November 30: Hebrews 1:3

Hebrews 1:1-4

As with Paul’s greeting in Romans (1:1-7, discussed in the previous notes), the opening of Hebrews (1:1-4) contains a portion that many commentators believe derives from an early Christian ‘hymn’ on the person of Christ. The term “hymn” in such instances is perhaps misleading, as it suggests a self-contained composition of multiple stanzas, performed (sung/chanted) in a worship setting. The expression “confessional formula” may be closer to the mark, as short creeds or confessions of faith tend to be written in poetry (or rhythmic prose) and often have a hymnic character. All of the “Christ hymns” in the New Testament, many of which we have already studied in these notes, share certain formal, stylistic and thematic details. Hebrews 1:1-4, and verse 3 in particular, contain a number of these common features, and reflect a distinctive Christology that developed in the second half of the 1st century A.D.

The point of Christological development marked by the Hebrews “hymn”, along with its date, is problematic, due to the longstanding questions regarding the authorship (and genre) of the book, as well as the relative dating of Hebrews in relation to Colossians and 1 Timothy, etc. Though attributed to Paul by tradition, Hebrews is anonymous, nor can the circumstances of when, where, and to whom it was written be determined with any certainty. It lacks many features typical of a letter or epistle, and is best viewed as a work of instruction, with strong expository and exhortational aspects, meant to be distributed and read by believers over a wide territory. In this regard, it is similar to the ‘letters’ of James and 1 John, as well as certain other New Testament writings.

The dating of Hebrews has varied widely and has been difficult for commentators to pin down. The tendency has been to date the work to the late-first century (c. 90-100 A.D.), based primarily on the high Christology and the extent of the typological interpretation employed by the author. In terms of the Christology of Hebrews, the best we can say is that is almost certainly post-60 A.D., since it evinces a pre-existence Christology that goes somewhat beyond the Pauline references in Romans and the Christ-hymn in Philippians. However, the Christology in Heb 1:1-4ff is comparable, in many ways, to that of Colossians (especially the hymn of 1:15-20); and, if that letter is genuinely Pauline, then a date of 60-70 for Hebrews becomes more plausible. If Hebrews was known by the author of the work known as 1 Clement (see 36:2-6), usually dated to c. 90-95 A.D., then it increases the likelihood that Hebrews had been written and distributed by 90 A.D. I am not sure that it is possible to establish a more precise date for the composition of Hebrews than the period 70-90 A.D.

The exordium (introduction) to Hebrews covers the first four verses of chapter 1 (1:1-4), a single flowing sentence in Greek. This opening passage sets the tone and theme for the entire work, and has a fundamental Christological emphasis. Here is how the passage begins:

“(With) God (hav)ing spoken (in) former (time)s to the Fathers, (in) many parts and many ways, in the Foretellers [i.e. Prophets], upon these last days He spoke to us in a Son…” (vv. 1-2a)

The initial contrast is between the Old and New Covenants—between God speaking to His people (Israel) through the Prophets, and to His people (believers) through His Son (vv. 1-2a). Out of this initial statement, a complex Christological declaration is developed (vv. 2b-4). Verses 1-2 deal specifically with the idea of God’s revelation, beginning with “God spoke”, and indicating a contrast:

V. 1: God (has) been speaking [lalh/sa$] V. 2: (God) spoke [e)la/lhsen]
    • (in) many parts and many ways
    • (in) old (times) [pa/lai]
    • to the Fathers [toi=$ patra/sin]
    • in the Foretellers [i.e. Prophets] [e)n toi=$ profh/tai$]
    • in one new way (implied)
    • in these last days [e)p’ e)sxa/tou tw=n h(merw=n tou/twn]
    • to us [h(mi=n]
    • in (the) Son [e)n ui(w=|]

The new revelation (to us) is marked primarily by two elements or characteristics: (1) it is eschatological, set in the “last days”, (2) it takes place in the person of the Son. The Greek e)n ui(w=| does not have the definite article, so it is possible to translate “in a Son”, but it is clear from the context that God’s Son—the Son—is meant. Verse 2b presents the nature of this Son, with a pair of relative clauses:

    • whom [o^n] He has set (as the) one receiving the lot [i.e. heir] of all (thing)s
    • through whom [di’ ou!] He made the Ages

The first of these draws on the idea of Christ being exalted to heaven following the resurrection, in common with the earliest Christian tradition; the second expresses Christ’s role in creation, implying some sort of divine pre-existence. These two Christological approaches were shared by several strands of early tradition (e.g. Paul, the Gospel of John), and were not deemed to be contradictory in any way. Indeed, we have seen them incorporated in the “Christ hymns” we have already examined (Phil 2:6-11; Col 1:15-20; 1 Tim 3:16; Rom 1:3-4). The author of Hebrews will present the two views side-by-side at a number of points in the letter.

Before proceeding with a detailed study of vv. 2b-4, let us present the entire passage, the whole sentence, in translation:

“(With) God (hav)ing spoken (in) former (time)s to the Fathers, (in) many parts and many ways, in the Foretellers [i.e. Prophets], upon these last days He spoke to us in a Son, whom He set (as the one) receiving the lot of all (thing)s, (and) through whom indeed He made (all) the Ages, (and) who, being a beam (shining) forth of the splendor (of God), and an engraving of th(at which) stands under Him, and (himself) bearing all (thing)s by the utterance of his power, (hav)ing made cleansing of sins, he sat on the giving [i.e. right] (hand) of the Greatness, in (the) high (place)s, (hav)ing come to be so much mightier than the Messengers, (even) as he has received as (his) lot a name (that) bears through (beyond what is) alongside of them.”

Not only is this masterful and majestic sentence a summary of the key themes that will be developed in the letter, it also effectively summarizes the Christian Gospel of Jesus Christ at the time the letter was written (c. 70-90 A.D.). The Christology of the passage follows a paradigm comparable to that in Phil 2:6-11, moving from the Son’s divine pre-existence to his exaltation (as Son) following his death and resurrection; this paradigm may be summarized:

    • Divine pre-existence as the Son
      • Incarnation (human life)
        • Sacrificial Death
      • Resurrection (restoration to life)
    • Exaltation as the Son to God’s right hand

The pre-existence (pre-incarnation) side is presented in vv. 2b-3a with a series of clauses that modify the word “Son” (ui(o/$). Each of these relates to that noun with a relative pronoun (o%$):

    • “…in a Son” (e)n ui(w=|)
      • whom He set as heir of all things”
        o^n e&qhken klhrono/mon pa/ntwn
      • through whom He even made (all) the Ages”
        di’ ou! kai\ e)poi/hsen tou\$ ai)w=na$
      • who, being…carrying…”
        o^$ w*nfe/rwn

If the author is drawing upon a pre-existing hymn or confessional formula, it is not clear at what point in the passage this begins; it may be that all of vv. 2b-3 reflects a type and style of hymnic statement on the person of Jesus Christ that was widely in use at the time. We will begin a detailed study on this portion in the next daily note.

Notes on Prayer: John 14:13-14

John 14:13-14

Some of the most important references to prayer in the New Testament are found in the great Last Discourse of Jesus in the Gospel of John. The Johannine writings never use the common Greek terms for prayer (proseuxh/, vb proseu/xomai); instead, the idea of prayer is expressed by the verb ai)te/w, emphasizing making a request of God.

There are significant critical issues surrounding the origin and composition of the Johannine discourses. On the one hand, they are unlike anything we see in the Synoptic Gospels; in addition, they evince a language and style that is distinctly Johannine, and very close, for example, to that of First John. At the same time, there are Synoptic parallels for certain sayings and traditions in the Gospel of John, and there is clear evidence that the discourses, at the very least, are rooted in authentic historical tradition. Thus, the arguments regarding the Discourses—whether they are primarily Johannine compositions, or accurate reflections of Jesus’ own words throughout—run both ways. And, indeed, both aspects must be kept in mind with any study of the Gospel of John.

