripture), as for nearly all Jews of the period, was more or less synonymous with the expression “the Law and the Prophets” (Matt 5:17; 7:12; 11:13 [par Lk 16:16]; 22:40; Luke 24:44)—meaning the Pentateuch (Genesis–Deuteronomy) and the Prophetic books (Isaiah–Malachi), including the Psalms. It is not entirely certain, based purely on the Gospel evidence, to what extent the other Old Testament books were similarly included under the label of Scripture.

Indeed, our study on Jesus’ view of the (Old Testament) Scriptures can be divided between the Law (Pentateuch) and the Prophets (including the Psalms).

The Law of Moses (Torah/Pentateuch)

A summary of Jesus’ recorded sayings and teachings clearly shows that he considered the Torah regulations (recorded in the Pentateuch) as authoritative for Israelites and Jews—and for his disciples as well. And yet, Jesus’ view of the Law, according to the Gospel evidence, is rather more complicated and nuanced. A proper study of it goes far beyond the scope of this article, but I have earlier provided and extensive treatment of the subject in the series “The Law and the New Testament” (articles on “Jesus and the Law”). In Part 2 of that series, I present a detailed survey of the Gospel passages, divided into three main categories:

    1. Traditions where Jesus advocates Torah observance, but where following him may involve going beyond it
    2. Traditions where Jesus appears to relativize Torah observance:
      1. By spiritualizing the commandment, or, more commonly:
      2. By emphasizing or indicating that his own person (and following him) supersedes the Torah regulations
    3. Traditions which suggest that, in some way, the Torah regulations are limited temporally or in religious scope. In many ways this aspect cannot be separated from #2; certainly, in early Christian thought, the person and work of Jesus inaugurated an (eschatological) “new age”, in which the old religious forms and patterns either passed away or were given new meaning.

Jesus addresses the authority of the Law in a number of key traditions (sayings and episodes) in the Gospels, but perhaps the most important collection of teaching is to be found in the so-called Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7, par Luke 6:20-49). A careful study of this Sermon-collection demonstrates that it is Jesus’ interpretation (and application) of the Torah regulations that is most important for his disciples (and for us as believers). For an exegesis of key sections of the Sermon, cf. Part 3 of the aforementioned series “Jesus and the Law”.

While the teaching and example of Jesus may take priority over (and surpass) the written text of the Torah, the written Torah (that is, the Scripture) certainly was considered authoritative by Jesus himself. We can see this, for example, by the way that the written text (of Deuteronomy, 6:13, 16; 8:3) is quoted in the famous Temptation episode (Matt 4:4, 7, 10 par).

Matthew 5:17-20    

Nowhere does Jesus offer such a clear example of his view of the Old Testament Law (Torah) as in Matthew 5:17-20, which also serves as the introduction to two key blocks of teaching: (1) the six so-called “Antitheses” [Matt. 5:21-48], and (2) instruction on specific religious behavior (almsgiving, prayer, and fasting) for his followers [Matt. 6:1-18]. They are also among the most difficult of Jesus’ sayings, especially for (Protestant) Christians accustomed to the idea of a “Law-free” Gospel.

To begin with, it is important to consider these four verses in the context of the Sermon on the Mount (for a critical introduction to the Sermon on the Mount and the Lukan ‘Sermon on the Plain’, see the introductory notes of my series on the Beatitudes). Matt. 5:17-20 follows the Beatitudes (Matt 5:3-12) and several additional sayings illustrating the character of Jesus’ faithful followers (Matt 5:13-16). The sayings in vv. 17-20 need not have been uttered by Jesus at the same time—the “Sermon” is better understood as a literary and didactic arrangement or collection of Jesus’ teaching, rather than as a single discourse delivered on a particular occasion. Instead these four sayings are thematically related, representing, as it were, principles governing Jesus’ own interpretation of the Torah for his followers. They will each be examined in turn.

1. Matthew 5:17

Mh\ nomi/shte o%ti h@lqon katalu=sai to\n no/mon h* tou\$ profh/ta$: ou)k h@lqon katalu=sai a)lla\ plhrw=sai
“Do not regard (as proper), (that) ‘I have come to loose down [i.e. dissolve] the Law and the Foretellers [i.e. Prophets]’; I did not come to loose down but to fill (up).”

