Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 61

Psalm 61

Dead Sea MSS: No surviving manuscripts.

This short prayer-Psalm differs in many respects from those we have previously examined in the ‘Elohist’ Psalter. The strong lament emphasis of the earlier compositions is not present here. On the other hand, the royal background is more prominent—both in the use of the traditional military imagery, and in the specific reference to the king in vv. 7-8 (on which, cf. below).

Metrically, the Psalm generally follows a 3-beat (3+3) couplet format, though not consistently so. The Selah (hl*s#) pause-marker effectively serves to divide the short Psalm into two parts (vv. 2-5, 6-9). The division is typical of many Psalms: with the Psalmist’s prayer (his plea/petition) emphasized in the first part, and the expectation of an answer to his prayer in the second part.

The heading also shows that Psalm 61 marks the start of new sequence, moving away from the previous miktam (<T*k=m!) compositions, which appear to have been poems without music, set to existing melodies. This Psalm, on the other hand, is presumably a musical composition (the term romz+m! is not used, but perhaps implied), performed on a stringed instrument. In this regard, the singular hn`yg]n+ is used, rather than the more common plural (Ps 54:1, et al); many commentators would ‘correct’ this, vocalizing the construct tnygn as a plural form (tn)yg]n+). The superscription marks this as another Davidic composition (“belonging to David”).

VERSES 2-5 [1-4]

Verse 2 [1]

“Hear, O Mightiest, my ringing cry,
incline (your ear) to my prayer.”

The initial couplet has a shortened 3+2 meter, establishing the Psalmist’s prayer to YHWH. Two nouns are used for this, the first of which (hN`r!) refers to a ringing or piercing cry, like that of a bird; the second (hL`p!T=) is typically translated “prayer,” but should be understood within the legal/judicial context of a petition (i.e., made for a judge). God, as the Judge, is asked to listen (fairly and attentively) to the plea.

Verse 3a [2a]

“From the end of the earth,
to you do I call (out)
in (the) weakening of my heart.”

Both metrically and thematically, it is better to divide vv. 3-4 into two tricola—the first being a terse 2-beat (2+2+2) tricolon, and the second a ‘regular’ 3-beat (3+3+3) tricolon. The shorter meter of v. 3a reflects the Psalmist’s sense of desperation. The central line contains his plea (“to you I call out [vb ar^q*]”), while the surrounding first and third lines dramatically represent the condition in which he makes this plea. The first line sets a location for the plea—literally, “from the end [hx#q*] of the earth”. Often, in ancient Semitic poetry, the “earth” (Heb Jr#a#) specifically denotes (or connotes) the underworld, i.e., the region under the earth’s surface, being the region of Death (and the dead). It may well be that here the far extremity (end/edge/border) of the earth has a metaphysical meaning, indicating a threat to the Psalmist’s life. On this line of interpretation, cf. Dahood (II, p. 84) and Hossfeld-Zenger (pp. 104-6).

The third line emphasizes this threat to the Psalmist’s existence, by referencing a “weakening” (verbal noun [n)a&) of his heart. A bit of wordplay may be involved here, since the root [nu II means “cover over, envelop,” and so may allude to the danger that threatens to engulf and overwhelm the Psalmist.

Verse 3b-4 [2b-3]

“On a rock higher than I (could reach), lead me.
(O) that you would be a place of shelter for me,
a great place of strength from (the) hostile face.”

This tricolon provides a stark contrast with that of v. 3a, both in terms of meter and imagery. The sharp 2-beat staccato rhythm of v. 3a here gives way to a calmer ‘regular’ 3-beat meter. Similarly, the Psalmist’s distress and sense of despair is answered by the hope that YHWH will provide a place of protection for him. This is a frequent motif in the prayer-Psalms, in which the author/composer prays to God for deliverance. All the typical features of this imagery are present: an inaccessible location high up (line 1), YHWH Himself as a place of safety (line 2), and the idea of protection from hostile opponents (line 3).

In the first line, the motif is of a safe/secure location high upon a rock (rWx). The verb <Wr (“be [raised] high”) followed by the preposition /m! (“from”) is best understood as a comparative idiom (i.e., “higher than me”), in the sense of “higher than I (can reach)”. If the Psalmist himself could not reach such an inaccessibly high location, then neither can his enemies. For a different interpretation of the syntax, but following the same thematic explanation, cf. Dahood, II, p. 85.

In the next two lines (v. 4), this location is further described, using locative nouns (marked by a preformative –m). First, we have hs#j=m^, from the root hsj (“seek/find protection”), meaning “place of protection, place of shelter/refuge”; both the verb and noun occur frequently in the Psalms (cf. 14:6; 46:2, etc). The second noun is lD^g+m!, meaning “a great/tall place,” often referring specifically to a tower. It occurs here in the expression “great place of strength” (zu*-lD^g+m!), which, in context, should be understood as a fortified site with walls and towers. YHWH Himself is this place of protection for the Psalmist.

As I have discussed on previous occasions, this relates to the ancient covenant concept; in terms of the religious covenant between YHWH and His people (as also with the king as His vassal), as long as God’s servants remain faithful, He is obligated to provide protection (from all enemies and dangers, etc). These enemies are referenced at the end of the third line, where it is expected that God will protect the Psalmist “from the face of (the one) hostile (to me)”. Poetic concision would require a translation “from the face of the enemy” (proper syntax), or, as an alternative that perhaps better captures the meaning, “from the hostile face”.

Verse 5 [4]

“I would come to dwell in your Tent of distant (time)s,
I would seek shelter in (the) hiding (place) of your wings.”
Selah

The conclusion of the Psalmist’s prayer builds upon the triad of protective imagery in vv. 3b-4. He expresses his wish that he might come to dwell in that place of shelter and protection that YHWH Himself provides. Following Dahood (II, p. 86) and other commentators, I read the imperfect verb forms here as subjunctive (“I would…”), similar to the perfect form in v. 4a (following the emphatic particle –yK!, i.e., “O that you would…”). It is also possible to read these in a cohortative/jussive sense (“Let me…!”).

The verb in the second line is hs*j* (“seek/find protection”), on which, cf. above regarding the related noun hs#j=m^. The first line uses the verb rWG, “turn aside,” usually in the specific context of coming to dwell (as a stranger) in a particular place. Like such a traveler, the Psalmist wishes to dwell in the “tent” of YHWH. This could refer to the Temple, but here it should be understood, more generally, in reference to the very presence of YHWH Himself (whether a heavenly or earthly location is in view). The expressions in the two lines have a formal parallelism:

    • “in your tent of distant (time)s” |
      “in (the) hiding (place) of your wings”

However, viewed thematically or conceptually, the lines form a chiasm:

    • “your tent”
      • “distant (times/places)”
      • “hiding (place)”
    • “your wings”

Clearly, the “tent” and “wings” of YHWH are conceptually parallel, both referring to the protection YHWH provides. The root <lu (from which the noun <l*ou derives) has the fundamental meaning of being distant; the noun is often used in a temporal sense—i.e., of a time either in the distant past or distant future. Both temporal aspects are applied, in a religious/theological sense, to YHWH, whose life and existence extends beyond the most distant time past, and into the most distant future; the English “eternal/eternity” provides a rough equivalent. There is a separate/cognate root <lu which denotes being hidden, which corresponds here with rts (noun rt#s#, “hiding [place]”).

Verses 6-9 [5-8]

Verse 6 [5]

“(O) that you, Mightiest, would listen to my vows,
(you who) give a possession (to those) fearing your name.”

The 3-beat meter of the first part shifts (in vv. 6 and 9) to a 4-beat (4+4) couplet format. This reflects a shift in emphasis, from the Psalmist’s prayer to an expectation that his prayer will be answered. This leads to a certain ambiguity regarding the perfect verb forms here in v. 6: are they ordinary (past-tense) perfects, or should they be read as precative perfects reflecting what the Psalmist wishes (and expects) will happen in the future? I follow Dahood (II, p. 86, cf. also I, pp. 20, 241) and other commentators in reading them as having precative force.

However, I also feel that the second line here is epexegetical, functioning almost as a relative clause, and that the verb /t^n` is meant to describe the conduct of YHWH, i.e., “(you who) give…”. In other words, since YHWH is the One who gives covenant-rewards to His faithful servants (those “fearing His name”), He surely will grant to the Psalmist blessing in response to what he has (faithfully) vowed. The hV`Wry+ (“possession”), in such a covenant-context, often refers to a piece of land given to someone as a hereditary property.

The “vows” (<yr!d*n+) here should be understood in a comprehensive sense, covering the Psalmist’s prayer in vv. 2-5 (cf. above), but also to his faithfulness in praising the name of YHWH on a regular basis (v. 9). That the Psalmist fulfills what He vows to YHWH, serves to demonstrate his faithfulness, and that, as a result, YHWH has a covenant-obligation to provide protection and blessing, etc.

Verses 7-8 [6-7]

“Days upon (the) days of (the) king may you add,
(and) his years for a cycle and (another) cycle;
may he sit (for) the distant (future) before (the) Mightiest,
goodness and firmness, measured (out), may they guard him!”

The 3-beat couplets of vv. 7-8 interrupt the 4-beat couplets of vv. 6 and 9; moreover, the introduction of a prayer-wish (to God) for the king seems abrupt and jarring to the overall context. Thus, many commentators would regard these lines as a secondary addition (interpolation) to the original composition; cf. the discussion by Hossfeld-Zenger, pp. 106-7. Dahood (II, pp. 83-4) is among those who argue for the originality of the lines, on the theory that the king is the speaker throughout the Psalm. He cites the example of a 5th century B.C. Phoenician inscription by Yeµawmilk of Byblos, which contain a similar shift from 1st-person to 3rd-person voice. I have previously noted how many of the Psalms envince a royal background, reflecting important themes and motifs (and language) from the kingdom-period, which often were preserved even as the compositions were further shaped by other forces (e.g., Wisdom traditions, an emphasis on communal worship, etc).

Verse 7 is a prayer for long life to the king. In line 1, extra “days” are to be added (vb [s^y`) to the days that would otherwise be alloted to his life-span. The same idea is expressed in the second line, of an extension of his “years” beyond that of a single generation (roD, “age, cycle, circle [of life]”). The expression rodw` roD occurs frequently in the Psalms (at least 16 times, 10:6; 33:11; 45:18; 49:12, etc), as an idiom for long life, sometimes being paired with the noun <l*ou (cf. below). The expression is often translated “(from) generation to generation,” but the sense of perpetual progression is perhaps better captured by the more literal idea of “(this) age and (the next) age”.

In verse 8, the wish is for a long and prosperous reign for the king, in which he will sit (vb bv^y`) on the throne, being safeguarded (vb rx^n`) by YHWH. As noted above, the noun <l*ou is parallel to the expression rodw` roD, with a similar connotation of long life. The specific denotation of <l*ou is for a period of time extending into the distant future. The protection YHWH provides, to the king as His faithful vassal, is here defined through the terms ds#j# (“goodness, kindness”) and tm#a# (“firmness”)—both are covenant-terms, connoting faithfulness and loyalty.

Verse 9 [8]

“So (then) will I sing your name until (the end),
for my completing of my vows day (by) day.”

The basic idea here, as we find often in the Psalms, is that once YHWH has answered the Psalmist’s prayer, he, in turn, will give praise to YHWH. A public worship setting is often assumed for this act of praise, and the very musical inspiration of the Psalmist (as a poet-composer) is tied to such praise. There is a presumed context, whereby the Psalmist’s petition to YHWH is connected with a religious vow (rd#n#). If God answers the Psalmist’s prayer, then he is obligated to fulfill the vow. Here, the verb <l^v* (“complete, fulfill”), often used in a covenant-context, relates to this obligation.

The expressions du^l* (“until [the end]”) and <oy <oy (“day [by] day”) are conceptually parallel (as time indicators) with <l*ou and rodw` roD in vv. 7-8 (cf. above). <oy <oy represents a microcosm of rodw` roD, but capturing the same sense of perpetuity, while du^l* has much the same meaning as <l*ou, as an indicator of a period of time lasting into the distant future.

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 “Hossfeld-Zenger” are to Frank-Lothar Hossfeld and Erich Zenger, Psalms 2: A Commentary on Psalms 51-100, translated from the German by Linda M. Maloney, Hermeneia Commentary series (Fortress Press: 2005).

