Category Archives: New Testament

Very Bloody Sacrifices

altarstoke

Recently, I had an email back-and-forth with my friend who was wondering about the bloody nature of Old Testament sacrifice.

The conversation begins with his inquiry:

I’ve been trying to learn details of how OT Temple sacrifices were actually done. I’ve found articles that distinguish the different types of sacrifices and describe what they are but nothing that gives a concrete picture of how they were done. On the principle that God taught the Jews how to offer sacrifice so they would be prepared to understand Jesus’ sacrifice of himself to atone for sin I’d like to learn more about what a First Century Jew would have seen and experienced at the Temple.

For example, commentaries and articles explain that a holocaust sacrifice meant burning up the animal completely. How did they actually burn up a full-grown bull completely? Seems like it would take a very large fire and take hours to fully reduce the carcass to ashes. If they offered ten bulls and 50 goats as a holocaust how did they do it? Seems like it would take all day and use a lot of wood. (The Romans are usually blamed for the deforestation of the region around Jerusalem. Was it actually the priests?)

Communion or peace sacrifices involved giving some of the meat of the animal to the worshipper that provided the animal to be eaten as a sacred meal. How was that done? Did the priest butcher the animal on the Temple Mount in front of the people, skin the animal and then carve it up into various pieces some of which were given to the worshipper to cook and eat. Where did the worshipper who brought a sheep from Nazareth go to cook and eat his part of the animal. Was eating their share of the animal a festive meal like Christmas dinner or a religious rite like the Passover?

If the apostles had understood what Jesus foretold they would have expected that Jesus was going to be the sacrificial victim to atone for the sins of the world and that they would eat of his flesh and drink his blood just as one did with temple sacrifices. What images and experiences would have been in their minds? When they later realized the full truth of what Jesus did and what it meant to eat his body and drink his blood how would that have affected them given their long exposure to Temple sacrifice?

Are there any books I could read on the subject? Any good articles or lectures?

My initial response, I’ll admit, did not answer every question, but here it is:

Your question is very important, and, unfortunately understudied. My sense is that Protestants, who make up the bulk of biblical scholars, care little for questions of liturgical procedure. These minutia are more interesting to Catholics, Mormons and Jews. One other problem is that many biblical scholars regard the ritual texts of the OT as mere fantasy and believe that they do not describe a real cult that actually existed.

A handful of scholars address the questions:

  • Haran, M. 1978. Temples and Temple-Service in Ancient Israel. Oxford. (very expensive! A collection of the author’s earlier articles)
  • Jacob Milgrom –  a Jewish scholar who wrote multiple commentaries on Leviticus
  • Jonathan Greer – an evangelical biblical archaeologist – https://www.cornerstone.edu/staff/jonathan-greer/
  • Gary Anderson (at Notre Dame) has written quite a bit about OT sacrifice.
  • G.K. Beale, The Temple and the Church’s Mission: A Biblical Theology of the Dwelling Place of God (an evangelical NT scholar, focuses on temple symbolism)
  • You might check out the work of the evangelical Leviticus scholar, Jay Sklar
  • Also of interest might be The Great High Priest: The Temple Roots of Christian Liturgy by Margaret Barker.

Since the biblical texts are not specific enough, it only later in the Qumran material (Jubilees, Temple Scroll) and the rabbinic sources (esp. fifth division of the Mishnah, Kodashim: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kodashim ; Available at Sefaria – https://www.sefaria.org/Mishnah_Zevachim.1?lang=bi ) that the details of the ceremonies are fleshed out. Again, for the rabbinic material, most scholars regard their comments as recalling an imagined past rather than actually describing real rituals. For some of that critique, turn here: https://www.amazon.com/Memory-Temple-Making-Rabbis-Divinations/dp/0812244575

The classic text that tries to answer your questions is Alfred Edersheim’s The Temple—Its Ministry and Services (https://www.ccel.org/ccel/edersheim/temple.html ), but his work in general has been rejected as being uncritically and sometimes inaccurately reliant on rabbinic sources. However, he might be one of the best biblical scholar-authors at inspiring the imagination and filling out the picture.

