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Wrestling with the Word, episode 47: Twenty-fourth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B (November 15, 2009) October 29, 2009

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Twenty-fourth Sunday after Pentecost

Throughout history, human beings have sought hope and comfort in the teachings of apocalyptic writings. Those end-time writings—filled with stop watches and calendars—become important whenever people lose confidence that historical trends can reverse their spiraling course. The good news of apocalyptic is that God will intervene at some point to create new heavens and a new earth. The bad news is that the same teaching can offer people an excuse to withdraw from the world and leave it all up to judgment of God. The Old and the New Testaments of the Bible, therefore, use apocalyptic only moderately. The apocalyptic writings in Daniel, sections of Isaiah and Ezekiel, Revelation, and sections of the gospels and epistles announce the intervention of God into human history. At the same time, they exhort believers not to cop out on the world but to engage the world, to bear witness to the gospel of Christ and to make the world more just and merciful. The end will come by God’s will and through God’s own timing, just as the dawning of the Kingdom began “in the fullness of time” with God’s sending and offering as sacrifice God’s only Son. People of faith, enabled and encouraged by that sacrificial act, wait for the end with a “meantime ethos.”

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 47: Twenty-fourth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B.

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Psalm 16
The psalm expresses the worshiper’s exclusive commitment to the Lord in whom the psalmist places trust. The psalmist recognizes that those who choose other gods will not find favor with the Lord, but those who, like himself, choose only YHWH will experience blessing and joy. Some parts of the psalm allude to deliverance from death, and so they appear in the New Testament as virtual prophecies about the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. The author of Acts cites Peter as quoting verses 8-11 (Acts 2:25-28 and 31), and Paul uses verse 10 in a sermon in Antioch’s synagogue (Acts 13:35). It is somewhat doubtful that the psalm speaks about resurrection from the dead. More likely, the psalmist praises the Lord for divine rescue from peril. In its own context, the psalm teaches about rewards for the upright and sorrows for those who worship a different god. This teaching is quite consistent with the themes of wisdom teachers, and the words about divine “counsel” and instruction in verse 7 seem to support this view. In any case, the psalmist praises the Lord for showing the way to life and a fullness of joy!

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Daniel 12:1-3
In the midst of trial and persecution because of their faith, God promises to the people the apocalyptic appearance of Michael, Israel’s patron angel, on the day of resurrection to salvation and to judgment.

Context
The Book of Daniel, purported to be written at the end of the Babylonian Exile, in the sixth century B.C., was composed between 167 and 164 B.C. The years set the book between the desecration of the Jerusalem Temple by Antiochus IV Epiphanes and his death, described only by wishful thinking, at 11:45. The biblical prophecy sees him dying between the Mediterranean Sea and the city of Jerusalem, but in fact, Antiochus died at Tabal in Persia of a mysterious disease in 164 B.C. Those three years of persecution and suffering and rebellion separated the sheep from the goats, the faithful from the unfaithful, and the promise of the book is that the end is coming, and it is coming soon

Typical of hope in apocalyptic is the limit to the time of suffering (see 11:24c, 27c, 35c, 36c, 40a), specifically “for a time, two times, and a half time” (12:7).

Key Words
V. 1.  “Michael the great prince”:  Michael appears at 10:13 as one of the chief princes whom God (or God’s messenger) left with the prince of the kingdom of Persia to help the righteous. At 10:21, the messenger tells Daniel that “Michael, your prince” is the only one left to contend against the powers of Persia.

V. 1.  kol-hannimtsā’ kātûb bassēpher = “all who are found written in the book”:  The so-called “book of life” appears elsewhere in the Old Testament at Exod. 32:32; Mal. 3:16; Ps. 69:29.

V. 1.  wehāyetâ ‘ēt tsārâ = “and there shall be a time of trouble”:  Typical of apocalyptic is the notion that just prior to the end of times, particularly perilous times will occur for the people of God; see the uproar caused when the devil, defeated in heaven, is thrown down to earth (Rev. 12:12).

