Revised Common Lectionary Commentary

Clippings: Sixth Sunday of Easter - May 17, 2020

Saint Dominic contemplating the Scriptures Saint Dominic contemplating the Scriptures
Author's note:
Sometimes I have material left over when I edit Comments down to fit the available space. This page presents notes that landed on the clipping room floor. Some may be useful to you. While I avoid technical language in the Comments (or explain special terms), Clippings may have unexplained jargon from time to time.

A hypertext Glossary of Terms is integrated with Clippings. Simply click on any highlighted word in the text and a pop-up window will appear with a definition. Bibliographic references are also integrated in the same way.

Acts 17:22-31

Paul’s second missionary journey began from Antioch (see 15:35-36). Silas was with him. He travelled northwest through Asia Minor (modern Turkey) to Lystra, where Timothy joined him (see 16:1-4). He sailed from Troas (see 16:11) to (Greek) Macedonia, where he founded the churches at Philippi and Thessalonica (see 17:1), and continued on to Beroea (see 17:10), and then to Athens (see 17:15). From Athens he travelled to Corinth (see 18:1). The journey ended at Jerusalem (see 18:22).

Verse 16: “the city was full of idols”: For a similar impression of the city, see Livy, The History of Rome 45.27, Pausanias 1.17.7 and Strabo, Geography 9.1.16. [ NJBC]

Verse 17: “the marketplace”: Called the Agora. On one side was the Areopagus, a low hill on which there were stone seats for the council that met there. The Acropolis was nearby.

Verse 18: “Epicurean”: Followers of Epicurus. According to NJBC, Paul shares their fervent opposition to the common people’s grovelling (“religious”, v. 22) and their conviction that the gods are unaffected by human manoeuvring (v. 25).

Verse 18: “Stoic”: From the Stoics, Paul draws several key ideas, including the unity of humanity (v. 26) and the natural kinship of humans with God (v. 28). [ NJBC]

Verse 18: “a proclaimer of foreign divinities”: A charge also levelled at Socrates. [ NJBC]

Verse 18: “the resurrection”: The Greek word is anastasis . NJBC suggests that the philosophers may have thought that Anastasis was the consort of Jesus.

Verse 19: “Areopagus”: Either the council of the Areopagus is meant, or the hill itself. The council was responsible for cultural and moral order. [ NOAB]

Verse 23: “To an unknown god”: An altar to unknown gods is mentioned in Pausanias 1.1.4 and Philostratus, The Life of Apollo 6.3.5. Such an altar was set up by one who did not know which god to thank or to propitiate. [ NJBC]

Verse 24: “the world ... heaven and earth”: The merger of the cosmos and earth/heaven is earlier found in Philo, Aristobulus and Wisdom of Solomon 9:9-10. See also 14:15 (Barnabas and Paul at Lystra), Isaiah 42:5 (in the Septuagint translation) and Psalm 146:6. [ NJBC]

Verse 24: “does not live in shrines ...”: See also 7:48 (“the Most High does not dwell in houses made with human hands”) and 1 Kings 8:27 (Solomon, “... will God indeed dwell on the earth? Even heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you, much less this house that I have built!”). [ NJBC]

Verse 25: “as though he needed anything”: See also 2 Maccabees 14:35; 3 Maccabees 2:9; Psalm 50:12; Amos 5:21-23 (“I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies”). [ NJBC]

Verse 25: “gives to all mortals life and breath and all things”: Isaiah 42:5 speaks of “God ... who gives breath to the people upon it and spirit to those who walk in it”. See also 2 Maccabees 7:23.

Verse 26: “he allotted ...”: See also Daniel 8 (the vision of the ram and the male goat). [ NJBC]

Verse 27: “search for God”: Deuteronomy 4:29 says “... you will seek the Lord your God, and you will find him if you search after him with all your heart and soul”. [ NJBC]

Verse 28: “In him we live and move and have our being”: Sometimes attributed to Epimenides. See also Psalm 139.

Verse 28: “some of your own poets ...”: The quotation is in the opening lines of Aratus, Phaenomena. Aratus was a Greek poet of Cilicia, and a Stoic. [ NOAB]

Verse 29: “we ought not to think ...”: In Greek philosophy, only a living being can represent a living being; in Judaism, the creator cannot be represented by anything created; in Christianity, see also Acts 19:26 (“gods made with hands are not gods”). For Jewish stock arguments against idolatry and polytheism, see Isaiah 40:18-20; 46:5-6; Wisdom of Solomon 13:10.

