Epistle Lection, May 4, 2014 1 Peter 1:17-23; Comments on the Greek text.

1Pe 1:17 Καὶ εἰ πατέρα ἐπικαλεῖσθε τὸν ἀπροσωπολήμπτως κρίνοντα κατὰ τὸ ἑκάστου ἔργον, ἐν φόβῳ[A] τὸν τῆς παροικίας[B] ὑμῶν χρόνον ἀναστράφητε· And if you call upon as “Father” the one who judges impartially, according to the work of each one, live out the season of your exile in fear;
1Pe 1:18 εἰδότες ὅτι οὐ φθαρτοῖς, ἀργυρίῳ ἢ χρυσίῳ, ἐλυτρώθητε ἐκ τῆς ματαίας[C] ὑμῶν ἀναστροφῆς πατροπαραδότου, knowing that you were ransomed from your worthless conduct inherited from [the] ancestors, not with corruptible [things,] with gold or silver,
1Pe 1:19 ἀλλὰ τιμίῳ αἵματι ὡς ἀμνοῦ ἀμώμου καὶ ἀσπίλου Χριστοῦ, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of an unblemished and spotless lamb.
1Pe 1:20 προεγνωσμένου[D] μὲν πρὸ καταβολῆς κόσμου, φανερωθέντος δὲ ἐπ’ ἐσχάτου τῶν χρόνων δι’ ὑμᾶς [Christ was] foreknown before the foundation of the world, but manifested at the end of the times because of us,
1Pe 1:21 τοὺς δι’ αὐτοῦ πιστοὺς[E] εἰς θεὸν τὸν ἐγείραντα αὐτὸν ἐκ νεκρῶν καὶ δόξαν αὐτῷ δόντα, ὥστε τὴν πίστιν ὑμῶν καὶ ἐλπίδα εἶναι εἰς θεόν. who through him are faithful to [the] God who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.
1Pe 1:22 Τὰς ψυχὰς ὑμῶν ἡγνικότες ἐν[F] τῇ ὑπακοῇ τῆς ἀληθείας εἰς φιλαδελφίαν[G] ἀνυπόκριτον ἐκ καρδίας ἀλλήλους ἀγαπήσατε ἐκτενῶς, Having cleansed your souls in the obedience of truth for a sincere love of the brothers [and sisters], love one another fervently, from [the] heart.
1Pe 1:23 ἀναγεγεννημένοι οὐκ ἐκ σπορᾶς φθαρτῆς ἀλλὰ ἀφθάρτου, διὰ λόγου ζῶντος θεοῦ καὶ μένοντος· Since you have been born anew, not from corruptible seed but from incorruptible [seed], through [the] living and abiding Word of God.

[A] Or “reverence” or “awe.”

[B] The sense is being in a strange locale without benefit of citizenship.

[C] “worthless,” “vain” or “empty”

[D] Or possible “chosen beforehand.”

[E] or “who through him have come to believe in the God . . .”

[F] or “by”

[G] Interesting that the entire purpose of the purification of souls is here defined as a “sincere love of the brothers and sisters.”

