Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 74 (Part 1)

Psalm 74

Dead Sea MSS: No surviving manuscripts.

Psalm 74 is a lament-Psalm, written from the standpoint of the Israelite (Judean) people and nation as a whole. The first half of the composition (vv. 1-11) is a lament over the destruction of the Temple, and thus is likely to have been written in the 6th century B.C., sometime after the Temple’s destruction (in 586), though it would have been applicable as a hymnic prayer all throughout the Exile and into the post-Exilic period. The second half of the Psalm (vv. 12-23) consists of an appeal to YHWH to redeem and deliver His people.

This is the second of a series of eleven Psalms (7383) associated with the figure of Asaph ([s*a*)—on whom, cf. the previous studies on Pss 25 and 73. The composition is designated as a lyK!c=m^ (ma´kîl), a term used also in the headings of Pss 32, 42, 44-45, 52-55, 78, 88-89, 142. For a discussion of the possible meaning and significance of this term, cf. the earlier study on Psalm 32.

The meter of this Psalm is irregular, but tends to follow a 4-beat (4+4) couplet format.

VERSES 1-11

Verse 1

“For what, O Mightiest, should you be indignant to the end,
(and) your nostril(s) smoke against (the) sheep of your pasture?”

The lament begins, appropriately, with the interrogative expression hm*l*, “for what (reason)…?”, i.e., “why…?” The conquest of Jerusalem, with the destruction of the Temple, and the exile of the population, makes it seem that YHWH has rejected His people (Israel/Judah) completely (lit. “to the end,” jx^n#l*). The verb jn~z` has the basic meaning of being repelled or disgusted by something, which a person then casts aside. I have rendered it above as “be indignant (toward something)”, which well suits the burning/fire motif in the second line.

The noun [a^, often translated flatly as “anger,” should be understood here in the concrete anthropomorphic (and zoomorphic) sense of “nostril(s)”. The smoke (vb /v^u*) coming from YHWH’s nostrils is a vivid sign of his anger; it also evokes the burning destruction of the city (and Temple). Often the specific image is of nostrils burning or ‘flaring’, like the snorting of an angry bull.

Frequently, YHWH is depicted as a shepherd, with His people as the sheep, or flock (/ax)). The shepherd-motif connotes the care, protection, and guidance which God gives to His people (cf. especially the famous Psalm 23).

Verse 2

“Remember your assembled (flock) (that) you acquired (long) before;
may you redeem (with the) staff your inheritance, mount ‚iyyôn,
this (mountain) on which you have dwelt.”

To the relatively regular 4-beat (4+4) couplet format (established in v. 1), an additional 3-beat line has been included here in v. 2, forming a tricolon. The shepherd/sheep motif should be understood as continuing in v. 2; thus the general noun hd*u@ (“crowd, assembly, congregation”) reflects the people as an assembled flock. The religious-cultic connotation of hd*u@, however, should not be missed—viz., the Temple precincts as the principal location where the nation gathers (to worship).

The Psalmist calls on YHWH to remember His people, whom He acquired (vb hn`q*, cf. Exod 15:16; Deut 32:6; the verb can also mean “create” [Gen 14:19, 22]) as His own, long before (<d#q#), in the past. It is thus proper that God should redeem (vb la^G`) His people from their servitude (in exile); I follow Dahood (II, p. 200) in reading the perfect form of the verb as a precative perfect, in parallel with the imperative in the first line. God redeems His people, delivering them out of danger, and leading them (back to pasture) with his shepherd’s staff (fb#v@, cf. Ps 23:4).

The redemption of His people entails restoring and re-establishing Jerusalem (spec. the Temple-Palace locale of Zion) as the “mountain” on which He will once again dwell, with the people, as He did in the past.

Verse 3

“Lift high your (foot)steps, to (the) desolate places far off,
all the evil (the) hostile (one) has done in your Holy (Place).”

The theme of Zion as YHWH’s mountain-dwelling—the local (ritual) representation of His cosmic Mountain—introduced at the end of v. 2, continues here, with the call for God to “bring/lift up high” (vb <Wr, Hiphil) His footsteps (i.e. to mount Zion). The noun <u^P^ refers to the beat of footsteps, probably intended to evoke the military imagery of an army of soldiers on the march. Dahood’s quite different explanation of iymup (II, p. 201) is intriguing, but not entirely convincing.

The Temple precincts, as well as the entire locale of the Zion hilltop-site, has been turned into “places of desolation” (toaV%m^) by the conquering forces (i.e. the Babylonian military) that “did evil” (vb uu^r* Hiphil) in the “Holy (Place)”. The use of vd#q) makes clear that the destruction of the Temple is primarily in mind. The noun jx^n#, denoting an end goal (cf. the expression jx^n#l*, “to the end”, in v. 1), should probably be understood here as something seen from a distance, from far off; as YHWH marches to Jerusalem, to redeem the Zion, the “desolate places” of the destroyed city can be seen on His approach.

Verse 4

“(Those) hostile to you roared in the midst of your place of assembly,
setting (up) their signs (as evil) signs.”

Here the participle rr@x) (plur.) is essentially synonymous with by@oa in v. 3 (cf. above); both mean “one being hostile”. The conquering Babylonians are “hostile” to YHWH in two respects: (1) they were hostile to YHWH’s people (and His holy city), attacking it; and (2) they are idolatrous worshipers of other deities. The “place of assembly”, i.e., where the people assemble (to worship God), refers to the “holy (place)” in v. 3—the Temple and its precincts.

The redundancy in the second line, repeating the plural noun tota) (“signs”), have led to commentators toward various emendations of the text (cf. Dahood’s slight emendation that redivides the MT, II, p. 201f). However, it may be that the Psalmist is simply utilizing a bit of wordplay involving the word toa, which, like the corresponding “sign” in English, can refer to an actual physical/material marker, as well as (conceptually) to the significance of something. I take the meaning of the line to be that the conquering army set up their signs (i.e., banners, etc), which served as signs (indicators) of the evil they were doing.

Verses 5-6

“(This) was made known like (those) bringing up
axes in the thicket of (the) wood;
and (so) {they cut down} (all) her doors at once,
with hatchets and hammers they broke (them) down.”

These lines are highly problematic, as virtually all commentators recognize. The verses are likely corrupt, to some extent, especially in the first line of v. 6. As every proposed emendation is both speculative and far from convincing, the best approach is probably to keep as close as possible, however tentatively, to the MT as it has come down to us. Sadly, the Psalm is not preserved among the Qumran manuscripts, so there is no help to be found from that front.

The basic image seems clear enough: the conquering army broke down the Temple building (its doors, etc) like men who cut down trees (with the axe) in a thick forest. I follow the Greek versions (LXX, Symmachus; cf. Dahood, II, p. 202) in vocalizing hyjwtp as h*yj#t*P= (“her openings”, i.e. her doors) instead of MT h*yj#WTP! (“her carvings”). The many doors and wooden parts of the Temple were “cut down” (?) and “broken down” (vb <l^h*) with hatchets and hammers, etc.

Verse 7

“They cast your Holy Place in the fire, (burning it) to the earth,
(and so) they profaned (the) dwelling-place of your name.”

After the cutting down of the doors, etc, of the Temple building, the conquering army burnt it to the ground “in the fire”; cf. the allusion to this fiery destruction with the reference in v. 1 to the “smoke” coming from YHWH’s nostrils. The use of the verb ll^j* (II) in the second line echoes the earlier expressed idea of the conquerors as “doing evil” in the Temple sanctuary, and also of their being “hostile” to YHWH. The root llj (II) generally seems to denote a violation of what is sacred—in this instance, desecrating and profaning the holy dwelling-place (/K^v=m!) of God. On the Temple sanctuary as specifically the dwelling-place for YHWH’s name, cf. 2 Sam 7:13; 1 Kings 5:5; 8:16ff, 43ff; 9:3, 7; 2 Kings 23:27; Jer 7:10ff, 30, etc.; on the Deuteronomic origins of this theme, cf. Deut 12:5ff; 14:23-24; 16:2, 6, 11.

Verse 8

“They said in their heart, ‘Let us subdue them as one,
let all (the) assembles of (the) Mighty (One) in the land be burned!'”

This is another difficult couplet, largely due to the difficulty in parsing MT <n`yn] in the first line, and also the form of the verb [r^c* (“burn”) in the second line. They idea seems to be that conquering army has the desire to completely subdue the entire nation, and to destroy every sacred site where people worship (lit. “places of assembly”). This reflects, again, the theme of the Babylonians’ hostility toward both YHWH and His people.

The MT <n`yn] is probably best understood as reflecting a first person plural imperfect (cohortative) form of the verb hn`y` (“oppress”); but cf. Dahood, II, p. 202 for a different approach. I do follow Dahood in vocalizing wprc as a passive form (Wpr*c%), with jussive/precative force, “let them be burned”.

Verse 9

“Signs (among) us we no (longer) see,
there is not any more a spokesman (of YHWH),
and not (among) us (anyone) knowing ‘until wh(en)…'”

There are no longer any great wonders or portents (“signs,” cf. on v. 4b above) among the people, nor is there any ayb!n` (inspired spokesperson or ‘prophet’), i.e., one who speaks as YHWH’s representative, communicating His word and will to the people. There is thus no one who can assure the people how long the exile will last—i.e., when it will end (“until wh[en]”, hm*-du^). All of these things are indications that God is no longer present and active among His (exiled) people, at least not in the way that He once was. It is a restoration of the old way that the Psalmist has in mind when he speaks of YHWH redeeming (v. 2) His people; the restoration entails a return of the people to the land, and a re-establishment of Zion/Jerusalem as the holy city of God.

Verse 10

“Until when, O Mightiest, shall (the) adversary scorn (you)?
Shall (the) hostile (one) despise your name to the end?”

The implicit question (“until wh[en]…?” hm*-du^) at the end of v. 9 is picked up at the beginning of v. 10, more precisely as yt^m*-du^ (“until when…?”). The wicked adversary, the “hostile one” (rx* / by@oa, cf. the same parallel terminology in vv. 3-4), has shown open scorn (vb [r^j*) to YHWH, despising (vb Ja^n`) His name (cf. above on v. 7), particularly in the way that they desecrated and destroyed the Temple. Yet the conquest and destruction was so total, leaving the land desolate, with the people exiled, that one might truly wonder if this situation might indeed last “to the end” (jx^n#l*, cf. verse 1). “Until when (i.e. how long)” will this continue? The very question anticipates the Psalmist’s plea to YHWH in vv. 12-23.

Verse 11

“For what do you turn back (from us) your hand,
(and) your right hand from near your bosom <withold>?”

