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Revised Common Lectionary Commentary

Clippings: The Baptism of the Lord - January 8, 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.

Genesis 1:1-5

This creation story is from the Priestly (P) tradition: it uses the formulae “let there be ...” and “God created/made ...” as does the story of the building of the Tabernacle: see Exodus 25-31 for God’s commands and Exodus 35-40 for the execution of these commands. [NJBC]

1:1: Another translation: At the beginning of God’s creating of the heavens and the earth. In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth has been the traditional translation since at least the third century BC, when the Hebrew was so translated in the Septuagint but, says FoxMoses, it is an unlikely translation because the first two Hebrew words cannot be translated in this way. Other ancient Near East cosmologies use a “when ... then” construction as does Enuma Elish. [NJBC]

1:1: “the heavens and the earth”: Probably a merism – an inclusive idiom meaning everything or everywhere. [FoxMoses]

1:2: Genesis 1 describes God’s bringing order out of chaos. not creation from nothingness. God does not destroy darkness, a chaotic force, but relegates it to the nighttime, where it too becomes part of the good world. [FoxMoses]

1:2: “formless void”: The Hebrew is tohu wabohu. Tohu occurs twenty times in the Old Testament; it means without shape or form, so uninhabitable by humans. [NJBC]

1:2: “the deep”: The Hebrew, tehom, suggests that the earth was completely covered by water, as Psalm 104:6, a psalm that resembles Genesis 1, says. [NJBC]

1:2: “while a wind from God ...”: Chaos was never beyond God’s control. Psalm 33:7 says: “He gathered the waters of the sea as in a bottle; he put the deeps in storehouses”. [NJBC]

1:2: “swept”: FoxMoses offers hovering or flitting. He says that the image is one of an eagle protecting its young. Deuteronomy 32:11-12 says “As an eagle stirs up its nest, and hovers over its young; as it spreads its wings, takes them up, and bears them aloft on its pinions, the LORD alone guided him”.

Days 4, 5 and 6 match Days 1, 2 and 3:

Day Verses   Day Verses  
1 3-5 Light (day/night) 4 14-19 Lights in heaven
2 6-8 Separation of upper and lower water 5 20-23 Fish and birds from water
3 9-13 a. Dry land (earth, seas)
b. Plants
6 24-31 a. Animals
b. Humans [NJBC]

1:4: “God saw that the light was good”: This phrase is reminiscent of an ancient Near East craftsman being satisfied with his work. [FoxMoses]

1:5: “there was evening and there was morning”: Jewish feast days begin in the evening. [NOAB] The words translated “evening” and “morning” are specific: they mean sunset and daybreak. [FoxMoses] Creation is very orderly. [CAB]

1:6: “dome”: The Hebrew, raki’a, literally means a beaten sheet of metal, hammered out of the flat – suggesting God as a craftsman. The KJV translates the word as firmament. It was so translated in the Septuagint and later in the Vulgate. So translated, it lacks some of the meaning of the Hebrew. [FoxMoses]

1:11: “Let the earth put forth vegetation: plants yielding seed, ...”: FoxMoses says that there are sound-doublets here in the Hebrew which are hard to translate as such into English. He suggests Let the earth sprout forth with sprouting-growth, plants that seed forth seeds ... V. 12 contains no such doublets.

1:14: “lights”: In the sense of lamps. [FoxMoses]

1:21: Birds seem to be thought to come from the water. [NJBC]

1:22: “blessed”: This is the first occurrence of this key motif in Genesis. [FoxMoses]

1:25: “wild”: i.e. undomesticated.

1:26-27: “humankind”: The Hebrew word is adam. [FoxMoses]

1:26: In the ancient Near East, a king was often called an image of the deity and was vested with the god’s authority. In this area, humans were usually considered to be slaves of the gods, but here royal language is used for humans. [NJBC]

Another interpretation is that “us” is an echo of the divine assembly. In ancient Near East literature, gods decided the fate of humankind. The Old Testament accepts the picture of the assembly, but Yahweh alone makes the decisions: see also Deuteronomy 32:8-9; 1 Kings 22:19-22; Isaiah 6; 40:1-11; Job 1-2. [NJBC]

1:28: “Be fruitful and multiply ...”: Imperatives are a biblical way of defining essence, as also in 8:17 (to Noah); 9:1, 7; Exodus 20:2-7, Leviticus 19:2; 35:11 (to Jacob); Deuteronomy 16:18-20; Jeremiah 23:3; Ezekiel 36:10-11. [NJBC]

1:28: “subdue it”: i.e. master it, bring it forcibly under control; however, note vv. 29-30: humans are to respect the environment; they are not to kill for food but to treat all life with respect. (In the renewal after the Flood, God permits humans to eat meat.) [NJBC]

1:29: “you”: The word is plural. [FoxMoses]

1:31: “very good”: Either an indication that the creative activity on the sixth day is special or a summary of the whole process. [FoxMoses]

2:1-3: A tightly structured poem in which:

  • “God”, “seventh day”, “work” and “done” appear three times
  • “finished”, “rested” and “all” appear twice, and
  • “done in creation” echoes 1:1, rounding out the narrative.

