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Revised Common Lectionary Commentary

Clippings: Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost - October 5, 2014



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.

Exodus 20:1-4,7-9,12-20

The Ten Commandments also appear in Deuteronomy 5:6-21. They are an ethical code.

NJBC attributes this passage to the Elohist (E) tradition.

Christians number the commandments in two ways: the Anglican, Greek and Reformed traditions consider vv. 3-6 to be two commandments and v. 17 one, while the Lutheran and Roman Catholic traditions consider vv. 3-6 to be one commandment and v. 17 to be two. [ NJBC]

There are two differences between the Exodus and Deuteronomy versions of the Ten Commandments:

  • The reason for keeping the sabbath: see Exodus 20:11 and Deuteronomy 5:15, and
  • In Exodus 20:17, “neighbour’s house” precedes “neighbour’s wife” whilst in Deuteronomy 5:21 “neighbour’s wife” comes first. [ NJBC]

In the Exodus account, the “house” (household) may well include the neighbour’s “wife”, slaves and animals, so v. 17 appears to be one commandment – and the Anglican, Greek and Reformed traditions make more sense. However, in the Deuteronomy account, “house” seems to have a more limited meaning – and the Lutheran and Roman Catholic numbering make more sense.

Per Jewish tradition, v. 2 is the first commandment; however Christians consider this verse to be a preface that summarizes the meaning of the Exodus – thus setting the Law in the context of God’s redemptive action. [ NOAB]

The numbering of the commandments in Christian usage is:

Anglican, Greek and Reformed Lutheran and Roman Catholic
1. vv. 3, 5-6 vv. 3-6
2. vv. 4, 5-6 v. 7
3. v. 7 vv. 8-11
4. vv. 8-11 v. 12
5. v. 12 v. 13
6. v. 13 v. 14
7. v. 14 v. 15
8. v. 15 v. 16
9. v. 16 v. 17a
10. v. 17 v. 17b

Originally each commandment was a short utterance (as are those in vv. 13-15) to which explanatory comments were added (e.g. “for ...” in vv. 5, 6, 9-11). [ NOAB]

The commandments in vv. 3-11 concern the relationship of humans to God, while those in vv. 12-17 concern societal relations. In the Lutheran and Roman Catholic numbering, this neatly splits the ten into two groups of five.

Verse 1: “these words”: They are known as the Decalogue or “the ten words”: see 34:28; Deuteronomy 4:13; 10:4. (In all references, “ten commandments” is literally ten words.)

Verse 2: God won a victory over the gods of Egypt.

Verse 2: “I am the Lord your God”: NJBC suggests I, Yahweh, am your God.

Verse 3: Note that Israel is not yet strictly monotheistic. [ CAB] V. 5 expands on this verse.

Verse 4: “anything”: Living is implied. This commandment prohibits the common practice in the ancient world of personifying natural powers, making animal or human statues to them, and worshipping these powers.

Verse 5: “jealous”: God tolerates no rivals for his people’s devotion. [ NOAB] NJBC suggests impassioned: God is so passionately committed to Israel that he will ensure that all sins are punished even if it is the descendants of the sinners who are punished. This is a reference to those who “reject” God after accepting him (in Chapter 19).

Verse 6: “steadfast love”: The Hebrew word, hesed, means love under the covenant, kindness, mercy.

Verse 7: “wrongful use of the name”: i.e. use of God’s name in magic, divination or false swearing (in legal proceedings). This reflects the ancient idea that knowledge of someone’s name could be used to exert magical control over the person: see Genesis 32:27, 29 (Jacob at Jabbok) [ NOAB] [ NJBC]

Verse 11: In Deuteronomy 5:15, the reason given for keeping the sabbath is to remember God’s might in freeing Israel from slavery in Egypt.

Verse 12: In a society where traditions were transmitted orally, the elders were the repositories of knowledge. Note that mothers were to be equally honoured with fathers: an unusual idea in a region where women were primarily instruments of male procreation, and expendable slaves. [ CAB] See also 21:15, 17; Deuteronomy 27:16.

