Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 25 (continued)

Psalm 25, continued

(Continued from the previous week’s study)

Verses 12-22

Verse 12 [m]

“Who [ym!] (is) this, the man fearing YHWH?
He shall instruct him in (the) way he will choose.”

The Wisdom-setting of this Psalm continues, and is clearly established in its second part. It asks the rhetorical question regarding who among humankind truly possesses such wisdom, defined in terms of the fear of God. This theme is widespread in Old Testament wisdom literature (including the Psalms); the keynote reference is Proverbs 1:7, and it also serves as the starting point for the great drama of Job (1:1, 8-9). For instances in the Psalms studied thus far, cf. 2:11; 5:7; 15:4; 19:9; 22:23ff. In a religious (or theological) context, “fear” (expressed primarily by the root ary) has to do with the proper honor and reverence a human being ought to show toward God. The one who possesses this “fear” toward God will be instructed by Him, even as Prov 1:7—and the wealth of wisdom traditions—makes clear.

Verse 13 [n]

“His soul [ovp=n~] shall lodge in a good (place),
and his seed shall possess (the good) land.”

The righteous person will not only receive wisdom and instruction from YHWH, he/she will also come to dwell secure and in prosperity. The parallelism of this (3+3) couplet is comprehensive, emphasizing both the individual (“his soul”) and the community (“his seed”, i.e. family and descendants). The blessing received from God is defined here in terms of dwelling. In the first line, the emphasis is on the character of the dwelling—that it is “in good(ness)”, or, perhaps more accurately, “in a good (place)”, the key term being bof (“good[ness]”). A temporary dwelling is indicated by the use of the verb /Wl which denotes spending the night in a particular location; the second line, by contrast, refers to a permanent place of dwelling, where an entire family or community can put down roots. That place is simply called “(the) earth” or “(the) land”, using the common noun Jr#a#; the goodness of the dwelling in line 1 certainly is meant to apply to the “land” in line 2 as well. The motif of “inheriting the earth” was used famously by Jesus in his Beatitudes (Matt. 5:5).

Verse 14 [s]

“(The) initimate (circle) [dos] of YHWH (belongs) to (the one)s fearing Him,
and His binding (agreement) He (surely) makes known to them.”

The simplicity and concision of this 3+2 couplet is almost impossible to render literally, as is indicated by the more expansive translation above. It involves the idea of the covenant (lit. binding [agreement], tyr!B=) between YHWH and his people—i.e. those loyal to him. The noun dos in the first line is parallel to tyr!B= in the second, meaning that it must be understood in the same light. The fundamental meaning of the root dws signifies something being said confidentially, spoken with one whom a person trusts or has a certain intimacy. Such a ‘circle’ of trusted friends “belongs to” (l=) those who fear YHWH (cf. above); it might better be stated that such persons themselves belong to God’s trusted circle. This is the basis for the binding agreement YHWH establishes with those loyal to him, and He himself instructs them in the terms of this agreement (i.e. the “Instruction”, or Torah). There is a bit of dual-use wordplay involving the preposition l=; in the first line, it has the meaning “belong to” (as in the superscription to the Psalm), while, in the second, it is best understood as a having the force of an emphatic particle (emphatic-l, or lamed emphaticum).

Verse 15 [u]

“My eyes [yn~yu@] (are) continually (looking) to(ward) YHWH,
for (it is) He (who) shall bring out my feet from (bein)g caught.”

There is a special kind of synthetic parallelism in this couplet, which is enclosed by its first and last words— “my eyes” and “my feet” —encompassing the entirety of the person’s body. On the one hand, the wise and righteous person looks to YHWH for protection, trusting in Him; and the same time, this trust is rewarded by the help God provides in time of need—rescuing one’s “feet” from the snare of capture (tv#r#). These are the two sides of the covenant bond: the loyalty/trust of the vassal, and the protection provided by the sovereign.

Verse 16 [p]

“Turn [hn@P=] (your face) to me and show me favor,
for (all) alone and oppressed (am) I!”

The statement of the help YHWH provides, in verse 15, is transformed here into a direct prayer and plea to God by the protagonist. The idea of a threat from enemies and adversaries was established earlier in the Psalm (vv. 2-3), even if it has been superseded by the wisdom-themes in the intervening verses; so it is picked up again here. The implication is that the Psalmist is faithful and loyal to YHWH; therefore, according to the covenant bond, God should act on his behalf, to protect and defend him. The protagonist declares that he is “alone” (dyj!y`) and “oppressed” (yn]u*), without any help available to him from other human beings. Only YHWH is able to rescue him from the dangers he faces. The Psalmist’s isolation is emphasized by the explicit use of the personal pronoun (yn]a*, “I”) in the last (emphatic) position of the second line. This also involves some wordplay which is otherwise lost in translation:

yn]a* yn]u*w+
w®±¹nî °¹nî
“and oppressed (am) I”

The sense of isolation is contrasted with the idea, expressed in the petition of the first line, that God would “turn” to face the Psalmist—that is, to come and be present with him, showing favor to him (by His presence).

Verse 17 [x]

“(O, that the) tightness [hr*x*] of my heart would be made wide!
May you bring me out from (these) pressures (on) me!”

The motifs of being rescued from capture (v. 15) and the experience of feeling oppressed (v. 16) are combined here with the more vivid imagery of freeing a person from being trapped in a tight space. This “tightness” is internalized in line 1, being located in the “heart”; while, in line 2, the focus is external, i.e. pressures felt on the person from outside (enemies, attackers, threats, etc). In each case, the prayer of the Psalmist is that God would bring him out of the “tight spot” into a “wide” space of freedom—an idiom for salvation and rescue.

Verses 18-19 [r]

“May you see [ha@r=] my oppression and my weariness,
and may you take (away) for (me) all my sins!
May you see [ha@r=] my enemies–for they are many,
and (with) violent hatred they hate me!”

The two couplets of verses 18-19 share the same acrostic letter (and opening word); this expansion of the format is probably interpretive, intended to clarify the traditional imagery in light of the wisdom themes of the Psalm. That is to say, the Psalmist’s enemies are identified with sin (and sinful tendencies), in a figurative sense, rather than as individual persons.

Indeed, here the idea of salvation (from v. 17) is rendered in religious and ethical terms—i.e., deliverance from sins. The overall wisdom context of the Psalm (cf. above) suggests that the traditional imagery of danger/attack from enemies should be understood primarily (if not entirely) in this figurative sense, as noted above. Even for the faithful and righteous person, sins can weigh one down, threatening to harm and disrupt the covenant bond with God. It is also possible that there is here an allusion to sins committed in the Psalmist’s past (his youth), which may have been of a more serious nature (vv. 7, 11, and cf. below), and that he expresses a concern that these may keep him from receiving help and forgiveness from YHWH.

Verse 20 [v]

“May you guard [hr*m=v*] my soul and snatch me away (from them)!
Do not let me be ashamed, for I would seek protection in you.”

The same thought of vv. 18-19 continues here, expressed in terms of the earlier petition in verse 2. The Psalmist confesses his trust in YHWH, using a verb (hs*j*) similar in meaning to that in vv. 2-3 (jt^B*); both carry the idea of trust, with the specific denotation of seeking protection (in someone or something). The root used here (hsj) perhaps indicates a more immediate or urgent action, which would be in keeping with the request, in the first line, that God “snatch (him) away” (vb lx^n`) from danger.

The idea of feeling shame (vb vWB) is also repeated here from vv. 2-3. The failure of YHWH to rescue the Psalmist would bring shame—i.e., to the Psalmist for trusting God, in vain—and, by implication, would call into question the covenant bond with YHWH. It is essentially an appeal to the duty of the sovereign within that bond. The fear expressed here could also relate to the possibility that the Psalmist’s (past) sins may prevent God from acting on his behalf, which would certainly be to his shame.

Verse 21 [t]

“Completeness [<T)] and straightness—may they guard me,
for (see how) I call on you!”

Once again, we have a terse 3+2 couplet that is difficult to translate with the same concision in English. In particular, the abstract nouns <T) (“completeness”) and rv#y) (“straightness”) are hard to render literally without a certain awkwardness. The prayer that these attributes should serve as (a pair of) guards for the Psalmist, in light of the similar request in v. 20, indicates that they are to be understood specifically as divine attributes. That is to say, he requests that the perfect integrity (“completeness”) of YHWH, and His righteousness (“straightness”), would serve to safeguard the same for the Psalmist himself—i.e., his own integrity and upright character. This reflects a unique ethical-religious sense of the covenant bond; the help God brings protects the loyal vassal, not from physical enemies, but from the danger and threat of sin (cf. above).

Here, at the close of the Psalm, the protagonist again identifies himself as one who “calls on” YHWH (for this sense of the verb hw`q*, cf. the notes on vv. 3, 5 in the previous study). This is a blunt declaration of his faithfulness and loyalty to God, in a particularly religious (and theological) context. That is to say, his loyalty and devotion is to YHWH, and not to any other deities. This raises the possibility, discussed in the previous study (on vv. 7 and 11), that the protagonist of the Psalm represents a person who, at one point, was an adherent of Canaanite religious beliefs, presumably in a syncretistic Israelite form, which blended together worship of YHWH with that of the Canaanite deities Baal-Haddu and Asherah, etc. While it is conceivable that a religious situation of this sort informs the background of the Psalm, the composition as we have it is more firmly rooted in wisdom traditions, where “sin” is better understood in a general religious-ethical sense, rather than the specific polemic context of Yahwism vs. Canaanite-syncretism.