Saturday Series: Galatians 4:21-31

Probatio (Galatians 3:1-4:31)  

In our study on Galatians, looking at Paul’s letter from the standpoint of Rhetorical Criticism, we have been proceeding through the probatio (chaps. 3-4), looking at each of the six main lines of argument in turn.  We have reached the sixth (and final) argument:

    1. An appeal to the Galatians’ experience (3:1-6) [study]
    2. Scriptural argument: the blessing of Abraham comes by faith (3:7-14) [study]
      —contrasted with the curse of the Law (vv. 10-13)
    3. Scriptural argument: the promise to Abraham comes through Christ (3:15-29) [study]
      Illustration: the nature of a testament/covenant, with a contrast between the Law and the promise (vv. 15-18)
      Statement(s) on the purpose of the Law (vv. 19-25)
      Statement on the promise that comes through Christ (vv. 23-25)
    4. Illustration: Slavery vs. Sonship (4:1-11) [study]
    5. Appeal based on the example and person of Paul (4:12-20) [study]
    6. An allegory from Scripture illustrating Slavery vs. Sonship (4:21-31)

Section 6: Galatians 4:21-31

The final argument Paul presents takes the form of an allegory (all¢goría, v. 24). It is one of the more familiar portions of the letter, but, as with Paul’s other statements regarding the Law in Galatians, the full force and significance of his argument are often ignored or softened by commentators. The section may be outlined thus:

    • V. 21—Opening question (challenge)
    • Vv. 22-23—Summary of the story from Scripture
    • Vv. 24-27—The (allegorical) interpretation: Two Covenants
      —Vv. 24-25: Jerusalem below—the earthly Jerusalem (Sinai)
      —Vv. 26-27: Jerusalem above—the heavenly Jerusalem
    • Vv. 28-31: Believers as children of the promise & freedom—conflict

Verse 21—Paul uses the interrogatio rhetorical method, as he questions his audience, prompting them and allowing them to bring forth a determination themselves. See Gal 3:2ff for a similar use of this technique. The question actually serves as a challenge to the Galatians:

“Relate to me [i.e. tell me], (you) the ones wishing to be under (the) Law [hypó nómon], will you not hear the Law?”

The expression “under the Law” (hypó nómon) has been used repeatedly (Gal 3:23; 4:4-5, also 5:18; Rom 6:14-15; 1 Cor 9:20), along with the parallel expressions “under (the) curse” (3:10), “under sin” (3:22), “under a paidagogos” (3:25, cf. also 4:2), “under the elements [stoicheia] of the world” (4:3). It refers, of course, to Jews (and Jewish Christians) who are (or who feel) obligated to observe the commands and regulations of the Torah; but, as the parallel terms indicate, Paul uses it as a shorthand for the bondage human beings are under prior to faith in Christ. The expression “hear the Law” has a two-fold meaning: (1) to obey the Law, and (2) literally, to hear the words of the Law (i.e. of Scripture). The latter is what Paul means primarily here, but he may also be saying, “if you want to be under the Law, are you willing to obey the Law (i.e. the true Law of Christ)?”

Verses 22-23—In these two verses, Paul summarizes the Scriptural narrative found in Genesis 16:1-6; 21:8-14, citing Gen 16:15; 21:2-3, 9. That Hagar was a slave or “servant-girl” (paidísk¢) is indicated in the narrative (Gen 16:1ff; 21:10ff, also 25:12); the contrast of Sarah as a free woman can be inferred/implied naturally from the context. This sets the stage for the theme of freedom in Christ to follow in 4:31/5:1ff. The Hagar/Ishmael vs. Sarah/Isaac contrast is also expressed by the mén…dé (“on the one hand…on the other…”) construction in verse 23 (cf. also vv. 8-9) [Note: some manuscripts (Papyrus46 B f vg) omit mén]. As we shall see, the juxtaposition of these characters is ultimately meant to show the contrast/conflict between “promise” (epangelía) and “flesh” (sárx); and, of course, the promise is closely connected with the Spirit (Gal 3:14). The expression “according to (the) flesh” (katá sárka) is used elsewhere in Paul’s letters (Rom 1:3; 4:1; 8:4-5, 12-13; 9:3, 5; 1 Cor 1:26; 10:18; 2 Cor 1:17; 5:16; 10:2-3; 11:18), and a Spirit-Flesh dualism is an important aspect of Paul’s thought in both Galatians (Gal 3:3; 4:29; 5:16-17; 6:8) and Romans (Rom 8:1-17) [cf. also Phil 3:3].

Verses 24-27—Paul interprets the Genesis story as an “allegory” (all¢goría), that is, a description of one thing under the image of another; the verb all¢goréœ (in v. 24) in this context means to speak/interpret by way of allegory. Familiar from Greco-Roman and Hellenistic-Jewish literature and philosophy, it is also similar to the creative midrash interpretive tradition in Judaism; for other examples in Paul’s letters, cf. 1 Cor 10:1-13; 2 Cor 3:7-18. The contrast/conflict between Hagar/Ishmael and Sarah/Isaac in the narrative is coordinated and aligned together (systoichéœ, v. 25) as follows:

Slave-girl vs. Free (woman) [v. 22b]

Flesh vs. Promise [v. 23]

(Old) Covenant vs. (New) Covenant [v. 24]

Jerusalem (on earth) vs. Jerusalem above [v. 25-26]

Hagar/Ishmael vs. Sarah/Isaac [v. 28-29]

As indicated in verse 24, Paul gives prominence and priority to the idea of two covenants—the Greek word rendered “covenant” (diath¢¡k¢) is literally something “set through (in order)”, often in the legal sense of a will or testament (as in Gal 3:15-17), but here corresponding to the Hebrew b®rî¾ (“agreement”), that is, the agreement (covenant) established between God and his people (Israel). The two covenants—old and new—are contrasted syntactically by way of another mén…dé formulation (see above):

    • mén: one (the old) from mount Sinai into/unto slavery [eis douleían]… (vv. 24-25)
    • dé: (the other), the Jerusalem above, (which) is free [eleuthéra estin]… (vv. 26-27)

Paul establishes this line of association first by equating Sinai with the (current) earthly Jerusalem in verse 25; he does this by way of (allegorical) correspondence, even though he recognizes that Mt. Sinai is actually in “Arabia” (presumably the Sinai peninsula). This equation has the following interpretive relationship:

    • The Sinai covenant (the Law/Torah) leads to slavery [douleía]
    • Jerusalem is currently serving as a slave [douleúei]

The last point could be taken either in a socio-political (i.e. under Roman occupation) or religious-spiritual (bondage under the Law and sin) sense, or both. This contrasts sharply with the traditional Jewish self-understanding of freedom related to the Torah and the covenant with God (see Mishnah Abot 6:2, also e.g. John 8:33), which Paul reverses completely. Here is the associative logic as a whole:

    • The Old Covenant (the Law/Torah) given at Mt. Sinai
      • Sinai = earthly Jerusalem
        • The Jerusalem below | Slavery
        • The Jerusalem above | Freedom
      • Jerusalem (above) = believers in Christ
    • The New Covenant (the Spirit/promise) realized in Christ

Verses 26-27 describe the “Jerusalem above” (h¢ ánœ Ierousal¢¡m), which is clearly to be understood in a spiritual sense; for similar examples of Jewish identity being appropriated/fulfilled by believers at the spiritual level, see Rom 2:28-29, and previously in Gal 3:7-9, 14, etc. This idea of a heavenly Jerusalem came to be well-established in early Christian thought (see Hebrews 12:22; 13:14; Revelation 3:12; 21:2-22:5), and generally builds on the (eschatological) Old Testament and Jewish tradition of a “new Jerusalem”—e.g. Isa 54:10ff; 60-66; Ezek 40-48; Tobit 13:9-18; Jubilees 4:26; 2/4 Esdras 7:26; 10:40ff; 2 Baruch 4:2-7; 32:2-23; 1 Enoch 90:28f; 2 Enoch 55:2; for an interesting ‘Gnostic’ interpretation, along the same lines as Paul in Galatians, see in Hippolytus, Refutation of Heresies 5.7.39, 8.37. See Betz, Galatians, pp. 246-7.

Another familiar, and related, Jewish tradition was Jerusalem/Zion as a mother (v. 26). As such, this image is parallel to that of the Jewish concept of freedom associated with the Law and Covenant; and, again, Paul reverses this traditional association, by way of citing Isaiah 54:1 (LXX), a passage which came to be used in Judaism in the context of the rebuilding of Jerusalem (see the Targum; Pesiqta Rabbati 32:2). The context of Paul’s citation (v. 27) rather suggests a correlative juxtaposition between physical barrenness and spiritual life.

Verses 28-31—These verses begin and end with statements of Christian identity, related to the parallel concepts of promise and freedom:

V. 28: “But you {some manuscripts read “we”}, brothers, according to Isaac, are offspring of (the) promise
V. 31: “Therefore, brothers, we are not offspring of the (slave)-girl, but of the free (woman)”

Verses 29-30 stand in between, and are descriptive of conflict for believers:

V. 29: External—drawing upon Jewish tradition of conflict between Ishmael and Isaac (not indicated specifically in the Scripture narrative itself), see t. Sota 6:6; Genesis Rabbah 53 (34a), etc. This is interpreted by Paul according to two aspects: (1) Jewish hostility and persecution toward early Christians, attested to amply by Paul in his letters and in the book of Acts. (2) The dualism of katá sárka (“according to the flesh”) vs. katá pneúma (“according to the Spirit”). Here the conflict is still external—i.e. the issue being that regarding circumcision and actual observance of the Torah commands; for an internal expression of this dualism in the hearts/minds and lives of believers (before and after conversion), cf. Romans 7-8.

V. 30: Internal—quoting Gen 21:10 and applying it primarily in a religious-spiritual sense: believers are the heirs in Christ (Gal 3:29; 4:1, 7; see also Rom 4:13-14; 8:17), and should no longer wish to come under a yoke of slavery. That Paul may here be expressing the rejection of Jews is certainly possible (see 1 Thess 2:14-16; Rom 9-11), but I do not believe that this is his emphasis—it rather relates more properly to his exhortation to the Gentile Galatians that they “cast away” the yoke of bondage (i.e. observance of the Torah) which they are considering placing upon themselves.

In summary, I would illustrate the thematic structure of these verses as follows:

    • V. 28—Believers are children of the promise
      • V. 29—Conflict for believers: Flesh vs. Spirit
      • V. 30—Action for believers: “Cast out” the son of the slave-girl (i.e. slavery)
    • V. 31—Believers are children of the free woman

There is an interesting (and moving) history associated with the interpretation of verse 29:

“Even as then the one coming to be (born) according to the flesh pursued [i.e. persecuted] the one (born) according to the Spirit, so also now.”

As indicated above, Paul is drawing upon historical Jewish tradition (related to Ishmael and Isaac) and applying it (primarily) in terms of Jewish persecution of the early Christians, but also, in a secondary sense, of the Jewish Christian opposition to Paul and his work. Later on in Church history, it also came to be applied definitely in this context of the persecution of Christians by other Christians. The supposed Christians doing the persecuting were thus acting “according to the flesh” (and not the Spirit). This was a popular verse among Anabaptists, Spiritualists, and other dissident (independent) believers during the Reformation period, who found themselves frequently under (often intense) persecution by Roman Catholics and Protestants alike. It was also a key verse by those few who dared to speak out (and write) against the practice of persecuting and executing supposed heretics—most prominently, Sebastian Castellion, who wrote vehemently against Calvin and the Reformed of Geneva for their role in the execution of Michael Servetus.

References marked “Betz, Galatians” are to: Hans Dieter Betz, Galatians, in the Hermeneia series (Fortress Press [1979]).

Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 60

Psalm 60

Dead Sea MSS: No surviving manuscripts.

This is yet another prayer-Psalm with lament characteristics. The characteristic shift, from a plea for deliverance to an expectation that YHWH will answer the Psalmist’s prayer, has occurred in a number of the ‘Elohist’ Psalms we have recently studied. The structure of the composition, in this instance, is peculiar, due primarily to the divine oracle present in vv. 8-10 [6-8]. Within both Judaism and early Christianity, the Psalms came to be regarded as prophetic (to be counted among the Prophets); however, this is one of the few Psalms which actually contains a prophetic oracle.

The meter follows a 3-beat (3+3) couplet format, with a notable shift to a 3-beat tricolon (3+3+3) format in vv. 8-10. This shift marks off the divine speech of vv. 8-10 in poetic terms.

