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“And you shall call His Name…”

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“…and you shall call his name Yeshua”
(Matt 1:21; Luke 1:31)

For the remainder of Advent and Christmas season, on through Epiphany (Jan 6), I will be presenting a series of daily notes which will explore the Birth of Jesus and the Infancy Narratives (of Matthew and Luke) from the standpoint of names. The declaration of a name was an important part of celebrating the birth of a child, even as it continues to be for us today. Naming events and scenes feature prominently in the birth (infancy) narratives in the Gospels, especially in Luke, where the births of two children—John and Jesus—run parallel throughout the narrative. Such scenes are inspired and influenced by the Old Testament and reflect ancient traditions regarding the meaning and significance of the name given to a child.

It is somewhat difficult for Christians today, especially in modern Western societies, to appreciate how names were used and understood in ancient times. When choosing a name for a child, we may seek out one that appeals to us, perhaps even researching its origins and etymology, but quite often the name itself has no real meaning in our own language. This is true with regard to my own name, Steven, which is an anglicized transliteration of the Greek ste/fano$ (stéphanos), a wreath or “crown”, something which encircles the head as a mark of honor or prestige. It is a fine name, with a rich history, and features prominently in at least one Scripture passage (cf. Acts 6-7), but has no meaning whatever in English. Even in the case of names which have their origins in older English (and its Germanic roots), e.g. Edward, Richard, and the like, most English speakers today would have no idea of their original meaning.

In the ancient world, on the other hand, names typically had clear and definite meaning—often profound meaning—in the ordinary language of the time and place. For names in the ancient Near Eastern languages, including the Semitic languages such as Hebrew and Aramaic, a single word could express an entire phrase or short sentence—something which is nearly impossible in modern English. Not infrequently, these “sentence names” involved and incorporated the name of God—or, in a polytheistic context, the name of a particular deity. I will be exploring a number of such names in this series, but, for now, one example will suffice. The name Why`u=v^y+ (Y§ša±y¹hû, i.e. Isaiah) means something like “Yah(weh) will save” or “(May) Yah(weh) save!” and really ought to be translated this way, since it would have been generally understood by Hebrew speakers and hearers at the time the various Scriptures were written. Yet, as this is strange to our sensibilities, it is simpler and less confusing to retain the customary transliteration. Very few people would give such names to their children in our culture today.

More than this, the ancient mind regarded names (and the idea of a name) very differently than we do in the modern age. There was a kind of magical, efficacious quality to names—they represented and encapsulated the essence and nature of a person or thing. To know a person’s name was virtually the same as knowing the person. To call out (that is, speak out loud) a person’s name established a connection with the person—his/her nature and character, abilities, and the like. This could be utilized in a positive or negative way; in the latter sense, names were thought to allow one to gain control over another person (through binding magical formulae, curses, etc). In the religious sphere, the names of deities were fundamental to nearly every aspect of ritual, in some fashion. To know and utter—properly and correctly—the name of a deity meant the person had established a relationship and connection with that particular deity, and could ‘tap in’ to the divine protection, power, blessing, etc which God (or the gods) provide. This helps to explain the Old Testament idiom of “calling upon” the name of the Lord (YHWH). Divine names were used in a wide range of ritual contexts, related to nearly every area of human society, including their inclusion to safeguard agreements (i.e. covenants), contracts, testimony, and so forth. There was a sacred quality to such names and they were not to be used or uttered (in oaths, vows, etc) for evil, unworthy or frivolous purposes (cf. Exod 20:7 par). For Israelites and Jews the name of God represented by the Tetragrammaton (hwhy, YHWH, Yahweh) was especially sacred and to be treated with the utmost care. This name will be discussed in one of the articles in this series. Early Christians regarded the name Yeshua (Jesus) as efficacious—uttered for the purpose of blessing, healing, protection, etc—in a similar fashion.

This series of (daily) articles will be divided into two parts. The first part will explore the Names of God—that is, the six or seven fundamental names and titles of God used in the Old Testament and ancient Israelite religion. The second part will examine the relevant verses and passages in the Infancy narratives in the Gospels (Matthew 1-2, Luke 1-2), focusing on the scenes of birth and naming, as well as the various names and titles used in the text (especially those applied to Jesus). The commentary on the Infancy narratives will begin with the Lukan account, before turning to that of Matthew. This may seem like a rather narrow lens through which to study the text, but I think you will find it to be a rich and rewarding approach to take, and one which should provide many helpful (and surprising) insights into the familiar Christmas story.

Note of the Day – December 8 (Luke 2:32)

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Luke 2:32

This is the last of four Advent notes on the Song of Simeon (Luke 2:29-32). Today’s note explores the third, concluding line (bicolon) of the Song (in bold below).

“Now you release your slave, Master,
according to your word, in peace,
(now) that my eyes saw your Salvation,
which you made ready before the face of all peoples:
Light for the uncovering of the nations
and (the) splendor of your people Israel.”

Here is a slightly more literal rendering of v. 32:

  • Light unto (the) uncovering of the nations
    • and (unto the) splendor of your people Yisrael

The Greek is as follows:

  • fw=$ ei)$ a)poka/luyin e)qnw=n
    • kai\ do/can laou= sou )Israh/l

In all three parts (bicola) of the hymn, the initial word establishes and governs the line. In verse 29, it is the temporal particle nu=n (“now”); in vv. 30-31, it is the conjunctive particle o%ti (“[now] that”); and here in v. 32, it is the noun fw=$ (“light”). The structure of this line is the simplest of the three:

  • light unto
    • (the) uncovering of the nations
      —and
    • (the) splendor of your people Israel

The conjunction kai/ (“and”) is at the center of the line; its significance will be discussed below. There has been some question among commentators as to whether do/ca (“honor/splendor”) is parallel with fw=$ (“light”) or a)poka/luyi$ (“uncovering”). If the former, then the structure would be:

  • light unto the uncovering of the nations
    —and
  • honor/splendor (for) your people Israel

I have opted for the latter parallel, which I feel is more accurate to the syntax and theme of the hymn.

fw=$ (“light”)—The word, in the initial position, builds upon the motif of seeing in vv. 30-31. The reason why people are able to see the salvation God brings is that is light. The importance of light-imagery in the Old Testament and as a religious symbol is so widespread as to scarcely require comment. For more detail on the background, cf. my discussion on revelation in the series “Gnosis and the New Testament“. Though the noun fw=$ does not occur elsewhere in the Lukan Infancy narrative, light-imagery plays a significant role, including the scenes of heavenly/angelic manifestation (shining forth)—cf. 1:11, 28ff; 2:9-14. It is in the Song of Zechariah (esp. vv. 77-79), which, in many ways, functions parallel to the Song of Simeon, that we find corresponding imagery and similar language (in italics):

to give knowledge of salvation to his people in (the) release of their sins, through the inner-organs of (the) mercy of our God, in which (there) has looked upon us a springing-up out of the height [i.e. from on high], to shine light upon the (one)s sitting in darkness and (the) shadow of death and set our feet down straight into (the) way of peace.”

Mention should also be made of the famous star in the Matthew narrative (2:2ff). While the light (fw=$) of salvation should be understood in the context of the entire line in verse 32, it may also be said to relate specifically to the nations of the first half, according to the Isaian allusions—cf. Isa 42:6; 49:6. That it also relates to the people of Israel (the second half of the line) is clear from a comparison with Isa 49:9; 60:1ff, etc, and the citation of Isa 9:1-2 in Matt 3:15-16.

ei)$ (“unto”)—According to the structure outlined above, the preposition ei)$ (“into, unto”) governs both halves of v. 32. That is to say, the light is unto both the uncovering of the nations and the splendor of Israel. There are two aspects of the preposition which apply here: (a) for the purpose of, and (b) leading toward the goal of, i.e. the result of. More concretely, it can be understood as something which points in the direction of these results for the nations and Israel respectively—the light shines toward them both, and, more importantly, into the darkness (cf. the Isaian passages referenced above).

a)poka/luyin (“[the] uncovering”)—The noun a)poka/luyi$, from the verb a)pokalu/ptw, literally means “taking (the) cover away from”—i.e., “uncovering”. In this case, the motif relates to removing darkness, through the shining of light (Lk 1:77-79; Matt 3:15-16, etc). The noun and verb both are used frequently in the New Testament, often in reference to God’s revelation to his people (believers) in the person and work of Christ and the proclamation of the Gospel. Cf. again the article on revelation in the series “Gnosis and the New Testament”.