The great “Last Discourse”, set (in the narrative) on the eve of Jesus’ arrest, actually represents a complex of inter-related discourses, spanning more than three chapters (13:31-16:33). It may be outlined as follows:

    • 13:31-38Introduction to the Discourse (cf. above)
    • 14:1-31Discourse/division 1Jesus’ departure
      • The relationship between Jesus and the Father (vv. 1-14)
      • Jesus’ Words for His Disciples (vv. 15-31)
    • 15:1-16:4aDiscourse/division 2—The Disciples in the World
      • Illustration of the Vine and Branches: Jesus and the Disciples (vv. 1-17)
      • Instruction and Exhortation: The Disciples and the World (15:18-16:4a)
    • 16:4b-28Discourse/division 3—Jesus’ departure (farewell)
      • The Promise of the Spirit (vv. 4b-15)
      • Jesus’ Departure and Return (vv. 16-24)
      • Concluding statement by Jesus on his departure (vv. 25-28)
    • 16:29-33Conclusion to the Discourse

The first Discourse/division (14:1-31), the first of two on the primary theme of Jesus’ departure, may be outlined in further detail:

    • 14:1-31Discourse/division 1Jesus’ departure
      • The relationship between Jesus and the Father (vv. 1-14)
        • Initial statement by Jesus on his departure (vv. 1-4)
        • Question by the disciples [Thomas] (v. 5)
        • Jesus’ response: I AM saying (vv. 6-7)
        • Question by the disciples [Philip] (v. 8)
        • Jesus’ response: I AM saying (vv. 9-11)
        • Concluding statement by Jesus on his departure (vv. 12-14)
      • Jesus’ Words for His Disciples (vv. 15-31)
        • Instruction to the Disciples: Love and the Commandments (vv. 15-24)
          —Initial statement: Promise of the Spirit (vv. 15-17)
          —Instruction: Relation of the Disciples to Jesus and the Father (vv. 18-21)
          —Question by the disciples [Judas] (v. 22)
          —Jesus’ response: The disciples and the world in relation to Jesus and the Father (vv. 23-24)
        • Exhortation for the Disciples: Farewell Promise of Peace (vv. 25-27)
          —Initial statement: Promise of the Spirit (vv. 25-26)
          —Exortation: Jesus’ gift of his Peace (v. 27)
        • Concluding statement by Jesus on his departure (vv. 28-31)

The first sayings on prayer are in 14:13-14, which forms the conclusion of the first section, on the relationship between Jesus and the Father (vv. 1-14). The basic Johannine discourse format is clear: Jesus makes an initial statement (vv. 1-4) which his audience (here, his close disciples) fails to understand (v. 5); Jesus responds in turn with an exposition of the true and deeper meaning of his words (vv. 6ff). Sometimes this discourse-format is expanded to include multiple exchanges between Jesus and his audience, and, indeed, we see this at several points in the Last Discourse. Even within this first section, there are two questions by the disciples, which lead to two different “I Am” sayings by Jesus in response (vv. 6-7, 9-11).

The substantive message of the first section involves the idea of Jesus leading the way for believers to the Father. As his exposition makes clear, this is not to be understood in traditional religious terms, nor in the special sense of a metaphysical translation to heaven (though that will take place in the future). Rather, the “way” to the Father comes through trust in Jesus and through union with him. Trust leads to union, and this essential union is realized through the presence of the Spirit, which is the Spirit of both Father and Son, and represents the abiding presence of Jesus in and among believers. Through this union with Jesus, believers already are in the presence of God the Father, and have access to Him.

This theological and Christological outlook, which is hardly unique to the Last Discourse, but is woven throughout the entire Johannine Gospel, informs the sayings on prayer. There are two sayings on prayer in vv. 13-14, virtually identical in form and meaning, and separated by a key phrase re-emphasizing the relationship between God the Father and Jesus (the Son). I give the translation as a chiasm, to outline this structure:

    • “and any(thing) that you should request in my name, this I will do,
      • (so) that the Father should be given honor in the Son;
    • if you request any(thing of) me in my name, I will do (it).”

The granting of the request has, at its heart, the purpose of giving honor to the Father. The verb doca/zw is an important part of the Johannine vocabulary, occurring 23 times in the Gospel, and 13 times in the Last Discourse and Prayer-Discourse (13:31-16:33 and chap. 17). The Passion-focus of this usage begins to take on prominence in 12:28, and continues through the Last Discourse. By fulfilling the duty and mission placed on him (e)ntolh/) by God the Father, through his sacrificial death and resurrection, the Son (Jesus) gives honor and esteem to the Father. According to the narrative setting of the Last Discourse, the moment of Jesus’ death is drawing near, and so the moment of the Son bringing do/ca (“esteem, honor, glory”) to the Father is also at hand.

But the specific setting here within the discourse is of Jesus’ departure, the return of the Son back to the Father, which implies a post-resurrection context. It is perhaps worth asking how granting the requests of his disciples gives honor to the Father. The answer, I believe, is two-fold. First, it is predicated upon the special relationship between Father and Son; as a dutiful and faithful son, everything Jesus does is to the honor of his father. This is a principal Johannine theme, and is central to the Christology of the Gospel. Secondly, it involves the significance of the request being made in Jesus’ name (“in my name”, e)n tw=| o)no/mati/ mou). As we shall see, this is no superficial designation, as though we were simply to tack on the phrase “in Jesus’ name” to our prayers. Instead, the phrase cuts to the very heart of our identity as believers in Christ, and of our relationship to the Father through him. This will be discussed further in the following studies, as we proceed through all the key references in the Last Discourse.

As these studies will appear on Mondays during the weeks of Advent and Christmas, and will focus on the idea of Jesus’ name, you may wish to explore my earlier Christmas series “You Shall Call His Name…”, which deals with the significance of names and naming in the ancient Near East, and the importance of this within the Gospel Infancy narratives (Matt 1-2; Luke 1-2).


November 28: Romans 1:4 (continued)

Romans 1:4, continued

Following up on the discussion in the previous note, in our study on the Christological formula in Rom 1:3-4, it remains to examine the central expressions of second part of the formula (in verse 4):

    1. e)n duna/mei (“in power”), and
    2. kata\ pneu=ma a(giosu/nh$ (“according to [the] pneu=ma of holiness”)
1. e)n duna/mei

The prepositional expression e)n duna/mei (“in power”) qualifies the primary statement in verse 4—i.e., “the (one hav)ing been marked out (as) Son of God”. It introduces the predicate of the clause, but there is some uncertainty regarding the syntax: does it modify the participle o(risqe/nto$ or the title “Son of God” (ui(o\$ qeou=)? If the former, then the sense would be adverbial—that is, “having been marked out (by God)…in power”. If the latter, then it is adjectival, clarifying the sense in which Jesus is the Son of God, i.e., “the Son of God in power.”

Much depends, I think, on whether the expression truly is a Pauline addition to an earlier formula, or whether it represents an intrinsic part of the (original) formula as composed. The syntactical question, in this regard, is whether “in power” is an intentional parallel to “out of the seed…”, or whether the principal parallel in the two couplets is “out of the seed of David” / “out the resurrection of the dead”. In my view, the first option is to be preferred, in which case e)n duna/mei would have been part of the original formula. This means the full expression “the Son of God in power” is parallel with “out of the seed of David”, and may be intended to express a contrast along the lines of the Philippians hymn—i.e., incarnate human being vs. exalted divine being. His death/resurrection is greater than his birth, and moves in the opposite direction (ascent vs. descent).

What is certain is that the “power” (du/nami$) is the power of God, the very power that raised Jesus from the dead and exalted him to the “right hand” of God in heaven. In early Christian tradition, the power of God is closely aligned with His Spirit—Acts 1:8; 8:19; 10:38; Luke 1:35; 4:14; cf. also Matt 12:28 par, etc., an association that goes back to Old Testament tradition (e.g., Mic 3:8; Zec 4:6). Paul’s thought follows in line with this (1 Thess 1:5; 1 Cor 2:4; Rom 15:13, 19), and he certainly emphasizes the power of God’s Spirit in raising Jesus (Rom 8:11ff), and how the exalted Jesus shares that same Spirit (1 Cor 15:45; 6:17). Thus, “Son of God in power” is an apt expression for the idea that the exalted Jesus possesses the very Spirit of God and is united with it.

2. kata\ pneu=ma a(giosu/nh$

This phrase is parallel with kata\ sa/rka in v. 3, and thus juxtaposes sa/rc (“flesh”) and pneu=ma (“spirit”). However, this is not the antithetical flesh-vs-Spirit dualism familiar from Paul’s letters (including a number of key passages in Romans); rather, it is meant to illustrate a more fundamental metaphysical contrast—of the material earthly realm (of human beings) with the divine and heavenly realm (of God). This has been seen by commentators as another piece of evidence for a pre-Pauline origin of the formula in vv. 3-4 (cp. a similar contrast in the hymn of 1 Tim 3:16, discussed in prior notes).

Here the term contrasted with “flesh” is not simply “spirit”, but “spirit of holiness [a(giosu/nh]”. This expression does not occur elsewhere in the New Testament, but is a literal rendering of vd#q) j^Wr in the Old Testament (“spirit of [God’s] holiness” = His “holy Spirit”), Psalm 51:13; Isa 63:10-11; cp. Dan 4:8-9, 18; 5:11. As such, it certainly refers to the Spirit of God, but specifically in reference to the presence (and effect) of His Spirit upon human beings (the people of God). The Qumran Community demonstrates a development in this line of tradition that is, in certain respects, comparable to that which took place within early Christianity. The references in the Dead Sea texts to the “holy Spirit” or “spirit of [God’s] holiness” are worth studying carefully; I have done this in a recent two-part article which I strongly recommend you consult as part of the current study.

