Revised Common Lectionary Commentary

Clippings: Second Sunday after Epiphany - January 19, 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.

Isaiah 49:1-7

In one view, Deutero-Isaiah writes chapters 49-55 from Babylon after Cyrus signed the edict allowing Jews to return home: see Ezra 1:1-4. Their new state is barely large enough to support the Jerusalem sanctuary, and in this poor tract of land, 32 x 40 km (20 x 25 miles), the people quickly succumb to discouragement, avarice and cruelty: see Haggai, Nehemiah 5 and Ezra 9-10. Not until 515, upon the insistence of Haggai and Zechariah, did they complete the Temple, the foundation of which had been laid in 536: see Ezra 3:7-4:5; 5:1. [ NJBC]

Verses 1-7: CAB writes: the prophet speaks for the faithful component of historic Israel, to describe the role of that remnant as my servant, whose task is to renew God’s people, “to bring back Jacob to him” (v. 5). Not only will the “survivors of Israel” (v. 6) experience freedom and renewal, but they will also become instruments through whom “light” will reach out to all nations, “to the end of the earth”. Though other nations now despise Israel and her God, the rulers will one day “prostrate themselves” (v. 7) before “the Holy One of Israel”.

For the other three Servant Songs, see: 42:1-7; 50:4-9; 52:13-53:12.

Verse 1: “called me before I was born ...”: In Jeremiah 1:5, Yahweh tells the prophet: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations”. In Galatians 1:15, Paul says that he believes that he was called before birth. See also Psalm 139:13-15, Luke 1:15 (John the Baptist), Luke 1:31 (Jesus). [ NOAB] [ NJBC]

Verse 2: “a sharp sword”: A military image is also used for God’s actions in Ephesians 6:17; Hebrews 4:12; Jeremiah 1:9; Hebrews 4:12; Revelation 1:16. [ NJBC]

Verse 2: “he hid me”: For protection as a possible reason, see Psalms 17:8 (“hide me in the shadow of your wings”) and 27:15; for provision of time to appreciate Israel’s mission, see 51:14-16; 52:13-15. [ NJBC]

Verses 3-4: In serving God, Israel will be glorified. Though his ministry appears to be futile, his reward is with God. See also 1 Kings 19:4-18; Jeremiah 15:15-21.

Verses 4-6: As do other Servant Songs, these verses move in the style of Jeremiah’s confessions (see Jeremiah 11:18-12:6; 15:10-21; 17:14-18; 18:18-23; 20:7-18). They are the personal soliloquy of a sorrowing person of faith.

Verse 4: “in vain”: Also translated for nothing. The Hebrew word, tohu, is used in Genesis 1:2 for the chaotic state of the earth before God created. Isaiah 41:29 says: “... they are all a delusion; their works are nothing; their images are empty (tohu) wind”. [ NJBC]

Verse 4: “reward”: Recompense is another translation. The Hebrew word is mispat. [ NJBC]

Verses 5-6: A contrast between the old and new Israel. Paul and Barnabas quote these verses at Antioch in Pisidia: see Acts 13:47. See also Acts 26:23 (Paul appears before Festus). [ NOAB]

Verse 5: “that Israel might be gathered to him”: God (or possibly Cyrus) leads the new exodus, not Deutero-Isaiah. See also 40:1-11; 45:2-3, 13. [ NJBC]

Verse 6: “a light to the nations”: In 42:6, God says through the prophet: “I am the Lord, I have called you in righteousness, I have taken you by the hand and kept you; I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations”. [ NOAB]

Verse 7: This verse leads us to the fourth Song. [ NJBC]

Verses 8-9b: Though in bondage as in Egypt ( 48:10), they will be released and restored: see also 2 Corinthians 6:2. See also 40:1, 11; 41:18; 43:5-6; 45:14; 49:4, 6, 21; 61:2. [ NOAB] [ NJBC]

Verse 8: “kept”: Formed is another translation. 48:10 says: “... I have refined you, but not like silver; I have tested you in the furnace of adversity”. The Hebrew of this verse is difficult. The “furnace of adversity” is the Exile; this metaphor was earlier used to refer to bondage in Egypt: see Deuteronomy 4:20; 45:2-3, 13.