Gospel Lection, April 27, 2014, John 20:19-31; Comments on the Greek text

Jn 20:19 Οὔσης οὖν ὀψίας τῇ ἡμέρᾳ ἐκείνῃ τῇ μιᾷ σαββάτων, καὶ τῶν θυρῶν κεκλεισμένων ὅπου ἦσαν οἱ μαθηταὶ διὰ τὸν φόβον τῶν Ἰουδαίων[A], ἦλθεν ὁ Ἰησοῦς καὶ ἔστη εἰς τὸ μέσον, καὶ λέγει αὐτοῖς· Εἰρήνη ὑμῖν[B]. Then, when it was evening on that day, the first of the week, and the doors [were] locked where the disciples were, because of the fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst, and says to them, “Peace to you!”
Jn 20:20 καὶ τοῦτο εἰπὼν ἔδειξεν τὰς χεῖρας καὶ τὴν πλευρὰν αὐτοῖς. ἐχάρησαν οὖν οἱ μαθηταὶ ἰδόντες τὸν κύριον. And having said this, he showed them  the hands and the side.  Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.
Jn 20:21 εἶπεν οὖν αὐτοῖς ὁ Ἰησοῦς πάλιν· Εἰρήνη ὑμῖν· καθὼς ἀπέσταλκέν με ὁ πατήρ[C], κἀγὼ πέμπω ὑμᾶς. So Jesus said to them again, “Peace to you.  As the Father has sent me, I also send you.”
Jn 20:22 καὶ τοῦτο εἰπὼν ἐνεφύσησεν[D] καὶ λέγει αὐτοῖς· Λάβετε πνεῦμα ἅγιον[E]· And having said this, he breathed on [them] and says to them, “Receive Holy Spirit.
Jn 20:23 ἄν τινων ἀφῆτε[F] τὰς ἁμαρτίας ἀφέωνται αὐτοῖς· ἄν τινων κρατῆτε κεκράτηνται. Whoever’s sins you forgive have been forgiven for them; whoever’s you hold have been held.”
Jn 20:24 Θωμᾶς δὲ εἷς ἐκ τῶν δώδεκα, ὁ λεγόμενος Δίδυμος, οὐκ ἦν μετ’ αὐτῶν ὅτε ἦλθεν Ἰησοῦς. But Thomas,  one of the twelve, the one called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came.
Jn 20:25 ἔλεγον οὖν αὐτῷ οἱ ἄλλοι μαθηταί· Ἑωράκαμεν τὸν κύριον. ὁ δὲ εἶπεν αὐτοῖς· Ἐὰν μὴ ἴδω ἐν ταῖς χερσὶν αὐτοῦ τὸν τύπον τῶν ἥλων καὶ βάλω[G] τὸν δάκτυλόν μου εἰς τὸν τύπον τῶν ἥλων καὶ βάλω μου τὴν χεῖρα εἰς τὴν πλευρὰν αὐτοῦ, οὐ μὴ πιστεύσω[H]. Then the other disciples were saying to him, “We have seen the Lord.”  But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails and stick my finger into the mark of the nails and stick my hand into his side, I will surely not believe.”
Jn 20:26 Καὶ μεθ’ ἡμέρας ὀκτὼ πάλιν ἦσαν ἔσω οἱ μαθηταὶ αὐτοῦ καὶ Θωμᾶς μετ’ αὐτῶν. ἔρχεται ὁ Ἰησοῦς τῶν θυρῶν κεκλεισμένων, καὶ ἔστη εἰς τὸ μέσον καὶ εἶπεν· Εἰρήνη ὑμῖν. And after eight days again his disciples were inside, and Thomas [was] with them.  Jesus comes (the doors being shut) and stood in [their] midst and said “Peace to you.”
Jn 20:27 εἶτα λέγει τῷ Θωμᾷ· Φέρε τὸν δάκτυλόν σου ὧδε καὶ ἴδε τὰς χεῖράς μου, καὶ φέρε τὴν χεῖρά σου καὶ βάλε εἰς τὴν πλευράν μου, καὶ μὴ γίνου[I] ἄπιστος ἀλλὰ πιστός[J]. Then he says to Thomas, “Bring your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and stick [it] into my side, and stop being faithless, but [instead be] faithful.
Jn 20:28 ἀπεκρίθη Θωμᾶς καὶ εἶπεν αὐτῷ· Ὁ κύριός μου καὶ ὁ θεός μου.[K] Thomas answered and said to him, “My Lord and my God!”
Jn 20:29 λέγει αὐτῷ ὁ Ἰησοῦς· Ὅτι ἑώρακάς με πεπίστευκας; μακάριοι οἱ μὴ ἰδόντες καὶ πιστεύσαντες.[L] Jesus says to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me?  Blessed [are] the ones who, not seeing, also have believed.”
Jn 20:30 Πολλὰ μὲν οὖν καὶ ἄλλα σημεῖα ἐποίησεν ὁ Ἰησοῦς ἐνώπιον τῶν μαθητῶν, ἃ οὐκ ἔστιν γεγραμμένα ἐν τῷ βιβλίῳ τούτῳ·[M] So Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples which are not written in this book;
Jn 20:31 ταῦτα δὲ γέγραπται ἵνα πιστεύητε[N] ὅτι Ἰησοῦς[O] ἐστιν ὁ χριστὸς ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ θεοῦ, καὶ ἵνα πιστεύοντες ζωὴν ἔχητε ἐν τῷ ὀνόματι αὐτοῦ. but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name.



[A] It’s worth doing a scan on the places where the phrase “fear of the Jews” shows up throughout John.  Some commentators suggest translating “Judeans” rather than “Jews,” since the whole gospel itself has a strongly Jewish tone, and the fear seems to be directed primarily toward the religious authorities (centered in Judea).

[B] A simple form of “Hello” in Aramaic.

[C] Another interesting study would be to explore all the earlier texts in John where the Father is said to have sent Jesus.  What exactly is it about the Father’s sending of Jesus that is replicated in the Son’s sending of the disciples?  That’s an important key to interpreting this text.  The immediate context suggest at least two dimensions:  The ministry of the disciples, like that of Jesus, is done in the power of the Holy Spirit, and involves the forgiveness of sins.

[D] It’s interesting that the one on whom Jesus breathes (them) is not explicitly mentioned in the text.  Perhaps because all of us are included in this “Johannine Pentecost”?

[E] The absence of the definite article leaves it unclear how “definite” or personalized this use of “Holy Spirit” is.

[F] Are we to envision any sort of sin here, or sins against the disciples in particular?  I would suggest that the latter is in view.  It is specifically when the disciples forgive their own enemies that they are acting like God, in the power of the Spirit.

[G] Literally “throw” my finger into the mark, etc.!

[H] οὐ μὴ + the aorist subjunctive = emphatic future denial!

[I] μὴ + a present imperative = stop doing an action already in process.

[J] The same word can mean either “faithful” or “believing.”  In john, the two are intimately related.

[K] Note that Thomas apparently doesn’t take Jesus up on the offer to actually put his finger in the wounds, or his hand in Jesus’ side.  Note that Thomas says this αὐτῷ, to him (i.e. to Jesus), and not as a general acclamation of faith in God.

[L] This includes, of course, all the readers of the gospel!

[M] An interesting acknowledgement on the part of the author that this gospel is selective in its recounting of the story.

