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Wrestling with the Word, episode 3: The Baptism of our Lord, Year B (Jan. 11, 2009) December 19, 2008

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The Baptism of our Lord
1st Sunday after the Epiphany

This third episode of the Wrestling with the Word podcast discusses the biblical passages assigned in the Revised Common Lectionary for January 11, 2009. The Gospel from Mark 1 introduces us to John the Baptizer who then baptizes Jesus. The descent of the Holy Spirit and the announcement of Jesus’ identity as God’s beloved Son provide the climax of the story. The first lesson from the first verses of Genesis 1 provide the statement of faith that in bringing light into existence, God took the first step in transforming chaos into order. Psalm 29 reflects on the majesty and glory of God to which the victory over chaos points. The second lesson from Acts 19 picks up the baptism theme of Mark 1. The passage describes the beginning of Paul’s second missionary journey and his baptism of twelve persons in Ephesus that results in the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 3: The Baptism of our Lord, Year B.

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Genesis 1:1-5
Out of the chaos of formlessness, darkness, and water, God creates light by speaking the divine word in order to separate day and night.

Context
This account of creation probably came into its present form at the hands of some priests during the sixth century B.C.  Further, it was likely that priests in Babylon composed the account.

Key Words
V. 1.  berē’šît bārā’ ‘elôhîm = “In a beginning God created.” To read “in the beginning” the first Hebrew word would have to be bārē’šît.  More likely, the problem lies with the second word which should read berô’ = “the creating of.” Thus the first word would a noun in construct and the second an infinitive construct of the verb, thus “in the beginning of the creating of God,” or “when God began to create.”

V. 2.  tôhû wābôhû = “formlessness and waste”:  both here and at Jer. 4:23 to describe chaos.

V. 2.  wechōšek `al-penê tehôm = “and darkness upon the face of the deep”:  The word for “deep,” tehôm, is the same word as the Babylonian monster Tiamat.

V. 2.  rûach ‘elōhîm merachepet = “wind of God hovering”:  the verb occurs only once more in the Bible (Deut. 32:11), more often in Ugaritic, always as the flight of a large bird.

V. 3.  wayyō’mer ‘elōhîm = “And God said”:  the idea of God’s creating by word occurs explicitly only elsewhere at Ps. 33:6; at Prov. 3:19 the means of God’s creative work is “wisdom.”

V. 4.  wayyar’ ‘elōhîm ‘et-hā’ôr kî-tôb = “and God saw the light that (it was) good”:  the mark of a craftsman on his product (Isa. 41:7).

Links
In 1926 Edwin Hubble observed that galaxies were moving away from us and from one another at high velocity. One year later Father Georges LeMaitre, a Belgian priest and skilled mathematician, wrote a paper in which he took the calculation of speed at which the galaxies were zooming away and ran the numbers in reverse. By so doing, he determined that the entire universe started with an extremely dense atom that burst its energy into what became the universe, the “big bang” as it became known. Pope Pius XI took pride in his priest’s accomplishments and honored him, even before his hypothesis became widely accepted in scientific circles. LeMaitre advised the Pope, however, that while scientific theory and faith are not incompatible, it is critical to maintain the distinction between matters of science and those of faith.

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Psalm 29
The psalm is a hymn of praise that extols the majesty and glory of God in the midst of the tumult of a storm.  Borrowing much imagery and even precise wording from Ugaritic poetry about Baal, the psalmist indicates the enthronement of YHWH over the watery chaos (“the flood”) and the call to praise given to the divine court. That majesty becomes the basis for the plea to YHWH for strength and salvation to the people of Israel.

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Acts 19:1-7
Exceeding the baptism of repentance practiced and taught by John the baptizer, Paul baptized a dozen persons in Ephesus in the name of Jesus, resulting in the gift of the Holy Spirit through the laying on of Paul’s hands.

Context
These verses begin the story of Paul’s third missionary journey, a trip that continues through chapter 20. This entire chapter describes Paul’s experiences in Ephesus. According to 20:31, he stayed in the city for three years.