The lament of vv. 1-11 concludes just as it began (cf. on v. 1 above), with the interrogative hm*l*, “for what (reason)…?” (i.e., “why…?”). The Psalmist asks why YHWH does not give help to his people, acting on their behalf, to restore/redeem them from out of their exile. The dual-image here reflects this idea vividly:

    • God turning back (vb bWv) His hand
    • and of holding back (vb al*K*) His right hand

The parallelism is quite clear, and would seem to require reading the verb al*K*, instead of hl*K* (MT hL@K^) in the second line; this slight emendation of the MT seems justified, and is supported by commentators such as Kraus (p. 96). To this idea of YHWH withholding His hand is added the picturesque detail of keeping it back near His own bosom; we might depict it as keeping His hands folded on His lap.

In the plea that follows in vv. 12-17ff, to be discussed in the next study, the Psalmist hopes to spur God to action on behalf of His people.

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

Saturday Series: Acts 2:1-13

Acts 2:1-13

In the Pentecost narrative proper (Acts 2:1-13), the author of Acts begins to develop a number of important themes that will carry through the book. These were established in the opening sections, beginning with the prologue (1:1-5, see the prior study), and presented more clearly in the opening narrative of 1:6ff (see last week’s study). Indeed, the central theme of Acts is stated in 1:6-8, with the brief exchange between Jesus and his disciples. Through this exchange, and Jesus’ answer (vv. 7-8) to the disciples’ question (v. 6), the author introduces the idea that the kingdom of God on earth, previously identified with the kingdom of God’s people Israel, is now to be identified with the early Christian mission, realized through two main aspects: (1) the coming of the Holy Spirit on believers (v. 8a), and (2) the proclamation of the Gospel throughout the world (v. 8b).

Continuing this literary-critical study, let us consider how this theme is developed in the Pentecost narrative—the narrative of the sending of the Spirit during Pentecost (Acts 2:1-13), which inaugurates the Christian mission. I divide this section as follows:

    1. Introductory statement (unity of the Disciples), verse 1.
    2. Manifestation of the Spirit, verses 2-4.
    3. Reaction of Jews in Jerusalem (united voice of the crowds), verses 5-13.

Let us examine each of these in turn.

1. Introductory statement (unity of the Disciples), Acts 2:1:

As I did for Acts 1:14 in the previous study, I break out the specific words of this short verse:

    • kaí (“and”)
    • en tœ¡ sumpl¢roústhai (“in the being filled up” [syn as intensive prefix, i.e. “filled completely”]—but here as a temporal clause = “when it was completely filled”)
    • t¢¡n h¢méran t¢¡s pentekost¢¡s (“the Fiftieth day”)
    • ¢¡san (“they [i.e. the Disciples] were”)
    • pántes (“all”—all of them, together)
    • homoú (“as one” or “at one”, i.e., together, the same; see the similar homothymadón [“of one impulse”] in 1:14)
    • epí tó autó (“upon the [same] thing” —this phrase occurs repeatedly in the early chapters of Acts, though somewhat obscured by conventional translations; it is indicative of the unity of the believers)

Here is the verse in literal translation:

“And in the Fiftieth day’s being filled completely, they were all at one upon the (same) thing [or, place]”

And in a more conventional translation:

“And when the Fiftieth day had been fufilled, they were all together in the same place.”
[As C. C. Torrey and other scholars have noted, the Greek may reflect an Aramaic expression “when the Weeks had been fulfilled” (e.g., û»mišlam š¹»û±ayy¹°), which is more intelligible]

The “Fiftieth” day (usually transliterated as “Pentecost”), is the festival of Weeks (š¹»¥±ô¾) in Israelite and Jewish tradition (cf. Lev. 23:9-22; Deut. 16:9-12). Fifty days (seven weeks) are counted from the offering of the firstfruit sheaf of grain at the time of Passover. Traditionally, it was also the time associated with the Sinai theophany and giving of the Law (Ex. 19:1ff). In the Exodus narrative, the entire camp of Israel was gathered together beneath the mountain “to meet God” (Ex. 19:17). Here, the disciples, too are gathered together in the same place and will “meet God”. Elements of the Sinai theophany also have their parallel in the manifestation of the Spirit, as we shall see.

2. Manifestation of the Spirit, Acts 2:2-4:

Here the manifestation of the Holy Spirit (the Spirit of God) is recorded in dramatic fashion, in the language and imagery of Theophany. Since the manifestation of God at Sinai (occurring at Pentecost, by tradition) was mentioned above, it is worth looking at elements of that theophany:

    • Thunders (lit. “voices”) and lightnings (19:16)
    • A thick cloud
    • Fire went down upon the mountain; smoke (as of a furnace) went up from it (19:18), perhaps parallel to the cloud in v. 16.
    • The mountain “trembled” (or “quaked”); in v. 16 it is said the people trembled (same verb)
    • The sound (lit. “voice”) of a horn (shofar) (19:19, also mentioned in v. 16), which sounded long and grew louder

Consider also the theophany to Elijah (1 Kings 19:11-12):

    • A great and strong wind (or “breath”, “spirit” rûaµ = Grk pneúma) which swept through and tore at the mountain
    • An earthquake (“quaking”, “shaking” ra±aš)
    • Fire (°¢š)

all of which occur as God (YHWH) is “passing over” (or “passing by” ±œ»¢r), but God Himself is not in (b) the wind, quaking or fire. Then comes a quiet, thin voice.

Here is the manifestation of the Spirit as recorded in Acts (note the theophanic details in italics, with specific parallels in bold):

    1. “And suddenly there came to be out of the heaven a sound as of a violent wind [pno¢¡] being carried (along) and it filled the whole house (in) which they were sitting” (2:2)
    2. “And there was seen [i.e. appeared] unto them tongues as if of fire divided through(out), and it sat upon each one of them” (2:3)
    3. “And they all were filled of/by (the) holy Spirit [pneúma] and began to speak in other tongues even as the Spirit gave (to) them to utter forth” (2:4)

Clearly, there is wordplay with “tongues (as if) of fire” [glœ¡ssai hœseí pyrós] anticipating “with other tongues” [hetérais glœ¡ssais] in v. 4. There is at least one other occurrence of the phrase “tongues of fire” from roughly the same period in a Qumran text (represented by fragments of 1Q29 and 4Q376: these with 4Q375 and 1Q22 may all be part of the same work). 1Q29 fragment 1 can be restored on the basis of 4Q376 (ellipses indicate gaps [lacunae] in the text):

“…the stone, like… they will provide you with light and he will go out with it with tongues of fire [blšwnwt °š]; the stone which is at its left side will shine to the eyes of all the assembly until the priest finishes speaking. And after it [the cloud?] has been removed… and you shall keep and do all that he tells you. And the prophet … … who speaks apostasy … … YHWH, God of …”

Another tiny fragment reads: “… the right stone when the priest leaves … … three tongues of fire … … And after he shall go up and remove his shoes ….” (translations taken from García Martínez & Tigchelaar, The Dead Sea Scrolls Study Edition, Brill/Eerdmans 1997/2000, vol. 1 pp. 108-9). The words (possibly spoken by Moses) refer to an anointed Priest; the stones on the right and left (urim and thummim?) are associated both with light and the voice of the Priest as he addresses the assembly. It is possible the “three tongues” are also “divided out”, one over each stone, and one directly over the Priest in the middle.

There is some uncertainty whether the “other tongues” refer to an ecstatic ‘heavenly’ language or ‘earthly’ foreign languages. Other New Testament references (Acts 10:46; 19:6, and those in 1 Cor. 12-14) suggest the former, while the context here (cf. Acts 2:11) indicates the latter. Perhaps the ambiguity is intentional, in order to reflect both: (a) heavenly origin, and (b) the languages of the nations. Returning to the Sinai theophany, there is an old Jewish tradition that as the Torah (each word of God) went forth it was split into the seventy languages of the nations (Babylonian Talmud, Shabbath 88b); that is, each nation could hear the voice of God (the “thunderings”) in its own language (cf. Exodus Rabbah V.9). A tradition along these lines seems to be at least as old as Philo of Alexandria (On the Decalogue §46), and so nearly contemporary with the book of Acts.

3. Reaction of Jews in Jerusalem (united voice of the Crowd), Acts 2:5-13:

The following outline indicates the main elements of this section:

    • Jews “come together” in Jerusalem (v. 5, 6a)
    • Response of the crowd (vv. 6b-11) in two aspects:
      1) Each person hears in his/her own language
      2) Nations respond in a (symbolic) united voice
    • Confusion (v. 12, see also in vv. 6-7)— “What does this wish to be?”

The mocking retort in v. 13 serves as a lead-in to Peter’s address in vv. 14-40. Let us look at each element in a little more detail:

a. Jews “come together” in Jerusalem (v. 5, 6a)

The mention of “Jews” (Ioudaíoi) being in Jerusalem may seem unnecessary, but it is significant for at least two reasons: (1) to emphasize the underlying religious and cultural unity of the ‘nations’ present in the city, and (2) it draws attention to the (post-exilic) reality of the current situation. When Israel, and particularly the southern kingdom of Judah (centered at Jerusalem), was taken into exile, the people were dispersed among the nations; and it was in the “dispersion” (diaspora) that a distinctly Jewish identity developed. It is generally assumed that these Jews are sojourning in Jerusalem for the festival of Weeks (Pentecost); the verb katoikéœ often implies a more permanent residence, but here may simply mean generally “to dwell”. These Jews are “from every nation under heaven”, and have come together in the city (for the festival). At the coming-to-be of “this voice” (t¢¡ phœn¢¡), again Jews, symbolized as a specific crowd (pl¢¡thos), “come together” (sunérchomai) in confusion (being “stirred together” [sungchéœ]). It is interesting that, just in the tradition regarding the Sinai theophany, the multitudes are hearing different languages but one voice.

b. Response of the Crowd (v. 6b-11)

V. 6b and 7a reprise the confusion—they “stood out of (their minds)” and “wondered” in amazement as they heard the disciples speaking. It is unnecessary to ask just how, when, or where these people heard the disciples—and altogether beside the point. The author has crafted a marvelous dramatic scene, with events (at the historical level) certainly having been compressed together into a single moment. Similarly, it is rather unlikely that a single person or group of persons in the crowd would have said precisely what the crowd is recorded as saying here. Instead, various reactions and responses are represented by one voice. This is important thematically, and, one might say, theologically as well. Often a creative literary device conveys far more truth than a ‘sober’ record of events. Consider several of the themes inherent in the crowd’s response:

    • The reference to the disciples as “Galileans” (Galilaíoi), while serving to emphasize the wonder of the situation, also creates a subtle shift stressing ethnic (and geographic) identity. Most of the disciples, and certainly the Twelve were Galileans (“men of Galilee”, 1:11). The early Christian mission began in Galilee (cf. 1:1-2), is centered in Jerusalem (by the united community of the Disciples), and will spread from there into all nations (1:8).
    • Two key references to hearing the voices speaking “in our own language” (t¢¡ idía dialéktœ h¢mœ¡n, v. 8, see also v. 6) and “in our tongues” (taís h¢metérais glœ¡ssais, v. 11) bracket the list of nations in vv. 9-11a. The importance of this description should by now be apparent. It may be useful to consider the qualifying phrase accompanying each reference:
      (1) V. 8: “in our own language in which we came to be born” [en h¢¡ egenn¢¡th¢men]
      (2) V. 11: “(hear speaking) in our tongues the great (work)s of God” [tá megaleía toú Theoú]
      The first phrase clearly indicates ethnic sense; the second echoes Old Testament language whereby news of the great and glorious deeds of God is spread into the surrounding nations (cf. Ex. 15:11ff, and many others)—geographic sense.
    • The list of nations (vv. 9-11) has been a source of some confusion, as indicated by the number of textual variants and proposed emendations. However, much of the difficulty disappears when its literary nature is recognized, rather than simply being a list rattled off by someone in the crowd. The inclusion of “Judea” has seemed strange (since Jews are speaking, and they are already in Judea!) as well as its position, leading to many suggested emendations; however, as a separate geographical list it actually makes sense—moving from East (Parthians, Medes, Elamites, Mesopotamia) to West (Anatolian/Asian provinces, Egypt, Lybia, Cyrene and Italy) with Judea in the middle. While still a bit uneven (the final two, Cretans and Arabs, don’t fit in order as well) and not without difficulties, its significance as a list of the (known and relevant) surrounding nations is obvious.
c. Confusion (v. 12, cf. also vv. 6-7)

The confusion of the crowd is re-iterated, stating that they all were beside themselves (again exíst¢mi, lit. “stand out of [one’s mind]” v. 7) and “thoroughly at a loss” (diaporéœ). Their summary response is: tí thélei toúto eínai; (literally “what does this wish to be?”), often translated more conventionally as “what does this mean?” —however a more literal rendering preserves better a sense of the strange, dynamic nature of the situation in which the crowd finds itself: events almost seem to have a will of their own! The ironic, mocking retort that closes the crowd’s response (“they are filled with sweet [wine]!”), of course, serves to lead into Peter’s great Pentecost speech (vv. 14-40). The disciples are indeed “filled” (pl¢¡thœ) with the Spirit (v. 4), rather than “filled” (mestóœ, a somewhat cruder verb which can indicate “stuffed”, “intoxicated”) with ordinary wine.

In conclusion, it is perhaps worth considering again the theme of the “restoration of Israel” in light of the Pentecost narrative:

    • The disciples have returned (turned back) to Jerusalem
      • The Twelve have been reconstituted and are gathered together (in Jerusalem) in one place
        • Jews from all nations (the Dispersion) also are gathered together in Jerusalem
      • They again hear the voice (word of God) in the languages of the nations, spoken by the Twelve and other disciples (echo of the Sinai theophany)
    • The disciples go out from Jerusalem into the nations (even to the Gentiles)

Saturday Series: Acts 1:6-11ff

The first two chapters of the book of Acts are important for establishing all of the main themes that will be developed throughout the narrative. These sections also illustrate the distinctive way that the author develops the historical traditions related to the early Christian mission. There is thus much to explore in these chapters from a literary-critical and historical-critical standpoint. In this particular study, I will be focusing on the literary-critical aspects.

The role of the Spirit is central to this narrative, beginning with the prologue (see the discussion in last week’s study), and continuing through the Pentecost narrative of chapter 2. In order to gain a proper sense of the way that the themes are established, and the traditions utilized, in the Pentecost narrative, it is most helpful to keep in mind the context and structure of the early chapters, which I outline as follows:

    1. Lukan Introduction (1:1-5)—a long, complex and difficult sentence (cf. Luke 1:1-4), which turns into an historical summary (vv. 2-4a) and concludes with a direct address of Jesus to his disciples (vv. 4b-5).
    2. The Ascension (1:6-11), comprising:
      (a) the question regarding the Kingdom and Jesus’ reply to his disciples(vv. 6-8),
      (b) the visible ascension with theophanic/apocalyptic imagery (v. 9),
      (c) appearance of the (Heavenly) men and their address to the disciples
    3. A summary narrative (1:12-14) recording the return of the disciples to Jerusalem, and their united presence in the Upper Room (the Twelve [minus Judas Iscariot], some women, Jesus’ mother Mary and his brothers). This summary parallels Luke 24:52-53, and is an important bridge between the Ascension and the following narrative.
    4. The Reconstitution of the Twelve (1:15-26)—two key parts, both of which act as seminal motifs for the remainder of the book:
      a) Peter’s speech (vv. 15-22)—the first of many such speeches in Acts, centering on quotation/interpretation of Scripture (a tradition regarding Judas Iscariot has been inserted parenthetically, vv. 18-19)
      b) The selection/commission of a disciple (Matthias) for (apostolic) ministry (vv. 23-26)
    5. The Pentecost Narrative (chapter 2)
      5a. Narrative of the coming of the Spirit (2:1-13)
      5b. Peter’s Speech (2:14-40), again centered on quotation/interpretation of Scripture.
      5c. Historical/editorial summary (2:41-47).

This same structure will be carried out through much of Acts; for example, in the next two chapters:

    • Main historical narrative, including notable ministry work, miracles, etc. (“Acts”) of the Apostles (3:1-11; 4:1-22)
    • Speech (or intercourse), centered on a passage (or passages) of Scripture, and containing early Gospel proclamation (kerygma) (3:12-26; 4:23-30)
    • Historical/editorial summary (none in ch. 3; 4:31)

Each of sections 1-4 (which make up Acts 1) is important thematically for an understanding of the Pentecost Narrative. Here I summarize some key notes:

Section 1: Lukan Introduction (Acts 1:1-5):

  • The historical summary (vv. 2-4a), we we looked in the previous study, has at its heart the double phrase:
    hoís kaí parést¢sen heautón zœ¡nta metá tó patheín autón en polloís tekm¢ríois, di’ h¢merœ¡n tesserákonta optanómenos autoís kaí légœn tá perí t¢¡s basileías toú theoú
    “…and to whom [i.e. the disciples] he stood himself alongside [i.e. presented himself] alive after his suffering in many fixed marks [i.e. signs/proofs], through forty days being seen by them and recounting/relating the (things) about the kingdom of God”
    We can break down chiastically the elements of this phrase:

Living presence of God/Christ in his disciples
[to whom he stood himself alongside alive…]
— Demonstration that He is the Messiah and Son of the Living God
[…after his suffering in many fixed marks/signs]
— Ministry and proclamation
[through days being seen by them and recounting/relating…]
The Kingdom of God
[…the things about the Kingdom of God]

These are all seminal themes and motifs of the Book of Acts, and, one might say, form the core of the Gospel message.

    • The narration continues in v. 4a and blends into an address (in direct speech) of Jesus to his disciples. Again note the key elements:

a. Stay in (do not depart from) Jerusalem (see Luke 24:52; Acts 1:12)
b. Remain about (i.e. wait) for the promise of the Father (Luke 24:49) which you have heard from me (see Acts 1:13-14, also Luke 24:53)
c. Reprise of John’s testimony:
“(On the one hand), John dunked in water, but (on the other hand), you will be dunked in the Holy Spirit after not many (of) these days”

Section 2: The Ascension (Acts 1:6-11):

Note again how one can break this passage down chiastically:

    • Question regarding the Kingdom of God with Jesus’ reply, including a reiteration of the promise of the Holy Spirit (vv. 6-8)
      • The Ascension of Jesus (v. 9)
        —At their seeing/looking
        — He was raised up(on)
        — A cloud took him under
        —Away from their eyes
    • Angelic appearance and eschatological announcement about Christ’s return (vv. 10-11)

The theme of the Kingdom—shorthand for “Kingdom of God (or Heaven)”—is most significant; I have discussed it in some detail in earlier notes and articles. One can, I think, outline four principal ways of understanding the phrase:

    1. As the Eternal rule of God (in Heaven)
    2. As an eschatological (Messianic) Kingdom, on earth, the establishment of which will involve:
      (a) judgment/defeat of the nations and enemies of God, and
      (b) restoration of the Davidic inheritance to Israel.
    3. In the person and work of Jesus—the miracles, teaching, foundation of the church, atoning death and resurrection, etc.
    4. As the (spiritual) presence and power of God in the heart, mind, and lives of believers.

Other interpretations are possible, but they likely will end up being a variation on one of the above. These four meanings can be found in the New Testament—even, I think, in Jesus’ own teaching on the Kingdom—but probably #1 and 4 are most common. The thorniest question scholars raise is to what extent #2 is part of Jesus’ teaching. It is likely that his proclamation “the Kingdom of God has come near” (Mark 1:15 par.) would have been understood in this manner—of eschatological/Messianic expectation—by his contemporaries; and this certainly seems to be what the disciples have in mind here at Acts 1:6.

Let us briefly examine the disciples’ question:

Kýrie, ei en tœ¡ chronœ¡ toútœ apokathistáneis t¢¡n basileían tœ¡ Isra¢¡l;
“Lord, in this time will you set down again the kingdom to Israel?”

A more literal rendering of apokathist¢¡nai would indicate setting the Kingdom down from (apó) where it is currently, back to its former condition; conventionally, we could translate “reconstitute” or “restore”.

Jesus’ reply comes in two parts: first—

“It is not for you to know the times or seasons which the Father has set in (his) own exousía

The word exousía (from éxestin), almost impossible to translate literally, has the sense of “ability” or “authority” to do something. Jesus effectively dispenses with their question, without necessarily denying its validity—however, the brusque response may suggest a misunderstanding on their part. Earlier it is stated that Jesus, during the days following his resurrection, related to his disciples “the things concerning the Kingdom of God” (v. 3). Almost certainly this involved more than the sort of eschatological Messianic kingdom (meaning #2 above) common in popular religious thought. Yet this is what they ask about here. If the first part of Jesus’ reply does away with their question, the second part, in some sense re-establishes it:

“But you shall receive (the) power of the holy Spirit (which is) coming upon you, and you shall be my witnesses (both) in Jerusalem, and [in] all Judea and Samaria, and unto the end of the earth.”

Indeed, I would maintain that the idea of the “restoration of the kingdom”, or, one may say, the “restoration of Israel” is an important idea both in Jesus’ teaching and in the book of Acts.

Section 3: Summary narrative (1:12-14):

I have already mentioned a couple of themes found in this short passage; but, to reiterate, in light of the above comments:

    • The disciples “return (or turn back) into Jerusalem”, v. 12. On the surface this is a simple description; however, consider the language in light of the implied motif of the “restoration” of Israel:
      a) The dispersed Israelites will return to the land, and to Jerusalem
      b) The restoration of Israel is often tied to repentance (turning back)
    • The Twelve disciples are gathered together in one place (upper room), v. 13. If the Twelve represent Israel (see below), then here we also have an image of the twelve tribes gathered together again.
    • The initial words of v. 14 contain a number of related, seminal motifs:
      • hoútoi (“these” —the twelve, along with the other disciples)
      • pántes (“all” —that is, all of them, together)
      • ¢¡san proskarteroúntes (“were being strong” [sense of “endurance”, “patience”] “toward” their purpose/goal)
      • homothymadón (“with one impulse” —a key phrase that occurs throughout Acts, cf. 2:46; 4:24, et al. thymós is often translated as “soul”, “mind” [“with one mind”], but also as “passion”, “desire”; the primal sense of the word was something like a “[violent] stirring”)
      • t¢¡ proseuch¢¡ (“in prayer”)

Does this not seem a beautiful, concise image of what one might call the “kingdom of God” on earth?

