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Lectionary and Mosaic Bible – Pentecost + 3

Lectionary and Mosaic Bible – Pentecost + 3

I’m ending a hiatus in blogging of just over a month.  I see my last post was dated May 8, 2010, but I was pretty sparse for a month before that.  I’ll get a post up about what I was doing during that time.  No, nothing adventurous; just trying to do necessary work to grow my publishing business.

This morning I looked again at the lectionary passages for the week, and compared them to the Mosaic Bible.  Three of the lectionary passages do have material connected with them in The Mosaic Bible, though there is no overlap in the texts for this week.  The lectionary gives us 1 Kings 21:1-21a (again deleting what I think is some relevant material starting with 21b),  Psalm 5:1-8, Galatians 2:15-21, and Luke 7:36-8:3.  Of these, only Psalm 5 is not connected, though Galatians only overlaps with verse 20 used for Easter in the Mosaic Bible.

This simply reaffirms the way in which I think the Mosaic Bible is most useful for those who already use a reading plan oriented to the church year–it provides a rich range of readings that relate to the various church seasons that will be helpful in lesson and sermon preparation.  For those who do not use a reading program tied to the church calendar, I think the Mosaic Bible provides a more friendly starting point than simply diving into the lectionary.  Often the lectionary texts prove a challenging combination–individually helpful, but seeming quite scattered as a group.

The focus for this lectionary reading seems to be evil men.  One interesting twist is just how you read the story in Luke.  Naboth’s vineyard gives you a pretty clear set of bad guys and good guys, with Ahab in the role of very bad guy.  One interesting approach might be to contrast the response of Jesus to the woman who is a sinner as opposed to the judgment meted out to Ahab.  That could lead to really interesting discussions of varying types of sin as well.  No matter how often we claim that sin is sin, I think we really do have “clean” sins and “dirty” sins. Most commonly “dirty” sins are the ones you commit, and “clean” sins are the ones I commit.  (See the host in the story in Luke.)

I find the possible range of topics presented by each collection of lectionary texts quite fascinating, and this week was no exception.

Sacrificing for Joy

Sacrificing for Joy

The Old Testament Lectionary passage for the first Sunday in Lent, cycle C is Deuteronomy 26:1-11.  It’s kind of an odd text for this season.  You might almost use it as a text for Fat Tuesday.

I’m going to comment more on the lectionary texts this week, if for no other reason than because I’ve been asked to teach the weekly Lectionary at Lunch group at First United Methodist Church of Pensacola for my friend Rev. Geoffrey Lentz.  I plan to provide another set of comparisons between various study Bibles and what they contribute to the study.  But first I want to note two things from this passage.

First, Christians often assume that grace is our contribution to religion and that the Israelite religion was one of works and rituals.  But in the confession of faith in this passage, Israel’s faith and worship is clearly rooted in God’s gracious acts to Israel.  God reaches out first and people respond.

Second, the people bring a sacrifice of first fruits, and it’s not just given in thanks, it’s given for the purpose of having a celebration together.

It’s easy for us to look down on rituals and ceremonies or on good works in general.  Often this reflects a lack of such works on our own part.  But the real issue is not whether one worships in high or low liturgy, or whether one engages in good works.  Rather, it’s where those acts of worship and good deeds are rooted.  When we are expressing God’s grace through our deeds, and responding to God’s grace in worship, our worship will tend to be filled with God’s presence, and truly be good.

Without being rooted in God’s grace, we will engage in empty rituals and deeds done for the purpose of earning God’s favor.  Such acts are dead and do not lead to joy.

Note that the confession comes before the party, just as God’s salvation comes prior to the response.  That is a pattern that is repeated in both the Old Testament and the New.

Cutting out the Tough Stuff (2 Sam. 11:26-12:13a)

Cutting out the Tough Stuff (2 Sam. 11:26-12:13a)

I’m returning to these notes after the busiest winter, spring, and half of summer that I have ever experienced.  I wrote a couple of notes, getting back to them in fits and starts, but I haven’t been able to sustain the writing time.  During this time my company released four books, one of them in two editions.  Since I was primary editor on all of the above, I had little energy for writing new things.

