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Wrestling with the Word, episode 75: Holy Trinity, Year C (May 30, 2010) May 19, 2010

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Holy Trinity

The church’s doctrine of the Holy Trinity is an intellectual puzzle. At the same time, it integrates for us the witnesses of God throughout the Scriptures. While any particular passage that we study, even the ones for today, might in themselves be puzzling, the whole testimony to God from Genesis 1 through Revelation 22 is even more of a mystery. Only God can enable us to believe that it all fits together, that God acts as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And even though we do not comprehend things completely, God gives us enough to live by now and promises the rest for our living eternally. The significance of wrestling with the mystery is this: that whatever we say about the three persons of God, we are confessing what God has come to mean to us. There is no talk about God—and there never has been–apart from God’s role in our lives and in the life of the world. Let us listen to some of that talk from our lessons for the day.

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 75: Holy Trinity, Year C.

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Psalm 8
This hymn glorifying God the Creator exults in the wonder of what it means to be human. Though small and seemingly insignificant, the worshipper casts in poetic form what Genesis 1 sets forth in prose, namely the awesome “royal” dignity and identity given to humanity be God. Perhaps because of the expression “son of man” (NRSV: “mortals”) in verse 4, the early church interpreted the psalm as a prophecy about Jesus Christ. In its own context, however, “son of man” is simply parallel to “humanity” (’ādām). The power of the poem lies in its amazement at the majesty of the Creator God on the one hand, and the status and responsibility God has given to human beings on the other hand.

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Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31
Before anything else was made, the Lord created wisdom, who, like a child, delighted in observing God’s structuring of the world and in understanding how it all belongs together.

Context
Part of the tenth and final discourse developed in Proverbs 1–9, wisdom now takes on personalized forms, first that of a person who speaks, then that of a little child, and in chapter 9 of a virtuous woman who invites the simple to walk in her way.

Key Words
V. 22. YHWH qānānî = “created me”:  For qānā as ancient term for “create”; see Gen. 14:19 of El Elyon. Some scholars prefer to understand the word as referring to birth, that is, begetting.

V. 22.  darkô = “his dominion”:  The word derek usually means “way,” but for the use of drk(t) with the meaning “dominion,”see also Job 26:14; 40:19; Ps. 18:31 (substitute for RSV’s “ways”).

V. 23.  nissaktî = “I was set up/installed”; See only other use of verb at Ps. 2:6 (Heb. 7) where it refers to the installation of the Davidic king on Mount Zion.

V. 24.  tehōmōt = “deeps”: To capture the imagery the word conveyed, read as the Babylonian Ti’amat, the chaos monster vanquished by Marduk who then used her body to create the firmament and the earth (Enuma Elish IV).

V. 24.  nikbaddê-mayim:  Read nibkê-yam = “springs of Yamm,” the Canaanite sea monster subdued by Baal, the god of fertility.  For parallelism of tehom(t) and yam, see Job 38:16.

VV. 24-25.  chōlāltî = “I was delivered (at birth)”:  For a similar use of chûl, see Deut. 32:18; Job 39:1; Ps. 29:9; Isa. 51:2.

V. 30.  ’āmôn = “little child”:  The translation seems better than “master workman” although certainty is impossible because the word appears only here in Hebrew Bible. The functions of delight and rejoicing seem more appropriate for the child image than for that of an architect.

V. 31.  betēbēl ’artsô = “in the world of his earth”:  The expression is due to poetic redundancy, like Job 37:12; usually the words stand in parallelism.

V. 31. weša‘ašû‘ay ’et-benê-’ādām = “my delights (are) with humans (lit., “sons of man”): While Wisdom delights in people on the earth, elsewhere God delights in the having planted the vineyard called Israel (Isa. 5:7). In the Wisdom Psalm 119, the psalmist delights in the law/laws of God (vss. 24, 77, 92, 143, 174).