Section 4: The Reconstitution of the Twelve (1:15-26):

Here it is important to emphasis again the theme of the Twelve. On purely objective grounds, the Twelve represent one of the earliest Christian traditions—a fixed tradition and symbol, separate, it would seem, from much of the actual historical detail. This appears clearly enough from passages such as 1 Cor. 15:5 and Matthew 19:28, where “the Twelve” are mentioned, even though only eleven disciples could be involved (Judas being dead or disqualified). Also, note the variant lists of the Twelve (Matt. 10:1-14; Mark 3:14-19; and Luke 6:13-16 / Acts 1:13). Most likely the Twelve were chosen (by Jesus) in part to represent the tribes of Israel. This is not stated directly, but note Matthew 19:28 (and the Lukan parallel 22:30) and the sending out of the Twelve in Matthew 10:5f. It is possible too, at least in early Christian tradition, that the twelve baskets in the miraculous feeding came to be thought of as symbolic of Israel re-gathered, as well as an image of Church unity (see Didache 9:4 on the Eucharist). In the book of Revelation 21:12-14, the twelve apostles are also identified in terms of the twelve tribes.

So here, in Acts, the choosing of a twelfth apostle, to take the place of Judas Iscariot, takes on great significance. According to the logic of the narrative, Israel (the Twelve tribes) cannot be restored until the Twelve are reconstituted. This may seem strange to modern thinking, but the symbolism was powerful indeed to early Christians, for whom Israel and “the Church” were closely connected.

This sets the stage for the Pentecost narrative (Acts 2:1-14ff) which I will discuss in detail next week, continuing our literary-critical study of the early chapters of the book of Acts.

January 23: 2 Corinthians 3:2-3

[These notes are part of the series “Spiritualism and the New Testament”; for an overview of the passage, cf. the main article.]

2 Corinthians 3:1-6

Verses 2-3

You are our (letter) sent out, having been written on our hearts—being known, and being known again (through reading), by all men, being made to shine (forth) that you are (the letter) of (the) Anointed sent out, (hav)ing been served under [i.e. by] us—having been written, not with black (ink), but with (the) Spirit of (the) living God, (and) not on (the) flat surfaces of stones, but on (the) flat surfaces of fleshy hearts.”

Paul prepares the way for his 2 Corinthinans 3 discourse with this statement in verses 2-3. It is a relatively complex sentence, as the translation above indicates, and the syntax of which I outline below.

The theme in verse 1-6 involves “letters of commendation”; the word sustatiko/$ is derived from suni/sthmi/sunista/w (“stand [together] with”), in the sense of placing things together (and presenting them) in front of someone. As a technical term, it came to be applied to letters a person carried, introducing him/her to another group or in a place where he/she was not known. In the ancient world, which lacked modern-day high-speed communication, such practice was necessary to establish a person’s identity and credentials; it also could serve as a source of authority and legitimacy.

Naturally enough, the more impressive or prestigious the letter of recommendation, the more influence it provided; even today, the right letter of recommendation still carries tremendous weight for prospective employers, and so forth. It is possible that Paul’s opponents included visiting “apostles” who possessed such letters and credentials.

In vv. 1-6, he argues that neither he nor his colleagues require written letters recommending them to the believers of Corinth (v. 1), since they are already well known—that is to say, this written authentication is already there in the hearts of the believers, having been written by the very Spirit of God (v. 3). He is referring primarily to the work of preaching the Gospel, which the Corinthian believers accepted; as a result they themselves become “the epistle of Christ”, under the service/ministry of Paul and his fellow missionaries.

It is important to understand the reference to the Spirit in verse 3 within the context of vv. 1-6 as a whole. Let us begin, in particular, with the immediate context of the sentence in vv. 2-3. I would outline the syntax of this sentence as follows:

    • “You are our e)pistolh/
      • having been written [e)ggegramme/nh] on our hearts
        • being known [ginwskome/nh]
          and being known again [a)naginwsokme/nh]
          by all men
        • being made to shine forth [fanerou/menoi]
          • that you are the e)pistolh/ of Christ
            having been administered by us
      • having been written [e)ggegramme/nh]
        • not with black ink,
          but with the Spirit of the living God
        • not on tablets of stone,
          but on tablets of fleshy hearts.”

The structure is governed by repeated use of passive participles, modifying the subject u(mei$ (“you” [plural]) and the corresponding predicate noun of the main declaration, e)pistolh/ (singular). The passive participles here (for the most part) agree with the noun e)pistolh/ (feminine singular), which designates a letter “sent upon [i.e. to]” (vb e)piste/llw) someone. Often, this noun is simply transliterated in English as “epistle” (epistol¢¡).

At the first level, the two main modifying participles are the two occurrences of e)ggegramme/nh (perfect passive particple of the verb gra/fw, “write”), which characterizes the letter (e)pistolh/), naturally enough, as “having been written”. The first participial clause is: “having been written on our hearts” (e)ggegramme/nh e)n tai=$ kardi/ai$ h(mw=n). The parallel in the second participial clause is: “having been written…on tablets of hearts of flesh” (e)ggegramme/nhe)n pla/cin kardi/ai$ sarki/nai$).

In between these two clauses, at a secondary (subordinate) level, the subject is further modified by the passive participles:

    • ginwskome/nh (“being known”)
      / a)naginwskome/nh (“being known again”)
    • fanerou/menoi (“being made to shine forth”)

What has been written is “made known” (ginw/skw); the compound verb a)naginw/skw (“made known again”) is added by Paul to convey the idea of something being made known by reading. The verb a)naginw/skw essentially means “read” —that is, to know something again, by reading it (and re-reading it) in written form. People everywhere are able to ‘read’ the letter, as Paul and his fellow missionaries travel about, since the ‘letter’ is written in their hearts.

What has been written is further made to “shine forth” (fanero/w)—that is, its meaning and significance is made known. It becomes apparent to everyone who ‘reads’ this ‘letter’ that Paul and his fellow missionaries are simply servants administering (i.e., carrying/transmitting) the letter. In fact, the letter belongs to their master, Jesus Christ—it is an e)pistolh\ Xristou=, a letter “of (the) Anointed (One)”.

This brings us to the second (and final) participial clause, involving the main participle e)ggegramme/nh (“having been written”). Here, Paul expounds the relatively simple idea of a letter “written on the heart” by way of a dualistic contrast:

    • “not with black (ink)” (ou) mela/ni)
    • “but with (the) Spirit…” (a)lla\ pneu=mati…)

A normal physical/material letter (written with ink on paper, etc) is contrasted with a spiritual letter. This basic contrast reflects the essential spiritualism of Paul, and we gain a rather clear sense of its power and place in his thought by the way that he so quickly leaps to the profound and inspired (in every sense) discourse that follows in the remainder of chapter 3.

The full expression “…(the) Spirit of (the) living God” requires comment. The language is rooted in Old Testament tradition (e.g., Deut 5:26; Josh 3:10; 1 Sam 17:26, 36; 2 Kings 19:4, 6; Psalm 42:3; 84:3; Isa 37:4, 17; Hos 2:1 [1:10]), as rendered in the Greek of the LXX, and occurs elsewhere in the New Testament, either with the definite articles (Matt 16:16; 26:63; Rev 15:7) or without (Acts 14:15; Heb 3:12; 9:14; 10:31; 12:22; Rev 7:2). For other occurrences in the Pauline letters, see 1 Thess 1:9; 2 Cor 6:16; Rom 9:26; and also 1 Tim 3:15; 4:10. Cf. Furnish, p. 182.

Paul’s use of the expression has particular significance here, as he is emphasizing two important aspects of the Spirit: (1) it is the Spirit of God, and (2) it is living (and life-giving). The first point may be obvious, but it reflects a fundamental premise of Christian spiritualism that is often overlooked: by possessing the Holy Spirit, believers in Christ have direct access to the abiding presence of God’s very Spirit. The second point is more immediately relevant to Paul’s discussion, since it anticipates his contrast in verse 6 between the letter that kills (i.e., brings death) and the Spirit that gives life (lit. makes [a]live, vb zwopoie/w).

The parallel contrast that Paul makes, at the close of verse 3, is just as important as the first contrast (between ordinary ink and the Spirit):

    • “not on tablets of stone” (ou)k e)n placi\n liqi/nai$)
    • “but on tablets of fleshy hearts” (ou)k e)n placi\n kardi/ai$ sarki/nai$)

The use of the adjective sa/rkino$ (“of flesh, fleshy”) is somewhat surprising, given Paul’s dualistic contrast elsewhere in his letters between the Spirit and the flesh (sa/rc). This can be explained, in part, from that fact that, once again here, he is drawing upon Old Testament tradition—cf. Ezek 11:19 and 36:26 (see also Jer 31:33), contrasting a “heart of stone” with the “heart of flesh” that Israel will possess in the New Age (of the ‘new covenant’). In that line of Prophetic tradition, the New Age of Israel’s restoration is characterized by the special presence of God’s Spirit on His people.

Even so, we might expect that an immaterial, spiritual aspect of the human “heart” (kardi/a) would be emphasized here. Instead, God writes with His Spirit upon a heart of flesh. This is distinctive of the early Christian understanding of the relationship of the Spirit to the believer. As a human being, the believer possesses the Spirit within a body of flesh. Paul took a special interest in this seeming paradox, and develops the idea, expounding it at a number of points in his letters. Some of these passages will be discussed in upcoming articles and notes in this series.

Our exegesis will continue, in the next daily note on verses 4-5.

References above marked “Furnish” are to Victor Paul Furnish, II Corinthians, Anchor Bible [AB] Vol. 32A (1984).

Spiritualism and the New Testament: Paul: 2 Corinthians 3

The first Pauline passage we examined was 1 Corinthians 2:10-15, within the wider context of 1:18-2:16 (extending into 3:1-3)—cf. the article and the supplemental series of exegetical notes. Paul emphasizes the role of the Spirit instructing believers in the wisdom of God; indeed, this wisdom is fundamentally spiritual in character. A key statement is the climactic declaration in verse 16: “but we hold (the) mind of (the) Anointed”. To this may be added the statement in v. 15: “the (one) with the Spirit judges all ([th]ese) things, and (yet) he is judged under no one” — “these things” referring to “the (thing)s of the Spirit” (ta\ tou= pneu/mato$).

Given the spiritualistic tenor and emphasis to Paul’s discussion, one might readily ask what is the place of the human teacher, as well as the role of external sources of religious (and moral) authority. The reason why Paul writes to the Corinthians as he does, is because, on the whole, they are not yet spiritually mature (“complete”), often thinking and behaving like one who does not possess the Spirit (3:1-3). But how would he write to them if they were mature? Would there be any need for him to write to them at all? Presumably, there would be more opportunity for exploring and expounding the “deep things of God” (2:10), but what would his role be, in this regard, if the people to whom he was writing were themselves being fully guided and instructed by the Spirit?

