February 13: Galatians 4:21-31

Galatians 4:21-31

Galatians 4:21-31 represents the final section of the probatio of the letter (chaps. 3-4), and also the final argument used by Paul in support of his central proposition (expressed in 2:15-21). By these arguments, Paul endeavors to ‘prove’ (thus, probatio) his proposition, regarding the relation of believers in Christ (Jewish and non-Jewish) to the Torah.

I have discussed this section previously, most notably as an article in the series “Paul’s View of the Law”. Here I will be focusing on the particular theme of the sonship of believers, contrasting this sonship with a condition of slavery. This is a theme which runs through chapters 3-4—and, indeed, through the entire letter. Are believers still in bondage to the regulations of the Torah (under the term no/mo$), thus continuing in a kind of slavery? or, as sons, who have now come of age, able to inherit everything that belongs to the Father, are we free of this guiding authority? Paul argues strenuously against the former, while affirming (just as vigorously) the latter. The allegorical illustration he uses in 4:21-31 represents his final argument (of the probatio) toward this goal. He frames the illustration with a pointed rhetorical question for his audience:

“Relate to me, (you) the (one)s wishing to be under the Law, would you not hear the Law?” (v. 21)

This rhetorical device is known as the interrogatio method, by which Paul questions his audience, prompting them and allowing them to bring forth a determination themselves. The question actually serves as a challenge to the Galatians, and cuts right to the heart of Paul’s message in the letter. It also alludes to the seemingly paradoxical character of Paul’s view of the Torah. In support of his argument that believers are no longer bound by the Torah’s authority, he appeals to the Torah’s authority.

There is actually a double-use of no/mo$ here, referring both to the Torah regulations (recorded in the Pentateuch) and, secondly, to the narratives of the Pentateuch. This is significant since Paul’s argument is based upon the interpretation of a specific Scriptural narrative (from the Torah/Pentateuch). The expression “hear the Law” also 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)?”

In verses 22-23, 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” (paidi/skh) 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 establishes the contrast between slavery and freedom—a key theme which Paul introduced (2:4) and developed (3:23-29; 4:1-10) earlier in the letter (cf. the previous notes on 3:26 and 4:4-7). It also sets the stage for the specific emphasis on freedom in Christ to follow in 4:31/5:1ff.

The contrast, expressed through the figures of Hagar/Ishmael and Sarah/Isaac in the narrative, is also expressed grammatically by the me/nde/ (“on the one hand…on the other…”) construction in verse 23 (cf. also vv. 8-9) [Note: some manuscripts (Papyrus46 B f vg) omit me/n]. The contrast/conflict between freedom and slavery is also defined as being between the “promise” (e)paggeli/a) and the “flesh” (sa/rc):

“the (one born) of the servant-girl has come to be (born) according to (the) flesh,
but the (one born) of the free (woman) through (the) e)paggeli/a [i.e. promise]” (v. 23)

The promise is closely connected with the Spirit (Gal 3:14). Meanwhile, the expression “according to (the) flesh” (kata\ sa/rka) is used frequently 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].

The two kinds of sons thus symbolize this dualistic orientation of Paul’s theology. The symbolism is based on his interpretation of the Genesis story as an “allegory” (a)llhgori/a), that is, a description of one thing under the image of another. 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 (sustoixe/w, 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” (diaqh/kh) is literally something “set through” or “put in order”, often in the legal sense of a will or testament (as in Gal 3:15-17), but here corresponding to the Hebrew tyr!B= (“binding 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 me\nde/ formulation (see above):

    • me/none (the old) from mount Sinai into/unto slavery [ei)$ doulei/an]… (vv. 24-25)
    • de/(the other), the Jerusalem above, (which) is free [e)leuqe/ra e)stin]… (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 [doulei/a] =>
    • Jerusalem is currently serving as a slave [douleu/ei]

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

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. 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.

In verses 28-31, Paul applies this interpretation to the identity of believers in Christ. These verses begin and end with statements of Christian identity, related to the parallel concepts of promise and freedom, and emphasizing again the theme of the sonship of believers

V. 28: “But you*, brothers, according to Isaac, are offspring of (the) promise
{* some manuscripts read “we”}

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 kata\ sa/rka (“according to the flesh”) vs. kata\ pneu=ma (“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.

The thematic structure of these verses may be outlined 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

Significantly, these verses, which conclude the probatio, also prepare for the ethical instruction that follows in the exhortatio (“exhortation”) section, 5:1-6:10. Indeed, here Paul begins to turn his readers’ attention to the implications and consequences of what it means to be “sons/children of God”.

One primary implication has been the main focus of the letter, up to this point: believers are no longer under the binding authority of the Torah regulations (such as circumcision, the dietary and purity laws, etc), and are not obligated to observe them. This is emphasized by the ‘outer’ verses (vv. 28, 31) of the outline above.

The second implication (cf. the ‘inner’ verses 29-30), which is just as important, comes to be the focus in 5:1-6:10. Now that believers are freed from the Torah regulations, how is our life and behavior to be regulated? This is defined principally by the conflict between flesh and the Spirit. The impulses of the flesh (toward sin) still need to be curbed. However, this is no longer achieved through the external authority of the Torah regulations, but through the internal guidance of the Spirit. Even what remains of the Torah regulations—namely, the command/duty to love one another (5:13-15; 6:2ff)—is interpreted in light of the new reality that believers now live and act according to the Spirit. Paul expounds this quite clearly in 5:13-24, a passage which lies at the very heart of his instruction in 5:1-6:10.

This message may be summarized by the principle that: the sonship of believers is defined by the presence and work of the Spirit. In the next daily note, will begin examining this principle further, as Paul develops and explains it, in Romans.

February 12: Galatians 4:4-7

Galatians 4:4-7

Paul’s argument in Gal 4:1-7 builds on the illustration made in 3:23-25ff, comparing believers in Christ with the son who is an heir. This illustration, which draws upon Roman legal custom and practice, here involves the “guardianship of a minor” (tutela impuberis). The father (or head of the family, paterfamilias) appoints a guardian (one or more) over the child who is to inherit the property. During the time while he is a minor, even though the son may have legal status as the heir, he does not yet have access to the property; rather, the inheritance is entrusted to adult ‘guardians’, who will oversee and administer it until the child comes of age. For more on this background, cf. Betz, pp. 202-5.

Here is how Paul describes the situation, utilizing this illustration:

“upon as (much) time as the (one) receiving the lot is a speechless (child), (in) nothing does he carry through (differently) than a slave, (even while) being (the) lord of all; but he is under (those to whom it has been) turned over, and house-managers, until the (time) set before(hand) by the father.” (vv. 1-2)

A nh/pio$ denotes a “speechless” child, or infans (“infant”), but here the word is used figuratively for a minor (underage) child; in English idiom, we might approximate the sense with the expression “he does not yet have a say in the matter”. He is virtually like a household slave (dou=lo$) in this regard, even though he may be heir to all his father’s property (“being lord of all”). Indeed, the child himself is under the tutelage of household slaves and servants, like the paidagwgo/$ (“leader/guide of a child”) of the illustration in 3:23-25. The inheritance is “turned over” (e)pitre/pw, noun e)pi/tropo$) to the control of servants who act as administrators, and to “house-managers” (oi)kono/moi) who conduct business and make distributions as needed. The noun oi)kono/mo$ can actually designate a supervisor of the household slaves (Betz, p. 204), which gives added resonance to the comparison of the minor child with a slave.

As in 3:23-25, the upshot of this illustration is that the believer, before coming to faith in Christ, is like the minor child who is under the guiding control of household servants. In the earlier illustration, the servant (or slave) fulfilling this role was the Torah (or “law”, no/mo$, cp. oi)kono/mo$, which could be rendered “household law”). Paul still has the Torah regulations in mind here in 4:1-7, however the scope of its significance has broadened:

“So also we, when we were speechless (children) [nh/pioi], we were (one)s enslaved under the arrangements [stoixei=a] of the world;” (v. 3)

The noun stoi=xo$ essentially means a row or line of items, while the related stoixei=on, used here, refers to the specific items that are so arranged. In more abstract terms, we might render the plural of stoixei=on as “elements” or “(guiding) points”. Similarly, the noun no/mo$ essentially means something that is laid out (as an allotment). Believers were subject to the various ‘guiding principles’ of the world, including the regulations of the Torah; the latter specifically applies to Israelites and Jews (before they became believers), while the broader terminology of stoixei=a applies to all people. The noun stoixei=on is used in much the same way (by Paul) in Col 2:8, 20; by contrast, in 2 Peter (3:10, 12), stoixei=a refers to the material “elements” of the cosmos.