For the structure of the Psalm, I feel it is best to divide it into parallel sections, separated by the oracle in vv. 8-10:

    • Part 1: Lament over the suffering experienced as a result of YHWH’s anger (vv. 3-5 [1-3])
    • [Oracle regarding the Kingdom] (vv. 8-11 [6-9])
    • Part 2: A second lament (v. 12 [10]) and prayer for deliverance (vv. 13-14 [11-12])

The heading designates this Psalm as another  <T*k=m! (miktam, on this term, cf. the study on Psalm 16). The previous miktams were apparently poems without music, to be sung to an existing melody. This also seems to be the case here, with the melody being /v*Wv (“lily,” or possibly “lotus”), resembling the name in Pss 45 and 69 (pl. <yN]v^ov, “lilies”). The poem is also designated as an tWdu@, usually translated “testimony,” but properly referring to words that are to be repeated. There is thus a didactic purpose to the poem, which is “to be taught” (dM@l^l=), much like the Song of Moses in Deuteronomy 32.

The superscription marks the poem as yet another Davidic composition (“belonging to David”), attributing it (in verse 2) in relation to the historical David-tradition recorded in 2 Samuel 8:1-14 (par 1 Chron 18:1-13). This tradition relates to the nations mentioned in vv. 8-11, in the context of the establishment of the kingdom of David and Solomon—which represented the territory of the Israelite kingdom at its greatest extent.

In this regard, there have been a good many theories regarding the specific dating of the poem, along with the critical question of how the oracle in vv. 8-10 fits within the overall composition. It is generally thought that the oracle represents a significantly older piece of traditional material, around which the remainder of the Psalm was composed. A common view is that the Psalm proper dates from the late kingdom-period, around the time of the Babylonian conquest, thus creating a stark juxtaposition with the territorial promises in the oracle. For a good survey of the question of dating, cf. Hossfeld-Zenger, pp. 95-8.

PART 1: VERSES 3-7 [1-5]

Verse 3 [1]

“O Mightiest, you rejected us, you scattered us;
you were angry—(but) may you turn back to us!”

Two points of interpretation are important for determining the thrust of this opening couplet. First, does the verb jn~z` mean “reject,” or “be angry” (corr. to Akkadian zenû, cf. Dahood, II, p. 77). Second, does the imperfect verb form bb@ovT= reflect an indicative or jussive? If a jussive (with imperatival force) is intended, the the verb bWv here would have the positive meaning “turn back, return”; but, if it is a past tense indicative, then it has a negative sense of “turn away, withdraw”. Dahood opts for the latter, along with reading jnz in the sense of “be angry”; this creates a parallel couplet of pure lament:

“O Mightiest, you were angry with us, you scattered us;
you snorted with anger, (and) you turned away from us!”

The force of the couplet might even be clearer if jnz has the typical meaning “reject”, creating a chiasm:

    • “you rejected us”
      • “you scattered us”
      • “you were angry” (i.e. snorting like an enraged bull)
    • “you turned away from us”

My translation above reads bb@ovT= as a jussive, adding a hopeful prayer-note to the lament.

Verse 4 [2]

“You made (the) earth shake, you split it (open);
may you heal its broken (piece)s, for it is slipping!”

The force of this couplet also hinges on a point of interpretation—regarding the word hpr. The MT vocalizes it hp*r=, usually understood as an alternate spelling of the imperative ap*r= (“heal!”). But the actual verb hp^r* means “(let) sink, drop,” which would fit the image here of a handful of broken pieces, potentially giving to the couplet a sense of unmitigated disaster, i.e., “(you) let drop its broken pieces”. Dahood (II, p. 78) would vocalize as the adjective hp*r* (“slack, drooping,” i.e. “weak”), which leads to a quite vivid couplet, that I would translate as:

“You made (the) earth shake, you split it (open),
(and) weak (from) its broken (part)s, how it is slipping!”

Verse 5 [3]

“You made your people see hardship,
you made us drink (the) wine of reeling.”

Instead of the rather bland Hiphil “you made see” (vb ha*r*), Dahood (II, p. 78) vocalizes htyarh as ht*ar@h), deriving it from the root ary II (“pour”), and also understands hv*q* in connection with the Ugaritic noun q¹š (“cup,” cp. Heb. hw`c=q^, “jug, jar”). This line of interpretation admittedly keeps the imagery more consistent, and also gives to the couplet a striking synthetic parallelism:

“You poured out (for) your people a cup,
you made us drink (the) wine of reeling!”

Verse 6-7 [4-5]

“(May) you give to (those) fearing you a (flag) to raise,
to be raised from (before the) face of the bow(men)!
Selah
To (the end) that your beloved should be pulled out,
keep (us) safe (with) your right hand, and answer us!”

The imperatives in vv. 3-4 (cf. above), if correct, would seem to require that the perfect form hT*t^n` (lit. “you gave”) be understood as a precative perfect—i.e., a wish (for the future) expressed in terms of something that has already happened. In English, this is almost impossible to translate in a way that works in poetry; we might say “(that) you (would have) given,” but it it is easier simply to render it like an imperative or jussive (“may you give…!”). The prayer thus takes the form of a clear petition, a plea to God for deliverance.

The noun sn@ in the first line is related to the verb ss^n` (II) in the second. Both are difficult to translate; the fundamental denotation seems to refer to something raised up high so that everyone can see it—e.g., in a military-political context, a flag or banner, around which people can rally. The reference to archers/bowmen (sing. “bow”, tv#q# in place of MT fv#q) [so most commentators]) certainly indicates a military context, with God’s deliverance (from enemies) in terms of a military victory.

Indeed, a military rescue is described in verse 7, using the verb Jl^j* (I), “pull out, withdraw”, in the sense of YHWH pulling His people (and their king) out of danger. The noun dyd!y`, related to dod (in the Song of Songs, etc), means “(my) love, loved one, beloved”; it could be used here of the people Israel (collectively), or of the king as their leader and representative. The Hiphil imperative of the verb uv^y` in the second line literally means “save (us)…!,” but here it is better understood in the sense of the protection YHWH provides (i.e., “keep [us] safe!”). Following the rescue in line 1, God’s protection (in a military sense) will ultimately lead to victory for His people, a victory which is the answer (vb hn`u*) to the Psalmist’s prayer.

The placement of a Selah (hl*s#) pause-marker between verses 6 and 7 is curious. It does not seem to relate to the structure of the Psalm, but may simply be used to alleviate the syntactical transition between the two verses.

Oracle:  Verses 8-11 [6-9]

There is a sudden shift in verse 8, both structurally and rhythmically. Verses 8-10 [6-8] constitute a prophetic oracle in which YHWH Himself speaks. In place of the 3-beat bicolon (couplet) format in vv. 3-7 (cf. above), there is a tricolon (triplet) format in vv. 8-10.

Verse 8 [6]

“(The) Mightiest has spoken in His Holy (Place):
‘I will exult (and) will make Šekem (my) portion,
and the valley of Sukkot I will measure out.'”

The 3-beat (3+3+3) tricolon format of the oracle is established here. As in verse 3 [1], the title <yh!l)a$ (“Mightiest [One],” Elohim, i.e., ‘God’) is used, presumably in place of, originally, the Divine Name hwhy (YHWH)—a substitution that occurs consistently throughout the ‘Elohist’ Psalms. YHWH speaks in His “Holy (Place),” —that is, the sanctuary of His Dwelling (Temple)—though the noun vd#q) could also mean “holiness” (i.e., “in His holiness”).

The geographical association between the city of Shechem and the “valley of Sukkot” here probably alludes to the tradition in Genesis 33:17-18. It may refer generally to the northern territory (and kingdom) of Israel; the northern extent of the kingdom is referenced by David’s conquests over Syria (Aram-Zobah and Aram-Damascus) in 2 Sam 8:3-8. The verb dd^m* means “stretch a line,” i.e., to measure something, and thus refers to measuring the extent of territory belonging to the king/kingdom. Here, the territory belongs specifically to YHWH Himself, as King, but by extension it also belongs to the kingdom of His people (Israel/Judah).

Verse 9 [7]

“To me (belongs) Gil’ad, and to me Menaššeh,
and Ephrayim (is) a protected place (for) my head,
(while) Yehudah (is) my engraved (staff).”

In this verse, the Davidic kingdom of Israel—the united kingdom—is summarized. As noted in the introduction above, if the Psalm proper is dated near the time of the Babylonian exile, then the lamentable situation of the kingdom at that time would be set in stark contrast to the original divine promises regarding the extent of territory (realized, albeit briefly, in the reigns of David and Solomon). The northern territories are represented by the half-tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh (along with the region of the Gilead), depicted in terms of the king’s head—that is, a helmet (lit. “place of protection,” or “protected place,” zoum*). Judah represents the southern territory, and, with its capital of Jerusalem, is the locus of the ruling power and authority of the king (his engraved [vb qq^j*] staff). Again, YHWH is the ultimate King, with the king of Israel/Judah ruling over the people as His representative or vassal.

Verse 10 [8]

“Mo’ab (is the) pot for my washing;
upon Edom I will throw down my sandal;
over Pelešet I will cry out (in triumph).”

Here the territories of Moab, Edom and the coastal cities of the Philistines are included as Israelite territory (belonging ultimately, of course, to YHWH as King). Moab and Edom, in particular, are belittled, described as a mere washpot for the king, or as a place to thrown down (or set down) his sandals. David’s victories over Moab and Edom are referenced in 2 Sam 8:2, 12-14, while his victories over the Philistines headline that passage (v. 1). Here YHWH simply declares that He will “cry out” (vb u^Wr) over Philistia—that is, a cry/shout of triumph over them. The text of the third line should be read in light of the doublet in Ps 108:10 [9].

Verse 11 [9]

“Who will carry me (to the) city (with) strong walls?
Who will guide me (to come) unto Edom?”

The meter now shifts back to the 3-beat couplet (bicolon) format of the Psalm; and, indeed, verse 11 is not part of the oracle, and it is no longer YHWH who is speaking. The verse is transitional, leading the way from the oracle into the concluding verses (a second lament-prayer).

The first line could be understood either as coming to the walled city for protection, or for conquest. In the context of the oracle, the latter seems more likely. The Psalmist envisions a situation when Israel will once again realize the promises of YHWH regarding the kingdom and its territory, and where the conquests by David may, in some sense, be repeated. The specific mention of Edom in the second line may reflect the heightened tensions (and hostility) between Judah and Edom in the late kingdom period (early-6th century, and thereafter). The envisioned conquests will begin with the near adversary Edom (along with Moab, we may assume, to follow).

Part 2: Verses 12-14 [10-12]

Verse 12 [10]

“Is it not you, (O) Mightiest, you (who) rejected us,
and did not go out, Mightiest, with our armies?”

This couplet answers the question (“Who…?”) in v. 11. Even though YHWH had rejected His people (for the verb jn~z`, cf. on v. 3 above), and, for a time, allowed Israel to be defeated and conquered, the hope (and prayer) is that now God will once again return to fight on His people’s behalf. The couplet here thus blends together lament with a hope (prayer) for deliverance, echoing the themes of the longer Part 1. For a different way of reading these lines, cf. Dahood (II, pp. 76, 82).

Verse 13 [11]

“Give to us help from [i.e. against] (our) adversary,
(for) indeed empty is (the) saving (help) of man!”

Only the power and strength of YHWH will allow His people to prevail against their enemies. The noun rx^ can be derived from three different roots, meaning (respectively): (1) “narrowness” (i.e., a “tight spot”), (2) “distress, oppression”, or (3) “adversary, enemy”. All three would be applicable, but the military context here suggests the third meaning is most likely in view. The very acknowledgement of YHWH’s saving power, contrasted with the “emptiness” (aw+v*) of human strength, can be taken as an implicit indication of the people’s current faithfulness (as represented by the Psalmist), and give them reason to believe that YHWH will, indeed, hear and answer their prayer.

Verse 14 [12]

“With the Mightiest, we shall act with strength,
and He (indeed) shall trample down our adversaries!”

The people will act together with (-B=) YHWH to defeat their enemies, just as Israel did (under David’s leadership) in times of old. They will act with strength (ly]j*), since the power of God Himself will be on their side. Indeed, it is YHWH who does the real fighting, trampling down the enemies of Israel (note the emphatic position of the pronoun aWh [“He”]).

