Comments

Revised Common Lectionary Commentary

Clippings: Fourth Sunday of Easter - April 17, 2016



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 9:36-43

Verse 32: “believers”: 10:45 implies that they are Jews, but the distinction only becomes necessary at the point when the first Gentile converts join the nascent Church. Prior to Chapter 10 Christianity is still a Jewish phenomenon. [ BlkActs]

Verse 36: “Joppa”: St. Peter’s Church, on a coastal cliff south of the beaches of Tel Aviv, commemorates Peter’s sojourn in this town. Joppa’s modern name is Jaffa. [ NJBC] It is about 16 km (10 miles) north-west of “Lydda” (v. 32). [ NOAB] Both are in the coastal plain of “Sharon” (v. 35).

Verse 36: “Tabitha”: The translation of this Aramaic name (“Dorcas”) and borrowings (in the Greek) from the Septuagint translation of 1 Kings 17:17, 19 and 2 Kings 4:33, 35 show this to be a Jewish-Christian story transmitted by hellenized Christians. [ NJBC]

Verse 36: “acts of charity”: Helping the poor is often emphasized by Luke: see also Acts 10:2 (Cornelius gives alms), 4, 31; Luke 3:11 (“‘Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise’”); 6:30 (“Give to everyone who begs from you ...”); 11:41; 12:33; 18:22; 19:8. [ JBC]

Verses 37-41: Elijah revives a widow’s child in 1 Kings 17:17-24; Elisha restores life to a child in 2 Kings 4:32-37. Later Paul will declare “his life is in him” of “a young man named Eutychus” who had fallen into a deep sleep, fallen out of a window three floors to the ground, and been considered dead: see 20:9-12. [ NJBC]

Verse 38: “two men”: In Luke/Acts, messengers, human and divine, work in pairs, e.g. Cornelius’ slaves in 10:7. [ JBC]

Verse 39: “widows”: Widows later became an ecclesiastical class, organizing charitable works. 1 Timothy 5:3-16, written later, distinguishes among three classes of widows:

  • real widows, who are older women who depend upon the Church for support (see Acts 6:1, the first deacons),
  • widows “put on the list”: Christian widows who are known for their good works and pledge themselves to the service of Christ, and
  • “younger” widows who should remarry. [ NOAB]

Verse 40: “Peter put all of them outside”: For Jesus taking similar action before raising Jairus’ daughter, see Mark 5:40 and Luke 8:51. [ NJBC]

Verse 43: “tanner”: See the next chapter for the story of Cornelius, a Gentile. [ NJBC]

Psalm 23

A song of trust, probably a royal prayer reinterpreted after the Exile. [ NJBC]

Verse 2: Revelation 7:17 applies these words to the “Lamb” (Christ). [ NJBC]

Verse 3: “soul”: i.e. the vitality, the individualized principle of life. [ NOAB]

Verse 4: “darkest valley”: NOAB says that shadow of death is an ancient, but probably fanciful, rendering. See also 44:19; 107:10; Job 3:5; Isaiah 9:2 where the same Hebrew expression occurs and is translated in terms of darkness. [ NOAB] NJBC disagrees; he says that shadow of death is possible.

Verse 5: Kings in the ancient Near East would give lavish banquets on special occasions; hence this image continues the theme of the provident shepherd-king. See 1 Kings 8:65-66 for a “festival” given by Solomon for all the people. [ NJBC]

Verse 6a: The psalmist prays that only the good effects of the covenant now pursue him throughout his life. [ NJBC]

Verse 6: “I shall dwell”: NJBC offers may I dwell. The Hebrew verb can mean return or dwell; the ambivalence is probably deliberate, alluding to the exiles’ hope of returning home. See also 27:4.

Verse 6: “the house of the Lord”: The Hebrew term can also mean the land of Israel in general. [ NJBC]

Verse 6: “my whole life long”: The Hebrew literally means for length of days. [ NOAB]

For Yahweh as shepherd, see also Psalm 79:13, Isaiah 40:11, and Ezekiel 34:15ff.