V. 2.  werabbîm miyyešēnê ’admat-‘āphār yāqîtsû = “and many of those who sleep in the land of dust shall arise”:  Since the division that follows speaks of “some” who will rise to life and “some” to contempt, the likelihood is that the meaning of “many” here is “all.”

V. 3. wehammaskîlîm yizhîrû kezōhar hārāqîa‘ = “and those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the firmament”: The wise in Daniel, as often in the Book of Proverbs, are those who learn and live the Torah of God. As in the old wisdom traditions, the wise will reap divine rewards (often expressed in beatitudes like Psalm 1), while the fools will entrap themselves in the snares of death. While the Book of Daniel is usually known as an apocalyptic book on the basis of chaps. 7—12, the first part of the book seems to present a collection of wisdom stories and wise people who serve as role models for others.

V. 3. ûmatsdîqê hārabbîm kakkōkābîm le‘ōlām wā‘ed = “and those who make many righteous (will be) like the stars forever and ever”: The verb to “make righteous” appears usually in connection with acquitting someone. Those who are indeed righteous deserve the verdict (1 Kings 8:32; Ps. 82:3), but acquitting the guilty represents an injustice in the court system (Isa. 5:23), except when it is done by the Servant of the Lord (Isa. 53:11).

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Hebrews 10:11-25
The forgiveness of sins given through the sacrifice of Christ provides the basis for the author’s exhortations to persist in faith and in hope, to encourage love and good works, and to meet together while they wait for the dawning of the Lord’s Day.

Context
Starting at 8:1 and continuing through 10:18, the author defines the ministry of Jesus as high priest as a unique action in which the sacrificial system ended. From 10:19 through 12:29 appear the exhortations to persevere in the faith. Our pericope ends the previous section and begins the next. The transition between the two sections is the word “therefore” (v. 19), one of the key theological words in the Bible!

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Mark 13:1-8
Against all human claims to greatness through our own achievements, Jesus speaks of the coming time of war and destruction that will demolish all such human claims to greatness.

OR

In response to questions about when the end will come, Jesus turns the attention of his disciples to warnings against false teachers who will claim to know more than they do about the timing.

Context
At the end of chapter 12 Jesus finished his ministry among people as he moved from Galilee in the first half of the Gospel toward and into Jerusalem in the second half. Now the shadow of the cross which falls all the way back to the second chapter becomes much more prominent as talk of the end and end time increases. One can understand why many scholars have dated Mark’s Gospel around the time of the persecution under Nero in A.D. 64 or around the time of the destruction of the Temple in A.D. 70, for the questions raised by the disciples here were surely ones that the people were asking several decades after Jesus’ resurrection.

It is most unfortunate that the lectionary cuts off the lesson at the end of v. 8, thereby depriving preachers and readers of Jesus’ command that until the end the gospel must be preached to all nations (v. 10).

Key Words
V. 2.  “there will not be left here one stone upon another”:  The destruction of Jerusalem’s Temple was prophesied already in the OT period, first by Micah (3:12) in the latter half of the 8th century B.C. and then a century later by Jeremiah (7:14; 26:6). Like the prophecy about the death of Antiochus IV Epiphanes in Daniel 11:45, this prophecy about the destruction of Jerusalem seems to originate prior to the destruction in A.D. 70, because the method for destroying the Temple was burning with fire and not dismantling stone from stone.

V. 4.  pote tauta estai kai ti to sēmeion hotan mellē tauta synteleisthai panta = “when will this be, and what will be the sign when these things are all to be consummated/fulfilled?”:  The question “when” is the typical apocalyptic question which some believed could be answered (cf. Daniel’s “a time, two times and a half time”). The issue of signs became an increasingly important issue in the community, and occupied much attention and energy. The question about the consummation connects in the minds of some at least the destruction of the local Temple with the goal of all history.