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Romans 5:1-5
By justifying us through faith in Christ Jesus, God gives us that peace which enables us to give honor to God through the tribulations of life here and now.

Context
In 4:1-8 Paul had explained that Abraham was justified by faith, and in 4:13-25 he writes that as with Abraham, the promise of God is only to faith.  Now he begins a section which runs through 8:39 about the reality of the righteousness of faith as Christian freedom.

Key Words
V. 1.  oun = “therefore”:  At the end of chap.4, Paul spoke of God’s giving to us righteousness on the basis of faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus.

V. 1.  eirēnēn … pros ton theon = “peace with God”:  The announcement of peace with God occurs in Romans prior to this verse:  1:7 (“peace from God” as a Christian greeting); 2:10 (along with glory and honor is given to those who do good); 3:17 (in OT quote). Following  this verse, God’s peace appears at  8:6 (along with life it is the result of setting one’s mind on the Spirit); 14:17 (along with righteousness and joy it constitutes the reign of God); 14:19 (along with mutual upbuilding it is the goal of the Christian community); 15:13 (along with joy it is the gift of God which enables the Christian to abound in hope through the power of the Holy Spirit); 15:33 and 16:20 (a characteristic which defines God: “the God of peace”).

Vv. 2-3.  kauchōmetha = “we boast”:  Paul uses the word negatively in Romans at 2:17, 23; 3:27 (noun); positively here and v. 11; 15:17 (noun). The positive use by a Christian indicates a confession in which the believer acknowledges belonging to Christ. The negative use indicates that a person belongs to himself/herself.

V. 3.  thlipsis = “affliction”:  The word describes evildoers at 2:9; that which has no power to separate us from the love of God at 8:35; here and at 12:12, the New Time suffering of the followers of Christ.

V. 5.  ou kataischynei = “not put to shame” (RSV, NRSV: “disappoint”):  The expression originates in Ps. 22:6 (Eng. v. 5) and 25:20 where the loyalty and love of God protect the believer from hostile forces.  Used in Romans also at 9:33 and 10:11 in quote of Isa. 28:16 where it promises the same protection for anyone who believes in the Lord.

V. 5. hoti hē agapē tou theou … dia pneumatos hagiou tou dothentos hēmin = “because God’s love … through the Holy Spirit given to us”: The gift of God’s love can be believed and appropriated by us only because of God’s gift of the Holy Spirit.

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John 16:12-15
Preparing the disciples for his own departure, Jesus promises the Spirit who will guide them in truth, declare the things to come, and glorify Jesus.

Context
Still addressing the disciples after supper the night before the Passover, Jesus had promised following his departure the gift of the Counselor (14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7).

Key Words
V. 12. all’ ou dynasthe bastazein arti = “but you cannot bear them now”: As elsewhere in John’s Gospel, the expression probably refers to the deeper understanding of Jesus’ words the disciples will have following the resurrection and gift of the Spirit. Recall the author’s words at 2:22 concerning raising the temple in three days. Note also the author’s comment about the disciples remembering Jesus’ words regarding the king’s entrance into Jerusalem on a donkey (12:6). The, there is Jesus’ remark to them that “afterward” they will understand his words and acts regarding foot washing (13:7).

V. 13. … to pneumas tēs alētheias … hodēgēsei hymas en tē alētheia pasē = “the Spirit of truth … will guide you in all truth”: The function of the Spirit as the “guide” or “teacher” of truth sounds much like the role of Wisdom in the OT, particularly the Wisdom woman who invites students to “walk in the way of insight” (Prov. 9:6) and promises that “whoever finds me finds life” (Prov. 8:35).