The verb nomi/zw (nomízœ) is related to the noun no/mo$ (nómos), here translated conventionally as “Law”; however, no/mo$ would more accurately be rendered as “that which is proper/binding”, “binding custom”, or something similar, and the verb nomi/zw, “regard as proper, consider proper/customary”, etc. Both of these terms carry a technical meaning here: no/mo$ refers specifically to the hr*oT (tôrâ), while nomi/zw indicates proper religious belief. Similarly the opposing verbs katalu/w (katalúœ, “loose down”, cf. lu/w, “loose[n]”) and plhro/w (pl¢róœ, “fill up, fulfill”) have a very specific meaning in this context: as a legal term, katalu/w can mean “abolish, annul, render invalid,” etc., while plhro/w has the sense of “establish, complete, supply the full (force of)”, etc. Several points can be made:

    1. The juxtaposition of “Law and Prophets” here indicates hrwt/no/mo$ primarily as Scripture, rather than as the law-code or commandments per se. That is, no/mo$ here refers to the Pentateuch (books of Moses, Genesis-Deuteronomy), and the “Foretellers” the Prophetic books (see above). The conjunction h* means that Jesus is effectively saying: “I have not come to dissolve (the authority of) either the Law or the Prophets”. The Pentateuch is the principal expression of the Torah of God, but the Prophetic books also expound and support the instruction—the two forming the corpus of Sacred Writings for Jews (and Christians) of the time.
    2. The ‘incorrect’ statement (or something very like it), governed by mh\ nomi/shte, is actually attested in early Christian writings. For example, in the “Gospel of the Ebionites” (according to Epiphanius’ Panarion 30.16.5), h@lqon katalu=sai ta\$ qusi/a$ (“I have come to dissolve the sacrifices”), and a similar Gnostic formulation in the “Gospel of the Egyptians” (Clement of Alexandria, Stromata 3.63). According to the Dialogue of Adamantius (ch. 15), certain Marcionites claimed that Jesus actually said the opposite of Matt 5:17: “I have not come to fulfill the Law, but to dissolve (it)”. Cf. Betz, Sermon, pp. 174-176. It may seem strange that Jesus himself would already (in his own lifetime) be safeguarding his teaching against ‘misrepresentations’ of this sort—or does this rather reflect early disputes regarding his teaching? In Romans 3:31 Paul delivers an apologetic statement very similar to that of Jesus’ here: “Do we then bring down the Law (for it to be) inactive through faith? May it not be! But (rather) we make the Law stand!”
    3. The verb katalu/w can be used in the sense of “dissolve/destroy” a building, etc., and so it appears in the charge that Jesus said he would “dissolve” the Temple (Mark 14:58; 15:29 par.; Acts 6:14; also cf. Mark 13:2 par.). This is a significant association in terms of Judaism and the Law within early Christianity—cf. the highly Christological version of the Temple-saying in John 2:19ff. Similarly, the contrasting verb plhro/w, can be given a theological and Christological nuance here: that Jesus himself completes or fills up the Law. Paul’s famous statement in Rom 10:4 comes to mind: “For Christ is the completion [te/lo$] of the Law…”

For a more detailed study on v. 17, see my earlier note.

2. Matthew 5:18

a)mh\n ga\r le/gw u(mi=n: e%w$ a*n pare/lqh| o( ou)rano\$ kai\ h( gh=, i)w=ta e^n h* mi/a kerai/a ou) mh\ pare/lqh| a)po\ tou= no/mou, e%w$ a*n pa/nta ge/nhtai
“For, amen, I say to you: ‘until the heaven and the earth should go along [i.e. pass away], one yod or a single horn will not go along from the Law, until all things should come to be’.”

There is an interesting chiastic form and parallelism to this saying:

    • “Until heaven and earth should pass along”
      • “One yod or a single horn will not pass along from the Law”
    • “Until all (things) should come to be”

The first and last phrases are both temporal expressions: the first in concrete terms, according to the ancient worldview (“heaven and earth” represents the universe as understood at the time); the second more abstractly, as the coming-to-be of all things. In between these two expressions is a statement regarding the (relative) permanence of the Law. The “yod” is traditionally the smallest letter of the Hebrew alphabet (and of the Greek as well); it is not as clear precisely what kerai/a (lit. “horn”, or possibly “hook”) signifies here, but presumably it indicates a small ornamental mark in the script. The force of the expression is rhetorical rather than literal, i.e. “not even the smallest letter or mark will pass away from the Law”.