e)qnw=n (“of [the] nations”)—The genitive of this noun may be understood two ways: (1) the light is revealed (uncovered) for the nations, or (2) the nations themselves are uncovered/revealed by the light. Probably the former is more readily in mind here in the hymn, but the latter cannot be excluded, especially in the context of the Lukan theme of the identity/inclusion of Gentile believers as the people of God (cf. below).

kai/ (“and”)—This simple conjunctive particle here has special significance, since it emphasizes that both Israel and the nations (Gentiles) will experience the light of salvation manifest in the person of Jesus. If the structure of the line is understood differently (cf. above), then the emphasis of the conjunction would be on salvation in terms of both (i) light for the Gentiles and (ii) splendor for Israel. However, the theme (and theology) throughout Luke-Acts strongly favors the structure I am following, whereby the emphasis is squarely on Jewish and Gentile believers together making up the people of God.

do/can (“[unto the] splendor”)—My interpretation (cf. above) assumes that both nouns a)poka/luyi$ (“uncovering”) and do/ca (“splendor”) are governed by the preposition ei)$ (“unto”). To reiterate:

  • unto
    • (the) uncovering of the nations
    • (the) splendor of your people Israel

The noun do/ca is actually difficult to render accurately in English. Typically it is translated “glory”, but this can be rather misleading. Fundamentally, it refers to the esteem or honor which is accorded to someone or something—that is, how a person is considered, acknowledged, recognized, etc. In the case of God, the honor which is due to him involves his essential nature and character, as the Holy One and (all-powerful) Creator, and so forth, which is traditionally described and depicted with light-imagery. Thus the do/ca of God is envisioned as a brilliant and effulgent splendor surrounding him. In the LXX, do/ca generally translates the Hebrew dobK*, which has the basic meaning “weight”—i.e., the honor and reverence which must be given to God due to the greatness, etc, of His nature. The word has a somewhat different nuance and emphasis when applied to human beings; generally, it is best rendered as “honor” or “splendor”, depending on the context. Here, if do/ca is parallel to “light” (fw=$) then it is perhaps better understood as “honor”—i.e. revelation (light) for the nations, honor/esteem for Israel. However, if it is parallel with “uncovering”, then it is particularly important to preserve the element of light-imagery. The light of salvation then has two (related) effects—(1) it shines in the darkness, revealing/uncovering the nations, and (2) it causes the people Israel to shine with splendor. Light and splendor (do/ca) are juxtaposed in Isa 60:1, and splendor/honor/glory in connection with salvation specifically in Isa 46:13.

laou= sou  )Israh/l (“of your people Israel”)—that is, God’s people, referring primarily to Israel as the elect/chosen people, with whom God (YHWH) established a special relationship and agreement (covenant). The singular noun lao/$ (“[a collective] people”), used together with the plural e&qnh (“nations”), emphasizes the point of contrast—Israel was selected among all the different tribes/nations of the worlds to be the distinct people of God. The plural laoi/ (“peoples“) is often synonymous with e&qnh (“nations”), though in Acts 4:25-27 it seems to refer to Israel (i.e. Israelites and Jews), perhaps in the sense of the various groups which make up “Israel” at the time of Jesus. The significance of the terminology in this passage in Acts (citing Ps 2:1-2) likely runs deeper, however; note the possible contrast:

  • In their opposition to Jesus, Israel becomes like the nations—”peoples” (laoi/, plural) instead of the true “people” (lao/$, singular) of God
  • In trusting in Christ, both “peoples”—Israelites/Jews and Gentiles—become a single “people” (lao/$), the people of God

This helps to explain the use of the plural laoi/ (“peoples”) in line 2 of the Song of Simeon (v. 31). The expression “all the peoples” (par with “all flesh” in Lk 3:6) refers to those (believers) among all of humankind—Jews and Gentiles both—who respond to the Gospel (the “light” of salvation) and come to faith in Jesus Christ. This becomes a principal theme of the book of Acts. Note especially the words of James in 15:14:

“…how God looked upon (it/us) to take out of the nations a people for/unto His name”

This precedes the (modified) quotation from Amos 9:11-12 in verses 16-17, in which Gentile believers are identified as part of the “remnant” (i.e. the true/faithful Israel) who will seek the Lord, and so respond by trusting in Jesus. Paul, of course, as the “apostle to the Gentiles” draws heavily upon this theme, though often in a complex (and somewhat controversial) manner. Note, in particular, the discussion in Romans 9-11 which is vital to the overall emphasis (in Romans) on the unity of Jewish and and Gentile believers in Christ. For a more concise, similar, statement elsewhere in the New Testament, cf. 1 Peter 2:9-10.

The theme itself goes back into the Old Testament, especially in (Deutero-)Isaiah and the later Prophets, continuing on through Jewish literature and tradition. Isa 42:6 was a cornerstone verse, and is alluded to here in the Song; but there are many passages which might express either of two basic, related ideas: (1) that God’s revelation (his Law, salvation, etc) will go out from Jerusalem (and the Temple) into all the nations, and (2) that the nations from all around Jerusalem will come to the Temple and worship God there. For this latter image, cf. especially Isa 56:6-8, cited by Jesus in the Synoptic tradition (the Temple ‘cleansing’ scene, Lk 19:46 par). That the converted/faithful Gentiles would become part of the people of God is also expressed (or implied) in several places, most notably Zechariah 2:10-11, which refers to a future/eschatological moment when the Lord will come and dwell in the midst of his people in Zion, and

“many nations will be (inter)twined [i.e. joined] to YHWH in th(at) day, and they will be unto [i.e. as] a people for me [i.e. my people], and I will set (up my) tent [i.e. dwell] in your midst…” (v. 11)

The two themes mentioned above are both present in the central Pentecost scene of Acts 2—(1) Israelites/Jews from among the nations come to Jerusalem, along with believers miraculously speaking in the languages of all the nations; and (2) Christian missionaries go out (from Jerusalem) in the surrounding parts of Judea, and, subsequently, into the nations all around (cf. Acts 1:8, etc). Yet it may be said that this is already prefigured and foreshadowed here in the Infancy narrative, in the Song uttered by Simeon as he stands in the Temple, holding the savior Jesus in his arms. It is by the inclusion of the Gentiles within the people of God, that the chosen ones (believers) of Israel, along with Simeon, acquire true honor and splendor.

 

In Roman Catholic tradition, December 8 commemorates the conception of the Virgin Mary, mother of Jesus—her birth (by related tradition) taking place nine months later on Sept 8. The doctrine of Mary’s “immaculate” conception developed over a number of centuries, taking shape in the latter Middle Ages. It is ultimately related to the doctrine of Jesus’ sinlessness. In order to preserve the idea of his sinlessness as a human being, it was thought necessary that Mary herself (i.e. her flesh) must also have been pure from sin (from birth). This underlying logic doubtless seems unnecessary or extreme to many impartial observers today, but it fit with a certain theological mode of thinking regarding the transmission of sin, etc. For the role of Mary in Luke 2:22-38, cf. my earlier notes on vv. 22-24 and on the oracle of Simeon in vv. 34-35.

Note of the Day – December 7 (Luke 2:30-31)

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Luke 2:30-31

Today’s note is the third of four in this Advent series on the Song of Simeon (Luke 2:29-32). In it I will be examining the second line (bicolon) of the Song (in bold below).

“Now you release your slave, Master,
according to your word, in peace,
(now) that my eyes saw your Salvation,
which you made ready before the face of all peoples:
Light for the uncovering of the nations
and (the) splendor of your people Israel.”