[N] There’s a crucial textual variant here.  Is it the aorist “come to believe” or the present “continue to believe”?  Textual evidence is pretty evenly divided.  Some assume that the intended readership is centrally at stake here—either non-Christians, who are expected to “come to believe” (aorist) or existing Christians, who are invited to “continue to believe” (present).  But I think this may be overdrawn, and the envisioned audience may include both sorts of readers.  Consider the dual use of “believe” in John 4:50 and 53.  If he believed the first time, why the second mention?  But for John, believing is a never-ending journey, deeper and deeper into mystery.  That’s why I would differentiate too sharply between the present and the aorist here.

[O] Some commentators suggest that this verse should be rendered “that you may believe that the Christ, the Son of God, is Jesus,” assuming agreement on “Christ, Son of God” in a Jewish context, but focusing on identifying Jesus in this role.  The presence and absence of the definite articles favors such a reading, though this is not decisive, since the articles could be there because these are titles.  But I find it hard to believe that John assumes that his readers already know what “Christ” and “Son of God” mean, and simply have to link these categories to Jesus.  In fact, Nicodemus exclaims Jesus as “King of Israel” and Son of God” in 1:49, before he has seen much of anything!  There is far too much energy devoted in John to expanding and expounding on these terms to assume that the author takes them for granted and simply assumes his readers already understand them.

Epistle Lection, April 27, 2014; Comments on the Greek Text


1Pe 1:3 Εὐλογητὸς ὁ θεὸς καὶ πατὴρ τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ, ὁ κατὰ τὸ πολὺ αὐτοῦ ἔλεος ἀναγεννήσας[A] ἡμᾶς εἰς ἐλπίδα ζῶσαν δι’ ἀναστάσεως Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ ἐκ νεκρῶν, Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who, in accordance with his great mercy, caused us to be born again into a living hope, through [the] resurrection of Jesus Christ from [the] dead,
1Pe 1:4 εἰς[B] κληρονομίαν ἄφθαρτον καὶ ἀμίαντον καὶ ἀμάραντον, τετηρημένην ἐν οὐρανοῖς εἰς ὑμᾶς into an incorruptible and undefiled and unfading inheritance, kept in heaven for you
1Pe 1:5 τοὺς ἐν δυνάμει θεοῦ φρουρουμένους[C] διὰ πίστεως εἰς σωτηρίαν ἑτοίμην ἀποκαλυφθῆναι ἐν καιρῷ ἐσχάτῳ. who are being protected in the power of God through faith, for a salvation ready to be revealed in [the] last season,
1Pe 1:6 ἐν ᾧ[D] ἀγαλλιᾶσθε, ὀλίγον ἄρτι εἰ δέον λυπηθέντες ἐν ποικίλοις πειρασμοῖς, in which you are rejoicing, [though] now, for a little [while], if necessary, [you are] grieving in various trials,
1Pe 1:7 ἵνα τὸ δοκίμιον[E] ὑμῶν τῆς πίστεως πολυτιμότερον χρυσίου τοῦ ἀπολλυμένου διὰ πυρὸς δὲ δοκιμαζομένου εὑρεθῇ εἰς ἔπαινον καὶ δόξαν καὶ τιμὴν ἐν[F] ἀποκαλύψει Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ. so that the genuineness of your faith, more valuable than perishable gold tested through fire, is discovered, resulting in praise and glory and honor in [the] revelation of Jesus Christ,
1Pe 1:8 ὃν οὐκ ἰδόντες ἀγαπᾶτε, εἰς ὃν ἄρτι μὴ ὁρῶντες πιστεύοντες δὲ ἀγαλλιᾶσθε χαρᾷ ἀνεκλαλήτῳ καὶ δεδοξασμένῃ, whom, not seeing, you love; in whom now, not seeing but believing, you rejoice with an unspeakable and glorified joy,
1Pe 1:9 κομιζόμενοι τὸ τέλος τῆς πίστεως ὑμῶν[G] σωτηρίαν ψυχῶν[H]. receiving the goal of faith—salvation of your lives.

[A] This verbal form focusing on being born again is unique to 1 Peter.

[B] Note the parallel εἰς clauses:  we are born again into a hope, and into an inheritance.

[C] “Protected” or “guarded.”

[D] It’s hard to be specific about the antecedent of “in which,” but it’s not “salvation” since that would require a feminine gender.  The preceding word which matches in gender would be “faith,” or this may be an expression which is inclusive of all that precedes it.

[E] “Genuineness” or “tested result.”

[F] The meaning here could be temporal (“at the revelation of Jesus Christ), or locative (the genuineness of your faith is discovered within the revelation of Jesus Christ).  I have left my translation a bit ambiguous.

[G] Or alternatively, “receiving the goal of your faith—salvation of lives” (depending on which clause “your” is linked to).

[H] Or “souls,” though this translation suffers from certain disembodying tendencies in the western theological tradition.