Vv. 7-8.  The signs that Jesus mentions are those that derive from OT prophecies about the Day of the Lord, especially Isa. 13:2-10 which connects the eschatological War of Yahweh with the effects on sun and moon, and Amos 8:8-10 which relates sun and moon phenomena with earthquakes. General signs of conflict and turbulence appear also at such places as Isa. 3:5; Jer. 9:4; Ezek. 38:21; Mic. 7:6 — family conflicts prevail at the end. All this indicates that both Jewish and Christian folks held similar views about the signs preceding the end.

V. 8. esontai limoi archē ōdinōn tauta = “this is but the beginning of the birth-pangs”: The imagery of birth-pangs appears in the prophecy about the Day of the Lord at Isa. 13:8. The same imagery describes the agony of the people who have been exiled to Babylon (Mic. 4:9-10), a passage that continues the same imagery to prophesy the coming of a Davdic king who will rule over the rescued exiles (Mic. 5:2-4).

Wrestling with the Word, episode 46: Twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost, Year B (November 8, 2009) October 28, 2009

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Twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost

The amazing news of the Bible is that God loves everyone, but when push comes to shove, God takes the side not of the powerful but of the oppressed and vulnerable. The other side of that same coin is that the oppressed and the vulnerable appear repeatedly as examples of faith and generosity. In part, these people appear as role models, but in another sense, they point to the role of Christ.

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 46: Twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost, Year B.

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Psalm 146
The psalm is one of praise to the Lord who can accomplish what no mortal human can. A beatitude is expressed for those who count on the God of Jacob for help. As Creator of the universe, the Lord is faithful, executes justice for the oppressed, feeds the hungry. As Savior of prisoners, healer of the blind, and lover of justice, the Lord protects the most vulnerable people in the land—sojourners, widows, and orphans. With all these wondrous acts of God in mind, the psalm calls on hearers to trust, not in humans, even royal ones, but in the Lord and to acclaim Yahweh as king forever.

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1 Kings 17:8-16
No matter how difficult it is to trust in the promises of God, the Lord demonstrates through repeated occasions that his word can be trusted.
OR
The word of the Lord comes through inspired spokespersons to address all people in need, even those who stand outside the confessing community.
OR
The Lord calls upon even the poor to share what they have in order to accomplish the Lord’s purposes and to bring people to faith.

Context
The Elijah cycle (1 Kings 17:1 through 2 Kings 2) opens with an introduction of Elijah from Tishbe in Gilead. The introduction occurs in the context of an address from the prophet to King Ahab (869-850 B.C.) regarding a drought that would continue in the land until Elijah said otherwise. The drought continued until Elijah’s victory over the prophets of Baal (18:41-45). For the prophet himself to survive the drought, God provided means of sustenance for Elijah—first the ravens fed him in verses 4-7. Now God appoints someone else.

Key Words
V. 8.  wayehî debar-YHWH ’ēlāw = “and the word of the Lord was to him”:  The formula is common in the preaching prophets to indicate that their speeches were not their own but YHWH’s. Furthermore, almost every speech is unique.

V. 14.  kî kōh ’āmar YHWH ’elōhê yisrā’ēl = “for thus says YHWH the God of Israel”:  This expression is another formula used by the preaching prophets to introduce an oracle from the Lord.

V. 16.  kidbar YHWH ‘ašer dibbēr beyad ’ēlîyyāhû = “according to the word of the Lord which he spoke through Elijah”:  This formula is critical and expected because it indicates that the promise of God stated in v. 14 has come true. Note that at the conclusion of the following paragraph, the woman recognizes the power and effectiveness of God’s word when she says, “Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is faithful” (v. 24). Thus, the non-Israelite woman is brought to faith in the Lord and his promises because of his bringing to pass what was promised.

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Hebrews 9:24-28
In contrast to the ongoing process of priests entering the earthly temple in order to offer sacrifices for the forgiveness of sins, Jesus offered the once for all sacrifice and entered the heavenly temple, from which he will come again, not to deal with sin but to save those who are waiting for him.