My conversation partner later supplied a great quote about bloody sacrifice in the time of Julian the Apostate, which illustrates the gruesome nature of sacrifices:

Ammianus writes that “he drenched the altars with the blood of too great a number of victims, at time sacrificing a hundred bulls at once . . . he was called a slaughterer rather than a priest by many . . . and though he took offense at this, he controlled his feelings and continued to celebrate the festivals.”  Yet even despite such a spectacle as this, the ordinary people stayed home. “In the temples, after he had spent a long time with his tunic tucked up and sweating like a slave at quartering his victims, he would suddenly realize that almost all the spectators had quietly walked away.”  (Bennett, Rod. The Apostasy That Wasn’t: The Extraordinary Story of the Unbreakable Early Church (Kindle Locations 3670-3674). Catholic Answers Press. Kindle Edition.)

I was able to offer up a few things in response:

  1. That many scholars believe the Temple in Jerusalem had a drainage system to evacuate all the animal blood from the sanctuary
  2. That you can actually find a handful of videos of Jewish (and Samaritan) animal sacrifice on YouTube:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5kgbRusmqjshttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G-KPnmSj_TA

Conclusion

Here are a handful of takeaways from this wide-ranging conversation worth thinking about:

  • Old Covenant animal sacrifice was technical and bloody. To perform it properly involved a lot of logistical challenges like large amounts of fire wood, sufficient numbers of priests, caring for animals before they were sacrificed and disposing of their blood and remains properly.
  • Early Christian perceptions of Jesus as sacrificial lamb would be shaped by Jewish experience of animal sacrifice at the Temple. The shocking, violent nature of his death could be interpreted in light of the public slaughter and sacrifice of animals at the Temple.
  • While many scholars disregard the OT sacrificial cult as a fantasy or as unimportant, a serious consideration of its technical execution can help bring together insights from archaeology (as in the work of Jonathan Greer), liturgy and biblical theology. In fact, recently NT scholars have started to see “cultic language” all over the New Testament literature, emphasizing the centrality of Temple-worship in the consciousness of the earliest Christians.
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Ephesians 5:19 – Silent Songs?

singing1

When reading Paul’s encouragements to come together for prayer, you might expect him to recommend speaking aloud. Yet if you read the King James Version or the New American Bible, you would be envisioning something different, a silent experience of communal heart-song. With translation, as always, the devil is in the details, so let’s take a look at them.

The Greek says:

λαλοῦντες ἑαυτοῖς [ἐν] ψαλμοῖς καὶ ὕμνοις καὶ ᾠδαῖς πνευματικαῖς, ᾄδοντες καὶ ψάλλοντες τῇ καρδίᾳ ὑμῶν τῷ κυρίῳ, (Eph 5:19)

I’ve bolded the relevant “te kardia” which is translated differently by different translators. Here are the seemingly silent versions:

Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord; (Eph 5:19 KJV)
Speaking to yourselves in psalms, and hymns, and spiritual canticles, singing and making melody in your hearts to the Lord; (Eph 5:19 DRA)
addressing one another (in) psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and playing to the Lord in your hearts, (Eph 5:19 NAB)
Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, (Eph 5:19 NIV)
speaking to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing and making music in your hearts to the Lord, (Eph 5:19 NET)

The last time I checked, when you speak or sing “in your heart,” it’s a silent activity. You’ll also notice in the older KJV and DRA that one could take the English “speaking to yourselves” as reflexive and singular, as in “I was talking to myself.” Now both of these concepts are possible: te kardia can mean “in your heart” and heautois can mean “yourselves” in a reflexive way. Yet it seems highly unlikely that Paul would summon the Christian community to speak, sing and make melody in a completely silent fashion, as if we all came together only to inaudibly hum to ourselves. To back me up, I’ll quote Muddiman’s commentary here:

“If pressed, a true reflexive would mean ‘speaking to yourselves’ and the maxim would then be recommending inward praise during the daily life of believers (as, probably, 1 Thess. 5:16f. and Phil. 4:4–6). But the larger context implies corporate worship and interaction with other Christians (and this must be the sense at Col. 3:16, with its ‘teaching and admonishing each other’).” Muddiman, J. (2001). The Epistle to the Ephesians (p. 248). London: Continuum.

Beyond this point, it is important to note that Paul’s conception of the Christian community as the body of Christ (e.g. 1 Cor 12) would cause him to talk about it as a communal entity. That means, when one members speaks to another member, it would really be the “body” talking to itself. Thus he uses the reflexive heautois and not the expected reciprocal pronoun allelon.