Noteworthy is the fact that the reference is specifically to a written text. It is not certain to what extent there was a distinction between written and oral Torah in Jesus’ time; but overall Jesus appears to have had a negative view of traditions added to the primary sense of the written text. Indeed, it can be argued that a fundamental purpose of his teaching in the Sermon on the Mount (and elsewhere) was to restore the true meaning and significance of the original (written) Torah. In any event, it is clear enough that here Torah means primarily sacred Writing (Scripture, as in v. 17); but it probably also refers to the Torah as (written) Law-code—i.e., the collection of commandments, statutes, etc., contained in the Pentateuch.

The saying as a whole seems to limit the force and validity of the Law to the current world-order, as opposed to subsequent Jewish ideas which often emphasized the eternality of the Torah. There is an eschatological aspect at work here, as in much of the Sermon on the Mount—Jesus’ followers were to be aware of the (imminent) end-time appearance of the Kingdom of God (with its accompanying Judgment). The Law would only serve as a governing (religious) authority for believers during the present Age. Paul expresses a rather different view of the temporal limitation of the Law (see, for example, in Galatians 3:26-4:7).

3. Matthew 5:19

o^$ e)a\n ou@n lu/sh| mi/an tw=n e)ntolw=n tou/twn e)laxi/stwn kai\ dida/ch| ou%tw$ tou\$ a)nqrw/pou$, e)la/xisto$ klhqh/setai e)n th=| basilei/a| tw=n ou)ranw=n: o^$ d’ a*n poih/sh| kai\ dida/ch|, ou!to$ me/ga$ klhqh/setai e)n th=| basilei/a| tw=n ou)ranw=n
“Therefore if (there is one) who [i.e. whoever] should loose (a single) one of these littlest things upon (you to) complete and should teach men thus, he will be called ‘littlest’ in the kingdom of the heavens; but (one) who should do and teach (correctly), this one will be called ‘great’ in the kingdom of the heavens.”
[in more conventional translation:]
“Therefore, whoever looses (a single) one of these littlest commandments and teaches men (to do) thus, he will be called ‘littlest’ in the Kingdom of Heaven; but (the one) who does and teaches (correctly), this one will be called ‘great’ in the Kingdom of Heaven”

The noun e)ntolh/ (entol¢¡) is literally “something (placed) upon (one) to complete”—i.e., “charge, injunction”, or, more commonly, “command[ment]”. There are a number of important questions within this verse, which I will discuss briefly in sequence.

    • How does the verb lu/w here relate to katalu/w in verse 17? The first generally means “loose[n]”, while the second is more intensive and forceful, “loose down [i.e. dissolve/destroy]”. In verse 17, the sense is “to destroy or abolish the authority of the Law” (and Prophets). Here the sense is rather “to remove or lessen the requirement of a commandment”.
    • What exactly is meant by “these commandments”? Are these the commandments of the written Torah, or are they the commandments of Jesus? Arguments can be made for both views. The context of verses 17 and 18 would indicate that the written Torah is meant—if so, then the saying would imply that the written Law is fully binding for Jesus’ followers. However, many commentators would hold that Jesus’ commands are what is meant here; such commands would include Jesus’ (authoritative) interpretation of the Law, but would not be synonymous with the commandments of the written Torah itself.
    • What is meant by the “least/littlest” of these commandments? There are several possibilities:
      (a) Jesus is distinguishing between his own commandments—if so, this has been largely lost to us.
      (b) He is distinguishing between greater and lesser commands in the Torah (perhaps similar to later Rabbinic teaching)
      (c) He makes a distinction between the external/ceremonial detail and the broader concepts of righteousness/justice, mercy, love, etc. (see Matt 23:23-24).
      (d) The force of the expression is rhetorical and not meant to be taken literally (and also facilitates the wordplay later in v. 19).
      In my view, the last option most likely correct: “the least of these commandments” would be another way of saying “any of these commandments”. However, option (c) should not be entirely disregarded; the expression “least of these commandments” could be taken to mean “even the smallest detail of the commandments”.
    • How should the juxtaposition of “least/littlest” and “great(est)” in the kingdom of Heaven be understood? It is possible that degrees of reward or position in Heaven for believers is meant; at the very least, Jesus seems to be drawing upon this idea. However, it seems quite strange that those who disregard (and teach others to disregard) the commandments (especially if Jesus’ own commandments are involved) would receive any place in the Kingdom. I prefer to consider the use of the terms “littlest” and “great” here as rhetorical—a colorful and dramatic way of contrasting the fates of the obedient and disobedient. The question of whether the disobedient followers are ultimately “saved” is interesting, but probably out of place here.