If the formula in Rom 1:3-4 took shape earlier, among Jewish Christians, or if Paul himself composed it, then the Qumran usage would be important for an understanding of the background of the Christian development of this concept of God’s holy Spirit. In an early (Jewish) Christian context, the modifying expression (“according to [the] Spirit of holiness”) here would have several particular points of significance:

    • The ancient line of tradition whereby God empowers His chosen ones (prophet, king, etc) with His Spirit
    • As the spirit of holiness, God’s Spirit purifies and perfects His people (the chosen ones); this could easily be applied to the idea of resurrection from the dead
    • It is especially characteristic of the heavenly realm, the throne/sanctuary where the presence of God Himself resides; there is a strong correspondence in the Qumran texts between the faithful ones of God’s people (on earth) and the divine/heavenly beings (Angels, etc), both are designated as “sons of God”, “sons of Light”, etc.

These lines of tradition certainly would have informed the idea of Jesus’ exaltation, according to the contours of the earliest Christology. It was the special understanding of Jesus’ unique identity as the “Son of God” that gave to the Old Testament and Jewish tradition a powerful new Christian significance. At the time Paul wrote his letter to the Romans (c. 57-58 A.D.), this Christology had begun to develop substantially, due in no small part, I am sure, to Paul’s own inspired contribution. The very fact that “Spirit of holiness” (pneu=ma a(giosu/nh) is used here, rather than the more common “holy Spirit” (pneu=ma a%gion), is another indication that Paul is adapting an older formula in Rom 1:3-4.

Following his use/inclusion of this formula, Paul returns in v. 5 to the main thrust of his greeting (v. 1), continuing the identification of himself as a missionary (apostle) and minister specially appointed by Christ (“through him”). The relative pronoun refers back to the concluding words of v. 4, to “Yeshua (the) Anointed, our Lord” (which themselves echo the opening words of v. 3, “Son [of God]”). Paul is a minister of Jesus Christ, commissioned by him and “set forth” (a)po/stolo$) by him to preach the Gospel and establish congregations (of believers). Even though Paul played no direct role in founding the congregations at Rome, he includes them as fellow believers, with whom he shares a common bond as people “called of [i.e. by] Yeshua (the) Anointed” (vv. 6-7).

The implication is that true believers will affirm the Christological statement in vv. 3-4; there would be no real question on that point. So we may safely regard the statement as a fundamental confession of faith, to be cherished as one of the earliest that has come down to us. The Christology, rooted in the death and resurrection of Jesus, defines the essential identity that we all share as believers in Christ. It encompasses his birth as a human being and reaches to his final exaltation as the Son of God in heaven—all in just a few short lines.

Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 35 (Part 2)

Psalm 35, continued

Verses 11-21

Verses 11-21 make up the middle portion of the Psalm, the development section that bridges the two main stanzas (vv. 1-10, discussed in the previous study, and vv. 22-28). Here, the conflict in the Psalm is developed, as the adversaries and opponents of the Psalmist are described, along with the threat they pose. We need not assume that specific historical persons are being referenced. In the Psalms, these adversaries tend to represent the wicked generally, the forces of evil that are at work in the world, oppressing the righteous, even to the point of presenting a danger of death and destruction.

It is possible to divide this section into two parts—verses 11-15 and 16-21; each of these emphasizes in different ways the threat that the wicked present to the righteous, in the person of the Psalmist, the protagonist of the composition.

Verses 11-12

“They stand up, witnesses of cruel (inte)nt,
(those) whom I do not know interrogate me;
they complete (for) me evil under (the) good,
(seek)ing the finish for my soul!”

These two couplets establish the action and purpose of the wicked in this section. They testify with cruel intent against the Psalmist, implying a judicial setting of sorts, a forum where accusations and charges are made. The noun du@ fundamentally signifies someone who repeats, in the sense of repeating something one (supposedly) has seen or heard. Here the idea is that certain people are acting as false witnesses, testifying with sm*j*, a noun that generally signifies violence, but often with a specific connotation of lawlessness and injustice. The effect of their evil testimony is to “complete” (vb <l^v*), in the sense of making a compensatory exchange, evil “under” (i.e., in place of) the good. Possibly this implies an act of betrayal against the Psalmist—i.e., while pretending to do good, their conduct is actually intended for evil.

The word lokv= in the final line can be taken for a noun meaning “childlessness”; however, I tentatively follow commentators such as J. A. Soggin and Dahood (p. 213), who would read it as a verbal noun of the root hlK in the Shaphel (causative) stem. The verb hl*K* has the basic meaning of “complete, finish”, and so makes a fitting parallel with <l^v* in the prior line. It can be used in the negative sense of “finish (someone) off”, i.e., bring a person’s life to an end, and that would seem to be the context here. In English idiom, we might translate the line as “bringing an end to my soul”.

Verse 13

“And I, in their wearing (me) down, my clothing (grew) loose,
I was pressed down (in) my soul with fasting,
and my plea turned (back) upon my (own) lap.”

The rhythm, structure, and meaning of this verse are all problematic. As it stands, it would seem to be a tricolon, with an irregular 4+3+3 meter. Moreover, the description is awkward and cumbersome, though this may be intentional, as if intending to convey poetically the wearisome burden that the protagonist feels. Faced with the oppressive actions of the wicked against him, the Psalmist responds with prayer and fasting. If the judicial setting of vv. 11-12 is retained, the “wearing down” (vb hl*j* in a causative sense) of the Psalmist may involve repeated slanderous accusations made against him.

The sense of the verb bWv (“turn [back]”) in the third line is not entirely clear. Does the “turning back” of the Psalmist’s petition indicate something positive or negative? The latter would seem more appropriate in the overall context of the tricolon—that is, even though the protagonist brings himself low with prayer and fasting, his plea (to God) seems to come back unanswered (cf. verse 17a, below).

Verse 14

“As (though for) a companion (or) a brother to me,
did I walk about, (yes even) as one mourning (his) mother,
going dark (with mourning), I bent myself (down low)!”

Another difficult verse. Presumably it is another tricolon, building upon that of verse 13; however, if the sense of the last line in v. 13 is positive, then conceivably it would be paired with the first line here in v. 14. In that case, vv. 13-14 would be comprised of 3 couplets rather than 2 tricola, and the middle couplet would be an expression of comfort and hope:

“and my prayer turned back upon my lap,
like a companion or a brother to me”

The overall sense of these verses, however, is one of suffering and an expression of grief and despair by the Psalmist. Thus, on this basis, the division into a pair of triplets (tricola) seems more appropriate. His efforts to change his circumstances (through prayer and fasting) having failed, the protagonist now responds like one who is in mourning. In v. 13, his clothing was loose and coarse, but now he goes about in dark/black garments (vb rd^q*), as if in mourning for a dear friend or family member. I take the references to a “companion” and “brother” in the first line as connected to the act of mourning in the second line. They are likewise objects of the verb, even though they are mentioned prior—a technique which builds suspense and is used for dramatic effect. In more conventional syntax, we might have instead worded it, “I walked about like (I was) mourning a companion, or my brother, or (even) my mother”.

Verse 15

“And, in my limping, they took joy and gathered,
they gathered (as one)s striking against me;
(the ones) I do not know tore away (at me),
and did not cease in acting false (with) me.”

With some reluctance, I have followed Dahood (p. 214) in including the first word of v. 16 (ypnjb) as part of the final line of v. 15. This results in a rhythmically consistent pair of 3-beat (3+3) couplets here in v. 15, and preserves the parallelism in the second couplet. The suffering and grief of the Psalmist only goads the wicked to further malice. With evil delight (vb jm^c*), they gather together around the Psalmist—the doubling of the verb Wpsan (“they gathered”) serves to emphasize this aspect of their behavior. The sense is that they surround him, taunting him in a manner that becomes increasingly hostile and violent. The verb [n~j* has the basic meaning of “be/act false”, and so echoes the idea of the wicked as ‘false’ witnesses who slander the protagonist (cf. on vv. 11-12 above). It also connotes both immorality (corruption) and betrayal, and continues the motif of ruthless/lawless behavior expressed by the word sm*j* at the opening of this section.

The phrase yT!u=d^y` al) (“I do not know”) is also repeated from verse 11, and so characterizes the wicked again as strangers, i.e. ones whom the Psalmist does not know. It seems likely that this emphasis actually reflects a sense of betrayal—his opponents may indeed have been known to him, but their cruel behavior shows that he did not realize their true nature until now.

Verse 16

“(The one)s mocking in a circle grind their teeth at me.”

This single 4-beat line opens the second part of the section, and continues the motif-setting from v. 15—of a circle of hostile, taunting adversaries surrounding the Psalmist. The basic meaning of the word goum* would seem to be something that has a curved or circular shape. The construct expression goum* yg@u&l^ (“mockers of a circle,” i.e., ones mocking in a circle) is difficult to translate literally; nor can the alliteration of the expression (la±¦gê m¹±ôg) be captured in English.

Verse 17

“My Lord, to what (end) do you see (this)?
Turn away my soul from (the one)s <giving roar>,
my only (life) from the (shaggy) lions!”