Translations with Audible Singing

Some of the more recent translations do a better job here:

addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart, (Eph 5:19 RSV)
addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, (Eph 5:19 ESV)
speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; (Eph 5:19 NASB)

If you read the RSV, ESV or NASB, you might decide to speak up in church—that is, here Paul recommends speaking, singing and making melody “with your heart” rather than simply “in your heart.” Similarly, the UBS Translation Handbook expresses the confusing array of translations and simply throws up its literary hands:

What follows in Greek is simply “in your heart,” which TEV understands to mean with praise in your hearts. But some translate “in your hearts” (NEB, TNT, NIV, JB), which can only mean inaudible singing; so Westcott: “the outward music was to be accompanied by the inner music of the heart.” But it seems difficult to believe that the writer was telling them to have the strains and choruses of songs and psalms running through their minds. Others translate “from the heart,” “heartily,” “with all your hearts” (Brc, Mft, Gdsp, and others). Abbott, however, notes that the normal way to say this is “from the heart” (see the synonymous “from the soul” in verse 6:6). TEV understands the Greek phrase here to mean “with praise in your heart,” but it may be preferable to take the phrase to mean “with all your heart” (RSV), that is, heartily, enthusiastically. (Bratcher, R. G., & Nida, E. A. [1993]. A handbook on Paul’s letter to the Ephesians [p. 136]. New York: United Bible Societies.)

Paul could either be recommending silent but quasi-musical praise of God in your mind or active, out-loud, enthusiastic, musical praise of God with your mouth and vocal chords. That’s a big difference! But what does that difference depend on?

The Dative Difference

The way we translate either “in” or “with” in this case zeroes on the usage of the dative case. (Definition from Robertson’s grammar: “The dative is the case of personal interest [denoting advantage or disadvantage], corresponding to the English to or for, or indirect object.”) In this particular case we are dealing with the fine distinction between the “dative of manner” and the “dative of means/instrument” (using Daniel Wallace’s categories). The dative of manner describes the way in which an action is performed—as in “whether in pretense or in truth” in Phil 1:18. The dative of means/instrument, however, describes the instrument through which the action of the verb is performed—as in “she wiped his feet with her hair” (John 11:2). I would argue that here in Ephesians 5:19, we are not looking at a dative of manner, where all the singing words are internal and trapped in your heart. Rather, Paul is looking at the heart as a musical instrument of sorts, through which all songs and hymns must go in order to come out of our mouths. This usage would be a dative of means/instrument. He is not envisioning a crowd of Christians speaking to themselves quietly and humming tunes soundlessly, but of Christians gathered together and speaking and singing out loud. So next time you come together with other Christians for worship, make sure to open your mouth and sing!

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The “Finger of God” in the Bible

The “finger of God” in Exodus

The first time the “finger of God” appears is during the plagues of Egypt, specifically during the plague of gnats. Pharaoh’s magicians are frustrated in their attempts to produce gnats by their magical arts and tell Pharaoh: “This is the finger of God” (Exod 8:19). Of course, he does not believe them and continues in his famous obstinance. But the point is, in this instance it seems that “finger” means power. I’ll quote the UBS Handbook on Exodus on this point:

This is the finger of God is a literal translation. The expression finger of God, however, is usually understood to mean the power of God in the same way that “hand of God” is often used (for example, 3:20; 7:4; 9:5). This type of figure of speech is known as “synecdoche,” meaning that a part represents the whole, a finger or hand here representing the full power or the full person. And so this may be translated dynamically as “This is the power of God,” “This is an act of God,” “God has done this” (8:19 TEV), or “God has shown his power by doing this” (N. D. Osborn & H. A. Hatton, A Handbook on Exodus, [New York: United Bible Societies, 1999] p. 188).fingerofgod (Small)

Ok, while the UBS Handbook goes on to discuss other possibilities, for example, that the magicians identified Aaron’s staff as the “finger of God,” here the idea of finger=power seems to work just fine. So far, there is no distinctions between “finger” and “hand” as far as denoting abstract ideas.

Yet if we jump ahead just a bit to Exodus 31:18, then we see that the stone tablets of the Ten Commandments are “written with the finger of God.” Here, rather than indicating raw power, the “finger” is connected with the activity of writing. The same idea reappears in a parallel discussion of the tablets in Deut 9:10.