Verse 30: As in sermons to Jewish crowds (see 3:17 and 13:27), the kerygma brings the end of ignorance, when a choice must be made and one’s fate in the Last Day is sealed. [ NJBC]

Verse 31: See also 10:42; Psalms 9:9; 96:13; 98:9. Some scholars suggest that Paul was interrupted after this verse. [ NJBC]

Verse 32: “some scoffed”: As in 1 Corinthians 15:12, 25. The “resurrection of the dead” was a stumbling block to Hellenistic intelligentsia. [ NOAB]

Verse 34: “Dionysius the Areopagite”: A member of the council: see on v. 19. [ NOAB]

Psalm 66:8-18

Verses 4,7,15: “Selah”: This is probably a liturgical direction, added to the original text of the psalm. It may mean lift up, either to indicate the lifting up of the voices of the singers in a doxology, or to call for lifted-up instrumental music in an interlude in the singing. [ NOAB]

Selah is one of the greatest puzzles of the Old Testament. Its meaning seems to be connected with rising or lifting. But it is not clear whether the congregation rises or lifts up its hands, head, or eyes, or whether the music rises at the indicated points. The word probably indicates that the singing should stop to allow the congregation an interlude for presenting its homage to God by some gesture or act of worship. [ ICCPs]

Selah is also found 74 times in 39 psalms in the book of Psalms and three times in Habakkuk 3 (part of a psalm preserved there).

Verse 5: “Come and see what God has done”: 46:8 says: “Come, behold the works of the Lord; see what desolations he has brought on the earth”. See also 64:9. [ NJBC]

Verses 6-7: Just as the hymn of Exodus 15 moves from the crossing of the sea to the crossing of the Jordan and concludes with Yahweh’s eternal kingship, so in summary fashion do these verses. [ NJBC]

Verse 12: “through fire and through water”: This is a merism. Isaiah 43:2 says “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you”. See also Sirach 15:16. [ NJBC]

Verses 16-19: The story of the writer’s experience: see 18:4-6 for another such story. Narration of the troubles from which the worshipper has been saved is a regular feature of thanksgiving psalms. [ NOAB]

Verses 19-20: An inclusio with the beginning of the communal thanksgiving: “Bless our God ... let the sound of his praise be heard” in v. 8 with “God has listened ... Blessed be God ...”. [ NJBC]

It is possible that two psalms have been joined together.

1 Peter 3:13-22

Verses 13-17: Patience under persecution. See also Matthew 5:10-11 (part of the Beatitudes). For other references to persecution in this book, see 1:6-7; 2:12, 15, 19-20; 4:12-19. For persecution of Christians elsewhere in the New Testament, see James 1:12; Revelation 6:9; 14:13. [ CAB]

Verse 13: “harm”: Here, weaken you in the Christian faith. [ NJBC]

Verse 14: “if”: This does not imply that the possibility of suffering is remote, but rather is a gentle introduction to a painful subject. In effect, the author means “when”. [ NJBC]

Verse 14: This verse indicates that the readers have suffered for no other reason than that they are Christians. [ CAB]

Verses 14-15: “Do not fear ... Lord”: This seems to be patterned after Isaiah 8:12-13. [ CAB]

Verse 15: “sanctify Christ as Lord”: In Isaiah 8:13, God is to be sanctified (reverenced); here it is Christ. [ NJBC]

Verses 15-16: “Always be ready to make your defence ... with gentleness ...”: See also 1 Corinthians 4:12-13.

Verse 15: “the hope that is in you”: i.e. your faith. See also 1:13 (“set all your hope on the grace that Jesus Christ will bring you when he is revealed”), 1:21 (“Through him you have come to trust in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are set on God”); 3:5. [ CAB]

Verse 16: “may be put to shame”: i.e. and stop harassing Christians. [ NJBC]

Verse 17: “better”: In this context, more suitable or morally better. [ NJBC]

Verses 18-22: Two scholarly views:

Verses 18-19: The example of Christ’s suffering. See also 2:21-25. [ CAB]

Verse 18: “the righteous”: A description often used of Jesus. See also Acts 7:52 (where Stephen speaks of Jesus as “the Righteous One”); 1 John 2:1; 3:7. [ CAB]

