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Wrestling with the Word, episode 97: Reformation Sunday, Year C (October 31, 2010) October 27, 2010

Posted by fostermccurley in Wrestling With The Word podcast.
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Reformation Sunday

We celebrate the day because on this date, the Eve of All Saint’s Day in 1517, Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the castle church in Wittenberg, Germany. But what stands out for us, and what makes this day worth celebrating, is not the hammer and the nail in Luther’s hands that day, but his rediscovery of the meaning of the nails that pinned Jesus to the cross somewhere about A.D. 30.

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 97: Reformation Sunday, Year C.


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.


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.

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.


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.

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).


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.

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.


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