2:4a: Some scholars consider that this half verse introduces 2:4b-4:26 rather than ending the first creation story. FoxMoses suggests begettings rather than “generations”.

A comparison of Genesis 1 and Enuma Elish:

Day Genesis 1 Enuma Elish
- Divine spirit creates by word all matter, but is independent of it. Divine spirit and cosmic matter coexist and are co-eternal
  Earth is desolate, with darkness over the deep Primeval chaos; war of gods against Tiamat, the sea
1 Light created Light emanates from the gods
2 Sky dome created Creation of firmament (dome)
3 Creation of dry land Creation of dry land
4 Creation of heavenly lights Creation of heavenly lights
6 Creation of humankind Creation of humankind
7 God rests and sanctifies the Sabbath The gods rest and celebrate with a banquet

Genesis 1 does not accept the theology of Enuma Elish. Genesis 1 says that:

  • There is only one God. (vs. many)
  • God created a world order from his goodness and wise plan
  • Matter is good (vs. the result of a whim or magic)
  • God’s word decrees what is to be and establishes limits.
  • Humans share the divine gift of procreating life and know God personally. [Boadt]

Psalm 29

This psalm employs staircase parallelism – a feature common in Ugaritic poetry. “Lebanon” in parallel with “Sirion” and the voice of gods as thunder is also common in that poetry. [JBC]

For God’s dominion over watery elements, see Psalms 24:1-2, 74:13-15, 89:9, 93:3-4 [NJBC]

Verse 5: “cedars”: traditional symbols of might and grandeur. Psalm 104:16 says “The trees of the LORD are watered abundantly, the cedars of Lebanon that he planted”; See also, Isaiah 2:13. [NJBC]

Verse 6: “Sirion” is the Phoenician name for Mount Hermon. [NOAB]

Verse 8: Some scholars translate this: “makes the hinds calve and hastens the birth of kids”. Such is the fright that the storm causes among animals. [JBC]

Verse 8: “Kadesh”: Visited during the Exodus: In Judges 11:16-17, Jephthah’s messengers tell the king of the Ammonites: “‘... when they [the Israelites] came up from Egypt, Israel went through the wilderness to the Red Sea and came to Kadesh. Israel then sent messengers to the king of Edom, saying, ‘Let us pass through your land’; but the king of Edom would not listen. They also sent to the king of Moab, but he would not consent. So Israel remained at Kadesh’”.

Verse 9: “Glory”: In Luke 2:14 “a multitude of the heavenly host” say “‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favours!’”. [NJBC]

Verse 10: “flood”: In Genesis 1:7, God dwells above the waters that are over the firmament.

Acts 19:1-7

18:24-28: For Apollos’ activity in Corinth, see 1 Corinthians 1:12; 3:1-9, 21-24. [NOAB] There some Christians admired him as a greater authority than Paul, perhaps because of his abilities as an orator. It seems that he did not encourage this sentiment, for, after he had returned to Ephesus, when Paul invited him to pay another visit to Corinth, he resisted: see 1 Corinthians 16:12. [HBD] Alexandria was known as a seat of learning.

18:24: An Alexandrian “well versed in the scriptures” would probably interpret them allegorically. [NOAB]

19:1-41: These verses describe Paul’s long ministry in Ephesus. He was there more than two years. He wrote 1 and 2 Corinthians from there. [NOAB]

19:1: “Paul passed through the interior regions”: Probably of Asia Minor. 18:23 tells us “After spending some time there [at Antioch] he [Paul] departed and went from place to place through the region of Galatia and Phrygia, strengthening all the disciples”. [NOAB]

19:1: “Ephesus”: Capital of the Roman province of Asia. [NOAB]

19:1: “disciples”: While disciples elsewhere in Acts means Christians, here it probably means disciples of John the Baptist. [NOAB] There are still some followers of John the Baptist in Iraq.