The chief point of the illustration is that, with the coming of Jesus Christ, the period of guardianship is over. Believers in Christ are no longer under the “guiding points/principles” of the world, which means that we are also no longer under the authority of the Torah regulations. For more on this point, see the articles in the series “Paul’s View of the Law” (esp. the various articles on Galatians).

Here in verse 4, there is special focus on the continuing theme of the sonship of believers (from chap. 3, cf. the previous note), which continues to be understood in relation to the unique Sonship of Jesus:

“but, when the fullness of the time had come, God sent out from (Him) His Son, (hav)ing come to be (born) out of a woman, (hav)ing come to be under (the) Law”

The ability of human beings to become the “sons” of God is dependent upon God’s own Son becoming a human being. Much the same point is made, though more indirectly, in the Johannine Prologue (see vv. 12-13 [previously discussed] in connection with verse 14 [discussed at length in a recent series]). The humanity and earthly life of Jesus is here described according to two aspects, given by way of parallel expressions:

    • “(hav)ing come to be out of a woman”
    • “(hav)ing come to be under (the) law”

In the first expression (and aspect), the verb of becoming (gi/nomai) means “come to be born”, referring to the birth of Jesus. This may refer to the “stoixei=a of the world” in the same physical/material sense of the term stoixei=a used in 2 Pet 3:10, 12 (cf. above). In the second expression (and aspect), the ethical-religious sense of stoixei=a is in view—viz., specifically, the guiding/ruling principles of the Torah. Jesus came to be “under” the control and influence of these stoixei=a, just like all other human beings, but for the purpose of freeing us from the stoixei=a:

“…(so) that he might purchase out (from bondage) the (one)s under the Law, that we might receive from (God) the placement as a son [ui(oqesi/a].” (v. 5)

The verb a)gora/zw denotes buying something (from the marketplace, a)gora/), while the compound e)kagora/zw is used specifically for the idea purchasing someone “out of” (e)k) a particular condition (of slavery/servitude). Having been “enslaved” under the Law, we are now freed from that bondage; there is no longer any need for the Torah (no/mo$) as a “household supervisor” (oi)kono/mo$) or “guide for the child” (paidagwgo/$). The believer has come of age, and can now inherit, as the Father’s son, what belongs to the Father. Paul states this unequivocally in verse 6:

“And, (in) that you are sons, God has sent out from (Him) the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying ‘Abba, Father!'”

It must be pointed out that, fundamentally, there is only one son—Jesus, the Son. This was true in chapter 3, where the reference was to Jesus as the son and heir of the promises to Abraham, and is equally so here in chapter 4, where the emphasis is on Divine sonship. Believers become the “sons” (or children) of God in a special way, which Paul describes, however briefly, here in verses 5-6. There are two stages to this dynamic of becoming the sons of God:

    • Verse 5—Having been freed from the period of enslavement, we are given the legal status as sons. Paul uses the term ui(oqesi/a (“placement as a son”), taken from the practice of adoption in the Greco-Roman world. This usage of the term may be unique to Paul, as ui(oqesi/a occurs in the New Testament only in the Pauline letters (Rom 8:15, 23; 9:4; Eph 1:5).
    • Verse 6—Having been given the legal status of sonship, we are then truly made the sons of God by receiving the Spirit of God’s own Son within us.

Verse 6 makes clear that we are dealing with something more than ‘adoption’ in a strictly legal sense. Rather, there is a fundamental transformation of identity that takes place, from within. Paul’s wording here is sometimes overlooked in this regard. It is worth considering each phrase in sequence:

    • “in that you are sons” —that is, already possessing the legal status of sons through ‘adoption’ (ui(oqesi/a)
    • “God has sent out from (Himself)” —the same wording used in v. 4 (cf. below), indicating a Divine source and power
    • “the Spirit of His Son” —that is, the presence and power of His own Son, realized through the Spirit
    • “into our hearts” —i.e., within us, into our very being, so that there is both an essential identification and a transformative effect
      Note that some textual witnesses read “your hearts” instead of “our hearts”, but this is almost certainly a correction made to agree with the use of the second person earlier in the verse; Paul includes himself and other ministers (“our”) along with the Galatians (“you”) as believers
    • “crying ‘Abba, Father!'” —the essential (new) identity (of believers as God’s sons) is confirmed by the Spirit’s own declaration within us

There is a precise formal parallel of expression, between verses 4 and 6, which is important to note, as it relates to the idea that believers are truly God’s sons, just as Jesus Christ is His Son:

    • “God sent out from (Him) His Son”
      e)cape/steilen o( qeo/$ to\n ui(o\n au)tou=
    • “God sent out from (Him) the Spirit of His Son”
      e)cape/steilen o( qeo/$ to\ pneu=ma tou= ui(ou= au)tou=

The point should be emphasized: believers are not merely God’s sons in the legal sense of being ‘adopted’, and thus obtaining the status of sonship; rather, they/we are also transformed, by receiving the Spirit of His Son, to become truly His sons. This is an essential identity, though one which is dependent upon our union with Christ. And, with Jesus Christ himself, we also are heirs who inherit (and receive) that which belongs to the Father:

“So then, no longer are you a slave, but a son; and if a son, (then) also (one) who receives the lot [i.e. an heir] through God.” (v. 7)

This sonship occurs “through God” (dia\ qeou=) being entirely the work of God and a gift from Him.

Most likely Paul understands the second phase of the believer’s sonship—becoming truly God’s son through receiving the Spirit—as occurring in association with the baptism ritual. This would be in accordance with early Christian tradition (as evidenced in the New Testament), and seems to be confirmed by the earlier reference to baptism in 3:26-29. Note how the baptism reference (v. 27f) is bracketed by two declarations regarding the sonship of believers:

    • “sons of God” / through trust in Christ Jesus (v. 26, the theme of chap. 4)
    • “the seed of Abraham (and heirs to the promise)” / belonging to Christ Jesus (v. 29, the theme of chap. 3)

In the next note, we will look ahead to examine how Paul develops this sonship-of-believers theme in the final argument of the Galatians probatio, the allegorical illustration from Scripture in 4:21-31.

References above marked “Betz” are to Hans Dieter Betz, Galatians, Hermeneia Commentary series (Fortress Press: 1979).

February 1: Galatians 3:26

Galatians 3:26

“For you are all sons of God through the trust (you have) in (the) Anointed Yeshua.”

This would seem to be the earliest recorded instance where Paul uses the expression “sons of God” (ui(oi\ qeou=), as a designation for believers in Christ; it should probably be regarded as the earliest such occurrence in the New Testament. It is unlikely, however, that this use of the expression was original or unique to Paul. It derives from Israelite and Old Testament tradition, whereby the people of Israel—and particularly the righteous ones among them—were called the “sons” of YHWH, in a symbolic religious sense. The notable references, in which the people are referred to as God’s “sons” (or “sons and daughters”), are Deut 32:19; Hos 1:10 [2:1]; and Isa 43:6; Israel collectively can be called God’s “son” (singular /B@), as in Exod 4:22-23; Jer 31:9; Hos 11:1, while the idea of YHWH as Israel’s “Father” is similarly expressed (e.g., Deut 32:6; Isa 64:8; Jer 31:9). Jewish tradition, through the influence of Wisdom literature, narrowed this designation, so that the righteous person, specifically, was considered to be God’s “son” (cf. Wisd 2:18 [v. 16]; Sirach 4:10). This may be seen as another example of the categorical use of the construct noun /B@ (plur yn@B=), “son of…”, to indicate that a person belongs to a particular group. Faithful Israelites belong to God, as His people, and thus may also be called His “sons”.

Paul quotes from this line of Scriptural tradition in the catena (Scripture-chain) of 2 Cor 6:16-18. Verse 18, echoing references such as Exod 4:22; 2 Sam 7:14; Isa 43:6, and Jer 31:9, provides an implicit identification of believers as “sons [and daughters] of God”. The thrust of 2 Cor 6:14-7:1 is primarily ethical exhortation, as in 1 Thess 5:1-11 (cf. the discussion in the previous note); in fact, the same light-darkness juxtaposition, in an ethical-religious context, is present here (v. 14). The authorship of this section remains much debated by commentators (cf. my earlier study on the subject); but, even if Paul is adapting existing material in 2 Cor 6:14-7:1, it accords well with his own thought, and he clearly agrees with its paraenetic emphasis and purpose. Second Corinthians was probably written about the same time as Galatians; Romans was written at least several years later, but in 9:26, Paul quotes from Hos 1:10, alluding again (through this citation) to believers as the “sons of God”.