The most significant question remains whether “these commandments” are those of Jesus, of the written Torah, or both? I don’t know that it is possible to give a decisive answer here. Subsequent Christian tradition tended to identify “the commandments” with “the commandments of Christ”, but is this the same as what Jesus means in the saying of verse 19? It is probably best to understand the phrase here in the qualified sense of “the commandments of the written Torah… as interpreted by Jesus”. Admittedly, we almost certainly do not have all of Jesus’ teachings related to the Law. The Gospels themselves contain, I am sure, only a portion of them; even here in the Sermon on the Mount, the Antitheses of Matt 5:21-48 and the instruction in 6:1-18 are only representative of the teaching Jesus gave to his followers. For this reason, in particular, the phrase “commandment[s] of Christ” requires a more thorough and systematic treatment.

4. Matthew 5:20

Le/gw ga\r u(mi=n o%ti e)a\n mh\ perissu/sh| u(mw=n h( dikaiosu/nh plei=on tw=n grammate/wn kai\ Farisai/wn, ou) mh\ ei)se/lqhte ei)$ th\n basilei/an tw=n ou)ranw=n
“For I say/relate to you that if your justice/righteousness should not be over (and above much) more than (that) of the Writers [i.e. Scribes] and Pharisees, no, you will not go into the Kingdom of the heavens.”

This is probably the simplest, and yet, in some ways, the most difficult of the four sayings. It does not deal directly with the Law; rather it offers a challenging point of comparison for Jesus’ followers. The “Scribes and Pharisees” is a stock phrase and schematic expression in the Gospels, often related to those who question or dispute with Jesus, involving some point of legal or religious observance. They are typically mentioned only in the setting of the narrative, or in reaction to something Jesus says or does. The Pharisees have been given a superficially bad reputation by Christians, often as the result of careless reading of the Gospels. Of the major Jewish groups known from the time, the Pharisees probably had the most in common with Jesus himself. He doubtless had many interactions with them, of which only traces have been preserved in the Gospels; on the whole, they appear to have been thoroughly devout and scrupulous in religious matters, though not as strict as the Community of the Qumran texts (usually identified as Essenes). The Scribes [lit. Writers] were legal experts, largely synonymous with the “Teachers of the Law”, and certainly many Scribes were also Pharisees. Jesus’ disputes with the “Scribes and Pharisees” (and other religious leaders) will be discussed in some detail in an upcoming article in this series.

It is important to understand the sense of dikaiosu/nh (dikaiosún¢, “justice/righteousness”) here. As throughout the Sermon of the Mount, and much of early Gospel tradition, the term signifies obedience and conformity to the will of God as expressed in the Torah and the Old Testament Scriptures as a whole. In this respect, it is comparable (and compatible) with the traditional Jewish sense of righteousness, and should not be confused with subsequent Christian (esp. Pauline) theological and soteriological use of the word. Presumably, for the first followers of Jesus, and early Jewish Christians, the point of the comparison with the righteousness of the “Scribes and Pharisees” would have been more readily apparent. Today, we can only speculate as to what precisely was meant. There are several possibilities:

    1. The Scribes and Pharisees did not go far enough in observing the Torah—that is, they did not penetrate to its deeper meaning and significance, as indicated by Jesus in his teaching. This would seem to be implied by the Antitheses of Matt 5:21-48.
    2. Their approach to Torah observance and religious behavior was fundamentally flawed, and not the product of a pure heart. This seems to be the thrust of Matt 6:1-18, as well as the Beatitudes. Cf. also the association of Pharisees with “hypocrisy” at numerous points in the Gospels (esp. in Matt 23).
    3. The religious leaders who failed to follow Jesus were (all) missing the teaching and revelation which fulfills and completes the Law (and Righteousness). As such the righteousness of Jesus’ followers would (and should) by its very nature far surpass theirs.
    4. The comparison is primarily rhetorical and exhortative: a call to follow and obey Jesus’ authoritative instruction and interpretation of the Law.

I think there is merit in each of these four views, which can be supported by further detailed study of the Sermon on Mount itself.

Notes on Prayer: 1 Corinthians 11:4-5ff

1 Corinthians 11:4-5ff

In the previous two studies on 1-2 Thessalonians, we saw how prayer played an important role in Paul’s letters, with the references in the introduction (exordium) and exhortation (exhortatio) sections framing the body of the letter. The focus was on Paul’s relationship to the Thessalonian congregations, with an emphasis on mutual prayer—that the Thessalonians would continue to remain faithful to the Gospel message, and that Paul’s missionary work in proclaiming the Gospel would continue to have success.

Prayer is given decidedly less emphasis in the letters that involve deliberative rhetoric (including forceful polemic) by which Paul addresses controversial issues. There is scarcely any reference to prayer in Galatians, for example, and it is also less prominent in 1 Corinthians. In particular, the framing sections of 1 Corinthians—a long and complex letter with an elaborate rhetorical structure—make very little mention of prayer. The thanksgiving in 1:4-9 resembles that of Thessalonians, but the positive aspect of mutual relationship (and the specific mention of prayer) is noticeably absent. This is not coincidental, as the idea of divisions (and divisiveness) within the congregations immediately takes center stage in the introduction (1:10-17). There has been a disruption in the relationship, and, indeed, throughout the letter Paul works hard urging the Corinthian believers to resolve the divisiveness and to strive for unity.

The primary references to prayer relate specifically to public prayer in the setting of congregational worship. This worship setting is one area where divisions within the congregations were manifest. And, since public prayer was an important component of the congregational worship, it is not surprising that Paul addresses it as part of his instruction to the Corinthians.

1 Cor 11:2-16 deals with the subject of the relationship between the sexes (between men and women) for those who have an active role participating in the public worship. This context is vital for a proper understanding of the passage—it deals specifically with women who function in a ministry role within a public worship setting. The charismatic nature of congregational life in Corinth meant that believers—both men and women—who where uniquely gifted (by the Spirit) in different areas were encouraged to exercise those gifts. It is clear from Paul’s discussion in chapters 11 and 14 that women were participating as prophets in the congregational worship setting. Paul does not deny the validity of this, whatever his personal preference might have been; he accepts women serving in this role, but would require of the Corinthians that they take steps to maintain a clear distinction regarding the relationship between men and women in these roles.

The issue, for Paul, clearly centers on those who speak, in the Spirit (in a ministry role), during the congregational worship. In verses 4-5 he refers to both men and women who are “speaking out toward (God) or foretelling [i.e. prophesying]”. The verb used is the common verb for prayer, proseu/xomai (“speak out toward [God]”). The verb profhteu/w is translated literally as “foretell”, but this can be misleading, since the prefixed element pro– (“before”) can be understood in a temporal sense (“beforehand”), but also in a positional/relational sense (i.e., standing “before” someone). The latter is often the specific meaning in the New Testament, matching the denotation of the root abn in Hebrew, where a ayb!n`, usually translated “prophet”, refers more properly to someone who functions as a spokesperson for God, communicating His word and will to the people. Similarly, Christian prophets—those gifted/inspired by the Spirit—communicated the word and will of God within the congregation.