Context
Beginning at 8:1 and continuing through 10:18, the author describes the ministry of Jesus as that of a high priest. Leading the readers from Jesus’ role as high priest in the heavenly sanctuary and contrasting him with the priests of the earthly sanctuary (8:1-5) and to the establishing of the promised new covenant (8:6-13), the author contrasts the sacrifices of animals with the perfect sacrifice of Jesus’ own body and blood (9:1-14). As a result of his sacrifice, Jesus “is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance” (9:15ff.).

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Mark 12:38-44
Jesus condemned the scribes for making show of everything they do, but Jesus commended the poor widow who, like himself, gave up everything in quiet and faithful obedience to God.

Context
In Mark’s Gospel, the Transfiguration story marks the turning point from Jesus’ ministry in Galilee to his fateful journey toward Jerusalem which he entered at the beginning of chap. 11. Having cleansed the temple, Jesus left the city and returned on two other occasions, each time confronted by various groups of people: chief priests, scribes, and elders (11:27); Pharisees and Herodians (12:13); Sadducees (12:18); scribes (12:28). In our pericope, Jesus, still teaching in the temple, takes aim at the scribes. In a sense, this passage concludes the accounts of Jesus’ teaching and healing ministry, for following this pericope is the Apocalypse of Mark and then the narratives about the plot to capture Jesus and kill him.

Key Words
V. 40.  hoi katesthiontes tas oikias tōn chērōn = “who devour widows’ houses”: At Isa. 10:1-2, judges and scribes are guilty of oppressing the poor and making widows their spoil. Such oppression runs counter to the explicit command of God at Exod. 22:22 where widows and orphans fall under the watchful eye of God because they are the most vulnerable in the land. Compare this indictment with the one at Matt. 23:1-11.

V. 41.  chalkon eis to gazophylakion = “money into the treasury”:  Perhaps the treasury Jesus is watching is similar to the one in the first temple mentioned at 2 Kings 12:9. There the reference is to a chest with a hole in it so that contributors would make their offerings for the payment of the artisans who worked on the temple building project and maintained it.

V. 42.  mia chēra ptōchē = “a poor widow”:  Jesus’ example of generous faith in this widow is apparently the only reason for the selection of 1 Kings 17 as the first lesson.

V. 43.  “and he called his disciples to him”:  This formula is a favorite device of Mark to mention that Jesus took the disciples aside to teach them things that were not said to the general public audience (see, e.g., 4:33-34; 6:45ff.; 9:33; 10:10).

V. 44.  panta hosa eichen … holon ton bion autēs = “everything which she had, her whole living”:  The final four Greek words might be translated literally “her whole life” and thus point ahead to the sacrifice of Jesus in giving up his life.

Wrestling with the Word, episode 45: All Saints Day, Year B (November 1, 2009) October 19, 2009

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All Saints Day

The Sundays of the church year move expectedly through the calendar months. We preach, we listen, we learn, we feel the guilt of our sins in God’s presence, and we know of the exhilaration that comes from God’s forgiveness. Some people feel highs from attending Christmas Eve worship or from Easter sunrise services. Others prefer the season of Lent when we realize that God’s Word became flesh to walk in our sandals and to die in our place. Nevertheless, this one day called All Saints Day hits many of us personally when we hear aloud the name of a loved who died since the last November 1. This year I will hear my Mother’s name among the others who died in the nursing home in 2009. Hearing the names during the service recalls and even stimulates the grief we knew earlier in the year and thought we were over. Along with other listeners, I will undoubtedly join in their sadness, their anger, their guilt, and their loneliness that will resurface for a time. Yet the lessons assigned for this day enable us to reinvest our pains into new life based on comfort, companionship, trust, forgiveness, hope, promise, and reunion.

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 45: All Saints Day, Year B.