Verse 22

“(O,) Mightiest, may you ransom Yisrael from all his (time)s of distress!”

The concluding verse 22 is a single line, outside of the acrostic couplet-format of the main Psalm. It may well be a secondary addition, but one which would have attached itself early on during the process of transmission. The use of <yh!ýa$ (“Mightiest [One]”, i.e. “God”), instead of YHWH, marks its character as part of the wisdom-tradition so influential on the Psalm as a whole (cf. above, and the previous study).

Also unique is the way that the protagonist of the Psalm is now identified with the people of Israel. While this individual-community association is implicit in many of the Psalms, only rarely is it made explicit as it is here. The Psalmist, especially insofar as the traditional ascription to David would apply, is often to be understood as a royal figure, and there is typically a strong royal background that can be detected, underlying the original composition of many Psalms. However, in the form that we now have them, and as they came to be used in a communal worship setting, these same Psalms were interpreted so that the Psalmist could stand equally for the righteous person generally, and collectively for Israel as the (righteous) people of God. Just as the protagonist in the Psalms prays to God that he be rescued from his distress (hr*x*, v. 17), so here the prayer is that Israel be similarly saved in their times of distress (pl. torx*).

 

Note on the Johannine “Paraclete” passages

This is a supplement to the recent daily note, the last of a series exploring the development of traditions regarding the Spirit of God within early Christianity. Given the special character of the “Paraclete” passages in the Johannine writings, I felt it was best to discuss them separately. I will not be presenting a detailed critical and exegetical analysis of them here, as that has been done in earlier notes and studies. Instead, the focus will be along the lines of the recent note on the Johannine references to the Spirit, considering how these passages relate to the development of the early Christian belief.

The term “Paraclete” is a transliteration of the noun para/klhto$ (parákl¢tos), used as a title four times in the Johannine Last Discourse of Jesus (13:31-16:33)—at 14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7. It also occurs at 1 John 2:1, but nowhere else in the New Testament (nor in the LXX), essentially marking it as a distinctive Johannine term. The noun is derived from the more common verb parakale/w (“call alongside”), often used in the sense of calling someone alongside to give help. This help can be understood various ways, including the more technical sense of serving as a (legal) advocate. The relatively wide semantic range has led New Testament translators to render para/klhto$ variously as “advocate”, “counselor”, “comforter”, all of which can be misleading and are not entirely accurate. A safer route would be to transliterate the noun as a title in English—i.e., Paraclete—as many translators and commentators have done. The best solution, however, is to adhere to the literal, fundamental meaning of “(one) called alongside” (i.e. to give help). A related noun, para/klhsi$ (parákl¢sis), more common in the New Testament, refers properly to the help that is given by the person “called alongside”.

In each of the four references in the Last Discourse, Jesus first mentions the para/klhto$, and then subsequently identifies it with the Spirit (pneu=ma):

    • 14:16-17— “And I will make a request of the Father, and He will give to you another (one) called alongside [para/klhto$], (so) that he would be with you into the Age, the Spirit of truth…”
    • 14:26— “…but the (one) called alongside [para/klhto$], the holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, that (one) will teach you all (thing)s…”
    • 15:26— “When the (one) called alongside [para/klhto$] should come, whom I will send to you (from) alongside the Father, the Spirit of truth who travels out (from) alongside the Father, that (one) will give witness about me”
    • 16:7, 13— “…if I should not go away, the (one) called alongside [para/klhto$] will not come toward you; but, if I should travel (away), (then) I will send him toward you. …. And, when that (one) should come, the Spirit of truth, he will lead the way for you in all truth…”

This has led to all kind of interesting speculation as to whether the Last Discourse material may originally have referred only to the para/klhto$, and that the identifications with the Spirit were introduced in a subsequent stage of editing. I do not find such theories very convincing; in any event, within the overall framework of the Gospel as we have it, there can be no doubt that the “Paraclete” and the Spirit are identical.

In three of the references, the expression “Spirit of truth” is used, while “holy Spirit” is found in 14:26 (though some manuscripts there read “Spirit of truth” as well). It should be noted that “holy Spirit” is quite rare in the Johannine writings; apart from a traditional reference in the baptism scene (Jn 1:33), presumably inherited as part of the wider Gospel tradition, the expression occurs only in the episode where Jesus gives the Spirit to his disciples (20:22), and does not occur in the Johannine letters at all. Also, it is worth noting that there is no other reference to the Spirit in the Last Discourse, apart from these four “Paraclete” references.

It is perhaps best to begin with the use of the word para/klhto$ in 1 John 2:1, as in some ways it is the key to a correct understanding of the term in the Last Discourse as well. There the author assures his readers that, if any believer happens to commit sin, “we hold (one) called alongside [para/klhto$] (for us) toward the Father—Yeshua (the) Anointed, (the) just/righteous (one)”. In his role as para/klhto$, Jesus speaks before God on our behalf, much like a legal advocate in front of a judicial court. This implies the exalted position of Jesus (following his resurrection), standing at the “right hand” of God the Father, in accordance with the exaltation-Christology that dominated the earliest period of Christianity.

The main point to note, however, is that it is Jesus who is identified as the para/klhto$, a fact which helps to explain the use of the expression “another para/klhto$” in Jn 14:16. Jesus himself was the first para/klhto$, one called by God to be alongside believers (i.e. his disciples) during his time on earth. He quite literally spent time alongside (para/) them, having previously been alongside (para/) the Father. In his ministry, Jesus gave all sorts of help and guidance to his disciples, teaching them about God the Father and instructing them in the way of truth. The Spirit continues this same work of Jesus, remaining alongside the disciples (believers) and “leading the way” for them “in all truth” (16:13). This association of the Spirit with the truth of God is a key Johannine theme, expressed most clearly elsewhere in John 4:23-24 and 1 John 4:6; 5:6 (“the Spirit is the truth”); cf. also Jn 1:14ff; 8:32, 44; 14:6; 17:17-19; 18:37; 1 Jn 1:8; 2:4; 3:19.

Even more important, from the standpoint of the Last Discourses, is the idea that the Paraclete/Spirit represents the abiding presence of Jesus himself, after he has departed/returned back to the Father. This is part of a wider tendency in early Christianity, whereby the Spirit came to be understood as both the Spirit of God and the Spirit of Jesus. Paul uses “Spirit of God” and “Spirit of Christ” more or less interchangeably, though the latter is admittedly more rare. In prior notes, we examined the idea, best seen at several points in Paul’s letters, that, through his resurrection/exaltation, Jesus came to be united with God’s own Spirit. The Gospel of John, of course, expresses a much clearer sense of Jesus’ pre-existent deity; and his identity as the Son—both in the Gospel prologue and throughout the Discourses—must be understood in light of this Christological emphasis. Jesus the Son was present with the Father, in heaven/eternity, prior to his human life and ministry on earth. With his departure from his disciples, he returns back to the Father, leaving the Spirit in his place. Through the Spirit, Jesus remains with believers (the important Johannine use of the verb me/nw, “remain”); it is also the means by which Jesus shows the way for us to the Father. We are united with both Jesus the Son and God the Father through the presence of the Spirit.

Commentators have long noted the apparent ambiguity with regard to who it is that sends the Spirit, whether the Father or the Son, or the two of them together:

    • The Father gives the Spirit at Jesus’ request (14:16)
    • The Father sends the Spirit in Jesus’ name (14:26)
    • Jesus sends the Spirit from the Father (15:26; 16:7)

Ultimately, the Spirit comes from the Father, but this has to be understood in terms of the clear chain of relationship established and expressed repeatedly throughout the discourses: the Father gives all things to the Son, who, in turn, gives them to believers. The Spirit is certainly among those things that are given—indeed, it is the primary thing given by God to the Son (and then to us as believers). This is summarized and expressed most clearly in John 3:35:

“The Father loves the Son, and has given all (thing)s in(to) his hand.”

According to the prior verse 34, the Spirit is what is primarily in view in this statement:

“For the (one) whom God sent forth from (Himself) speaks the utterances of God, for (it is) not out of a measure (that) He gives the Spirit.”

To say that God does not give his Spirit “out of a measure” means that he gives it fully and completely—that is, here, fully and completely to the Son. The Son, in turn, is able to bestow God’s Spirit upon all who trust in him.

1 John 4:1-6

Finally, some light may be shed on the Paraclete passages from the discussion in 1 John 4:1-6, where the expression “Spirit of truth” is used. This passage has a strong eschatological orientation, whereby the author has set the conflict (in the Johannine Community) involving certain ‘false’ believers as part of the end-time appearance of “Antichrist” —a)nti/xristo$, literally “against the Anointed”. According to the author, these false Christians hold a false view of Jesus Christ, which, being false, cannot be inspired by the Spirit of truth—that is the Spirit of God and Christ. Instead, such “false prophets” are inspired by evil and deceitful spirits—the opposite of God’s own Spirit—characterized as “the spirit th(at is) against the Anointed” (i.e., spirit of ‘antichrist’). Part of the early Christian eschatology, inherited from the Judaism of the period, involved the expected rise of “false prophets” and Satanic-inspired figures during the time of distress (qli/yi$) which precedes the end of the current Age. For further study, cf. my three-part article “The Antichrist Tradition” in the series “Prophecy and Eschatology in the New Testament”.