Gifted women are allowed to speak in the congregation—both praying (in the Spirit) and prophesying—as long as they did so with their head covered. The purpose and significance of this specific detail has been much discussed by commentators. I have addressed it at length in the earlier series “Women in the Church”, and will not repeat that discussion here. The symbolism of the head/hair covering was clearly important for Paul, though modern readers may not find all of his arguments entirely convincing. It would seem that charismatic tendencies within the congregation led many believers in Corinth to consider the gender distinction (of the older order of Creation) to have been replaced by the egalitarianism of the new order. And, indeed, Paul’s own declaration in Gal 3:28 (cp. 1 Cor 12:13), along with the general logic of his teaching regarding the spiritual unity of believers in Christ, points in that very direction.

However, in 11:2-16, Paul’s line of argument indicates that, while the old order of Creation has been transformed, it has not been entirely abolished. He draws upon the Genesis Creation account (vv. 8-9ff) as a primary argument for preserving the (hierarchical) distinction between men and women in that public ministry role—especially if the relationship of husband and wife was involved. Men should pray and prophesy with head uncovered, and women with head covered. This does not refer to private prayer, nor to prayer within the family unit—i.e., between husband and wife, which Paul mentions in passing in 7:5. He is addressing the specific context of the public, congregational worship—where men and woman function in roles as Spirit-gifted ministers.

However one interprets and responds to the detail of Paul’s instruction in 11:2-16, it is most important to keep in mind that his primary concern is to maintain a sense of order and unity within the congregation. The same is true regarding his instruction in chapter 14, where again the place of prayer within the congregational worship is addressed. We will be discussing this passage (esp. verses 13-15) in the next study.

Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 55 (Part 1)

Psalm 55

Dead Sea MSS: No surviving manuscripts.

This is another prayer-Psalm that includes a lament in the face of suffering and opposition from wicked adversaries, continuing a genre of which we have seen numerous examples among the Psalms studied thus far. Psalm 55 is a particularly complex example of the genre—a relatively long composition, divided into three sections:

The two hl*s# (Selah) markers are curiously placed in the text as it has come down to us (cf. below), and cannot be used as an indication of the structure of the composition.

The Psalm tends to follow a 3-beat (3+3) meter, varying with the ‘limping’ 3+2 meter that is often used in lament-poems; however, there other irregularities as well.

The superscription indicates that this is another lyK!c=m^ (ma´kîl, cf. the earlier study on Psalm 32), attributed to David (“belonging to David”, dw]d*l=), to be performed on stringed instruments (toyg]n+B!).

VERSES 2-9 [1-8]

Verse 2-3 [1-2]

“Give ear, O Mightiest, to my petition,
and do not hide from my request for favor;
be attentive to me and answer me,
come down in (response to) my prayer.”

These first two couplets establish the Psalmist’s plea, in relation to the lament that follows in vv. 4ff; the meter is 3+2, which often is used in poems of lament. There is a synonymous (and synthetic) parallelism in each couplet, but the four lines also form a chiasm from a conceptual standpoint:

    • Give ear to (i.e., hear) my petition
      • do not hide (i.e., giving no response)…
      • be attentive and answer/respond
    • Come down in response to my prayer

The noun in line 1 is hl*p!T=, while in the line 4 it is j^yc!. Both are terms denoting prayer; the main significance of hl*p!T= refers to a petition/plea that is made to God, while j^yc! implies a burden that is on a person’s heart, about which one speaks to God, going over the matter (repeatedly) in a fervent way. With the inner lines (2 and 3), the Psalmist’s prayer is framed, regarding God’s response, in both negative and positive terms:

    • Negative: “do not hide yourself from my request for favor”
    • Positive: “be attentive to me and answer me”

The verb <l^u* (“hide [away], conceal”) in the reflexive Hithpael stem (“hide oneself”) should perhaps be understood in the sense of ‘pretending not to see/hear’ (cf. Dahood, II, 31). The noun hN`j!T=, formally parallel to hl*p!T= (cf. above), is derived from the root /nj (“show favor”), and so I have translated the noun literally as “request for favor” in order to preserve this etymology.

I tentatively follow Dahood (II, p. 31) in reading the verb form dyr!a* as an Aphel (imperative) from the root dry (“go down”); this explanation provides a rather elegant solution that fits the context of these lines.

It should be noted in passing that Psalm 55 is another ‘Elohist’ Psalm, in which the Divine name YHWH (hwhy) is typically replaced by the title <yh!l)a$ (Elohim, “Mightiest [One],” i.e., ‘God’).