The scenario of the wicked surrounding the Psalmist leads to a despairing plea. The use of the common verb ha*r* (“see”) in the first line must be understood in the specific sense of “see (this), and yet do not respond.” The prepositional particle hm*K* (“for what”, i.e. for what reason/purpose) can have the force of “how long?”, adding to the sense of despair. Following the suggestion of Kraus (p. 391, and other commentators), I have reluctantly chosen to emend the MT <h#ya@V)m! (“from their destructions”) to <yg]a&V)m! (“from [the one]s roaring”). The Masoretic reading is awkward, but not impossible in context (viz., “from their destructive [act]s”); however, this emendation has the decided advantage of preserving a strong and clear parallelism in the final two lines. The term ryp!K= is one of several referring to a lion—in this case, to a vigorous young (male), possibly related to the idea of being covered (rpk I) with hair (i.e., a shaggy mane).

Verse 18

“(Then) I will throw you (praise) in (the) great assembly,
among (the) throng (of) people I will shout (praise to) you.”

The Psalmist promises to give a formal (public) account of what YHWH has done for him, extolling it in praise, if, indeed, God will deliver him from his wicked adversaries.

Verse 19

“They must not rejoice at me, (the) deceitful (one)s hostile to me;
(the one)s hating me for no (purpose), may they squeeze (their) eye(s shut)!”

The precise meaning of this couplet is difficult to determine. The sense seems to be of the Psalmist making an appeal to YHWH that the wicked not be allowed to exult in the suffering of the righteous. The imperfect verb forms have jussive (imperative) force; essentially God is being called on to act. The contrast is between a joyous demeanor (vb jm^c*), and an angry, frustrated expression, indicated by the idiom “squeeze [vb Jr^q*] the eye(s)”. The Psalmist calls on YHWH to frustrate the wicked, so that they are not able effectively to act out their hostility/hatred toward the righteous.

The word <N*j! poses certain difficulties in context here. I have followed the typical rendering that derives it (as an adverb) from the root /nj (I), “to show favor, do (a) favor”, in the negative sense of doing something “for no good (reason)”. However, Dahood (p. 214f) would derive it from a separate root /nj (II/III) meaning “act stealthily” (cf. the previous study on v. 7).

Verse 20

“For they do not speak (a message of) peace,
but (are) about stirring (up trouble) in (the) land,
(and so) they devise words of treachery.”

Here is an example where the semantic range of the root <l^v* (and the noun <olv*) are difficult to render clearly in English. I have opted for the typical translation of <olv* as “peace”, but I believe that the primary idea here is properly related to the context of the covenant, and of (God’s people) fulfilling the terms of the agreement—which includes acting in such a way so as to promote peace throughout the land. The noun hm*r=m! conveys just the opposite: deceit, treachery, and a violation of the covenant bond. The wicked may appear to be devout and faithful on the surface, but in reality their hearts and minds are set against the bond with YHWH.

The root ugr in the second line has an interesting range of meaning which creates a parallel with <lv in line 1. While the verb ug~r* can denote rest and repose (i.e., peace), it can also indicate the opposite—i.e., stirring and unrest. Possibly the linguistic evidence is the result of two separate roots being conflated, but that is uncertain (cf. Dahood’s analysis, p. 215, and previously on Ps 30:6). Here, the antithetic meaning is clearly in view, i.e. “stirring (up trouble)”. Similarly, “words [<yr!b*D=] of treachery” is contrasted with “speaking [vb rb^D*] peace” in line 1.

Verse 21

“And they open wide their mouth against me,
(and) say: ‘Ha, ha! our eyes have seen (it)!'”

While the behavior of the wicked is described broadly, and variously, throughout vv. 11-21, the main focus is that which was introduced at the start of the section (cf. on vv. 11-12, above)—namely, that of adversaries of the Psalmist giving false and slanderous testimony against him. This is restated here in a rather blunt and coarse manner, capturing the sense of taunting that was emphasized in the following verses 13ff. What do the Psalmist’s opponents claim to have seen? This is not specified; most likely, it would imply either a supposed religious transgression or ethical crime. In any case, the detail is more or less irrelevant; the main point is the way that the wicked are willing to slander and impugn the character of the righteous. This basic motif played a role, famously, in the Synoptic Passion narrative of the interrogation of Jesus (Mk 14:56ff), and is the sort of thing that many good and faithful believers are apt to have experienced, in different ways and in varying degrees, from time to time.

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

November 27: Romans 1:4

Romans 1:4

“…about His Son,
the (one hav)ing come to be (born) out of (the) seed of David
according to (the) flesh,
the (one hav)ing been marked out (as) Son of God in power
according to (the) Spirit of holiness,
out of a standing up of (the) dead
—Yeshua (the) Anointed, our Lord

The second part of the Christological formula of Rom 1:3-4 (v. 4) is indicated in bold. The parallelism is clear enough, with “Yeshua the Anointed…” matching “His Son”, as an inclusio for the entire statement, uniting the two primary titles of Jesus— “Anointed One” (Messiah) and “Son of God”. The two couplets also have a parallel form; only the phrase “out of a standing up of (the) dead” (in italics above) disrupts the poetic structure. That phrase, along with the qualifying expression “in power”, are sometimes considered by commentators to be Pauline additions to an older confessional formula.

As I mentioned in a prior note, the two couplets reflect the beginning and end of Jesus’ earthly life, respectively—that is, his birth as a human being, and his death and resurrection. The second couplet refers to his resurrection, and, as such, follows the earliest Christology, associating Jesus’ identity as the Son of God primarily with his exaltation by God (following his death/resurrection).

The aorist passive participle o(risqe/nto$ matches the middle participle (geno/meno$) in v. 3 (cp. Gal 4:4). Just as Jesus came to be born (vb gi/nomai) as the “son of David”, so he came to be “marked out” (vb o(ri/zw) as the “Son of God”. I have translated the verb o(ri/zw in its fundamental sense of marking (out) a boundary or limit, etc; however, it can also be used in a more general, figurative sense of fixing or establishing something, including the technical meaning of appointing a person (to an office, etc). The verb is rare in the New Testament, occurring just 8 times, primarily in the early Christian preaching recorded in the book of Acts. There it is used as an eschatological term (i.e., the time determined by God for the great Judgment), and, in a related sense, applied to the exalted Jesus as the one appointed by God (to oversee the Judgment)—cf. Acts 10:42; 17:31 (cp. Heb 4:7). It was the resurrection that established (and confirmed) Jesus in this role, in accordance with the will and purpose of God (Acts 2:23).

This is essentially the same meaning and context of the verb here in Rom 1:3-4, indicating that, by the resurrection, God has “marked out” Jesus as His Son. This is fully in line with the early exaltation Christology, as I have noted above (and on a number of other occasions). Given the use of the verb o(ri/zw in the early preaching, and the fact that Paul never uses it elsewhere in his letters, this serves as evidence in support of Rom 1:3-4 as stemming from an earlier (non-Pauline) source.

In his own letters, Paul’s references to Jesus as God’s Son tend to follow the older Christology, focusing on the resurrection. The clearest example of this is 1 Thess 1:10, but cf. also the context of 1 Cor 15:28; Rom 8:29. The kerygmatic association of Jesus’ Sonship, as fundamental to the Gospel message, almost certainly refers to the resurrection/exaltation as well (1 Cor 1:9; 2 Cor 1:19; Gal 1:16; Rom 1:9). And, if we are to accept the authenticity of the Acts sermon-speeches as representing Paul’s missionary preaching, then we should note his citation of Psalm 2:7 as referring to the moment of Jesus’ resurrection (Acts 13:30, 33ff).

Moreover, if the words “out of a standing up [i.e. resurrection] of (the) dead” in Rom 1:4 are a Pauline addition to an earlier confessional formula, then it would demonstrate that he specifically understands the title “Son of God” primarily in terms of Jesus’ resurrection. In any case, that is certainly the significance of the phrase here, qualifying the prior lines to explain how, and in what manner, God “marked out” Jesus as His Son. There is also an oblique parallel between the phrase “out of a standing up of the dead” and the expression “out of the seed of David” in v. 3, and this may confirm that Jesus’ identity as the (Davidic) Messiah is also defined (primarily) by the resurrection. On this latter point, cf. the Acts references cited in the previous note (cf. Part 8 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”). Of special importance in this regard is the statement in Acts 2:36 that God “made” Jesus to be “(the) Lord and Anointed (One)” through the resurrection/exaltation.

It remains to examine the central expressions of v. 4, as, in some ways, they cause the greatest difficulties for interpretation:

    1. e)n duna/mei (“in power”), and
    2. kata\ pneu=ma a(giosu/nh$ (“according to [the] pneu=ma of holiness”)

These will be discussed in the next daily note.