Easter Gospel lection from John 20; Comments on the Greek text

Jn 20:1 Τῇ δὲ μιᾷ τῶν σαββάτων[A] Μαρία ἡ Μαγδαληνὴ ἔρχεται[B] πρωῒ σκοτίας ἔτι οὔσης εἰς τὸ μνημεῖον, καὶ βλέπει τὸν λίθον ἠρμένον ἐκ τοῦ μνημείου. On the first [day] of the week, Mary Magdalene comes early, while it is still dark, to the tomb, and she sees the stone removed from the tomb.
Jn 20:2 τρέχει οὖν καὶ ἔρχεται πρὸς Σίμωνα Πέτρον καὶ πρὸς τὸν ἄλλον μαθητὴν ὃν ἐφίλει[C] ὁ Ἰησοῦς, καὶ λέγει αὐτοῖς· Ἦραν τὸν κύριον ἐκ τοῦ μνημείου, καὶ οὐκ οἴδαμεν[D] ποῦ ἔθηκαν αὐτόν. So she runs and comes to Simon Peter and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and she says to them, “They took the Lord from the tomb, and we don’t know where they placed him.”
Jn 20:3 ἐξῆλθεν οὖν ὁ Πέτρος καὶ ὁ ἄλλος μαθητής, καὶ ἤρχοντο[E] εἰς τὸ μνημεῖον. Then Peter and the other disciple went out, and they were going to the tomb.
Jn 20:4 ἔτρεχον δὲ οἱ δύο ὁμοῦ· καὶ ὁ ἄλλος μαθητὴς προέδραμεν τάχιον τοῦ Πέτρου καὶ ἦλθεν πρῶτος εἰς[F] τὸ μνημεῖον, And the two were running together; and the other disciple ran ahead more quickly than Peter, and he came first to the tomb.
Jn 20:5 καὶ παρακύψας βλέπει κείμενα τὰ ὀθόνια, οὐ μέντοι εἰσῆλθεν. And after stooping down, he sees the cloth wrappings lying, though he did not go in.
Jn 20:6 ἔρχεται οὖν καὶ Σίμων Πέτρος ἀκολουθῶν αὐτῷ, καὶ εἰσῆλθεν εἰς τὸ μνημεῖον· καὶ θεωρεῖ τὰ ὀθόνια κείμενα, Then Simon Peter also comes following him, and he entered into the tomb; and he sees the cloth wrappings lying,
Jn 20:7 καὶ τὸ σουδάριον, ὃ ἦν ἐπὶ τῆς κεφαλῆς αὐτοῦ, οὐ μετὰ τῶν ὀθονίων κείμενον ἀλλὰ χωρὶς ἐντετυλιγμένον εἰς ἕνα τόπον· And the facecloth, which was on his head, not lying with the wrappings, but apart, folded in one place.
Jn 20:8 τότε οὖν εἰσῆλθεν καὶ ὁ ἄλλος μαθητὴς ὁ ἐλθὼν πρῶτος εἰς τὸ μνημεῖον, καὶ εἶδεν καὶ ἐπίστευσεν[G]· So then also the other disciple, who came first to the tomb, entered into the tomb, and he saw and believed.
Jn 20:9 οὐδέπω γὰρ ᾔδεισαν τὴν γραφὴν ὅτι δεῖ αὐτὸν ἐκ νεκρῶν ἀναστῆναι. For they did not yet know the Scripture, that it [was] necessary from him to rise from the dead.
Jn 20:10 ἀπῆλθον οὖν πάλιν πρὸς αὑτοὺς[H] οἱ μαθηταί. Then the disciples went out again to them.
Jn 20:11 Μαρία δὲ εἱστήκει[I] πρὸς[J] τῷ μνημείῳ ἔξω κλαίουσα. ὡς οὖν ἔκλαιεν παρέκυψεν εἰς τὸ μνημεῖον, But Mary was standing at the tomb outside weeping.  Then, as she was crying, she stooped down into the tomb.
Jn 20:12 καὶ θεωρεῖ δύο ἀγγέλους ἐν λευκοῖς καθεζομένους, ἕνα πρὸς τῇ κεφαλῇ καὶ ἕνα πρὸς τοῖς ποσίν, ὅπου ἔκειτο[K] τὸ σῶμα τοῦ Ἰησοῦ. And she sees two angels in white, sitting one at the head and one at the feet, where the body of Jesus was lying.
Jn 20:13 καὶ λέγουσιν αὐτῇ ἐκεῖνοι· Γύναι, τί κλαίεις; λέγει αὐτοῖς ὅτι Ἦραν τὸν κύριόν μου, καὶ οὐκ οἶδα ποῦ ἔθηκαν αὐτόν. And they say to her, “Woman, why are you crying?”  She says to them, “They took my Lord, and I don’t know where they placed him.”
Jn 20:14 ταῦτα εἰποῦσα ἐστράφη εἰς τὰ ὀπίσω, καὶ θεωρεῖ τὸν Ἰησοῦν ἑστῶτα, καὶ οὐκ ᾔδει ὅτι Ἰησοῦς ἐστιν. Having said these things, she turned around, and she sees Jesus standing, and she did not know that it [was] Jesus.
Jn 20:15 λέγει αὐτῇ Ἰησοῦς· Γύναι, τί κλαίεις; τίνα ζητεῖς; ἐκείνη δοκοῦσα ὅτι ὁ κηπουρός ἐστιν λέγει αὐτῷ· Κύριε[L], εἰ σὺ ἐβάστασας αὐτόν, εἰπέ μοι ποῦ ἔθηκας αὐτόν, κἀγὼ αὐτὸν ἀρῶ. Jesus says to her, “Woman, why are you crying?  Whom are you seeking?”  That one [i.e. Mary], thinking that he is the gardener, says to him, “Sir, if you carried him [off], tell me where you placed him, and I will take him away.”
Jn 20:16 λέγει αὐτῇ Ἰησοῦς· Μαριάμ. στραφεῖσα[M] ἐκείνη λέγει αὐτῷ Ἑβραϊστί· Ραββουνι (ὃ λέγεται Διδάσκαλε). Jesus says to her, “Mary.”  Turning, that one says to him in Aramaic “Rabbouni” (which means “teacher”).
Jn 20:17 λέγει αὐτῇ Ἰησοῦς· Μή μου ἅπτου[N], οὔπω γὰρ ἀναβέβηκα πρὸς τὸν πατέρα· πορεύου δὲ πρὸς τοὺς ἀδελφούς[O] μου καὶ εἰπὲ αὐτοῖς· Ἀναβαίνω πρὸς τὸν πατέρα μου καὶ πατέρα ὑμῶν καὶ θεόν μου καὶ θεὸν ὑμῶν. Jesus says to her, “Stop holding me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father.  But go to my brothers and tell them ‘I am going to my Father and your Father, both my God and your God.’”
Jn 20:18 ἔρχεται Μαριὰμ ἡ Μαγδαληνὴ ἀγγέλλουσα τοῖς μαθηταῖς ὅτι[P] Ἑώρακα τὸν κύριον καὶ ταῦτα εἶπεν αὐτῇ. Mary Magdalene comes announcing to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord,” and that he said these things to her.