It is an interesting question to ponder. In general, it is fair to say that Paul’s spiritualism, to judge by the evidence from 1 Corinthians, was tempered by two main considerations:

    1. the manifestation of the Spirit within the confines of the Community, through specific ‘spiritual gifts‘ given to specific individuals.
    2. the unique role (and authority) of the apostle—that is, the missionary, sent and commissioned by Christ himself, who (first) proclaimed the Gospel in a region and helped to found the first congregations.

According to the first principle, expounded and applied in some detail by Paul in chapters 12-14, an individual believer would not rely wholly on the inner guidance and instruction of the Spirit; rather, one must also experience the Spirit as manifest within the Community, through the distinct spiritual gifts given to the various members.

The second principle—the role and place of the founding apostle—is given special attention by Paul in 2 Corinthians. One passage, in particular, relates the apostolic ministry to the wider experience of the Spirit’s presence and work among believers. As such, a careful examination of it should allow us to gain a better sense of Paul’s spiritualism, especially in relation to other (external) aspects of Christian ministry.

2 Corinthians 3

The passage under examination is the “new covenant” section in 2 Corinthians—3:1-18, the central portion of the wider section of 2:14-4:6. It is rather typical of Paul’s unique (and inspired) manner of expression, that the powerful theological component to his line of argument in this passage is not even central to the main point he is making. Indeed, here in 2:14-4:6 the focus is on Paul’s role and position as an apostle, in relation to the Corinthian congregations (i.e., the second of the two themes outlined above). The theological and expository excursus in 3:1-18 is simply a natural byproduct of Paul’s understanding of the Gospel and the nature of the Christian ministry. I will be exploring the passage, from a critical and rhetorical standpoint, in the Saturday Series studies during the remainder of January and February.

I will also be devoting detailed notes (a series of daily notes) to an exposition of the passage. But let us begin here with a focus on Paul’s references to the Spirit, and how they relate to the “new covenant” theme of the section. Let us begin with his statement in verse 3 (picking up from v. 2, in italics):

you are our e)pistolh/…being made to shine forth [fanerou/menoi] that you are (the) e)pistolh/ of (the) Anointed, being served under [i.e. by] us, (and) having been written not with black (ink), but with (the) Spirit of (the) living God, not on (the) flat surfaces of stones, but on (the) flat surfaces of hearts (of) flesh.”

Paul here makes a stark contrast between ordinary (physical/material) written letters and spiritual ones (for more, see the note on verses 2-3). This sort of dualistic language (and imagery) is typical of Paul’s spiritualism. But it is interesting to consider the way that this is introduced here.

The theme in verse 1-6 involves “letters of commendation”, the word sustatiko/$ being derived from suni/sthmi/sunista/w (“stand [together] with”), in the sense of placing things together (and presenting them) in front of someone. As a technical term, it came to be applied to letters a person carried, introducing him/her to another group or in a place where he/she was not known. The noun e)pistolh/ (epistol¢¡, i.e. ‘epistle’), which I left untranslated above, is derived from e)piste/llw (“set [forth] upon” a person, i.e. send to someone), related to a)poste/llw (i.e., send from someone). Here the e)pistolh/ refers ostensibly to a letter of introduction/recommendation. The point is that Paul and his fellow-missionaries, who preached the Gospel to the Corinthians, do not require any customary letter of introduction—the effect of the Gospel in their hearts is proof enough of his place as an apostle with them! It is a letter of Christ himself, whom Paul serves as a minister, written with the Spirit of the living God.

The expression “living God” (in Greek, qeo$ zw=n) derives from Old Testament usage (e.g. Deut 5:26; Josh 3:10; 1 Samuel 17:26, 36, etc). The inclusion of the modifying verbal adjective is primarily emphatic (cf. Matt 16:16; 26:63, etc), however it also refers to the life-giving power of God’s Spirit (cf. Gal 5:25; 6:8; Rom 8:1-11), and thus is central to the spiritualistic emphasis in Paul’s thought—the living Spirit being contrasted with the dead material thing. There is also implicit the traditional sense of the Spirit as the active manifestation of God among His people. In particular, we should draw attention to the metaphor of the “finger of God”, and the idea that the tablets of the Law (Torah) were written with the finger of God (Exod 24:12; 31:18; 34:1; Deut 9:10f). One is immediately reminded of the saying of Jesus in Luke 11:20 (discussed previously):

“But if (it is) in [i.e. with] the finger of God (that) I cast out the daimons, then the kingdom of God (has already) arrived upon you!”

The Matthean version (12:28) reads “Spirit of God”, instead of “finger of God”, evidence that the two expressions were essentially seen as synonymous. Almost certainly, Paul has this same correspondence in mind—i.e., the Spirit of God writes on the hearts of believers just as the finger of God wrote on the stone tablets. This establishes the thematic contrast of “letter vs. Spirit”, old/new covenant, that runs through the remainder of chapter 3.

It is interesting the way that the initial metaphor in v. 3 leads Paul so readily to the dualistic juxtaposition contrasting the old and new covenants, in terms of “the written (word/letter) [to\ gra/mma]” and “the Spirit [to\ pneu=ma]”. See how this contrast in made, twice, in vv. 1-3 and 4-6:

    • Commendatory letters for apostles—believers under their ministry
      • written in the heart
        • contrast with being written in tablets of stone (v. 3)
    • Confidence for apostles before God—ministers of a new covenant
      • of the Spirit
        • contrast with the written word (v. 6)

Paul specifically refers to himself (and others) as “servants of (the) new diaqh/kh” (v. 6). The noun diaqh/kh literally signifies the “setting through” of things (into an arranged order); in English idiom we would say “putting things in order”, i.e., in terms of a legal will/testament or other contractual agreement. In the LXX and New Testament, it typically is used in place of the Hebrew tyr!B=, which means a binding agreement; both Hebrew and Greek terms tend to be translated as “covenant”. The word diaqh/kh is relative rare in the Pauline letters, occurring 8 times, in Corinthians, Galatians, and Romans (+ once in Ephesians). Paul’s use of it is entirely traditional; apart from references to the Old Testament and Israelite history (Rom 9:4; 11:27; Gal 3:15, 17; 4:24), we have his citation of the Lord’s Supper tradition (1 Cor 11:25; cf. Luke 22:20 and Mk 14:24 v.l.).

As in the Lord’s Supper tradition, Paul here uses the expression kainh\ diaqh/kh (i.e. “new covenant”), terminology which goes back to Prophetic tradition (in the 6th/5th centuries B.C.) regarding the restoration of Israel in the New Age (Jer 31:31-34; cf. also 32:40; Ezek 11:19; 18:31; 34:25ff; 36:26; 37:26). Jesus, in his own way, was alluding to this in the Last Supper tradition, but it received much more precise exposition among early Christians in the period c. 30-60 A.D. The specific motif of the “pouring out” of the Spirit upon God’s people was part of the traditional restoration-theme. In previous notes, on the “Spirit of God in the Old Testament”, I discussed at length the role of the Spirit in the key restoration-prophecies of the exilic and post-exilic periods (in Joel, Deutero-Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Zechariah).

In the remainder of chapters 3 (vv. 7-18) Paul embarks on an exposition of the difference between the old and new covenants. He draws upon the Moses narratives and traditions in the book of Exodus; in particular, Paul takes a midrashic interpretive approach to Exodus 34:29-35, which describes Moses’ return from Mount Sinai carrying the two tablets of the Covenant.

This contrast between the old and new covenants is centered on the idea of “glory” (do/ca). Paul makes use of a series of qal wa-homer arguments—a traditional (Jewish) principle of interpretation, which argues from the lesser to the greater: if something is true in this (lesser) case, then how much more is it to be so regarded in the (greater) case. According to this mode of argument (a fortiori), Paul is working from the basic assumption that the new covenant is superior to the old covenant which God established with Israel at Sinai. The first two arguments (in vv. 7-9) involve the diakoni/a (“service, ministry”), that is, the administration of the covenant—in the case of the old covenant this began with Moses (and Aaron) and continued through the established priesthood and ritual apparatus (Temple, sacrificial offerings, purity regulations, etc), as well as through teaching and tradition. Note the contrast:

    • Vv. 7-8: service/ministry of death [h( diakoni/a tou= qana/tou]
      • service/ministry of the Spirit [h( diakoni/a tou= pneu/mato$]
    • Vers. 9: service/ministry of judgment against [h( diakoni/a th=$ katakri/sew$]
      • service/ministry of justice/righteousness [h( diakoni/a th=$ dikaiosu/nh$]

The characterization of the old covenant as “the ministry of death” is striking; for the uniquely Pauline view on the relationship between the Law, sin and death, read carefully Romans 5-7 (cf. the articles on 5:12-21 and 7:7-25 in the series “Paul’s View of the Law”), and note also in Gal 3:10-14, 19-22; 1 Cor 15:56. In vv. 7-8 here, the qal wa-homer argument is:

“If the ministry of death came to be in (such) esteem [do/ca]… how will the ministry of the Spirit not (even) more be in esteem?”

The old covenant came to have glory/esteem (perfect of the verb doca/zw), but now it has come to have no glory/esteem (again, with the perfect of doca/zw). It is hard to imagine a more antinomian statement by Paul—the old covenant, with its written Law, now has no glory. However, he makes clear that this is true only in one respect: because the glory of the new covenant goes so far beyond it (the verb u(perba/llw means to throw or cast something over/beyond, i.e. past a particular distance or measure). This is an important principle for understanding Paul’s apparently negative statements regarding the Law—its binding force has come to an end because of Christ. Indeed, the old covenant has come to an end, he makes this clear in verse 11, using the verb katarge/w—literally to “make (something) cease working”, i.e. render inactive, ineffective, often in the technical (legal) sense of “nullify, invalidate, make void”, etc. The second verb is me/nw, “remain (in place), abide”. The contrast is clear enough: the old covenant ceases to be in effect, the new covenant remains and lasts; one is temporary, the other permanent.

The new covenant (kainh\ diaqh/kh) is governed by the Spirit (vv. 6-8), and not by the Torah; indeed, the Spirit takes the place of the Torah. This reflects, in my view, a clear spiritualistic tendency in Paul’s thought. However, the emphasis in 2 Cor 3:1-18 is on Paul and his fellow missionaries as ministers of this new covenant. In this light, in verses 12-18, he continues his contrast of old vs. new covenant, utilizing the motif of the covering (ka/lumma) that Moses kept over his face (cf. Exod 34:29-35) when he met with the people after speaking to God.