Revelation 7:9-17

The theory that the seven seals depict the last stages of world history is supported by the fact that many Jewish apocalypses contain symbolic reviews of history (Daniel; 1 Enoch; 2 Baruch), but most commentators have rejected this view. This conclusion is supported by the similarity between the seals and the messianic woes in the synoptic gospels. The seals depict in summary form the eschatological future. The two visions ( 7:1-8 and 7:9-17) describe the same events from different perspectives (Judaic and Christian) and in varying detail.

Comments: Will our persecutors be brought to justice? Empire-wide persecution of Christians began in the second century, i.e. after this book was written. It is known that there were local persecutions. We probably do not know of all of them, but of those that are known, none were in western Asia Minor in the first century.

6:1, 3, 5, 7: “... living creature call[s] out ... ‘Come!’”: It is not clear why this phrase is repeated for each of the first four seals. It may be that creation is inviting the coming of the final consummation.

6:2, 4, 5, 8: “horse”: John appears to have picked up the images of horse and rider from Zechariah 1:8-11 (“... I saw a man riding on a red horse! ... red, sorrel, and white horses ...”) and 6:1-8 (“... I looked up and saw four chariots coming out ... The first chariot had red horses, the second chariot black horses, the third chariot white horses, and the fourth chariot dappled gray horses”). [ JBC]

6:2: “white horse”: A general celebrating a victory often rode a white horse. [ NJBC]

6:2: “rider”: In 19:11-13, the rider is Christ: “Then I saw heaven opened, and there was a white horse! Its rider is called Faithful and True ... He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is called The Word of God”. [ NOAB]

6:2: “bow”: A weapon characteristic of Parthian armies. [ JBC] The Parthians succeeded Persia as the dominant power to the east of the Roman Empire. People in the eastern provinces who were discontent with Roman rule looked to Parthia as a potential liberator. Chapter 17 suggests that John expected Parthia to invade, and defeat Rome.

6:2: “crown”: A crown was a prize for public service in a war. John expects a Parthian victory which, in his view, would imply the destruction of the enemies of Christians. [ NJBC]

6:4: “red”: The Greek word is also translated as flame-coloured . [ NJBC]

6:5: “black”: Black was (and is) associated with death, perhaps because of the darkness of the underworld. [ NJBC]

6:6: The prices are 8 to 16 times normal cost. [ NJBC] Oil and wine are the products of manufacturing processes in which the raw fruits are used to produce these products (in a form that can be more easily stored for longer periods), and olives and grapes are the result of years of work with the plants (in the case of olives, an olive tree takes 30 years to produce fruit) , while grain can be planted and harvested in a season (or less). So perhaps the indication here is that the famine will be relatively short-lived, i.e., for a season rather than for a generation.

6:8: “pale green horse”: The REB translates the Greek as sickly pale horse. The colour may symbolize fear or ill-health. [ NJBC]

6:8: “Death”: Death is personified in Greek and Jewish literature, e.g. Psalm 49:14 (“Like sheep they are appointed for Sheol; Death shall be their shepherd; straight to the grave they descend, and their form shall waste away...”) and Hosea 13:14. [ NJBC]

6:8: “Hades”: Hades was the name of both the Greek god of the underworld and of the underworld itself. Hades the place was the equivalent of the Jewish Sheol, the place of departed spirits. [ CAB] Satan has taken over, but the devastation is not complete (“over a fourth of the earth”). [ CAB]

6:8: “kill with sword, famine, and pestilence ...”: The destructions recall the prophecies of Ezekiel 14:21: Yahweh says he will bring “four deadly acts of judgment, sword, famine, wild animals, and pestilence” . That he will destroy by these means is mentioned in Exodus 9:3 (Yahweh instructs Moses to tell the pharaoh of the fifth plague); Ezekiel 5:12 (“One third of you shall die of pestilence or be consumed by famine among you; one third shall fall by the sword around you; and one third I will scatter to every wind and will unsheathe the sword after them”), 5:17; 29:5; 33:27. See also 2 Samuel 24:13. [ NOAB]