[A] Literally “on the first of the Sabbath”

[B] The present tense is used commonly throughout this passage to create a sense of vividness.  I have translated tenses literally.

[C] Imperfect tense, indicating continuous action in the past.  Jesus was in the present and enduring state of loving him.

[D] An interesting point of contact with the synoptic accounts, which have more than one woman, in contrast to John’s focus on Mary.

[E] Imperfect tense here connotes the beginning of an ongoing process.

[F] I translated “to the tomb” because that’s what the context seems to require (especially the end of v. 5), but the text says literally “into the tomb.”  (Cf. the same phrase in the prior verse, where “to the tomb” is the only possible meaning.)

[G] Note the significance and recurrence of this phrase in John—the juxtaposition of (and sometimes the distinction between) seeing and believing.

[H] I translated literally, but this is a classic difficult phrase to know how to translate, even though most translations render “to their homes.”  “To them” may simply refer to a return to the other disciples.

[I] Pluperfect in tense, but the perfect and pluperfect forms of this verb are simply the intransitive forms, so this is just a simple past tense.

[J] Literally “[facing] towards the tomb.”

[K] One might have expected a pluperfect here (i.e. “where the body of Jesus had been lying.”), since the story obviously intends to say that the body is missing, but the imperfect is what we have here.

[L] Depending on context, this can be translated either “sir” as a polite form of address, or “Lord.”

[M] She wasn’t facing him directly before?

[N] Literally “stop touching me,” though most commentators think that the emphasis is more on Mary’s trying to hold on to Jesus than on her simply touching him.

[O] Note the familial language all the way through this verse.

[P] Tough to translate, since the first clause to follow is clearly quoted speech, but the second is clearly indirect discourse.

On Loving Each Other Amidst Ethical Disagreements

If the recent intense conflict played out over the Internet regarding World Vision’s policy change and reversal in their approach toward hiring married gay people tells us anything, it’s that North American Christians don’t have much capacity or wisdom when it comes to loving each other amidst ethical disagreements.  Conservatives accused moderate evangelicals of abandoning the truth of the Bible when they supported the policy change; moderates accused conservative evangelicals of heartlessness toward children when they threatened to revoke their support due to the policy change.  There were a few examples of folks who sought to move the discussion beyond the ideological impasse, but they weren’t very successful.  And in the aftermath of the conflict, both sides are nursing their wounds, and wondering about the future of a church where such conflicts become so hurtful, so quickly.

I believe that the church would do well to return to the words of St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 13, as it considers how to move forward.  By saying this, I’m not trying to put general principles like justice and love on a higher plane than specific ethical injunctions of Scripture.  I’m not in any way advocating an “either-or” sort of attitude toward the relationship between love on the one hand and faithfulness to Scripture on the other.  Rather, I’m concerned about our rather obvious inability to take the “both-and” sort of approach, embracing both the full message of Scripture in all its detail, and also the great and high calling to live lives marked, above all else, by love—the greatest Christian virtue and practice according to 1 Cor 13:13.  Paul insists in 1 Corinthians 13 that any form of Christian practice not characterized by love, however doctrinally correct or powerful or impressive it may be, nevertheless falls short of what God intends.

But this is extremely hard for us to live out in our present context.  Conservatives insist, “I’m not loving a gay or lesbian person if I fail to urge them to abandon behaviors which, I am convinced, will damage them spiritually and will alienate them from God.”  And so for them, love manifests itself as speaking the truth in a conflicted situation.  The difficulty, of course, is that such speech, even if it’s graciously intended, is often not experienced as loving by the person being admonished.  Many LGBT “Side-A” Christians (who allow for the possibility of long-term committed same-sex relationships among Christians) respond to this admonition by saying something like, “I tried to live that way, but it made my life miserable and was damaging to my spiritual life.”  So what may have been intended as loving is not received as loving, but as misunderstanding or condemnation.