Verse 18: “in order to bring you to God”: See also Romans 5:2 and Ephesians 2:18; 3:12. [ CAB]

Verse 18: “He was put to death in the flesh”: The Apostles’ Creed says either (in traditional language) “He descended into hell” or (in modern language) “He descended to the dead”. Jesus went to the abode of the dead. See also Romans 10:6-7; Hebrews 13:20; Acts 2:24, 31 (Peter’s sermon); Matthew 12:40. For death not holding him, see 1 Corinthians 15:35-50. [ CAB] [ NJBC]

Verses 19-20: Who are “the spirits in prison”? From these verses, they appear to be those who were on earth before the Flood, with the exception of Noah and his family (“eight persons”, i.e. Noah, his wife, his three sons and their wives).

But note 4:6: “For this is the reason the gospel was proclaimed even to the dead, so that, though they had been judged in the flesh as everyone is judged, they might live in the spirit as God does.” So the author may also have all those who are dead in view. [ NOAB]

Further, note mention of subjugation of heavenly beings to Christ in v. 22. So the author may include fallen angels in the group to whom Christ proclaimed the good news. Jude 6 (like 1 Peter, considered by many to be a relatively late book) says: “And the angels who did not keep their own position, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains in deepest darkness for the judgment of the great Day”.

Also 2 Peter 2:4-5 says “For if God did not spare the angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to chains of deepest darkness to be kept until the judgment; and if he did not spare the ancient world, even though he saved Noah, a herald of righteousness, with seven others, when he brought a flood on a world of the ungodly”. (One should not assume that the author of 2 Peter is the same as that of 1 Peter.)

Further again, we should remember that 1 Enoch and 2 Enoch were popular books in the time of the early Church. Although not canonical, Christians assigned some value to these books. 1 Enoch picks up on Genesis 6:1-4: the “sons of God” (see Genesis 6:2) had intercourse with human women, and thus became fallen angels. Their offspring were the Nephilim: now “The Nephilim, sons of divine beings and humans, were around at the time of the Flood” (Genesis 6:4).

In 1 Enoch 6-11, Enoch, on a mission from God, goes and announces to these rebellious angels that they are condemned to prison. This tradition specifically links the rebellion of the angels to the Flood. Then, in 2 Enoch 7:1-3; 18:3-6, Enoch passes through the heavens and meets the rebellious angels imprisoned in the second heaven. [ NJBC]

Now some quotations from the New Testament:

  • Ephesians 4:8-10 (and similar ideas elsewhere): “Therefore it is said, ‘When he ascended on high he made captivity itself a captive; he gave gifts to his people.’ (When it says, ‘He ascended,’ what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is the same one who ascended far above all the heavens, so that he might fill all things.)”
  • Hebrews 4:14: “Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession.”
  • Ephesians 1:20-22: “God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come.”
  • 1 Timothy 3:16: “Without any doubt, the mystery of our religion is great: He was revealed in flesh, vindicated in spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among Gentiles, believed in throughout the world, taken up in glory.” [ NJBC]

Perhaps the story of Enoch is applied to Christ.

So the author may have in view all who have been condemned to adverse judgement: humans, fallen angels and Nephilim drowned (in judgement) at the time of the Flood, and all who since have died without turning to God’s ways. All have the opportunity to be redeemed through Christ. While it is not entirely clear who the “spirits” are, in the end, the key issue is the availability of reversal of condemnation.

These verses have been interpreted in various ways over the centuries. Clement of Alexandria (c. 150 - c. 215) wrote that during Jesus’ three days in the grave he proclaimed the good news to those who died in the Flood. Augustine of Hippo (354-450) said that Christ, in his pre-existence, preached through Noah to the sinners of his generation, not in Hades but on earth. [ NOAB] [ CAB] [ NJBC]

Verse 19: “he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison”: Orthodox Christians believe that, during his three days in the grave, Jesus visited the dead and proclaimed the good news to them.