Verses 9c-11: The imagery of the Exodus (see 48:20-22) is combined with that of Israel’s deliverance. [ NOAB]

Verse 12: “Syene”: In upper Egypt.

Psalm 40:1-11

Some argue that this has always been one psalm, despite beginning with thanksgiving and ending with lament. They note that Psalm 27 also begins with a psalm of confidence and ends with a lament, as does Psalm 89. [ NJBC]

Verses 1-3: In 18:4-6, a psalmist recalls: “The cords of death encompassed me; the torrents of perdition assailed me; the cords of Sheol entangled me; the snares of death confronted me. In my distress I called upon the Lord ; to my God I cried for help. From his temple he heard my voice, and my cry to him reached his ears”. [ NOAB]

Verse 2: This verse is perhaps unique in progressing from “the desolate pit” or “miry bog” to “a rock”. To some scholars, it uses the image of a river ordeal known from Mesopotamian literature: a person accused of wrong-doing is cast into a river for judgement. If he survives, he is innocent. See Deuteronomy 22 for another trial by ordeal. [ NJBC]

Verses 6-8: These verses are quoted in Hebrews 10:5-7 (from the Septuagint translation). There it is as though the psalmist is the Son, speaking to the Father. [ NOAB]

Verse 6: Although not apparent in translation, four kinds of sacrifice are mentioned in this verse. For the superiority of obedience to sacrifice, see also 1 Samuel 15:22-23 and Mark 12:33. See also 50:8-15; 51:16, 17; Amos 5:21-24; Hosea 6:6. [ NOAB]

Verse 7: “the scroll of the book”: God’s book of accounts is also mentioned in 56:8 (“your record”). 139:16 says: “Your eyes beheld my unformed substance. In your book were written all the days that were formed for me, when none of them as yet existed”. [ NOAB]

Verse 9: In 22:22, a psalmist makes a vow: “I will tell of your name to my brothers and sisters; in the midst of the congregation I will praise you”. [ NOAB]

Verses 13-17: These verses are almost identical to Psalm 70, with “Lord” ( Yahweh) and “God” (elohim) being interchanged. [ NJBC]

Verses 14-16: Note the contrast between vv. 14-15 and v. 16. [ NJBC]

1 Corinthians 1:1-9

Verse 1: The absence of Timothy’s name probably indicates that he is already on the way to Corinth. He is mentioned in 2 Corinthians 1:1 (a letter probably written, in part, before this one).

Verse 1: “an apostle”: For Paul’s call, see Galatians 1:15-16; 2 Corinthians 4:5-6; Acts 9:1-9; 22:6-11. Paul sees apostleship as being wider than the Twelve: 15:5- 7 tells us that the risen Christ “appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve ... Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles”.

Verse 2: “together with all those ...”: Probably a reminder that Paul’s readers are not the only Christians. In 11:16, Paul writes: “But if anyone is disposed to be contentious – we have no such custom, nor do the churches of God” and in 2 Corinthians 1:1 “To the church of God that is in Corinth, including all the saints throughout Achaia”. [ NJBC]

Verse 4: “speech and knowledge”: Speaking in tongues (see 14:2) and claiming special knowledge (see 8:1) created factions. Paul’s thanksgiving is ironic. [ JANT]

Verse 5: Gifts mentioned in other letters are missing from this introductory section:

Faith, hope and caritas (fraternal love) 1 Thessalonians 1:3
Faith Romans 1:8
Partnership in the gospel Philippians 1:5 [ NJBC]

Verse 7: “spiritual gift”: For rules for using them, see chapters 12-14.

Verse 7: “as you wait”: A reminder that the fullness of God’s revelation is in the future, probably necessary because of the Corinthian Christians’ excitement over what they already experience. [ NJBC]

Verse 7: “revealing”: Refers to eschatological revelation. [ JANT]

Verse 8: “He will also strengthen you”: In 10:13 Paul writes: “ God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength ...”.