Verse 4 [3]

“I am disturbed from (the) voice of (the one) hating (me),
from (the) faces of oppression (of the) wicked;
for they make trouble to fall upon me,
and with anger show hatred to me.”

These next two couplets give the reason for the Psalmist’s plea to YHWH, and begin the lament proper in this section. As is often the case in the Psalms, the protagonist speaks of suffering and oppression he faces from wicked adversaries (enemies). In most instances, it would be futile to attempt to identify these enemies with any specific persons; rather, these nameless and faceless opponents represent the wicked, who oppose and attack the righteous.

The final word of verse 3 [2] in the MT (hm*yh!a*w+, “I have been disturbed”), according to the standard verse-division, properly belongs at the beginning of verse 4; the initial conjunction (-w+) can be retained from a stylistic standpoint, but typically has no real force when beginning a couplet.

The Psalmist is disturbed by both the “voice” and the “face” (lit. plural, “faces”, i.e. presence) of his wicked enemies. They are enemies in the sense that they hate him (participle by@oa), a point emphasized again in the fourth line, with the use of the verb <f^c* (“show hatred/animosity” toward someone). They give both distress (lit. “pressure,” hq*u*, i.e., oppression) and trouble (/w#a*) to the righteous. This is expressed violently and with vicious intent, done both with anger and by the act causing trouble to fall/slide down (like an avalanche) on the Psalmist.

Verses 5-6 [4-5]

“My heart is twisting around within me,
and (the) terrors of death
have fallen upon me;
fear and trembling has come (to be) in me,
and shuddering has covered over me!”

The Psalmist’s lament continues here with a pair of 3+2 couplets, the first of which has been expanded with an additional 2-beat line (forming a 3+2+2 tricolon); this irregular meter in verse 5 would seem to be intentional, creating a tension that is appropriate to the context of  the fear of death. In each couplet, the first line refers to what the Psalmist feels inside himself in the face of threatening attacks by the wicked:

    • “My heart is twisting around [vb lWj] within [br#q#B=] me”
    • “Fearful trembling [lit. fear and trembling] has come to be within [B=] me”

The following line(s) of each verse refer to the external threat that faces the Psalmist, and which is the source of his fear:

    • “Terrors of death have fallen [vb lp^n`] upon me”
    • “(Great) shuddering has covered over [vb hs*K*] me”

The idea that the wicked ultimately threatens the righteous with death is expressed frequently in the Psalms.

Verses 7-9 [6-8]

The opening plea (and lament) of this section concludes with a short poem, which may have existed independently of our Psalm (cp. Jeremiah 9:1 [2]).

“And I said:
Who would give to me wing[s] like a dove,
(so) I might take wing and dwell (in safety)?
See, I would go far off, (my wings) flapping,
and would find lodging in the outback. Selah
(That) I might make quick (the) escape for me
from (the) rushing wind (and) wind-storm!”

This wonderful little poem, so vivid and evocative, hardly requires any comment. The Hebrew idiom “Who will give to me…?” is a colorful way of expressing an urgent wish or request—in English idiom, we would probably say, “Oh, if I only had…!” Here, however, the literally rendering of the idiom is especially important, in light of the prayer-context of these lines. The implicit answer to the question “Who will give…?” is that YHWH will give to him the means for escape.

The image is of a bird that could take flight from trouble (down below, on earth), and go far away to find a safe dwelling-place (vb /k^v*); it would be in the outback (or ‘desert,’ rB^d=m!), far away from other people. The wings of the bird, which enables it to fly off, are especially emphasized: the protagonist desires a pair of wings (sing. rb#a@), so that he can “take wing” (take flight, vb [Wu), his wings constantly flapping (dd)n+) as he makes his escape.

Even as he flies, danger would follow, and thus there is a second part to the Psalmist’s wish: that his wings would enable him also to escape from the onrushing wind of the storm (windstorm) that threatens behind him.

References marked “Dahood, I” and “Dahood, II” above are to, respectively, Mitchell Dahood, S.J., Psalms I: 1-50, Anchor Bible [AB] vol. 16 (1965), and Psalms II: 51-100, vol. 17 (1968).