Previously, I have treated verses 30-31 as separate lines, but, in terms of the structure of the hymn, they represent a single unit. A slightly more literal rendering is as follows:

  • (in) that my eyes saw your salvation
    • which you made ready against [i.e. in front of] the face of all the peoples

The Greek is:

  • o%ti ei@don oi( o)fqalmoi/ mou to\ swth/rio/n sou
    • o^ h(toi/masa$ kata\ pro/swpon pa/ntwn tw=n law=n

As in the case of the first line (v. 29), an initial particle (o%ti) governs vv. 30-31, though here it is a conjunctive particle, connecting it with the earlier line. It gives the reason why the speaker (Simeon) may now be released from his service to God. I have translated it literally as “(in) that”, i.e. “because”, though it is probably better to retain the temporal sense, as I do in the poetic rendering above—”(now) that”, i.e. “since”. The (chiastic) parallelism of the line is also expressed somewhat differently that that of v. 29; note the structure here:

  • my eyes saw
    —your salvation
    ——which
    —you made ready
  • {before} the face of all the peoples

The framing motif is that of seeing—Simeon now sees what God has prepared for all people, and which soon will become visible/apparent to all. What he sees is clarified by the “inner” pairing of the line—”your salvation which you made ready”. The relative particle o% (“[that] which”) is at the center of the line (on this, cf. below). I will now briefly discuss each of the key words or phrases in vv. 30-31.

ei@don (“[they] saw”)—In English this is usually translated as though it were a perfect form (“have seen”), but it is actually an aorist form, suggesting an action which is completed or occurs (just) prior to the person’s speaking, i.e. “my eyes now (have) see(n)…”. This is the principal verb governing vv. 30-31, with the emphasis on seeing. The same emphasis (and verb) is found, twice, in the explanation given by the author in verse 26:

“it was given (as) information to him, under [i.e. by] the holy Spirit, (that he was) not to see [i&dein] death before he should see [i&dh|] the Anointed (One) of the Lord”

Almost certainly we should recognize an allusion to Gen 46:30. Simeon had been waiting, looking toward the coming of the “help of Israel” and (with Anna) the “redemption of Jerusalem”—both expressions referring to the deliverance (salvation) God will bring about for his people through the coming of the Anointed One (Messiah) at the end-time.

oi( o)fqalmoi/ mou (“my eyes”)—Instead of saying simply “I saw”, the hymn uses the more colorful (and dramatic) Semitic idiom “my eyes saw”, which gives greater emphasis, and a strong personal dimension, to the act and experience of seeing. The expression “my eyes” is used in this manner frequently in the Old Testament (more than 70 times), especially in a poetic setting (in the Psalms, Prophets and Wisdom writings). The idiom is relatively rare in the New Testament, but note the important saying of Jesus in Luke 10:23 par (cf. also 1 Cor 2:9; 1 Jn 1:1). To have one’s sight restored, or suddenly be able to see, is occasionally described as having “the eyes opened” (Mk 8:25; Matt 9:30 etc); while the expression “lift the eyes” means to look and see something (Lk 6:20; 16:23, etc). In Acts 26:18, as in the citation of Isa 6:9-10 (Acts 28:27, etc), opening the eyes is connected with experiencing or realizing salvation.

to\ swth/rio/n sou (“your salvation”)—Interestingly, while the noun swth/ria (“salvation”) is fairly common in the New Testament, the related neuter substantive [to\] swth/rion occurs only three times, all in Luke-Acts—here, and in Lk 3:6; Acts 28:28. All three times it is part of the expression “the salvation of God”, by which is meant, not God being saved, but rather the salvation/deliverance/protection which God brings. This is indicated by the neuter form with the definite article; it could relate abstractly to the means or act of saving, but also to a specific person who might serve as savior/protector. Here, of course, it is connected with the child Jesus in Simeon’s arms. Within the context (and theology) of Luke-Acts, the expression refers specifically to the salvation of the nations (i.e. the Gentiles) through the proclamation of the Gospel. This point will be discussion in the next note (on verse 32).

o% (“which”)—The use of this relative particle is important, both for the flow of the line, but also, more significantly, as a way to connect Jesus (the means of salvation which Simeon now sees) with the deliverance promised to God’s faithful ones (his people) in the Scriptures. It is particularly the prophecies in the latter chapters of Isaiah (40-66) which are in view here in the Song of Simeon, as throughout the other hymns of the Lukan Infancy narrative. There is a clear allusion to Isa 40:5 in vv. 30-31, as well as to 46:13; 49:6b, and 52:10. One may also note the reference to seeing salvation in the deutero-canonical Baruch 4:24. The revelation of salvation—i.e., its becoming visible to humankind—is part of Jewish eschatological and Messianic thought, as we see in a number of the Qumran texts (e.g., CD 20:20, 34; 1 QM 5).

h(toi/masa$ (“you made ready”)—There is a distinct theological sense of the verb e(toima/zw (“make ready, prepare”) in the New Testament. It is frequently used of God, in an eschatological context—i.e. of what God has prepared (ahead of time) for the faithful, and also for the wicked, at the end (following the final Judgment). For its occurrence in sayings by Jesus, cf. Mk 10:40 par; Matt 22:4; 25:34ff; Jn 14:2-3. On God preparing blessing/reward for believers, cf. also 1 Cor 2:9; Heb 11:16; Rev 21:2. The eschatological sense is especially prominent in the book of Revelation (8:6; 9:7, 15; 12:6; 16:12; 19:7). In the Gospel tradition, and particularly in Luke, the verb is related to the idea of “preparing the way of the Lord”—i.e. of the messenger who prepares God’s people (and humankind) for His coming (in Judgment) at the end time. This eschatological and Messianic tradition was strong in Judaism and early Christianity, combining the language and symbolism from Isa 40:3ff and Mal 3:1ff. According to the early Christian interpretation, John the Baptist was identified as the messenger who prepares the way for the coming of Christ (the Lord), as in Luke 3:4 par. The two Old Testament traditions are combined specifically in Mark 1:2-3, but also, less directly, here in Luke. Note especially the language in Luke 1:16-17 and 76-77ff. It is in the Song of Zechariah (Benedictus) that salvation in the person of Christ (vv. 76-79) is tied back to the promised deliverance of God’s people (vv. 68-75), representing the two halves of the song respectively. For more on the parallel between Simeon and Zechariah, cf. my previous note.

kata\ pro/swpon (“against [the] face”)—Concretely, the preposition kata/ would here indicate something God brings down on the face, but more properly means “against” in the sense of “before, in front of, in the sight of”. The use of the noun “face” (pro/swpon, lit. “toward [the] eye[s]”) continues the motif of seeing in this line. The expression “against/before the face” is a Semitic idiom which means “in the presence of”, but also indicates something directed right at a person (cf. Gal 2:11), as in English we might say “right to his face” or “in his face”. Thus, there are two aspects which should be isolated here: (1) that God has prepared this salvation in the presence of all the peoples, i.e. during their history and lifetimes, and (2) that it is directed at the peoples, i.e. made ready for them and their benefit. Also, there is likely a foreshadowing of the idea that this salvation will soon become visible to all people, through the life and work of Jesus, and, subsequently, in the proclamation of the Gospel.

pa/ntwn tw=n law=n (“of all the peoples”)—There is allusion in vv. 30-31 to Isa 52:10 (cf. above); note the parallel, citing the LXX:

“against [i.e. in front of] the face of all the peoples” (v. 31)
“in the sight [e)nw/pion] of all the nations” (Isa 52:10a)

Interestingly, however, the Gospel writer (and/or Simeon as the speaker), uses “peoples” (laoi/) instead of “nations” (e&qnh). The parallel use of the plural “peoples” in Acts 4:25-27 might suggest that the reference here is to the Jewish people (i.e. Israelites/Jews). It seems best to understand the term in the context of what follows in v. 32, were two groups are mentioned in tandem—(a) the nations (e&qnh), that is, Gentiles or non-Jews, and (b) the people (lao/$) Israel. These two comprise the “peoples” in v. 31—in other words, all humankind (that is, all believers), Jew and Gentile both. The expression “all the peoples” should be understood as synonymous with “all flesh” (pa=$ sa/rc) in Luke 3:6 (again citing Isa 52:10): “all flesh will see the salvation of God”.

Note of the Day – December 6 (Luke 2:29)

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Luke 2:29

In the previous Advent note, I discussed the overall background and setting of the Song of Simeon (2:29-32); beginning today, the next three notes will discuss the Song in detail. The hymn is comprised of three lines (distychs or bicola), which I render here somewhat conventionally, to preserve the poetic rhythm and feel:

“Now you release your slave, Master,
according to your word, in peace,
(now) that my eyes saw your Salvation,
which you made ready before the face of all peoples:
Light for the uncovering of the nations
and (the) splendor of your people Israel.”