Verse 8: “the day of our Lord Jesus Christ”: A Christian adaptation of the Day of Yahweh: see Amos 5:18 and Joel 3:14; Acts 2:20. See also 1 Corinthians 3:13; 4:3. [ NJBC]

Verse 9: “God is faithful”: See also 10:13 and 1 Thessalonians 5:24. [ NJBC]

Verse 9: “you were called”: In the Greek, hoi kletoi , the called ones. See also 2:2, 24; Romans 1:6, 7; 8:28. Implicit in the call to salvation ( 7:15, 22; Galatians 1:6; 5:13; 1 Thessalonians 4:7) is the call to glory (Romans 8:28-30; Philippians 3:14; 1 Thessalonians 2:12), whose author is always God (Galatians 5:8; 1 Thessalonians 5:24). [ NJBC]

Verse 9: “called into the fellowship”: The Greek word is koinonia. To Paul, it is the vital union of believers among themselves, which is their union with Christ. Their shared existence as members of his body (see 12:12-27) is highlighted in the Eucharist (see 10:16-17). [ NJBC]

John 1:29-42

Comments: John the Baptist has denied that he is any of the figures expected by Jews to inaugurate a new era: he is neither the Messiah, Elijah, nor the prophet like Moses: See vv. 20-25. Jews expected the Messiah to come based on Psalm 2:5-6: “Then he [ Yahweh] will speak to them [the kings of the earth] in his wrath, and terrify them in his fury, saying, ‘I have set my king on Zion, my holy hill’”. Their expectation of Elijah’s return was based on Malachi 4:5-6: “I will send you the prophet Elijah before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes ...”. In Deuteronomy 18:18, God says “ I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their own people; I will put my words in the mouth of the prophet, who shall speak to them everything that I command.”.

Verse 29: “‘the Lamb of God’”: Meaning the Lamb provided by God. See also Exodus 12:3-5 (the sacrificial lamb in Egypt); Jeremiah 11:19 (“I was like a gentle lamb led to the slaughter”); Isaiah 42:1-9; 52:13-53:12 (both are Servant Songs). John the Baptist probably thinks of Isaiah 53:4, 7. By the time John wrote his gospel, the death of Jesus was seen as being like that of the Passover lamb: see John 19:36. 1 Corinthians 5:7 shows that the interpretation of Jesus’ death as that of the Passover lamb is early. [ NJBC] In Revelation, “the Lamb” is both a sacrifice (“a Lamb standing as if it had been slaughtered”, Revelation 5:6) and the leader of God’s people, the Messiah (“the Lamb at the centre of the throne will be their shepherd”, Revelation 7:17). Note that the Septuagint translation of Isaiah 53:7 uses the word amnos for lamb, as does John in this verse and in v. 36. [ BlkJn]

Verse 29: “‘who takes away’”: The Greek can also mean who bears. John probably means it in both senses. [ BlkJn]

Verses 30-34: In the account of Jesus’ baptism in Mark 1:1-9, John the Baptizer does not appear to recognize Jesus as anyone out of the ordinary; there Jesus alone sees the descent of the Holy Spirit, and alone hears the divine declaration “‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased’”. Also in Mark, the descent of the dove is shown as a sign to the Baptizer that the Christ has come, and the Baptizer is merely a witness to this fact. Matthew 3:17 objectifies the divine voice; there it declares “‘This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased’”. Some argue that the Baptizer recognizing Jesus at this stage is incompatible with the Baptizer’s question from prison: “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?’” (in Matthew 11:3 and Luke 7:19). If the synoptic gospels are correct, “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (v. 29) is to be interpreted in terms of John the evangelist’s teaching. [ BlkJn]

Verse 30: “‘he was before me’”: BlkJn offers he was first in comparison with me.

Verse 31: “‘I myself did not know him’”: This, BlkJn says, means I did not recognize him as the Messiah (when I baptised him) rather than He was a stranger to me. John had been looking for the return of Elijah; it was then revealed to him that the descent of the Spirit and its remaining on the man he had baptised was the sign that what he had expected had indeed happened.

Verse 31: “‘but I came baptising with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel’”: BlkJn offers but [I now realize that] it was in order that he should be made manifest to Israel that I came baptising in water.

Verse 32: “I saw the Spirit ... like a dove”: See also Mark 1:10; Matthew 3:16; Luke 3:22. See also the prophecy of David’s royal heir in Isaiah 11:1-2: “A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him ...” John does not tell the story of Jesus’ baptism because his purpose in writing is primarily theological. [ BlkJn]

Verse 32: “remained”: This shows the permanence of the relationships between the Father and the Son and between the Son and believers. Jesus dispenses the Spirit in 3:5, 34; 7:38-39; 20:22.