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 “Hossfeld-Zenger” are to Frank-Lothar Hossfeld and Erich Zenger, Psalms 2: A Commentary on Psalms 51-100, translated from the German by Linda M. Maloney, Hermeneia Commentary series (Fortress Press: 2005).

Saturday Series: Galatians 4:12-20

Probatio (Galatians 3:1-4:31)  

In our study on Galatians, looking at Paul’s letter from the standpoint of Rhetorical Criticism, we are proceeding through the probatio (chaps. 3-4), looking at each of the six main lines of argument in turn.  We have reached the fifth argument:

    1. An appeal to the Galatians’ experience (3:1-6) [study]
    2. Scriptural argument: the blessing of Abraham comes by faith (3:7-14) [study]
      —contrasted with the curse of the Law (vv. 10-13)
    3. Scriptural argument: the promise to Abraham comes through Christ (3:15-29) [study]
      Illustration: the nature of a testament/covenant, with a contrast between the Law and the promise (vv. 15-18)
      Statement(s) on the purpose of the Law (vv. 19-25)
      Statement on the promise that comes through Christ (vv. 23-25)
    4. Illustration: Slavery vs. Sonship (4:1-11) [study]
    5. Appeal based on the example and person of Paul (4:12-20)

Section 5: Galatians 4:12-20

In this section, Paul appeals to the Galatians on the basis of his own person and example, having begun this transition already with the rhetorical question (expressing self-doubt, dubitatio) in verse 11. There he expresses concern that his missionary work to the Galatians may have been in vain. In his commentary on Galatians (pp. 220-1), Betz refers to this as an “argument from friendship,” and cites numerous examples from Greco-Roman literature, including works “on friendship” (perí philías). The general parallel is accurate, in at least two respects:

    • The argument involves reciprocity between Paul and the Galatians
    • His (true) friendship with the Galatians is contrasted with the false friendship of his Jewish-Christian opponents

I would outline the section as follows:

    • V. 12—the “friendship” theme is established: imitation and reciprocity
    • Vv. 13-15—an appeal to the Galatians’ past response to Paul (their friendship)
    • V. 16—contrast with the present situation: has Paul become their enemy?
    • Vv. 17-19—contrast between Paul and his opponents (true and false friendship)
    • V. 20—concluding statement of Paul’s concern (parallel with v. 11)

Verse 12—Paul’s personal appeal to the Galatians is here expressed in terms of imitation (“come to be as I [am]”) and reciprocity (“even as I [am as] you [are]”). The motif of following Paul’s own example appears frequently as a point of exhortation in his letters (1 Thess 2:14; 1 Cor 4:16; 11:1; Phil 3:17; also 1 Cor 7:8, 40; 10:33). Similarly, the idea of mutual care and concern among believers is a primary ethical (and theological/spiritual) teaching, and, as such, may be connected with the so-called “love command” (Gal 5:13-14; 6:2). In a way, this basic formulation expresses the only sense in which believers are any more “under Law” —we are obligated to love one another, and to share each others’ burdens. Equally important is the way Paul makes this appeal based on his own person and authority. As previously noted, this was a key theme and point of emphasis throughout the first two chapters of Galatians—his role and authority as an apostle (to the Gentiles), which he received directly (by revelation) from Christ. Therefore, his personal authority becomes a valid (and vital) argument in support of the Gospel he has been proclaiming, including his teaching regarding the Law.

Verses 13-15—Several words and phrases are particularly worth noting:

    • eu¢ngelisámen (“I proclaimed the good message”), v. 13—note the contrast between the “good message” (Gospel) and his own human weakness.
    • edéxasthé me (“you received me”), v. 14—receiving (déchomai) one sent to proclaim the Gospel is effectively the same as receiving the Gospel itself (Acts 8:14; 11:1; 17:11; 1 Thess 1:6; 2:13; 2 Cor 6:1; 11:4), as well as receiving the one who sends (see Jesus’ saying in Matt 10:40 par).
    • hœs ángelon theoú … hœs Christón I¢soún (“as a Messenger of God… as [the] Anointed Yeshua”)—this is an important principle: that the apostle is one sent by God (and Christ) and acts as Jesus’ own representative; in accepting Paul (and the Gospel he proclaimed) they were accepting God the Father and Jesus Christ (whose representative Paul is).
    • The description of sacrificial friendship in v. 15 draws upon similar exemplary imagery in Greco-Roman literature and philosophy, as most notably narrated in the Toxaris (40-41) of Lucian (see Betz, Galatians, pp. 227-8).

Verse 16—The Galatians’ prior friendship (vv. 13-15) is contrasted with the current situation. By turning to “another Gospel” (1:6ff), they are essentially rejecting Paul; therefore he asks the (rhetorical) question: “so have I become your enemy [echthrós], (in) telling the truth to you?”

Verses 17-19—Here Paul creates a subtle contrast between himself and those Jewish Christians who are influencing the Galatians to accept the Law. Vv. 17-18a make use of wordplay involving the verb z¢lóœ, with its dual meaning of “to be zealous/jealous”, and the adjective kalós (“beautiful”, “fine, good, exemplary”). The implication is that Paul’s zeal (for the Galatians) is fine/good, but the ‘zeal’/jealousy of his Jewish-Christian opponents is not. Note also how a kind of false reciprocity is expressed in v. 17, parallel to that of v. 12. The verb z¢lóœ can carry the sense of “longing” for someone/something, especially in the context of friendship and (erotic) romance; thus we might paraphrase verse 17— “their longing for you is not good; rather, they wish to close you off so that you should long for them!” In verse 18b-19, Paul expresses his own longing for the Galatians; indeed, his own friendship for them goes even beyond a lover, and is actually more like a parent (a mother) who is giving birth to a child! His ‘labor pains’ (on their behalf) continue, as he expresses it marvellously, “until (the time in) which (the) Anointed {Christ} should be formed/fashioned in you”.

Verse 20—This is another example of the rhetorical device of dubitatio (expressing self-doubt), similar to that in verse 11. The expression “I fear for you” at the start of v. 11 is parallel to “I am at a loss in (dealing with) you” at the close of v. 20. The verb aporéœ means “without a way through (a situation)”; in English idiom, we might say “I just don’t know how to deal with you” or “I am at my wits’ end with you!” In the rhetorical context, Paul is here playing a role—he has tried all these different ways to convince the Galatians, he is now left with expolitio, i.e. modulating the voice for the purpose of persuading the audience (cf. Betz, Galatians, p. 236). If only he were there with the Galatians in person, they could really hear what he was saying! This demonstrates just how important Paul regarded the matter.

One final argument remains in the probatio (chapters 3-4), namely, the famous allegory of 4:21-31; this will be discussed in our next study.

References marked “Betz, Galatians” are to: Hans Dieter Betz, Galatians, in the Hermeneia series (Fortress Press [1979]).

Sola Scriptura: 2 Thessalonians 2:15; 2 Timothy 1:12-14

Sola Scriptura

We have here been considering the primacy of the Apostolic Tradition as a source of religious authority for early Christians. The Apostolic Tradition has three fundamental components:

    1. The proclamation (kerygma) of the Gospel
    2. The words of Jesus—sayings, teachings, parables—along with his example (of what he said and did), preserved and transmitted by the apostles to the early congregations
    3. The authoritative teaching by the apostles

The first two components were discussed in the previous two studies (last week and the week prior); it now remains to example that last of these three.

3. Authoritative Teaching by the Apostles

We may begin by returning to our previous examination of Paul’s teaching on marriage in 1 Corinthians 7, which is based on three different authoritative sources:

    • Verses 10-11: Paul cites a Jesus tradition (saying/teaching by Jesus) as a command— “not I, but the Lord”
    • Verses 12-14ff: He gives a similar directive, for which no Jesus tradition was available, based on his own inspired apostolic authority— “I, not the Lord”
    • Verses 25ff: He has neither a command from Jesus, nor an inspired directive of his own; rather, Paul offers an authoritative opinion (gnw/mh), as advice, or by way of a recommendation, for believers.

The last two sources fit under the same heading for this article, representing two kinds of authoritative apostolic teaching. The New Testament Epistles are replete with examples of apostolic teaching, which may be divided into three general categories:

    • Theological and doctrinal teaching
    • Ethical instruction, and
    • Guidance on congregational activity and organization

Rather than selecting from the hundreds of passages that deal with these areas, it is perhaps more useful here to consider the place of the Apostolic Tradition as a whole, embracing all three of the components outlined above. The principal noun referring to this Tradition is para/dosi$, from the verb paradi/dwmi (“give along, give over”); it thus signifies something that is “given along”, or ‘handed down,’ from one person to another, and from one generation to the next. Our word “tradition” is cognate to the Latin traditio, which has a comparable meaning to para/dosi$.

Para/dosi$ occurs 13 times in the New Testament; however, eight of these are part of a single Synoptic episode (Mk 17:3, 5, 8-9, 13; Matt 15:2-3, 6). The other five occurrences are in Paul’s letters, thus making the word something of a Pauline term.

The earliest of these, in 2 Thessalonians 2:15, is significant, in light of our previous study on 1 Cor 7:10ff (cf. above). If we combine the evidence from both Thessalonian letters, it is possible to compare Paul’s eschatological teaching in 1 Thess 4:13-5:11 with that of 2 Thess 1:5-2:15. The teaching in 1 Thessalonians is rooted in “an account by the Lord” (or, “a word of the Lord,” lo/go$ kuri/ou), which could refer to a variety of eschatological sayings/teachings by Jesus, such as those contained in the “Eschatological Discourse”. The wording in 5:2-4ff almost certainly is based on sayings by Jesus as well.

By contrast, 2 Thessalonians 1-2 represents more distinctly Pauline teaching—that is, stemming from Paul’s own, inspired status as an apostle. He attempts to explain and expound the early Christian eschatological framework, such as is found in the “Eschatological Discourse”. Paul concludes his eschatological instruction with these words in 2:15:

“So then, brothers, stand firm and hold firmly to the (thing)s given along [parado/si$ plur], which you were taught, whether through an account (of speech) or through our (letter) sent to you.”

Paul includes his current eschatological instruction as part of the various authoritative apostolic teachings he (and other apostles like him) have ‘given along’ to the Thessalonians. The mention of an e)pistolh/ (epistle) simply means that the apostolic authority was the same, whether it was spoken (when the apostle was personally present), or conveyed through writing (when he was absent). It does, however, also anticipate the preservation of letters like 2 Thessalonians, and their eventual inclusion among the New Testament Scriptures.

The same noun (para/dosi$) occurs in 3:6, in connection with Paul’s ethical instruction. The faithful and upright conduct, to which he exhorts the Thessalonians, is contrasted (as a warning) with the conduct of “…every brother walking about (in a) disorderly (manner) and not according to the (thing) given along [para/dosi$] which you received alongside [vb paralamba/nw] from us”. The verbs paradi/dwmi (“give along”) and paralamba/nw (“receive along, take long”) are similar in meaning, describing the same dynamic from two different vantage point—i.e., the giving of the tradition (by an apostle), and the receiving of it (by the congregation). For examples of paradi/dwmi in this context, cf. Luke 1:2; 1 Cor 11:2, 23; 15:3; Rom 6:17; 2 Peter 2:21; Jude 3. For other instances of paralamba/nw, cf. 1 Cor 11:23; 15:1, 3; Gal 1:9, 12; Phil 4:9; 1 Thess 2:13; 4:1.

Another verb, which can be used, even more forcefully, for the giving (and preservation) of the Apostolic Tradition, is parati/qhmi, “set/place alongside”. This verb can be used in reference to the act of teaching (e.g., Acts 17:3), but it is not used this way in the NT Epistles. Rather, it specifically means “place (something) along into one’s care,” i.e., entrust it to someone (cf. Lk 12:48). It can refer to entrusting a person into another’s care (Acts 14:23; 20:32); however, in the Epistles, it is the Apostolic Tradition, we may say, that is entrusted. This is the specific context in the Pauline Pastorals, in which the apostle (Paul) “places along” the authoritative tradition(s) to ministers such as Timothy (2 Tim 2:2; cf. also 1 Tim 1:18), who will then transmit them to the believers (and congregations) under his charge.