I did, however, get time to complain on my Threads blog about a bowdlerized lectionary passage.  And that is my complaint again today.  But having made the complaint, I want to talk a little bit about how one might handle a passage such as ours.

Our Old Testament lection takes up the story of David after Uriah is dead.  Nathan the prophet is sent to him, and gets him to convict himself by telling him a story of injustice.  We end with 2 Samuel 12:13a as David confesses, “I have sinned.”  If you look at the second half of verse 13, you might wonder why it was left off.  God forgives the sin and says that David will not die, death being the penalty he himself had demanded for a similar, though lesser crime.

But if you follow through to verse 14 you’ll find the problem.  Though David is forgiven and will not die, the child that is the product of the adultery (in the viewpoint of this story) will die.

Now many pastors are probably very glad that this last verse is left off.  They would rather not deal with those questions on a Sunday morning.  I don’t blame them.  But the problem is this:  The passage is still there in the Old Testament.  In my experience, many, many Christians are caught unaware in discussions with skeptics because they aren’t even aware of what is actually in the Bible.  Skipping portions of stories in this fashion helps preserve that ignorance.

Now I don’t see how you’ll handle a verse like this in a 10, 15, or even 20 minute homily.  There are simply two many questions.  How can the child be held responsible for his parents’ actions?  Did God really kill a baby in order to punish the father?  What about the death penalty for adultery?  That is so foreign to our day and age that many people may ask why it should be such a heinous crime.  After all, even fairly well known pastors and evangelists have been forgiven and restored to ministry after committing just such a sin.  The death of the baby just makes it all that much harder.

Whatever your answer to these questions, I would suggest that if you are a pastor or teacher in the church you will need to be able to deal with them.  My preference for this is either the Sunday School hour–if one can make sure it actually is an hour!–or a Wednesday night or other study during the week.  That gives time for people to air out their questions and not just listen as the pastor explains how he or she has worked through the questions.

My own answer involves cultural accommodation.  God is dealing with people who think in precisely the terms presented in the story.  I don’t think we have to imagine that divine sovereignty decreed the death of the child, but rather that God used the natural death of the child to teach a lesson to someone who was only able to hear in those terms.

Once we have looked at this ancient situation, however, we should ask about God and HIV.  When a baby is born HIV positive through no fault of its own, perhaps through no fault even of its parent, just how do we see God’s justice?  What about “crack babies?”  How do we look at them?

Difficult passages like this give us an opportunity to address difficult questions that we might normally try to avoid.  We should take the opportunity when it is given to us.

Matthew 25:14-30 (The Talents)

Matthew 25:14-30 (The Talents)

14[The kingdom of heaven] is like a man going on a journey.  He calls his slaves and hands his property over to them.  15To one he gives five talents, to another two, and to another one, to each one according to his strength.  Then he goes on his journey.  As soon 16as he goes, the one who received five talents did business with them and gained another five.  17Likewise the one with two earned another two.  18But the one who received one went out, dug in the ground, and hid his lord’s money.  19After a long time the lord of those slaves returned and settled accounts with them.  20The one who had received five talents brought another five talents, saying, “Lord, you handed five talents over to me.  Look, here I’ve gained five more.  21His lord said to him,
“Excellent, good and faithful servant.  You have been faithful over a little, I will put you in charge of much.  Enter into your lord’s joy.  22Then the one who had received two talents said, “Lord, you handed two talents over to me.  Look, I have gained another two talents.”  23His lord said to him, “Excellent, good and faithful servant.  You were faithful with a little, I’m going to put you in charge of much.  Enter into your lord’s joy.”  24But the one who had received one talent came and said, “Lord, I knew you, that you are a hard man, harvesting where you didn’t plant, and gathering where you didn’t scatter.  25I was afraid, and went out and his your talent in the ground.  Look, you have what is yours!” 26But the lord answered him, “Wicked and lazy servant!  You know that I harvest where I haven’t planted, and I gather where I haven’t scattered?  27You should have given my money to the bankers, and when I returned, I could have received my own money with interest.  28So take the talent away from him and give it to the one who has ten talents.  29For to everyone who has it shall be given, and it will overflow, and from the one who doesn’t have shall be taken away even what he has.  30And throw the useless slave out into the outer darkness.  In that place there will be weeping and grinding of teeth. — Matthew 25:14-30