Wrestling with the Word, episode 24: The Holy Trinity, Year B (June 7, 2009) May 25, 2009

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The Holy Trinity

The theology of the Trinity presents a challenge to every interpreter of Holy Scripture. Almost anything that one says or writes will prove to be inadequate, perhaps even heretical. However the concept of a Trinity is stated, it remains a mystery. On the other hand, even more challenging would be to explain the God of the Bible without indicating that God the Father is the Creator and Sustainer of the world and everything in it; that God the Son is the Redeemer who became human, died for our sakes, and was raised to life; that God the Holy Spirit moves among us to enlighten and guide us, even to make us who we are. Each of the passages for this Sunday called The Holy Trinity points us to one or two Persons of this Trinity, but all together these passages provide us with a perspective on life that is otherwise unreachable.

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 24: The Holy Trinity, Year B.

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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”). The psalm summons the divine court  to praise YHWH, not Baal. The age-old majesty becomes the basis for the plea that YHWH render strength and salvation to the people of Israel.

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Isaiah 6:1-8

The God whose holiness drives people to their knees acts to forgive sin and to bridge the gulf between people and God.

OR

Those who are judged and then forgiven by the presence of God and his Word, God commissions to be his spokespersons–no matter how difficult and incomprehensible that mission might be.

Context

The historical allusion to the year of Uzziah’s death sets the passage at about 742 B.C.  It was a time of impending disaster on the international scene, for Tiglath-Pileser III, king of the ever-expanding Assyrian Empire, had the kingdoms of Palestine in his sights. Takeover of the whole region by this brilliant military leader was inevitable, and the Assyrians were well known for their brutality and ruthlessness. As Isaiah’s preaching developed, the Assyrian kings were interpreted as Yahweh’s instruments of judgment upon the people of Israel, and so the judgment which this prophet preached, though it was Yahweh’s word and command, would come at the hands of the Assyrians (see especially Isa. 10:5-11).

Key Words

V. 1-2.  yôšēb … melē’îm … ‘ômedîm = “sitting … filling … standing”:  The use of the participles in a vision indicates an ongoing action, something like a glimpse into eternity.

V. 3.  melô’  kol-hā’ārets kebôdô = “the fullness of the whole earth is his glory”:  The literal translation indicates that the whole world somehow manifests the glory of God.

V. 4.  “foundations shook … voice … smoke”:  These characteristics of a volcanic eruption occur throughout the OT (see, e.g., Exod. 19:16-18) as signs of God’s presence.

V. 5.  ‘ôy lî kî-nidmētî = “Woe is me!  For I am done for”:  The reason for his “woe” is the notion that, when a human being looks at God who is “other,” the observer will die.  There exists such a qualitative difference between the transcendent God and sinful humanity that we cannot withstand the encounter (see Exod. 33:20; Judg. 13:22; and the surprise of Jacob that he remained alive at Gen. 32:30).

V. 8.  hinenî šelachēnî = “Here I am.  Send me”:  The response “Here I am” is identical to that of others who are summoned by God to fulfill a particular task. cf. Abraham at Gen. 22:1; Moses at Exod. 3:4; Samuel at 1 Sam. 3:2ff. In the other cases, the addressee is called by name.

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Romans 8:12-17

Having been given our identity as children of God because of Christ, we are privileged to call God Abba, provided we suffer with Christ so that we might be glorified with him as well.

Context

Since the beginning of this chapter, Paul has been making the distinction between life in the flesh and life in the Spirit. The chapter, in fact, begins with the announcement that “there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (v. 1). That freedom won by Christ Jesus is thus freedom from the law of sin and death, and the newly won freedom of life in the Spirit is life and peace.

Key Words

V. 14. hosoi gar pneumatic theou agontai, houtoi huioi theou eisin = “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God”: At Galatians 5:18 Paul uses this expression “led by the Spirit” to describe those who are not under the power of the law and whose lives are not directed by the “works of the flesh.”  Living by and in “the Spirit” defines Christians as “children of God.” Paul uses “children of God” again at v. 19 where their appearance lies in the future, and so we “wait for adoption” (v. 23).