 

Later in the Old Testament

While the largest share of the “finger” references in the Old Testament have to do with blood manipulations rituals in Leviticus, God’s “fingers” reappear in Psalm 8:3

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars, which you have set in place

Here, one could equate “finger” with power, but I think it would be better to go with the poet and see God as setting the various heavenly bodies in the canopy of heaven, almost like one decorating for a party. The psalmist is not describing God’s capability to create, but his artistry, his dexterity, if you will.

(While not divine fingers themselves, Isaiah criticizes those who bow down to idols made with their own fingers [Isa 2:8, 17:8].)

The next, and I think most telling, example comes from Daniel, where the “fingers of a human hand” (Dan 5:5) appear and write a terrifying inscription on the wall of the palaWriting-on-the-groundce during King Belshazzar’s sacrilegious romp, where he and his frat buddies are drinking wine from the sacred vessels of the Temple. This divine hand writes out a death sentence for Belshazzar: MENE, MENE, TEKEL, PARSIN (v. 25). Here, clearly, the fingers of God are connected with the concept of writing, as they were in Exodus 31 and the stone tablets.

 

New Testament Fingers of God

Jesus uses his fingers to cure a deaf man (Mark 7:33), which seems to indicate they have to do with power. In addition, he refers to how “it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons,” (Luke 11:20). Here, we could easily equate finger and power: “it is by the power of God…” Yet, I think there might be one slightly hidden example in John 8:6, where Jesus writes “with his finger on the ground.” It is during the scene where an anger mob is trying to stone a woman caught in adultery and get Jesus to sanction their action. He instead writes on the ground. If the writing is anything like stone tablets or even worse, the cryptic phrase on Belshazzar’s wall, Jesus could be writing the condemnation of the woman’s accusers in the dirt.

 

In sum, when the “finger” of God appears in the Bible, as opposed to his “hand” or “arm,” it seems to indicate the writing of God and therefore his intentions—whether in law, creation or judgment. Jesus exemplifies this meaning when he writes with his finger in the dirt, perhaps listing off the sins of his opponents.

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Seasoned with Salt

I like to season my salads with salt, but the Bible has different ideas. I came across an odd connection here that I thought I’d share with you. St. Paul says:saltysalt

Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer every one. (Col 4:6 RSV)

It is kind of a weird idea. I mean, how do you put salt on your speech? And if you could, what would that even mean? I know Jesus tells us “you are the salt of the earth” (Matt 5:13). He seems to mean that believers, disciples, make the world tasty to God. That is, the followers of Jesus enhance the world, make it better, spread the tastiness of the gospel and shed light through their preaching. Even then, he warns that salt can lose its flavor and be good for nothing (Mark 9:50||Luke 14:34). In both cases, Jesus and Paul, salt indicates the relation of the believer with the world–enhancing one’s conversation with the world or enhancing the world as a whole.

Yet the connection I found was more textual. Only one other place in the Bible does the phrase “seasoned with salt” appear. Here:

and make an incense blended as by the perfumer, seasoned with salt, pure and holy; (Exo 30:35 RSV)

It’s part of one of the few recipes in the Bible. This recipe is for the incense which will be used in the tabernacle and temple sanctuary. If Paul is alluding back to this Exodus recipe, what could he mean? Is he highlighting the sacred nature of Christian speech, that conversation with unbelievers takes on an almost prayerful/worshipful aspect, so much so as being similar to the holy incense offered in the temple?

frankincenseSome offerings are also seasoned with salt (Lev 2:13) and the Lord even makes a “covenant of salt” (Num 18:19), but I think the main thrust in Paul here links up nicely with Exodus 30:35. Strangely, the Hebrew alone preserves the idea that Paul references. The Hebrew has memulach, which is a pual participle meaning “seasoned with salt.” This is rendered in LXX as memigmenon, which simply means “mixed.” Paul’s phrasing in Colossians 4:6 is halati ertumenos, which clearly relies on the Hebrew, not the Greek. The participle here is from artuo, which means “to make salty” and halati means “with salt.” So we could translate Paul’s phrase as “to make salty with salt.” (One could easily think up some late nineties references here.)

I think the point of Paul’s encouragement is relatively simple: that our spoken words be kind and Christlike, “in grace” and not in malice. The connection with incense highlights the holiness, purity and God-directedness of our speech, but the connection with Jesus’ salt sayings, like “have salt in yourselves” (Luke 14:34), emphasizes the good effects our salty words can have in the world around us.