The boundary between verses 15 and 16 is doubtful.  Di he immediately go on a journey, or did the servant go out and immediately begin doing business.  It’s not a matter of great theological important, of course, but it is interesting.  The very best manuscripts would suggest that “immediately” goes with the servant’s action, but there are a larger number of the immediately next tier of manuscripts that suggests the opposite.  For example, the original hand of Sinaiticus goes with the reading I have translated, but the second corrector changes it.  Vaticanus supports the text as I have it, but Alexandrinus is on the other side.

For verses 21 and 23, “enter your lord’s joy” CEV has “share in my happiness.”  I like that, but I’m not sure it’s correct.  I wonder if it may be “welcome to your lord’s pleasure” or something like that.  I may update this post later with a note on the matter.

Otherwise, the translation is not the major issue here, but rather the exegesis, which, I suspect, makes some folks uncomfortable.


What Did They Cry?

What Did They Cry?

In Judges 4:1-7, when the Israelites cried out, what did they have to say?  With Psalm 123 included along with Judges 4:1-7 in Proper 28 / Ordinary 33 / Pentecost +27, I think we have an interesting possibility for preaching on prayer in trouble.

My basic starting point would be to suggest to the congregation that they imagine themselves in deep trouble.  How should you pray?  Would it be Psalm 123 with a simple statement that you’ve had it and God needs to show you some mercy?  Would it be more complicated.  One could try a number of different prayers, and ask the congregation which is the “best” one.

  • The arrogant prayer–I’m one of the good guys, Lord, so why haven’t you helped me?
  • The self-deprecating prayer–I don’t deserve anything, of course, I’m completely worthless, but could you help anyhow?
  • The desperate prayer–I’m at the end of my wits.  If you don’t help me, I’m done for!
  • The bargaining prayer–if you help me now, I’ll be faithful forever.  (This would be a good time to look elsewhere in Judges for the behavior of the Israelites.
  • The thankful prayer–if you can think of things to thank the Lord for.  (Note that just because God is doing lots of good things doesn’t mean that we will notice them!

The Israelites have brought all of this on themselves, according to the text, and it is God who sent the oppressor.  Does that change the way one should pray?  There are those who always rebuke Satan in times of trouble, but is it necessarily Satan who is acting?

Finally, does the prayer one offers change God’s response to the situation?

17th Sunday After Pentecost, 2003

17th Sunday After Pentecost, 2003

September 14, 2003

17th Sunday after Pentecost

The following are the suggested passages:


Proverbs 1:20-33 and Psalm 19 or Wisdom of Solomon 7:26-8:1


Isaiah 50:4-9a and Psalm 116:1-9


James 3:1-12

Mark 8:27-38

Proverbs 1:20-33

This hymn to Wisdom personified is both beautiful and very important to the balance of the church.  Wisdom is personified as a woman, and so the references are feminine.  Much has been made of this in church debates.  On the one extreme we have people creating liturgies to ?Sophia? the Greek equivalent of Hebrew wisdom (chokma), also feminine.  On the other hand we have people who complain about any feminine references to God.