We can note the mirror image of the problem on the other side of the debate.  Conservatives who removed their support from World Vision were characterized as heartless ideologues by many progressives. Yet these same progressives seemed to show little sympathy for the tensions and inner conflicts that the policy change at World Vision created in the minds and hearts of these more conservative sponsors.  As a result, what may have been intended as loving admonishment by progressives was experienced as heartless rebuke and a failure to understand, by the conservatives being addressed.

I realize that all this could be nuanced in countless ways, but the general principle remains fairly evident.  In situations of ethical conflict, responses which we may intend as loving are often not experienced by those with whom we disagree as loving.  Now here’s my point:  love worries about that!  I’d like to invite both sides of this debate to worry about that a bit more.  By “worrying” about this problem, I’m not suggesting that we simply avoid the conflict and “just try to get along.”  Rather, I’m suggesting that we need to devote our energy and attention at least to minimizing the way in which words that may be intended as loving are not experienced as loving.

Part of this problem is a result of the polarizing impact of the Internet itself.  Plenty of rhetoric on the Internet is never intended as loving to begin with.  Blogs and comments are far better suited to highlighting differences than they are at moving toward reconciliation.  Printed text lacks the rich emotional overtones, the facial expressions, and the pregnant pauses of voiced conversation.  When we type in our words on a keyboard, we lack the physical presence of the real human beings we are addressing, and so it becomes much easier to treat them like a caricature.  We suffer from the impact of this digital revolution in all sorts of ways in our society.  The most strident voices are the ones that get the most attention, and listeners split up into groups and only hear the voices they already agree with, the voices they hear on the TV channels they already like to watch, or the voices from those they already follow on Twitter or on Facebook.  So there are larger forces which push us away from loving those with whom we disagree.  The result in social psychological terms is group polarization.  Our views strengthen and stiffen when we are not exposed to differing viewpoints.

Here’s where I think 1 Corinthians 13 can help us.  Paul provides a list of descriptors, beginning in verse 4, that help us to make our Christian love more concrete and filled-out.  Let me walk you through the text in more detail.  Here are the verses I want to focus on:

4 Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. 7 It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.

First, Paul says that love is “patient.”  The Greek word here is μακροθυμεῖ.  The standard Greek lexicon (BDAG) gives the following definition: “to bear up under provocation without complaint, be patient, forbearing.”  The word suggests taking a long time before hitting the “anger” button.  What are the practices and disciplines that help us to do that, in a politicized culture that thrives on getting people riled up?  At the very least, we are invited to slow down, to resist that initial impulse to hit the “send” button, and let our emotions settle down a bit.

Then, Paul says that love is “kind” (Greek χρηστεύεται).  The word also carries connotations of goodness and generosity.  Kindness gives the benefit of the doubt to the other person.  We all can recall a favorite teacher who would correct our errors, to be sure, but always with kindness.  How did that feel?  How can we reflect that to others?

Paul goes on:  Love is not “envious” (Greek οὐ ζηλοῖ).  The BDAG lexicon offers the following extended definition of this particular usage:  “to have intense negative feelings over another’s achievements or success, be filled with jealousy, envy toward someone.” It’s striking how often the fact that someone has thousands of online followers intensifies our anger when we don’t like what they say.  Paul invites us to an honest sort of introspection as to our own motives and dispositions, before reacting to someone else.

Next, Paul says that love is not “boastful or arrogant” (Greek οὐ περπερεύεται, οὐ φυσιοῦται).  The first word focuses on calling attention to oneself; the second literally means “puffed up” or “over-inflated.”  One of the best ways to insure that words that you think are “loving” will be received as hostility is when they are accompanied by grandiosity and hyperbole.

Love is not “rude” (Greek  οὐκ ἀσχημονεῖ).  The BDAG lexicon offers this extended definition:  “behave disgracefully, dishonorably, indecently.”  How many times are we tempted to engage in behavior that others may perceive as outrageous, simply because we are convinced we are right?  Far too often in our Internet culture, being convinced that one is correct gives all sorts of license to be less than decent to others. Love resists that temptation to snipe on a comment list, or to embarrass the person with whom you disagree.

Love “does not insist on its own way” (Greek οὐ ζητεῖ τὰ ἑαυτῆς)  The phrase literally means “does not seek its own things.”  This is a more difficult exhortation to interpret, particularly in the context of ethical disputes.  Does this mean that if I am to be loving, I can’t pursue the truth that I believe is out there?  I don’t think so.  I think that the issue here has to do more with self-interest. Not insisting on our own way may take a variety of forms.  Perhaps there is more than one answer to a particular question, and love recognizes that one’s own answer may not be the only one.  Or perhaps this calls us to recognize the subtle ways in which we stand to benefit by winning an argument, and we are invited to let go of those ulterior self-interested motives.  Love doesn’t have to be right all the time.  This is particularly hard to learn for those of us who are academics.