The line of argument in Romans 9 is significant for the context of Gal 3:26, since it deals with the important principle that both Jews and non-Jews, as believers in Christ, are to be considered the “sons (and daughters) of God”. Indeed, one’s ethnic-religious identity no longer has any bearing on whether one is a “son of God”. Paul argues this point vociferously throughout Galatians and Romans, and states it quite clearly here in Gal 3:26: a person is a son/child of God entirely through trust in Jesus Christ. Faithfulness and righteousness is no longer defined by fulfilling the regulations of the Torah, but is defined only by trust in Jesus.

In chapters 3-4, Paul presents a series of different arguments, by which he defends (and expounds) the central proposition of the letter, 2:15-21. In rhetorical terminology, 2:15ff represents the proposition (propositio), while chapters 3-4 comprise the proving (probatio) of the proposition. While the arguments are of different sorts, they tend to follow a logical sequence, building upon one another. The arguments in chapter 3 are centered around the figure of Abraham (just as in Romans 4), and deal with the idea of sonship. Through the example of Abraham, Paul establishes an important line of argument, relating the new religious identity of believers in Christ to the older identity based on God’s covenant with Abraham. The descendants (i.e., sons/children) of Abraham belong to God, through the covenant; and, as Abraham’s children, they are heirs to the promises God made to him. Paul’s line of argument circumvents the period of the Torah, defining the promise(s) as ultimately referring, not to the Torah, but to the coming of Jesus. Believers in Christ are thus the true descendants (sons) of Abraham, and are heirs to the Divine promises—cf. the statements in vv. 7, 9, and 14.

In verses 15-18, this line of argument is given a more precise logical (and theological) basis. Paul interprets the Scriptural tradition so as to identity Jesus as the “seed” (singular) of Abraham, and thus he is the heir to the promises. The promises were made prior to the institution of the Torah regulations; the Torah remained in place as a kind of guardian, but only until the time of Jesus’ coming (vv. 19-22ff). The illustration in vv. 23-25 compares the time of Jesus’ coming with the moment when the son (and heir) comes of age, and no longer requires a guardian. The precise term is paidagwgo/$, denoting someone who leads (i.e. guides) a child, being responsible for him and giving him certain training (while he is still a minor). According to the illustration, during this period, the Torah functioned (for the heirs of Abraham) as this paidagwgo/$; however, the period reaches its end with the coming of Jesus.

Yet, since it is Jesus who is the sole heir, others can inherit only in relation to him, only through him—that is, through trust in him. This is the rhetorical and theological context of Paul’s statement here in verse 26. Believers in Christ become co-heirs with him, as the true descendants (children) of Abraham, and thus heirs to the promises of God. Verse 29 states this quite clearly:

“And, if you (are) of (the) Anointed, then you are (the) seed of Abraham, and (one)s receiving the lot [i.e. heirs] according to (the) promise [e)paggeli/a].”

The idiom “of Christ” (genitive Xristou=) denotes the idea of belonging to Christ. This implies more than trust in Jesus—it indicates a bond of union with him. This is the new covenant-bond for the people of God, realized in union with the person of Christ, in place of the old covenant. Here, in vv. 27-28, Paul expresses this union in terms of the baptism ritual:

“For, as (many of you) as have been dunked [e)bapti/sqhte] into (the) Anointed, you have sunk in(to the) Anointed [i.e. put him on as a garment]” (v. 27)

This imagery involves two basic, and related, ideas: (1) participation in the death (and resurrection) of Jesus, and (2) a new identity, by which believers become (and are made) like Jesus. The “dunking” of the baptism ritual symbolizes the former idea—participation in Jesus’ death; going down into the water represents the death, and coming up again out of the water represents the new life (resurrection). The second idea is expressed by the symbolic ‘putting on’ of Christ—almost certainly involving the ritual donning of a new robe or garment. The garment represents a new identity: the believer now belongs to Christ, having been united with him. None of the distinctions that were important to the old identity—i.e., ethnic, social or gender distinctions—have any significance any longer for the new identity. This is the ideal expressed in verse 28, though, admittedly, it is an ideal that Christians, throughout the centuries, have had considerable difficulty in realizing.

As mentioned above, the focus in chapter 3 is on the figure of Abraham, and on believers, through Christ, as being the “sons of Abraham”. In chapter 4, this sonship-motif changes, with the emphasis now on believers as the “sons of God”. While this particular designation was introduced in 3:26, it will be developed further in chapter 4. We will turn our attention to this development in the next daily note, focusing, in particular, on verses 4-7.

January 31: 1 Thessalonians 5:5 (continued)

1 Thessalonians 5:5, continued

Continuing from the previous note, on 1 Thess 5:5, it will be useful to examine Paul’s declaration in context, in order to see more clearly how the designation of believers as “sons of light” is understood. The declaration is at the heart of the instruction in vv. 1-11, which has a decidedly eschatological emphasis. An eschatological issue was dealt with in the preceding section (4:13-18), and eschatology also dominates the discussion in 2 Thessalonians (which was conceivably written prior to 1 Thessalonians). Like virtually every first-century Christian (including the New Testament authors), Paul held an imminent eschatology—a point clearly in evidence by a careful reading of 1 and 2 Thessalonians. In particular, this orientation (of eschatological imminence) informs both the instruction in 4:13-18 and the ethical exhortation of 5:1-11.

This imminent expectation of the end means that the “day of the Lord” could come suddenly, at any moment. In vv. 2-4 this is expressed by the illustration of a thief who comes in the middle of the night (“thief in the night,” kle/pth$ e)n nukti/, v. 2). This image plays on the day-night motif (a variation of the light-darkness motif), discussed in the previous note. Here “night” (nu/c) represents, symbolically, a period of time characterized by darkness—where “darkness” (sko/to$) is used in the ethical-religious sense of that which is apart from, and even in opposition to, the light of God (His Word and Truth, etc). The period of time in question is the ‘present Age’ —and, in particular, the ‘last days’, in which first-century believers (such as Paul) saw themselves living. The ‘end of the Age’ was near, soon to arrive; and, according contemporary eschatological beliefs and tradition, it was expected that things on earth would become increasingly ‘dark’, dominated by wickedness and sin, evil and false deception—a time of great “distress” (qli/yi$), for all humankind, but particularly for believers, who will face persecution and testing. From the standpoint of the illustration, people on earth are in the middle of a dark night, during which disaster (i.e., the thief) will come.

Verse 3 utilizes a different image to illustrate the sudden arrival of distress: that of the labor pains that come suddenly upon a pregnant woman—the expression literally is “the pain [w)di/n] to/for the (woman) holding (a child) in (her) belly”. The arrival of labor pains was a natural image for the idea of a period of distress (involving pain and suffering) that comes upon (vb e)fi/sthmi, “stand upon, set upon”) a person. It is used in the Old Testament Scriptures, typically in the context of the coming of Divine judgment upon human beings—and thus is quite appropriate in reference to the end-time judgment. Indeed, in Isaiah 13:8, the motif is clearly connected with the expression “the day of YHWH” (v. 6), just as it is here in our passage. For other examples, cf. Isa 26:16-18; Jer 6:24; 22:23; 50:43; Micah 4:9-10; and, subsequently in Jewish tradition, e.g., 1 Enoch 62:4f.

Jesus utilized both the thief and woman-in-labor illustrations in his eschatological teaching, as preserved variously in the Synoptic tradition (Mk 13:8 par; Matt 24:43 par). The same thief-image also occurs in 2 Pet 3:10 and Rev 3:3; 16:15 (Jesus speaking). As for the woman-in-labor motif, note the eschatological significance of Jn 16:21f; Rom 8:22, and Rev 12:2. It is possible that Paul’s use of the motifs, together, here in 1 Thess 5:2-4, derive from the Gospel Tradition and the preserved teachings of Jesus; at the very least, he was almost certainly influenced by that Tradition.