This eschatological worldview was central to much early Christian thought, going back to Jesus’ own teachings, and received a distinctive expression within the Johannine writings. The presence of the Spirit marked the beginning of the New Age for believers in Christ. All of the anticipated future blessings of the New Age—resurrection, eternal life, abiding with God in heaven—were experienced by believers, through the Spirit, already in the present. This is the “realized” aspect of early Christian eschatology, and it is especially prominent in the Gospel of John. At the same time, the activity of the Spirit in the present offers a promise of what will be experienced fully in the future. For more on the Johannine eschatology, in terms of the Last Discourse and references to the Spirit, cf. my articles in the series “Prophecy and Eschatology in the New Testament”, along with the earlier notes, e.g., on Jn 16:7-15.

 

July 23: John 3:5-8, 34 etc

We bring this current series of notes to a close with a brief study on the references to the Spirit in the Gospel and Letters of John. All of these references were discussed previously, at considerable length, in the earlier study series “…Spirit and Life”. Here they will be discussed only briefly, in summary fashion, in terms of the development of traditions regarding the Spirit of God in early Christianity.

This question of development is complicated in the case of the Gospel of John, due to the nature and character of the Discourses of Jesus. On the one hand, the Johannine Discourses are rooted in authentic historical traditions regarding the words and teachings of Jesus; on the other, they also evince signs of having been shaped (and interpreted) within a distinctive literary and theological framework. This framework may be called “Johannine”, referring to the Community of believers within which the Gospel and Letters were produced and disseminated. That there was some definite literary and theological shaping of the Discourses is confirmed by the close similarities in thought and expression—the language, style, etc—between the Discourses and First John.

Thus, insofar as the Discourses reflect the genuine sayings/teaching of Jesus, they represent the beginning of the process of development; insofar as they reflect the Johannine thought-world at the time the Gospel was composed/completed, they represent a relatively late stage in the process. Most (critical) commentators would date the Gospel and Letters to the end of the first century (c. 90-100 A.D.), while the historical traditions drawn upon by the Gospel may have taken shape decades earlier. A proper study of the Discourses requires that both aspects of the critical question be kept clearly in view.

An objective analysis and survey of the references to the Spirit yields the following results:

1. The life-giving character of the Spirit, as symbolized by water. This traditional association of the Spirit with water is used by Jesus in his famous dialogue with Nicodemus (3:5ff), the discourse with the Samaritan woman (4:10-14, 21-24), and his declaration in 7:37-38 (where the Gospel writer explains that this is a reference to the coming of the Spirit, v. 39). The Johannine writings are unique in the way that they specifically associate the Spirit with “water and blood” —that is, the blood of Jesus, meaning his sacrificial death. This can be glimpsed in three passages:

    • The ‘Eucharistic’ allusions in the Bread of Life discourse of chapter 6, with the comparable reference to drinking Jesus’ blood in order to quench one’s thirst—vv. 35, 53-57. In the context of this discourse, we find Jesus’ climactic words to his disciples stating that, in reality, it is the Spirit that gives life (6:63), rather than some sort of concrete (sacramental) eating and drinking, and that this Spirit is communicated to believers through Jesus’ own words.
    • The reference to “blood and water” coming out of Jesus at his death (19:34) must be understood in the context of his allusion to the giving of the Spirit at the moment of his death (v. 30).
    • The famous declaration in 1 John 5:6-8ff; cf. my earlier notes for a detailed study on this passage.

2. The coming of the Spirit as the mark of a ‘New Age’ for the people of God. This is another traditional theme, deriving ostensibly from the Prophetic writings of the 6th century B.C., and continuing down into the New Testament period. According to this line of tradition, in the New Age God will ‘pour out’ his Spirit upon the people as a whole, marking a new and restored relationship (or covenant) with YHWH. We saw how this idea received a unique development among early Christians, expressed throughout the early chapters of the book of Acts, and given an even deeper theological treatment, for example, by Paul in his letters. It may well be that the basic line of interpretation, among the earliest Christians, stems from Jesus’ own teachings, though there is relatively little evidence for this in the Gospels. However, it is certainly suggested by Jesus in his discourse with the Samaritan woman (esp. 4:21-24), as well as by the place of his references to the Spirit within the “realized” eschatology that dominates the Discourses—cf. the following note on the ‘Paraclete’ passages.

3. Jesus as the means by which the Spirit is given to God’s people. This belief regarding Jesus’ role in communicating God’s Spirit is rooted in early Gospel tradition—most notably, the saying of John the Baptist in Mark 1:7-8 par. That saying relates to an identification of Jesus as God’s chosen/anointed representative (Messiah), who will appear at the end of the current Age and usher in the New Age for the people of God. This Messianic association with the Spirit is a bit unusual, but not entirely unprecedented, when one considers the development of Messianic thought from its Prophetic roots, and as it is attested, for example, in a number of the Qumran texts (cf. my earlier article on the Holy Spirit in the Dead Sea Scrolls). In the Gospel tradition, the saying of the Baptist is tied to the manifestation of the Spirit during Jesus’ baptism (Mk 1:9-11 par)—all of which the Gospel of John records, in its own way (cf. 1:29-34).

Even more significant, along these same lines, are the references to the Spirit in the Discourses. In addition to the ‘Paraclete’ passages of the Last Discourse (cf. the discussion in the note following), we have:

    • The key statement (by the Gospel writer?) in 3:34-35
    • The idea of Jesus giving the Spirit under the symbolic figure of water4:10, 13-14; 7:37-38 (cf. above)
    • The allusion to his giving the Spirit at his death (19:30, cp. verse 34)
    • The giving of the Spirit to his disciples following his resurrection (20:22)
    • The statements in 1 John 3:24; 4:13

4. The role of the Spirit in a “new birth” for believers as sons/children of God. The roots of such birth imagery, in connection with the Spirit of God, are probably to be found (a) in the general sense of the Spirit’s life-giving power (manifest at creation, etc), and (b) the Prophetic imagery that depicted the restoration of God’s people with the motif of new life from the dead (i.e. resurrection, in a figurative sense). Both aspects are naturally tied to the death and resurrection of Jesus, and the resurrection-motif is especially prominent in the Gospel of John (5:25-29; 6:39-40ff; chapter 11 [esp. verses 23-27]).

A comparable matrix of ideas developed around the symbolism of the baptism-ritual, which entailed (i) the believer’s participation in the death and resurrection of Jesus, and (ii) the life-giving presence of the Spirit. Both of these aspects serve to effect our union with Christ (the Son), and, at the same time, with God the Father. Paul draws out the connection of the Spirit with the divine sonship of believers, in the context of the baptism symbolism, in Galatians 4:4-7 and Romans 8:9-17 (discussed in prior notes).

The Johannine writings similarly emphasize the role of the Spirit in the experience of the “new birth” that allows believers to realize their identity as sons/children of God. The Gospel and Letters use the term te/knon (plur. te/kna), “offspring” for believers as children of God, reserving the noun ui(o/$ (“son”) more or less exclusively for Jesus (the Son). For instances of this usage, cf. Jn 1:12; (11:52); 1 Jn 3:1-2, 10; 5:2. Even more common in the Johannine writings is the idiom of “coming to be (born) of God”, with its distinctive use of the verb genna/w (“come to be, become”)—Jn 1:13; 1 Jn 2:29; 3:9; 4:7; 5:1, etc. In First John, believers are often referenced as such through the use of a substantive perfect participle—i.e., “the (one) having come to be (born)”, cf. 3:9; 5:1, 4, 18.

The main Johannine passage associating the Spirit with this “birth” of believers, is the famous discourse with Nicodemus (3:3-8, cf. my earlier notes). In 1 John, the key references to the Spirit (3:24; 4:13; 5:6ff) occur within the context of a discussion centered around the identity of the (true) believer as one who has come to be born of God—i.e., the child/offspring of God—using the terminology mentioned above.

Due to the special importance of the ‘Paraclete’ references in the Johannine writings, these will be treated in a supplemental note.

July 22: Revelation 1:10; 4:2; 19:10; 22:6, etc

Revelation 1:10; 4:2; 19:10; 22:6, etc

Throughout most of the book of Revelation (cf. the previous note), pneu=ma specifically refers to the activity and role of the Spirit (of God) in prophecy—the revealing of God’s word and will, to be communicated to God’s people (believers) by a chosen representative. As such, it continues a long line of tradition, stretching from the time of Moses down to the early Christians of the 1st century A.D. The ayb!n` was a Spirit-inspired spokesperson for YHWH, whose prophetic gift was marked by unusual phenomena and ecstatic experience. Among the earliest Christians prophecy was the primary manifestation or ‘gift’ of the Spirit, as has been examined in a number of recent notes in this series. At the same time, it was perhaps the most traditional aspect of early Christian belief regarding the Spirit. The book of Revelation does, however, offer at least some evidence of how this line of tradition was developed in a uniquely Christian sense. The association of the Spirit with prophecy is expressed several different ways in the book of Revelation:

1. e)n pneu/mati (“in the Spirit”). This expression occurs first in Rev 1:10, which sets the scene for the prophetic visions described in the book:

“I came to be in the Spirit in/on the lordly day [i.e. Lord’s day], and I heard behind me a great voice…”

This is the basis of the visionary experience which comes to the prophet “John”; it reflects the older, traditional aspect of the prophetic figure being “in the Spirit” (Ezek 3:12; Luke 2:27, etc). Even among Christians, who experience the Spirit in a new way—as the permanent, abiding presence of Christ (and God the Father)—certain believers could still be gifted and inspired specially as prophets (cf. below).