Verse 4: Faith in Jesus is demanded out of very obedience to John. [NJBC]

19:5-6: Here, as is usual in Acts, believers receive the Holy Spirit at baptism (see also 2:38, on the Day of Pentecost) or before baptism (10:44, Cornelius’ household), but in 8:14-17 the Samaritans receive it after baptism, and only when the apostles visit. [NOAB]

Mark 1:4-11

The parallels are:

Verse 1: “beginning”: John the Baptist marks the transition from the epoch of the old covenant to that of the new, which Jesus brings. [CAB]

Verse 1: “good news”: This term, or gospel, functions as the title of this book, and later (probably about 150 AD – in the writings of Justin Martyr) became the name for this genre of literature. The term is common in Paul’s letters where it means the message itself. [CAB] [BlkMt] [NJBC]

Verse 1: “Son of God”: See also v. 11 and 3:11; 5:7; 14:61; 15:39. [CAB] In the Old Testament this term is used to describe angels or divine beings: (see Genesis 6:2 and Job 37:7), the Israelite nation (see Hosea 11:1) and an anointed king (see Psalm 2:7). There it usually has moral force: God loves Israel, so Israel should in turn love and obey her Father: see Deuteronomy 32:6. Two of the late apocalyptic books seem to use it of the Messiah (see 1 Enoch 105:2; 2 Esdras 7:28-29; 13:32, 27, 52), as does Mark in 14:61. The Greco-Roman world knew of gods and heroes, usually saviours and healers, who were called sons of god. So it is understandable that the centurion at the foot of the cross remarks: “Truly this man was God's Son” (in 15:39). [BlkMk]

Verse 2: “the prophet Isaiah”: A reading found in some manuscripts is the prophets. This is easily explained: the quotation is actually not from Isaiah. Mark may have used a collection of Old Testament quotations and so attributed it to Isaiah. The quotation is a combination of Exodus 23:20 (in the Septuagint translation) and Malachi 3:1 (the Masoretic Text). Malachi used phrases from Exodus 23:20; there (per the Septuagint) God promises to send his messenger before Israel and guide it to the Promised Land. See also Matthew 11:10 and Luke 7:27. [NOAB] [NJBC] BlkMk considers that it is likely that this quotation was added by a later editor. It is not found in the parallel passages.

An alternative view, presented by BlkMk, is that the quotation is Malachi 3:1 with my changed to your. In Greek, this change is only one letter: from mou to sou. In antiquity, unlike today, making such changes was fully acceptable. In Isaiah, “the Lord” is Yahweh; here it is Jesus.

Verse 3: The quotation is Isaiah 40:3 in the Septuagint translation except that near the end he replaces our God’s with his. [NOAB] [CAB] [NJBC]

Verse 4: See also Acts 13:24 (Paul speaks in the synagogue at Antioch in Persidia). [NOAB]

Verse 4: “John the baptizer”: He is later called John the Baptist. He was imprisoned (see v. 14) and executed (see 6:17-29) by Herod Antipas. For the story of his birth, see Luke 3:10-18; for his preaching, see Luke 3:10-18. John is in Israel’s prophetic tradition. [CAB]

Verse 5: “people from ...”: The historian Josephus, in his Antiquities of the Jews, also describes John as a preacher of repentance who used baptism and attracted large crowds. [NJBC]

Verse 5: “baptized”: Baptism was a Jewish practice, but only for non-Jews who adopted Judaism.

Verse 6: John’s clothing recalls that of Elijah: see 2 Kings 1:8. In Matthew 11:14, Elijah is identified with John. [CAB] Whether John was making the point that he stood in the line of Israel’s prophets or was presenting himself as the new Elijah (or both) is unclear. See Malachi 3:1; 4:5. [NJBC]

Verse 7: “The one who is more powerful than I”: John may well have been speaking of God’s arrival in power at the end of time but in this book it undoubtedly refers to Jesus. [NJBC]

Verse 8: See also Acts 2:17-21 (Peter speaks to the crowd on the Day of Pentecost) and Joel 2:28-29 (“Then afterward I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions”). [NOAB] The Greek means Holy Spirit not “the Holy Spirit”. Mark elsewhere always uses the definite article. Matthew and Luke append with fire.

Verse 9: “Nazareth”: A small village near Sepphoris, the capital of the province of Galilee. [CAB]

Verse 11: Here the voice is addressed to Jesus but in Matthew and Luke the voice addresses those present. However NJBC suggests that Mark may not have intended this as a private vision.

Verse 11: “Beloved”: The meaning of the Greek word is similar to our word chosen: Isaiah 42:1 says “Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations”. See also Psalm 2:7; Luke 9:35; 2 Peter 1:17. [NOAB]

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