November 26: Romans 1:3 (continued)

Romans 1:3, continued

The first part of the Christ-hymn (or confessional formula) of Rom 1:3-4, discussed in the previous note, deals with the incarnation of Jesus as a human being, and specifically refers to his birth. As such, it makes a fitting entry to our Advent- and Christmas-themed studies this year. However, there are two aspects of the verse which require a more detailed examination; I framed these as two questions to be addressed:

    1.  Whether (or to what extent) the identification of Jesus as God’s Son implies the idea of divine/eternal pre-existence, and
    2. What is the precise significance of the expression “seed of David”?

Let us deal with the second of these questions first.

spe/rma Daui/d (“seed of David”)

The word spe/rma (something “scattered,” i.e., “seed”) often refers to the biological descent of a child (son) from his father (or ancestor[s]). This means that: (a) “seed of David” is a reference to a descendant of David, and (b) that the expression is equivalent to “son of David”. The latter expression occurs a number of times in the Synoptic Gospels (Mk 10:47-48; 12:35ff pars; Matt 9:27; 12:23; 15:22; 21:9, 15), and is tied to the fundamental Messianic belief in a ruler from the line of David, who will appear at the end-time to defeat/subdue the nations and restore the kingdom of Israel. This is the Davidic-ruler figure type, which I discuss in great detail in Parts 68 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”.

In the early Christian preaching (kerygma) as recorded in the first half of the book of Acts, Jesus is associated with David in several ways: (1) David prophesied in the Psalms regarding Jesus’ death and resurrection, (2) specific Psalms given a Messianic interpretation are applied to Jesus, and (3) Jesus is seen as fulfilling the covenant and promise to David. The most notable references are:

    • Acts 2:25-36, which cites Psalm 16:8-11 in the context of Jesus death and resurrection (vv. 25-28), and Psalm 110:1 in terms of Jesus’ exaltation to the right hand God in Heaven (vv. 34-35). In verse 30, Jesus is seen as the descendant of David who would sit on the throne as King (cf. Ps 132:10-11 and 2 Sam 7:11-16 etc), and is specifically said to be the “Anointed (One)” of God in the concluding verse 36.
    • Acts 4:25-27, where Psalm 2:1-2 is cited and applied to the Passion of Jesus; again he is identified with the “Anointed (One)” of God.
    • Acts 13:22ff, 33-37—again Psalm 2 and 16 are cited (Ps 2:7; 16:10), as well as Isaiah 55:3, indicating that Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s promise/covenant with David.

Elsewhere in the New Testament, there are several references to Jesus as a descendant of David (including here in Rom 1:3):

    • 2 Timothy 2:8—”Remember Yeshua (the) Anointed (One), having been raised out of the dead, (and) out of the seed of David…”
    • Revelation 22:16—(Jesus speaking) “I am the root and the ge/no$ of David…” (cf. also Rev 5:5, and note 3:7)

In Rev 22:16, ge/no$ is literally the coming to be (cf. gi/nomai in Rom 1:3), in the sense of something which grows or comes forth (from the ground, womb, etc), i.e. “offspring”, but given the use of “root” (r(i/za) something like “sprout” or “branch” may be intended. Jesus declares that he is both the root of David and the branch/sprout coming out of the root. For the Messianic significance of such images (from Isa 11:1ff etc), see the discussion in Part 7 of the aforementioned study series.

In the Matthean and Lukan Infancy narratives, the birth of Jesus is clearly tied to the idea of his Davidic descent (on the references, cf. the discussion in Part 8 of “Yeshua the Anointed”), a point that is reinforced by the genealogy of Jesus in each Gospel. Despite their differences in detail, the Matthean and Lukan genealogies show Jesus’ ancestry as stemming from David’s line (cf. the explicit statement in Matt. 1:1). However, both genealogies clearly belong to Joseph and not Mary, and so attest to a legal, rather than biological, ancestry. Yet the wording in Rom 1:3 indicates that a biological descent from David is in view, a view (from Paul’s standpoint) that would tend to be confirmed by the parallel with Galatians 4:4:

“…God se(n)t out from (Him) His Son, (hav)ing come to be (born) out of a woman

Here the expression “out of a woman” matches “out of (the) seed of David”. This would imply that Jesus’ mother also was of Davidic descent, a belief which, to be sure, came to be held by many early Christians, even though the only available New Testament evidence suggests that Mary was from the tribe of Levi, rather than from Judah (Lk 1:5; 36, 39ff).

Far more important, however, is the identification of Jesus as the Davidic Messiah, which along with the title “Son of God”, was the central Christological designation for Jesus among early believers; on the pairing of these titles, cf. Mk 1:1 [v.l.]; Lk 4:41; Matt 16:16; 26:63; Jn 11:27; 20:31, etc.

o( ui(o/$ au)tou= (“His Son”)

I have already noted the close connection between the titles “Anointed One” (Messiah) and “Son of God”; on the Messianic significance of the title “Son of God” itself, and also its relation to the Davidic-ruler figure type (“Son of David”), cf. Part 12 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”. The main question I wish to consider here is whether the use of “His Son” (i.e. the Son of God), in this context, implies a belief in the divine pre-existence of Jesus, such as we find in the Philippians Christ-hymn (2:6).

The earliest Christology was defined almost entirely by the resurrection and exaltation of Jesus; this is a point that I have discussed at some length in earlier studies (cf. the notes on the Philippians hymn), and will not repeat here. It was not until c. 60 A.D., at around the time that Paul wrote Philippians, that we see a pre-existence Christology emerge and begin to develop into greater prominence, by the end of the 1st century. That Paul indeed held such a Christology, at least in a rudimentary form, is suggested by several references, in his letters, to God sending His Son. The most significant of these is Gal 4:4, mentioned above:

“when the fullness of time came, God se(n)t out from (Him) His Son, (hav)ing come to be (born) out of a woman…”

Since the “sending” precedes Jesus’ birth as a human being, the implication is that he is to be identified as God’s Son even prior to his earthly life (and his resurrection). Similarly, in Rom 8:3 (cf. also v. 32), the divine Sonship of Jesus precedes his incarnation as a human being. The relatively close parallel in wording between Gal 4:4 and Rom 1:3 suggests that, at the very least, Paul would have viewed the two passages in a similar way. Romans was presumably written sometime during the years 57-58 A.D., likely a few years earlier than Philippians.

If Paul is drawing upon an earlier Christological statement in 1:3-4, then a plausible time-frame for the statement itself would be c. 45-55. We can only speculate as to whether a substantive pre-existence Christology had developed among believers by c. 50, and what form it may have taken. Based on a traditional-conservative view of the sermon-speeches in Acts, the speeches would be representative of authentic Christian preaching during the years 35-60 A.D., and yet I find no trace of a pre-existence Christology in any of those passages. The earliest evidence for a belief in the pre-existence of Christ would seem to be the letters of Paul (i.e., Galatians, 1 Corinthians, Romans) written in the mid-50s, but even there the evidence is rather slight. On the whole, Paul seems to have followed the earlier exaltation Christology, focusing on the death and resurrection of Jesus, in accordance with the main lines of the Gospel kerygma in the apostolic period (c. 35-60). This will be discussed further when we consider the use of the term ui(o/$ (“Son”) in verse 4, in the next daily note.



November 25: Romans 1:3

Romans 1:3-4


In the recent notes, we have been examining several of the most significant “Christ-hymn” passages in the New Testament—Phil 2:6-11; Col 1:15-20; and 1 Tim 3:16. These are hymnic statements regarding the person and work of Christ, and, according to the view of many scholars, they represent pre-existing works which the New Testament author (i.e., Paul) adapted and included within the flow of the letter. Much the same can be said of Romans 1:3-4, though the short statement in these verses is perhaps better designated as a confessional formula, rather than a hymn per se.

Several details of vocabulary and style, atypical of Paul’s letters, provide a relatively strong argument in favor of a pre-Pauline source for the formula in vv. 3-4. These details will be discussed at the appropriate point in the notes.

The lines of this ‘Christ hymn’ (if we are to call it such) comprise part of the epistolary prescript—that is, the opening address and greeting of the letter (vv. 1-7), which reads as a single sentence in Greek. The key term in the opening verse is eu)agge/lion (“good message”, i.e. Gospel):

“Paulus, slave of (the) Anointed Yeshua, called (as one) sent forth [a)po/stolo$], having been marked out from (others) [i.e., separated, set-apart], unto (the) good message of God…”

In typical manner, Paul identifies himself as a specially appointed missionary (apostle) and servant of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The preposition ei)$ (“into, unto”) in the concluding phrase indicates a goal or purpose—i.e., “for the purpose of (proclaiming) the good message”. The second verse builds syntactically upon the noun eu)agge/lion:

“…which He gave a message about before(hand), through His Foretellers [i.e. Prophets], in (the) holy Writings…”

The neuter relative pronoun (o%) refers back to the neuter noun eu)agge/lion, i.e., “the good message…which…”. It qualifies the Gospel as something about which God spoke through the Prophets of Israel in earlier generations. Early Christians found many passages in the Old Testament which were seen as foretelling (or prefiguring) the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus—that is, the Gospel message—along with the mission work of believers in proclaiming the Gospel. Paul himself mentions a number of these in his letters, either as allusions or by direct quotation. For a survey of some of the key Old Testament Scriptures utilized in this way by early believers, cf. the article “He opened to us the Scriptures”, along with the various articles in the series “Yeshua the Messiah”.