In verse 4, Paul comes to the point of his illustration:

“But you, brothers, are not in (the) darkness, (so) that the day should not take you down as a thief (would)…”

Even though the Thessalonian believers were living in the darkness of the end-time, they are not truly in (e)n) the darkness—that is, they are not dominated by it, thoroughly influenced by the forces of sin and wickedness. For this reason, the Day of the Lord, when it comes (suddenly), will not take them down. The verb katalamba/nw could also be rendered “overtake”, but I prefer to keep to its fundamental meaning (“take down”), in the negative sense of defeating, overcoming, etc. The “day” certainly refers to the “day of the Lord,” the time/moment of the end-time Judgment, when all evil and wickedness will be brought to light and judged. This is another way of referring to a basic early Christian principle regarding salvation—viz., that believers in Christ, who remain faithful, will be saved/rescued from the coming Judgment. For believers in the first century, their understanding of salvation was primarily eschatological in nature.

This leads to the central declaration in verse 5:

“For all of you are sons of light and sons of (the) day; we are not (sons) of (the) night, nor of darkness.”

Believers belong to the light, and thus are not in the darkness—rather, they/we are fundamentally separate from it, just as light was separated from darkness (Gen 1:4-5) and the two remain forever separate. Paul states this bluntly in v. 5b, including himself (and his fellow ministers) along with the Thessalonian believers: “we are not of (the) night, nor of darkness”. The noun ui(oi/ (“sons”) is omitted in v. 5b; this simply affirms the use of the idiom “sons of” as essentially meaning “belonging to” (on this use of the Hebrew yn@B=, cf. the previous note). The pairs light-day and darkness-night are parallel and antithetic; their occurrence in the phrasing of v. 5 is chiastic, suggesting an inverse-mirrored relationship:

light / day // night / darkness

The eschatological thrust of this religious identity for believers is expressed clearly in v. 9f:

“(So it is) that God did not set us unto (His) anger, but unto (the) bringing about of salvation, through our Lord Yeshua (the) Anointed, who died off over [i.e. for] us”

In the Judgment, we, as believers, are not destined to face God’s anger (o)rgh/), but instead will experience salvation (swthri/a). The noun peripoi/hsi$ is derived from the verb peripoie/w, “make [i.e. bring] over/about”, with a range of meaning that is difficult to translate into English. A basic meaning would be something like “make secure”, or (more literally), make (i.e. cause) something to remain. It can refer generally to effecting a particular situation or circumstance, or, more specifically, to obtaining a result, gaining possession of something, etc. The verb can occasionally connote the idea of keeping something (or someone) safe, i.e., preserving, saving. I have translated the noun here in terms of the “bringing over” (or “bringing about”) of a situation—namely, salvation from the Judgment (and from God’s anger). This situation is ‘brought about’ through the death of Jesus Christ.

In vv. 6-10, Paul moves from the day-night motif to the related motif of awake-asleep (part of the traditional eschatological imagery, cf. Mk 13:33-37 par). The person who is in (i.e. belonging to) the darkness of night is asleep, overcome by the power of night/darkness, and unaware of what is going on. Believers, who belong to the light, are not like this, and must not behave in such a way—which is the thrust of Paul’s exhortation. Even while living in the darkness of the end-time, believers in Christ belong to the day/light, and thus are like those who are wide awake. Remaining awake is particularly important because of the wickedness that is prevalent in the end-time period of darkness; in addition to being watchful and guarding oneself against this wickedness, believers have certain protections, provided by God, which Paul depicts as pieces of military equipment (armor)—namely, a breastplate (faith and love) and a helmet (the hope of salvation). The helmet, in particular, reflects the eschatological context of vv. 1-11, with the expression “hope of salvation” —i.e., salvation from the coming Judgment (cf. above).

Much of this language and imagery is repeated in Romans 13:11-14, where the believer’s protective armor is referred to, more generally, as “the weapons of light” (ta\ o%pla tou= fwto/$), v. 12. Referring to them as “light” indicates their Divine origin and source, but also keeps the imagery firmly rooted in the ethical dualism of the light-darkness contrast: “Therefore, we should cast away the works of the darkness, and should sink into [i.e. put on] the weapons [i.e. armor] of light”. This military imagery of weapons/armor is developed more extensively (and famously) in Eph 6:10-18f.

As discussed in the previous note, the designation of believers as “sons of light” is conceptually related to the designation as “sons of God”. Belonging to the light (of God) means belonging to God Himself. This identity has eschatological and soteriological significance. There remains also a fundamental ethical consequence: believers who belong to God and are “of the light” cannot—and should not—allow themselves to be immersed in darkness or to be overcome by it. Here, by “darkness” is meant, primarily, the sin and wickedness that characterizes the world during the end-time. It should not characterize the life and conduct of believers. The end-time period of darkness—which is a time of distress for believers—represents a moment of testing: will we remain faithful to our identity (as believers in Christ), and thus be assured of salvation from the coming Judgment?

In the next daily note, we will turn to the next Pauline reference featured in our study: Galatians 3:26. In exploring this reference, we will also be examining a series of arguments, developed by Paul, in chapters 3-4 of that letter.

January 30: 1 Thessalonians 5:5

1 Thessalonians 5:5

“For all of you are sons of light and sons of (the) day; we are not (sons) of (the) night nor of darkness.”

In this series of notes on the theme of believers in Christ as “children of God” (cf. the initial note on John 1:12-13), we turn to the earliest reference in the Pauline letters—Paul’s declaration in 1 Thess 5:5 that believers are “sons of light” (ui(oi\ fwto/$) and “sons of (the) day” (ui(oi\ h(me/ra$). Neither of the expressions “sons of God” or “children of God” occur in this verse (nor anywhere else in the Thessalonian letters); however, the designation “sons of light” is related conceptually, even it is drawn from an entirely different line of tradition.

The significance of the expression (as a designation for believers) is rooted in the contrastive distinction between light and darkness. The contrast is a natural and obvious one, and can be found in many cultures and religious traditions. Paul’s usage, however, is derived primarily from a light-darkness contrast found in the Old Testament Scriptures, where the opposing motifs of “light” and “darkness” are utilized in an ethical-religious sense. Apart from the idea of the separation of light and darkness that is part of the natural order (as described in the Creation account, Gen 1:4-5, 18), the juxtaposition of light and darkness, in an ethical-religious sense, occurs most frequently in the Wisdom literature (esp. the book of Job, e.g., 3:4; 10:22; 12:22; 17:12; 18:18; 29:3; 30:26; 38:19; cf. also Eccl 2:13), the Psalms (18:28; 112:4; 139:11-12, etc), and the book of Isaiah (cf. 5:20; 9:2; 42:16; 45:7; 50:10; 58:10; 59:9). Light is associated with the Divine, as an attribute of God Himself, but more particularly characteristic of His Word, Wisdom, and Instruction (Torah). It comes from God, serving as a blessing for humankind (Num 6:25; Psalm 89:15, etc), and even as a symbol of life itself (Psalm 49:9; 56:13, etc). Those who follow God’s Instruction receive illumination from the Divine light (Psalm 36:9; 43:3; 119:105, 130; Prov 6:23, etc).

Based on this ethical-religious usage, particularly as expressed within the Wisdom literature, the righteous—that is, those who are faithful to God and who follow His Instruction—are characterized as belonging to the light, possessing the light (a reflection or portion of the Divine light) as an attribute (cf. Psalm 37:6; 97:11; Prov 4:18; 13:9; Isa 2:5, etc). In the first centuries B.C./A.D., the Community of the Qumran texts developed this line of tradition. A number of texts feature this light-darkness contrast, but expressed from a more pronounced dualistic worldview. Indeed, the Qumran texts even make use of the specific expression “sons of light” (roa yn@B=) as a designation for the righteous ones of Israel—that is, members of the Community—while all others (i.e., the wicked) belong to the “sons of darkness” (Ev#oj yn@B=); see the key references in the Community Rule document (1QS) 1:9-10; 3:13, 24-25 and the War Scroll (1QM) 1:1, 3. Thus, the faithful members of the Qumran Community are designated as “sons of light”, much as believers in Christ (i.e., faithful members of the Christian Community) are by Paul (here), and elsewhere in the New Testament (Luke 16:8; John 12:36).