Today I examine the first line (bicolon) in verse 29, which I now translate more literally:

  • Now you loose your slave from (his bond), O Master,
    • according to your utterance, in peace

The corresponding Greek is:

  • Nu=n a)polu/ei$ to\n dou=lo/n sou, de/spota
    • kata\ to\ r(h=ma/ sou e)n ei)rh/nh|

Each of the key words will be discussed in turn, beginning with the particle nu=n (“now”). This temporal particle functions as an adverb, governed by the verb which follows. It is set in emphatic position at the beginning of the line—i.e., “now you loose your slave…”. This emphatic particle sets the hymn in motion. Note the important (chiastic) symmetry of the remainder of the line:

  • you loose from (bondage/service)
    —your slave
    ——Master
    —according to your word
  • in peace

This structure reflects the precise word order of the line, and should be kept in mind when studying the verse in detail.

a)polu/ei$ (“you loose from [bondage/service]”)—the verb a)polu/w literally means “(set) loose from”, i.e. from bondage or service (as a slave); in English idiom we would say “release from”, i.e. from the obligation. The reference is to the period of service for a slave, who could be released (set free) from that bond only by permission of the master, or when an agreed upon time of service had elapsed. Here it is also used as an idiom for the end of a person’s life, marking the end of his/her (earthly) service to God, often implying hard work and suffering (i.e. bondage). Death is viewed as a release, a loosing from bondage—cf. Gen 15:2; Num 20:29; Tobit 3:6; 2 Macc 9:9.

to\n dou=lo/n sou (“your slave”)—the word dou=lo$ (“slave”) is typically translated “servant” in order to soften the expression, and to avoid comparisons with the more oppressive/abusive forms of slavery known from U.S. history and elsewhere. Simeon considers himself a slave (or servant) of God, just as Paul, along with other early Christians, called themselves slaves of God, or of Christ (cf. Rom 1:1; 6:16ff; 1 Cor 7:22; 2 Cor 4:5; Gal 1:10, etc).

de/spota (“[O] Master”)—here the word should be understood in its literal sense of owner, i.e. one who possesses and has authority over a slave (1 Tim 6:1-2; Tit 2:9; 1 Pet 2:18). It was often used in the broader sense of “master, lord”, etc., and could apply as an honorific title of address for any ruler. It translates the Hebrew /wda* (“lord”), and occasionally is used in the LXX in place of the divine name YHWH (Prov 29:25, cf. Isa 1:24; Jon 4:3). The author of the Gospel uses it again in a similar context in Acts 4:24. It is applied as a title of Christ in Jude 4, and is found in the context of believers as slaves of God (and Christ) in 2 Tim 2:21; 2 Pet 2:1. According to the structure indicated above, the vocative de/spota (“O Master”) is at the center or heart of the line.

kata\ to\n r(h=ma/ sou (“according to your utterance”)—r(h=ma, usually translated “word”, properly means something which is spoken out, uttered by a person. Here it relates to the authority the master/owner has over the slave. A casual reading of the line would indicate that the focus is on the slave being released by the word of the master. And yet, the structure of the line (cf. above) rather suggests that the emphasis is on the authority (and ownership) the master has over the slave; note again the parallel:

  • your slave…
  • …according to your word

Because the master has authority over the slave, only his word—that is, an agreement or command declared by him—can release the slave. The narrative context of verse 26 relates this to a promise by God to Simeon, made through the Holy Spirit:

“and (the) information had been (giv)en to him, under [i.e. by] the holy Spirit, (that he was) not to see death before he should see the Anointed (One) of the Lord”

This is the explanation or interpretation given by the author.

e)n ei)rh/nh| (“in peace”)—Again, if we consider the structure of the line (cf. above), this phrase qualifies the primary verb:

  • you loose (him) from (service)…
  • …in peace

This reflects the basic idea of blessing—of a person departing, or being sent off in peace. As an idiom for death, cf. Gen 15:15. Very likely, there is also an allusion here to the Joseph narrative (Gen 46:30), where the elderly Jacob (Israel) declares that he can die (i.e. in peace) now that he has seen his son (Joseph) again:

“from now [nu=n] (on) I shall [i.e. I can] die away, since I have seen your face (and) that you still live!”

Jacob, like Simeon, is one who is waiting for the deliverance (salvation) of God (49:18). Returning to the interpretation in Lk 2:26, Simeon’s desire, in terms of Messianic expectation, should be related to Messianic (Jewish) thought of the period. In the so-called Psalms of Solomon (17:50), we find the idea that the person is truly blessed who is able to witness the coming of the Messianic Age and the deliverance of God’s people (cf. also Lk 10:23-24). Ps Sol 17:34 draws upon the same Isaiah traditions as the Song of Simeon (vv. 30-32), which will be discussed in the next two notes. There is also a strong Messianic motif involving the bringing and establishment of peace—cf. Psalm 72:7; Isa 9:5-6; Zech 8:12, etc. The birth of the Messiah (Jesus) in the Lukan narrative is accompanied by an announcement of peace on earth (Lk 2:14), so that those who serve God (i.e. believers) may now do so in peace (cf. 1:74). The transition from the old covenant (e.g. Simeon) to the new (believers in Christ) takes place in a moment of peace, as the aged Israelite, standing in the Temple, holds the baby Jesus in his arms.

December 6 is the traditional date in the West commemorating St. Nicholas, the 4th-century bishop of Myra (in Lycia, Asia Minor) who, through an unusual set of circumstances, came to be the basis for the figure of Santa Claus. Nicholas was among the bishops present at the landmark council at Nicea, but otherwise we have very little reliable information about his life, though, of course, numerous legends have been preserved. Of the many familiar Christmas customs, it is perhaps only the practice of placing gifts in stockings which may be said to relate back directly to the old Nicholas traditions.

 

Note of the Day – December 5 (Luke 2:29-32)

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Luke 2:29-32

To commemorate the beginning of Advent, over the next four days I will be presenting a short series of notes on Luke 2:29-32, the “Song of Simeon”. The first note (today) will focus on the hymn as a whole, its setting, background, etc, before examining each line in detail in the three successive notes. I have discussed this passage on several occasions before, including during prior Christmas seasons (cf. from Jan 1 2017 & 2018).

One of the most distinctive features of the Infancy Narrative in Luke (chapters 1-2), is the sequence of canticles, or hymns, which punctuate the account. There are four such hymns, each of which came to be part of the Christian liturgy and known by its Latin title (the first word[s] as rendered in Latin)—Magnificat (1:46-55), Benedictus (1:68-79), Gloria in Excelsis (2:14), and Nunc Dimittis (2:29-32). The Gloria, part of the Angelic announcement of Jesus’ birth, is extremely brief; but the other three are substantial hymns, which, in the narrative context, are presented as inspired oracles by the speaker—Mary (or, possibly, Elizabeth), Zechariah, and Simeon. In the case of Zechariah and Simeon, the oracle properly includes a prophetic pronouncement regarding the future of the child (John / Jesus).

The narrative setting for the Song of Simeon (Nunc Dimittis) is established in verses 22-28. In all likelihood, the author (trad. Luke) has combined the Simeon tradition (beginning in v. 25) with a separate notice in vv. 22-24 which serves two basic purposes: (a) it explains how Mary and Joseph came to be in the Temple with the child Jesus, and (b) it depicts Jesus’ parents as faithful Israelites who are fulfilling the religious obligations of the Law. Indeed, it may be said that these two elements—the Temple setting and fulfillment of the Law—are both essential themes within the Lukan Infancy narrative, and the work of Luke-Acts as a whole. Consider:

  • Mary and the child (along with Joseph) fulfill the requirements of the Law (vv. 22-24). Two basic laws are mentioned, apparently combined or conflated by the author:
    (i) the sacrifice for purification (from uncleanness) for the mother following childbirth (vv. 22, 24; cf. Lev 12:6-8)
    (ii) the consecration (redemption) of the firstborn son (v. 23, cf. Exod 13:1-2, 11-13; Num 18:15-16)
    At the same time, Simeon functions as a prophet who also cites the Old Testament Prophets (as will be discussed), applying them to Jesus. Thus, here in the narrative, it can be said that Jesus “fulfills the Law and the Prophets” (cf. Luke 16:16; 24:44; Acts 13:15; 24:14; 28:23)
  • The Temple setting is likewise a key motif in Luke-Acts, and is found in three different scenes in the Infancy Narrative (here, and in Lk 1:8-23; 2:41-50). Probably the author has in mind Malachi 3:1ff, with the idea of the Lord coming to the Temple. This distinctive prophecy, also related to John the Baptist as the Messenger who prepares the way (Lk 1:16-17, 76-77; cf. 3:4ff) for the Lord, is, in a sense, fulfilled by Jesus already as a child.