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Withered Hands

Thanks to a student of mine, I just noticed something I never had before. Let’s take it step-by-step. First, there’s the rather odd self-deprecatory statement in Psalm:

 If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand wither! (Psa 137:5 RSV)

It is the mournful sentiment of the exile, away from the Land, looking back on Jerusalem, hoping for the day of return. The day of return is delayed again and again. Even when the people do return from exile, there is a sense that have not really returned. They long for a new exodus to really bring them back. So, when Jesus shows up and starts performing miracles, one of the very first miracles he performs is to restore a man’s withered hand:

Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there with a withered hand. 2 And they watched Jesus, to see whether he would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse him. 3 And he said to the man with the withered hand, “Come here.” 4 And he said to them, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. 5 And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. 6 The Pharisees went out and immediately held counsel with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him. (Mark 3:1 ESV)

Maybe what we’re looking at here is that the man with the withered hand represents the whole people who truly have “forgotten Jerusalem.” They have not recognized the “time of their visitation” (see Luke 19:44). By restoring the man’s withered hand, Jesus shows how he will completely heal the people. Though they have forgotten him and the place of his dwelling (the Temple), God has not forgotten them, but will bring them to restoration. The man’s withered hand represents the fact that the self-deprecatory oaths that the exiles took have come home to haunt them. They have actually received the due punishment, but God will reach out to heal them and bring them back. Jesus will lead them on a new exodus and their self-cursed bodies will receive healing.

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Faith with Swagger

April 26, 2015

Fourth Sunday of Easter
First Reading: Acts 4:8-12
http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/042615.cfm

 

Thank goodness, most of the time we Christians are not on trial. I suppose life can be an ongoing trial and we are tested daily by temptation, but rarely do we actually get dragged before a court of hostile judges who ask probing questions about our faith. It might be worth putting ourselves in the apostles’ shoes, er, sandals, to figure out how we would respond in that moment of true examination.

A Controversial Healing

This Sunday’s first reading picks up where we left off in the story of Acts. In chapter 3, Peter and John heal a man lame from birth in the name of Jesus. Afterwards, Peter gives a speech to the astounded witnesses of the miracle. What always gets me about this healing is that the lame man had been lying there all throughout the ministry of Jesus and yet had never received a healing. He might have witnessed Jesus healing others, but he kept lying there in his disabled state. Yet God picked the right moment for his healing and it was to be at the hands of the apostles. Most sermons end with the preacher sitting back down, but Peter’s incites the “priests and the captain of the temple and the Sadducees” to come and arrest him and John (Acts 4:1).

Tension in the Air

You always know that a homily was worth listening to when the priest is arrested by the authorities at the end of it. However, you would think that healing a lame man would be a universally praiseworthy happening. Everyone should be happy about it, even the Jewish authorities. But the problem is what happened at the recent holiday gathering at Jerusalem—the chief priests, the Sanhedrin, had put Jesus on trial, accused him before Pilate, and brought about his crucifixion. Now that exact same group of Jewish leaders are after Peter and John, two of Jesus’ chief followers.

 

On Trial Before the Judges of Jesus

Jesus was tried first by Annas, the former high priest who was father-in-law to the current high priest, Caiaphas. (Before and after Caiaphas, five of Annas’ sons also served as high priest.) Then Jesus was tried before Caiaphas and the whole Sanhedrin. When Peter and John are brought before the Sanhedrin, Annas and Caiaphas are there at the head of the judicial body. This group of mostly Sadducee leaders had given a death sentence to Jesus and leveraged their political influence with Pilate to see it through. At that time, John had snuck into Caiaphas’ house to watch the trial, while Peter skulked outside and infamously denied Jesus three times.

 

Holy Spirit Boldness

However, this time is different. Instead of hiding, sneaking, and denying, Peter stands up with boldness before the Sanhedrin and speaks in the power of the Holy Spirit. This moment fulfills what Jesus had taught the disciples about persecution:

And when they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not be anxious how or what you are to answer or what you are to say; for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say. (Luke 12:11-12 RSV)

The Sanhedrin is worried that the Christian “virus” is going to infect the people. In fact, Acts 4:4 tells us that by this point the number of Christians had grown to five thousand, up from three thousand at Pentecost (Acts 2:41). But there is also perhaps a twinge of regret in the question they ask, “By what power or by what name did you do this?” (Acts 4:7 RSV) They don’t directly attack the apostles for healing a lame man, unlike the unrelenting assault on Jesus for healing on the Sabbath, but they do want to know how the apostles have authority to heal. Whether the question is sincere or not does not matter too much, but Peter’s response does.