The idiom “sons of” also reflects Hebrew usage (going back to the Scriptures). The noun /B@ (“son”) is often used in a general (and more abstract) sense, indicating a person who belongs to a particular group, and, as such, possesses (or exhibits) a certain set of attributes or characteristics. Thus, the expression “son of light”, refers to someone who belongs to the light—that is, light as a Divine characteristic. Such a person exhibits an affinity for the Divine light, particularly by showing devotion to God’s Instruction (Torah)—he/she is faithful to God and to his Word and Wisdom (cf. the Scriptural references above). Belonging to the light essentially means that the person belongs to God; thus, a “son of light” is also a “son of God”.

A comparable light-darkness contrast occurs in a number of New Testament texts; it features most prominently in the Johannine writings, but is found as an important idiom in the Pauline letters as well. Paul’s use of the contrast is similar to the Johannine, though without the pronounced and pervasive dualistic orientation that characterizes much of the Johannine writings. Paul uses the light-darkness motif two primary ways: (1) in terms of the Divine illumination that comes through the Gospel (e.g., 2 Cor 4:4-6; cf. 2 Tim 1:10; Eph 3:9), and (2) as an ethical paradigm. The latter emphasis is found here in 1 Thess 5:5, and similarly in 2 Cor 6:14; Rom 13:12 (cf. also Eph 5:8-9ff).

In Rom 13:12, as perhaps also in Eph 5:8ff, we find a similar eschatological orientation to Paul’s ethical instruction and exhortation. Eschatology certainly dominates the two Thessalonian letters, and provides the immediate context for the declaration here in 5:5. The reason for this emphasis is that Paul, like virtually every first-century Christian, held an imminent eschatology, expecting the end to come very soon (presumably within the lifetime of he and his readers). There is thus a special urgency to his exhortation: the “day of the Lord” surely will come very soon, and could arrive at any moment (vv. 2-3). Paul makes use of a play on the word “day” (h(me/ra)—referring at once to both the coming “day of the Lord” and the ethical-religious “light”-motif.

In the next daily note, we will continue this examination of verse 5, with a brief exegetical analysis of the surrounding passage (vv. 1-11).

January 24: John 1:12-13

John 1:12-13

For the remainder of January (and into February), the daily notes will feature a series on the theme of believers as the children of God. The starting point for this series is John 1:12-13, which provides a thematic corollary to the verse that follows (14). In John 1:14, the focus of our recent exegetical study series, we find reference to the idea that the Divine Word (Logos) came to be born as a human being. The same birth-motif prevails in vv. 12-13—believers in Christ, through trust in the incarnate Logos, are able to be born as the children (“offspring”) of God. The parallelism is clear: the Son of God is born as a human being, and human beings (believers) are then born as children of God.

Verses 12-13 are an integral part of the Johannine Gospel Prologue (vv. 1-18). The vocabulary, phrasing, and theological emphasis clearly are in accordance with the Gospel (and the Johannine writings) as a whole. However, as was discussed in the series on verse 14, many commentators are convinced that the Gospel writer has made use of an existing ‘Logos-poem’, adapting it for use in the Gospel, particularly within the context of chapters 13. This theory, on the whole, would seem to be correct; evidence in support of it was presented in the articles of the aforementioned series.

The main question, with regard to verses 12-13, is whether v. 12, in whole or part, should be included as part of the underlying Logos-poem. Verse 12a would seem to represent a natural continuation of the poem in vv. 9-11; note, in particular, how v. 12a flows naturally from v. 11:

“Unto his own (thing)s he came, and (yet) his own (people) did not receive him alongside. But as (many) as did receive him, to them he gave (the) e)cousi/a to become [gene/sqai] (the) offspring of God”

In the context of the Logos-poem up to this point (esp. in vv. 4-5, 9-11), the focus has been on the presence and activity of the Word/Wisdom of God among human beings, throughout human history (esp. the history of Israel). All through history, most people have rejected the Word and Wisdom of God; however, there have always been some who were willing (and able) to receive and accept it. Beginning in verse 14, the Word/Wisdom is manifest among human beings in an entirely new way—as a flesh-and-blood human being, in the person of Jesus. Believers who receive and accept Jesus—trusting in him (as the incarnate Word of God)—are akin to those individuals who accepted the Word in prior periods of human history.

In the context of vv. 14ff, the statement in v. 12a refers specifically to trust in Jesus as the Son (and Word) of God. Verses 12b-13, which likely represent expository comments by the Gospel writer (added to the Logos-poem), make this quite clear:

“…to the (one)s trusting in his name” (12b)

The use of a substantive verbal noun (participle) to characterize a group—and believers, specifically—is very much typical of Johannine style. Believers are defined as “the (one)s trusting” (oi( pisteu/ousin), or, in the singular, “the (one) trusting” (o( pisteu/wn)—3:15-16, 18, 36; 5:24; 6:35, 40, 47, 64; 7:38-39; 8:31; 11:25-26; 12:44, 46; 14:12; 17:20; 1 Jn 5:1, 5, 10, 13. There is a strong confessional aspect to these references. In First John, in particular, the author’s primary focus is on defining the true believer, in contrast to the false believer, and the nature of one’s confession of Jesus is at the heart of this definition.

Also fundamental to the Johannine theology is the use of the birth-motif, applied to believers, which we find here in verse 12b. The verb of becoming (gi/nomai, or, more commonly, the related genna/w) is used to express this, often including the qualifying prepositional expression e)k qeou= (“out of God”)—viz., one is born of, or from, God, as His offspring. The plural noun te/kna is occasionally used to express the same idea, as it is here—though it occurs more often in the Letters (e.g., 1 Jn 3:1-2, 10; 5:2) than in the Gospel. A te/knon denotes something that is “produced” or “brought forth”, the noun being derived from the verb ti/ktw—such as, for example, a child being produced (brought forth) from its mother.

Verses 12b-13 introduce this theological birth-motif, which the Gospel (and the Letters) further develop. It is expounded initially, by the Gospel writer, in verse 13:

“…the (one)s who, not out of blood, and not out of (the) will of (the) flesh, and not out of (the) will of man—but (rather) out of God—have come to be (born) [e)gennh/qhsan].”

In v. 12b, the verb gi/nomai was used, while, here in v. 13, it is the related genna/w. Both verbs essentially mean “come to be, become”, and can refer to a birth (i.e., coming to be born); however, the use of genna/w more properly, and clearly, indicates a birth. The believer’s birth “out of God” —that is, a Divine birth—is contrasted with three similar prepositional phrases, each of which represents a particular aspect of the ordinary birth-process for human beings:

    • “out of blood” (e)c ai(ma/twn)—the noun is plural and literally reads “out of bloods”, with the plural possibly alluding to the male (father) and female (mother) contributions to the embryo; in any case, the biological and physiological aspect of childbirth would seem to be emphasized here.
    • “out of (the) will of (the) flesh” (e)k qelh/mato$ sarko/$)—throughout the Gospel of John, as in much of the New Testament, the noun sa/rc (“flesh”) refers to human life and existence, in a general or comprehensive way; here the expression probably refers, in a roundabout way, to the sexual drive, and/or to other natural impulses which prompt human beings toward childbirth.
    • “out of (the) will of man” (e)k qelh/mato$ a)ndro/$)—that is, the wish and/or decision of the individual (principally, the man, or would-be father) to produce a child.

None of these natural aspects, related to human childbirth, are involved in the birth of believers as the offspring of God. That is to say, it is not an ordinary human birth at all, since the person is born from God.

Before we proceed to examine other such birth-references in the Johannine writings, the next notes in this series will focus instead on such motifs—the birth of believers, as children/offspring of God, the Divine sonship of believers, etc—as they occur in the rest of the New Testament. We will begin, roughly in chronological order, with the relevant occurrences in the Pauline Letters.

January 6: Psalm 89:51-53

This series of daily notes on Psalm 89 is an extension of the article in the Sunday Studies on the Psalms feature. The Messianic orientation of this Psalm (especially in the central section vv. 20-38), dealing with the promise of kingship to David and his line, is particularly relevant to the Gospel accounts of the birth of Jesus.

Psalm 89:50-53, continued

(Verse 50 was discussed in the previous note.)

Verses 51-52 [50-51]

“Remember, my Lord, (the) scorn of your servants!
I bear in my bosom all (the) shots of (the) peoples,
(by) which your hostile (one)s cast scorn, O YHWH,
(by) which they scorn (the) heel-steps of your anointed!”

In addition to calling on YHWH to remember His binding agreement (covenant), and the sacred oath by which He made it (v. 50), the Psalmist now appeals to the shameful treatment which God’s people have received from the surrounding nations. Such taunting and disgraceful insults, toward God’s people, ultimately reflect on God Himself. By insulting YHWH’s people (“your servants”), the nations are also insulting YHWH.