The next occurrence of the expression is in 4:2, where the prophetic inspiration now takes the form of a heavenly vision—i.e., the ability to see things in heaven, a ‘spiritual’ dimension above (cf. Ezek 8:3-4; 11:5). There are numerous accounts in Jewish tradition of visionary travels through the heavenly realms (e.g., the Enoch literature, the Ascension of Isaiah, etc). Paul may have experienced something of this sort, according to his statement in 2 Cor 12:1-4. The remaining two occurrences take place later in the book, where the seer states that the heavenly Messenger “led me away in the Spirit” (17:3; 21:10). In each instance, he is transported into a visionary landscape (desert, high mountain), to a symbolic and undefined ‘spiritual’ location, similar to those in many mystical and ascetic religious experiences.

2. The Spirit speaks to/through the visionary. This is the core manifestation and dynamic of the prophetic experience. Through the prophet, the Spirit (of God) speaks to the wider Community. This takes place in the “letters” to the seven congregations in chaps. 2-3, each of which concludes with a common refrain:

“The one holding [i.e. possessing] an ear must hear what the Spirit says to the congregations” (2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22)

The first phrase follows wording used by Jesus (Mark 4:9 par, etc), especially in relation to his making known “secrets” to his followers, through the use of parables, etc. In speaking to these congregations, the Spirit essentially represents the risen Jesus, communicating his words to the believers in Asia Minor. There are two aspects to the fundamental meaning of the word profhtei/a (lit. speaking before):

    • The Spirit presents God’s message (His word and will) before the people (that is, to them, in front of them), through the inspired believer (prophet) as a spokesperson
    • He also announces things beforehand (i.e., foretells), indicated here by the eschatological orientation of the book

There is a specific association with prophecy in two additional passages:

    • 19:10—the expression “the Spirit of foretelling [i.e. prophecy]”, where the Spirit expressly conveys the word of the risen Jesus to the people; here the Spirit is identified as “the witness of Jesus”. This is also an important aspect of the Johannine view of the Spirit in the Gospel and Letters.
    • 22:6—the expression “the spirits of the foretellers [i.e. prophets]”; this refers to the (human) spirit of the prophet which is touched and inspired by the Spirit of God. In this way, the gifted believer, when speaking, is governed by the Spirit. Cf. 1 Cor 14:32, and also note 1 Jn 4:1-3.

3. The Spirit speaks directly. Twice in the book of Revelation we find the Spirit speaking directly, responding to a heavenly voice. In 14:13, the response echoes a command to write (v. 12); this solemn refrain is appropriate to the context of believers who are put to death for their faithfulness to Jesus. In 22:17, at the close of the book, it follows the announcement of Jesus’ imminent coming (vv. 7, 12). The Spirit responds along with the “Bride” (believers collectively), as well as “the one who hears” (i.e. hears the visions of the book read out). This reflects the work of the Spirit in and among believers, witnessing together with them (cf. John 15:26-27).

July 21: Revelation 1:4, etc

Revelation 1:4; 3:1; 4:5; 5:6

In these notes on the development of traditions regarding the Spirit of God in the New Testament, all that remains is to consider the Johannine writings—the Gospel and Letters of John—along with the book of Revelation. The references to the Spirit in the Gospel and Letters were discussed, at great length, in an earlier study series entitled …Spirit and Life (taken from Jn 6:63). I will not attempt to repeat that extensive word study and exegesis here, limiting myself to a closing (summary) note. However, in the case of the book of Revelation, it is perhaps worth giving a little more attention to the way this writing refers to the Spirit. I am thus including here portions of an earlier article from the aforementioned study series. In the book of Revelation, the word pneu=ma (“spirit”) is used in two distinctive ways which differ markedly from the Gospel and Letters: (1) references to “seven Spirits” of God, and (2) the prophetic role and work of the Spirit. The first of these will be discussed today, the second in the note following.

Four times in the book (1:4; 3:1; 4:5; 5:6), we read of “seven Spirits”, an idea that is unique to the book of Revelation among the New Testament writings. Christians have variously sought to associate this number seven with the Holy Spirit, often in terms of seven “gifts” or “attributes”, such as the traits listed in Isa 11:2-3. However, it would seem that these seven “Spirits” should be considered as distinct from the Holy Spirit, and identified instead with heavenly beings (i.e. “angels”). The evidence for this is:

    • Psalm 104:4 refers to God’s Messengers (“angels”) as “Spirits” and also as “flames of fire” (much like the seven Spirits in 4:5)
    • These “Spirits” are located in heaven, surrounding the throne of God, similar to the fiery/heavenly beings in Isa 6:1ff and Ezek 1:4-28, as well as the “living creatures” elsewhere in the book of Revelation. The image seems to be drawn most directly from Zech 4:2, 10, where the the seven lamps are said to function as God’s “eyes” (Rev 5:6, messengers sent out into the world). The idea of seven angels surrounding God’s throne generally follows Jewish tradition (cf. Tobit 12:15; 1 Enoch 20:1-7, etc).
    • These “Spirits” are treated as distinct from Jesus Christ in a way that would be most unusual if it were meant to refer to the Holy Spirit (cf. 1:4)
    • They are clearly connected with the “seven congregations” of chaps. 2-3, each of which has a Messenger (“Angel”) associated with it. In Israelite/Jewish tradition, certain heavenly Messengers were assigned to particular nations, groups or individuals (for protection, etc). This interpretation is more or less made explicit in 2:20.

How should this be understood in terms of the traditions regarding the Spirit of God in early Christianity? By all accounts, it appears to be unique, reflecting a kind of imagery that is present here in the book of Revelation only as a result of the various apocalyptic traditions that have been preserved in the book. Probably the closest, and most relevant, parallel is to be found is several visionary texts from Qumran—most notably the so-called “Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice”. This fascinating work (discussed in an earlier article) involves a detailed visionary description of the heavenly sanctuary, within which many different “spirits” are present; indeed, the sanctuary itself is depicted as a living entity, made up of divine/heavenly spirits. As in the book of Revelation, the number seven also plays a key role in the visionary landscape.

According to these Songs, especially in and around the inner sanctuary, there are “holy spirits” —spirits of God, and even those holiest of the holy ones (“spirits of the holy of holies”). It would seem that these spirits all appear in bright, fiery colors, drawing their life and energy from the spirit of God Himself. This last point is not entirely clear, but it is suggested by the fascinating wording at the beginning of one fragment: “…complete [i.e. perfect] light, multi-colored(ness) of (the) spirit of the holy of holies”. In any case, they are depicted as colorful flames that surround God’s throne in the inner chamber. The spirits of the inner shrine all praise God together. This depiction of the spirits before God’s throne in the inner sanctuary is reasonably close to the imagery in Revelation 1:4, etc; certainly, there is no other known Jewish or early Christian source from the period that contains comparable imagery.

In the remainder of the book, pneu=ma specifically refers to the activity and role of the Spirit (of God) in prophecy—the revealing of God’s word and will, to be communicated to God’s people (believers) by a chosen representative. This will be discussed in the next daily note.

July 20: Hebrews 9:8, 14; 10:15, 29

Hebrews 9:8, 14; 10:15, 29

When we turn to the letter to the Hebrews, we find a number of references to the Spirit. For the most part, however, these are traditional in nature (cf. the notice in 3:7 on the Spirit-inspired character of the Scriptures), and not nearly as prominent or significant as one might expect in a theological writing of this sort. The lack of emphasis on the Spirit may simply be a reflection of the overwhelmingly Christological thrust of the letter; even so, if Paul (for example) had authored a similar work, the Spirit surely would have featured much more prominently. In particular, there is little or no mention of the idea, so frequent elsewhere in the New Testament, of believers being “in the Spirit” —that is, united with Christ (and God the Father) through the presence of the Spirit. The closest such reference in Hebrews is in 6:4, where believers are described as those

“…(hav)ing been (en)lightened, (hav)ing (both) tasted the heavenly gift and (hav)ing coming to be holders with (one another) of (the) holy Spirit”

The idiom of believers holding the Spirit together with one another certainly captures the essential idea of being united in the Spirit. The emphasis is on the initial experience of salvation (conversion), which entails acceptance of the Gospel, trust in Jesus, confirmation in the baptism ritual, and the presence of the Spirit. The author does not develop the idea any further. However, earlier in the letter (2:4), mention is made of the activity of the Spirit among believers, through miraculous and powerful “signs and wonders”, referring to the work of the Holy Spirit in terms of things (i.e. ‘gifts’) distributed (merismoi/) among individual believers and congregations (cp. Paul’s discussion in 1 Cor 12-14).

The four remaining references to the Spirit are contained within the “New Covenant” exposition in chapters 9-10. The bulk of Hebrews (3:1-10:25) expounds the central theme that believers in Christ are living under a new covenant, and that all the forms of the old covenant are replaced (and fulfilled) in the person of Christ. The author of Hebrews declares, even more forcefully than Paul does in his letters, that the old covenant has completely passed away, and is no longer in effect for believers. This is very much part of the early Christian eschatological worldview—that this “New Covenant” marks the end of the current Age, and the beginning of the new. For more on this aspect, cf. the article on Hebrews in the series “Prophecy and Eschatology in the New Testament”.