The related noun paraqh/kh, derived from parati/qhmi, when used in this context, is more or less synonymous with para/dosi$, but entailing also the added meaning associated with the verb parati/qhmi described above. The Apostolic Tradition that is “given along” (para/dosi$) is also “placed along” (paraqh/kh) into the care of ministers like Timothy, to be preserved and guarded carefully. This latter noun occurs just three times in the New Testament, and all in the Pastoral Letters (1-2 Timothy). The main passage, in which the noun occurs twice, is 2 Timothy 1:12-14:

“…I suffer these (thing)s, but I am not ashamed, for I have seen the (One) in whom I have trusted, and I have been persuaded that He is able to guard the (thing) placed alongside [paraqh/kh] me unto [i.e. until] that day. You must hold (firm to the) under(lying) pattern of words being [i.e. that are] healthy, which you heard alongside [para/] me, in (the) trust and love th(at is) in (the) Anointed Yeshua; the beautiful (thing) placed alongside [paraqh/kh] you must guard, through (the) Holy Spirit th(at is) dwelling in us.”

Note the chain of transmission, presented as a chiastic outline:

    • God guards [vb fula/ssw] the Tradition
      • this Tradition was placed alongside [paraqh/kh] Paul
        • Timothy heard it alongside [para/] Paul
      • the Tradition was placed alongside [paraqh/kh] Timothy
    • Through God’s Spirit, Timothy is to guard [vb fula/ssw] the Tradition

Timothy is similarly commanded to “guard” the Tradition (paraqh/kh) at the conclusion of 1 Timothy (6:20). It is worth mentioning that most critical commentators regard the Pastoral Letters as pseudonymous ‘Deutero-Pauline’ works. As such, they likely would have been written toward the end of the first-century (c. 90-100), rather than the early 60’s. The specific emphasis on guarding the Apostolic Tradition (from false believers and ‘heretics,’ etc) does seem to reflect a later development, but it is possible that Paul could already be using such language c. 63-64 A.D. I tend to regard 2 Timothy (on objective grounds) as a genuine work by Paul, but find the arguments for pseudonymity reasonably strong in the case of 1 Timothy.

Similar critical considerations go into judging the date (and thus the context) of 2 Peter and Jude—two letters which share with 1-2 Timothy a concern for guarding the Apostolic Tradition against false believers. Note, for example, the wording of 2 Peter 2:21 in the overall context of the eschatological-ethical warnings in chaps. 2-3. Jude is even more pointed in this regard, with the warnings and exhortation framed by the grand statement in verse 3:

“Loved (one)s, (in) making all haste to write to you about our common salvation, I held (myself with) constraint to write to you, calling you along to struggle over the trust once (and for all) having been given along [vb paradi/dwmi] to the holy (one)s.”

By this rhetorical syntax, the author prepares his audience for the forceful warnings that follow. He “held (himself) with constraint” in writing, because he knew that it was necessary to give the tough message warning his readers against the dangers posed by false believers within the congregations. This statement, in my view, truly does represent a relatively late development, as can be seen by the way that the noun pi/sti$ refers, not simply to trust in Jesus, but to the authoritative (apostolic) Tradition as a whole.

In conclusion here, it is also worth mentioning the reference to the letters of Paul in 2 Pet 3:15-16, usually taken by commentators as a sign for a late dating of 2 Peter (and for its pseudonymity). Whether or not this critical opinion is valid (and it may be debated), there can be little doubt that the process of collecting and preserving the New Testament Letters was already underway by the end of the first-century. This very process implies a recognition of the authoritative character of these letters, insofar as they reflect (and preserve) the Apostolic Tradition. It is possible the apostolic missionaries and leaders themselves sought to preserve some written record of their teaching. To be sure, the letters written by the apostles would have been considered just as authoritative as their spoken words when personally present (e.g., 2 Cor 10:11; 2 Thess 3:14, and cf. the discussion above). Indeed, Paul urges the Thessalonians to have his letter read (out loud) to a wide audience (1 Thess 5:27). See also the way the author of the book of Revelation refers to his work (22:6-9, 18-19, etc).

By the end of the first-century, the writings of the apostles—some of them, at any rate—were effectively being treated as authoritative Scripture, on a par with the Old Testament Scriptures, even as the Apostolic Tradition, on the whole, superseded those very Scriptures. Around the same time (c. 90 A.D.), all four of our Gospels had been written, preserving, in a similar way, a different aspect of the Tradition. The process of producing a corpus of New Testament Scriptures was well under way.

Saturday Series: Galatians 4:1-11

Probatio (Galatians 3:1-4:31)  

In our study on Galatians, looking at Paul’s letter from the standpoint of Rhetorical Criticism, we are proceeding through the probatio (chaps. 3-4), looking at each of the six main lines of argument in turn.  We have reached the fourth argument:

    1. An appeal to the Galatians’ experience (3:1-6) [study]
    2. Scriptural argument: the blessing of Abraham comes by faith (3:7-14) [study]
      —contrasted with the curse of the Law (vv. 10-13)
    3. Scriptural argument: the promise to Abraham comes through Christ (3:15-29) [study]
      Illustration: the nature of a testament/covenant, with a contrast between the Law and the promise (vv. 15-18)
      Statement(s) on the purpose of the Law (vv. 19-25)
      Statement on the promise that comes through Christ (vv. 23-25)
    4. Illustration: Slavery vs. Sonship (4:1-11)

Section 4: Galatians 4:1-11

The fourth argument of the probatio (chaps 3-4) in Galatians is an illustration of slavery vs. sonship. It picks up where the third argument leaves off (3:29), identifying believers in Christ as heirs (“ones receiving the lot”, kl¢ronómoi)—the offspring (“seed”) of Abraham, inheriting the promise(s) God made to him.

Galatians 4:1-2—In these verses Paul establishes the basic illustration regarding the son (and heir):

“And I relate (to you that) upon as (much) time as the one receiving the lot [i.e. heir] is an infant [n¢¡pios], he carries through [i.e. differs] nothing (from) a slave, (despite) being lord of all (thing)s…”

The origin of the Greek word n¢¡pios is not entirely clear, with various derivations fundamentally indicating “without speech” = infant, infans [i.e. unable to speak], “without sense/understanding”, and “weak, without power”. The basic connotation would seem to be “young and/or immature”, and can specifically refer to a young child (here, a minor). The principal idea is that, until the child (a son) reaches the age of maturity, his status is practically (and functionally) similar to that of a slave, as explained in verse 2. Paul draws on the example of a son in a well-to-do family, a modification of the example given already in 3:23-25 (see my earlier note on these verses). The final qualifying phrase of 4:1 is interesting—the point Paul makes is that the heir legally is (or will be) the lord of the household, but, even so, until becoming an adult, he is very much like a slave. This could be understood in a “gnostic” sense—i.e., believers in Christ, even before coming to faith, are, by nature, already sons of God (cf. v. 6a), just without realizing it. The same construct could, however, just as easily be read in an ‘orthodox’ sense, according to the doctrine of Election (or something akin to it). Paul clarifies the point in verse 2:

“…but is under managers and house-administrators until the (time) set before(hand) by the father”

In 3:24-25, the image is of the child who is led out of the house (to school and back), being guarded, instructed and disciplined. Here a different household picture is offered, that of basic government within the house. An epítropos is essentially a person to whom someone/something has been “turned over” —in this domestic context, a legal trustee or guardian, someone to whom the child is given over for care and tutelage (a tutor). An oikonómos indicates a “household-administrator” and general supervisor. The child is “under” (hypó) these servants just as he is “under” (hypó) the paidagogos (3:24-25), both parallel, and largely synonymous, with being “under the Law” [hypó  nómon] and “under sin” [hypó hamartían]. The central point Paul makes is that this term of ‘enslavement’ (guardianship) lasts only until the time of the child’s maturity, indicated as being set by the father. This detail does not accord with general Roman practice, but it very much is appropriate to Paul’s illustration, whereby God (the Father) has established the time when enslavement under the Law (and sin) comes to an end.

Galatians 4:3-5—Here Paul applies the illustration to human beings (believers) on the religious-spiritual level. In verse 3, the term of infancy/immaturity (hóte ¢¡men n¢¡pioi, “when we were infants/children”) is specifically identified with slavery (¢¡metha dedoulœménoi, “we were ones enslaved”). The metaphor, previously relevant only to Israelites/Jews (those of/under the Torah), is here extended to Gentiles as well, with the expression “the stoicheia of the world” (to be discussed with verse 8, below). Jews and Gentiles are both “under” (hypó) the stoicheia (parallel to being “under the Law”).

The term of infancy/enslavement ends with the coming of Christ (v. 4): “but when the fullness of time came, God set out from him his son…” —which he qualifies with two participial phrases:

    • “coming to be [gegómenon] out of a woman”
    • “coming to be [gegómenon] under the Law”

The first phrase summarizes the human birth of Jesus (I discussed this in an earlier Christmas season note); the second summarizes the human condition of Jesus. While a sensitive matter, perhaps, with regard to orthodox Christology, Paul clearly places Jesus in the same situation as the rest of humanity, in several respects:

    • As a Jew, Jesus was obligated to observe the Torah (cf. Lk 2:22-24, 39; Matt 5:17-20)
    • With the rest of humanity, he came to be under the “curse” of the Law (Gal 3:10-14)
    • As such, he also came to be “under sin” (Rom 8:3, but note the careful phrasing)

For a similar statement regarding the incarnation of Christ, see Philippians 2:7f.

Paul concludes his sentence here in verse 5, with a pair of hína/purpose-clauses:

    • “(so) that [hína] he might purchase out [exagorás¢] the (one)s under the Law”
    • “(so) that [hína] we might receive from [apolábœmen] (the Father) placement as sons [huiothesían]”

The word huiothesía is typically translated as “adoption” in conventional English parlance, but it literally refers to being placed as a son (huios), and it is important to preserve this etymological connection. Jesus first is (and becomes) a son (cf. 1:16; 2:20), even as he becomes the “curse” in 3:13. A comparison with Gal 3:13ff is most useful:

Gal 3:10-14
  • “of/from the Law” and “under a curse” [hypó katáran], v. 10
  • Jesus “comes to be” [genómenos] a curse (under the Law), v. 13
  • he “purchases out” [ex¢górasen] those who are under the curse of the Law, v. 13
  • so that [hína] the blessing might come to those who trust in Christ, v. 14
Gal 4:1-5
    • “enslaved, serving as slaves” [dedoulœménoi] (under the Law), v. 3-4
    • Jesus (the Son) “comes to be” [genómenon] under the Law, v. 4
    • that he might “purchase out” [exagorás¢] those under the Law, v. 5a
    • so that [hína] we might receive sonship from God, v. 5b

Galatians 4:6-7—Verse 6 describes the adoption (being placed as sons)—note that there are two aspects to this:

    • What we (already) are, in God’s eyes— “but (in) that [i.e. since/because] you are [este] sons…”
    • What we become, through the Spirit— “…God set forth out of him the Spirit of his Son into our hearts…”

Though not specified here, Paul certainly would say that it is through trust/faith in Christ that we truly are God’s sons (or children), as he states clearly in 3:26. There is a subtle, but definite Christ/Spirit parallel presented in these verses:

    • “God set forth out of (him) [exapésteilen] his Son” (v. 4)
      • “so that we might receive from (him) placement as sons” (v. 5b)
    • “God set forth out of (him) [exapésteilen] the Spirit of his Son” (v. 6a)
      • “into our hearts, crying ‘Abba, Father!'” (v. 6b) {we are sons [v. 6a]}

It may not be entirely clear in context, but certainly “the Spirit of his Son” is synonymous with “the (Holy) Spirit”, especially as representing the abiding presence of Christ in (and with) the believer. We do not find precise Trinitarian terminology in Paul’s letters (nor in the New Testament as a whole); there is a good deal of ambiguity which later theologians and commentators sought to clarify.

Verse 7 reaffirms the distinction between son/heir and slave:

“So then [hœ¡ste] no longer [oukéti] are you a slave, but (rather) a son; and if a son, (then) also one receiving the lot [i.e. an heir] through God”

This declaration effectively combines two prior summarizing statements, in 3:24-25 and 29. In Gal 3:24-25 Paul uses a similar hœ¡steoukéti (“so then… no longer”) construction to state decisively that, with trust/faith in Christ, we are no longer under a paidagogos (that is, no longer under the Law); a declaration follows in v. 26: “for you all are sons of God through trust…” (cp. 4:6a). Gal 3:29 extends this essential statement:

    • No longer under a slave-guide (paidagogos, the Law)
    • Sons (of God) through trust in Christ
    • If of Christ, then heirs according to (God’s) promise (to Abraham)

This is almost precisely what we find in 4:7:

    • No longer a slave
    • A son (of God)
    • An heir through God (i.e. by and according to His promise)

A connection based on the theme of promise is certain, if somewhat subtle—in Gal 3:14, Paul uses the expression “the promise [epangelía] of the Spirit”; for other references to the Spirit as the promise of God, cf. Lk 24:49; Acts 1:4; 2:33, also Acts 2:39; 7:17; 13:32.