Verse 13: “murder”: A footnote in the NRSV offers kill as an alternative translation. In Deuteronomy 19:11-13 and Numbers 35:6-21 killing in a holy war is permitted. Unpremeditated killing is tolerated: see 21:12-17. Capital punishment is permitted.

Verse 14: “adultery”: Violation of the marital rights of another man through intercourse with a married or betrothed woman is envisioned: see Deuteronomy 22:22-37.

Verse 15: “steal”: The Hebrew word used here is the one used of the kidnapping of Joseph in Genesis 40:15. [ CAB] The last commandment (v. 17) covers stealing per se. [ NJBC]

Verse 16: The “neighbour” here and in v. 17 is probably a fellow member of the Israelite community. [ CAB] You shall tell the truth in a lawsuit. See also 23:1; Deuteronomy 19:15-21; 1 Kings 21:8-14 (Jezebel).

Verse 17: “covet”: While FoxMoses considers the Hebrew word. hamad, to mean desire, long for , NJBC suggests that conspire is a better translation.

Verse 18: God’s appearance resembles the appearance of the storm god Baal in Canaanite texts, especially in combining thunder and lightning with earthquake: see also Psalm 18:8 – so this conforms to a known literary pattern. [ FoxMoses]

Verse 18: “lightning”: Literally flashing torches. [ FoxMoses]

Verse 18: “trumpet”: The Hebrew word is shofar.

Verse 19: “or we will die”: i.e. cease to be human, become divine. [ NJBC]

Verse 21: “thick darkness”: FoxMoses translates the Hebrew as fog, suggesting cloud.

Sinai never became an important biblical cult site. It was necessary to demonstrate that Israel’s laws and institutions arose, not out of normal settled political and economic circumstances, but rather as a direct gift and stipulation of God himself – hence the choice of a site removed from the great cultural centres of the ancient Near East. Israel had to start everything anew, free of all previous cultural influences. [ FoxMoses]

No other ancient society, to our knowledge, cut a covenant with a people. So the true king is heavenly, not earthly.

FoxMoses translates 19:6 as ... you shall be to me a kingdom of priests, a holy nation ... – so despite there being a priestly group in ancient Israel, the ideal was that each person was an intermediary between God and other people.

FoxMoses wonders whether the materials in Exodus 21-24 (and other texts in the Torah which enumerate laws) should be taken as actual regulations or cases, or as something else, rather more didactic.

Psalm 19

A hymn to God as creator of nature and giver of the Law. [ NOAB]

This psalm can be divided into:

  • A creation hymn (vv. 2-6)
  • A wisdom hymn: being a Torah hymn (vv. 7-10) and confession of sin and prayer for forgiveness (vv. 11-14) [ NJBC]

NOAB suggests that the original poem was vv. 1-6, and that vv. 7-14, praising the revelation of God in the Law, were added later in order to counterbalance what seemed to be an almost pagan influence upon the revelation of God in nature; however NJBC considers that the thematic connections show that this psalm has always been one poem. He views the Law as one of God’s works. Note the change in divine names at v. 7: from “God” to “Lord ”.

Verses 1-6: The glory of God is shown in the phenomena of the heavens and especially in the might of the sun. [ NOAB] God’s glory is revealed through the splendour and order of creation, especially in the daily cycle of the sun. [ CAB]

Verses 1-4a: The sky and successive days and nights are personified as members of a heavenly choir ceaselessly singing God’s praises. [ NOAB]

Verse 1: “the glory of God”: For the attribution of glory to God (here El in Hebrew), see also 24:7, 10 (“king of glory”) and 29:3 (“God of glory”). “Glory” suggests both the nimbus of light enveloping the deity and the storm cloud: see Exodus 40:34; Psalm 18:12-13. [ NJBC]

Verse 2: Another translation: Day after day, they [the heavens] pour forth his word; night after night it [the firmament] declares his knowledge.