In particular, Hebrews focus on the ritual dimension of the old covenant, as embodied in the Temple cultus—that is, the sacrificial offerings, and the priesthood that administered them. Interestingly, Hebrews never refers directly to the Temple itself (referring instead to the older tent [skhnh/] shrine or ‘Tabernacle’), nor does it make use of the early Christian tendency to interpret the Temple in terms of Jesus’ own person/body. Instead, the author utilizes the simpler contrast between the physical Temple on earth and the (spiritual) dwelling of God in heaven. Christ is identified, not with the Temple, but with the priesthood (spec. the High Priest) that offers sacrifice in the Temple sanctuary. The two main sections which describe Jesus as a (High) Priest are Hebrews 4:14-5:10 and 6:20/7:1-10:18; cf. the earlier article in the series “Yeshua the Anointed”.

Hebrews follows a well-established line of tradition in understanding the death of Jesus as a sacrificial offering. The author draws upon two principal types of sacrifice: (1) the offering which took place at the ratification of the covenant (Exodus 24:3-8), and (2) the sin offering at the ‘day of atonement’, when the High Priest would also enter the innermost part of the shrine (Leviticus 16). According to the Last Supper account, Jesus himself alluded to these same two sacrificial traditions, associating them with his own death (his “blood”). Thus, the idea of Jesus’ death as a sacrifice that marks the beginning of a “new covenant” is rooted in the Gospel tradition (Mark 14:22-25 par). The author of Hebrews does not contribute anything new in this regard; rather, he develops and expounds a set of ideas and associations that were already well-established in early Christian belief.

The references to the Spirit in chapters 9-10 are interesting in the way that they punctuate the exposition, following two parallel lines of thought; this may be summarized as follows:

    • The Spirit’s declaration of the new covenant (9:8; 10:15)
      • The role of the Spirit in establishing the new covenant (9:14; 10:29)

The first line of thought draws upon the traditional association of the Spirit with prophetic inspiration. This association came to be applied, in Jewish thought, specifically to the inspiration of the Scriptures—the Torah (Pentateuch), Prophets, and Psalms (cf. the earlier note on Nehemiah 9:20, 30, etc). The New Testament authors generally assume the Spirit-inspired character of the Old Testament Scriptures, referring to it a number of times, in passing, without any real need to comment on the matter further or to develop the theological basis for the idea. There is a clear example of this in Heb 3:7 (cf. above), and another allusion here at 9:8:

“…the holy Spirit making clear by this (that) the way (into) the (holy) of holies had not yet been made to shine forth, (while) the first tent was yet holding (its) standing [i.e. while it still was standing]”

The “this” (tou=to, in italics above) refers to the Torah regulations related to the sanctuary of the earthly Tent (Tabernacle) and Temple, summarized in vv. 1-7 as part of the “first (covenant)”. This idea expressed in v. 8 is that, through the inspired account of the Tabernacle/Temple ritual in the Scriptures—including the inspired source/nature of the building plan itself (Exod 25-31)—the Spirit has revealed the limitations of the old covenant, which are to be fulfilled in the new. This is part of the wider exposition in the section, whereby Christ’s sacrifice both completes, and takes the place of, the sacrificial offerings made in the Tabernacle/Temple complex.

More than this, the wording of verse 8 implies that the Spirit also reveals, at the same time, the perfection of the new covenant. The Spirit makes known to believers the truth that Jesus’ sacrificial death opens the way (o(do/$) for us into the holiest place—the innermost shrine where God himself dwells. This is but a step removed from the idea expressed in Ephesians 2:18 (discussed in a prior note), that in the Spirit we, as believers, hold the way leading toward God the Father (cp. John 14:6).

Moving ahead to 9:14, the author refers to the role the Spirit played in the sacrifice of Christ, which both brought cleansing from sin (for believers) and established the new covenant. Acting as High Priest, Jesus made the sacrifice (in his own blood) “through (the) Spirit of (the) Age(s)” (dia\ pneu/mato$ ai)wni/ou). The expression “Spirit of the Age(s)” was unusual enough that it prompted scribes to alter it to the more familiar “holy Spirit” (with a(gi/ou instead of ai)wni/ou); however, the reading with ai)wni/ou is almost certainly original. The adjective, difficult to translate literally in English, is often rendered as “eternal”, which tends to capture the general idea, if not especially accurate as a translation. The ai)wn– concept in the New Testament relates fundamentally to the Jewish and early Christian eschatological worldview, with the distinction between the current Age and the new Age to come. It also corresponds to the term <l*ou in Hebrew, which typically signifies either the distant past or the distant future, with the presence and power of God encompassing both (i.e. ‘eternal, eternity’). In the context of the exposition here in Hebrews, the distinction is between the earthly sanctuary, which is temporal in nature, and the heavenly sanctuary, which is eternal. The Spirit, of course, belongs to the heavenly sanctuary, where God himself has his dwelling.

The further associations of the Spirit with cleansing (vb kaqari/zw) and life for the dead, are well-established in Christian thought and tradition, as we have seen these notes.

At 10:15, the Spirit again declares the New Covenant (cf. above on 9:8), this time citing the famous prophecy of Jeremiah 31:33-34 (vv. 16-17). The declaration effectively brings the long exposition (of chaps. 3-10) to a close, concluding with a blunt restatement of the fundamental argument—namely, that the old covenant (with its sacrificial ritual) has come to an end for believers in Christ (v. 18). The sacrifice of Christ did away with the need for any further sacrificial ritual.

The reference to the Spirit in 10:29 properly belongs to the exhortation section that follows (10:26-12:13), but one which builds upon the New Covenant exposition of chaps. 9-10. After all, if there had been serious consequences for transgressing or rejecting the old covenant, how much more so is it now in the case of the new. This is the thrust of the warning in vv. 26-31, stated clearly enough in verse 29. In the old covenant, the person who sinned willfully and deliberately was “cut off”, and could not be restored to God (as part of his holy Community) through sin offering. So it is also in the new covenant, according to the author of Hebrews. A person who continues in blatantly sinful behavior, after coming to faith in Christ, will face the same Judgment as the wicked. They are said to be “trampling the Son of God under (foot)” and “bringing (it about)” that the “blood of the covenant” is treated as something “common” (i.e. profane), and not holy.

Moreover, the person who so violates the New Covenant is said to “bring injury (up)on the Spirit of (God’s) favor”. It is a rejection, not only of Jesus Christ (the Son of God), but one which brings insult and injury (vb e)nubri/zw) to God’s own Spirit. This is reminiscent of Jesus’ famous (and much-debated) saying on the “sin against the Holy Spirit” (Mk 3:28-29 par); on which, cf. my most recent discussion. The expression “the Spirit of favor” (to\ pneu=ma th=$ xa/rito$) is unusual (and unique in the New Testament), but clearly the term xa/ri$ (“favor”) refers to God’s favor—that is, the favor he shows to his people (believers). This means, primarily, the favor he shows in bestowing his Spirit upon us. The gift of God’s Spirit, of course, cannot be separated from the work of Jesus Christ and our trust in him, as is apparent from the strong Christological context of these references in Hebrews. Even though the author never develops this sense of the role of the Spirit in and among believers, he clearly accepts (and assumes) it as part of the early Christian worldview.

 

 

July 19: 1 Peter 3:18-19; 4:6, 14; Jude 19-20

Today’s note continues (from the one previous) the survey of references to the Spirit in 1 Peter and Jude.

1 Peter 3:18-19

The exhortation and ethical instruction in 1 Pet 3:13-22 continues the eschatological orientation from the prior sections of the letter. This is fully in keeping with much early Christian instruction (in the New Testament), where the need for believers to conduct themselves in a holy and upright manner takes on special urgency, due to the nearness of the coming Judgment. Thus, we should not be surprised when the author (Peter) draws upon the ancient tradition of the great Flood (vv. 19-20ff) to expound and illustrate the instruction in vv. 13-16ff. By the mid/late-1st century A.D., the Flood, through which God judged the world of old, had come to be seen as a type-pattern for the end-time Judgment. This usage goes back to at least the 6th century B.C. (cf. the Isaian “Apocalypse”, chaps. 24-27), and was well-established by the time our letter was written (cf. my earlier article in the series “Prophecy and Eschatology in the New Testament”).

The instruction in vv. 17-18 provides the transition to the Flood illustration that follows. The key point is the contrast between death in the flesh, and life in the Spirit. This essentially reproduces the same dualistic contrast found regularly in Paul’s letters, and is tied to the same central (Pauline) theme—of believers’ participation in the death and resurrection of Jesus. Such participation is symbolized in the baptism ritual (cf. the explicit reference to baptism in vv. 20b-21). In verse 18, it is Jesus’ own death and resurrection that is in view:

“(For it is) also that (the) Anointed suffered one time over sins, a just (person) over (the) unjust (one)s, (so) that he would lead the way for us toward God—(on the one hand) being put to death in (the) flesh, but (one the other) being made alive in (the) Spirit.”

Believers experience new life from the dead, in the Spirit, even as Jesus himself did. This emphasis on resurrection from the dead leads to the rather enigmatic reference in v. 19 on Jesus’ encounter with “the spirits in (the prison) guard” —that is, the realm of the dead and those who are imprisoned there. The precise nature of this episode is not entirely clear, and interpretations continue to be debated by commentators today. In particular, it is not clear whether the “spirits” refer to divine/heavenly beings (i.e. [fallen] Angels) who were punished, or to the human beings who perished in the flood. Probably the former is primarily in view in v. 19; however, it is clear that the author has the latter in mind as well, and, indeed, it serves as the basis for the subsequent instruction in 4:1-6.

