Monthly Archives: April 2012

1 Thessalonians Chapter 1

Hello. Until I get this figured out more effectively, you may want to read the first few posts in which I talk about aims, what I’m doing, etc.

Here is where I start my first actual post on biblical text.  The previous posts will clarify a bit more on the context of my purpose, etc.

To oversimplify a bit, Paul’s letters tend towards two main themes.

The first is pastoral.  Pastoral letters, or sections of letters, generally deal with the sort of practical matters of running a church, a community.

The second theme would be, doctrinal.   Doctrinal letters, or sections thereof, deal with matters of faith.  In these sections, Paul tells his congregations what Christians should believe, or do believe.  He explains the fundamentals of the faith.  These are the sections that will particularly concern us.  My primary interest is to discover what the earliest Christian communities knew about Jesus, what they believed about Jesus, and what they thought it meant to be a follower of Jesus.  Bear in mind, that, in Paul’s day, the term “Christian” hadn’t been invented.

1 Thessalonians is, primarily, a pastoral letter.  It does not specifically deal with articles of faith.  The primary focus is to remind the Thessalonians, the residents of the Greek city of Thessalonika–which still exists, now simply called “Salonika”–that they are followers of Jesus, and to fortify them in their faith.  However, despite the primary emphasis, the letter contains a certain amount of incidental doctrine, things that the followers of Jesus believed.

Remember: this is probably the earliest piece of Christian writing in existence (“extant”, in the language of historians).

1 Παῦλος καὶ Σιλουανὸς καὶ Τιμόθεος τῇ ἐκκλησίᾳ Θεσσαλονικέων ἐν θεῷ πατρὶ καὶ κυρίῳ Ἰησοῦ Χριστῷ: χάρις ὑμῖν καὶ εἰρήνη.

Paul, Silvanus, & Timothy, to the church of the Thessalonians, in the name of God the father, and the Lord Jesus Christ, we [wish] you grace & peace.

Again, bear in mind that this is probably the earliest extant piece of Christian writing.  Already, Jesus is a) our lord; and b) the Christ.

Here we have our first bit of doctrine.  He specifically calls Jesus the “Christ”.  In Greek, this literally means ‘anointed one’, which is more or less the translation of  “messiah” in Hebrew or Aramaic, whichever it is.  Already, apparently, the idea of Jesus the Christ had become a foundation stone of Christian belief.

2 Εὐχαριστοῦμεν τῷ θεῷ πάντοτε περὶ πάντων ὑμῶν, μνείαν ποιούμενοι ἐπὶ τῶν προσευχῶν ἡμῶν, ἀδιαλείπτως

We give thanks to God for all of you(r activities), ceaselessly making mention of your deeds in our prayers.

Here is where we get to the pastoral theme.  This is a congregation that Paul organized, if he didn’t exactly start it from scratch.  He is grateful to them for remaining true to the word, and he is proud of them, as we shall see more explicitly.  

2 Gratias agimus Deo semper pro omnibus vobis, memoriam facientes in orationibus nostris, sine intermissione;

3 μνημονεύοντες ὑμῶν τοῦ ἔργου τῆς πίστεως καὶ τοῦ κόπου τῆς ἀγάπης καὶ τῆς ὑπομονῆς τῆς ἐλπίδος
τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ ἔμπροσθεν τοῦ θεοῦ καὶ πατρὸς ἡμῶν,

Remembering your works of faith, and your labors of love and your patience of hope in our lord Jesus Christ before God our father, 

Works of faith. This is a interesting concept, one that foreshadows themes to come. Our Lord Jesus Christ is repeated, and God the Father has been used.  God as the father is an extremely widespread notion among a lot of pagan religions. However, I believe that this was something rather new in Judaism, which is why the prayer “Our Father” as taught by Jesus in the gospels was somehow startling, or at least a bit new. But, since this use predates the gospels by at least a decade, we have to ask if it was actually Jesus’ idea.  