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Psalm 24
Used as part of the liturgy at a festival of the Lord, the psalm extols the glory of God in creation (vss. 1-2). Then in verses 3-6, like Psalm 15, those who have made the pilgrimage to Jerusalem ask about the worthiness required to enter the temple, to which the priest responds that those who have clean hands and a pure heart may enter and there receive the Lord’s blessings and vindication (righteousness). The final verses (7-10) provide the liturgical responses to the coming of the people and of the glory of the King, acclaimed as “the Lord of hosts.”

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Isaiah 25:6-9
On the coming Day of the Lord, God will hold a celebration of life for all peoples on his holy mountain, as the Lord once invited the elders of Israel to feast on Sinai.

Context
Chapters 24 through 27 comprise the “Apocalypse of Isaiah.” The chapters are probably later than any other material in the book. They reflect the apocalyptic view that a heavenly battle will occur (24:21-23), after which God will reign as king on the mountain where he will preside over the eschatological banquet.

Key Words
V. 5.  lekol-hā‘ammîm = “for all peoples”:  The banquet is a universal one which goes far beyond the people of Israel at meal on Mount Sinai (Exod. 24:9-11) and at various meal-offerings on Mount Zion in Jerusalem (see Deut. 12:7; 14:26).

V. 7. ûbilla‘  hāhār hazzeh penê-hallôt hallôt ‘al-kol-hā‘ammîm = “And he will swallow on this mountain the surface of the covering that covers over all the people”:  While the expression is not used elsewhere, the noun form of lot appears to mean “secrecy, mystery,” and so is used to indicate the mystery surrounding death.

V. 8.  billa‘ hammāwet lānetsach = “he will swallow up death forever”:  The expression seems to be a twist on an old Canaanite poem in which Death (Mot) threatens to swallow up Ba`al and thus end the season of fertility and life.  The twist is actually twofold:  (1) Death will be the one swallowed up; (2) the swallowing will be the eschatological act of the last days rather than a seasonal end to fertility.

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Revelation 21:1-6a
Against the present reality of chaos, death, and mourning, God will make a new creation in which God’s presence with humanity will end all the horrors of the present.

Context
John the Seer had just reported the vision of the demise of Satan and of the judgment before the great white throne. Now the Seer begins his report of the final vision.

Key Words
V. 1.  “a new heaven and a new earth”:  See the vision in Isa. 65:17-22, along with Genesis 1:1.  The new represents the opposite of the old or present.

V. 1.  hē thalassa = “the sea”:  The sea is an image of the chaotic force that is opposed to God’s Reign.  In OT often portrayed as a sea monster (sometimes called Leviathan or Rahab); see Job 9:8; Psalm 74:12-14; Isaiah 27:1; 50:2; 51:9-10; Nahum 1:4; and often. In NT, see Mark 4:35-41; 6:45-52 and parallels.

V. 2.  “the holy city,… Jerusalem”:  Recall the eschatological reference at Isa. 52:1 where Zion is commanded to put on power and glory; the context there is the coming salvation of the exiles from Babylon. See also Neh. 11:1, 18.

V. 2.  “a bride adorned for her husband”:  see 19:7. See Isa. 61:10 where an individual represents the community redeemed by the Lord and dresses for the occasion. On the image of marriage between Yahweh and Israel, see Hos. 1:1-3; 2:15; 3:1ff.; also Ezek. 20; Isa. 54:5-8. On marriage as an image for Christ and the church, see 2 Cor. 11:2; Eph. 5:31-32, and here.

V. 3.  hē skēnē  tou theou … kai skēnōsei met’ autōn = “the dwelling/tent of God … and he will dwell with them”:  skēnē is used for the tabernacle which God instructed Moses to build in order to be present with the people (Exod. 26–27); on the whole expression see Exod. 29:45. On God’s presence among the people, see also Lev. 26:11-12; Jer. 31:33; Ezek. 37:27. On God’s dwelling place in heaven, see Deut. 26:15; 1 Kings 8:30, 39, 43, 49.