The term used to express this shameful treatment is hP*r=j# (“scorn”), referring to a taunting insult, often in the sense of casting blame on someone. The word is frequently used in the Psalms, in the context of attacks on the protagonist (by his wicked adversaries), or of the suffering of the righteous generally. Part of the taunt doubtlessly involves rebuking Israel for its trust in YHWH, since the people have endured defeat and destruction, exile and disgrace, in spite of their trust.

The related verb [r^j* (“cast blame/scorn”) is used twice in verse 52, emphasizing two specific points which are intended (by the Psalmist) to prompt YHWH to take action: (1) those who are casting scorn on His people are His enemies (“your hostile ones,” those hostile to you), and (2) they cast scorn on the one whom He has anointed as His chosen servant. The last point presumably refers to mockery that is specifically leveled at the Davidic king, who, in the person of Jehoiachin, was led off in exile to Babylon; the expression “(the) heel-steps (or heel-prints) of your anointed” may refer, somewhat literally, to the king’s tracks as he is taken off to Babylon. It would be natural for the enemies of Israel/Judah to mock the defeated and exiled monarch.

The Psalmist personalizes this suffering, in the second line of verse 51, by declaring that he bears the pain (in his own “bosom”) of such taunts. The author-protagonist of the Psalms frequently functions as a figure representing the people as a whole (particularly the righteous ones of the people). As such, he feels the suffering of his people; and, indeed, throughout history, many Israelites and Jews have been so inclined to personalize the communal and corporate suffering of the people.

I follow Dahood (II, p. 320) in reading MT <yB!r^ as a form of br^ III, denoting a projectile, something “shot/cast” (vb bb^r* II), such as an arrow. The vocalization would then be yB@r^, with the <– explained as an enclitic suffix—easily to be confused with the sufformative <– (<y-) that marks the plural. The Psalmist feels the arrows (of scorn) cast by the nations/peoples, as they have penetrated (figuratively) into his bosom.

Verse 53 [52]

“Blessed (be) YHWH into (the) distant (future)!
/m@a*w+ /m@a*!”

The Psalm concludes with a benediction, giving blessing to YHWH. The simple traditional form, however, is more significant thematically than it might at first seem. Two points of vocabulary find an echo throughout the Psalm.

First is the temporal expression <l*oul=, “into/unto (the) distant (future)”, which was used to express the enduring character of the Davidic kingship (vv. 5, 29, 37-38), even as the heavens themselves endure (v. 2-3). The enduring character of the heavens is due to the firmness/faithfulness of YHWH Himself, and this is also true of the promise(s) to David.

Second, we have the final word, /m@a* (°¹m¢n), repeated as a couplet (/m@a*w+ /m@a*). The term defies easy translation, and so is often simply transliterated in English— “Amen and amen!”. However, this obscures the derivation of /m@a* from the root /ma (“be/make firm”), and its relation to the noun hn`Wma$. The noun hn`Wma$ (“firmness”) is the central keyword of the Psalm, occurring 7 times (vv. 2-3, 6, 9, 25, 34, 50), while the verb /m^a* occurs twice (vv. 29, 38), and the related noun tm#a# (also with the basic meaning “firmness”) once (v. 15).

The rhetorical purpose of this repeated use of the /ma word-group relates to the context of the Psalmist’s prayer to YHWH. He hopes to see reaffirmed God’s covenant-promise to David, regarding the kingship (and thus also the kingdom for Israel). In terms of the exilic (and/or post-exilic) setting of the Psalm (in its final form), this is another way of referring to the restoration of Israel, presented in an early Messianic framework. The final words of the Psalm thus represent one last prayer-wish: that YHWH would act to bring about the restoration for His people. As an exclamatory declaration, the adjective /m@a* (“firm,” i.e., reliable, trustworthy) allows the hearer to affirm the validity of a statement (or agreement, etc). There is no good way to translate such an exclamation precisely; rough approximations would be “surely!”, “certainly!”, and the like, while, as an imprecation, something like “may it be so!” or “let it truly be (so)!” captures the basic sense.

Comments for Christmas

Essential to the Messianic expectation of Israelites and Jews in the first century B.C./A.D. was the idea that God’s people would be delivered from the oppression of those who are hostile to them—especially by the wicked and godless ones among the nations who have been dominate over them for centuries. The Gospel Infancy narratives reflect this aspect of the Messianic hope in various ways. The hostility toward God’s people is expressed vividly as an integral part of the narrative in Matthew 2. The specific idea of hostility toward God’s anointed (m¹šîaµ, v. 52b) is certainly a key element in the narrative, as Herod seeks to eliminate the promised Davidic Messiah by killing all of the infants born in and around Bethlehem.

Closer to the thought and expression of the Psalm are certain verses in the Lukan hymns—the Magnificat and Benedictus—such as we looked at briefly in the previous note. The theme of deliverance for God’s people from their enemies is clearly present in the first section of the Benedictus (vv. 68-75), being part of the salvation and redemption (vv. 68-69) which God is bringing about through the promised Davidic Messiah (“in the house of David His child”). The thought is made explicit in verse 71:

“…salvation out of our enemies, and out of (the) hand of all (those) hating us”

The syntax of the poem clearly ties this deliverance to the person of the Davidic Messiah, connecting verse 71 with v. 69 (v. 70 being parenthetical):

“And He (has) raised a horn of salvation for us, in the house of David His child…
salvation out of [i.e. from] our enemies…”

The thought is repeated in verse 74, this time with the deliverance being connected to the covenant made by YHWH (and made binding by an oath):

“…to remember His holy agreement,
(the) oath which He swore to Abraham our father,
(and thus) to give us (to be) without fear,
(hav)ing been rescued out of (the) hand of our enemies…” (vv. 72-74)

Finally, the closing benediction of the Psalm (v. 53) also finds a parallel in the Benedictus, in its opening lines (v. 68):

“Blessed [eu)loghto/$] (is the) Lord, the God of Yisrael,
(in) that He (has) looked upon and (has) made a loosing from (bondage) for His people”

The term lu/trwsi$ (“loosing from [bondage]”) has Messianic significance, referring to the restoration of Israel, as can be seen by its use in Lk 2:38 (with the parallel in v. 25). In the person of Jesus, this deliverance of God’s people from their/our adversaries will be realized, even if not in quite the way that many Israelites and Jews (and even some early Christians) had expected.

All of the hymns, rather naturally, contain a blessing or praise of God, though expressed in different terms, such at the beginning of the Magnificat (vv. 46-47)—

“My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit leaps (for joy) upon God my Savior!”

or the famous lines of the Angels’ Song (“Gloria in excelsis”):

“Glory to God in the highest (place)s,
and on earth peace among men of (His) good will!”

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).

January 5: Psalm 89:50

This series of daily notes on Psalm 89 is an extension of the article in the Sunday Studies on the Psalms feature. The Messianic orientation of this Psalm (especially in the central section vv. 20-38), dealing with the promise of kingship to David and his line, is particularly relevant to the Gospel accounts of the birth of Jesus.

Psalm 89:50-53 [49-52]
Verse 50 [49]

“Where (are) your former (act)s of devotion, my Lord,
which you confirmed sevenfold to David by your firmness?”

The closing vv. 50-52 form a strophe-unit parallel with that of vv. 47-49 (discussed in the previous note), the two units being separated by a Selah pause-marker. The Wisdom-emphasis of vv. 48-49 has disappeared, and the unit picks up from the lament-question in verse 47 (“Until when [i.e. how long], O YHWH…?”). Again a painful question is posed to God by the Psalmist: “Where are your former acts of devotion?” This question presents another variation on the firmness theme of the Psalm, utilizing the same pair of terms—ds#j# and hn`Wma$—established in the opening (vv. 2-3).

The noun ds#j# (“loyalty, devotion”) is the focus of the first line, with the plural form <yd!s*j& best understood in the sense of “acts of loyal devotion” —that is, by YHWH toward His people, based on the binding agreement (covenant) between them. Such acts, performed by YHWH in times past, reflect His fundamental attribute and character of ds#j#. Yet, where are such acts—giving Divine blessing and protection to His people—now, in the time of Israel’s exile (and/or post-exilic suffering)? The Psalmist emphasizes this disjunction by using the adjective /ovar! (“first [place], beginning”), in the temporal sense of former—i.e., having been done before, but not (it is implied) now.