1 Peter 4:6, 14

The focus in the instruction of 4:1-6 is on the need for believers to remain faithful, with the expectation that they will endure suffering as the current Age nears it end. According to the traditional view, the end-time is a period of ever-increasing wickedness and godlessness, comparable to the condition of the world prior to the great Flood. A similar Judgment is coming upon humankind, as stated clearly in verse 5—it is a judgment that will apply to “(the) living and (the) dead”, that is, those who are currently alive and those who have died. This juxtaposition of life vs. death prompts the author (Peter) to recall the instruction from 3:18ff, with its contrast between death in the flesh and life in the Spirit (cf. above). The Gospel is proclaimed to all people, even those who are dead—understood both literally and figuratively—so that they can live in the Spirit. Again this ‘life from the dead’ is to be understood in both a concrete and symbolic sense—the promise of resurrection (in the future), along with the experience of new life in the Spirit (realized for believers in the present). The precise wording in verse 6 is interesting:

“…that they would be judged (on the one hand) according to men, in (the) flesh, but (on the other) according to God, in (the) Spirit.”

The judgment in the flesh, “according to men”, can be understood on two levels:

    • All human beings face the Judgment in the sense that they/we all die physically (“in the flesh”), and
    • All people will be judged for the things done during their/our earthly life (i.e. done “in the flesh”)

Believers face this same judgment, but with a different end result—they/we pass through it, into eternal life. This life also includes the raising of the physical body from the dead. It is only believers who experience this other side of the Judgment, “according to God” —that is, according to our identity as sons/children of God, realized through union with Christ and the abiding presence of the Spirit. This identity is well expressed in verse 14:

“If you are reproached in (the) name of (the) Anointed [i.e. because you are Christ’s], happy (are you), (in) that [i.e. because] the honor [do/ca] and the Spirit [pneu=ma] of God rest upon you.”

In other words, to be “in Christ” means that God’s Spirit is upon us, and that all that happens to us on account of Christ’s name will end in our sharing the honor/glory (do/ca) of God, which already “rests” upon us. The idea of heavenly reward here accords well with the beatitude-form (on this, cf. my earlier study).

Jude 19-20

At the close of the short letter of Jude, we find two references to the Spirit, both of which are well-founded on early Christian tradition, such as we have seen in the Pauline letters (and elsewhere). Verse 19 comes at the end of the main body of the letter, which is comprised of a series of forceful instructions (and warnings) regarding the threats to true Christian faith and teaching that have arisen (and continue to grow) at the end-time. The particular eschatological orientation, as it is expressed, is very close to that of 2 Peter, and most commentators posit some sort of relationship between the two letters.

Especially significant is the way that the wickedness of the end-time is seen as having infiltrated the Christian congregations. This outlook is typical of many of the later writings of the New Testament, in the period c. 60-100 A.D. We find it, for example, prominently as a feature of the Pastoral letters (esp. 1 Timothy), the Johannine letters, and (as noted above) 2 Peter. False believers are seen as exerting a baleful influence over the congregations, to the point of drawing some away from the true faith; certainly, such a danger is considered to be present. In vv. 17-18, the presence and activity of such false/wicked Christians is said to be a fulfillment of early Christian prophecies regarding the end-time (cp. Acts 20:29ff; 1 Tim 4:1ff; 2 Tim 3:1ff; also 1 John 2:18ff; 4:1-3). Here is how the author of the letter (“Jude”) summarizes these ‘false’ believers:

“These are the (one)s separating from (the things) marked out, (hav)ing (only a) soul [yuxikoi/], (but) not holding (the) Spirit.”

The adjective yuxiko/$ is extremely difficult to translate in English. I discussed Paul’s use of it in 1 Cor 2:14; 15:44, 46, where he contrasts it with pneumatiko/$. The latter is typically translated as “spiritual”, for which there is no corresponding English to render the former (i.e., “soulish”). Yuxiko/$ is often translated blandly as “natural”, but this is rather inaccurate and misleading. As the terms are contrasted by Paul, they clearly have the basic meaning “having (only) a soul” and “having the Spirit”, respectively. Non-believers do not have the Spirit, but only a soul; while believers, on the other hand, hold the Spirit in addition to their soul. This meaning is confirmed by the usage here in verse 19, as well as in James 3:15 (the only other occurrence of yuxiko/$ in the New Testament). The false believers are like the rest of humankind, possessing a soul but living without the Spirit of God.

Another characteristic of the ‘false’ believers, is that they separate from (a)po/) the things “marked out” (root vb o(ri/zw) and by God—i.e. the Gospel and the established (apostolic) traditions, etc. More to the point, this means that they do not belong to the gathering of the true believers. The wording here, using the compound verb a)podiori/zw, compares with what the author of 1 John says of the ‘false’ believers there: that they separated, going out from the true believers, into the world (2:19; 4:5-6; 2 John 7ff).

The reference to the Spirit in verse 20 has a different focus, emphasizing the need for believers to pray in the Spirit. On the specific association of the Spirit with prayer—and the special role the Spirit has in the prayer of believers—see Romans 8:26-27ff and the earlier note on Eph 6:17-18.

Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 25

Psalm 25

This Psalm is an acrostic, in which, for the most part, each verse or couplet begins with a successive letter of the alphabet; on the acrostic format, cf. the earlier study on Psalm 9-10. As a poetic or literary device, the acrostic seems quite artificial, placing constraints on the poem, which, from our standpoint today at least, are altogether arbitrary, and add little to the artistic merit of the work. However, the device does have practical value, as an aid for the memorization of a relatively long poem, such as we have here. Because of the acrostic arrangement, it seemed best to comment on each letter-couplet (or line) individually. I have, however, also divided the Psalm into two parts—verses 1-11 and 12-22; this week’s study will examine the first part.

This Psalm generally follows a 3-beat (3+3) bicolon format, though with some minor irregularity. The superscription identifies the poem simply as “belonging to David”, perhaps intending to indicate his composition of the words, but not (necessarily) the music; the significance of the lack of the word romz+m! (“musical composition”), or comparable term, in the superscriptions remains uncertain.

The Hebrew letters that make up the acrostic are indicated in the translations below; as far as possible, I have attempted to keep the corresponding English of the first word in the first position of the translation.

Verses 1-11

Verse 1 [a]

“To you [;yl#a@], YHWH, I lift up my soul,
<…. > my Mightiest (One).”

Verse 1, as it stands now, consists of a single line, not a couplet; this, along with the fact that the first word of v. 2 is out of place, disrupting the acrostic, has led some commentators to theorize that the surviving text is corrupt. According to this view, yh^l)a$ (“my Mightiest [One]”, i.e. “my God”) is part of a lost second line, parallel with YHWH in line 1. One can only speculate as to how this line might have read. Unfortunately, no help is to be found from the Dead Sea Scrolls, since verse 1 is not preserved in the surviving Psalms MSS.

Verse 2 [b]

“In you [;B=] I trust—let me not feel shame,
do not let my enemies rejoice because of me.”

As in many other Psalms we have examined thus far, we find here the theme of unknown enemies or adversaries who threaten the Psalmist. The verb jf^B* is also frequent in these Psalms; it has the basic meaning of trusting, but also with the specific connotation of finding safety or security (in someone or something). God Himself is the place of safety for the Psalmist. The imperfect forms with the negative particle la^ have jussive/cohortative force—i.e., “may I not…”, “let me not…”, etc. Victory by his enemies would bring the Psalmist shame (vb vWB)—not only for the defeat itself and the “rejoicing/exultation” (vb Jl^u*) of his enemies, but because it would mean that his trust in YHWH was all in vain.

Verse 3 [g]

“Indeed [<G~] all (those) calling (on) you will not feel shame;
but they will feel shame, (the) disloyal (one)s (making) empty (the bond).”

I follow Dahood (p. 155f) in identifying the basic meaning of the verb hw~q* (II) here as “call (on)”, supported by the context of the occurrences in Psalm 40:2; 52:11, etc. The attested meaning “gather” is doubtless related— “call [i.e. bring] together”, similar to the situation with the roots lh^q* and ar^q*. To “call on” YHWH implies faithfulness to him, and devotion/loyalty to the covenant bond. Such a person will never feel shame; by contrast, those who are disloyal (vb dg~B*) to the covenant, who make the bond void or “empty” (<q*yr@), they will experience shame. The root dg~B* can be used to express unfaithfulness in marriage, which is also a fitting symbol for disloyalty to the covenant with YHWH (i.e. religious unfaithfulness); cf. further below on v. 11.

Less certain is Dahood’s suggestion that the initial word <G~ be understood here in its meaning “with the voice, aloud”, as attested in Canaanite. With very few exceptions (Psalm 137:1?), this word in the Old Testament is used in its weaker sense as a particle of addition or emphasis (“also, even”).

Verse 4 [d]

“Your ways [;yk#r*D=], YHWH, make known to me,
your paths teach me (to travel).”

Faithfulness to YHWH is described with the familiar idiom of traveling (walking) a path. This metaphor was especially popular in Wisdom literature, and, as we have noted on numerous occasions, many Psalms, in the form we have them, were influenced by Wisdom traditions.

Verse 5ab [h]

“Make me walk [yn]k@yr!d=h^] in (the way of) your truth and teach me,
for you (are the) Mighty (One) of my salvation.”

The same imagery continues from v. 4, with the cognate verb Er^D*, “walk/tread the path (or way)”, related to Er#D# (“way”).

