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Wrestling with the Word, episode 55: Baptism of our Lord: First Sunday after Epiphany, Year C (January 10, 2010) January 3, 2010

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Baptism of our Lord: First Sunday after Epiphany
We have finished celebrating Jesus’ birth. During that twelve-day party, we sang appropriate songs about Jesus as Son of God and as truly human, like us. Today we begin the season of Epiphany, a word that means “revealing.” The season will last four more weeks, and during that time, we will hear stories that reveal who Jesus was and what God sent Jesus to do. We begin the season with Jesus’ baptism, a story that announces his identity. It tells us how intimately Jesus shares his story with us, how profoundly he became one of us, and how the same Spirit that defined him also defines us.

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 55: Baptism of our Lord: First Sunday after Epiphany, Year C.


Psalm 29
The psalm is a hymn of praise that extols the majesty and glory of God in the language of a tumultuous storm. Borrowing much imagery and even precise wording from Ugaritic poetry about Baal, the psalmist celebrates the enthronement of YHWH over the watery chaos (“the flood”). The call goes out to the divine court to join in the praise to YHWH. The majestic splendor defines the basis for the plea that YHWH render strength and salvation to the people of Israel.


Isaiah 43:1-7
To the people who feel that God has forsaken them, the Lord announces that through the special relationship they have because God created them, the Lord will save them from their exile.

Within the context of the preaching of Second Isaiah, the theological problem of exile is the apparent forsakenness of God (see 40:27; 49:14). That absence led many people to abandon the God of their ancestors in favor of the deities of Babylon, the place of their captivity. The immediate context places the pericope after a speech in which the exiled people pour out their lament to the Lord who has poured out wrath on the people because of their sin. While their lament is as bad as it appears, the people do not recognize the part they played in leading to the judgment.

Key Words
V. 1. YHWH bōra’akâ ya‘aqōb weyōtserkâ yisrā’ēl = “the Lord who created you, O Jacob, and who formed you, O Israel”: Thus far in the collection of Second Isaiah, YHWH has been identified as “the Creator of the ends of the earth” (40:28) and as the one “who created the heavens” (42:5). Here the notion of the Creator of a people is a new twist to an old creation theme and intimately connects the people to YHWH (v. 15).

Vv. 1, 5. ’al-tîrā’ = “Do not fear”: The command is typical when God approaches human beings because standing in the presence of God can and should be terrifying. Here the reasons given for not fearing are (1) “I have redeemed you” (acted as your gō’ēl) and (2) “I am with you” (the promise made to Jacob, Moses, Gideon, Jeremiah — all individuals). Here the Lord assures the divine presence as the people “pass through the waters” (cf. Ps. 66:12) and during their return home (cf. Gen. 28:15).

V. 4. mē’ašer yāqartā be‘ênay nikbadtā wa’anî ’ahabtîkā = “Because you are precious in my sight and honored, and as for me, I love you”: The motive for the Lord’s salvation act is divine love; recall the reason God chose Israel in the first place at Deut. 7:6-7.

V. 7. welikbôdî berā’tîv = “and for my glory I created him”: While the motive for the salvation is God’s love for Israel, the goal of it is the glorification of YHWH; cf. 43:21; 48:11.


Acts 8:14-17
In order to avoid a constant schism between Jewish Christians and Samaritan Christians, the apostles confirm the unity of the church through the gift of the Holy Spirit through the laying on of their hands.

Luke had reported the dispersion of Christians throughout Judea and Samaria because of the persecutions of which Saul was a part. This scattering led Philip to go to a city in Samaria where the people saw his healing miracles, heard his proclamation of the message about Jesus, and were baptized into the faith.


Luke 3:15-17, 21-22
Having been baptized and during the act of prayer, Jesus received the gift of the Holy Spirit while simultaneously hearing the announcement that he was the Son of God.

Like Mark and Matthew, Luke introduces John the Baptist and his preaching prior to the baptism of Jesus. Unlike the other two synoptics, however, Luke tries to place all his information about John in one place and therefore mentions his imprisonment by Herod Agrippa in v. 20. When Luke then speaks of the baptism of Jesus, he uses the passive voice without specifically mentioning “by John” as do Matthew and Mark. One might imagine that Mark’s brief account of the baptism led many to ask why John would have baptized Jesus when Jesus was without sin. Matthew dealt with the matter by having Jesus say, “for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness” (Matt. 3:15), but Luke avoided the problem by failing to mention John’s role in the baptism at all.

Key Words
V. 22. su ei huios mou ho agapētos = “you are my son, the beloved”: The first part of the expression is reminiscent of Ps. 2:7, words said to the Davidic king on the day of his coronation. The use of “beloved” with huios occurs in the LXX only at Gen. 22:2, 12, 16 where it refers to Isaac at the point of his imminent sacrifice by his father Abraham. Luke follows Mark in making this heavenly address directly to Jesus, while Matthew makes it an address to all those standing by. While Mark and Matthew virtually repeat the words at the Transfiguration, Luke changes the word “beloved” to “chosen” (ho eklelegmenos) at 9:35.

V. 22. en soi eudokēsa = “in you I am pleased”: The expression recalls Isa. 42:1 where the Lord introduces the Servant with these words, thus making the connection between Jesus and the Servant of Second Isaiah. It is interesting to note that some manuscripts, above all Western manuscript D, omit this expression in favor of “today I have given you birth.” This reading eliminates the servant image in favor of added emphasis on the royal theme of Ps. 2:7.

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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

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.


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.

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).

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.


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.


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.

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.


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.

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.