6:8: “wild animals”: Ezekiel 5:17 begins “I will send famine and wild animals against you, and they will rob you of your children”. [ NOAB]

6:9: Jesus predicted torture, death and hatred of his followers because of his name: see Matthew 24:9. See also Philippians 2:17 and 2 Timothy 4:6. [ NOAB] The author knows of martyrs slain for their faith in Christ: he says in 20:4: “I also saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their testimony to Jesus and for the word of God”. [ CAB]

6:9: “under the altar”: The earthly Temple is a copy of the heavenly original, as Exodus 25:9 and Hebrews 8:5 indicate. A rabbinic work says that the souls of the godly rest under the heavenly altar. [ NJBC] Leviticus 4:7 and Exodus 29:12 tell of the practice of censing the base of the altar. [ CAB]

6:10: “you ... avenge our blood”: Vengeance belongs to God: In Romans 12:19 Paul advises: “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord’”. [ NOAB] To CAB, the cry of the martyrs is less a cry of revenge than a cry for God to exercise his power in the face of oppression.

6:10: The author knows that the oppression is not yet over: he writes in 1:9: “I, John, your brother who share with you in Jesus the persecution and the kingdom and the patient endurance ...”. [ CAB]

6:11: “white robe”: This symbolizes the glorious body of the righteous dead: the author writes in 3:4-5: “you have still a few persons in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes; they will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy. If you conquer, you will be clothed like them in white robes ...”. See also 3:18. [ NJBC]

6:12: Natural catastrophes on a cosmic scale are predicted in Isaiah 34:4; Joel 2:30-31; Amos 8:9; however NOAB says that they are not to be taken literally, but represent social upheavals and divine judgement on the Day of the Lord. CAB says that great cosmic disturbances are a sign of God’s power and intervention: see Exodus 19:18 (smoke and earth tremors on Mount Sinai) and Isaiah 13:9-10. [ CAB]

6:15-17: These verses expand on Isaiah 2:10: “Enter into the rock, and hide in the dust from the terror of the Lord, and from the glory of his majesty”. All classes of society will seek to escape from God. [ NOAB]

6:16: “Fall on us”: Hosea 10:8 says “The high places of Aven, the sin of Israel, shall be destroyed. ... They shall say to the mountains, Cover us, and to the hills, Fall on us”. In Luke 22:30, Jesus tells his disciples: “you will sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel”. [ CAB]

6:16: “wrath of the Lamb”: The Servant of Yahweh, but also the messianic judge. [ NJBC]

6:17: “the great day of their wrath has come”: Joel 2:11 says: “The Lord utters his voice at the head of his army; how vast is his host! Numberless are those who obey his command. Truly the day of the Lord is great; terrible indeed – who can endure it?”. See also Zephaniah 1:14-18. [ CAB]

6:17: “who is able to stand”: Nahum 1:6 says “Who can stand before his indignation? ...”. 7:1-17 answers this question. [ CAB]

7:1: “four angels”: In late Judaism, God was seen as regulating nature through the agency of angelic beings: see 1 Enoch 60:11-22, Jubilees 2:2. [ NJBC]

7:1: “four corners”: The earth was seen as roughly rectangular. 20:8 also speaks of the “four corners “. Isaiah 40:22 depicts Yahweh as sitting “above the circle of the earth”, i.e. the horizon.

7:1-8: Israel here may be the literal Israel or the Church, the new Israel. It is clear that the second vision (vv. 9-17) refers to the Church. It can be argued that the first vision speaks of the literal Israel, there being 24 elders, 12 from the literal Israel and 12 from the Church.

