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Revised Common Lectionary Commentary

Clippings: Third Sunday in Lent - March 11, 2012



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 20:1-17

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 in view: 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]

NOAB suggests that the original poem was vv. 1-6, and that vv. 7-14 praise of 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.

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 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. [NJBC]

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

1 Corinthians 1:18-25

Believers must detach themselves from the standards of fallen humanity – the cause of the divisions at Corinth - if they are to understand the way God relates to them. [NJBC]

Verse 18: The fact of acceptance or rejection of humanity is the basis of division of humanity into two groups. God has not predestined some to salvation and others to condemnation. In the future, the status of a member of either group may change. In 5:5, writing of a sexually immoral man, Paul says “you are to hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord”. Note also 10:12: “So if you think you are standing, watch out that you do not fall”. [NJBC]

Verse 18: “the cross”: Paul writes in 2:1-2: “When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified.”

Verse 19: The quotation is Isaiah 29:14 in the Septuagint translation. There King Ahaz accepts the advice of “wise” counsellors to form an alliance with Egypt rather than trusting in God to deliver Judah from the Assyrians. [NOAB]

Verses 20-25: Proud, self-centred humans want God to be at their disposal, but God’s way of dealing with human sin through the cross of Christ stands in contrast to human power and wisdom. Those who have been “called” (v. 24) by the message of the cross find in it God’s “power” and “wisdom”. [CAB]

Verse 20: The questions are inspired by Isaiah 19:11; 33:18; 44:25; Job 12:17. [NJBC]

Verse 21: “the wisdom of God”: Not a divine plan, but the organization and beauty of creation: see also Romans 1:19-20. [NJBC]

Verse 21: “the world did not know God through wisdom”: Rational speculation, which in the world passes for wisdom, had failed to perceive that God has acted through a suffering saviour. [NJBC]

Verse 22: “demand signs”: i.e. demand miracles. In so doing, Jews refuse to trust in God, thus camouflaging their contentment with the status quo. [NJBC]

Verse 22: “Greeks”: The Greek word is ethnoi, the same word translated as “Gentiles” in v. 23, so Paul means non-Jews in general. In Galatians 3:28 he writes: “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus”. [NJBC]

Verse 23: “stumbling block to Jews”: Because of their particular messianic expectations. [NJBC]

Verse 23: “foolishness to Gentiles”: Because of their rationalism. [NJBC]

Verse 24: “those who are the called”: Even though Paul uses kletoi, the called ones, he speaks of those who hear and accept the good news. Paul often calls members of the Church the called ones. In Romans 8:28, he writes: “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose”. See also 2:2 and Romans 1:6-7. [NJBC]

Verse 24: “Christ ...”: The authentic humanity of Jesus makes visible God’s intention for humans and radiates an attractive force that enables response. [NJBC]

John 2:13-22

The synoptic gospels include a story of Jesus cleansing the Temple; they place it shortly before Passion week, whereas John presents the story as the opening of Jesus’ public ministry. See Mark 11:15-17; Matthew 21:12-17; Luke 19:45-48. [BlkJn]

NJBC says that there are sufficient differences between John’s version of this story and that in the synoptic gospels to assert that John’s version came from an independent tradition.

Verse 13: “The Passover of the Jews”: John characteristically dissociates himself from Judaism: see also 5:1; 6:4; 7:2; 11:55. [BlkJn]

The annual pilgrimage of Jews to Jerusalem from all over the world recalled God’s great act of deliverance of his people from slavery in Egypt in the time of Moses: see Exodus 14-15. [CAB]

Verse 14: The traders provided a service which was a great convenience for worshippers: the animals they sold were guaranteed as suitable for sacrifice by the Temple authorities; Temple coinage, unlike secular coinage, was free of the image of a man (or god). [BlkJn]

Verses 15-16: Not an outburst of temper, but the energy of righteousness against religious leaders to whom religion had become a business. [NOAB]

Verse 15: It is likely that the fracas involved more than Jesus and the traders. His use of a “whip” and his upsetting of the tables was probably resisted, and this resistance was overcome by force, presumably with the help of Jesus’ disciples and sympathizers. Staves and other weapons were forbidden in the Temple; Jesus improvised a whip out of a handful of cords. It is not mentioned in the other gospels. [BlkJn]

Verse 16: In the other gospels, it is solely the dishonesty of the traders that Jesus attacks, but here Jesus also objects to the trade as such. In Mark 11:17, Jesus recalls the prophecy in Isaiah 56:7: “‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’”. [BlkJn]