Romans 1:3

“…about His Son,
the (one hav)ing come to be (born) out of (the) seed of David according to (the) flesh”

The Gospel message, foretold by the Prophets (v. 2), is specifically about (peri/) Jesus Christ (v. 1), identified according to early Christian belief as the Son of God (“His Son”). As noted above, many commentators feel that here Paul is introducing a confessional formula, one which may have been in use by believers prior to his writing Romans, and which he himself may not have composed. There is a clear poetic parallelism to the lines, which can be seen when we include verse 4:

“…about His Son,
the (one hav)ing come to be (born) out of (the) seed of David
according to (the) flesh,
the (one hav)ing been marked out (as) Son of God in power
according to (the) Spirit of holiness…”

There are several key points of parallelism:

    • two substantive (passive/middle) aorist participles, from the verbs gi/nomai (“come to be [born]”) and o(ri/zw (“mark out”), signifying the beginning (birth) and end (death/resurrection) of Jesus’ earthly life, respectively
    • the expressions “seed [i.e. son] of David” and “Son of God”, each of which has Messianic significance and is uniquely applied to Jesus by early Christians
    • juxtaposition of “flesh” (sa/rc) and “Spirit” (pneu=ma)

The first line, or couplet, of the poetic formula (v. 3) emphasizes the beginning of Jesus’ earthly life. This refers to what we would call the incarnation, his existence as a flesh-and-blood human being, and it plays a central role in the hymns of Philippians (2:6-11) and 1 Timothy (3:16), no less than in the great hymnic Prologue to the Gospel of John (1:1-18, to be discussed in upcoming notes). The first half of the Philippians hymn (vv. 6-8) deals specifically with the lowering/emptying of the pre-existent Son of God (Christ), so that he should become a human being. The same aorist middle participle of the verb gi/nomai is used in v. 7: “(hav)ing come to be [geno/meno$] in (the) likeness of men”. The verb gi/nomai (“come to be, become”) often connotes coming to be born, and Jesus’ human birth is certainly implied, though not stated directly, in the hymn. In 1 Timothy 3:16, the term sa/rc (“flesh”) is used specifically to indicate the idea of incarnation, just as it is in Jn 1:14.

Thus, it is fair to view Rom 1:3 as referring to Jesus’ birth, one of only two such references in all of the Pauline letters (the other being Gal 4:4). The incarnation of Jesus is defined, in conventional/traditional terminology, as “coming to be (born)…according to the flesh”, i.e., born as a (real/physical) human being.

Two other details in the verse require further examination, as they relate specifically to the Christology of the formula, and how the formula is used and understood by Paul; this may be framed in the form of two questions:

    1. Whether (or to what extent) the identification of Jesus as God’s Son implies the idea of divine/eternal pre-existence, and
    2. What is the precise significance of the expression “seed of David”?

Both of these questions will be discussed in the next daily note.

November 24: 1 Timothy 3:16cd

The Hymn, continued

(The first couplet was discussed in the previous note)

Second Couplet (verse 16c)

w&fqh a)gge/loi$
e)jhru/xqh e)n e&qehsin
“(he) was seen by (the) Messengers,
(and) was proclaimed among (the) Nations”

The contrast in the first couplet was between the “flesh” (sa/rc) and the “Spirit” (pneu=ma); here in the second couplet the juxtaposition is between the “Messengers” (a&ggeloi, i.e., Angels) and the “Nations” (e&qnh). The connection between the Angels and the Nations is ancient, as can be seen, for example, by the tradition preserved in Deut 32:8 (4QDeutj and LXX)—the number of the nations (trad. 70) corresponds to the number of the “sons of God” (divine/heavenly beings). The book of Daniel preserved a more developed form of this correspondence, when it refers to the tradition of a heavenly/angelic “Prince” who belongs to a particular nation (10:13, 20-22; 12:1), overseeing it.

The eschatological outlook of the Qumran Community evinces a more oppositional (and antagonistic) dualism, dividing the heavenly beings between the “sons of light” and “sons of darkness”. The righteous ones of the Community (on earth) are aligned with the “sons of light” (led by Michael), while the wicked nations are aligned with the “sons of darkness” (led by Belial); expressed vividly in the War Scroll (1QM) and other texts. This basic tradition is reflected in Rev 12:7-12, and thus was part of the early Christian apocalyptic as well.

The juxtaposition here in the hymn, however, does not represent an antithetical dualism; rather, the contrast is simply between the beings dwelling in heaven (Angels) and the peoples dwelling on earth (Nations).

As in the first couplet, the verbs are aorist passive indicative forms—w&fqh (“he was seen”) and e)khru/xqh (“he was proclaimed”). The context, in both instances, is the exaltation of Jesus, building on the second line of the first couplet, which alludes to the death and resurrection of Jesus (cf. the discussion in the previous note). The heavenly beings (Angels) are witnesses to the exalted Jesus’ presence in heaven, even as Jesus’ disciples on earth were witnesses to his resurrection. Those disciples, the first believers in Christ, then proclaimed (vb khru/ssw) the message of his exaltation to the surrounding peoples and nations.

The verb khru/ssw is fundamental to the early Christian tradition, and is used throughout the New Testament (including 19 times by Paul in his letters) to refer to the preaching of the Gospel. The related noun kh/rugma (k¢¡rygma, “proclamation”) is less common, with only 9 occurrences in the New Testament, but 6 of these are in the Pauline letters, where it is essentially synonymous with the Gospel (eu)agge/lion), as the message is proclaimed (preached) by missionaries and ministers (Rom 16:25; 1 Cor 1:21, etc; cp. the short ending of Mark [16:8]); as such, it is also used twice in the Pastoral letters (2 Tim 4:17; Tit 1:3). The word has come to serve as a technical term by New Testament scholars for the earliest Christian Gospel-preaching (kerygma).

Third Couplet (verse 16d)

e)pisteu/qh e)n ko/smw|
a)nelh/mfqh e)n do/ch|
“(he) was trusted in the world,
(and) was taken up in splendor”

The contrast in the final couplet follows the same heaven-earth juxtaposition from the first two couplets (cf. above). Here the order of the pairing reverts to that in the first couplet—earthly, then heavenly. The formal pattern of the prepositional predicate also continues, using the preposition e)n (“in”). The same pattern applied in the second couplet as well, though the sense of the preposition there is more properly rendered “among”. There is no preposition specified in the first line of the second couplet, but the dative could certainly reflect e)n—i.e., “was seen among the Messengers”.

The earthly aspect here is expressed by the common word ko/smo$, typically translated “world”, but which properly signifies the order and arrangement of the world (i.e., world-order, created order). The noun do/ca is also a common term, but one which can be difficult to translate, due to its relatively wide semantic range. It fundamentally refers to how something (or someone) is regarded, especially in the positive sense of being esteemed, i.e. treated with honor. In a religious context, when applied to God, it connotes the esteem and honor which is due to God. He is deserving of this honor simply because He is the Creator and one true God, the Ruler of the universe. For this reason, do/ca (like the corresponding Hebrew word dobK*) is often used, in the more objective sense, for all that distinguishes God from all other (created) beings. Along these lines, the word is typically rendered “glory”, “splendor”, and the like. Here, it is best viewed as a comprehensive term for the entire divine/heavenly realm, in contrast to the earthly/material cosmos.

The verbs in the third couplet, again expressed in aorist passive indicative forms, have a simple and straightforward meaning. The verb pisteu/w means trust, in the specifically Christian sense of trust (pi/sti$) in Jesus as the Messiah and Son of God. To say that he was trusted “in the world” draws upon the context of the corresponding lines in the first two couplets: (a) Jesus’ earthly life and ministry, and (b) the post-resurrection proclamation of the Gospel. His disciples trusted in him, becoming believers, while others came to faith, in turn, through their proclamation.

The verb a)nalamba/nw (“take up”), especially in a passivum divinum sense (“taken up [by God]”), was a technical term for the ascension of Jesus (Acts 1:2, 11, 22; [Mk 16:19]; cf. also the noun a)na/lhmyi$ in Lk 9:51). Implicit in this, of course, is the wider idea of Jesus’ exaltation. A central component of the early Gospel proclamation is the motif of the exalted Jesus standing “at the right hand” of God in heaven (Mk 14:62 par; [16:19]; Acts 2:33f; 5:31; 7:55-56; Rom 8:34; Col 3:1; Eph 1:20; Heb 1:3; 8:1; 10:12; 12:2; 1 Pet 3:22). This motif stems largely from Psalm 110:1 (cf. Mk 12:36 par; Acts 2:34; Heb 1:13), but may be influenced by other Scriptural traditions as well, such as the ‘son of man’ passage in Daniel 7:13-14. In any case, it certainly would inform the idea of Jesus being taken up “in glory/splendor” here in the hymn.