Verse 20: “God waited patiently”: An allusion to the interval in the Genesis account between God’s resolve (see Genesis 6:7) and the execution of it (see Genesis 7:11). [ NJBC]

Verse 20: “Noah”: The story of Noah and the Flood is in Genesis 6-8. Noah frequently appears as a great hero of the past in both Jewish and Christian literature. See Ezekiel 14:14, 20; Wisdom of Solomon 10:4; Sirach 44:17; Matthew 24:37-38; Hebrews 11:7; 2 Peter 2:5. In 2 Peter 2:5, we read that Noah warned his contemporaries of the coming punishment, that they might repent. [ CAB] [ NJBC]

Verse 20: “saved through water”: See also 1 Corinthians 10:1-2, where “our ancestors”, the Israelites, “passed through the sea and ... were baptized into Moses ... in the cloud and in the sea”, the “cloud” being God’s presence. See also Midrash Genesis Rabba 7:7. [ NJBC]

Verse 21: “prefigured”: In 1 Corinthians 10:1-2 the passage through the Red Sea prefigures baptism; here the Flood prefigures it. God’s saving acts in the past occur again in the present, and in baptism God’s salvation is available to all. For the connection between Jesus’ resurrection and baptism, see Romans 6:1-11. [ CAB]

Verse 21: “not as a removal of dirt from the body”: Literally not putting aside of the dirt of the body. This would be a strange way of referring to the act of mere washing. The language is better suited to the Jewish rite of circumcision. [ NJBC]

Verse 21: “resurrection”: In 1:3, the author writes: “... By his [the Father’s] great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead”. See also 3:18. [ NJBC]

Verse 22: In Romans 8:38, Paul writes in terms of the orders of angelic beings accepted in his day: “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord”. See also 1 Corinthians 15:24-25 (“every ruler and every authority and power”); Galatians 4:3 (“elemental spirits of the world”), 4:9; Colossians 2:8; Philippians 3:21. [ CAB]

Verse 22: “at the right hand of God”: This is an application of Psalm 110:1 (“The Lord says to my lord, ‘Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool’”) to Christ. Jesus quotes this verse in Matthew 22:44. In Acts 2:33-35, Peter interprets and quotes it: “Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he [Jesus] has poured out this that you both see and hear. For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says, ‘The Lord said to my Lord, ‘Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool’’”. See also Romans 8:34; Hebrews 8:1. This phrase reflects the ancient Near East (especially Egyptian) custom of depicting the king seated at the right hand of god, thus denoting his divinity as god’s viceregent to whom all authority and power are entrusted. [ NOAB] [ NJBC]

Verse 22: “with angels ...”: Christians, with Christ, share victory over hostile spirits, over all who represent disobedience, rebellion and persecution. “Authorities” and “powers” are also heavenly beings. See also Philippians 2:10; 1 Corinthians 15:24, 27; Ephesians 1:21; Colossians 2:10, 15. [ NJBC]

John 14:15-21

Although Jesus will be gone from them in ordinary terms, his and the Father’s continuing presence will be with them through “the Spirit of truth” (the “Advocate”, one who comes alongside to help and to counsel), and through his disclosure of himself to the community, where he and the Father will “make our home” (v. 23).

Verse 16: “Advocate”: The Greek word is Parakletos, which BlkJn translates as Champion. The Greek word is derived from a verb meaning call to one’s side. The Latin word advocatus has the same meaning, but there is a distinction to be made between the Greek and Roman judicial systems. In a Roman court, an advocatus pleaded a person’s case for him, but a Greek parakletos did not: in the Greek system, a person had to plead his own case, but he brought along his friends as parakletoi to influence the court by their moral support and testimony to his value as a citizen. BlkJn argues that the sense in John is of giving help – as is usually the sense in the New Testament, e.g. encourage, comfort in 2 Corinthians 1:4 and exhort in Romans 12:1. A Champion is one who supports by his presence and his words.

Verse 16: “another”: The Greek word is allos, meaning another example of the same kind, as contrasted with eteros, an example of another kind. The Champion is, like Christ, “another” representative of God and, again like Christ, given or sent by God. But he has a distinctive function as champion, as helper and intercessor, which John does not ascribe to Christ. Thus the Church is set on the way to formulation of the doctrine of the Trinity. (Christ as intercessor is found in 1 John.)

Verses 18-20: The Holy Spirit imparts Christ’s life (see also Acts 2:33) and unites believers to God. [ NOAB]

Verse 18: For the start of this theme, see v. 3.

Verse 20: “I am in my Father ...”: See also 17:21-23: “As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. ...”. It is helpful to insert a few words, as the NRSV does (although they are not in the text): “you are in me, and I am in you”. The divine society has been introduced in v. 10.

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