There is another important connection between the Temple scenes in 1:8-23 and here in 2:25ff, involving the parallelism between the births of John the Baptist and Jesus which runs all through the narrative. There is a specific parallel between Zechariah, father of John, and Simeon; both are:

  • Devout, aged men who serve in the Temple or frequent it (1:8-9ff; 2:25-27)
  • Each is specifically referred to as “just/righteous” (di/kaio$) (1:6; 2:25)
  • Each man is touched/filled by the Spirit and utters an inspired oracle (1:67; 2:27)
  • Each oracle includes a prophecy regarding the destiny of the respective child (John/Jesus) and the role he will play in God’s deliverance of His people (1:76-79; 2:30ff, 34-35)
  • In the narrative, each man is associated with a corresponding female figure (Elizabeth/Anna) who also is inspired or functions as a prophet (1:5, 41ff; 2:36ff)
  • Linguistically, their names have a similar meaning:
    • Z§½aryâ[hû] (Why]r=k^z+)—”Yah(weh) has remembered”
    • Šim®±ôn, presumably shortened for Š§ma±-°E~l or Š§ma±-Yah—”El/Yah has heard”

Indeed, both pairs of aged figures—Zechariah/Elizabeth and Simeon/Anna—represent faithful Israel of the Old Covenant (1:6; 2:25, 37), those who are waiting for the fulfillment of God’s promises. This latter theme becomes more specific with Simeon/Anna, but it is foreshadowed already with Zechariah/Elizabeth in the earlier portions of the narrative—note the motifs of waiting and expectation (1:13, 20-21, 24-25, 57ff, 70-76). There can be no doubt that Messianic expectation—i.e., awaiting the coming of God’s Anointed (Messiah) who will rescue/deliver his people at the end-time—is associated with the faith/devotion of Simeon and Anna. Two parallel phrases (in vv. 25 and 38) make this clear:

  • V. 25—Simeon was “(look)ing toward receiving the para/klhsi$ of Israel”
  • V. 38—Anna was “(look)ing toward receiving the lu/trwsi$ of Jerusalem”

The same verb prosde/xomai is used, which indicates a person who is waiting with eagerness or readiness, looking forward to (lit. “toward”, pro$) receiving someone or something. In the case of Simeon, this expectation is related directly to his righteousness and devotion. The two parallel expressions are especially worth noting here:

  • “the para/klhsi$ of Israel“—the noun para/klhsi$ (parákl¢sis) derives from the verb parakale/w, literally to “call (someone) alongside”, often in the sense of offering help and encouragement, etc. It is difficult to translate with a single word in English, and is typically rendered “comfort” or “consolation”, but the idea of offering help is paramount here—i.e., the aid God will give to his people in rescuing/delivering them.
  • the lu/trwsi$ of Jerusalem“—the noun lu/trwsi$ (ultimately derived from lu/w, “[to set] loose”) relates to the process by which someone is loosed (i.e. set free) from bondage or debt, etc. It generally refers to the paying of ransom/redemption (lu/tron), i.e. the price paid to loose/redeem a person from bondage, and is often translated as “redemption”.

Both expressions stem from portions of (Deutero-)Isaiah—40:1; 52:9; 61:2; 66:12-13—which came to be interpreted in a Messianic sense in Jewish and early Christian tradition. This is important to keep in mind when studying the Song of Simeon itself, which likewise makes use of several such passages from Isaiah. Simeon and Anna essentially function like the Isaian herald, announcing the good news for God’s people (cf. Isa 40:9; 41:27; 52:7).

Returning to the parallel between Zechariah and Simeon, in at least one respect the author draws a contrast:

  • Zechariah is unable to deliver the (priestly) blessing to the people (1:22)
  • Simeon does pronounce a blessing, on Mary & Joseph (2:34a)

Simeon actually speaks a two-fold blessing, introducing each of the two portions of his oracle with a blessing—one addressed to God (v. 28) which precedes the Song, and one addressed to Mary (and Joseph) prior to prophecy in vv. 34-35. This act of blessing—literally, to “give a good account”, i.e. speak good (words) to, or over, a person—should be considered alongside the Song and prophecy, as part of the inspiration given to Simeon through the Holy Spirit. This is the notice at the end of verse 25: “…and the Holy Spirit was upon him”. In fact, there are three references to the Spirit in vv. 25-27, each of which is important in light of the theme of the Holy Spirit in Luke-Acts:

  • “the holy Spirit was upon [e)pi] him” (v. 25)
  • “it was given (as) information to him under [u(po] the Spirit” (v. 26)
  • “he came in [e)n] the Spirit…” (v. 27)

Note the similar references to the Spirit in relation to Jesus in Lk 3:22; 4:1, 14, and also to the first believers in Acts 1:8; 2:4, 17ff, etc. This may be a subtle way by which the author transitions from the old faith of Israel to the new covenant centered on the person of Jesus. As Simeon encounters the child Jesus (in the Temple, the point of contact between old and new, v. 27), holding him in his arms (v. 28), this new covenant is glimpsed and realized, at least for a moment. At any rate, it is the Spirit which inspires the Song which follows in vv. 29-32, and it is to the first line of the song that I will turn in the next daily note.

For an excellent overview and discussion of the passage, which I have found most helpful in preparing these notes, cf. R. E. Brown, The Birth of the Messiah: A Commentary on the Infancy Narratives in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, Anchor Bible Reference Library [ABRL] (1977, 1993), pp. 436-60.

Note of the Day – December 14

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Galatians 4:7

This series of Advent season notes on Galatians 4:4ff concludes here with a discussion of verse 7:

w%ste ou)ke/ti ei@ dou=lo$ a)lla\ ui(o/$: ei) de\ ui(o/$ kai\ klhrono/mo$ dia\ qeou=
“And so you are not yet [i.e. no longer] a slave, but (rather) a son—and if a son (then) also (one) holding the lot [i.e. an heir] through God”

The declaration in the first part of this verse, which follows vv. 4-6, begins with a decisive announcement using the compound particle w%ste, difficult to render literally in English, but meaning something like “so then, therefore”. It is an emphatic inferential particle, expressing the result or consequence of what was stated in vv. 4-5, 6. The next word ou)ke/ti is another compound particle which functions as an adverb (modifying the verb ei@); it means “not yet, not (any) more, no longer”. There are two aspects of its use here:

  • As an indication of time—the period of slavery/bondage has come to an end (cf. 4:4 “when the fullness of time came”, also v. 2)
  • As an indication of status or condition—believers are no longer in the (legal) status of slavery/servitude

The present verb form ei@ means that this new condition or time period is currently realized and/or experienced by believers—we are no longer slaves. For the nature of this slavery or bondage under sin (and the Law), see the prior notes on verses 4-6. The new condition or status is that of son; the theme of believers as the sons (children) of God is central to the arguments in Galatians (Gal 3:7-9, 14, 16-18, 26, 29; 4:22-31) and Romans (Rom 4:13-25; 8:12-17, 19-23, 29; 9:7ff, 26), cf. also 1 Thess 5:5; 2 Cor 6:18; Phil 2:15; Eph 5:1, 8. In turn, sonship is connected to the idea of inheritance. There are three ways that Paul makes use of the heir/inheritance concept in his letters:

  • The traditional ethical imagery, drawn from same Jewish background that informs the sayings/teachings of Jesus, of inheriting the kingdom of God (1 Cor 6:9-10; 15:50; Gal 5:21, also Eph 5:5; cf. Matt 5:5; Mark 10:17 par; Luke 10:25)
  • Similar symbolism connected with the reward/fate of the righteous in the (last) judgment (Col 1:12; 3:24, and also Eph 1:11, 14, 18; Tit 3:7; cf. Matt 25:34; Acts 20:30; James 2:5)
  • Interpretation of the Abraham/Isaac narrative from Genesis, applied to believers in Christ

The last of these is most prominent in Galatians and Romans, with two main sections in each letter, which are in many ways parallel:

  • Gal 3 (esp. vv. 15-18, 24-29) / Rom 4 (esp. vv. 13-25)
  • Gal 4:1-7 / Rom 8:12-17ff

The first section (in each letter) deals directly with the Scriptural account of the blessing and promise to Abraham—in particular, of the child (Isaac) promised to him, and through whom many descendants would come (cf. Gen 12:1-3; 13:15-16; 15:1-6; 17:1-8, 15-19; 18:10-14; 21:1ff). In Gal 3:9, 14, 29 Paul identifies believers—those who trust in Christ—as Abraham’s children according to the promise. Christ himself is understood as the true son and heir (Gal 3:16), and believers are (fellow) sons and heirs as well (Rom 4:13-14; Gal 3:29).