As in the Christ hymns of Philippians and Colossians, there is a strong emphasis on the exalted Jesus’ position of rule over all creation. This is perhaps clearest in the second couplet (cf. above), in which all beings—both in heaven and on earth—recognize the exaltation of Jesus (and his divine place alongside God the Father).


In the study of each couplet, I have brought out the conjunction of the two lines; however, when considering the hymn-portion of v. 16 as a whole, it is better to present it consistently in its flowing, litany-like character:

was made to shine forth in (the) flesh,
was made right (again) in (the) Spirit,
was seen (among the) Messengers,
was proclaimed among (the) Nations,
was trusted in (the) world,
was taken up in splendor”

Clearly, the lines do not represent a chronological summary of the Gospel message. The thematic structure is better understood as being woven around the heaven-earth dualism of each couplet. The first and third couplets are in relatively close parallel, contrasting Jesus’ earthly life and ministry with his heavenly exaltation (resurrection/ascension). The second (middle) couplet emphasizes the reaction to Jesus’ exaltation, as both heavenly beings (Angels) and earthly beings (human believers) acknowledge the exalted and ruling position of Jesus. This acknowledgement (trust/faith/confession) leads to proclamation—that is, the preaching of the Gospel message. While the Angels may proclaim this message, in certain ways, it more properly refers to the work of believers on earth, the ministry and mission-work of the Gospel, in all its different forms.

November 23: 1 Timothy 3:16b

1 Timothy 3:16

The Hymn

The hymn, as such, is extremely brief, yet the designation (as a hymn) seems appropriate, both in terms of its form and content. The way it is used in the context of 1 Timothy does suggest that an existing work is being quoted. Some commentators believe that this portion represents only a fragment of a larger work.

The hymn itself is made out of 3 short couplets, exhibiting the parallelism common to ancient Near Eastern poetry, though only loosely so. The parallelism of the key terms in each couplet is dualistic, but not necessarily antithetical, with juxtaposed pairs Flesh/Spirit, Angels/Nations, and World/(Heavenly) Splendor.

After designating the introduction to the hymn as v. 16a (cf. the previous note), I will refer to the three couplets as 16b-d, respectively.

First Couplet (verse 16b)

e)fanerw/qh e)n sarki/
e)dikaiw/qh e)n pneu/mati
was made to shine forth in (the) flesh,
(and) was made right in (the) Spirit”

The hymn begins with a relative pronoun (o%$), just like the hymns in Phil 2:6-11 and Col 1:15-20; on this point, cf. the introductory note on the Philippians hymn. The abruptness of this pronoun, without any obvious subject given in context, no doubt explains the textual variant that reads qeo/$ (“God”) instead of the relative pronoun. While qeo/$ is the majority reading, it almost certainly is secondary (and not original), as most commentators (and virtually all critical commentators) recognize. It is easy to see how qeo/$ might derive—whether accidentally or intentionally (as a ‘correction’)—from o%$, but most difficult to explain how the reverse could have occurred. In the Greek (uncial) lettering of the manuscripts, the relative pronoun (os) could be mistaken for the common shorthand for “God” (qs); but a protection against the reverse error was built into the copying tradition by marking the abbreviated “divine names” (nomina sacra) with a horizontal bar (+q+s).

The lack of any obvious syntactical point of reference (in the preceding verses) for the relative pronoun also facilitated the change from o%$ to qeo/$. The only real possibility of a subject for the (masculine) pronoun is the (masculine) noun qeo/$ (“God”), occurring twice in v. 15. To avoid confusion, copyists may have been inclined to make this identification explicit; such a specific identification had the added advantage of emphasizing the deity of Christ. The clearly documented tendency among copyists was to expand and enhance the Christological aspect or import of a passage, rather than to do anything that would reduce it.

For all these reasons, in additional to the regular use of the relative pronoun to begin such a hymnic passage (cf. above), we must regard the relative pronoun (o%$) as the original reading of the text at this point. Though not clearly stated, it is quite apparent that Jesus Christ is the implied subject. Thus, like the other Christ-hymns, the point of these lines is to declare (and define) who Jesus is.

The parallelism of the first couplet is simple and precise, though conceptually it presents certain difficulties—difficulties that are due largely to the abbreviated phrasing required by these short poetic lines. Let us consider each component together.

e)fanerw/qh / e)dikaiw/qh

The two verbs are both aorist passive indicative forms, of fanero/w (“shine [forth]”) and dikaio/w (“make right”), respectively. While the verb fanero/w specifically denotes something shining (with light), it is often used in the more general sense of an appearance or manifestation. It occurs quite often in the New Testament (49 times, plus in other compound forms). When used of Jesus, it often has the general meaning of his appearance on earth—that is, his earthly life, but also his second appearance (his end-time return). The verb also was handy as a way of referencing the manifestation of Jesus’ person (on earth) as a unique revelation by God—i.e., a “shining forth” of a divine and heavenly reality, a secret uncovered and made known to God’s people in the end-time (on the term musth/rion [“secret”], cf. the previous note, as well as my earlier word-study series). This deeper sense of the verb is especially prominent in the Johannine writings (Jn 1:31; 2:11; 17:6; 1 Jn 1:2, etc), but Paul attests to it as well (e.g., Rom 3:21; 2 Cor 4:10-11); the Christological aspect is emphasized in Col 1:26; 3:4. The use of the verb in 2 Tim 1:10 (along with the related noun e)pifanei/a) is noteworthy, and cf. also the occurrence in Titus 1:3. Depending on one’s view of the authorship of the Pastoral letters, these last two references may inform the use of the verb here in 1 Timothy (to a greater or lesser extent).

The verb dikaio/w, along with the entire dikaio– word group, has a central place in the Pauline letters (and theology), though admittedly it is used in a rather different sense here than it typically is by Paul. The verb essentially means “make right”, in the general sense of making things right, but also in the specific judicial context of “declaring just”, “establishing justice”, etc. Paul tends to use the verb in a distinctive soteriological sense—viz., of humankind (believers) being “made right” in God’s eyes, freed from bondage to the power of sin, and saved from God’s coming judgment upon the world. There is a strong judicial component to this use of the dikaio– word group by Paul, informed by the judgment-setting—i.e., believers will be considered “just” by God and will pass through the Judgment into eternal life.

The Pauline usage of dikaio/w has caused difficulties for readers of the hymn, since it is being applied to Jesus, rather than to sinful human beings. This difficulty can be alleviated if we consider the possibility that the hymn represents an earlier (traditional) Christian composition, and was not necessarily written by Paul (even if Paul is considered the author of 1 Timothy). We must consider the meaning of the verb in its broader, fundamental sense—that is, of “making things right”. This can refer to correcting an injustice, to vindicating the innocent, and so forth. An aspect of Jesus’ death that is sometimes ignored by Christians, but which formed a significant part of the early Gospel message, was an emphasis on his death as an injustice. Jesus was innocent of any crime, and was certainly not deserving of the cruel and shameful punishment inflicted on him (cf. Mk 15:14f par; Matt 27:4, 19, 24; Lk 23:4, 14, 22, 47; Acts 3:14; 7:52; 13:28). The fact that Jesus’ death occurred by crucifixion had an enormous impact on first-century believers, the context of which can no longer be reproduced (or entirely appreciated) today. It was a major barrier to acceptance of Jesus by many at the time (Jews, especially), and required exceptional effort and attention by early missionaries to explain just how and why the Messiah (and Son of God) could have been put to death in that manner.

e)n sarki/ / e)n pneu/mati

In each of the lines, the predicate is a prepositional expression involving the preposition e)n (“in”). This preposition can have a rather wide semantic range, so the force of it in each expression must be considered carefully. The sense of the first line is relatively straightforward: it explains the nature of Jesus’ “shining forth” (vb fanero/w)—namely, that he was manifest as a human being “in (the) flesh” (e)n sarki/). This is the normal, physical-anthropological meaning of the word sa/rc, another term which tends to carry a special theological sense as used by Paul in his letters. There is no reference here whatever to the sinful aspect of human flesh (cp. Rom 8:3), though the implication of human (mortal) weakness and limitation may be inferred. If Paul was indeed the author of 1 Timothy, he may well have had something akin to the first half of the Philippians hymn (2:6-8) in mind here—i.e., the incarnation as a ‘lowering’ and an ’emptying’.

Along these same lines, it would be wrong to understand the juxtaposition of “flesh” vs. “Spirit” in the antagonistic sense that this dualism often carries in Paul’s letters. More appropriate to the context here is the juxtaposition we see in Rom 1:3-4—another passage that is often considered to be a quotation from a ‘Christ hymn’ (and which will be discussed in an upcoming note). If “flesh” represents the physical earthly life of human beings, the “spirit” (pneu=ma) properly indicates the opposite—the divine/heavenly life of God. The only question is whether the word pneu=ma should be understood in a more general sense, or with the specific meaning of the Spirit of God Himself.