Love is “not irritable or resentful” (Greek οὐ παροξύνεται, οὐ λογίζεται τὸ κακόν).  The first word “irritable” focuses on language or behavior that others find provocative—that is inclined to get others riled up.  This invites us to think about that moment when conflict escalates—are there ways to find a different path?  Is there a less inflammatory way to say what I want to put out there?  The second word which the NRSV renders as “resentful” is actually a phrase in the Greek text, and literally means that love doesn’t “add up evil in an account.”  The sense is that love doesn’t keep a list of all the wrongs that you perceive to have been done against you by particular people.  Love doesn’t hold a grudge.

Love “does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth” (Greek οὐχαίρει ἐπὶ τῇ ἀδικίᾳ, συγχαίρει δὲ τῇ ἀληθείᾳ).  Love doesn’t celebrate any sort of injustice (the core meaning of the word rendered “wrongdoing” here), even an injustice done to the one I disagree with.  But there’s also a subtle shift in the Greek of the second clause that doesn’t come through in most translations.  Both clauses use the same verb for “rejoice,” but the second form (συγχαίρει) adds a prefix—literally “rejoices together.”  In other words, the rejoicing in the truth spoken of here is not my own happiness in my own understanding of the truth.  Instead, it is the joy that comes from a shared apprehension of the truth, that brings joy to all involved—even to the one with whom I disagree.  What’s critical here is the way that love seeks common interests and common places to rejoice in the truth.

Finally, we come to the elegant closing of this section.  Love “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.”  There are no limits on what love is willing to put up with, no limits on the extent to which love is willing to trust, no limits on the willingness to look for a positive outcome, no limits on the willingness to endure trouble along the way.  Paul’s language, particularly the language of “bears all things” and “endures all things” makes it clear that Paul isn’t operating with a kind of idealized vision here.  Love means dealing with nastiness and hanging in there, looking for a better tomorrow.  As a result, love never fails, or more literally, love never falls down or collapses (Greek οὐδέποτε πίπτει).  There is an internal strength to love that far exceeds initial appearances or expectations.

This last line is what takes us out of merely human capacities, and invites a deeper reliance upon our union with Christ.  Let’s be honest, every human form of love will eventually collapse, if it is subjected to enough pressure.  Ultimately, to live out these verses, we must live in Christ, and draw upon his love and his grace.  Nothing less will enable us to embrace this big vision.  But when this happens, people sit up and take notice.  When Martin Luther King Jr. invited his followers to love their assailants, people stopped and took notice.  When you see a non-reactive response to a nasty post on a message board, it stands out.  This sort of love has extraordinary power.

Paul wrote all this to a Corinthian church that had more than its fair share of conflict and division.  They were divided over loyalties to different leaders, over ethical matters, over worship practices, over spiritual gifts.  Paul was inviting a community that knew all about conflict and divisions to “find a more excellent way.”  Love changes the way we engage with each other.  Of course truth matters.  Of course faithfulness to Scripture matters.  Of course we need to be open to being corrected, to learn, to recognize the possibility that we are wrong, etc. etc.  But I wonder, if we all took a time-out to meditate for a bit on 1 Corinthians 13, what difference it might make in the way we engage each other on the Internet, and elsewhere too!

So let me invite all of us today to take a deeper step in following Jesus, to take on the arduous task commanded by Jesus, of loving our enemies (Matt 5:44, Luke 6:27, 35).  Find someone who pushes your buttons, and think about how to show love.  Make it specific and concrete.  If you are in the same town, take that person out for a meal, and ask them some questions about their life.  If it’s an online conflict, slow down, breathe, read 1 Corinthians 13, and let your creative side find a fresh way to disrupt the cycles of meanness.  In fact, I suspect that this is the greatest asset that we have online:  the chance to pause and breathe.  Make full use of that asset, and you may find a different way of being present to others.

Doing this, of course, will complicate your life.  It will make it harder to divide up your world into neat, hermetically-sealed categories.  The sinners and the saints will not be so easily distinguishable.  You might even find your own opinions on some issues morphing in surprising ways.    And you might even make more progress in helping the person you disagree with to change!  You will definitely feel less in control, but you may find life more interesting.  Welcome to Jesus’ world!


Gospel lection for April 13 2014 Palm Sunday; Matthew 21:1-11; Comments on the Greek text