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Easter Evening, 2005

Easter Evening, 2005

Easter Evening, Year A

March 27, 2005

I didn’t manage to restart these notes before Lent as I had planned and stated on the web page, but they are restarted now. I am no longer including my working translation so I can focus more on the interpretive process. Where I have worked such translations over enough, they will be found on my Totally Free Bible Version page, a project to work on Bible translation in public with input from anybody and everybody and the result free to anybody. Whether there is an entry there or not, I will include a link to a translation of the passage on the Bible Gateway, normally from the Contemporary English Version (CEV). I apologize for the long break in posting these notes, and hope the new style will be helpful.

At the bottom of the page is a form for posting response notes. This will allow readers to add their own comments and thoughts.

  • Isaiah 25:6-9
    Isaiah’s prophecy of the whole world coming to know the Lord.
  • Psalm 114
    A song of passover celebration.
  • 1 Corinthians 5:6b-8
    Response in our lives to Christ’s passover sacrifice–unleavened bread is equated to purity.
  • Luke 24:13-49
    The walk to Emmaus–What do you do when events confuse you?

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Lectionary Texts for Transfiguration – Cycle A

Lectionary Texts for Transfiguration – Cycle A

I want to make just a few remarks on the texts selected for Transfiguration Sunday, February 3. I like to find common themes in the lectionary texts even when they don’t seem all that coherent. In this case, the texts are quite carefully chosen.

First is the story of the transfiguration from Matthew 17:1-9. There are a couple of things to note about the differences in the transfiguration stories in the various gospels. Working from Darrell Bock’s Jesus According to Scripture (p. 235), note that Luke is the only one who mentions that the disciples slept. Mark and Luke both tell us that Peter didn’t know what to say, while Matthew does not. Luke notes the fear when the cloud appears. Matthew has the disciples fall down in fear at the voice.

Our Old Testament and Epistles readings bracket this event. Moses goes up to Mt. Sinai and into the cloud in Exodus 24:12-18. Quoting Bock, p. 235: “A new era and reality appear with Jesus and the glory that his presence represents.” This is an important point, and one could build a sermon around this shift of emphasis. One of the things I notice repeatedly in discussions of scripture between Jews and Christians is that while we generally argue verse by verse, especially asking whether this or that is a Messianic prediction, we rarely discuss the overall difference in view.

For Jewish interpretation, the Torah (Pentateuch) is the heart of God’s revelation, and everything is interpreted in relation to that. In Christianity, the Torah appears practically to get dismissed, and Jesus is the central element of Christian interpretation. We interpret everything in the light of the cross, no matter how we view the cross itself. How we view it is important, but it remains central. In terms of scripture, that places the four gospels at the heart of Christianity as the Torah is at the heart of Judaism.

If you look at our lectionary readings, and compare them to synagogue readings, you’ll see the same thing. We center around a gospel passage; they around a Torah passage. This particular scripture is partial justification for that Christian approach. Jesus is presented as a second lawgiver, and the command is given to listen to him.

The epistle, 2 Peter 1:16-21, introduces a later testimony and also the explicit connection of transfiguration with a confirmation that Jesus fulfills (in the sense of “makes complete”) the scriptures of the Old Testament. That, of course, is a subject in itself. One sermon might be the topic of type-antitype-testimony, and the importance of the testimony to each event. Peter, James, and John saw Jesus on the mount of transfiguration. Only Joshua went into the cloud with Moses. The written testimony is important in carrying all this through.

Those with a more critical mindset (and congregations to go with it) might discuss the different views of a passage such as this. The obvious construction tying themes from Hebrew scriptures into the life of Jesus suggests that the story is written precisely to make that particular connection. There are two extremes. On the one hand one can imagine that the story was created precisely for the purpose of presenting Jesus as the new lawgiver, and didn’t actually happen at all. It’s edifying Christian fiction. On the other hand, one can assume that the reason this happened is that Jesus is, in fact, the new lawgiver, thus God did for him something similar to what he did for Moses.

Finally, Psalm 99 is simply a celebration of God’s presence, with a number of allusions, including the temple (“on/above the cherubim”, verse 1), the pillar of cloud (v. 7), and the holy mountain (v 9). It would make an excellent call to worship.