Being “Saved”

Peter puts the problem starkly, “we are being examined today about a good deed done to a cripple, namely, by what means he was saved” (Act 4:9 NAB). Rather than objecting to the inquiry, he declares “that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, by him this man is standing before you well” (4:10 RSV). Peter uses the same terminology for healing that Jesus does when he tells people he heals, “your faith has saved you” (Luke 7:50; Mark 5:34; Matt 9:22, etc.). This matches the idea of “salvation” just a couple verses later in Acts 4:12. Salvation here in the primary sense is physical healing, which can be expanded to indicate eternal salvation. Peter’s praise report about the man’s Jesus-centered healing also includes an indictment. He accuses the Sanhedrin of crucifying Jesus.

 

Quoting a Psalm

Peter quotes Psalm 118, a messianic psalm that had come up in Jesus’ ministry. When Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a donkey, the people sing Psalm 118:26 “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” Later, when Jesus is teaching in the Temple, he quotes an earlier verse, Ps 118:22,

17 But he looked at them and said, “What then is this that is written: `The very stone which the builders rejected has become the head of the corner’? 18 Every one who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces; but when it falls on any one it will crush him.” 19 The scribes and the chief priests tried to lay hands on him at that very hour, but they feared the people; for they perceived that he had told this parable against them. (Luk 20:17-19 RSV)

Jesus had just told the Parable of the Wicked Tenants and the Sanhedrin members realize he is accusing them. Peter, before the Sanhedrin, likewise accuses them of being the imprudent builders who reject the most important stone. Not only is the Psalm Messiah-focused, but it also hints at resurrection: I shall not die, but I shall live, and recount the deeds of the LORD” (Ps 118:17 RSV). Peter points to Jesus as the fulfillment of Psalm 118 and challenges the Sanhedrin for missing the Messiah’s moment and actually bringing about his death.

The bold speech of Peter and John impresses the Sanhedrin and silences them (Acts 4:14). Those who had so virulently accused Jesus while he stood silent are now themselves silenced when listening the proclamation of the gospel of his resurrection. The formerly timid disciples are now proud to identify themselves as Jesus’ followers. While we might not have the opportunity to be put on trial for our faith in such an open and public way, we can learn from the apostles’ attitude. Their faith comes with some swagger, Holy-Spirit-empowered confidence to preach the death-defeating, life-giving message of Jesus. After all, there is no other name…

 

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Akeldama – Aramaic in the New Testament (Post #6)

Over time, I’ve been doing a little series of posts on Aramaic in the New Testament. This is the sixth post.

This week, I came across an Aramaic term that I just couldn’t pass up. In Acts 1, we get a rather gruesome description of Judas’ suicide after his betrayal of Jesus. We’re told that the horrific hanging happened in a particular places called “Akeldama.” Here’s the passage:

18 (Now this man bought a field with the reward of his wickedness; and falling headlong he burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out.
19 And it became known to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that the field was called in their language Akeldama, that is, Field of Blood.) (Act 1:18-19 RSV)

Note on the Location

You can go look up the location, but basically it was and is a field of red clay dirt that was used by artisans in antiquity as a natural resource for making clay pots. In Matthew 27, 7, 10, the place is referred to as the “Potter’s Field” (Greek: τὸν ἀγρὸν τοῦ κεραμέως), hence the notion that the clay dirt was used for making clay pots. When it is called “field of blood” in Acts 1, the origin of the term might not be Judas’ suicide, but rather the red color of the dirt. The other thing to say is that Matthew and Acts differ on who purchased the field. In Acts, Judas bought the field, but in Matthew 27:7, the priests who paid Judas to betray Jesus bought the field to bury him. Either way, the location is still around and orthodox Christians have built a monastery on the place creatively nicknamed “Aceldama Monastery.” The field has also been used as a burial place.