Comments: V. 19 may show that Jesus also speaks against the Jewish sacrificial system: The Qumran community also objected to Temple worship. [BlkJn]

Verse 17: Psalm 69 is an urgent appeal to God to vindicate the righteous man who has been oppressed for his zeal and faithfulness to God, but v. 9 of the psalm is to be understood as a prophecy that the zeal which Jesus showed would later lead to his destruction. In the synoptic gospels (but not here) the cleansing of the Temple is days before the arrest of Jesus. [BlkJn] John has changed this verse from the present tense to the future, probably looking forward to the bitter hostility that will erupt between Jesus and the religious authorities: see 5:16, 18. [NJBC]

Verse 17: “remembered”: Remembering in John is a technical term for the process by which the community came to see Jesus as the fulfilment of Scripture after the resurrection. [NJBC]

Verse 18: In the synoptic gospels, the disciples join in seeking a “sign”. There, Jesus refuses to give signs: see Mark 8:12; Matthew 12:39; Luke 11:29. Usually in John, Jesus performs signs to confirm faith, not to convince sceptics. [BlkJn]

Verse 19: In John 4:21, Jesus tells the Samaritan woman at the well that the Temple will be superceded; Revelation 21:22 states that there will be no temple in the eternal Jerusalem. Mark 14:58 gives the testimony of false witnesses who claim that Jesus said: “‘I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and in three days I will build another, not made with hands’”. Mark 15:29-32 presents a taunt based on this testimony. BlkJn suggests that Jesus probably said something about destroying the Temple, but we do not know precisely what he said and what he meant. The most probable explanation is that Jesus challenged “the Jews” to show faith in him: you destroy the Temple and I will in return give you a sign, i.e. raising it again in three days. So we may have here the saying that the false witnesses distorted. [BlkJn]

Comments: The religious leaders ... misunderstand: The religious authorities presume that Jesus threatens to destroy the Temple. Taken literally, Jesus’ saying is absurd. [NJBC] Misunderstanding him is a common theme in this gospel. See also, for example, 3:4 (Nicodemus) and 4:11 (the woman at the well). [BlkJn]

Verse 20: Josephus tells us in his Antiquities that Herod began rebuilding the Temple in the eighteenth year of his reign, i.e. about 20 BC. The events in our reading take place 46 years later, i.e. about 26 AD. However, the word translated as “temple” is naos and Josephus tells us that:

  • The naos was completed in a year and five months and
  • The whole complex of temple buildings was only completed in about 63 AD.

The only way of reconciling this data seems to be to assume that:

  • Josephus means the sanctuary proper by naos while in John it refers to a larger group of buildings, and
  • Reconstruction was suspended in 26 AD – when this larger group of buildings was almost complete.

But there is another possibility. Perhaps the “forty-six years” is Jesus’ age at the time. Three years later, at the time of the Crucifixion, he would be 49. 49 is the 7 times 7, the perfect number. The Resurrection can then be seen as inaugurating the great Jubilee. This fits well with 8:57, “You are not yet fifty years old ...” – unlike Jesus being in his thirties when he was crucified. It also fits with the tradition preserved by Irenaeus; he says that, on the authority of the elders of Asia who had known John, Jesus lived until he was nearly fifty. But there is nothing in v. 20 to support this interpretation. [BlkJn]

The Temple was finished in 64 AD. [NOAB]

Verse 21: “his body”: While the primary reference is to the body of Jesus which was raised from the tomb, there may be an allusion here to the Church, the new Israel, which may be said to have come into being with the resurrection of Jesus. However, this thought is Pauline, not Johannine. [BlkJn] Jesus’ reply (v. 19) is a prediction of his own death and resurrection. [NOAB] The Dead Sea Scrolls speak of the community as the true “temple” of God’s Spirit; however in John Jesus is the new Temple. [NJBC]

Verse 22: “they believed ...”: For other examples of belief as the response to Jesus’ words and actions, see 2:11 (the disciples at the wedding at Cana); 4:39 (Samaritans at the well),4: 41, 50 (the official with the son who is ill), 4:53; 6:69 (the disciples); 7:31 (many in the crowd); 8:30; 9:38 (the man born blind); 10:42; 11:27 (Martha), 11:45 (“many of the Jews”); 12:11, 42 (“many, even of the authorities”); 16:30; 20:8 (“the other disciple”).

Verse 22: “the scripture”: The word in Greek is in the singular, so John probably means that the disciples understood Psalm 69:9 as applied to Jesus. [BlkJn]

Verses 23-25: Faith which rests merely on “signs” and not on him to whom they point is shallow and unstable. [NOAB]

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