Nelson Study Bible Note Problems

Nelson Study Bible Note Problems

I’m not going to link to a specific edition on this, because there is no ISBN in the edition from which I’m working. It appears to be a match for this item on, and to be essentially the same notes as this item, though I cannot be absolutely certain. If you have a similar version, you can simply check your notes to see if they say the same thing as mine.

First, of course, I’m a bit prejudiced because I think the NKJV is one of the less useful translations. It is literal, but less readable than the ESV or the HCSB. I don’t call any of the major modern versions bad Bibles, but the NKJV is fairly low on my list.

What I want to comment on today, however, is the notes, part of Nelson’s Complete Study System. I used this Bible today for my lectionary reading. Each morning I read both the current week’s lectionary passages and the next week’s, thus giving me 14 opportunities to meditate on them. I use different Bible versions and also read the notes if I’m using an edition that has notes.

In my reading on Isaiah 42:1-9 today, I noticed this note in a “wordfocus” block:

. . .While ‘ebed can mean slave (Gen. 43:18), slavery in Israel was different than in most places in the ancient Middle East. Slavery was regulated by the Law of Moses, which prohibited indefinite slavery and required that slaves be freed on the Sabbath (seventh) year (Ex. 21:2)–and the Year of Jubilee–the fiftieth year (Lev. 25:25-28). . . .

Now there is certainly value in pointing out the slavery laws in Israel, and comparing them to those in the ancient near east. Notice, however, that if one reads on in Leviticus 25, there is something that is not mentioned in this little note, and it is significant.

44But as for your male slave or your female slave who are yours, from among the nations who are around you you may acquire both male slave and female slave. 45And also from among those who are [foreigners] living in your land and from those who are sojourning among you you may acquire them and from their clan that is with them which they bring forth in your land, and they will be your possession, 46and you may leave them to your sons after you to possess; they may enslave them permanently. Only with your brethren, the children of Israel, each person must not make his brother labor harshly.

The problem here is that the note implies that somehow Israel’s form of slavery was entirely benign, without mentioning the exception to the rule. Anyone from the nations around or from foreigners who were in their land could be bought and possessed permanently.

This is important because there are two ways of handling slavery passages in the Bible. The first is to try to deny the similarity between the slavery practices in the Bible and that in other countries or in more recent times, such as slavery in the United States. The second is to view the rules of slavery as a cultural accommodation, i.e. slavery was not good, but was not yet forbidden.

I take the second approach. My point about this note is that that the editors of these notes presumably take the opposite one, but that they gloss over a substantial element of the Israelite rules for slavery. This is one of the ways in which study notes can be deceptive, even unintentionally.

The second note comes on Psalm 40:1, in which it discusses the words translated “waited patiently” in the NKJV:

The Hebrew translated I waited patiently is literally “waiting I waited.” The emphasis of this phrase is not really on patience but on the fact that David waited solely on the Lord. . . .

I have to wonder where they got this interpretation. The phrase “waiting I waited” is simply not good English. It is formally equivalent to the Hebrew, but this is one of those cases where the literal translation does not suggest the right set of options to English ears. It is a Hebrew idiom of intensification. I WAITED! Now you may think of a few options, such as the intensity of the expectation, or the length of the wait, but the verbal structure itself does not specify who is waited on, or anything about how this person is the sole person on whom the Psalmist waits.

The context suggests that YHWH was the sole one in whom the Psalmist placed his hope, but the verb form suggests only the intensity of the experience. For modern American English, I don’t even like the word “waited” here, though the REB and the NRSV both use “waited patiently.” I would prefer the JPS Tanakh’s “I put my hope in the LORD.” They lose the intensification, but I think they catch the essence of the verb more clearly.

What I would hope to show from these examples is the danger of depending on notes, along with the value of looking at more than one translation. Looking at more than one set of notes is also a valuable hedge against incomplete or misleading notes.