Remember, by his own testimony in Galatians, Paul never met Jesus.  As such, Paul did not get this concept directly from Jesus.  So we have to conclude, I believe, that Paul’s usage indicates that it was fairly common among at least some Jews at the time.

And the phrase “patience of hope” in Jesus is interesting.  What are they hoping for? We do not know yet.  This phrase speaks to assumptions, but we, hearing these first words of Christianity, do not know what the hope is.

3 memores operis fidei vestrae et laboris caritatis et sustinentiae spei Domini nostri Iesu Christi ante Deum et Patrem nostrum;

4 εἰδότες, ἀδελφοὶ ἠγαπημένοι ὑπὸ [τοῦ] θεοῦ, τὴν ἐκλογὴν ὑμῶν,

knowing, brothers, that you are loved by God, (knowing of his) selection of you

 Here we get the idea of a loving god. Not altogether something common from the Hebrew Scripture.  The term “chosen” will have significant implications later, especially in Romans.  But what is notable is that God has chosen the Thessalonians, and, by extension, all Christians.  That is, the initiative belongs to God.  The Thessalonians/we as Christians did not choose God.

But at this point, ‘chosen’ is still a fairly neutral term.     

4 scientes, fratres, dilecti a Deo, electionem vestram,

5 ὅτι τὸ εὐαγγέλιον ἡμῶν οὐκ ἐγενήθη εἰς ὑμᾶς ἐν λόγῳ μόνον ἀλλὰ καὶ ἐν δυνάμει καὶ ἐν πνεύματι ἁγίῳ
καὶ [ἐν] πληροφορίᾳ πολλῇ, καθὼς οἴδατε οἷοι ἐγενήθημεν [ἐν] ὑμῖν δι’ ὑμᾶς.

His selection of you that [my] evangelizing of you [lit: toward you] was not in words only, but also in power and in the holy spirit and in the great full-bearing, just as you know how we were {[ἐν] ὑμῖν δι’ ὑμᾶς} among you, and with you. [how we behaved when we were with you and among you]

Here, the Greek is a bit awkward, especially in the final clause. So I’ve given the literal, and then smoothed it out at the end.

The important part of this is the idea that Paul claims to have preached both in power, and in the holy spirit. I have deliberately left this lower case, because capitalizing has the force of making this into a concept that truly did not develop until later.  Greek did not use Capital Letters to denote Proper Nouns as we do in English. Thus, it is difficult to know what he meant by the idea of a holy spirit. Did he mean the third person of the Trinity? Almost certainly not. The idea of the Trinity as we understand it was not fully developed for another 200 years or so. This is a classic example of how we read back into a text ideas that were not fully (or even partially) articulated until later–sometimes much later.

And this is interesting. The text I used includes the word ἁγίῳ as an adjective for “spirit.”  This is the standard word for “holy.”  However, is omitted from some of the textual traditions, which reinforces the idea that ‘the spirit’ does not necessarily, or even possibly, imply The Holy Spirit, as something somehow apart from God. (Standard Trinitarian definition is three separate Persons in One God. So there is a degree of distinction in ‘Holy Spirit’ that we cannot simply assume from ‘spirit.’

Aside from any theological implications, the fact is that Paul delivered the Good News (ev-angelon) with power.  It may be me, but there is a certain level of self-importance to this.  It may be justified, but Paul is a bit proud of his accomplishment here. Moreover, I would infer from this that he truly and deeply believes what he is saying. This s a sentiment from a person convinced s/he is speaking Truth.

5 quia evangelium nostrum non fuit ad vos in sermone tantum sed et in virtute et in Spiritu Sancto
et in plenitudine multa, sicut scitis quales fuerimus vobis propter vos.

6 καὶ ὑμεῖς μιμηταὶ ἡμῶν ἐγενήθητε καὶ τοῦ κυρίου, δεξάμενοι τὸν λόγον ἐν θλίψει πολλῇ μετὰ χαρᾶς πνεύματος ἁγίου,

And you were imitators of us and the Lord, showing the Word in many troubles with great joy in the Holy Spirit,

 The idea of imitating the behavior of others who are already initiates and followers is interesting. It would seem to imply a code of conduct, something like a moral code perhaps? Or at least a lifestyle.  And again, we have the holy spirit.  And note that this way of life brings joy even during troubles.