In the initial period of the old covenant, the people were wholly dependent on Moses as the prophet or spokesperson (ayb!n`) who communicated the word and will of God to them. Apostles and missionaries such as Paul served a similar role in the new covenant, but with a major difference: the communication of the Gospel of Christ took place without any covering, the ‘veil’ having been removed. The implication of this is that the people (i.e. believers) now are able to experience the presence and glory of God directly, without any intermediary. This is due to the fact that, with the communication (and acceptance) of the Gospel, believers receive the very Spirit of God. Paul’s wording in verse 16 is striking (and rather controversial) in this regard:

“But whenever (one) would turn about toward the Lord, the covering is taken (up from) around (him).”

This removal of the covering (symbolized by the veil of Moses) has two aspects in its meaning:

    • people are able to experience the full revelation of God, and
    • it signifies that the old covenant (of Moses and the Torah) has come to an end (cf. Rom 10:4)

The latter aspect means that believers in Christ are freed from the old covenant and its Torah, and this freedom (e)leuqeri/a) is due to our contact with the Spirit of God:

“And the Lord is the Spirit, and that which (is) of the Spirit of (the) Lord, (is) freedom [e)leuqeri/a].” (v. 17)

Insofar as we turn to God’s Spirit, we have complete freedom—meaning, in this context, primarily, freedom from the Law (Torah). Here the expression “Spirit of the Lord” presumably means the Spirit of God, though Paul does, on occasion, also use the expression “Spirit of Christ” (see the discussion at the beginning of the previous article). There can be no doubt, however, that the idea of turning to the Spirit of the Lord entails acceptance of the Gospel, and of conforming our lives to the presence of Christ dwelling in us.

This latter point is emphasized especially in the famous concluding words to this section (v. 18). Given the overall focus of the passage, one might expect Paul to end with another reference to the role of apostles—persons called to represent Christ and preach the Gospel—and yet, following the association of the Spirit and freedom in verse 17, he moves in an entirely different (and rather spiritualistic) direction: “but we all…” The glory of the old covenant was associated with a special person—Moses—who was set apart to represent God for the people; only he spoke directly with God, and the glory shone only from his face. How different is the new covenant, where every believer in Christ beholds the glory of the Lord, and is transformed, in a permanent manner, far greater than the transfiguration that Moses experienced. The true apostle and missionary does not emphasize his (or her) own abilities and accomplishments—ultimately the new covenant is administered and shared by all believers together.

This may be related to what I have referred to as the “democratization” of the Spirit in the New Age of Israel’s restoration—the idea that God’s Spirit (and the prophetic spirit) would come upon all people, the nation as a whole, rather than upon specific chosen/gifted individuals. This was reflected most notably, for early Christians, by the citation of Joel 2:28-29 in Peter’s Pentecost speech (Acts 2:17-18). The reference to Moses, here in our passage, brings to mind the tradition in Numbers 11:16-30 (discussed in an earlier note), in which seventy elders were allowed to share in the prophetic spirit—the Spirit of YHWH—that had been upon Moses exclusively. For believers in Christ, the inclusivity extends even further—to all of God’s people, essentially fulfilling the very wish, expressed by Moses himself:

“…who would (not) give (that) all (the) people of YHWH (would be) <ya!yb!n+ [i.e. prophets], (and) that YHWH would give His spirit [j^Wr] upon them!” (Num 11:29)

January 2: Isaiah 8:23ff

Isaiah 8:23-9:6 [9:1-7]

The poem in 9:1-6 [EV 2-7] brings the section of 6:1-9:6 to a close. It functions as an appendix to the section, and, in its literary setting, offers a message of hope to the survivors and exiles of the shattered Northern Kingdom. The poem is preceded by a narrative introduction (8:23 [9:1]), which clearly sets the message of the poem in the context of the 8th century Assyrian crisis. The Assyrian conquests of 734-732 remain the primary focus throughout this section; however, as we have seen, the fall of the Northern Kingdom (722/721) and the devastating invasion of Judah (701) are also in view. The compilation of 6:1-9:6 as a whole almost certainly took place after 701.

There are certain textual questions in 8:23 which need to be addressed.

Isaiah 8:23a[Wum* can be derived from [ou (“fly, flutter”) or [ou (“be dark”); the former would indicate a negative situation (“there will be no flying/fluttering” [that is, release/escape, or perhaps poetically as “daybreak”]), the latter a positive one (“there will be no darkness”). The referent for the feminine suffix Hl* is unclear: it could refer to any of the feminine nouns in verse 22 (Jr#a# [“land”], hk*v@j& [“darkness”], or parallel hr*x*/hq*ox [“distress, oppression”]), or it could look forward to the “land” of 8:23b/9:1. The preposition could have the sense of “for her” or “from/by her”.

Isaiah 8:23b—Does /ovar!h* (“the head” [i.e. the first, former]) modify the prior common/feminine noun tu@ (i.e. “as at the first/former time, [when] he…”), or does refer to an implied (masculine) subject (i.e. “as at the time [when] the first/former one…”); this affects the parallelism with /orj&a^h* (“the following” [i.e. the later]): is it a former/later time or former/later person? The verbs llq and dbk (in the Hiphil) mean “make light” and “make heavy” respectively; the former can either have the sense of “treat with contempt/dishonor” or “lighten, make easier”, the latter “treat with honor” or “make heavier [i.e. more difficult]”. Then, is the parallelism synonymous or antithetical? In the historical context, how do these verbs relate to the territories of Zebulon, Naphtali, the Transjordan and Galilee?

These questions are important for establishing the basic context for the poetic oracle that follows. Compare the very different renderings of two modern critical commentaries (by J. J. M Roberts [Hermeneia, 2015, p. 144] and Joseph Blenkinsopp [Anchor Bible, 2000, p. 245-6]:

Roberts/Hermeneia

…Surely it will be without daybreak to the one distressed by it.

As at the former time he treated with contempt
<The Sharon and the land of Gilead,>
The land of Zebulon and the land of Naphtali,
So at the latter time he has honored the way of the sea,
Trans-jordan, Galilee of the nations.
The people who were walking in darkness
Have seen a great light…

Blenkinsopp/AB:

There is no gloom for her who is oppressed. At that time the earlier ruler treated with contempt the territory of Zebulon and Naphthali, and the later one oppressed the way of the sea, the land across the Jordan, Galilee of the nations. The people that walk in the dark Have seen a great light…

In my view, Roberts is correct in understanding a contrast between the verbs (in the Hiphil) ll^q* (“make light [of]”) and db^K* (“give weight [to]”), in the sense of “disregard” vs. “honor”, and that YHWH is the implied subject. In allowing the Assyrian conquests to take place, God was “making light of” Israel, but now He will “give weight to” (i.e., honor) her. Here is my translation of the verse:

“(It is) that (there is) no darkness (now) for (the one) whom (there had been) distress for her; as (in) the former time (when) He made light (of) the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, even (so in) the later (time) He has given weight (to the) way of the sea, (the land) across the Yarden, (and) Galîl of the nations.”

However, there is no contrast between the territories mentioned. All five designations refer equally to the Northern Kingdom, but the last three specifically refer to areas that were turned into Assyrian provinces after 732: D¥°ru (Dor, “the way of the sea”), Gal±azu (Gilead, “[the land] across the Jordan”), Magidû (Megiddo, “Galilee of the nations”); cf. Blenkinsopp, p. 247; Roberts, p. 147f. The implication is that God will restore honor to these territories, by restoring them within a united Israelite Kingdom, under the leadership of a new king in Judah/Jerusalem. This is the focus of the poem that follows.

There are fewer problems of interpretation in the poem proper, the stanzas of which can be outlined as follows:

    • V. 1: Light shines for those in darkness
    • V. 2: Joy will be increased, with two-fold motif: (a) harvest, (b) army dividing spoils
    • V. 3: Three connected symbols of oppression—yoke, cross-bar, and rod/whip—will be smashed
    • V. 4: The signs and remains of warfare and conquest (shoes, blood-caked garments) will be burned
    • V. 5: Announcement of the birth of a child (son), along with symbol(s) of government and (royal) titles
    • V. 6: A promise to establish/maintain the greatness and (eternal) rule of the Davidic kingdom

With regard to this poem, critical scholars have given various dates to it, ranging from Isaiah’s own time (c. 730-700 B.C.) down to the post-exilic period. An exilic or post-exilic date would make a Messianic orientation much more plausible, but I find little evidence in these verses for such a setting. The closer one comes to Isaiah’s own time, the much less likely a future (Messianic) interpretation would be as the primary sense of the passage. This is particularly true if we take seriously the overall context of Isa 6:1-9:6, which is set rather securely in the period c. 740-732 B.C.

Assuming this context still applies to 8:23, the regions mentioned (Zebulon, Naphtali, Transjordan [Gilead], Galilee and the northern coastal plain [“way of the sea”]) represent areas which suffered under Assyrian attack 734-732 B.C., and were effectively annexed to become Assyrian provinces (cf. above). The message of 9:1-6 is directed, in part, to the Northern kingdom (“the people who walk in darkness”)—there is no indication that Samaria has fallen completely yet. Of course, Assyria still threatened the Southern kingdom of Judah, and would launch a devastating attack some years later (this will become the central event of the remainder of the first half of the book [up to ch. 39]). Here God promises (expressed in the prophetic perfect: “he has increased joy”, “he has smashed”, etc.) to deliver Israel/Judah from her enemies, bringing a renewed period of peace and prosperity.

Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 60

Psalm 60

Dead Sea MSS: No surviving manuscripts.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Verse 3 [1]

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

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

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

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

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

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

Verse 4 [2]

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

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

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

Verse 5 [3]

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

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

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

Verse 6-7 [4-5]

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

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

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

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

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

Oracle:  Verses 8-11 [6-9]

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

Verse 8 [6]

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

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

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

Verse 9 [7]

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

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

Verse 10 [8]

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

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

Verse 11 [9]

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

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

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

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

Verse 12 [10]

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

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

Verse 13 [11]

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

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

Verse 14 [12]

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

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

References marked “Dahood, I” and “Dahood, II” above are to, respectively, Mitchell Dahood, S.J., Psalms I: 1-50, Anchor Bible [AB] vol. 16 (1965), and Psalms II: 51-100, vol. 17 (1968).
Those marked “Hossfeld-Zenger” are to Frank-Lothar Hossfeld and Erich Zenger, Psalms 2: A Commentary on Psalms 51-100, translated from the German by Linda M. Maloney, Hermeneia Commentary series (Fortress Press: 2005).