The second section describes the sense in which believers are sons and heirs of God: through the work (the death) of Christ, and our participation in (and identification with) his death (and resurrection), cf. Gal 4:4-5; Rom 8:2ff, 13. The Spirit then confirms our identity as sons (and heirs), crying out in and with us “O, Father!”. The word generally translated “heir” (klhrono/mo$) refers to one who “holds the lot”, the klh=ro$ being the pebble or marker which indicates that a person will receive a specific portion of the thing being distributed (land, property, etc). In some ways, the Spirit is itself the lot that believers hold, indicating our inheritance (with Christ) of the Father’s estate (i.e. the kingdom of God).

In this Advent/Christmas season, in which the birth of Jesus is celebrated, it is important always to keep in mind the ultimate purpose of the birth, as Paul describes vividly in Gal 4:4-7: God sent forth his Son so that we too would become his children, receiving placement as a son (ui(oqesi/a) along with Christ himself. It is God the Father who accomplishes this, as indicated in the last words of v. 7 (dia\ qeou=, “through God”). The expression dia\ qeou= is a bit unusual here, and it has resulted in several variant readings in the textual tradition, most frequently the substitution or addition of a reference to (Jesus) Christ: (a) dia\ [ )Ihsou=] Xristou= (“{an heir} through [Jesus] Christ”); (b) qeou= dia\ [ )Ihsou=] Xristou= (“{an heir} of God through [Jesus] Christ”). However, assuming that the more difficult reading dia\ qeou= is original, I believe that Paul uses the expression here, in its (final) emphatic position, to make clear by what power it is that we are made sons of God—it is through the work and power of the Father himself (cf. John 1:12-13).

Note of the Day – December 13

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Galatians 4:6

This series of Advent season notes has been examining Galatians 4:4, looking at each word or phrase in the verse, in order—

o%te de\ h@lqen to\ plh/rwma tou= xro/nou e)cape/steilen o( qeo\$ to\n ui(o\n au)tou= geno/menon e)k gunaiko/$ geno/menon u(po\ no/mon
“but when the fullness of time came, God set forth out from (him) his Son, coming to be out of a woman, coming to be under the Law…”

as well as the conclusion of the sentence in verse 5:

i%na tou\$ u(po\ no/mon e)cagora/sh| i%na th\n ui(oqesi/an a)pola/bwmen
“…so that he might buy out [i.e. redeem] the (one)s under (the) Law, so that we might receive from (him) placement as a son”

Now it remains to look at Paul’s statement in verse 6, which builds upon the previous two verses:

o%ti de/ e)ste ui(oi/ e)cape/steilen o( qeo\$ to\ pneu=ma tou= ui(ou= au)tou= ei)$ ta\$ kardi/a$ h(mw=n kra=zon: a)bba= o( path/r
“And, (in) that [i.e. because] you are sons, God set forth out from (him) the Spirit of his Son into our hearts crying ‘Abba, Father!'”
Note: later manuscripts tend to read “into your [u(mw=n] hearts”, but the ‘earliest and best’ manuscripts have “into our [h(mw=n] hearts”, and this is most likely the original reading.

This verse is best analyzed by comparing its similarity to vv. 4-5:

  • God set forth out from (him) [e)cape/steilen] his Son
    • (into the world) [i.e. the human condition: “coming to be out of a woman, coming to be under the Law”]
      • so that we might receive ‘adoption’ as his son(s)
  • God set forth out from (him) [e)ape/steilen] the Spirit of his Son
    • into our hearts
      • crying (in/with us) “Father!”

As mentioned previously, the very same idea is expressed in Romans 8:15:

“for you did not receive the Spirit of slavery again into fear, but (rather) you received the Spirit of placement as a son, in which we cry ‘Abba, Father!'”

Here the adoption (“placement as a son”) is identified with the Spirit (“you received the Spirit…”), whereas in Gal 4:5-6, the two are connected, but distinct. In Galatians, it almost appears that Paul treats these as two stages in the ‘order of salvation’—being made/designated as sons through Christ’s work, and (then) receiving the Spirit as confirmation of sonship. This possibly reflects baptism ritual (Gal 3:27, also Rom 6:3-4; 1 Cor 12:13; Col 2:12); certainly a two-stage rite developed in the early Church whereby: (1) descent into and ascent out of the water symbolized participation in the death, burial and resurrection of Christ, while (2) anointing/chrism represented the receipt/seal of the Spirit. There is, however, no reason to treat these as distinct episodes or phenomena in an absolute or metaphysical sense.

The connection with freedom from slavery/bondage (under sin and the Law), shared by Gal 4 and Rom 8, is also highly significant—for the Spirit represents and embodies the freedom that believers have in Christ, as Paul declares in 2 Cor 3:17 (cf. also Gal 4:31; 5:1, 13ff; Rom 6:7, 18ff; 7:3ff; 8:2, 21). Indeed, Paul seems to understand the Spirit primarily as the abiding presence of Christ in and among believers, much as we see in the Gospel and letters of John, though it may alternately be referred to as the “Spirit of Christ” and the “Spirit of God” (Rom 8:9)—the two concepts really cannot be separated. Insofar as believers are “in Christ”, they are in the Spirit; similarly, the Spirit is in believers, just as Christ is in us.

Two additional aspects of verse 6 are especially noteworthy:

  • The phrase which introduces the verse (o%ti de\ e)ste ui(oi/, “and in that you are [e)ste] sons”)—this expresses the reality (i.e. the status) of believers, and it is significant that here it is separated specifically from the experience of the Spirit; the Spirit confirms and declares what we already are in Christ. It might be thought that this status of son (and heir) is introduced by Christ’s work (and our faith in him); however, the context of the illustration in 4:1-3 (also 3:24-26) suggests that believers are already God’s sons (and heirs) even while “under the Law” and “under sin”—this status is only realized through the work of Christ on our behalf. There may be a ‘gnostic’ tinge to this idea, but it is actually fundamental to the doctrines of election and predestination. Paul does not draw such a connection precisely here (cf. Eph 1:5), but it is well established throughout his letters. Rom 8:26-30 is especially relevant, since we find there the same image of the Spirit in us crying/groaning to God.
  • The oracular role of the Spirit, crying out to God (in us) “Father!”—Paul actually uses the Aramaic aB*a^ (°abb¹°), transliterated in Greek as a)bba=. It is a vocative form (“O, Father!”); by adding the Greek o( path/r, Paul is simply translating the Aramaic for his Greek-speaking audience. The parallel passage in Rom 8:15 (cf. above) uses the same formula; elsewhere in the New Testament a)bba= is only used (preserved in the words of Jesus) in Mark 14:36. Almost certainly Paul’s employment of the word here (and in Rom 8:15) is a result of its importance within the sayings of Jesus, as preserved in early Gospel tradition. Interestingly, in Rom 8:15, it is we (believers) who cry “Abba, Father”; in Gal 4:6 it is the  Spirit in us who cries these words. This reflects a sense of interaction, cooperation, even identification, between believers and the indwelling Spirit (cf. 1 Cor 6:17; 12:13; Eph 2:18; 4:4), such as Paul describes in Rom 8:26ff.

The conclusion of Paul’s argument in 4:1-7 (verse 7) will be discussed in the next note.