Verse 5c [w]

“<And> (on) you [;toa<w+>] do I call all the day (long).”

The place of this single line in the acrostic is uncertain. It does not properly begin with the requisite letter, and the single line raises the possibility that something has dropped out of the text (cf. on verse 1 above). Even if we were to grant that the text is corrupt here, any sort of reliable reconstruction would be virtually impossible at this point. In order to preserve the acrostic, I have emended the first word to begin with the w-conjunction (cf. Kraus, p. 318). The same meaning is given here to the verb hw~q* (II) as in v. 3 (cf. above).

Verse 6 [z]

“Remember [rk)z+] your (act)s of compassion, YHWH,
and your (act)s of kindness, that they (are) from (the) distant (past).”

The covenant loyalty of YHWH is rooted in the distant past, and similarly extends into the distant future—the word <l*ou can connote both aspects. Probably the Psalmist has in mind all that God has done for the ancestors of Israel, His many acts of compassion (<j^r^) and kindness (ds#j#). The latter term, in particular, can signify loyalty in a covenant-context. The appeal to what God has done in the past is meant to spur action on behalf of His people (represented by the Psalmist) in the present. This literary-theological device appears frequently in Old Testament narrative, as well as in the poetry.

Verse 7 [j]

“(The) sins of [twaF)h^] my youth, do not remember (them),
(but) according to your kindness, may you remember me—
in response to you (own) goodness, YHWH.”

There are several formal difficulties in this verse. To begin with, the meter is distended in the first line, and the word yu^v*p=W (“and my [act]s of rebellion”) feels like a (secondary) addition; I have tentatively omitted it in the translation above.  If original, the use of uv*P# would indicate a more serious kind of sin—unfaithfulness to the covenant with YHWH, in the active sense of treacherous disloyalty or outright “rebellion” against God. This would suggest that the Psalmist represents a person who had previously been an adherent of Canaanite religion (and/or its syncretistic Israelite forms), with its ‘idolatry’, but then subsequently converted to Yahwism. Cf. below on verse 11.

As it stands, the verse is a tricolon, unusual within the structure of the Psalm, though there is a legitimate (partial) parallelism between the second and third lines. An interesting explanation (cf. Kraus, p. 318) is that the second line (7b) originally completed the couplet in v. 5, but came to be transferred to the current location during the course of transmission. In any case, the plea for YHWH to ignore the sins of a person’s youth, focusing on one’s current faithfulness, is natural in the context of such a prayer.

Verse 8 [f]

“(Indeed,) good and straight (is) YHWH,
(and the one)s sinning He will instruct in the way.”

The Wisdom language of vv. 4-5 (cf. above) continues here, emphasizing that God instructs His people when they sin. This is not the flagrant sin of rebellion or blatant transgression against the covenant, but follows the idea of “sins of youth” from v. 7, connoting especially unintentional error, the sin of negligence or carelessness. However, the use of uv*P# (“rebellion”) in v. 7, if original, would imply a more serious kind of sin—unfaithfulness to YHWH—which requires special forgiveness (cf. below).

The last word of the first line (/K@-lu^) is seemingly out of place, disrupting the rhythm of the couplet, and may well be a secondary addition and corruption of the original text; I have tentatively omitted in the translation above. If retained, it functions as a join between the two lines, translated literally as “upon this”, in conventional English something like “and so…”.

Verse 9 [y]

“He makes (the) oppressed (one)s walk in the judgment,
and He will teach (the) oppressed (to walk) in His way.”

Again, the Wisdom motif of “walking in the way” is used, along with the verb Er^D* (cf. above). The proper nuance of fP*v=m! (“judgment”) must be understood, as it here connotes God’s justice, such as he establishes for the righteous, as opposed to the punishment that comes upon the wicked. The judgments of God are good and holy, and are synonymous with His “way” (Er#D#).

Verse 10 [k]

“All [lK*] (the) paths of YHWH (are) kindness and truth
for (the one)s guarding His binding (agreement) and His repeated (command)s.”

The context of covenant-loyalty, implicit throughout, is now stated clearly here. Faithfulness and devotion to YHWH is defined in terms of loyalty to the binding agreement (tyr!B=). Such loyalty is expressed specifically as fulfilling the “repeated (instruction)s” by YHWH recorded in the Torah. For the one loyal to YHWH, walking in his paths becomes a blessing, as the person experiences the goodness and truth of God Himself.

Verse 11 [l]

“In response to [/u^m^l=] your (own) name, YHWH,
give pardon for my crookedness, for it (is) great (indeed)!”

Human “crookedness” (/ou*) is in contrast to the “straightness” (rv*y`, v. 8) of God. Even for the faithful ones among God’s people there is a measure of “crookedness”, marked by occasional sinning (vv. 7-8). The prayer here is for YHWH to give pardon (vb jl^s*) for such sin, purely on the basis of God’s own name—that is, His essential nature and character as the Mightiest, the Creator, and the One who is always straight and true. The opening word /u^m^l= is a prepositional particle derived, in part, from the root hnu, meaning to answer or give response. I translate it above, rather literally, as “in response to”. God responds with forgiveness, not because of anything the Psalmist has done (or will do), but simply because God’s name—His identity and His own loyalty to the covenant-bond—prompts it.

The declaration of the Psalmist’s “crookedness” as being great (lit. “much”, br^) may simply be an instance of pious exaggeration, a recognition of human imperfection in comparison with the holiness of God; however, it is also possible that something more is involved. In discussing verse 7 (above), I noted that the inclusion of the noun uv^P# (plur. “[act]s of rebellion”), if original, would imply that the Psalmist, at one point (in his “youth”), was an adherent of Canaanite religion—that is, of ‘idolatry’, presumably in the syncretistic forms that were relatively common and widespread throughout Israel. The idiom “great sin” (hl*d)g+ ha*f*j&) has this connotation, especially in the “Golden Calf” episode in Exodus 32 (vv. 21, 30-31; cf. also Gen 20:9; 2 Kings 17:21). The comparable br* uv^P# (“great rebellion”) would express this idea even more forcefully (Psalm 19:14; cf. Dahood, p. 125). The same idiom in Akkadian and Canaanite is used to denote adultery, which itself serves as a fitting metaphor in the Old Testament for unfaithfulness to YHWH.

References marked “Dahood” are to Mitchell Dahood, S.J., Psalms I: 1-50, Anchor Bible [AB] vol. 16 (1965).
Those marked “Kraus” are to Psalmen, 1. Teilband, Psalmen 1-59, Biblischer Kommentar series, 5th edition (Neukirchener Verlag: 1978), published in English translation as Psalms 1-59, A Continental Commentary (Fortress Press: 1993).

July 15: 1 Peter 1:2, 11-12; 2:2-5

1 Peter 1:2, 11-12; 2:2-5

In the recent daily notes this summer we have been exploring the early Christian view of the Spirit, and the way that it developed, over the course of time, from the Old Testament, Jewish, and Gospel traditions. It remains to examine the references to the Spirit in the New Testament Writings not yet studied, such as the letters of 1 Peter and Jude, which contain key passages. These will be presented in a survey format, rather than with a detailed exegesis of each passage. The evidence from the Pauline letters, in particular, will be used as a point of reference (and comparison).

1 Peter 1:2

In the opening greeting, the author of the letter (Peter) refers to believers (his audience) as “the (one)s gathered out” (i.e. elect/chosen ones), and that this choosing by God took place “in (the) holiness of (the) Spirit”. The noun a(giasmo/$ more properly signifies something being made holy (vb a(gia/zw); though less accurate syntactically, we might translate the phrase as “in the Spirit making (you) holy”. Clearly this is a reference to baptism (cf. 3:21-22), as the parallel motif of “sprinkling” (r(antismo/$) would confirm. The Spirit played a central role in the early Christian baptism ritual, as we have discussed at various points throughout these notes. The association involved the fundamental idea of cleansing (from sin/impurity), which is certainly present here, as well as the following ideas that are more uniquely Christian in orientation:

    • The presence of the Spirit marks a new Age, and a new covenant with God, for believers in Christ. While this draws upon earlier Prophetic traditions, the Christocentric focus among early believers represented a radical new development, quite apart from Messianic traditions in Judaism at the time.
    • The ritual came to symbolize the death and resurrection of Jesus, and the believer’s participation in it. This goes quite beyond the earlier association of baptism with cleansing from sin, etc, being in some ways closer to certain rituals in contemporary mystery religions. Paul was most influential in developing this idea, drawing out the deeper theological and christological meaning.

The phrase “(the) sprinkling of (the) blood of Yeshua (the) Anointed” encompasses both of the aspects highlighted above. It alludes to the covenant ritual in Exodus 24:4-8, understood as a new covenant in terms of Jesus’ sacrificial death (Mark 14:24 par; cp. 1 Pet 1:19). Baptism thus symbolizes believers’ cleansing by the Spirit of God, as well their new  covenant identity as God’s people through union with Christ (including participation in his death and resurrection). The simple way that these ideas are combined in v. 2 suggests that they were well-established and ingrained in Christian thought at the time.