Verse 3: The words cannot be heard by human ears. [ NOAB]

Verses 4b-6: The skies provide a track along which the sun, like an athlete, runs its daily course. [ NOAB]

Verses 7-9: There are six synonyms for the Law in these verses. See also Psalm 119. [ NOAB]

Verse 7: “making wise the simple”: For wisdom and Torah, see also 1:1-2: “Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or take the path that sinners tread, or sit in the seat of scoffers; but their delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law they meditate day and night”. [ NJBC]

Verse 8: “enlightening the eyes”: i.e. providing health and well-being. 4:6 says: “There are many who say, ‘O that we might see some good! Let the light of your face shine on us, O Lord!’”. [ JBC]

Verse 9: “fear”: Many scholars translate the Hebrew as word. 119:11 says: “I treasure your word in my heart, so that I may not sin against you”. [ NOAB] For “clean”, the REB has unsullied.

Verse 10: Observance of the Law is a joy, not a burden. [ NOAB]

Verses 11-12: In the Law, people see that benefits are to be gained and errors are to be avoided. [ CAB]

Verses 11-14: The perfection or blamelessness of the Law is mirrored in the prayer of the psalmist: that he be blameless.

Verse 12: “hidden faults”: Another translation: presumptuous sins

Verse 14: This verse can be paraphrased as: May my speech and thought be acceptable to God, who has made all this possible. [ CAB]

Philippians 3:4b-14

Verse 1: Scholars think that Philippians is actually made up of several letters. A piece of evidence for this is the abrupt change in tone and content: one letter appears to end with v. 1a, and another to begin with v. 1b. This letter, which was probably written later, extends to 4:1b. [ NJBC]

Verse 1: “the same things”: i.e. what Paul has written about in previous chapters which have caused disharmony in the community. [ NOAB]

Verse 2: “dogs”: Paul uses strong language in speaking of the Judaizers. In Jewish circles, this term was reserved for Gentiles, the unclean, and outsiders. [ NJBC] Paul’s attitude towards those who considered circumcision a requirement for being a Christian is clear: he writes in Galatians 5:12: “I wish those who unsettle you would castrate themselves!”. It is likely that these people were Jewish Christians. The effect of their activities was to divide the community, by suggesting that those who were circumcised were elite.

Verse 2: “the evil workers”: Evidently those referred to in 1:15 (“Some proclaim Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from goodwill”), 1:17 (“the others proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but intending to increase my suffering in my imprisonment”) and 2:21 (“All of them are seeking their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ”). [CAB]

Verse 2: “those who mutilate the flesh”: As the NRSV footnote says, the Greek means literally the mutilation. Paul contrasts the mutilation with the circumcision. He may be thinking of what the prophets of Baal did to themselves in 1 Kings 18:28. [NJBC] The reference to those who preach the necessity of circumcision is bitter and ironical. [NOAB] The language is the same as in Galatians 5:12. [CAB]

Verse 3: “the circumcision”: In Romans 2:28-29, Paul says: “real circumcision is a matter of the heart”. Paul thinks of the Old Testament: Jeremiah 4:4 (“Circumcise yourselves to the Lord, remove the foreskin of your hearts”); 31:31 (“I will make a new covenant ...”); Deuteronomy 10:16 (“circumcise the foreskin of your heart”); 30:6; Leviticus 26:41; Ezekiel 44:7. The idea is also found in 1QS (Qumran Rule of the Community) 5:5, 26. Only inward circumcision is valid for the *eschatological era. Circumcision of the heart is a new moral life. See also Galatians 6:14-15 and Colossians 2:11-13. [NOAB]

1QS 5:4-5 says “... No one should walk in the stubbornness of his heart and his eyes and the musings of his inclination. Instead he should circumcise in the Community the foreskin of his tendency and of his stiff neck in order to lay a foundation of truth for Israel, for the Community of the eternal covenant.”

Verse 3: “the flesh”: i.e. outward states or rites.