Key Words
V. 1. Apollos: Introduced in the previous paragraph (18:24-28), Apollos was a native of Alexandria in Egypt. The author of Acts extols his virtues but comments that the only baptism Apollos knew was the baptism of John. Impressed with Apollos’ instruction and fervor, the disciples Priscilla and Aquila instructed him more fully, helping him to become an effective speaker of the good news about Jesus. Paul writes positively about Apollos and his role as the one who “watered” the seed Paul planted in Corinth (1 Corinthians 3:5; 4:6).

V. 1. Ephesus: The city was a large commercial and religious center in the Roman province of Asia, now the western coast of Turkey. Its position as a seaport city brought much trade and commerce, as well as a mixture of peoples and cultures. From early times, the people there worshipped a goddess whom the later Greeks named Artemis. She and her temple play a major part in the events that follow here in verses 23-41.

Vv. 2-3. “Holy Spirit”: According to the author of Luke-Acts, the Holy Spirit came upon a multitude of persons gathered in Jerusalem for the festival of Pentecost (Acts 2:1ff.), the Greek name meaning “fiftieth” because the Jewish Feast of Weeks occurred on the 5oth day after Passover. Peter explained that the experience was the fulfillment of the prophecy about the coming of the Spirit “in the last days” (Acts 2:17-21). Establishing the timing differently, the author of John’s Gospel reports that the Holy Spirit came upon the apostles on the evening of Jesus’ Resurrection (Easter Sunday; see John 20:19-23).

Vv. 3-4. John’s baptism. See the report of John’s baptizing and preaching at Matthew 3:1-12//Mark 1:4-8//Luke 3:1-17.

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Mark 1:4-11
Having prepared for the ministry of Jesus through the preaching of John, God bestowed his Spirit on Jesus at his baptism, announcing his identity as God’s beloved Son who will fulfill the role of the Servant.

See the parallel passages at Matt. 3:1-17; Luke 3:15-22.

Context
Mark’s story about the baptism of Jesus introduces Jesus in this gospel. Standing at “the beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, Son of God” (1:1), this event could be understood to mean that the divinity of Jesus occurred only through an adoption formula when Jesus was at least a young man. The question motivated Matthew and Luke to write about the conception of Jesus in Mary’s womb by the Holy Spirit.

Key Words
V. 4. kēryssōn baptisma metanoias eis aphesin hamartiōn = “preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins”: The content of John’s preaching raises the question about Jesus’ need for baptism when he was believed to be without sin. Matthew addresses the problem in one way (Matt. 3:14-15) and Luke attempts a different solution (Luke 3:20).

V. 6. Kai hēn ho Iōannēs endedymenos trixas kauēlou kai zōnēn dermatinēn peri tēn osphyn = “And John was clothed with the hair of a camel and with a leather girdle around his waist”: The attire is reminiscent of that of the prophet Elijah (2 Kings 1:8). Elijah was expected to appear in the future to prepare people for the coming of the Day of the Lord (Malachi 4:5-6). For another connection between Elijah and John, see Matt. 11:14.

V. 11.  su ei ho huios mou ho agapētos = “You are my son, the beloved”:  the first part of the expression is virtually identical to the LXX of Ps. 2:7.  The latter part appears in the LXX only in Genesis 22 where it refers to Isaac.  Note that in this passage (contra Matthew, like Luke) Jesus alone is the addressee of the heavenly message.

V. 11.  en soi eudokēsa = “in whom I am pleased”:  while the Hebrew of Isa. 42:1 is translated in the LXX by different words entirely, the Hebrew could have been translated the same as the Greek of v. 11.  This connection would establish Jesus also as the Servant of Second Isaiah who comes to establish justice for all people.  Just as the Spirit  of Isa. 42:1 descending upon that prophet, so here the Spirit descends on Jesus just prior to the pronouncement of his identity.

Wrestling With The Word, episode 2: Second Sunday after Christmas, Year B (Jan. 4, 2009) December 9, 2008

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This second episode of the Wrestling with the Word podcast discusses the biblical passages assigned by the Revised Common Lectionary for January 4, 2009, or the second Sunday after Christmas, Year B. The Gospel from John 1 announces that the Word-become-flesh in Jesus Christ existed from all eternity as the Son of God. The connection between God’s son and salvation has its background in the first lesson from Jeremiah, and the eternal existence of the Word has its background in the alternate lesson from Sirach. The psalm for the day, Psalm 147, praises God for the sending of the word, and the second lesson, a hymn in Ephesians 1:3-14, announces that the coming of Christ was God’s plan from the beginning of time.