Verse 33: “I myself did not know him”: BlkJn appends then as an aid to understanding.

Verse 34: “this is the Son of God”: In v. 49, Nathanael links being Son of God with being Messiah. Martha’s assertion (referred to in Comments) is in 11:27. See also Psalm 2:7. Some manuscripts have God’s chosen one or elect of God. The phrase Son of God is used often in this gospel. A rule of biblical study is: the more difficult is more likely to be correct. Elect of God is more likely because, of the two, Son of God is more likely to have been introduced – to fit with its other uses in the gospel. Isaiah 42:1 also speaks of “chosen” or elect. [ BlkJn]

So which account is correct: this one, where John the Baptizer is witness and offers personal testimony, or the synoptic gospels, in which the accounts are detached from Jesus’ baptism to a degree? BlkJn says that the statements the Baptizer makes here correspond to some extent with the expectations of the Qumran community. That they applied Isaiah 11:1-4 to their Messiah of Israel is shown by a fragment of their commentary on Isaiah. They considered themselves the elect, and believed their task to be making atonement for the world by punishing the wicked. What applied to each one of them could apply a fortiori to their war-leader (see their War Scroll ), their Messiah of Israel. John the Baptizer may have learnt some of what he taught from them. John’s question from prison may have been due to his surprise that Jesus was not behaving as he expected. Jesus knew himself to be the Messiah, but he repudiated the Baptizer’s conception of his role. BlkJn says that all four of the tellings of Jesus’ baptism are influenced by theological considerations: the synoptic gospels by embarrassment that the lesser (the Baptizer) baptised the greater (Jesus); John by the purpose of his gospel, particularly the role of the Holy Spirit.

Verse 38: “Rabbi”: In Jesus’ time; rabbi simply meant teacher. The rabbinic movement was in its infancy. The title often appears in the first twelve chapters of this gospel, where it is a sign of respect, combined with a statement or question which requires correction of an individual’s understanding of Jesus. See 1:49; 3:2; 3:26; 4:31; 6:25; 9:2; 11:8. [ NJBC]

Verse 39: “Come and see”: An invitation Jesus also used later: see 1:46; 4:29; 11:34. Jesus elucidates this in 8:12: “”I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life””. [ NOAB]

Verse 39: “They came and saw ... and they remained with him”: BlkJn offers stayed for “remained”. This simple episode may have a deeper meaning, as conforming to, and illustrating, the pattern of human quest for Christ and its outcome. 15:4ff makes clear that the place where Christ stays (“abide”) is in the Christian community, and that where the Christian stays is in Christ. [ BlkMt]

Verse 40: “One of the two”: Who is the other one? There are various scholarly suggestions, including:

  • John the son of Zebedee: by translating v. 41 as He was the first to find his own brother, but BlkJn says that the emphatic use of his (as in his own) is less frequent in New Testament Greek than the unemphatic (his);
  • Philip, in that Jesus finds him in v. 43 below; and
  • the Beloved Disciple, usually thought to be John. 13:23; 20:2; 21:7, 20 speak of the disciple “whom Jesus loved”.

Verse 40: “Andrew”: He is also mentioned in 6:8; 12:22; Mark 13:3 and in his calling and in the lists of the Twelve. [ BlkJn]

Verse 41: “first”: BlkJn suggests that the Greek word, proton, may be a copyist’s error; he argues that proi (in the morning) is more likely, the next word being ton. “Four o’clock in the afternoon” (v. 39) is near the end of the day: Andrew would have had little time for hearing Jesus. If in the morning is correct, Andrew stayed with Jesus overnight.

Verse 41: “We have found the Messiah”: This is not incompatible with Peter’s later confession at Caesarea Philippi (in Mark 8:29), though it may be with Mark’s presentation of it. Andrew means no more than John the Baptizer did earlier by “Lamb of God”, i.e. the one who would triumph over evil by pacific means. Peter’s confession is not a new discovery, but the triumph of faith over appearances. [ BlkJn]

Verse 42: “You are to be called Cephas”: This is a prophecy that “Simon” will be called “Cephas”, not the giving of the name. None of the gospels states explicitly the occasion when Simon actually receives it, but note Mark 3:16 (“Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter)”). Matthew 16:18 (“you are Peter”) may be intended as the formal bestowal of the name.

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