1 Peter 1:11-12

The references to the Spirit in verses 11-12 merely express the widespread early Christian belief, inherited from the Old Testament and Jewish tradition, that the Prophets of old were uniquely inspired by the Spirit of God, and spoke/wrote under its influence. The wording here, however, also evinces several uniquely Christian points of emphasis. Most importantly, we note how the expression “(the) Spirit of (the) Anointed” (pneu=ma Xristou=) is used in v. 11, being essentially synonymous with “(the) holy Spirit” in v. 12. Admittedly, the expression “Spirit of Christ” is rare in the New Testament, but we have seen how, for Paul at least, it was interchangeable with “Spirit of God” —indicating that the (Holy) Spirit was both the Spirit of Christ and the Spirit of God.

The use of “Spirit of (the) Anointed” in verse 11 was likely influenced by the idea that the Old Testament prophecies foretold “the (thing)s (related) to (the) Anointed” —i.e., Messianic prophecies, of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Even so, the fact that “Spirit of Christ” could be used so readily as a substitute for the “Spirit (of God)”, without any need for further comment, shows how well-established the identification of the Spirit with both God the Father and Jesus Christ was among early Christians at the time. Moreover, it is likely that, in the case of 1 Peter, this also reflects a belief in the pre-existent deity of Jesus (cf. 1:20), rather than—or in addition to—the earlier exaltation Christology that associated his divine Sonship primarily with his resurrection and exaltation to heaven. Such pre-existence Christology,  even in a rudimentary form, would make it easier to envision how the Spirit of Christ could be inspiring the Old Testament Prophets. The Spirit was the active Spirit of both God the Father and Christ the Son, even prior to Jesus’ life on earth. If 1 Peter was genuinely written by the apostle Peter, then it probably dates from the early 60’s A.D., making it one of the earliest documents expressing this belief in Jesus’ pre-existence (cp. Phil 2:6ff).

1 Peter 2:5

As part of the exhortation and ethical instruction in 2:1-12, the letter makes use of the same motif we saw in Ephesians 2:18-22 (cf. the earlier note)—of believers, collectively, as a house (that is, the “house of God”, or Temple sanctuary). The Pauline character of the Ephesians passage tends to be confirmed by use of similar house/Temple metaphors elsewhere in the undisputed letters (1 Cor 3:16-17; 6:19; 2 Cor 5:1; 6:16), but the same sort of imagery here in 1 Peter indicates that it was even more widespread. This is rather to be expected, given the importance of the Temple, and the practical need for Christians to reinterpret (and ‘spiritualize’) its significance, turning it into a symbol of believers—individually and collectively—as the dwelling place for God. In particular, it is the place where God’s Spirit dwells.

Ephesians takes this a step further, emphasizing the Spirit as that which unites believers together, with the further implication that the ‘house’ itself is spiritual, built of/by the Spirit. Much the same is indicated in 1 Pet 2:5:

“and (also you your)selves, as living stones, are built as a house of the Spirit [i.e. spiritual house]”

This imagery is expounded through an application of several different Scripture passages (Isa 28:16; Psalm 118:26; Isa 8:4), identifying Jesus as the “foundation stone” (or cornerstone) of the Temple. This identification goes back to early Gospel tradition (Mark 12:10-11 par) and Jesus’ own teaching/sayings regarding the Temple. As Jesus Christ is the “living stone” (v. 4), so also believers, through union with him, are also made into “living stones”. As we have seen, to be “in Christ” is the same as being “in the Spirit”, a point that doubtless 1 Peter would affirm along with Paul, as indicated by the wording here in vv. 4-5.

Verses 5ff continue the spiritual reinterpretation of the Temple and its ritual (i.e. the priesthood and sacrificial offerings), identifying believers as representing the holy sacred office (priesthood), but one which now brings near to God sacrificial offerings “of the Spirit” (i.e. that are spiritual, pneumatiko/$). The old material offerings of slaughtered animals (qusi/ai), etc, have passed away completely for the people of God in the new covenant (vv. 9-10).

The remaining passages in 1 Peter and Jude will be discussed in the next daily note.

 

July 14: Ephesians 6:16-18

Ephesians 6:16-18

The final Pauline reference to the Spirit to be considered in these notes is also the last such reference in Ephesians (see the previous notes on 2:18-22 and 4:3-4). It is part of the closing exhortation in 6:10-20, the famous “armor of God” section, which develops, in much expanded form, a Pauline illustration used as part of his ethical instruction elsewhere in the undisputed letters (1 Thessalonians and Romans). Here, in 6:11 we read:

“You must sink yourself in(to) [i.e. put on] all the equipment [panopli/a] of God, toward your being [i.e. so that you are] able to stand toward [i.e. in the face of] the ways of the Dia/bolo$ [Devil]”

The noun panopli/a means “all the equipment”, every kind of o%plon (piece of equipment, instrument, tool), a term frequently used for military equipment—weapons, armor, etc—and so also the connotation here. The weaponry is primarily defensive and protective, enabling the person (i.e., the believer) to stand against the Devil’s attacks. The warfare is not physical but spiritual, as Paul (or the author) famously states in verse 12:

“…(for) us the shaking [i.e. grappling] (in combat) is not (directed) toward blood and flesh, but … toward the world-powers of this darkness, toward the spirit-(thing)s of th(is) evil, in the (place)s over the heavens”

Elsewhere in his letters, Paul clearly has the same basic idea in mind, though he does not go into such detail. In 1 Thessalonians and Romans, the illustration is part of a more general ethical instruction, with a strong eschatological orientation. Note the same emphasis on darkness and on the current Age of wickedness:

    • “The night (has) cut (its way) forward [i.e. gone ahead], and the day has (now) come near. (So) then, we must put away from (us) the works of darkness, [and] we must sink ourselves in(to) [i.e. put on] the equipment [o%pla] of light.” (Rom 13:12)
    • “…you are not in darkness, (so) that the day [i.e. the day of Judgment] should not take you down as (one) stealing [i.e. a thief], for you are all sons of light and sons of the day—we are not of the night and not of darkness. … and we, being of the day, we should stay sober, sinking ourselves in(to) [i.e. putting on] (the) chest-guard of trust and love and (the protection) around the head of (the) hope of salvation” (1 Thess 5:4-8)

In Thessalonians, Paul mentions two pieces of equipment—a chest-guard (qw/rac) and a helmet, lit. protection around the head (perikefalai/a). The same two pieces are part of a more extensive armor-list in Eph 6:14-17, with similar kinds of associations with divine attributes:

    • loin-guard (something “being girded around the loins”)—truth
    • chest-guard (qw/rac)—justice/righteousness
    • footgear (equipment “bound under the feet”)—the good message (Gospel) of peace
    • shield (“door-[guard]”, qu/reo$)—trust/faith
    • helmet (protection “around the head”, perikefalai/a)—salvation
    • sword (ma/xaira)—the Spirit

The final, climactic element in the list (v. 17) is “the sword of the Spirit” —the sword (ma/xaira) being the piece of equipment which best enables the believer to strike back against the Devil’s attack. Since the nature of this attack is spiritual, from “things of the spirit” (pneumatika)—that is from unclean or evil spirits—the only real defense comes from the holy Spirit of God (and of Christ). The directive to the believer that “you must take the sword of the Spirit…” is followed by the qualifying phrase “…which is the utterance [r(h=ma] of God”.

This particular phrase has been poorly understood, especially for those who only read the passage in English translation, where the syntax and grammar in Greek are obscured or ignored. For Protestants with a Bible-centric orientation, it is popular to read this verse as saying that the “word of God” (understood as the Bible) is an inspired “sword” by which (through study and memorization, etc) one can defeat the Devil. Such a view, however, represents a backward and distorted reading of the text. For one thing, the relative pronoun here (o%) is neuter, and thus agrees with the noun pneu=ma (“Spirit”) rather than ma/xaira (“sword”, feminine). In other words, the emphasis is: “…the Spirit, which is the utterance of God”; that is to say, the Spirit is identified as the “utterance of God”.

The noun r(h=ma is often translated “word”, but properly refers to something uttered (“utterance”); while it can be used of the Scriptures (or a specific Old Testament prophecy), such a facile substitution should not be made here. Paul (or the author) is not speaking primarily about Scripture, but about the presence and power of the Spirit itself that dwells in and among believers. The Spirit is the source of life and power for the believer—and it is the internal guidance of the Spirit which allows us to combat the evil power of sin and wickedness, and to remain faithful and pure in our union with Christ. This emphasis is thoroughly Pauline, as even a casual reading of Galatians or Romans will make clear. The central role of the Spirit in this ethical-religious dimension of the believer’s life, was discussed, in particular, in the earlier note on Gal 5:16-25.

How this “sword of the Spirit” works is clarified in verse 18:

“Through all (your) speaking toward (God) and (making) request (to Him), (you should be) speaking toward (God), in every moment, in the Spirit [e)n pneu/mati]…”

The immediate context of the “sword of the Spirit” is not Scripture at all, but prayer—that is, we are to speak to God “in the Spirit” (cp. the role of the Spirit in Rom 8:26-27). The implication is that this realm of Spirit-guided communication (with God) is the main battleground where the combat with the Devil and evil spirits is to take place. There may be a connection here with the gift and experience of speaking in “tongues”, as Paul discusses it in 1 Corinthians 12-14. By contrast with the narratives in Acts 2:1-4ff, etc (where the speaking of real human languages is involved), this gift of tongues, as described in Corinthians, seems to have more the character of a special kind of prayer language, meant to be spoken to God, not to others (14:2ff). Note how Paul characterizes tongues as a state in which the believer “…speaks not to men, but to God; for no one hears [i.e. understands] (it), but in the Spirit [e)n pneu/mati] he speaks secrets [musth/ria]”.