Note of the Day – December 12

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Galatians 4:4-5

This series of Advent season notes has been examining Galatians 4:4, looking at each word or phrase in the verse, in order:

o%te de\ h@lqen to\ plh/rwma tou= xro/nou e)cape/steilen o( qeo\$ to\n ui(o\n au)tou= geno/menon e)k gunaiko/$ geno/menon u(po\ no/mon
“but when the fullness of time came, God set forth out from (him) his Son, coming to be out of a woman, coming to be under the Law…”

The conclusion of the sentence is found in verse 5, will be discussed in today’s note:

i%na tou\$ u(po\ no/mon e)cagora/sh| i%na th\n ui(oqesi/an a)pola/bwmen
“…so that he might buy out [i.e. redeem] the (one)s under (the) Law, so that we might receive from (him) placement as a son”

This verse is comprised of two purpose/result clauses, marked by the particle i%na (“[so] that”):

  • “so that [i%na] he might buy out [e)cagora/sh|] the ones under the Law [tou\$ u(po\ no/mon]”
  • “so that [i%na] we might receive from (him) [a)pola/bwmen] placement as a son [th\n ui(oqesi/an]”
Clause #1:

The first purpose/result involves redemption, the verb e)cagora/zw literally meaning “buy/purchase out”, the context being that of purchasing a slave out of servitude/bondage. The verb is rare, used only 4 times in the New Testament (all in the Pauline letters); the most relevant instance is in Gal 3:13, which I mentioned in the previous note. Gal 3:10-14 is generally parallel to 4:1-7:

  • Human beings are under the curse (i.e. under the Law and under sin), v. 10
  • Jesus came to be under the curse, by “coming to be” (geno/meno$) the curse himself (through his death on the cross, in fulfillment of the Law), v. 13
  • In so doing, he redeemed (e)chgo/rasen) humankind from the curse (of the Law)
  • As a result, believers receive the blessings and promise of Abraham (v. 14), i.e. we come to be children (sons) of Abraham, and heirs according to the promise (cf. 3:15-29)

The expression u(po\ kata/ran (“under the curse”) stands midway between the parallel expressions u(po\ no/mon (“under the Law”) and u(po\ a(marti/an (“under sin”)—this helps to explain the twofold meaning of e)cagora/zw in Gal 4:5:

  • human beings are purchased out of bondage to sin, freed from its enslaving power (cf. also 1 Cor 6:20; 7:23)
  • believers are freed from servitude to the Law of the old covenant, no longer bound by its authority

Clearly, this redemption applies to Gentiles as well as Israelites and Jews. Even though Gentiles are not “under the Law” in the sense of being obligated to observe the Torah, they are, in their own way, still under the Law. This is partly explained by the phrase “enslaved under [u(po/] the ‘elements’ [stoixei=a] of the world” in verse 3 (cf. also v. 9 and Col 2:8, 20), though Paul does not clarify the exact relationship between the Law and the “elements of the world”. The only information provided in the immediate context of Galatians and Colossians has to do with certain ceremonial/ritual behavior—observance of the Sabbath and holy days (Gal 4:10; Col 3:16-17), dietary and/or purity regulations (Col 3:20-22), and, possibly, circumcision (Col 3:11; also fundamental to the arguments in Galatians). In Romans 2:12-15; 3:9ff and 7:13ff, Paul offers a somewhat different description of how Gentiles are “under the Law” (and under the power of sin). For the uniquely Pauline understanding of the relationship between the Law and sin, see Gal 3:19-25; Rom 3:19-20; 5:18-21; 7:7-25; 11:32. Clearly, it is the sacrificial death of Christ that frees believers from the power of sin (and the Law)—Gal 2:19-20; 3:10-14, 23-26; Rom 3:21-26; 5:1-11, 18-21; 6:1-11, 14-15, 22; 7:1-6; 8:1-4; 10:4; 2 Cor 3:7-18, etc. Believers participate in Christ’s death (and resurrection) through faith and the Spirit, marked by the symbolism associated with baptism (Rom 6:3-4; Gal 3:27; 1 Cor 12:13; Col 2:12, etc).

Clause #2:

The second purpose/result clause involves sonship, that is, of believers’ status as sons (children) of God. This is typically described as adoption, though the Greek word (ui(oqesi/a) properly means “placement as a son”—often in the technical/legal sense of adoption, but it can be used in other symbolic/metaphorical ways as well. Paul uses the term in Rom 8:15, 23; 9:4 (and it is also in Eph 1:5). Note the context of these passages:

  • Rom 9:4—it is used of Israel, the people (collectively) considered as God’s “son” in a symbolic/spiritual sense (Exod 4:22; Hos 11:1f; Jer 31:9; cf. also Isa 1:2; 30:1, 9; Mal 1:6)
  • Rom 8:15—believers, through the Spirit, receive ‘adoption’ as sons of God
  • Rom 8:23—similarly of believers, but in an eschatological sense, tied to the resurrection (i.e. redemption of our bodies)
  • Eph 1:5—again of believers, but prior to our coming to faith, connected with the idea of predestination

Rom 8:15 is very close in language and meaning to Gal 4:5-6 (v. 6 will be discussed in the next daily note).

The verb a)polamba/nw (“take/receive from”) along with ui(oqesi/a expresses clearly the idea that, through Christ (and our trust/faith in him), we receive from God placement as sons (we are made his sons/children). Note the conceptual chiasm in vv. 4-5:

  • God sends forth his Son
    —as a human being under the Law
    —to redeem/purchase those enslaved under the Law (and sin)—as a result:
  • We receive placement (i.e. are ‘adopted’) as God’s sons

This is expounded further by Paul in verse 6.

Note of the Day – December 11

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Galatians 4:4

This series of Advent season notes examines Galatians 4:4. The particular word or phrase discussed each day will be underlined and indicated in bold in the verse:

o%te de\ h@lqen to\ plh/rwma tou= xro/nou e)cape/steilen o( qeo\$ to\n ui(o\n au)tou= geno/menon e)k gunaiko/$ geno/menon u(po\ no/mon
“but when the fullness of time came, God set forth out from (him) his Son, coming to be out of a woman, coming to be under the Law…”

u(po\ no/mon (“under [the] Law”)

The expression u(po\ no/mon (“under [the] Law”) appears a number of times in Galatians and Romans—Gal 3:23; 4:4-5, 21; 5:18; Rom 3:21; 6:14-15—as well as in 1 Cor 9:20. The preposition u(po/ has the basic (metaphorical) sense of being under the authority of someone or something, in this case under the Law (no/mo$). Paul uses the word no/mo$ almost exclusively in reference to the Old Testament Law (Torah); only occasionally does it have a more general or broader meaning, as in Rom 2:14; 3:27; 7:21-25; 8:2—especially noteworthy is the expression [o(] no/mo$ [tou=] qeou= (“[the] Law of God”) in Rom 7:22, 25; 8:7; 1 Cor 9:20, which I take to be synonymous with the will of God, and not precisely identical with the Torah as such (though, of course, the will of God is expressed in the Torah). As far as being “under the Law” (u(po\ no/mon), this primarily refers to those who are under the authority of the Law—i.e. Israelites and Jews—obligated to observe its commands, regulations, precepts, etc. However, in Galatians especially, Paul uses the expression with a define an particular nuance, as synonymous (or parallel) with:

  • u(po\ kata/ran (“under [the] curse”)—Gal 3:10, i.e. the curse of the Law (cf. Deut 27-28)
  • u(po\ [th\n] a(marti/an (“under sin”)—Gal 3:22 (also Rom 3:9; 7:14)
  • u(po\ paidagwgo/n (“under a paidagogos“)—Gal 3:25, cf. also Gal 4:2 (“under guardians and house-masters”)
  • u(po\ ta\ stoixei=a tou= ko/smou (“under the stoicheia/elements of the world”)—Gal 4:3 (cf. Col 2:8, 20)

This relates to the unique, fundamental view of the Law expressed by Paul, esp. in Galatians and Romans, which is marked by two principal teachings:

  1. The main purpose of the Law is to bring knowledge/awareness of sin to human beings—in particular, that they are enslaved under the power of sin—which, in turn, “increases” sin and brings humanity further into bondage (cf. Gal 3:19-25; Rom 3:20; 5:20-21; 7:7ff; 11:32)
  2. The power of sin (and the Law) comes to an end through the work of Christ (his death and resurrection)—as a result, believers are no longer “under the Law” (cf. especially Gal 2:19; 3:13, 22-26; 4:28-31; 5:1ff; Rom 3:21ff; 5:15-21; 6:14-15, 22; 7:1-6; 8:2ff; 10:4).