As the context here in this line is the resurrection of Jesus (a point to be discussed further in the next note), and as it was the power of God that raised Jesus from the dead, it is fair to assume that “in the Spirit” means essentially “by the power of God’s Spirit”. The idea that Jesus was “in the Spirit” during the time of his ministry on earth goes back to early Gospel tradition—specifically to the tradition of Jesus’ baptism (Mk 1:10, and cf. especially Luke 4:1ff). Paul certainly emphasized the fact that Jesus’ resurrection took place through the power and presence of God’s Spirit (Rom 8:11ff), and, in the famous discussion on the resurrection in 1 Cor 15, the implication is that, upon his resurrection, the exalted Jesus was united with the Spirit of God, sharing the same “life-making Spirit” (15:45; cf. 6:17). Conceivably, the wording in Rom 1:4 reflects earlier Jewish tradition that blends the idea of God’s “holy Spirit” with the power that makes the human spirit holy (on this, cf. my article on the Spirit in the Dead Sea Scrolls).

We may fairly summarize the juxtaposition of the lines in this couplet as follows:

    • “made to shine forth in the flesh” —Jesus’ earthly life which ended in the injustice of a cruel and shameful death (which he did not deserve)
    • “made right in the Spirit” —this injustice was corrected, and things were “made right” again through the resurrection and exaltation of Jesus, which took place through the power of God’s Spirit (“in the Spirit”)

In the next daily note, we will proceed to examine the next two couplets (16cd).



November 22: 1 Timothy 3:16a

1 Timothy 3:16


The recent daily notes have focused on the “Christ hymns” in Philippians (2:6-11) and Colossians (1:15-20), the largest and most prominent of the poetic/hymnic confessional statements, regarding the person of Jesus Christ, that occur in the New Testament. As I have discussed, many commentators believe that these ‘hymns’ represent pre-existing works that were adapted and included by the New Testament authors (i.e., Paul in Philippians and Colossians). The evidence for such adaptation is far from certain, though I would say it is more likely in the case of the Philippians hymn than for the Colossians hymn, which more clearly reflects key Pauline concepts and phrasing.

In 1 Timothy 3:16, we have another “Christ hymn”. It has the common attributes: an initial relative pronoun, poetic phrasing, utilization of traditional vocabulary and terminology, and is rooted in the early kerygma with an emphasis on the resurrection and exaltation of Jesus (exaltation-Christology). The brevity and peculiar wording of 1 Tim 3:16 make it all the more likely that, in this instance, the author is indeed quoting or making use of an existing hymnic statement on the person of Christ.

Complicating the picture are the critical questions regarding the authorship of the letter. Many commentators consider the Pastoral letters to be pseudonymous, written by someone other than Paul. Differences in vocabulary and style, along with other factors, have led scholars to this conclusion. I believe that a distinction needs to be made between 2 Timothy, which (in my view) demonstrates many authentic features of Pauline style and emphasis, and 1 Timothy, for which I find considerably more evidence of unusual vocabulary and manner of expression that may be deemed atypical of Paul. In any case, the matter continues to be debated, and the issues can scarcely be resolved in a short set of notes. For the purpose of this study, I treat the authorship of 1 Timothy as an open question, allowing for the strong possibility that the work is pseudonymous, while at the same time not ruling out the evidence of the text itself (i.e., that it was written by Paul).

Actually, the initial words of 1 Tim 3:16 provide a significant piece of evidence against Pauline authorship—the use of the word eu)se/beia. The eu)seb– word group occurs rather frequently in the Pastoral letters (especially 1 Timothy), but not once in any of the (other) letters of Paul. Given the significance of the word-group for the instruction of Christian congregations, if Paul were the author of the Pastorals, it is indeed strange that he never once uses it in his (other) letters to churches (and their leaders). In point of fact, the word-group is rare in the New Testament as a whole; apart from the Pastoral letters, the words occur only in the book of Acts and 2 Peter. The noun eu)se/beia is used 8 times in 1 Timothy, and once in 2 Timothy (3:5) and Titus (1:1), respectively. The related verb eu)sebe/w is used once in 1 Timothy (5:4), and the adverb eu)sebw=$ in 2 Tim 3:12 and Titus 2:12. Thus, of the word-group, the noun eu)se/beia is most prominent in 1 Timothy, and is distinctive of the vocabulary of the letter.

The noun eu)se/beia signifies the good (i.e. proper) reverence that one should show, especially to God, or to anything regarded as divine and holy. It is thus more or less synonymous with a pious religious mind-set, or with religion generally, though it draws upon the specific idea, common to ancient religion, but noted particularly in Old Testament tradition, of the “fear of God”; in older English parlance, we might render eu)se/beia as “god(ly) fear”. The author’s use of this word is especially significant for our study, since the “Christ hymn” follows as an explanation of what true eu)se/beia is for believers in Christ. Here is how the matter is stated in verse 16:

“and (it) being counted as one (by us all), (how) great is (the) secret of (our) good reverence [eu)se/beia]…”

The adverb o(mologoume/nw$ is formed from a passive participle of the verb o(mologe/w (“give account as one”). This verb is used relatively frequently in the New Testament, emphasizing what believers acknowledge and confess together (i.e., “as one”), and/or what they should acknowledge; Paul uses it only rarely (cf. Rom 10:9-10), but it occurs twice in the Pastorals (1 Tim 6:12; Tit 1:16). The adverb here essentially means “what is acknowledged by all of us (i.e., all believers)”, and represents one of the very first Christian creedal statements—i.e., a definitive declaration of what “we believe”. It is the hymn that defines what all true believers should acknowledge, though doubtless the author assumes that common consent would also be given to the exclamation “(how) great is (the) secret of (our) eu)se/beia” as well. Yet, what he is really saying here is that the heart of our religion—i.e., what we as believers hold in faith—is a great and wonderful secret (musth/rion), something hidden from people at large and revealed only to believers in Christ. For more on this idea, cf. my earlier study on the word musth/rion in the New Testament.

Since the Christ-hymn follows, it is clear that the secret is Christological—that is, a revelation regarding the person of Jesus Christ, who he is and what he has done. However, before proceeding to a study on the hymn itself, let us give further consideration to the context of 3:16 within the letter of 1 Timothy.

The main body of the letter is comprised of three sections (2:1-3:16; 4:1-5:2; 5:3-6:2), in which the author (indicated as Paul) gives practical instruction on how the Christian congregations should be governed. Our verse is part of a short transitional passage (3:14-16), between the first and second sections. The first section deals primarily with the role of individual believers (men and women) in the congregations, including the qualifications and duties of ministers. At 3:14, the author (‘Paul’) gives a personal encouragement to the minister (‘Timothy’) whom he is addressing, in which he makes an important ecclesiological statement. That is to say, in vv. 14-16 we have a statement that reveals the author’s understanding of the place and nature of “the Church” (h( e)kklhsi/a). Let us see how this declaration in vv. 14-15 leads into the hymn of v. 16:

“I write these (thing)s to you, hoping to come toward you in short (order), but, if I should be slow (in coming), (I write so) that you might have seen [i.e., might know] how it is necessary to turn (oneself) about in (the) house of God, which is the gathered out (assembly) [e)kklhsi/a] of the living God, (the) pillar and support of the truth.” (vv. 14-15)

The verb a)nastre/fw means “turn up, turn over, turn around”, which can be used in reference to a person’s regular behavior; in English, we might say “go about (one’s business)”. The verbal particle dei=, indicates what “is necessary”, i.e., how one must behave in the “house [oi@ko$] of God”. This reflects the traditional idiom of believers as the “house” (i.e. the Temple) of God, using the imagery of a building (with pillars and a foundation holding up the structure). Paul certainly makes good use of this motif (1 Cor 3:16-17; 6:19; 2 Cor 5:1; 6:16; also Eph 2:21), though it is hardly unique to his letters (Rev 3:12, etc).

What is especially distinctive of the house/temple image here in 1 Timothy is how it relates to the idea of the Church as a kind of holy repository where the truth is entrusted, to be guarded zealously by the ministers. This truth encompasses the entirety of the authoritative Christian tradition, handed down from the apostles (like Paul), to be preserved carefully within the local congregations. At the heart of this truth, located in the innermost shrine of the ‘Temple’, is the Christological statement, the revelation of the person and work of Christ, such as is expressed (in summary form) in the hymn of v. 16. This is called “the secret of (our) good reverence [eu)se/beia]”, an expression parallel (and largely synonymous) with “the secret of (our) trust [i.e. faith]” in verse 9. The term eu)se/beia, however, more properly summarizes the whole Christian religion, both our belief (pi/sti$) and our actions (pra/ci$) in the Community. Again the participial adverb o(mologoume/nw$ emphasizes what is acknowledged (and confessed) by all believers (together), with the implication that the dutiful minister will faithfully guard this belief. The central Christological character and substance of this belief is what the hymn (or hymn-fragment) in v. 16 expresses, and we will begin examining it in the next daily note.