 θλίψει is an interesting word. It can be a generic ‘troubles’; it can also mean persecution.   

6 Et vos imitatores nostri facti estis et Domini, excipientes verbum in tribulatione multa cum gaudio Spiritus Sancti,

7 ὥστε γενέσθαι ὑμᾶς τύπον πᾶσιν τοῖς πιστεύουσιν ἐν τῇ Μακεδονίᾳ καὶ ἐν τῇ Ἀχαΐᾳ.

so that you became a role-model to believers [both] in Macedonia and in Achaia.

More of the idea of imitation of, presumably, a way of life?  However, I am not set on this concept, but it seems most logical to me.     

7 ita ut facti sitis forma omnibus credentibus in Macedonia et in Achaia.

8 ἀφ’ ὑμῶν γὰρ ἐξήχηται ὁ λόγος τοῦ κυρίου οὐ μόνον ἐν τῇ Μακεδονίᾳ καὶ [ἐν τῇ] Ἀχαΐᾳ, ἀλλ’ ἐν παντὶ τόπῳ ἡ πίστις ὑμῶν ἡ πρὸς τὸν θεὸν ἐξελήλυθεν, ὥστε μὴ χρείαν ἔχειν ἡμᾶς λαλεῖν τι:

For from you the Word of the Lord came not only to Macedonia and Achaia, but to all places the faith of you to God has come, so that it is not necssary to have us say anything (regarding it).

 My translation here is a bit rough in English, but it pretty much catches the Greek exactly.  The last clause, “so that it is not…” is a bit difficult to get to work idiomatically. Greek (and Latin) have the capability of leaving out words that we would regard as necessary. This seems to be an instance where it is necessary rather to ‘fill out’ the Greek to render a complete concept in English. In this case, it’s reasonably harmless; in other instances, however, it can be more problematic. Especially when discussing doctrinal issues, the need to fill out the Greek can result in a seriously altered meaning from what the bare Greek actually says.      

8 A vobis enim diffamatus est sermo Domini non solum in Macedonia et in Achaia, sed in omni loco fides vestra, quae est ad Deum, profecta est, ita ut non sit nobis necesse quidquam loqui;

9 αὐτοὶ γὰρ περὶ ἡμῶν ἀπαγγέλλουσιν ὁποίαν εἴσοδον ἔσχομεν πρὸς ὑμᾶς, καὶ πῶς ἐπεστρέψατε πρὸς τὸν θεὸν
ἀπὸ τῶν εἰδώλων δουλεύειν θεῷ ζῶντι καὶ ἀληθινῷ,

For they reported among us our welcome among you, and how you were turned towards God and away from idols, to serve the God living and true,

  Taking the last part first: the living and true God is a very old idea in Judaism. It carries forward into Christianity.

What’ s interesting is that the Thessalonians converted directly from idols to Christianity; that is, they were pagans, and not Jews. So, right from the start, we see Paul preaching to and converting Gentiles.  

9 ipsi enim de nobis annuntiant qualem introitum habuerimus ad vos, et quomodo conversi estis ad Deum a simulacris, servire Deo vivo et vero

10 0καὶ ἀναμένειν τὸν υἱὸν αὐτοῦ ἐκ τῶν οὐρανῶν, ὃν ἤγειρεν ἐκ [τῶν] νεκρῶν, Iησοῦν τὸν ῥυόμενον ἡμᾶς ἐκ τῆς ὀργῆς τῆς ἐρχομένης.

and you await the Son of Him (to come) from the heavens, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus, him pulling us away from the coming wrath.

 All sorts of things here. First, the son of him, referring back to the living and true god. Again, Jesus being the son of God shows up, early, in the oldest piece of extant Christian writing. Second, he is coming from the heavens; so not only is the son returning, but from the sky, imagery that will be repeated in Revelations, largely because it’s a standard part of Jewish apocalyptic literature of the time.  It has links to the book of Daniel. Again, Paul refers to the one “raised from the dead.”  Not the one who rose, but the one who was raised, another usage of the accusative case indicating a direct object that received the action, not one who performed the action. To underscore, the son was raised, with the verb in the passive tense.