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 2: Second Sunday after Christmas.

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Jeremiah 31:7-14

Just as the Lord sent Israel into exile, so will the Lord bring back his first-born with singing, reversing their fortunes that they know shalom.

Context

At his call to be a prophet (1:4-10) Jeremiah was told his role would be not only to pluck up and break down but also to build and to plant.  While most of the preceding oracles are ones of judgment, in chap. 30 is a series of good news promises regarding restoration begins.

Key Words

V. 10.  šim‘û debar YHWH = “hear the word of the Lord”:  the precise expression occurs 33 times in the OT, but only here and in Ezek. 20:47; 25:3 as an address to anyone other than Israelites.

V. 10.  wehaggîdû ba’’iyyîm = “declare in the coastlands”:  often used as a synonym for “nations” or “earth” to focus on God’s reach beyond the confines of Israel:  Ps. 97:1; Isa. 24:15 (where people in the coastlands give glory to the Lord); 41:1; 42:4, 10, 12 (universal praise of God); 49:1.

V. 13.  wenichamtîm = “and I will comfort them”:  the expression is common in regard to the exiles in Second Isaiah:  40:1; 51:3, 12; 52:9 (// “redeemed”).

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Sirach 24:1-12 (alternate)

Like the word of God, the wisdom of God came forth from God’s mouth to cover the earth but eventually pitched a tent in Jerusalem to be present in a special way as God’s torah.

The Wisdom of Jesus ben Sirach (alias Ecclesiasticus) is one of the key books included in the Old Testament Apocrypha. The 15 books in this collection did not fit the criteria of the Jewish community at the end of first century for inclusion into its approved writings (or canon).  The Hebrew Bible comprised basically the 39 books many Christians know as the Old Testament. Other books that were not written in Hebrew but in Greek and other languages and were not believed to have been written between the time of Moses and that of Ezra made up the separate collection of “hidden books” (the meaning of Apocrypha). These books were included in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, and were used by early Christian writers.

The work of Jesus ben Sirach was produced in Hebrew in the early decades of the second century B.C.E , but his grandson’s translation of the work into Greek at least 5o years later is the only manuscript available.

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Psalm 147:12-20

The psalm of praise extols the power and the grace of God. The portion assigned here looks to the word of God that both controls nature and instructs Israel in a unique way because of its election.

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Ephesians 1:3-14

Praise to God who has unveiled the mystery of the new community, a community identified by baptism and waiting confidently for the inheritance to come.

Context

Scholars debate whether the Apostle Paul was the author of this epistle. In either case, the letter provides a profound discussion about the universal extent of God’s creation and redemption in Jesus Christ. It also calls on Christians to live in love to one another as a community of persons baptized in Christ. The passage is a hymn like those in 1 Cor. 13, Col. 1, and Phil 2.

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John 1: (1-9) 10-18

The eternal Word of God who existed alongside God from all eternity and who was God has become one of us to share in our lives, our sufferings, and in all the conditions known to humanity.

Context

Some NT scholars regard the background of the piece in an ancient wisdom hymn or at least from ancient wisdom themes. In the OT and in the Apocrypha “wisdom” seems to have been personified in several ways (Prov. 8:22-31; 9:1-6; Sirach 24:1-12). Verses 9-15 might be interpreted in light of these wisdom traditions, particularly in light of Sir. 24:  “light … in the world … came to his own home … children of God.”  On the other hand, other scholars see the outline as a historical reflection of Israel’s past and the coming of Christ:  “in the world … yet the world did not known him” (the period from Adam to Moses), “came to what was his own and his own people did not accept him” (the Sinai law), “children of God” (the faithful remnant of Israel), “the Word became flesh” (Incarnation), “and we have seen his glory” (the Transfiguration). Whether or not either of those backgrounds provides wording and imagery for this hymn, the content describes the story of Jesus quite well.