Verses 5-6: In Galatians 1:14, Paul tells us about himself: “I advanced in Judaism beyond many among my people of the same age, for I was far more zealous for the traditions of my ancestors”. [CAB]

Verse 5: “on the eighth day”: Genesis 17:12 and Leviticus 12:3 state that a boy must be circumcised eight days after birth. [JBC]

Verse 5: “Benjamin”: This tribe was elite because, of all the brothers, only Benjamin was born in the Promised Land. Also, Saul, Israel’s first king, was from the tribe of Benjamin. [JBC]

Verse 5: “a Hebrew born of Hebrews”: There are three possible interpretations:

  • NOAB suggests: though living in Tarsus, a Greek city, Paul’s family spoke Aramaic, the language of *Palestine. Acts 21:40 tells us that “he addressed them in the Hebrew language”, i.e. Aramaic. See also Acts 22:2. [NOAB]
  • Paul is speaking of his lineage, i.e. he is a Hebrew of Hebrew parents, rather than a convert or a son of a convert
  • He is using a Semitic superlative, meaning roughly the ultimate (or superlative) Hebrew . (Recall the Broadway play Fiddler on the Roof and the song Wonder of Wonders, Miracle of Miracles, and note “king of kings” in Ezra 7:12; Ezekiel 26:7; Daniel 2:37; 1 Timothy 6:15; Revelation 17:14; 19:16.) While this interpretation is the most likely, one cannot be completely certain because the Greek translated “born of”, ex, does not occur in Revelation 17:14. [Alan Perry]

Verse 6: “persecutor”: The ultimate in zeal! See also Acts 8:3; 9:1-2 (Paul’s conversion); 22:4-5; 26:9-11; 1 Corinthians 15:9; Galatians 1:13. [NOAB]

Verses 7-8: Paul puts it in book-keeping terms. [NJBC]

Verse 8: “knowing Christ”: Such knowledge and personal experience transforms a person into the likeness of the one who is known. In 2 Corinthians 3:18, Paul writes: “... all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit”. [NJBC]

Verse 8: “suffered the loss of all things”: See also Matthew 13:44-46 (the parables of the Hidden Treasure and the Pearl of Great Price). [ NJBC]

Verse 8: “rubbish”: The Greek word can mean excrement . It is something disposed of irrevocably. [ NJBC]

Verse 9: See also Romans 3:21-31: “But now, apart from law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the law and the prophets, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe ...”. [ CAB]

Verse 9: “be found in him”: i.e. to be identified with Christ at the eschatological judgement. [ NJBC]

Verse 9: “in Christ”: Per the NRSV footnote, another rendering is of Christ, meaning either Christ’s faithful obedience until death (Romans 5:18-21 and Philippians 2:6-8) or the entire ministry of Jesus. [ NOAB]

Verse 9: “the righteousness from God based on faith”: To Paul, in living by the Law one attempts to achieve one’s own righteousness: in Romans 10:3, he says of Jews: “being ignorant of the righteousness that comes from God, and seeking to establish their own, they have not submitted to God's righteousness”. True righteousness is a gift received in faith: in Genesis 15:6, we read that Abraham “believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness’. [ CAB]

Verses 10-11: To know Christ as risen and living is to have “power”: to suffer like him and to possess the sure hope of rising and living with him. [ NOAB]

Verse 10: “to know Christ”: i.e. to experience him as life-giving Spirit. See 1 Corinthians 15:45; 2 Corinthians 3:17. [ NJBC]

Verse 10: “by becoming like him in his death ...”: In Romans 6:3-5, Paul asks: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his”. [ CAB]

Verse 12: Though we have God’s gift, we still need to work towards true godliness. [ NOAB]

Verse 12a: Perhaps Paul’s adversaries claimed that perfection can be achieved in this life.

Verse 14: “the prize”: Paul thinks of himself as being like an athlete in a Greek footrace. The winner received a victor’s crown at the finishing post. [ NOAB]

Verse 14: “the heavenly call”: It is to ascend and join with Christ in eternal life. This is the moment of perfection. [ NJBC]

Verse 15: “mature”: Mature Christians realize that they have not already attained perfection in their knowledge of Christ. [ CAB]

Verse 17: :join in imitating me”: i.e. in centring Christian life in the cross of Christ: see vv. 10, 18.

Verse 18: “many”: NOAB presumes these to be professing Christians but not the Judaizers of v. 2 because the description in v. 19 scarcely fits them; however NJBC sees those who preach circumcision for Christians as being “enemies of the cross” for they deny the efficacy of the cross and thus void Christ’s self sacrifice. See also Galatians 2:21.

