Monday, October 14, 2013
Tuesday, March 26, 2013
Tuesday, February 19, 2013
Everyone who has heard the Christmas story knows that one of the titles given to the child, Jesus, is Ἐμμανουήλ, Emmanuel, which according to The Gospel of Matthew means “God with us” (1:23), in fulfillment of Isaiah 7:14. The apostle John's version of “God with us,” however, is not as well known perhaps because John does not point it out as Matthew does but also because our English translations tend to obscure John's “God with us.”
Two passages in the apostle John's writings present “God with us.” Both passages present God as “dwelling among us” in a tent or tabernacle. The first is the familiar verse of John 1:14—“And the Word became flesh and tabernacled among us, and we looked upon his glory, glory as of the one of a kind with the Father, full of grace and truth.” Familiar English translations translate the aorist verb, ἐσκήνωσεν, as “dwelt,” a legitimate translation. However, because John could have used a variety of other Greek words for “dwell,” it seems apparent that John means something more than simply “lived among us.” Because he uses a verb (σκηνόω) that has the same root derivation as the noun “tent,” John is making a strong allusion to both the “tent of meeting” (Ex. 33:7-11) and the “tabernacle” where the Lord revealed his presence among the Israelites of old.
So, what is John 1:14 telling us when he says, “And the Word became flesh and tabernacle among us”? The apostle means that the Lord no longer reveals himself in a tabernacle constructed in the wilderness or the temple built in Jerusalem but in flesh, in the man Christ Jesus. Thus, Jesus announces his riddle, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19). Likewise, Jesus declares to the woman of Samaria, “The hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. . . . But the hour is coming and now is when the true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such as these who will worship him” (John 4:21-23).
Certainly, much more could be said, but brevity calls for a short note on John’s use of the same imagery in Revelation 21:3. Here John uses both the noun, “tent” or “tabernacle” (ἡ σκηνὴ), and the verb, “will pitch a tent” or “will take up residence” (σκηνώσει). The loud voice from God’s throne announces, “Look! God’s tabernacle is with humans, and he makes his tabernacle with them, and they will be his people and God himself will be with them as their God” (21:3). Thus, in Christ Jesus, God fulfills his promise of long ago, not just through the prophet Isaiah, but also when he said through Moses, “I will set my sanctuary in their midst forever, and my place of lodging will be among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people” (Ex. 37:26-27).
Emmanuel (Ἐμμανουήλ), God with us, is what John means when he tells us, Καὶ ὁ λόγος σὰρξ ἐγένετο καὶ ἐσκήνωσεν ἐν ἡμῖν—“And the Word became flesh and pitched his tent among us.”
(This is a piece that I wrote as part of a package for the promotion of studying Koiné Greek at our college. I’ve not completely abandoned this blog. I’ve just become excessively occupied with off-line writing, editing, etc.)
Saturday, October 13, 2012
This is what the Lord says—
he who made a way through the sea,
a path through the mighty waters,
who drew out the chariots and horses,
the army and reinforcements together,
and they lay there, never to rise again,
extinguished, snuffed out like a wick:
“Forget the former things;
do not dwell on the past.
See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
and streams in the wasteland,
to give drink to my people, my chosen,
the people I formed for myself
that they may proclaim my praise . . .” (Isaiah 43:15-21; cf. 51:10).
Monday, September 17, 2012
Mark’s penchant for framing one episode with another signals readers that he intends that the accounts are not to be disconnected from one another but read together because the two episodes, inseparably conjoined, mutually explain each other. Wherever he sandwiches two episodes together, surely his method is literary in that he exploits verbal connections. Yet, his objective is theological. Therefore, readers are obliged to tease out Mark’s literary hints from each episode that link the sandwiched accounts theologically. Of course, given the evocative nature of Mark’s Gospel, no informed reader expects that the theological interrelationship between Mark’s two intertwined episodes should lie limpidly on the surface to be easily perceived with the eyes, even though the evangelist even goes out of his way to make his literary links heard.
Tuesday, September 4, 2012
Monday, August 20, 2012
Sometimes, while in the very act of teaching, my eyes become opened to see something in the text for the first time. This installment and the next will each offer insights that suddenly dawned upon me in the act of teaching. Both come from the Gospel of Mark, and both concern semi-veiled allusions to the Old Testament.
Several years ago, as I was teaching a classroom full of college students on the transfiguration and the following narrative in Mark 9:14-32, the words of the text caught my attention as never before and stirred my imagination. Immediately upon returning down from the Mount of Transfiguration, the narrative says, "And when they [Jesus, Peter, James & John] came to the disciples, they saw a great crowd around them, and scribes arguing with them. And immediately all the crowd, when they saw him, were greatly amazed and ran up to him and greeted him" (Mark 9:14-15; ESV). I posed a question to the students. Why do you suppose the text says that when the crowd saw Jesus they were greatly amazed? It is noteworthy to point out that elsewhere in Mark's Gospel the same verb in 9:15, ekthambeō (ἐκθαμβέω), occurs three times, once in 14:33 and once in 16:5 and 16:6, respectively. In 14:33, ekthambeō (ἐκθαμβέω) is used of Jesus in tandem with adēmoneō (ἀδημονέω). The sense is that Jesus "began to be distressed and troubled." In 16:5 and 16:6, ekthambeō (ἐκθαμβέω) is used first of the women who came to the tomb and found it empty and were amazed, and then of the young man who had been seated at the right side of the tomb who cautions, "Do not be amazed!" The verb speaks of deep movement of emotions, particularly of trembling astonishment. Thus, in Mark 9:14, the verb ekthambeō (ἐκθαμβέω) bursts upon the reader with unexpectedness. Given the fact that Mark's other uses of the verb ekthambeō (ἐκθαμβέω) denote intense emotion, we would be amiss to devalue the verb's intensity in 9:14.