Galatians 4:8-11—Paul proceeds, in these verses, to offer a description of the nature of the slavery which believers were under (along with the rest of humanity) prior to faith in Christ. Whereas throughout most of Galatians, he has been focusing on the Jewish side (those under the Torah), here Paul moves to include non-Jews (Gentiles) within a larger viewpoint. This switch was already indicated in verse 3 with the introduction of the expression “under the stoicheia of the world”, which is clearly parallel to “under the Law”. One might be inclined to take these as indicating Gentiles and Jews, respectively; however, I believe it is more accurate to see the “stoicheia of the world” as the larger expression, encompassing both Jews and Gentiles.

I would divide this section into two portions:

    • Vv. 8-9—a men…de construction (i.e. “on the one hand… on the other…”), contrasting the believers’ condition before faith in Christ with that after faith (in terms of “not knowing / knowing”)
    • Vv. 10-11—a statement of concern/disappointment by Paul concerning the Galatians current behavior (or choice)

These two pieces are joined together by the question (real and rhetorical) Paul asks in v. 9b: “again as above [i.e. as before] do you wish to be slaves?”

Each of these sentences (vv. 8-9 and 10-11), with the joining question, have been discussed in more detail in earlier notes.

References marked “Betz, Galatians” are to: Hans Dieter Betz, Galatians, in the Hermeneia series (Fortress Press [1979]).

Sola Scriptura: 1 Corinthians 7:10-14, 25, etc

Sola Scriptura

A fundamental conclusion from our studies thus far is that the Scriptures (of the Old Testament), while continuing to be authoritative for early Christians, possessed a secondary, or supplemental, authority. The primary source of religious authority was located in what may be labeled broadly as the Apostolic Tradition. In the mind of first-century Christians, the Scriptures support and confirm the Apostolic Tradition. In turn, the Apostolic Tradition formed the basis of the New Testament Scriptures. There are three main components to this Tradition:

    • The proclamation (kerygma) of the Gospel, and the seminal Gospel narrative that developed from it.
    • The words of Jesus—sayings, teachings, parables—transmitted from the apostolic witness of what Jesus said and did.
    • The inspired teaching and instruction by the apostles (as representatives of Jesus).

The first of these was discussed in the previous study; here we will be examining the second—the words of Jesus.

2. The Words of Jesus

The apostolic witness (of what Jesus said and did) was at first (c. 35-50 A.D.) transmitted orally; gradually, the sayings and teachings of Jesus were preserved in written form—a process that likely took place during the years c. 45-60. There are three main lines of tradition in this regard:

    • The Synoptic Tradition, as represented principally by the Gospel of Mark
    • The so-called “Q” (for German Quelle [“source”]) material, and
    • The Johannine Tradition (represented by the Gospel of John)

These are altogether separate lines of tradition, with very little overlap, except insofar as each draws on some of the same historical traditions. For the most part, the Synoptic Tradition and the “Q” Tradition, drew upon separate sets of sayings and parables of Jesus; only occasionally do we find Synoptic and “Q” versions of the same historical tradition. Many scholars assume that “Q” existed as a single written document—that is, as an early written Gospel containing sayings and parables (with little in terms of narrative episodes), arranged and joined together based on common themes and shared words/phrases (“catchword-bonding”). I am not so convinced of the existence of a single, distinct Q-document; however, a parallel to such a theorized document can be found in the Coptic/Gnostic “Gospel of Thomas”.

The Gospels themselves clearly demonstrate the primacy of Jesus’ words and teachings as a source of authority for early Christians. This is further confirmed by the witness of the other New Testament Writings, though actual quotations or citations of sayings by Jesus are much rarer than one might expect. This can explained according to a number of factors.

In the book of Acts, for example, the focus is almost entirely on the early Gospel preaching (cf. the previous study), and on the confirmation of Jesus as the Messiah. The seminal proclamation (kerygma) of the Gospel was centered, almost exclusively, on the death, resurrection and exaltation (to heaven) of Jesus; and, the concern of demonstrating Jesus’ Messianic identity prompted the early preachers and missionaries to focus on the Old Testament Scriptures to support this message. The communication of Jesus’ sayings and parables, etc, would have been reserved for the early instruction (by the apostolic missionaries) in the newly-founded congregations. The preaching in Acts is generally located prior to such instruction, and the teaching in the Letters is subsequent to it.

1 Corinthians 7:10-14, 25ff

Paul’s teaching on marriage (and sexual relations) in 1 Corinthians 7 is instructive in terms of the early Christian understanding on the sources of religious authority. Three distinct sources of authority are involved: (1) a command based on Jesus’ words (vv. 10-11), (2) an inspired apostolic directive (vv. 12-14), and (3) an authoritative opinion by an apostle (giving his advice/recommendation, vv. 25ff). Let us consider the first of these:

“And to the (one)s having been married, I give along (this) message—not I, but the Lord—(that) a woman is not to make space (away) [i.e. separate] from her husband” (v. 10)

The verb paragge/llw simply means “give along a message,” but it is often used in the context of transmitting a directive or command, and that is certainly the sense here: the directive is that a woman is not to separate from her husband (and vice versa). Paul claims here that this directive comes from Jesus (“the Lord”) himself, indicating that Paul was aware of the Gospel tradition of Jesus’ teaching regarding divorce (Mark 10:11-12 par; Matt 19:9). Jesus’ teaching is thus the basis for the instruction that Paul gives here, but it is limited to the specific issue in vv. 10-11; for, in the very next verse (12), we read:

“And to the rest (of you) I say—not the Lord—if any brother has a wife…”

In other words, the instruction Paul gives in vv. 12-14 is not based on a transmitted teaching of Jesus, but comes, we may infer, from Paul’s authoritative (and inspired) teaching as an apostle. The implication is that, if a teaching by Jesus is known which directly addresses the issue, then that teaching/saying is given priority. Since no relevant saying was known for the issue in vv. 12-14, Paul had to rely on his own authority as an apostle. This is comparable to a judge or lawyer who cites earlier precedents, when they are on point, as a source of legal authority in making decisions.

Paul speaks even more cautiously regarding the issue in vv. 25ff:

“Now (on the issue) about the virgins, I do not have an order by (the) Lord on (it), but I give (you) a gnw/mh, as (one) having received mercy under (the) Lord, to be (taken as) trustworthy.”

Here he has neither a command from the Lord, nor does he give an apostolic directive, but offers what he calls a trustworthy (pisto/$) gnwmh/. The noun gnwmh/ essentially means “something made known,” usually in the sense of an opinion or advice, etc. Paul’s advice, in this instance, is that believers who are not currently married (or engaged to be married) ought to remain single; yet he is careful not to present this as a directive that needs to be obeyed.

Paul’s tendency to give priority, whenever possible, to sayings/teachings by Jesus, we can assume was commonplace among apostolic missionaries and church leaders. The relative lack of quotations or direct allusions in the New Testament Letters may simply reflect the fact that, for the majority of issues and concerns addressed by the writer, there was no saying or teaching of Jesus, known to the writer, that was on-point.

A notable occurrence of a Jesus tradition cited by Paul is 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17 (cf. also 5:1-7), clearly drawing upon eschatological teaching by Jesus, such as we find in the Synoptic Gospels (see esp. the “Eschatological Discourse” of Jesus). Other clear allusions to teachings by Jesus are in Rom 12:14-21; 13:8-10 (cf. Gal 5:14); 14:14; 1 Cor 9:14. Many other loose allusions and general parallels (to Jesus’ teaching) can be cited, which demonstrates that, by the 50s A.D. (when Paul was writing), many Christians had assimilated the authoritative teaching of Jesus to the point that it pervaded their own thought and mode of instruction. As a vivid demonstration this, cf. on the letter of James, below.

1 Corinthians 11:23-26

A distinctive citation of a Jesus tradition by Paul is found at the heart of his instruction regarding the ‘Lord’s Supper’ in 1 Corinthians 11:17-34. In this instruction, Paul addresses problems he sees (and which were reported to him) in how certain believers at Corinth were conducting themselves in relation to the Supper. In particular, their behavior was disrupting the unity of the congregation that should be made manifest through participation in the Supper (vv. 18-22, 33-34). Paul warns that treating the Supper in an unworthy manner was dangerous, and could lead to divine punishment (vv. 27-32).

At the center of this instruction, as a way to exhort his audience to work toward the ideal of unity in their handling of the Supper, Paul cites a Jesus tradition that conforms closely to what we find preserved in the Synoptic Gospels (Mark 14:22-24 par). Paul introduces it this way:

“For I received along from the Lord, that which I also gave along to you…” (v. 23)

The chain of tradition is indicated by the use of the parallel verbs paralamba/nw (“take/receive along”) and paradi/dwmi (“give along”). Paul says that he received this tradition “from the Lord”; this should be understood as something that ultimately comes from Jesus (his words), as preserved through the apostolic witness, rather than being the result of a direct revelation to Paul from the risen Christ (cp. 2 Cor 12:9).

For a comparison of 1 Cor 11:24-26 with the Synoptic version, cf. my earlier article in the series “Jesus and the Gospel Tradition”.

The Letter of James

The Letter of James provides a good example of how first-century Christians assimilated the sayings and teachings of Jesus, and how these teachings came to take the place of the Old Testament Scriptures as a primary source of authority for religious and ethical instruction. There are many allusions to Jesus’ teaching throughout the letter, in particular to the Sermon on the Mount/Plain (Matt 5-7; Luke 6:20-49). In the repeated contrast between the rich/mighty and poor/lowly (1:9-11; 2:1-7, 15-17; 3:6-10; 5:1-5), James would seem to have more in common with the Lukan presentation of Jesus’ teaching, but he does not appear to be directly citing any written Gospel.

This indicates a time when Jesus’ sayings and teachings were widely known and transmitted, but had not yet taken a definitive written form (such as in the Sermon on the Mount/Plain and the so-called Q source; cf. above). Like many early Christians of the period, Jesus’ teachings were authoritative, but not as a written Law to replace the written Torah. There is no indication that the author knew any of the Synoptic Gospels; and, indeed, he may have been writing prior to the publication of the Gospels. Whether or not he was drawing upon some kind of written source, or was simply relying upon oral tradition, is difficult to say.

The similarities between James and the Sermon on the Mount/Plain can be demonstrated as follows:

And, for other similarities/parallels with Jesus’ teaching:

Cf. the commentaries by J. B. Mayor (1913) and Peter H. Davids (NIGTC, Eerdmans:1982, pp. 47-48); also W. D. Davies, The Setting of the Sermon on the Mount (1964, pp. 402-403).

This shows, I think, how fundamentally the author has assimilated Jesus’ teaching, and that it has become the basis for Christian ethical instruction. We see this throughout the New Testament and early Christian tradition—to the extent that the ethical commands and precepts of the Law remain in view for believers, they have been filtered and interpreted through the teachings of Jesus.

Notes on Prayer: Colossians 1:3; 4:2-3, etc

We conclude our series of studies on the references to prayer in the Pauline letters with a survey of the remaining letters—beginning with Philemon and Colossians, and then turning to consider the references in the disputed letters of Ephesians and 1 Timothy.

Philemon 4-6, 22

The letter to Philemon was, of course, written to an individual rather to the collective believers of a city or territory. Even so, the references to prayer follow the same pattern of the other letters addressed to congregations. The references occur in the introduction (thanksgiving) and closing (exhortation) sections of the letter-body, and are framed specifically in terms of the relationship between Paul and his audience. The prayer references in the thanksgiving (vv. 4-7) could have easily been lifted right out of one of the other Pauline letters.