Verse 19: “Their end is destruction”: i.e. at the Last Day.

Verse 19: “their god is the belly”: To NJBC, either a reference to Jewish food laws or to self-centeredness.

Verse 19: “their glory is in their shame”: Normally the penis is kept modestly covered, but the “enemies” “glory” in it. [ NJBC]

Verse 19: “on earthly things”: i.e. things of the age superceded by Christ. [ NJBC]

Verse 20: “our citizenship is in heaven”: We are already citizens, although the new era has not yet arrived. See also Galatians 4:24-27 and Ephesians 2:19. Recall that the citizenship of the Philippians was in Rome. [ NOAB]

Verse 21: See also Romans 8:23 (“... we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies”); 1 Corinthians 15:47-57; 2 Corinthians 5:15; Colossians 3:1-4.

Verse 21: “the body of our humiliation”: NJBC offers lowly body. The physical bodies of Christians will be transformed in order to enter eternal life. See also 1 Corinthians 15:20. [ NJBC]

Verse 21: “to make all things subject to himself”: An allusion to Psalm 8:6 (“You have given them dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under their feet”), to Paul a psalm telling of the messianic reign of Christ. See also 1 Corinthians 15:25-28; Romans 8:20; Ephesians 1:22; Hebrews 2:6-9; 1 Peter 3:22.

Matthew 21:33-46

The parallels are Mark 12:1-12 and Luke 20:9-19.

NJBC offers a different interpretation from the one in Comments (which is based on Blomberg): to him the slaves are the prophets killed by Israel, culminating in Jesus as the son, the “other tenants” (v. 41) and “a people” (v. 43) are the Church (which for Matthew is believing Jews plus converted Gentiles), the true Israel.

Verse 35: “beat one, killed another, and stoned another”: Matthew’s source, Mark, lacks the stoning of a slave, so NJBC wonders whether the stoning of James is in view.

Verse 37: “his son”: Matthew omits beloved from his Marcan source.

Verse 38: “This is the heir”: The tenants leap to a conclusion. In fact, the landowner is alive and can punish them. [ NJBC]

Verse 39: In Mark 12:8, the son is seized, then killed, then thrown out. NJBC notes that Matthew changes the order – perhaps to fit the view that Jesus died outside the city. See also John 19:17; Hebrews 13:12-13.

Verse 41: Jesus says in 8:11-12: “‘I tell you, many will come from east and west and will eat with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the heirs of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth’”. See also Acts 13:46; 18:6; 28:28.

Verse 42: Jesus quotes from Psalm 118:22-23 to support his teaching. [ NOAB] These verses are also quoted in Acts 4:11 and 1 Peter 2:7. This was a favourite early Christian proof text. [ Blomberg]

Verse 43: Jesus’ conclusion is milder than the chief priests and elders expect. The wicked tenants will not be destroyed but will lose the promise. [ NJBC]

Verse 43: “the kingdom of God”: In this context, probably the full end-time blessing. [ NJBC]

Comments: the landowner stands for God, the first tenants for Israel’s leaders, ... the second tenants are replacements for Israel: That v. 33 almost directly quotes the opening lines of Isaiah’s parable ( 5:1-7, the Song of the Unfruitful Vineyard) makes these equations certain. [ Blomberg]

Blomberg sees this parable as making three points:

  • God is patient and long suffering in waiting for his people to bear the fruit which he expects of them, even when they are repeatedly and overtly hostile in their rebellion against him.
  • A day will come when God’s patience will be exhausted and those who have rejected him will be destroyed.
  • God’s purposes will not thereby be thwarted, for he will raise up new leaders who will produce the fruit the original ones failed to provide.

While elements in most parables approach the absurd (causing the first listeners to break into hearty laughter) such hostilities as described here were not uncommon in first-century conflicts between absentee landlords (especially Roman ones) and their tenants – so this parable may look extreme but it is not. [ Blomberg]

Blomberg notes that there is nothing in the text to identify the son as Jesus. In Jesus’ telling of the parable, this is true, but I consider that in Matthew’s hands (and to his audience), the son is Jesus.

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