Mt 21:1 Καὶ ὅτε ἤγγισαν εἰς Ἱεροσόλυμα καὶ ἦλθον εἰς Βηθφαγὴ εἰς τὸ Ὄρος τῶν Ἐλαιῶν, τότε Ἰησοῦς ἀπέστειλεν δύο μαθητὰς And when they drew near to Jerusalem and came to Bethphage, to the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples,
Mt 21:2 λέγων αὐτοῖς· Πορεύεσθε εἰς τὴν κώμην τὴν κατέναντι ὑμῶν, καὶ εὐθέως εὑρήσετε ὄνον δεδεμένην καὶ πῶλον[A] μετ’ αὐτῆς· λύσαντες ἀγάγετέ μοι. saying to them, “Go into the village opposite you, and immediately you will find a donkey, tied up, and a colt with her.  Having untied [them,] bring [them] to me.
Mt 21:3 καὶ ἐάν τις ὑμῖν εἴπῃ τι, ἐρεῖτε[B] ὅτι Ὁ κύριος αὐτῶν χρείαν ἔχει[C]· εὐθὺς δὲ ἀποστελεῖ αὐτούς. And if anyone says anything to you, you will say ‘The Lord has need of them, and he will send them [back] immediately.’”
Mt 21:4 Τοῦτο δὲ γέγονεν ἵνα πληρωθῇ τὸ ῥηθὲν διὰ τοῦ προφήτου[D] λέγοντος· This happened so that what was spoken through the prophet might be fulfilled, when he said,
Mt 21:5 Εἴπατε τῇ θυγατρὶ Σιών· Ἰδοὺ ὁ βασιλεύς σου ἔρχεταί σοι πραῢς καὶ ἐπιβεβηκὼς ἐπὶ ὄνον καὶ ἐπὶ πῶλον υἱὸν ὑποζυγίου[E]. “Tell the daughter of Zion, ‘Look, your king is coming to you, humble and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the son of a pack animal.’”
Mt 21:6 πορευθέντες δὲ οἱ μαθηταὶ καὶ ποιήσαντες καθὼς συνέταξεν αὐτοῖς ὁ Ἰησοῦς And having gone, the disciple also did just as Jesus [had] directed them.
Mt 21:7 ἤγαγον τὴν ὄνον καὶ τὸν πῶλον, καὶ ἐπέθηκαν ἐπ’ αὐτῶν τὰ ἱμάτια, καὶ ἐπεκάθισεν ἐπάνω[F] αὐτῶν. They led the donkey and the colt, and the put garments on them, and he sat above them.
Mt 21:8 ὁ δὲ πλεῖστος[G] ὄχλος ἔστρωσαν ἑαυτῶν τὰ ἱμάτια[H] ἐν τῇ ὁδῷ, ἄλλοι δὲ ἔκοπτον κλάδους ἀπὸ τῶν δένδρων καὶ ἐστρώννυον ἐν τῇ ὁδῷ. And the biggest crowd spread their own garments in the road, and others were cutting branches from the trees and they were spreading [them] in the road.
Mt 21:9 οἱ δὲ ὄχλοι οἱ προάγοντες αὐτὸν καὶ οἱ ἀκολουθοῦντες ἔκραζον λέγοντες· Ὡσαννὰ[I] τῷ υἱῷ Δαυίδ· Εὐλογημένος ὁ ἐρχόμενος ἐν ὀνόματι κυρίου· Ὡσαννὰ ἐν τοῖς ὑψίστοις.[J] And the crowd that was going ahead of him, and those who were following, were crying out saying, “Hosanna to the Son of David!  Blessed is the one who comes in [the] name of [the] Lord; Hosanna in the highest!”
Mt 21:10 καὶ εἰσελθόντος αὐτοῦ εἰς Ἱεροσόλυμα ἐσείσθη[K] πᾶσα ἡ πόλις λέγουσα· Τίς ἐστιν οὗτος; And when he entered into Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up saying, “Who is this?”
Mt 21:11 οἱ δὲ ὄχλοι ἔλεγον· Οὗτός ἐστιν ὁ προφήτης Ἰησοῦς ὁ ἀπὸ Ναζαρὲθ τῆς Γαλιλαίας. And the crowds began to say, “This is the prophet Jesus, the [one] from Nazareth of the Galilee.”

[A] Of course, the presence of two animals in the story is unique to Matthew, and constitutes one of the major interpretative challenges of this text.

[B] A somewhat surprising future, where one would have expected an imperative.

[C] Hence presupposing an arrangement already made?  Not much explanation seems to be needed here.

[D] This verse and the next are unique to Matthew, along with the two animals.

[E] Two comments here.  First, most commentators think that the citation from Zech 9:9 is meant to be Hebrew parallelism—two different ways of saying the same thing, but Matthew seems to be taking both literally.  Secondly, the word ὑποζυγίου, translated “pack animal” commonly means “donkey” or “ass,” but it’s noteworthy that it’s not the same word in the original as the initial phrase (ὄνον), underscoring that in Zech 9:9, this is a parallel expression, and not the foal of the first animal, as Matthew assumes.

[F] A surprising preposition that I have rendered “above,” where one might have expected the simpler επι “on.”  Matthew leaves it somewhat undetermined exactly how Jesus sat on them.  There is also exegetical debate about whether the text is saying that Jesus sat on both animals, or whether “them” refers to the garments.  That’s a legitimate debate, but one still has to reckon with the unusual επανω here.

[G] Literally, “the mostest crowd”!

[H] So some garments are on the animals, and some on the road.

[I] Most commentators translate this Aramaic word as “save, we pray.”  The following dative is a bit harder to render.  Is the prayer directed to the Son of David, or should we render this “Save [us], we pray, by the Son of David?”  (Though the dative would be a bit grammatically unusual for such an interpretation.)  Or perhaps Matthew sees this simply as a general form of acclamation directed to the Son of David.  That would be confirmed by the next clause.  It’s also worth noting that “to the Son of David” is unique to Matthew and not in the synoptic parallels, nor is it in the original Psalm 118:25.  That would also suggest that Matthew sees “Hosanna” as a form of acclamation, rather than as a prayer.

[J] Either a reference to where the prayer is directed ([to the one] in the highest [heaven]), or else adverbial, indicating how the prayer is offered “in the highest [degree/to the greatest extent].”

[K] Cf. two other uses of this verb in 27:51 & 28:4.