Finally, the last expression: the coming wrath. This reminds us of John the Baptist in asking who warned the Pharisees to flee from the coming wrath.

Perhaps this is another example of the Jewish apocalyptic literature that was fairly common at the time.  If anyone can verify this, please do so. 

10 et exspectare Filium eius de caelis, quem suscitavit ex mortuis, Iesum, qui eripit nos ab ira ventura.

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A Few Things; or, better late than never

This particular post was meant to go up very early, among the first three posts. It was meant to give some hints about other excellent sources. But, I somehow never hit ‘publish’, so it’s been languishing in ‘draft’ for nearly a year. My apologies. In particular, the bit about Great Treasures may help: I’ve made numerous references to my ‘crib’ translations; these are the standard English translations that I use for reference and cross-checking, in addition to the Latin Vulgate text. So, here’s what I should have told you last April. My apologies!

text of the post:

First: I would strongly suggest you become acquainted with the site Great Treasures.

http://greattreasures.org/gnt/main.do

UPDATE: The URL for this site has changed as the owners seek to upgrade the experience it provides. They are doing a bang-up job of it, too. Here is the new URL:

https://thebible.org/gt/index

You have to create an account, but it’s free, and you don’t get nailed with spam or solicitations.  It allows you to put up a number of different translations simultaneously, and you can see the Greek text at the same time. In addition, the Greek text is completely dissected; it gives you the word in Greek and the part of speech; if a verb, it provides tense, person, number, mood, and voice; if a noun, it provides number, gender, and case.  Then, if you click on a word, it gives you a decent definition, plus it will give you a list of every time this word is used in the New Testatment. This way you can see how the word is translated in different circumstances. It’s surprising how much variety there can be.

Just for reference, the KJV, NASB, ESV, and NIV are the ones I use. The KJV is considered to be the inerrant translation by many Christians; it’s also usually the closest to the original Greek, so it most closely parallels my intent on sacrificing fluency in English to maintain a better sense of the Greek. The ESV and especially the NIV are more English-centric, in the sense that they are much more in the sort of casual idiom spoken in America. My favorite compromise is the NASB, as it seems to get the English correct without completely coming detached from the Greek.

Second: become familiar with Strong’s Concordance, and his numbers.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Strong’s_Concordance

James Strong went through the entire Bible, and put both the Hebrew and Greek words in alphabetical order, then assigned each word a number. Then he indexed every place a word occurs; the OT and the NT have separate indices based on their different languages. It’s a very helpful means of comparing where words are used. You will find that the Great Treasures site will show you all the instances of a given Greek word in the NT; this is based on Strong’s words. And Strong did the same for instances of Hebrew words in the OT. Pity he didn’t do it for the Septuagint Greek translation of the OT.

You will also note that each post includes the text of the Latin Vulgate that corresponds to the Greek text being examined. In its earliest days, the Church was a largely Greek-speaking institution; virtually all of the earliest texts were initially composed in Greek. From the time of Alexander, Greek became the international language of the eastern Mediterranean. When this part of the world was incorporated into what became the Roman Empire, the Romans often used Greek-speaking slaves as tutors for their children who were taught the Greek classics in the original language, so that, in time, educated persons of the upper classes were essentially bilingual. International trade and commerce were largely conducted in Greek. This bilingualism persisted for about half a millennium. By the middle of the fourth century, however, the stresses on the Empire caused by the increasing concentration of wealth reduced the exchanges between east and west, with the result that language became bifurcated into a Latin West and a Greek East. As this was occurring, St Jerome realized that Western churchmen could not ready the Bible in Greek, so he translated it into Latin. This is the Vulgate, which means “common”, as in “common language”. Now, St Jerome was still bilingual, so he had an intimate experience of Greek as a spoken language. This gives him an understanding of the Greek that moderns cannot replicate. As such, when we come to a difficult part of the Greek, checking the Latin can provide insights into the intent of the Greek. There are places, however, where the Latin becomes largely divorced from the Greek because the latter is especially obscure, so one has to wonder whether St Jerome fell into the translation trap, of sacrificing faithfulness to the original in favour of a more comprehensible and readable translation. Indeed, this is the eternal question of translation between any two languages.