The unexpectedness of this verb at this juncture of the story is underscored by the fact that throughout Mark's narrative, verbs that speak of astonishment, such as ekplēssomai (ἐκπλήσσομαι) in 1:22 signal the crowd's reaction to some remarkable teaching or miracle done by Jesus. In Mark 9:14, the crowd had not just seen any miracle nor had they just heard any extraordinary teaching from Jesus to trigger the response of being greatly amazed. Nevertheless, the narrative expressly states that the crowd's astonishment came when they saw Jesus. This surely indicates that there is something about Jesus' personage that incited the crowd's wonderment.
It seems much too weak to take Mark's verb that signals intense emotion as does James Edwards who says,
On the other hand, if Jesus' countenance still radiates the glory of the transfiguration, the command "not to tell anyone" (v. 9) seems rather pointless. Moreover, if Jesus' countenance is substantially affected, we might expect the crowd to retreat in fear (Exod 34:30) rather than advance in avid pursuit. . . . On balance, the astonishment of the crowd appears to owe to Jesus' unexpected appearance and the hopes it raised (Mark, 276-277).
It seems more likely that my imagination, activated by the text of Mark that day during class time, was intuitively right to direct the students to consider a recapitulation of Moses' descent from the mountain as recorded in Exodus 34:29-35.
When Moses came down from Mount Sinai, with the two tablets of the testimony in his hand as he came down from the mountain, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God. Aaron and all the people of Israel saw Moses, and behold, the skin of his face shone, and they were afraid to come near him. But Moses called to them, and Aaron and all the leaders of the congregation returned to him, and Moses talked with them. Afterward all the people of Israel came near, and he commanded them all that the Lord had spoken with him in Mount Sinai. And when Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a veil over his face.
Whenever Moses went in before the Lord to speak with him, he would remove the veil, until he came out. And when he came out and told the people of Israel what he was commanded, the people of Israel would see the face of Moses, that the skin of Moses’ face was shining. And Moses would put the veil over his face again, until he went in to speak with him.
[Mark] must mean that there was something about Jesus' appearance which gave them good reason to be astonished. The only possible explanation seems to be that Mark means us to understand that Jesus' appearance is still in some way affected by the transfiguration. If Moses, coming down the mountain after speaking with God, reflected the glory of God from his face without knowing it, and so caused all the people to be afraid (Exod. 34:29f.), it is not surprising if Jesus also, coming down the mountain from a similar experience, caused astonishment among the crowd (The Gospel according to Mark, 222-224).
What about James Edwards' objections to this understanding of the passage? What about his objection that this interpretation makes Jesus' command to the three apostles on the mountain "not to tell anyone" (v. 9) seem "rather pointless"? What about Edwards' objection that this interpretation should cause one to expect that the crowd would "retreat in fear (Exod 34:30) rather than advance in avid pursuit"?
It seems to me that any proper understanding of the interplay between Jesus' revealing and concealing his identity throughout Mark's narrative (the Secrecy Motif) has to acknowledge that Jesus' prohibition announced to his disciples on the mountain can hardly be taken the way Edwards does. In each of Jesus' acts, in each of his parables, and in each of his miracles he both reveals and conceals. This is the nature of revelation; in the very act of revealing there is also concealing, for never does Jesus pull back the curtains to disclose everything all at once. Jesus forbade the three disciples to speak of what they had seen on the mountain, but this prohibition hardly prevented him from carrying an afterglow of his transfigured glory with him for his other disciples and for the crowd below to glimpse, to be astonished, and to receive the revelatory hint that he is the one who is greater than Moses whose visage and garments shone long ago, whose shining prompted the Israelites to shield their eyes so that Moses veiled his face.
If the crowd got a glimpse of the glory with which Jesus had been clothed when the heavenly cloud descended upon him on the mountain, then why did the crowd not "retreat in fear" as the children of Israel did when Moses approached them after he came down from the mountain? Is it not reasonable for us to suppose that the evangelist tells us that the crowd was astonished but ran to him and greeted him because Mark wants us to realize that, even though the crowd likely acted better than they understood, their reception of Jesus who came down from the mountain with apparent glory yet shining from his clothing and visage signals that Jesus truly is the one greater than Moses of whom Moses prophesied when he said, "The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own brothers. You must listen to him" (Deut 18:15; NIV). The heavenly voice on the mountain quotes this passage with the command, "Listen to him!" (Mark 9:7), signifying that Jesus is the True Moses, the one greater than Moses, the one of whom Moses prophesied.
So, as I reflect upon that day several years ago when I was teaching on Mark 9, I marvel at how many times I have read the words of Mark 9:14-15 and have read numerous commentaries on the passage and yet the text struck me as though it were the first time. The words leaped off the page and struck my imagination, prompting me to raise questions for my students, questions that I also needed to search out. I never cease to marvel that, if my students learn nothing when I teach, that I always learn no matter how many times I have taught the same portions of the text before. Even though we who teach the text of Scripture repeatedly, year in and year out, there is something about the richness and fullness of the landscape of biblical narrative that we never take it all in at once. Even for us who teach there is much for us yet to learn. For we all are subject both to the revealing and concealing character of Scripture as God’s word revelation and to the revealing and concealing work of the Holy Spirit who opens our eyes afresh to truth formerly veiled from us (cf. Luke 24:13-35; 45).
I like the imagery which seems to have originate with Gregory the Great when he describes the nature of Scripture—“Scripture is like a river . . . broad and deep, shallow enough here for the lamb to go wading, but deep enough there for the elephant to swim” (Moralia, Epistle 4.177-78).
This post and series originates at Credo Blog.