June 16: Acts 1:8 (continued)

Acts 1:8, continued

As we turn toward the Pentecost narrative in Acts, it is most useful to keep in mind the context and structure of the early chapters, which I outline as follows:

    1. Lukan Introduction (1:1-5)—a long, complex and difficult sentence (cf. Luke 1:1-4), which turns into an historical summary (vv. 2-4a) and concludes with a direct address of Jesus to his disciples (vv. 4b-5).
    2. The Ascension (1:6-11), comprising:
      (a) the question regarding the Kingdom and Jesus’ reply to his disciples(vv. 6-8),
      (b) the visible ascension with theophanic/apocalyptic imagery (v. 9),
      (c) appearance of the (Heavenly) men and their address to the disciples
    3. A summary narrative (1:12-14) recording the return of the disciples to Jerusalem, and their united presence in the Upper Room (the Twelve [minus Judas Iscariot], some women, Jesus’ mother Mary and his brothers). This summary parallels Luke 24:52-53, and is an important bridge between the Ascension and the following narrative.
    4. The Reconstitution of the Twelve (1:15-26)—two key parts, both of which act as seminal motifs for the remainder of the book:
      a) Peter’s speech (vv. 15-22)—the first of many such speeches in Acts, centering on quotation/interpretation of Scripture (a tradition regarding Judas Iscariot has been inserted parenthetically, vv. 18-19)
      b) The selection/commission of a disciple (Matthias) for (apostolic) ministry (vv. 23-26)
    5. The Pentecost Narrative (chapter 2)
      5a. Narrative of the coming of the Spirit (2:1-13: a detailed outline will be given in Part 2)
      5b. Peter’s Speech (2:14-40), again centered on quotation/interpretation of Scripture.
      5c. Historical/editorial summary (2:41-47).

This same structure will be carried out through much of Acts; for example, in the next two chapters:

    • Main historical narrative, including notable ministry work, miracles, etc. (“Acts”) of the Apostles (3:1-11; 4:1-22)
    • Speech (or intercourse), centered on a passage (or passages) of Scripture, and containing early Gospel proclamation (kerygma) (3:12-26; 4:23-30)
    • Historical/editorial summary (none in ch. 3; 4:31)

Let us consider the sections immediately surrounding the exchange between Jesus and his disciples in 1:6-8. We begin with the Lukan introduction (1:1-5); the historical summary (vv. 2-4a) has, at its heart, the double phrase:
oi!$ kai\ pare/sthsen e(auto\n zw=nta meta\ to\ paqei=n au)to\n e)n polloi=$ tekmhri/oi$,
di’ h(merw=n tessera/konta o)ptano/meno$ au)toi=$ kai\ le/gwn ta\ peri\ th=$ basilei/a$ tou= qeou=
“…and to whom [i.e. the disciples] he stood himself alongside [i.e. presented himself] alive after his suffering in many fixed marks [i.e. signs/proofs],
through forty days being seen by them and recounting/relating the (things) about the kingdom of God”
We can break down chiastically the elements of this phrase:

    • Living presence of God/Christ in his disciples
      [to whom he stood himself alongside alive…]
      • Demonstration that He is the Messiah and Son of the Living God
        […after his suffering in many fixed marks/signs]
      • Ministry and proclamation
        [through days being seen by them and recounting/relating…]
    • The Kingdom of God
      […the things about the Kingdom of God]

These are all seminal themes and motifs of the Book of Acts, and, one might say, form the core of the Gospel message. The narration continues in v. 4a and blends into an address (in direct speech) of Jesus to his disciples. Again note the key elements:

a. Stay in (do not depart from) Jerusalem (see Luke 24:52; Acts 1:12)
b. Remain about (i.e. wait) for the promise of the Father (Luke 24:49) which you have heard from me (see Acts 1:13-14, also Luke 24:53)
c. Reprise of John’s testimony:
“(On the one hand), John dipped/dunked in/with water, but (on the other hand), you will be dipped/dunked in the Holy Spirit after not many (of) these days”

The ascension of Jesus is narrated in vv. 9-11. We can see how vv. 6-8 fit into the immediate narrative structure:

    • Question regarding the Kingdom of God with Jesus’ reply, including a reiteration of the promise of the Holy Spirit (vv. 6-8)
      • The Ascension of Jesus (v. 9)
        • At their seeing/looking
          — He was raised up(on)
          — A cloud took him under
        • Away from their eyes
    • Angelic appearance and eschatological announcement about Christ’s return (vv. 10-11)

The theme of the Kingdom—shorthand for “Kingdom of God (or Heaven)”—is most significant; I will have discussed it in detail in an earlier article. Here is a summary outline of the four principal ways of understanding the phrase:

    1. As the Eternal rule of God (in Heaven)
    2. As an eschatological (Messianic) Kingdom, on earth, the establishment of which will involve:
      (a) judgment/defeat of the nations and enemies of God, and
      (b) restoration of the Davidic inheritance to Israel.
    3. In the person and work of Jesus—the miracles, teaching, foundation of the church, atoning death and resurrection, etc.
    4. As the (spiritual) presence and power of God in the heart, mind, and lives of believers.

Other interpretations are possible, but they likely will end up being a variation on one of the above. These four meanings can be found in the New Testament—even, I think, in Jesus’ own teaching on the Kingdom—but probably #1 and 4 are most common. The thorniest question scholars raise is to what extent #2 is part of Jesus’ teaching. It is likely that his proclamation “the Kingdom of God has come near” (Mark 1:15 par.) would have been understood in this manner—of eschatological/Messianic expectation—by his contemporaries; and this certainly seems to be what the disciples have in mind here at Acts 1:6.

Let us briefly examine the disciples’ question:

ku/rie, ei) e)n tw=| xronw=| tou/tw| a)pokaqista/nei$ th\n basilei/an tw=| )Israh/l;
“Lord, (if) in this time will you set down again the kingdom to Israel?”

A more literal rendering of a)pokaqisth/nai would indicate setting the Kingdom down from (a)po/) where it is currently, back to its former condition; conventionally, we could translate “reconstitute” or “restore”.

Jesus’ reply comes in two parts: first—

“It is not for you to know the times or seasons which the Father has set in (his) own e)cousi/a

e)cousi/a (from e&cestin), almost impossible to translate literally, has the sense of “ability” or “authority” to do something. Jesus effectively dispenses with their question, without necessarily denying its validity—however, the brusque response may suggest a misunderstanding on their part. Earlier it is stated that Jesus, during the days following his resurrection, related to his disciples “the things concerning the Kingdom of God” (v. 3). Almost certainly this involved more than the sort of eschatological Messianic kingdom (meaning #2 above) common in popular religious thought. Yet this is what they ask about here. If the first part of Jesus’ reply does away with their question, the second part, in some sense re-establishes it:

“But you shall receive (the) power of the holy Spirit (which is) coming upon you, and you shall be my witnesses (both) in Jerusalem, and [in] all Judea and Samaria, and unto the end of the earth.”

Indeed, I would maintain that the idea of the “restoration of the kingdom”, or, one may say, the “restoration of Israel” is an important idea both in Jesus’ teaching and in the book of Acts. Most importantly, Jesus effectively defines the Kingdom for his disciples as two-fold, according to two fundamental aspects:

    • The empowering presence of the Spirit (“you shall receive [the] power of the holy Spirit…”)
    • The proclamation of the Gospel (“you shall be my witnesses…”)

Thus, the missionary work of the early believers, following the coming of the Spirit upon them (2:1-4ff), represents the establishment of the Kingdom in this New Age (New Covenant) for the people of God. In this regard, it is worth considering the fascinating textual variant in the Lukan version of the Lord’s Prayer, the petition for the coming of the Kingdom (11:2, e)lqe/tw h( basilei/a sou, “my your kingdom come”). In several texual witnesses, this petition is replaced by a request for the coming of the Spirit. In minuscule MS 700, this reads: e)lqe/tw to\ pneu=ma sou to\ a%gion e)f’ h(ma=$ kai\ kaqrisa/tw h(ma=$ (“may your holy Spirit come upon us and cleanse us”). This will be discussed further in an upcoming note.

The two episodes that follow the Ascension, continue the development of this Kingdom-theme, preparing the ground for the Pentecost scene in chapter 2. First we have the transitional narrative summary in vv. 12-14; note the key motifs:

    • The disciples “return (or turn back) into Jerusalem”, v. 12. On the surface this is a simple description; however, consider the language in light of the implied motif of the “restoration” of Israel:
      a) The dispersed Israelites will return to the land, and to Jerusalem
      b) The restoration of Israel is often tied to repentance (turning back)
    • The Twelve disciples are gathered together in one place (upper room), v. 13. If the Twelve represent Israel (see below), then here we also have an image of the twelve tribes gathered together again.
    • The initial words of v. 14 contain a number of related, seminal motifs:
      • ou!toi (“these”—the twelve, along with the other disciples)
      • pa/nte$ (“all”—that is, all of them, together)
      • h@san proskarterou=nte$ (“were being strong” [sense of “endurance”, “patience”] “toward” their purpose/goal)
      • o(moqumado\n (“with one impulse”—a key phrase that occurs throughout Acts, cf. 2:46; 4:24, et al. qumo/$ is often translated as “soul”, “mind” [“with one mind”], but also as “passion”, “desire”; the primal sense of the word was something like a “[violent] stirring”)
      • th=| proseuxh=| (“in prayer”)

Does this not seem a beautiful, concise image of what one might call the “kingdom of God” on earth?

In vv. 15-26 we have a narrative episode that may be entitled “The Reconstitution of the Twelve.” Here it is important to emphasis again the theme of the Twelve. On purely objective grounds, the Twelve represent one of the earliest Christian traditions—a fixed tradition and symbol, separate, it would seem, from much of the actual historical detail. This appears clearly enough from passages such as 1 Cor. 15:5 and Matthew 19:28, where “the Twelve” are mentioned, even though only eleven disciples could be involved (Judas being dead or disqualified). Also, note the variant lists of the Twelve (Matt. 10:1-14; Mark 3:14-19; and Luke 6:13-16 / Acts 1:13). Most likely the Twelve were chosen (by Jesus) in part to represent the tribes of Israel. This is not stated directly, but note Matthew 19:28 (and the Lukan parallel 22:30) and the sending out of the Twelve in Matthew 10:5f. It is possible too, at least in early Christian tradition, that the twelve baskets in the miraculous feeding came to be thought of as symbolic of Israel re-gathered, as well as an image of Church unity (see Didache 9:4 on the Eucharist). In the book of Revelation 21:12-14, the twelve apostles are also identified in terms of the twelve tribes.

So here, in Acts, the choosing of a twelfth apostle, to take the place of Judas Iscariot, takes on great significance. According to the logic of the narrative, Israel (the Twelve tribes) cannot be restored until the Twelve are reconstituted. This may seem strange to modern thinking, but the symbolism was powerful indeed to early Christians, for whom Israel and “the Church” were closely connected.

At the close of the chapter, things are prepared for the coming of the Spirit upon the believers. The Twelve have been restored, the believers are all gathered together, in Jerusalem, in one place; and they are similarly united in spirit, being “of one impulse” (o(moqumado/n, i.e., “of one mind, with one purpose”), being especially united in prayer (cf. my recent study in the “Monday Notes on Prayer”). What follows in chapter 2 represents the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise in Acts 1:8 (also v. 4 and Lk 24:49). This we will examine in the next note.

Saturday Series: Acts 2:16-21 (Joel 2:28-32)

Acts 2:16-21 (Joel 2:28-32)

This week’s study, in celebration of Pentecost, will focus on the use of the Joel 2:28-32 (Heb 3:1-5a) oracle in the Pentecost sermon-speech by Peter (Acts 2:14-40). This is one of three Scriptures cited in the speech, and the second of two major citations (the other being Psalm 16:8-11) that anchor the speech and frame the kerygma (Gospel proclamation) in verses 22-24.