Finally, Greek is simply a very different thought process than English. It relies on participles–in various tenses–a lot more than English does, or can.  Maintaining a sense of the original is often impossible for a lot of reasons.

Starting at the beginning

Hello, and welcome to Commentingonthebible.wordpress.com

Please allow me to introduce myself, and explain why I’m here, and what I’m trying to accomplish.

The purpose is to provide a translation of the New Testament,  and then comment on the content.  Each of these, I hope, will fill a particular need.

There have been so many accretions to Christianity over the past two millennia. We all ‘know’ so much about Christianity: the Trinity, the Son of God, Jesus was divine….The problem is, what we ‘know’ often gets in the way of what the New Testament is actually saying. The purpose here is to look at the NT as a text, as any other text that has come down to us from antiquity. We’re going to strip away what we ‘know’ to look at what is actually said.

As such, this is obviously not a “Christian” blog. I will not be approaching this as if the Bible is inerrant. Christians are more than welcome; I would especially value their comments on theology and religious doctrine, but we will be approaching this from an historical, rather than a doctrinal point of view. How did what became Christianity start, how did its sacred texts evolve, how did the message change.

I studied Classics while at the University of Toronto, and I have a BA in Greek and Roman History.  This course required 4 years of Greek language, and 4 years of Latin language.  Mostly, I read historians, such as Herodotus, Thucydides, Tacitus, and Livy, but I managed to squeeze in a bit of Plato too.  However, after many years,  my skill had atrophied considerably, so I wanted to get myself back up to speed.

I also have an MA in History, from Providence College.  I spent as much time as possible studying the late Middle Ages through the Reformation. Providence is run by Dominican priests; as such, it seemed reasonable to go with the College’s strength, and specialize in the history of theology.  Religion has long been an area of interest.

About the turn of the millennium, my wife and I became Episcopalians.  We had both grown up in as members of  the Roman tradition, but we had drifted away, largely because we didn’t agree with the Roman Church’s exclusionary practices.  This new perspective as a Protestant made me curious about what the Bible actually said.  I had read about the controversies, the theological problems, but came to realize just how little I knew about the actual text of the bible itself.

And, since the New Testament was originally written in Greek, and I wanted to (re)learn Greek and learn about the NT, the two intentions merged. I decided to read the NT in Greek.  It seemed the thing to do at the time.

So, what I am doing is providing my translation of the text. I should explain: this translation does not read well in English; the intent was to make a serious attempt to maintain as much of the sense of the original as possible. I want to give a flavor of how the Greek actually reads. I believe this is important, because it’s important to realize that, in some cases, what you are reading in English may not always retain much of what the original Greek said.  There are passages that have obviously evolved a great deal as they have been translated over the course of the past 500 years, since the Protestants decided to put the words into vernacular language.

The other reason was, in case anyone is trying to learn Greek, I’m hoping that those people might find this crib-sheet translation useful to help figure out the exact syntax of the sentence being read. Trust me, this is not always easy. And, very often. the more fluid the English, the less relation it bears to the original, and the less help it is to understand what the Greek actually says.

Second, I’ve decided to start with some of the letters of  St Paul. We are so accustomed to giving priority to the gospels, that I’m not sure that a lot of people realize that most of the gospels were written after Paul had written his letters.  As such, the earliest extant Christian documents are the letters of St Paul.  Probably Matthew and Luke. and certainly John were not written till 30-50 years after Paul wrote.

In particular, I’ll be starting with 1 Thessalonians; the consensus seems to be that this is the first one written that still survives.  From there we’ll move to Galatians and Phillippians.  After that, I’ll start into Mark.