Note on the Aramaic Word “Akeldama”

Simply, the word Akeldama transliterates the Greek “Ἁκελδαμάχ” (transliterated more precisely, Hakeldamach, note the appropriate rough breathing) which transliterates a combination of two Aramaic words: חֲקָל דְּמָא (chaqal dema). Some Greek manuscripts have a better spelling: Ἁκελδαμά (Act 1:19). Oddly, the English eliminates the Greek rough breathing which aims to transliterate the consonant chet. The word, dema or dma, means “blood” and appears many times in various combinations in Aramaic texts, as listed in the online Comprehensive Aramaic Lexicon. Here is the entry from Jastrow’s dictionary:

dma_Jastrow

 

So the word, dam or dema, normally means blood, but can also refer to other fluids. The other word is chaqal, which means field. Again, CAL has a great listing and here’s Jastrow:

chaqal_Jastrow

The word “Akeldama” represents then, the construct chain חֲקָל דְּמָא (chaqal dema). In which the first word, chaqal  is masculine singular construct and dema is masculine singular emphatic. The construct chain is definite since it is a proper noun–like “the king of Persia” in Ezra 4:24–hence “the Field of (the) Blood” is the best translation. Note that Luke refers to “their own dialect” (ta idia dialekto auton), which indicates both he and his intended reader, Theophilus, are not part of the group of native Aramaic speakers, but native Greek speakers.

Conclusion

I suppose there’s no rocket science involved in explaining Akeldama. I think the only thing to say is that the English could do a better job transliterating it – perhaps as Halkeldema. The word simply means what Luke says it means “field of blood.”

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Is Christ All? How to Translate Colossians 3:11

Colossians 3:11 gives us one of Paul’s lists of formerly-significant people boundaries to indicate that now in Christ, we are all one and these boundaries no longer matter. The text reads:

 Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all. (Col 3:11 ESV)

ὅπου οὐκ ἔνι Ἕλλην καὶ Ἰουδαῖος, περιτομὴ καὶ ἀκροβυστία, βάρβαρος, Σκύθης, δοῦλος, ἐλεύθερος, ἀλλὰ [τὰ] πάντα καὶ ἐν πᾶσιν Χριστός.

Unfortunately, the very last part of the verse always sounds weird. I mean, “Christ is all”–what does that mean? The translations do not deviate much from this line. I’m sure that lots of translators have toiled over this verse, so I don’t mean to scoff at their hard work or claim any sort of omniscience. I merely want to make a suggestion. The copula, the verb of being, is absent in the Greek and therefore always inserted in the translations. Latin can follow the Greek without an “is”: “…sed omnia et in omnibus Christus.” If all I had was that snippet and no context, I’d be very tempted to translate either the Latin or Greek as “…but all and in all, Christ” or “…but all and Christ in all.” So, why not translate the verse that way?

To me it seems that list of divisions Paul rattles off between Greek and Jew, slave and free and so one simply terminates at panta, all. Let’s try another sentence with the same structure to see if this could work: “Here there is no longer short and tall, big and small, serious and silly, but everybody and in everybody is ice cream.” Doesn’t it seem that the final term in my list, everybody, could function as the terminus of the list rather than as a predicate nominative of “ice cream”? “Everybody is ice cream” sounds strange.

To me it seems that the drive to translate our phrase as “Christ is all and in all” comes from the context and the idea of putting on Christ and especially “Christ who is your life” in verse 4. But it really seems like an unnecessary stretch. Why does the adversative, alla, but, have to create a new independent clause, couldn’t it just be Paul’s way of punctuating the turning point in the comparison?: Before, we had all kinds of divisions that divided us, but now we are one. Lastly again, it comes back to trying to make sense of the “Christ is all” statement. What does that even mean? Paul is certainly not pantheist or something, so what could such a statement convey, that every Christian is in some mysterious way, Christ?? I’d prefer that Paul is simply saying in Christ, the divisions fall away and only “all/everybody” is left and in everybody dwells Christ. That seems to fit the grammatical demands and Paul’s theology. Inserting an “is” to me seems an overly creative translation twist.

(Of course, perhaps I’m overlooking something important, so please comment if you can explain why “Christ is all” is the best translation here.)

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Does Lust Need a Purpose?