V. 4.  “mourning … crying … pain”:  See prophecies about the eschaton at Isa. 35:10 = 51:11; esp. 65:17, 19 in the new creation. Recall the beatitudes of the kingdom that Jesus taught (Matt. 5:1-12; Luke 6:21-23).

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John 11:32-44
Deeply moved by the death of his friend Lazarus of Bethany and the painful sadness it caused the family, Jesus raises him from the dead and restores him to his family and community.

Context
The pericope is preceded by the report from Mary and Martha that Lazarus, their brother, was seriously ill. Jesus indicated that his illness is not unto death but for the glory of God (11:4).

Key Words
Vss. 33, 35, 38. enebrimēsato tō pneumatic kai etaraxen heauton … edakrysen ho ’Iēsous … ’Iēsous oun palin embrimōmenos = “he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply troubled … Jesus began to weep … Then Jesus, again deeply moved, …”: The verb translated “disturbed” and “troubled” appears elsewhere in a different spirit. At Mark 14:5 it means “reproach” by those who witnessed the use of expensive myrrh for anointing Jesus. In the synoptics, the word for Jesus’ compassion is splangknizomai, used for his response to the leper at Mark 1:41 and for the hungry, the sick and the helpless at Mark 6:34; 8:2; Matt. 9:36; 14:14. At Luke 7:13 the same word describes Jesus’ compassion on the widow whose son had died and whom he instructs “Do not weep!” (There, in the previous chapter, Jesus had taught the crowds, “Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh” [Luke 6:21]).

V. 41. pater, eucharistō soi hoti ēkousas mou = “Father, I thank you that you have heard me”: The expression of thanksgiving following a cry for help is characteristic of psalms of lament and thanksgiving (see, e.g., Ps. 30).

Wrestling with the Word, episode 44: Reformation Sunday, Year B (October 25, 2009) October 11, 2009

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Reformation Sunday

Boasting is not included in the list of appropriate behaviors, especially in church. In fact, all the lessons assigned for Reformation Sunday eliminate “boasting” from the Christian vocabulary, simply because God is accomplishing all the work. The biblical passages that make that point are innumerable, but the readings for today deliver a particularly powerful punch. The gospel of Jesus Christ is free! It sets us free! We are free to boast only about God!

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 44: Reformation Sunday, Year B.

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Psalm 46
The hymn about God’s defense of Jerusalem in the midst of chaos calls for a confident faith in the Lord. As Psalm 91 (last week) was a powerful expression of trust from an individual, this psalm demonstrates the same within the community. The imagery of a river in Jerusalem is quite unreal (like the sea battle in Psalm 48), but the divine protection of Jerusalem from attack assures the people and magnifies the Lord’s glory.

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Jeremiah 31:31-34
In spite of all appearances to the contrary, God promises that in the New Day to come, God will reconcile the people to himself, even giving them new hearts so that they will not again rebel.

Context
The prophet Jeremiah was called to “pluck up and break down” but also to “build and to plant” (1:10). While much of the prophecies speak of God’s judgment, there are many from the same prophet which promise God’s restoration and forgiveness. Jer. 30:1–31:22 contain poems about the restoration to come, while 31:23 through chap 33 deal with the same theme in prose.

Key Words
V. 31.  hinnē yāmîm bā’îm = “behold, (the) days are coming”:  One of the characteristic expressions to introduce a prophecy about the coming Day of the lord when the Reign of God would be established over all.

V. 31.  wekārattî … berît chadāšâ = “and I will cut … a new covenant”:  The former covenant was the one made by God through Moses at Mount Sinai.  Interestingly, the “cutting of the covenant” actually occurred with the slaughtering of an animal, the sprinkling of blood on an altar and on the people, as the people themselves committed themselves to do what the Lord had spoken (Exod. 24:3-8). That commitment was not long lasting.