V. 15.  abba ho patēr = “Abba the Father”:  These are the words Jesus uses for God in his prayer in Gethsemane (Mark 14:36). At Gal. 4:6 Paul indicates that because God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts we can call God “Abba! Father,” and doing so, makes us “children of God” (v. 16). That statement indicates that calling God “Abba Father” is an expression of praise by Christians, that is, a response to God’s action in Christ. The future adoption enables us here and now to live as God’s children, and in calling God Abba we can access here and now the peace of God defined at 5:1.

V. 17. “if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ”: At Gal. 3:26, Paul writes that baptism makes us “children of God” and as such, “heirs of the promise to Abraham.” At Gal. 3:16 the “one” seed of Abraham is Christ, and so Christ is the heir of God. Yet, the coming of Christ and the justification he effected, enables believers (who “put on Christ” in baptism) to belong to Christ and to become joint heirs with him of the Reign of God.

V. 17. eiper synpaschomen hina kai syndoxasthōmen = “provided we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him”: Those who are called by the Spirit to bear the name of Christ follow his steps to glory, namely through the cross. Paul had explained that key theological reality at 6:4: baptism into Christ Jesus is baptism into his death, and that is the means by which we rise with him, walking in newness of life starting now. The teaching stands in sharp contrast to a teaching that baptism makes Christians safe from wordly threats. After all, Paul wrote this letter when Nero was Emperor of Rome.

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John 3:1-17

In response to the confession of Nicodemus that Jesus comes from God, Jesus indicates that what is necessary for participating in the kingdom of God and in the salvation he offers, is that one be born anew.

Context

According to John, Jesus went up to Jerusalem three times during his life.  This encounter with Nicodemus occurred during the first visit at the time of the Passover.  Many people already came to believe in Jesus because of the signs he performed, but Jesus , we are told, did not trust himself to them … for he himself knew what was in people (2:24-25).

Key Words

V. 3.  ean mē tis gennēthē anōthen = “unless someone is born from above”:  The issue is not simply another birth but an existence based on heavenly origins.  The statement is explained further by v. 13 where “the Son of man” is identified as the one who descended from heaven; see John 1:1-14.

V. 3.  tēn basileian tou theou = “the kingdom of God”:  After this initial reference to the kingdom, a synoptic emphasis, John usually talks about “life” rather than the kingdom.

V. 14.  kai kathōs Mōysēs hypsōsen ton ophin en tē  erēmō, houtōs hypsōthēnai dei ton huion tou anthrōpou = “and as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up”:  The “lifting up” is an important expression in John’s Gospel. Here, by comparison to the visible raising of the bronze serpent, and at 8:28, the verb appears to refer to the crucifixion. At 12:32, 34 the word refers to the resurrection/ascension. Strikingly, the word dei = “must” is used here, as it is in the synoptic tradition, regarding the necessity of the suffering and resurrection of the Son of Man (see Mark 8:31). The result of looking at the uplifted serpent is “life” in Num. 21:9 and “salvation” at Wisdom of Solomon 16:5-7.

V. 16. houtōs gar ēgapēsen ho theos ton kosmon, ōste ton huion ton monogenē edōken = “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son”: The tense of the verb for “loved” signifies a once for all act. It thus points to the crucifixion rather than to a more general affection for the created world. Appropriating this message to one’s life results in “eternal life.”

V. 17. “For God sent the Son into the world (eis ton kosmon), not to condemn the world (ton kosmon), but that the world (ho kosmos) might be saved (sōthē) through him”:  While the work of God in Jesus is described here in the third person, at 12:47, Jesus speaks in the first person of his purpose in the same terms: not to condemn but to save the world. At 1 John 4:14 the author writes similarly: “the Father has sent his Son as the Savior of the world (sōtēra tou kosmou). Recall that according to the angel’s words to Joseph, the name of the baby Mary will bear will be “Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21).

Looking Ahead

The lessons for next Sunday, Second Sunday after Pentecost:

  • Psalm 92
  • Ezekiel 17:22-24
  • 2 Corinthians 5:6-13
  • Mark 4:26-34