Aramaic in the New Testament (Post #5)

 

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Matthew 5:28 records Jesus’ famous saying about the sinfulness of lust. Often it sounds like you can seriously sin by accident. Usually, the translation sounds something like this:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you, everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matt 5:27-28 NAB)

Greek Background

However, a closer inspection of the Greek and the various translations reveals a difficulty. The Greek does not say “look at a woman with lust.” Rather, it says “…look at a woman in order to lust [after her]” or “…look at a woman for the purpose of lust.” In Greek grammar, this is what we call a purpose clause, indicated by the short words, pros to, plus an infinitive in the Greek. A good example is in Ephesians 6:11 – “Put on the full armor of God in order that you may be able to stand against the scheming of the devil” (my trans.).

Aramaic Background

Recent grammarians have, however, relied on a hypothetical Aramaic background to this Greek saying. Rather than translating the phrase as a purpose clause, they have looked to a possible Aramaic construction, where the pros to represents an Aramaic lamed, a letter that functions as a particle indicating one of any number of things: a genitive relationship, direct object, indirect object, ethical dative, purpose, direction (See Alger Johns, A Short Grammar of Biblical Aramaic, p. 11). Fr. Maximilian Zerwick explains the supposed Aramaic background of pros to in his Biblical Greek:

“Indeed the sense need not even be consecutive; in the passage in question [Matt 5:28] one would expect the sense ‘with concupiscence’ simply, and this may in fact be the sense intended, if the προσ το [pros to] can be understood as a servile rendering of a Semitic (Hebrew or Aramaic) le + infinitive which, though of it means ‘to(wards)…’ and so has final or consecutive sense, may also be used without any such connotation and simply with the sense ‘…-ing.’ (p. 135, sec. 391)

Notably, Fr. Zerwick relies a lot on what “one would expect.” The difference between the two translation options might seem inconsequential, but I think there’s an significant theological principle at stake.

Theology of Intention

What’s important here from a moral theology perspective is intention. When this passage is translated based on a hypothetical Aramaic reconstruction, rather than on the actual Greek text, it sounds as if one can seriously sin by accident. The typical translation weakens the intentionality of the act being indicated by the Greek grammar, making lust sound like an almost unintentional part of “looking” since “with lust” (or in RSV “lustfully”) merely functions as an adverb modifying the verb “to look.” But if it is translated as a purpose clause, which follows the Greek grammar most closely, then the teaching indicates that a moral intention must be involved—a decision to look for the purpose of lust or in order to lust.

A Better Translation?

And, if you really want to consider the Aramaic background, the le particle also works to indicate purpose, as I listed out above. So you can have your Aramaic cake and eat it too. The ESV translation, in my opinion, strikes the balance right, with this translation:

But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. (Mat 5:28 ESV)

You can’t sin by accident. Lust involves an intentional choice to commit evil, to violate God’s commandments.

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What is “character” in Romans 5:4?

In Romans 5, St. Paul strings together several virtues wherein each leads to the next. Here’s the passage:

More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame…(Romans 5:3-5a)

This is one of those passages that could simply sound like a nice saying, rather than having theological meat on the bones. I was especially interested in what Paul means by “character.” What is that? 031303-N-3228G-001.jpg

The Greek word for character is dokime (δοκιμη). This word is related to a bunch of words all having to do with approval: dokimazo (to prove or scrutinize), dokeo (to think, suppose), dokimos (accepted). The word has to do with outside approval. Paul is not talking about self-esteem, but moral approval by others–I think we are safe to say, especially the moral approval of God.

Notably Paul uses the word several other times: 2 Cor 2:9, 8:3, 9:13; Phil 2:22. He places an emphasis on this idea of testing or proving one’s character. For him, the true test of character is suffering. If a person can endure “affliction” or persecution or suffering for the sake of the Gospel and maintain their faithfulness to the truth, then they are “approved.” Interestingly, Liddell-Scott-Jones does not cite examples of this word prior to St. Paul. Perhaps it was a favorite of his.

This whole concept reminds me of spy movies where a spy is captured and tortured for information. The heroic ones stick it out and keep their mouth shut, while the cowards cough up secrets before the pain is too much for them to bear.

To me, this is why experience is so valuable. A person with great experience of life who has kept the faith stands as an example of proven character. Not all Christians will suffer at the hands of persecutors, but perseverance in the face of any suffering, whether through physical illness, moral trials or even emotional pain, can be an occasion for spiritual growth and growth in dokime.

 

 
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