V. 32.  hēpērû ’et-berîtî = “they broke my covenant”:  See most directly 11:10; 33:20; cf. also 14:21. We can understand the power and passion of the words from the perspective that the covenant was a marriage and a parent-child relationship, spelled out most clearly by Jeremiah and Hosea.

V. 32.  we’ānōkî bā‘altî bām = “and I was husband/owner/ba`al over them”:  The word ba`al can carry all the above meanings, presumably on the basis that ba`al was the one who fertilizes (the land, thus its owner; a wife, thus her husband). The same words appear at 3:14 (translated “master”) because of the reference to Israel as “children”). YHWH is portrayed in Jer. as husband on other occasions; cf. 2:2; 3:20.

V. 33.  nātattî ’et-tôrātî beqirbām we‘al-libbām ’ektabennâ = “I will put my instruction/law within them, and upon their heart I will write it”:  See. 32:38-41 where the human heart is also God’s tablet and an “everlasting covenant” is mentioned, that is, one which cannot be broken. There also appears the promise of God “with all my heart and soul.” Ezekiel also uses the theme of a new heart so that God’s commandments might be kept (see Ezek. 36:26-27). That same prophet also writes of God’s promise of an “everlasting covenant” which will be “a covenant of peace” (Ezek. 37:26).

V. 34.  kî-kûllām yēde‘û ’ôtî = “for all of them shall know me”:  The Hebrew for “know” here is not intellectual but relational, as at Gen. 4:1; 19:8; Amos 3:2. “Knowledge of God” and “steadfast love” are God’s desires (Hos. 6:6).

V. 34.  ’eslach la‘avônām = “I will forgive their iniquity”:  Forgiveness is a common theme in Jeremiah; see 5:1, 7; 33:8; 36:3; 50:20. Recall also Isa. 53:11.

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Romans 3:19-28
In the new time begun with the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God freely declares and makes us and all people innocent and free through faith.

Context
Beginning at 1:18 Paul set forth the sinfulness of humanity, both Gentiles who live apart from the law and Jews who have the law. All are included because “God shows no partiality” (2:11). Based on the universal experience, it would appear that humankind is in a hopeless state, especially based on 2:5-6.

Key Words
V. 21.  nuni de = “but now”:  the word “now” occurs in an eschatological sense throughout this epistle:  5:9, 10, 11; 6:19, 21, 22; 7:6; 8:1, 22; 11:30, 31; 13:11; 16:26.  Paul’s understanding of time is divided into two periods: the time before Christ came, and the time since Christ.  See also 2 Cor. 5:16–6:2; Gal. 3:23-26.

Vv. 21, 22.  dikaiosynē  theou = “the righteousness of God”:  Also see 25b.  At 1:17 “the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith” in the gospel of Jesus Christ.  “God’s word of righteousness” is what brings the world from chaos to order (Isa. 45:18-19), responds to cries for help under injustice (Psalm 7:17), saves the exiles from their bondage (Isa. 46:13), and much more. In the OT “righteousness” (tsedeq or tsedāqâ) is the activity that fulfills the obligations of a relationship, and so the Hebrew tsedāqâ is sometimes translated “saving acts” (1 Sam. 12:7) or “victory.”

V. 23.  pantes gar hēmarton kai hysterountai tēs doxēs tou theou = “all have sinned and keep falling short (pres. ptc.) of the glory of God”:  The expression “glory of God” appears also at 5:2 and 15:17; humanity, all of it, has from the very beginning failed to attain the glory of God (see 11:32). The consequences for the “day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed” (Rom. 2:5-6) are obvious (see Psalm 62:12).

V. 24.  dikaioumenoi dōrean tē autou chariti = “they are justified/made righteous as a gift by his grace”:  That “justified” is a key to the Epistle to the Romans see its use also at 2:13; 3:4, 20; 4:2; 5:1, 9; 8:30; 10:4, 10. As a law court term it means to be declared innocent and thus made innocent and free, and in the OT the suffering of the Servant of the Lord “makes many to be righteous” (Isa. 53:11). The God of justice who declares the righteous innocent and the wicked guilty (1 Kings 8:32; Exod 23:7; Psalm 82:3; Isa. 5:23; cf. Prov. 17:15) “now” acts out of character.