Key Words

V. 1. en archē = “in (the) beginning”: The same words the LXX uses at Gen. 1:1. Note that Mark’s Gospel also starts with “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ,” (1:1). The Gen. 1 themes of darkness and light follow here in John 1.

V. 14. kai eskēnōsen en hēmin = “and pitched a tent among us”: cf. Sir. 24 where the Creator assigned for Wisdom “the tent” (skēnēn, v. 8), ordered Wisdom to “tent (kataskēnōson, v. 9); “in the holy tent” (skēnē) Wisdom ministered before the Creator (v. 10).

V. 18. “full of grace and truth”: for Jesus as “truth” in John see 8:32, 36; 14:6; 19:37-38.

Wrestling with the Word, Episode 1 December 9, 2008

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This is my first episode of Wrestling with the Word. The Show Notes here differ from those of future episodes simply because this show serves as an introduction to me and to my approach to the biblical discussions. The podcast itself is basically the presentation on the About page and will serve as my notes for the program.

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word Episode 1.

Welcome to WrestlingWithTheWord.com December 3, 2008

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My name is Foster McCurley. I offer this web site and the accompanying Wrestling with the Word podcast series simply because the struggle to understand the Bible and to seek its meaning for our day excite me. For the last decade of the 20th century, I published an audio tape series of the same name to assist pastors in their preparation for preaching on Sunday mornings. I ceased that publication only because it became so labor intensive. Frankly, over the past 9 years, I have missed the disciplined opportunity to discuss the passages (pericopes) assigned in the Revised Common Lectionary. Thanks to the technology of podcasting, I can return to the joy of the discussion without copying the tapes, photocopying notes, stashing them into envelopes, and mailing them out each month.

I have struggled to understand the Bible and its many parts ever since the time I entered the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia fifty years ago. Over the years, my lecturing, preaching, and writing books and articles have enabled and compelled me to hear the texts speak. Much of my approach to studying the texts and preaching comes together in Wrestling with the Word: Christian Preaching from the Hebrew Bible  (1996). The struggle has not stopped; I am still learning by wrestling with the biblical texts.

As for the sport of wrestling, I know very little about it. In fact, I can recall watching a wrestling match on television only during the Olympics one year. I do know, however, that I wrestle with my emotions when I see and hear a powerful speech, like Barack Obama’s late night address in Grant Park on November 4, 2008. I wrestle with comprehending the unfathomable data about the more than a hundred billion galaxies in space and the speed at which they move away from one another. I wrestle with the complex issues in our world, especially with their impact on the more vulnerable people on the globe. And I wrestle with the Bible as I search for the meaning of God’s word there.

Knowing what the Bible says is one thing. Grasping a measure of what it meant to its original hearers and what it means today is quite another. That is where the wrestling comes in. Opening the heart and mind for the spirit to enter in throws us into the middle of the ring where God encounters people in a variety of ways. That wrestling might be confrontational. More often, it might result in a divine embrace of acceptance and forgiveness, especially when so much confrontation in our world already overwhelms us.

In the arenas of changing times God entered human life throughout the millennia we call the biblical period. We struggle to discover what the spirit-inspired writers of the Bible said and wrote to their generations in specific situations. In so doing, we might gain insights into how God acts and speaks in similar situations today. In that wrestling we have the possibility of growing together.

You might find the podcasts helpful as you drive from here to there or as you sit alone in a nice quiet study. However, I urge you to listen to these discussions in small groups. With only one exception (The Epistle to Philemon), the many authors of the biblical books wrote to communities of faith. Even today, their writings take on deeper meaning in conversations of such gatherings. Groups of pastors might listen to these podcasts to discuss ideas about how their local communities might ask some of the theological and spiritual questions raised in biblical times. Pastors and laypersons might listen together to the podcasts prior to the Sundays mornings in order to enhance one another’s awareness of the spiritual dimensions in the biblical discussions.

My hope is to provide these podcasts over the next three years and to supplement those discussions with some written notes on the Greek and Hebrew texts on this web site. If you participate in this process, I suggest that you read my About page where I explain the approach I use to seek meaning from the biblical passages.

I’m glad you took the time to read my welcome! I hope my own excitement about Wrestling with the Word keeps you coming back.