In examining the use of Joel 2:28-32 (both by Peter and by the author of Acts) several factors must be considered:

    1. The original context of the passage
    2. How this was applied to the early Christian context (of Peter’s speech), and
    3. How the author of Acts adapted the text to fit this application (at the literary level, within the narrative setting)

The first point will be discussed in this study; the second and third will be addressed in a follow-up study next week.

The original context of Joel 2:28-32

The work is comprised of four distinct oracles—1:2-20, 2:1-17, 2:18-32[3:5], and 3:1-21 [4:1-21]. The first two oracles focus on the coming invasion, with a call to repentance, and mourning in light of the destruction that this judgment will bring (as devastating to the people as a massive locust-attack on the crops). In the last two oracles, the focus shifts to the promise of restoration/renewal—the onset of a period of peace and prosperity—along with the ultimate judgment on the nations.

The dating of the book has varied considerably, and there continue to be differences of opinion among commentators. The (military) invasion by a foreign power (1:6ff), compared to a locust-attack (v. 4, cf. Judg 6:5; 7:12; Prov 30:27; Nah 3:15-16; Jer 46:23), would naturally focus the context on the campaigns and conquests of either the Assyrian or Babylonian forces. In the case of an invasion threatening Judah/Jerusalem, this would mean a time-frame corresponding to either 701 or 598/588 B.C., respectively. The apocalyptic and eschatological elements in the oracles of chapters 2 and 3 make a 6th century setting much more likely.

A basic outline of the book is as follows:

    • Joel 1:2-20: A lamentation for the land which has been desolated by a locust invasion (probably symbolic of a enemy military invasion)
    • Joel 2:1-11: Announcement to Judah/Jerusalem of an impending enemy invasion, with eschatological characteristics—it is God’s own judgment on the land, signifying the “day of YHWH” (verse 11)
      • Joel 2:12-17: A call to repentance for all the people in the land
    • Joel 2:18-27: A declaration that God will restore the fertility and bounty of the land, bringing blessing back to the people (described in material terms, as recovery from the locust attack)
    • Joel 2:28-32 [3:1-5 Heb]: A promise of spiritual blessing (i.e. the pouring out of God’s own Spirit) upon the all the people in the land—this will follow after the material blessing and restoration mentioned previously, and relates specifically to the survivors (i.e. the remnant) of the judgment (v. 32 [3:5]).
    • Joel 3:1-16 [4:1-16 Heb]: Announcement of God’s judgment on the Nations (following the restoration of Judah/Jerusalem, v. 1)—again this signifies the eschatological “day of YHWH” (v. 14, cf. 2:11).
      • Joel 3:17-21 [4:17-21 Heb]: The future fates of Judah/Jerusalem and the Nations are contrasted.

It could also be outlined more simply as:

    • 1:20-2:11—Judgment on Judah/Jerusalem (“day of YHWH”)
    • 2:18-32—Restoration and blessing (material and spiritual) for the survivors in Judah/Jerusalem
    • 3:1-16—Judgment on the Nations (“day of YHWH”), contrasted with the fate of (the restored) Judah/Jerusalem

Even though the context implies that the restoration indicated in 2:18-32 will be reasonably soon (not left for the indefinite future), it is not specified precisely when it will occur. Even today, there is a considerable divergence of views among commentators as to how such passages should be interpreted.

The oracles in 2:18-3:21 demonstrate a strong apocalyptic and eschatological emphasis, typical of a tendency that developed in the Prophetic writings of the exilic and post-exilic period. The trauma of the Exile (both for the northern and southern Kingdoms) led to this emphasis on a future hope—when Israel would be restored, and there would be a reversal of fortune, whereby the people of Israel would flourish in a ‘golden age’ of peace and prosperity, while the nations (collectively) would face judgment. Joel 3 is one of the few passages in the Old Testament—and perhaps the earliest of these—where the “day of YHWH” motif, and the nation-oracle message of judgment (against individual nations), was broadened to apply to all the nations together.

The oracle of 2:18-32 [Heb 2:18-3:5] itself can be divided into three parts:

    • Vv. 18-20—A promise of salvation, in terms of the defeat/removal of the invading forces (from the north)
    • Vv. 21-27—A time of peace and prosperity—especially in terms of the fertility and (agricultural) fruitfulness of the land
    • Vv. 28-32 [3:1-5]—The manifestation of YHWH’s presence among His people, as part of a powerful theophany that anticipates the judgment of the nations (chap. 3)

There is a similar sort of dual-aspect of Land/People in Isa 44:3 (which I discussed in a prior study):

    • Blessing on the landwater poured out on it, irrigating the fields and making them fertile again
    • Blessing on the people—the spirit poured out on them, stimulating the people and making them fertile (in a religious, ethical, and spiritual sense)

The second aspect—the pouring out of the spirit [rûaµ] of God—is expressed in vv. 28-29. What is especially notable, however, is the way that the idea of the spirit coming upon all the people is defined in such precise detail. Here is a translation of vv. 28-29 from the Hebrew (3:1-2):

“And it will be, following this, (that)
I will pour out my spirit [rûaµ] upon all flesh,
and your sons and daughters will act as n¹»î°,
and your older (one)s will dream dreams,
and your choice (young one)s will see visions;
and even upon the servants and upon the (serv)ing maids,
will I pour out my spirit in those days.”

The term n¹»î° is key, and has been left untranslated above. In the ancient Near Eastern religious setting, a n¹»î° was essentially a spokesperson for God—that is, one who communicates the word and will of God to the people. The term is translated in Greek as proph¢¡t¢s, and again into English as “prophet”. Such a person was chosen and gifted, by the Spirit of God, to function in that leadership role.

In ancient Israel, the ideal of charismatic, Spirit-empowered leadership very much dominated the early tradition. The people were governed by an inspired n¹»î° (or ‘prophet’), beginning with Moses and his successor Joshua, followed by the Judges and the great prophet-figure of Samuel. The early kingship (Saul and David) continued to exhibit this same charismatic-prophetic character, though gradually the prophetic role evolved into a separate office employed by the royal court. In any case, only certain individuals were chosen and gifted (by God) to serve as a genuine n¹»î°.

An important theme, found theme found at a number of points in the Prophetic writings reflects what we might call a ‘democratization’ of the ancient principle of spirit-inspired leadership. That is to say, the Spirit of God comes upon the land and its people as a whole, rather than on select individuals. This idea seems to have developed among the later Prophets, likely as a reaction (at least in part) to the trauma of the Exile. The collapse of the Israelite/Judean kingdoms, and the loss of the monarchy, left a void for the principle of spirit-inspired leadership. Two separate, distinct concepts took root during the exile, in response to this void.

On the one hand, the hope for a future ruler from the line of David, who would restore the fortunes of Israel, became an important component of Messianic thought; the roots of this tradition can be found in the exilic Prophetic writings of Jeremiah and Ezekiel. At the same time, an entirely different line of thought took shape—that of the anointed/inspired Community. Both of these lines of tradition coalesced in the Qumran Community, and, somewhat similarly, among the early Christians as well.

This ‘new’ manifestation of the Spirit can be seen, for example, in the Deutero-Isaian passage of Isa 44:1-5 (v. 3); other relevant passages can be found in Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Zechariah. In some respects, however, these Prophetic texts are simply drawing upon much earlier aspects of Israelite historical tradition. Consider the Moses tradition(s) in Numbers 11:10-30, which I examined in a prior study in the series “The Spirit of God in the Old Testament”. By all accounts, these have to be at least as old as the historical traditions in Judges and Samuel, with their striking record of the ancient principle of charismatic (spirit-inspired) leadership at work.

In the Numbers passage, the inspired status of Moses—as the spokesperson (n¹»î°) and intermediary between YHWH and the people—is broadened out to include 70 chosen/appointed elders (vv. 16-17ff). The wording to describe this process is most significant:

(YHWH speaking) “And I will lay aside (something) from (the) spirit [rûaµ] that is upon you, and I will set (it) upon them…”

When this occurs in the narrative (vv. 25ff), the 70 elders begin to “act as a n¹»î°” , just like Moses—i.e., they become active, inspired (prophetic) leaders, who communicate the word and will of God to the people. When Moses’ young attendant Joshua becomes alarmed at this, the great leader utters an extraordinary statement that broadens the prophetic/inspired gift even further:

“Who would (not) give (that) all (the) people of YHWH (would be) n®»î°îm, (and) that YHWH would give His spirit [rûaµ] upon them!” (v. 29)

Ideally, all the people would function as inspired leaders/spokespersons, gifted to know and understand the word and will of YHWH directly from Him. This doubtless relates to the broader tradition of Israel as a holy, chosen people, a nation made up entirely of anointed/inspired priests and kings, etc (Exod 19:6). The ideal could not be maintained initially, as reflected by the people’s response to hearing and experiencing the voice of God at Sinai (20:18-21). Moses came to be designated as the spokesperson (n¹»î°), and, similarly, certain individuals (and only they) were selected to function as priests.

In the time of Israel’s restoration, a new covenant will be established between God and His people (see Jeremiah 31:31-34, etc). It marks the beginning of a New Age, and oracles such as Joel 2:28-32 are thus eschatological, describing the things that will happen at the end of the current Age (judgment of the nations, etc) and the beginning of the new.

How does the reference to the Spirit in vv. 28-29 fit into this eschatological framework, in light of our discussion above? We may gain a better sense of this by considering the thematic structure of the oracle chiastically, as follows:

    • Promise of salvation for the land and its people (vv. 18-20)
      • God’s presence brings life and blessing to the land of Israel (vv. 21-26)
        • He dwells in the midst of His people (v. 27)
        • He pours His Spirit on all the people (vv. 28-29)
      • God’s presence brings judgment to the earth and its nations (vv. 30-31)
    • Promise of salvation for Jerusalem (Zion) and its people (v. 32)

The spirit (rûaµ) of YHWH essentially refers to His presence, reflecting a manner of expression well-established in Old Testament tradition, going back to the Creation narratives. Thus the “pouring out” of His Spirit is a symbolic expression related to the presence of YHWH among His people. The era of the restored Israel essentially marks a return to the initial moment of the Sinai theophany, when the people collectively stood in God’s presence, prior to the designation of Moses as the spokesperson (n¹»î°) who would stand in their place (Exod 20:18-21). Now all the people are such spokespersons or ‘prophets’ (n®»î°îm), no longer requiring any select individual to serve as intermediary. Now the entire Community is inspired, with the Spirit coming upon them even as it once did the king (at his anointing), or upon the person gifted to function as a n¹»î°.

With this background of Joel 2:28-32 in view—especially the eschatological aspect of the promise of God’s Spirit (the prophetic Spirit) coming upon all of the people—we may now turn to the application this prophecy in the book of Acts. This we will do in next week’s study.