V. 24. dia tēs apolytrōseōs en Christō ‘Iēsou = “through the redemption in Christ Jesus”: The term appears in documents concerning the release of slaves to belong to another (even to a god). In the NT the term appears frequently: as Jesus’ promise for his return (Luke 21:28; for the coming “glory that is to be revealed to us” (Rom. 8:18-23); as the content of the “new covenant” begun with the death of Jesus (Heb. 9:15); as a parallel expression for “the forgiveness of our trespasses” (Eph. 1:7; also Col. 1:14); as the promised gift through the Holy Spirit (Eph. 4:30).

V. 25. hilasterion = “expiation” (RSV) or “a sacrifice of atonement”: The term derives from Lev. 16:2, 13-15 where it is used for the “mercy seat” on the ark of the covenant on which sacrificial blood was spilled for making atonement for the holy place.

V. 27.  pou oun hē kauchēsis = “Where then is boasting?”:  For proper and improper boasting see the references at 2:17, 23; 4:2; 11:18. Faith is the opposite of faith that accepts God’s unconditional and unmerited grace. Recall Jesus’ parable about the Pharisee and the tax collector (Luke 18:9-14).

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John 8:31-36
Against all the forces of sin and evil that would constrain us, Jesus Christ, the Truth, came to set us free.

Context
According to 7:2 Jesus had gone up to Jerusalem for the Feast of Tabernacles. There he was challenged by some and lauded by others. Some believed, while others, especially the chief priests and the Pharisees, tried to arrest him. In chapter 8 Jesus speaks of himself as “the light of the world” (8:12) and as the “I AM” (8:24).

Key Words
V. 31. elegen oun ho ’Iēsous pros tous pepisteukotas autō ‘Ioudaious = “Then Jesus said to those who had come to believe in him”:  The perfect tense of pisteuō appears here as it does elsewhere in John’s Gospel at 3:18; 6:69; 11:27; and 16:27. Only in this verse is the Greek verb translated “had believed,” giving the impression they once did believe but believe no longer. At 3:18 the verb is “have (not) believed.” At 6:69; 11:27; and 16:27 the word indicates present faith and is translated not with “had” believed but with “believe” or “have believed.” Therefore, Peter said to Jesus, “we have believed and have come to know … (6:69). Martha said, “I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God,…” (11:27). Jesus said to the disciples, “because you have loved me and have believed that I came from the Father … (16:27). In all those passages, the verb is in the perfect tense.

The verb tense at 8:31, therefore, does not imply that the listeners once did believe but believe no longer or that they once believed but now doubt their belief. The real problem lies not in the tense of the verb but in the context. The statement about “the Jews who believed in him” is a logical follow up to verse 30: “As he spoke thus, many believed (aorist) in him.” The problem is that immediately following verses 31-32, the responders seem to be not those who have come to believe in him but those who did not come to believe in the first place and in fact who were prepared to kill him. It is that group’s reaction and action that culminates in their attempt to stone him in verse 59.

V. 32.  kai gnōsesthe tēn alētheian kai hē alētheia eleutherōsei hymas = “and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free”:  One must allow the possibility that “knowing” here has the same intimate sense as in Jeremiah 31:31-34. Further, in John’s Gospel “the truth” and Jesus seem to be identified as one and the same (1:14; 14:6; 18:37-38; cf. v. 36.

V. 36.  ean oun ho huios eleutherōsē, ontōs eleutheroi esesthe = “if the son makes you free, you will be free indeed”:  When one considers Galatians 5:1, one wonders whether Paul might not have had an effect on the author of this Gospel, since “freedom” is not a major theme in the synoptics.