“I give thanks to my God for (His) good favor, always making mention of you in my (time)s of speaking out toward (Him) [proseuxai/], hearing of your love and trust which you hold toward the Lord Yeshua and (directed) to all the holy (one)s, so that the communication of your trust might come to be working in (the) knowledge about every good (thing) that (is) in you for (the sake of the) Anointed…” (vv. 4-6)

Several of the features here we have seen repeatedly:

    • Paul refers to making mention of the believers (here, Philemon) to God regularly during his times in prayer
    • He gives thanks because of their faithfulness in response to the Gospel (as it has been reported to him)—trusting in Jesus, demonstrating love, growing in faith and virtue and understanding
    • He expresses the wish that they continue to remain faithful

But Paul’s prayers are only one side of the relationship that he holds (as an apostle) with the congregations—they are also asked to pray for him. And so Paul would request this of Philemon as well, just as he does at the close of the letter:

“…but also make ready for me a place (of lodging) for the stranger, for I hope that, through your speaking out toward (God) [proseuxai/], I shall be given to you as a favor (from God).” (v. 22)

The middle-passive verb xari/zomai means “show favor, give (something) as a favor”; in the passive, it refers to the gift or favor itself. It is related to the verb eu)xariste/w in v. 4, which, in a religious context, refers to the favor shown by God, and the gratitude or thanks that we show to Him (in response) for this favor. Here, the favor God will show, through the cooperation of Philemon in his prayers, is to allow Paul the opportunity to visit him.

Colossians 1:3, 9

The prayer references in Colossians follow the same Pauline pattern. The first references occur in the introduction (exordium), which may be divided into two sections—the first containing the thanksgiving (1:3-8), and the second, Paul’s exhortational prayer-wish for the Colossian believers (1:9-14). The opening reference to prayer in the thanksgiving (v. 3) is virtually identical to the statement in Philemon 4 (cf. above). Notably, the statement in Colossians is given in the first-person plural: “We give thanks to God for (His) good favor…always over you, speaking out toward (Him) [proseuxo/menoi]”. In Colossians, Paul gives particular emphasis to his co-workers and fellow missionaries, and so the plural here is significant (cf. verse 7, and further below).

As is typical for Paul, his thanksgiving effectively takes the form of praise for the faithfulness of the believers he is addressing. Specific mention is made of their trust and love, remaining firm in the truth of the Gospel (vv. 4-5), as also of their growth in virtue and understanding (vv. 6-7), and of unity in the Spirit.

The second prayer-reference in the introduction, correspondingly, comes at the opening of the exhortational prayer-wish in vv. 9ff:

“Through [i.e. because of] this we also, from the day on which we heard (this), do not cease speaking out toward (God) [proseuxo/menoi] over you…” (v. 9a)

Paul’s wish (as a prayer to God) is for the Colossians to continue in faith and virtue, growing further in spiritual knowledge and understanding, etc.:

“…and asking (Him) that you would be filled (with) the knowledge about His will, in all spiritual wisdom and understanding” (v. 9b)

The remainder of the prayer-wish—also to be characterized as an intercessory request—is phrased in the typical manner of early Christian ethical instruction and exhortation, of which there certainly are a number of Pauline examples:

“…(for you) to walk about (in a manner) up to a level (worthy) of the Lord, into everything (that is) pleasing (to Him), bearing fruit in every good work, and growing in the knowledge of God, being (em)powered in all power, according to the might of His splendor…” (vv. 10-11a)

Also typical of Paul, is the eschatological aspect of this exhortation—a theme that is developed throughout the letter—but nuanced here with a strong dualistic Christological emphasis:

“…(the Father), (hav)ing made us fit for the portion of the lot of the holy (one)s in the light, (and) who rescued us out of the power [e)cousi/a] of darkness and made (us) stand over into the kingdom of His (be)loved Son—in whom we hold the loosing from (bondage), the putting away of sins” (vv. 12-14)

On the Christological hymn (‘Christ hymn’) that follows in vv. 15-20, cf. my earlier series of notes.

Colossians 4:2-3, 12

The Pauline pattern continues with the prayer-references in the closing (exhortation) section of the letter (4:2-6). Typically, in these sections Paul emphasizes the other side of the prayer relationship between himself and the congregations—namely, that they should regularly be praying for him. He leads into this with a general exhortation for the Colossians to remain firm in prayer:

“In speaking out toward (God) [proseuxh/], you must be firm toward (it), keeping awake in it with thanks for (His) good favor” (v. 2)

The verb proskartere/w (“be firm/strong toward [something]”) is a key word characterizing the unity of believers in the early chapters of Acts (1:14; 2:42, 46; 6:4; 8:13; 10:7). Paul also uses it in Romans (12:12; 13:6), and the prayer context of its use in 12:12 is comparable to what we find here. The noun eu)xaristi/a corresponds to the related verb eu)xariste/w in 1:3 (cf. above), emphasizing again the relationship between prayer and the favor God shows to us. As Paul makes clear, there are two aspects to this relationship: (1) we give thanks for the favor God has shown, and (2) we ask that He will continue to show us favor, and that we will act in a manner that is worthy of His favor.

The prayer-emphasis shifts in verse 3:

“…at the same time, also speaking out toward (God) over us, that God would open up for us a door for the account [lo/go$], to speak the secret [musth/rion] of the Anointed, through which I have been bound”

The prayers believers are to make on his behalf typically relate specifically to his missionary work, defined in terms of preaching the Gospel. Here, two key terms are used, in a technical sense, for the Gospel:

    • lo/go$, “account,” that is, a spoken account, shorthand for the expression the “account of God” (Acts 4:31; 6:2, et al)—viz., the account of what God has done through the person of Jesus.
    • musth/rion, “secret” —on this usage, cf. the recent discussion on Rom 16:25-26, as well as my earlier word study series. The Gospel of Christ is a “secret,” hidden throughout all the ages past, and revealed only now, at the present time, through the kerygma (proclamation) by the prophets and apostles of the early Christian mission.

This is a regular theme in Paul’s prayer-references—that believers work together with him (and his fellow missionaries), through their prayers. We have seen repeatedly in our studies the importance of praying for the needs of others, rather than simply for our own needs. It is a key New Testament principle that such selfless and sacrificial prayer is assured of being answered by God.

As in the introduction (cf. above), Paul uses the first-person plural. Sometimes he does this in his letters as a rhetorical device, but here he is specifically including his fellow missionaries and co-workers with him. In the closing that follows in vv. 7-17, Paul mentions ten different persons, among them Epaphras in vv. 12-13. He was mentioned earlier in 1:7, and also in Philemon 23 (both in the context of the prayer-references, cf. above). Epaphras apparently was an apostolic missionary in his own right, and one who would have had much more frequent contact with the congregations of the region. Paul refers to him much as he does to himself, as a “slave” (dou=lo$) of Jesus Christ (Rom 1:1; Gal 1:10; Phil 1:1). In 1:7 the word is su/ndoulo$ (“slave together with [me/us]”), while in Philem 23 he is called “one taken captive [lit. at spearpoint] together with (me)” (sunaixma/lwto$), i.e. “co-prisoner, fellow prisoner”.

Like Paul, Epaphras’ role as an apostolic missionary led him to pray frequently (and fervently) for the believers of that area. Paul describes this here in v. 12 as “struggling over you in his speaking out toward (G0d) [proseuxai/]”. The verb is a)gwni/zomai (“struggle”), used, viz., in athletic competitions; it is something of a Pauline term, as 6 of the 8 NT occurrences are in the Pauline letters (elsewhere, 1 Cor 9:25; Col 1:29; 1 Tim 4:10; 6:12; 2 Tim 4:7). The occurrences of the substantive (verbal noun), a)gw/n, used in a similar context, should also be noted—1 Thess 2:2; Phil 1:30; Col 2:1; 1 Tim 6:12; 2 Tim 4:7. In Paul’s usage, the verb alludes to believers (esp. missionaries) laboring—and enduring suffering—for the sake of the Gospel.

 

 

 

Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 59 (Part 2)

Psalm 59, continued

As noted in the previous study, there are two stanzas to the poem (miktam) of Psalm 59, each of which contains a common refrain (vv. 7-11a, 15-18). The poetic and thematic structure is as follows:

    • Stanza 1 (vv. 2-6 [1-5])—A prayer to YHWH for protection and deliverance from the Psalmist’s enemies, with a contrast established between the wicked and the righteous
      • Refrain (vv. 7-11a [6-10a])
    • Stanza 2 (vv. 11b-14 [10b-13])—Imprecation-prayer to God, calling for judgment on the wicked
      • Refrain (vv. 15-18 [14-17])

Stanza 2: VV. 11-14 [10-13]

Verse 11bc [10bc]

“(The) Mightiest shall go before me,
He shall let me look on (those) watching me.”

The opening verses of the second stanza follow a different meter—a 2-beat (2+2) rather than 3-beat (3+3) couplet. As discussed in the previous study, the traditional verse division here is incorrect, and the first line of verse 11 [10] (a) belongs with v. 10 [9].

The theme of the second stanza—God’s judgment on the wicked (i.e., the Psalmist’s adversaries)—is established here in the initial couplet. The Psalmist expects (and anticipates) that YHWH will answer his prayer (stanza 1), acting to protect and deliver him from his enemies. The first line expresses this clearly and concisely: “the Mightiest shall go before me,” using the verb <d^q* in the sense of “go first, go ahead,” so as to meet the Psalmist’s enemies and strike them.

The verb in the second line is ha*r* (“see”); the nuance of this common verb in the hiphil stem (“make/let me see”), in this context, is tied to the idea of the judgment/punishment of the wicked. I have translated it here as “let me look on (them)” —that is, look on their punishment (indeed, with some satisfaction). The enemies are described as “watchers” (from the root rWv [II]), that is, they watch his every move, with wicked intent, waiting for a chance to strike. There is thus a bit of semantic wordplay here, with the Psalmist looking on those who have been watching him.

Verse 12 [11]

“Mighty (One), slay them, lest my people wither;
stagger them with your strength,
and bring them down!
(You are) our protection, (O) my Lord.”

I tentatively follow Dahood (II, p. 71) in vocalizing the initial word as la@ (“Mighty [One],” El, i.e., ‘God’), rather than the negative particle la^. Asking God not to slay his enemies makes little sense in context. Also reading the divine title la@ here provides a fitting parallel for the related <yh!l)a$ in the first line of the prior couplet (cf. above).

Quite possibly, the reference to “my people,” which otherwise seems somewhat out of place here, is a vestige of the royal background we see in many such Psalms. The king represents the people and serves as their protector; an attack on the king ultimately affects the people as well. The verb jk^v* is best understood in the specific sense of “wither” (rather than “forget”); this particular meaning may derive from a separate root jkv (II).

Military imagery is utilized in the second line, indicating that YHWH will defeat the Psalmist’s enemies. The two verbs (in the hiphil imperative) are u^Wn (“shake, waver, stagger”) and dr^y` (“go down,” hiphil “make go down, bring down”). To “go down” here carries the specific added meaning of going down to the realm of the dead (Sheol), i.e., being killed. The imperfect verb form in the first line is to be read with jussive force, matching the imperatives in the second line.

The specific motif is of YHWH (“my Lord”) as the Psalmist’s protection, drawing upon a covenantal theme that occurs frequently in the Psalms; the noun used is /g@m*, literally “place of protection”.

The rhythm of this expanded couplet is 3+3+2.

Verse 13 [12]

“(By the) sin of their mouth and pestilence of their lips,
may they be captured!
In their rising (up) and cursing and lying,
may they be counted!”

The meter of this verse also is irregular (loosely, a 4-beat couplet). One might be inclined to emend the text (along with that of v. 12) and reorder (or redivide) these lines to achieve metrical consistency (i.e., 3-beat couplets); cf. Kraus, p. 539. Indeed, the only way both stanzas of the Psalm could (originally) have been sung to the same melody, is if they had the same meter. Unfortunately, such consistitency is practically impossible to recover now (if it ever truly existed). It must be said that the poetic structure of v. 13, as we have it, seems to demand a 4-beat couplet format.

Each line ends with a niphal imperfect with jussive force:

    • Wdk=L*y] (“may they be captured”)
    • WrP@S*y] (“may they be counted”)

I follow Dahood (II, p. 73) in reading wrpsy as a niphal form, rather than the piel of the Masoretic vocalization (WrP@s^y+). The idea of being “counted” should be understood as being judged (by God) as wicked. The root rps can relate to the act of recording—i.e., of a person being written down. Quite plausibly the intended image here is of the wicked being recorded as destined for death (and Sheol); cp. Jeremiah 17:13. This is parallel to the image of the names of the righteous being recorded in God’s book [rp#s@] ‘of life’ (Exod 32:32-33, etc). To be “captured” (vb dk^l*) in this context means to be captured by death and the grave.