I have examined these (and other) passages all throughout the articles on Paul’s View of the Law (cf. on Galatians and Romans). The two theological/doctrinal points listed above inform the use of the expression “under the Law” here in Gal 4:4, as the context of Gal 4:1-11 makes clear.

The illustration in vv. 1-3 (parallel to that in 3:24-26) depicts believers (prior to faith) collectively as a son (and heir) who is directly under the authority of household servants, effectively in bondage, though he is destined to inherit the father’s estate. This period of ‘bondage’ lasts until the time set beforehand by the father, at which point the child is no longer under the authority of servants, but is free and master of the estate (just like the father). This is the time referenced in verse 4, as discussed in an earlier note. It is also clear from verse 4 just what happens at this time—God sent forth his own son in human form (“coming to be out of [e)k] a woman”), which also indicates that he shares in the human condition (cf. the previous note). This condition is also what is meant in the next phrase (“coming to be under [u(po/] the Law”), in a two-fold sense:

  • As a Israelite—Jesus’ earthly parents were from the tribe of Judah (and possibly Levi, cf. Luke 1:5); according to the Lukan Infancy narrative, Jesus’ parents and relatives where devout and faithful in observing the Old Testament Law (Luke 1:6, 59; 2:21-24, 27, 39, 41-42ff), and presumably would have instructed Jesus as a child to do the same (Luke 2:51-52). For Jesus’ observance of the Law as an adult, there are relatively few references in the Gospels, but see Matt 5:17-19; Mark 14:12ff par; note also the thought and language in Matt 3:15; Mark 10:18-19ff par, etc.
  • As human being—according to Pauline thought, Jews and Gentiles are both, in their own way “under the Law” (Rom 2:12ff), especially in the sense of being enslaved under the power of sin (Rom 2:12ff; 3:9-20, etc), which is revealed and judged under the Law. It is not entirely clear whether (or in what sense) Jesus, in taking on human “flesh”, was “under sin” (cf. Rom 8:3; 2 Cor 5:21), but in Gal 3:13 it is said that Jesus effectively comes “under the curse” (by coming to be the curse himself, for our sake).

Gal 3:10-14 is especially important for an understanding of 4:4f; note the logic:

  • Human beings are under the curse (i.e. under the Law and under sin), v. 10
  • Jesus came to be under the curse, by “coming to be” (geno/meno$) the curse himself (through his death on the cross, in fulfillment of the Law), v. 13
  • In so doing, he redeemed (e)chgo/rasen) humankind from the curse (of the Law)
  • As a result, believers receive the blessings and promise of Abraham (v. 14), i.e. we come to be children (sons) of Abraham, and heirs according to the promise (cf. 3:15-29)

This very same line of logic applied to Gal 4:1-7 as well, which will be demonstrated more fully in the discussion of verse 5 in the next daily note.

Note of the Day – December 10

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Galatians 4:4

This series of Advent season notes examines Galatians 4:4. The particular word or phrase discussed each day will be underlined and indicated in bold in the verse:

o%te de\ h@lqen to\ plh/rwma tou= xro/nou e)cape/steilen o( qeo\$ to\n ui(o\n au)tou= geno/menon e)k gunaiko/$ geno/menon u(po\ no/mon
“but when the fullness of time came, God set forth out from (him) his Son, coming to be out of a woman, coming to be under the Law…”

e)k gunaiko/$ (“out of a woman”)

The first participle geno/menon (“coming to be”) is followed by the prepositional expression e)k gunaiko/$ (“out of a woman”). As indicated in the previous note, the verb gi/nomai with the preposition e)k (“come to be out of”) is often used for natural production or birth. The addition of gunh/ (“woman”) specifies what would otherwise be obvious, while also giving an elevated style and rhythm to the sentence. Several aspects of this phrase need to be examined:

1. The reality of Jesus’ birth. Here e)k gunaiko/$ makes his coming to be [geno/menon] concrete, part of the natural process of human birth. Jesus was truly and actually born: (a) from a woman generally, i.e. through natural childbirth, and (b) from a particular woman, i.e. Maryam (Mary). Note also the use of gi/nomai + e)k in Rom 1:3, which likewise affirms Jesus’ real human birth, but in a different respect (“out of the seed of David”). In the second and third centuries, in order to combat “docetic” views of Jesus, the reality of his human birth was occasionally given additional emphasis by commentators and scribes, which is reflected in a number of variant readings in the manuscripts.

2. His Humanity. The phrase “born of a woman” is a circumlocution for human beings in general, i.e. the human condition. It is a Hebrew idiom, used occasionally in Old Testament poetry (Job 14:1; 15:4; 25:4), cf. also 1QS 11:20ff and 1 Cor 11:12. Paul, along with virtually all early Christians, accepted—indeed, would have taken for granted—that Jesus was a real human being. Only at the end of the New Testament period, do we see any indication of believers questioning the reality of Christ’s humanity (cf. 1 John 4:2). Various forms of “docetic” Christology—i.e., that Jesus only seemed or appeared to be a normal human being—had developed by the mid-2nd century, and continued to exert influence over Christian thought for some time.

3. His Suffering. “Born of a woman” signifies the process of childbirth, including its pain, which is representative of human suffering and misfortune as a whole (Gen 3:16ff). This is implied in the use of the expression in Job (above), and see also Isa 21:3; 26:17; Jer 4:31; 13:21; 22:23; 49:22; Hos 13:13; Mark 13:8 par; John 16:21; Rom 8:22; 1 Thess 5:3, etc. It is not certain that Paul is referring specifically to Jesus’ suffering here in Gal 4:4, but Christ’s death (on the cross) is in view all throughout Galatians (esp. 1:4; 2:19-20; 3:1, 13; 5:11; 6:12, 14). Paul typically does not emphasize the physical pain, etc. of the crucifixion, but the idea of suffering is certainly present in Gal 3:13, where Jesus is said to have become the curse of the Law.

What of the relationship between sin and the human condition? In the religious tradition of ancient Israel, childbirth itself resulted in impurity for the mother, which had to be cleansed (cf. Lev 12:1-8; Luke 2:22, 24). This likewise is indicated in the use of the expression “born of a woman” in Job 15:14; 25:4, which leads to a highly sensitive Christological question: in taking on human flesh, did Jesus take on the sin/impurity that is in the flesh (according to Paul’s way of thinking, cf. Rom 7:5, 7-25) as well? The main passages where Paul addresses this are:

  • 2 Cor 5:21: “…the (one) not knowing sin He [i.e. God] made (to be) sin over us [i.e. on our behalf], (so) that we might come to be the righteousness of God in him”
  • Rom 8:3f: “God, sending his own Son in (the) likeness of flesh of sin [i.e. sinful flesh], also judged against sin in the flesh, (so) that the righteousness of the Law might be fulfilled in us…”
  • Gal 3:13: “Christ bought us out of [i.e. redeemed us from] the curse of the Law, coming to be (the) curse over us [i.e. on our behalf]…”

The key portions (in italics) are especially difficult, from the standpoint of orthodox Christology, for they suggest some degree of identification between sin and the person of Christ. I have discussed 2 Cor 5:21 and Rom 8:3 together in an earlier note. In any case, the focus of Christ being made sin, coming to be the curse, etc, is specifically his death on the cross. It is this sacrificial work which redeems and frees humankind from sin and, ultimately, from suffering.

4. The Virgin Birth? Does Gal 4:4 imply a belief in the virgin birth? Though occasionally traditional-conservative commentators have sought to use this verse as evidence for the doctrine, there is really little (if any) indication of this in the text. As noted above, the expression “out of a woman” need not mean anything more than (ordinary) human childbirth and the human condition (with its ‘labor pains’) in general. While it may be assumed that Paul accepted the idea of Jesus’ virgin birth, he does not mention it anywhere in his letters. Rom 1:3, the only other reference to Jesus’ birth as such, could actually be read in the other direction, with “out of the seed of David” indicating the genealogy of Joseph (as in Matthew 1 and Luke 3). In point of fact, the virgin birth is not referenced in the New Testament outside of the Infancy narratives of Matthew and Luke, neither in the early preaching recorded in the book of Acts, nor in the Letters, nor elsewhere in Gospel tradition; indeed, the birth of Jesus itself is scarcely even mentioned. Clearly, it was not an integral part of the early Gospel proclamation and instruction, and believers today should exercise considerable caution in trying to make the virgin birth (or conception) into a binding point of doctrine.