The second term, hn`Wma$, is featured in the second line. As has been discussed, the noun literally means “firmness”, primarily in the sense of “faithfulness, trustworthiness”, giving it a meaning comparable with that of ds#j# (i.e., faithfulness, loyalty). Throughout the Psalm, it is the covenant with David that is the focus of YHWH’s faithfulness, and it is again emphasized here in these lines.

The loss of the kingdom and end of the kingship would seem to indicate that YHWH has renounced this covenant, and His promises to David, in spite of what is affirmed throughout vv. 29-38. This apparent contradiction is the main theme of the lament in vv. 39-46—how can YHWH have abandoned His covenant-promise to David (regarding the kingship)? This question is all the more pointed because of the fact that the promise was confirmed by a sacred oath, which makes it (and the covenant) binding.

The oath-theme was emphasized earlier in vv. 35-36, including use of the verb ub^v*. The verb is apparently denominative from ub*v# (“seven”), i.e., “do (something) seven times (or seven-fold)”. On this idiom, cf. the earlier note on v. 36. YHWH’s promise is binding, having been confirmed (sevenfold) by oath; how, then, can God have abandoned it? The thrust of the Psalmist’s question is seen in the following vv. 51-52, as he urges YHWH to act to fulfill the covenant-promise, and thus restore the kingship for David (and the kingdom to Israel). This will be discussed in the next daily note, as we conclude our study on the Psalm.

Comments for Christmas

The longing to see restored the mighty acts of salvation, by God for His people, performed in times past, but now seemingly absent, is characteristic of Jewish Messianic expectation in the first centuries B.C./A.D. It is also expressed in the Gospel Infancy narratives, especially in the hymns of the Lukan narrative.

This certainly can be seen in the Magnificat (1:46-55), where recollection of the past acts by YHWH blend into the present moment, with the hope and expectation that they will be realized now, even as they were in ages past. The protagonist of the hymn (Mary is the [probable] speaker in the narrative) affirms this timeless quality of God’s “acts of devotion” (to use the term from v. 50a of the Psalm):

“the Mighty (One) has done for me great (thing)s,
and Holy (is) His name,
and His mercy (is) unto generation and generation,
for (the one)s fearing Him” (vv. 49-50)

The Greek noun e&leo$ (“mercy”) is frequently used to translate ds#j# (cf. above) in the LXX, and so should be understood in that sense here—viz., of the kindness and loving care shown by God, reflecting His covenant loyalty toward His people. The present expectation will see a reprisal (and restoration) of the great acts performed by God in the past:

“He took hold of Yisrael His child (to help him),
remembering (His) mercy [e&leo$]” (v. 54)

The Benedictus (vv. 68-79) contains similar kinds of traditional language, framing the present fulfillment of the (Messianic) expectation in terms of the past:

“…He (has) looked on (them), and made a loosing from (bondage) for His people,
and (has) raised a horn of salvation for us in (the) house of David His child” (vv. 68-69)

The motif of covenant-loyalty is likewise emphasized:

“…to act (in) mercy [e&leo$] with our fathers,
(and) to remember His holy agreement,
(the) oath which he swore…” (v. 72f)

In this regard, the Messianic fulfillment (in the person of Jesus) of the Davidic covenant can be seen as an answer to the Psalmist’s request in vv. 51-52—a point that will be discussed in our final note on the Psalm.

 

 

January 4: Psalm 89:47-49

This series of daily notes on Psalm 89 is an extension of the article in the Sunday Studies on the Psalms feature. The Messianic orientation of this Psalm (especially in the central section vv. 20-38), dealing with the promise of kingship to David and his line, is particularly relevant to the Gospel accounts of the birth of Jesus.

Psalm 89:47-49 [46-48]
Verse 47 [46]

“Until when, YHWH, will you hide yourself?
Will it burn to the (very) end,
like fire, your hot (anger)?”

It is proper to view vv. 47-49 as a distinct poetic unit within the division vv. 39-52. The Selah (hl*s#) pause-markers, after vv. 46 and 49, confirm this point. These verses follow the main strophe of vv. 39-46 (discussed in the previous two notes), and are parallel with the subsequent vv. 50-52. Indeed, one may treat vv. 47-49 and 50-52 as two short strophes, or as two units within a single strophe.

The distinctiveness of this unit is indicated by the metrical shift at v. 47. I parse this verse as an irregular (3+2+2) tricolon. It functions as a response to the situation described in vv. 39-46, where YHWH has (apparently) renounced His covenant with David, allowing the kingship (and the kingdom) to come to a destructive and shameful end. Clearly, the conquest of Judah is in view, and the Psalm (certainly the third division of it) is written from the standpoint of the Exile (or the post-Exilic period), when the kingdom (and thus also the Davidic line of kings) has ceased.

The Psalmist asks the plaintive question hm*-du^ (“Until when…?”, i.e., “How long [will this last]?”), which also occurs, equally painfully, in Ps 79:5 (cf. also 74:9). He describes the current situation of exile (and/or post-exilic poverty), which apparently has lasted now for a considerable time, in traditional terms—viz., of YHWH “hiding Himself” (vb rt^s*, Niphal stem) from His people. Dahood (II, p. 320) would parse the verb form as deriving from the root rWs (“turn aside/away”), but the meaning is much the same, in either case. For similar usage of rt^s* in the Psalms, cf. 13:1; 27:9; 44:24; the motif of God hiding His face signifies a situation where He is seemingly not responding to prayer (e.g., 55:1; 69:17; 88:14; 102:2; 143:7), and thus not giving help to His people in their time of distress.

In the second and third lines, the present suffering of God’s people is expressed in the traditional judgment-language of the “burning” (hm*j@, vb ru^B*) of His anger. As long as YHWH’s hot anger burns, the shame and ruin of the current situation will continue.

Verse 48 [47]

“Remember my trouble, (and) how short (is) life!
For what emptiness did you create (the) sons of man?”

This couplet, clearly drawing upon Wisdom tradition, seems to have been inspired by the reference in verse 46 (cf. the previous note), to the king’s “days of youth” having been “cut short”. The focus now shifts to the individual circumstances of the author-protagonist, much as we see in the majority of the lament-Psalms. The first line highlights two points frequently emphasized in the Wisdom texts—viz., (1) that a person’s life is (often) all too brief, and (2) is typically filled with toil and trouble.

I follow the suggestion of Dahood (II, p. 320) that MT yn]a* (“I”) in the first line should be revocalized as yn]a) (= yn]oa, “my trouble,” or “my sorrow”). The noun dl#j# is difficult to translate, though the basic meaning, as it is used here, seems clear enough—viz., a reference to the short/fleeting duration of a person’s life (Ps 39:6; cf. also 17:14; 49:2; Job 11:17; Isa 38:11). The “emptiness” (aw+v*) of life, particularly in terms of human pursuits and ambition, is also a frequent theme in Wisdom literature, though not typically expressed by the noun aw+v* which tends to have the more harshly negative connotation of wicked falsehood, deceit, idolatry, etc (but see its use in Job 7:3).

Verse 49 [48]

“Who (is the) strong (one who) lives
and does not see death?
Can he (truly) rescue his soul
from (the) hand of Še’ôl?”
Selah

Metrically, I parse this verse as a pair of short 2+2 couplets, patterned after the second and third lines of v. 47 (cf. above). It continues the Wisdom-orientation of v. 48, with the emphasis on the shortness of human life, in its mortality, and the inevitability of death as the common fate. Is there any human being, in the strength and vigor (rbg) of his youth, who can somehow avoid (“does not see”) death? The answer to this rhetorical question is an obvious “no”. No human being is able to rescue his soul—that is, enable it (somehow) to escape (vb fl^m*, Piel)—from the power (“hand”) of Death.

On loav= as a poetic term for death (and the realm of death), cf. my earlier note.

Comments for Christmas

The Wisdom-emphasis of these verses is generally absent from the Gospel Infancy Narratives; however, the idea of human mortality is present, to some extent. I would note two passages, in particular. The first is the narrative arc in Matthew 2, in which Herod, troubled by the prospect of losing his kingship (a theme relevant to vv. 39-46 of the Psalm), seeks to kill off the true king, the Messiah, born in Bethlehem. The Gospel’s poignant treatment of the death of the infants (vv. 16-18), with its citation of Jer 31:15, provides a powerful illustration of the brevity of human life (the infants truly had “the days of their youth cut short”, v. 46 of the Psalm).