The behavior of the wicked that results in their punishment (and death) is defined in terms of the evil that they speak. In the first line are the twin expressions “sin of their mouth” and “pestilence [rbd] of their lips”; in the second line, these are matched by the collective (verbal) nouns hl*a* (“cursing”) and vj^K^ (“lying”). There is a bit of wordplay in the first line with the word rbd, since rb*D* generally means “word,” while rb#D# means “pestilence” —i.e., the pestilence of the wicked is in their evil/sinful speaking.

Verse 14 [13]

“Finish (them) in your hot (anger), finish (them),
and may they no longer (be)!
Then they shall know that (the) Mightiest is ruling in Ya’aqob,
(even) to (the) ends of the earth.”
Selah

This is another long 4-beat (4+4) couplet, followed by an extra 2-beat line; the last line fits uneasily, and may be a secondary addition to the stanza.

The Psalmist’s call for judgment on his enemies reaches a high pitch in this final couplet, repeating the imperative hL@K^ (“finish [them off]!”). It is almost as though the protagonist is attempting to stoke the flames of YHWH’s hot anger (“heat,” hm*j@) himself. The extreme nature of this imprecation is indicated by the concluding word “may they no longer (be)”. This act of judgment, however, also has a higher purpose, beyond simply punishing (and putting to death) the wicked—it will demonstrate, in the most dramatic terms, that YHWH (the Mightiest, <yh!l)a$) is indeed the King and Judge over all the earth.

Refrain: vv. 15-18 [14-17]

This refrain matches that of the first stanza (vv. 7-10a [6-9a]); however, the wording is not identical. Only the points of difference will be noted below; for the remainder of the refrain, cf. the previous study.

Verse 15 [14]

“They sit until evening,
they howl like a dog
and go around (the) city.”

Essentially identical with v. 7 [6] (discussed in the previous study).

Verse 16 [15]

“Howling, they wander (about for something) to eat,
(and) if not satisfied, they do (not) stop for the night.”

This couplet holds the same place as v. 8 [7] in the first refrain, but differs entirely in wording (and emphasis) from that earlier couplet. Here the action of the wicked fits much better, contextually, with the image of a pack of hungry dogs roaming the city at night. Indeed, v. 16 continues the imagery of v. 15. I follow Dahood (II, p. 73f) in reading the initial word hmh as a verbal element (from the root hmh, “cry [out], howl, growl,” same as in v. 15), rather than the pronoun hM*h@ (“they”). Also (with him) I recognize an implied (second) negative particle in the second line.

Verse 17 [16]

“But I, I will sing of your strength,
and will ring out your goodness in the morning;
for you have been (the) place high up for me,
and a place to flee in (the) day of distress for me.”

This pair of couplets corresponds to the couplet in v. 9 [8], but they are altogether different, both in form and content. The lines here are more fitting for the conclusion of the Psalm as a whole, emphasizing the aspect of public praise and worship that we find frequently at the close of Psalms. The first couplet expresses this theme of praise, in traditional/conventional terms. The strength (zu)) of YHWH is praised in tandem with His goodness (ds#j#); the latter noun often connotes faithfulness and loyalty (in the context of the covenant-bond), and frequently so in the Psalms.

The second couplet returns to the central theme of YHWH as the Psalmist’s protection. Two locative nouns are used, in parallel, to express this: (1) bG`c=m! (“place high up”), and (2) sonm* (“place [to which] to flee”, i.e., place of refuge).

Verse 18 [17]

“My Mighty (One is) my strength—
thus shall I be guarded;
for (the) Mightiest (is) my (refuge) up high,
my Mighty (One is) my loyal (guard).”

These lines are essentially identical with those of vv. 10-11a [9-10a] which close the refrain of the first stanza (cf. the previous study). In the second line of v. 10, the verb is rm^v*, while here it is rm^z`, but the meaning is certainly the same (“guard”). If rmz is correct here, then it would seem to be a stylistic variant, with no difference in meaning. It may reflect an older/archaic meaning of the root rmz (zmr), attested, it would seem, by the Ugaritic cognate root (¼mr).

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 3:15-29

Probatio (Galatians 3:1-4:31)

In our studies, we are proceeding through the six main arguments that make up the probatio of the letter—that is, the proving (or demonstration) of the central proposition stated (and expounded) in 2:15-21. From the standpoint of this series, it is especially important to examine the rhetorical methods and lines of argument that Paul uses. There have been three lines of argument thus far, and we are now at the third of these:

    1. An appeal to the Galatians’ experience (3:1-6) [study]
    2. Scriptural argument: the blessing of Abraham comes by faith (3:7-14) [study]
      —contrasted with the curse of the Law (vv. 10-13)
    3. Scriptural argument: the promise to Abraham comes through Christ (3:15-29)

Section 3: Galatians 3:15-29

In Gal 3:7-14, Paul presented an initial argument from Scripture, based on the blessing of Abraham (to the nations); in this section, he offers a more extensive Scriptural argument from the wider context of the promise to Abraham. In so doing, Paul draws upon a range of passages in Genesis—principally Gen 12:2-3, 7; 13:15-16; 15:1-6; 17:1-11; 22:16-19; 24:7—summarizing them by a single concept: of God’s promise to Abraham regarding his offspring (“seed”, spérma in Greek), the blessing to the nations being just one benefit of the overall promise. The argument Paul develops in this section is framed by two main parts:

    • 3:15-18: An illustrative analogy based on the nature of a covenant/testament, by which the promise to Abraham is contrasted with the Law
    • 3:26-29: A declaration that the promise comes (to believers) through Christ

In between, there is a relatively extensive sub-section (3:19-25) which deals with the purpose of the Law. Since this represents one of Paul’s clearest statements regarding the Law (Torah), it will be discussed separately below. I will begin with the two framing portions, vv. 15-18 and 26-29.

Galatians 3:15-18

Each verse provides a distinct argument or point in the analogy:

Verse 15—Here Paul establishes the illustration based on the nature of a diath¢¡k¢, stating that he is relating this katá ánthrœpon (“according to man”, i.e. a human way of speaking), that is, as an analogy from ordinary daily life. The word diath¢¡k¢ in Greek literally means something “set through (in order)”, often in the technical sense of a will/testament; even in English idiom, someone planning for death might “set his/her affairs in order”, by preparing a last will, etc. It is in this sense that Paul uses the word here, along with three technical verbs: (1) kuróœ, “establish the authority (of something)”, i.e. “confirm, validate, ratify”; (2) athetéœ, “unset, set aside”, i.e. “invalidate, (dis)annul”; and (3) epidiatássomai, “arrange/set in order upon (something)”, i.e. “appoint or establish in addition, as a supplement”. A testament which has been validated, cannot simply be set aside or have additions made to it without proper authority. In other words, a valid agreement or contract remains intact and binding. The word diath¢¡k¢ can also mean an “agreement” in the more basic sense, and, as such is typically used to translate b®rî¾ (“binding [agreement]”, i.e. “covenant”) in Hebrew.

Verse 16—Paul engages in a bit of clever (and seemingly superficial) wordplay, as the word indicating Abraham’s offspring/descendants (plural) is, in both Hebrew and Greek, singular (“seed”, Grk spérma). The argument appears to be facetious, for clearly “seed” is a collective, referring to Abraham’s future descendants together, and yet Paul takes it hyper-literally, in order to make a particular point:

“…he does not say ‘and to (your) seeds‘, as upon many, but (rather) as upon one, ‘and to your seed‘, which is (the) Anointed {Christ}”

This is Paul’s way of demonstrating that the promise comes to all people (believers) through Christ. At the spiritual level, it is certainly true as well, in the sense that, as believers, we are a single people—Abraham’s (spiritual) descendants together—in union with Christ (cf. the declaration in 3:26-29, below).

Verse 17—Here he returns to the illustration of the testament (diath¢¡k¢) from v. 15, applying it to God’s promise to Abraham, as contrasted with the Law; it may be paraphrased thus:

The Law (Torah) cannot invalidate the Promise, which God made 430 years prior, so as to make it cease working or be of no effect.

This argument, while historically correct, generally contradicts the understanding of Jewish tradition, whereby Abraham and his descendants were already observing the the Torah commands (i.e. they were already in force) before the Torah was revealed to Moses and recorded by him—as variously explained in Jubilees 21:10; Philo On Abraham §275; Mekilta on Exod 20:18; Genesis Rabbah 44 (27d), 61 (38f); cf. Strack-Billerbeck 3.204-26 and Betz, Galatians, p. 158-9. Paul, of course, emphasizes that Abraham’s righteousness was not the result of observing the Law, but was due to his faith in God (concerning the promise). There are three strands to Paul’s argument:

    • The promise of God (and Abraham’s trust/faith in it) occurred prior to the Law
    • The Law cannot invalidate the promise
    • The Law does not add anything to the promise

In other words, the promise is entirely separate from the Law.

Verse 18—Paul introduces here the idea of inheritance (kl¢ronomía, specifically a “lot” which is partitioned out), tying it to the promise:

“For if the lot (one receives) is out of [i.e. from] (the) Law, it is no longer out of [i.e. from] a promise; but God granted (it) to Abraham as a favor through a promise.”

The separation between promise and Law extends to the very nature and character of a promise—it is given as a favor. The verb charízomai, used here, refers to giving/granting something as a favor, and is related to the noun cháris (“favor” or “gift, grace”). The theme of the grace of God is not as prominent in Galatians as in Romans (cf. Gal 1:6, 15; 2:9, 21; and esp. 5:4), but it is more or less implied in the idea of the blessing and promise given by God to Abraham. Inheritance is closely connected with sonship, and will be an important part of the arguments in chapter 4.

Galatians 3:26-29

This is Paul’s concluding declaration (to the Galatians) that the promise comes through Jesus Christ, and, in particular, through faith/trust in him. It can be divided as follows:

    • V. 26: Sonship through faith— “For you all are sons of God through trust in (the) Anointed Yeshua”
      • V. 27-28: Religious identity in Christ (oneness/unity of believers)—Baptismal formula
    • V. 29: Inheritance through promise— “And if you (are) of (the) Anointed, then you are Abraham’s seed, (one)s receiving the lot [i.e. heirs] according to (the) promise”

In typical Pauline fashion, a Christological statement is central, embedded within the theological/doctrinal declaration, verses 27-28 referring to baptism, and probably reflecting an early baptismal formula (see 1 Cor 12:13 and Col 3:11). The twin statements in vv. 26, 29 provide the conceptual framework:

Sonship–Faith–Jesus Christ (v. 26)
Inheritance–Promise–Seed of Abraham (v. 27)

In just a few short verses, Paul brings together all of the main strands of the arguments of chapter 3.

Galatians 3:19-25: The Purpose of the Law

In between the sections of 3:15-18 and 26-29, Paul includes a direct (and powerful) statement as to the purpose of the Law (“[For] what [purpose] then [is] the Law?…”, v. 19). Because these verses are among the clearest expressions of his view of the Law (the subject of these articles), and yet, at the same time, abound with interpretive difficulties, which I have treated more extensively in a series of earlier notes. Here it will suffice to give a brief outline, along with some basic observations; this section can be divided into two (or three) components:

    • Vv. 19-20: Statement of two-fold purpose:
      (1) for “transgressions”, and
      (2) to serve as a “mediator”
    • Vv. 21-25: More detailed explanation:
      (1) to enclose all things “under sin” (vv. 21-22)
      (2) to function as a paidagogos (vv. 23-25)

The second of these purposes is closer to the role of the Torah in Jewish tradition—i.e., as a mediator and guide—though the ultimate declaration in vv. 24-25 represents a decisive break with Judaism, as will be discussed. It is the first purpose Paul ascribes to the Law in vv. 19a, 21-22 which is, by far, his most original (and difficult) contribution—namely, that the primary purpose of the Law was to bring about transgression and enclose/enslave all people under sin (ideas he also expounds in Romans). This, indeed, is a most remarkable teaching! I am not aware of anything quite like it in Judaism, and many Jews (and Jewish Christians) doubtless would have found the notion shocking. Even today, many Jewish (and non-Jewish) believers are troubled by the language Paul uses, and would like to interpret it in less offensive or striking terms.

References marked “Betz, Galatians” are to: Hans Dieter Betz, Galatians, in the Hermeneia series (Fortress Press [1979]).