The second passage to mention is the episode involving Simeon in Luke 2:25-35. The aged Simeon was keenly aware that his life was reaching its end, but the time of his death was related to his seeing the Messiah—the one who will fulfill the promise of the Davidic covenant, and thus bring about the restoration for God’s people (vv. 25-26). The encounter, with the aged Simeon holding the infant Jesus, is one of the most beautiful of the portraits in the Lukan Gospel, graced as it is by the canticle (“Nunc dimittis”) in vv. 29-32, which begins with a memorable statement regarding the acceptance of death (and human mortality) by a faithful believer:

“Now, may you loose your slave from (his service), O Master, according to your word, in peace…”

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).

January 3: Psalm 89:41-46

This series of daily notes on Psalm 89 is an extension of the article in the Sunday Studies on the Psalms feature. The Messianic orientation of this Psalm (especially in the central section vv. 20-38), dealing with the promise of kingship to David and his line, is particularly relevant to the Gospel accounts of the birth of Jesus.

Psalm 89:39-46, continued

(Verses 39-40 were discussed in the previous note.)

Verse 41 [40]

“You have broken through all of his walls,
you have set his fortified places (to) ruin.”

The consequences of YHWH’s renunciation of the Davidic covenant (v. 40a, cf. the previous note) are described, painfully, in vv. 41-46. The series of disasters brought out in this lament expound the colorful image in v. 40a—viz., of the Davidic crown, with all its splendor, being ignominiously thrown (by YHWH) to the ground.

Overall the imagery is of military conquest, which, of course, is appropriate for the fall of the Judean (and earlier Israelite) kingdom, conquered as it was by the Babylonians (and Israel by the Assyrians). The image here in v. 41 is of a fortified city (i.e., with surrounding walls) being reduced to a ruin (hT*j!m=). God Himself (“you have…”) acts by means of the attacking (human) army. This army “breaks through” (vb Jr^P*, which could also mean “break down”) the walls (tord@g+) of the kingdom’s fortified places (<yr!x*b=m!). The noun rx*b=m! essentially means an enclosed place, i.e., one gathered away and shut off (from dangers, etc) by a surrounding wall (and other fortifications).

Verse 42 [41]

“They plunder him, all (those) passing by (that) way;
he (is an object of) scorn to (those) dwelling by him.”

The conquest of the kingdom, with the destruction of its cities, has two further detrimental effects, which add insult to injury: (1) people passing through are able to “plunder” (vb ss^v*) the remaining resources, and (2) the former kingdom (and its people) become an object of scorn (hP*r=j#) to all the surrounding nations. This is traditional language and terminology, such as we have noted, e.g., in a number of lament-Psalms (the noun hP*r=j# is relatively frequent, occurring 20 times in the Psalms).

Verse 43 [42]

“You raised high (the) right hand of his adversaries,
you have made glad all (those) hostile to him.”

The enemies of Israel/Judah, in particular, have benefited from YHWH’s renunciation of the covenant with David. This refers, not only to the actual conquest of the kingdom by the foreign invaders (and their allies), but also to the surrounding nations which are able to exploit the situation. Their relative strength/power (“right hand”) has been heightened by YHWH’s action, and they are “made glad” (vb jm^c*, Hiphil) in various ways by the destruction of the Israelite/Judean kingdom.

Verse 44 [43]

“Indeed, you turned back (the) flint of his sword,
and you did not help him stand in the battle!”

Here, the demise of the kingdom is defined in terms of the covenant-protection YHWH normally would provide, and to the king, in particular, as military leader of the people. They were not able to withstand the attacker, being defeated in any battles that were fought.

There is a bit of wordplay here with v. 43, between the nouns rx^ (ƒar, “hostile foe/adversary”) and rWx (ƒûr, “rock”), the latter with the specific meaning of “flint”, referring to the teeth/edge of the sword blade.

Verse 45 [44]

“You made cease (the) <scepter of> his splendor,
and his throne to the earth you have cast down.”

The final verses 45-46 reprise the thematic emphasis from vv. 39-40 (cf. the previous note), including the motif of throwing the symbols of kingship (crown/throne) down onto the ground. A word appears to be missing from the first line; as it stands, the verse is a highly irregular 2+3 couplet. As Kraus (p. 200) notes, the reference to the “throne” (aS@K!) in the second line suggests a parallel like “staff/scepter” (fb#v#), such as we see, for example, in Ps 45:7 [6]. The LXX seems to follow the MT, with a short first line, while the Qumran manuscript 4QPse (covering vv. 44-48) is inconclusive (being broken at this point).

Kraus, on the assumption that MT orh*F=m! is corrupt, suggests that it be emended to something like odoh hF@m^ (“staff of his splendor”). This seems a reasonable suggestion, which I have tentatively adopted (with all reservation). The noun rh^f) itself means “brightness, clearness”, and could be preserved from the MT, understood in a comparable sense (as “splendor”).

Verse 46 [45]

“You have cut short (the) days of his youth,
(and) have wrapped shame over him (instead)!”
Selah

The end of the kingship here, in this climactic couplet, seems to refer to the concrete historical situation in 598/7 B.C., when the young king of Judah, Jehoiachin, having succeeded his father (Jehoiakim), ruled for just three months before Jerusalem surrendered to Nebuchadnezzar (cf. the narrative in 2 Kings 24). Chosen members of the population, including the king and the royal house, were exiled to Babylon. These circumstances certainly would fit the thematic combination here of the king having the “days of his youth” cut short (vb rx^q*), and also having shame wrapped (vb hf*u*) over him.

There is some alliterative wordplay here which should be noted, between wym*Wlu& (“his youth”) and wyl*u* (“over him”). Also, with the noun <Wlu* (±¹lûm, plural <ym!Wlu&), there is almost certainly an intended echo of the noun <l*ou (±ôl¹m), used repeatedly earlier in the Psalm (vv. 2-3, 5, 29, 37-38). As a temporal indicator, <l*ou denotes a period of time lasting into the distant future, applied to the promise of kingship for David and his descendants (as part of the covenant). This promise of an enduring kingship is harshly contrasted here with a shameful end, as the (final) king’s reign is “cut short” in his youth.

Comments for Christmas

For early Christians, the Davidic covenant is to be fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ, with God’s promise (regarding the Davidic dynastic line) being reinterpreted to apply to a single Messianic descendant (Jesus). This belief is very much expressed in the Gospel Infancy Narratives, as has been discussed in the prior notes (see esp. Luke 1:32-33). However, the Messianic expectation, which Jesus fulfills, also is rooted in the painful reality of the kingdom’s fall, such as we find expressed so vividly in vv. 39-46 of the Psalm. This atmosphere of hopeful longing, tinged with lament, is encapsulated by two phrases that occur in the Lukan narrative. Simeon and Anna represent the faithful/pious ones of Israel, those who continue to wait in hope for the coming of the Messiah and (with him) the restoration of the kingdom for Israel; the Gospel writer describes them as:

    • Simeon:
      “looking toward receiving (the) para/klhsi$ of Israel” (2:25)
    • Anna (being among those who are):
      “looking toward receiving (the) lu/trwsi$ of Jerusalem” (2:38)

The nouns para/klhsi$ and lu/trwsi$ are clearly parallel: para/klhsi$ means “a calling alongside”, or someone being “called alongside”, to give to help and encouragement, etc; while lu/trwsi$ denotes the “loosing” of a person (from bondage or debt), often as the result of the payment of a ransom or redemption price. Both of these terms came to have Messianic significance, as is reflected by this Lukan usage; the use of para/klhsi$, in particular, may have been influenced by the verb parakale/w in Isa 40:1 LXX.

We also find in the hymns (or canticles) of the Lukan narrative this Messianic theme of Israel’s restoration/redemption, expressed in militaristic terms of victory over the enemies and oppressors of God’s people. See, for example, 1:51f, 54 (in the Magnificat), and 1:68-74a (in the Benedictus). These promises, to be realized with the Messianic kingdom and reign of Jesus, effectively represent a reversal of the situation described in vv. 39-46 of our Psalm.

References above marked “Kraus” are to Hans-Joachim Kraus, Psalmen, 2. Teilband, Psalmen 60-150, 5th ed., Biblischer Kommentar series (Neukirchener Verlag: 1978); English translation in Psalms 60-150, A Continental Commentary (Fortress Press: 1993).