7:1: “four winds”: Agents of divine punishment: in Jeremiah 49:36, Yahweh foretells through the prophet: I “will bring upon Elam the four winds from the four quarters of heaven; and I will scatter them to all these winds ...”. See also v. 2: “to damage ...”. [ NJBC]

7:1: In apocalyptic literature, angels are given charge over the forces of nature. See also 16:5 (“the angel of the waters”) and 14:18 (“the angel who has authority over fire”). [CAB]

7:1: “tree”: Trees were seen as particularly vulnerable to gusts of wind. Here they are a metaphor for all living creatures.

7:2: “from the rising of the sun”: i.e. from the east, the source of light and where Paradise was. Genesis 2:8 says “...the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east...”. People expected the Messiah to come from the east.

7:3: “marked ... with a seal”: Marking with a seal may be equivalent to the name of God being written on foreheads, mentioned in 3:12; 14:1; 22:4. In Ezekiel 9:4-6, Yahweh commands: “‘Go through ... Jerusalem, and put a mark on the foreheads of those who sigh and groan over all the abominations that are committed in it’” and “to others ... ‘Pass through the city after him, and kill ...’” Those marked shall be preserved through, but not from, tribulations: see 1 Corinthians 10:13. [ NOAB] CAB considers that the seal is most likely a signet ring used to authenticate or protect official documents.

7:4: “one hundred forty-four thousand”: 144,000 = 12 x 12 x 1,000. The number 12 was a symbol of perfection or completeness. [ JBC] While the word thousand occurs 489 times in the NRSV, of these 366 are precise only to the thousand. They are estimates. Of the 123 which include greater precision than this, most are in census and other lists. I consider that “thousand” as used here, and in the other 365 occurrences of this precision, is not intended to be precise: ancient peoples seldom (if ever) counted into the thousands precisely. So “thousand” here probably means many. 144,000 is too neat and exact to be meant literally: 144,000 = completeness x completeness x many . 12,000 from each tribe may indicate equality of dignity rather than numerical equality. Just as only God knows the number of hairs on a human head (Matthew 10:30), only he knows how many will be saved from oblivion. They are uncountable by humans but both complete and numbered by God.

7:4c-8: Twelve tribes are named, but:

  • Dan is missing, perhaps because the Old Testament describes Dan as idolatrous: see Judges 18:30-31 and 1 Kings 12:28-30. Also, the earliest manuscript of the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs we have (which is late) says that the prince of Dan is Satan ( Testament of Dan 5:6). There the prophecy of judgement is linked to Jeremiah 8:16-17. This perhaps led to the Christian tradition that the Anti-Christ would come from Dan: see Irenaeus, Against All Heresies 5.30.2. [ NJBC]
  • Joseph (consisting of the two half tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh) is doubly represented, for Manasseh is also listed.

7:5: Judaism cherished the hope that Israel would be completely restored with all its tribes in messianic times: see Isaiah 49:6; Psalms of Solomon 17:44; 2 Baruch 78:1ff; 2 Esdras 13:39-50. The first Christians asserted that this was fulfilled in the Church of Christ: see Matthew 19:28; Galatians 6:16; James 1:1. John appears to share completely in this idea: see 21:12-14. See also 2:9; 3:9ff. [ JBC]

7:5: “Judah”: Named first because Christ was from this tribe. [ JBC]

7:9: “no one could count”: This may be an allusion to God’s promise to Abraham. In Genesis 15:5, Yahweh asks Abram: “‘Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them’”; then he says “‘So shall your descendants be’”. See also Genesis 32:12 and Hebrews 11:12. [ JBC]

7:9: “robed in white”: See Clipping on 6:11

7:9: “palm branches”: 1 Maccabees 13:51 tells us that in 141 BC “the Jews entered it [Jerusalem] with praise and palm branches ... because a great enemy had been crushed and removed from Israel”. See also 2 Maccabees 10:7. [ JBC]

7:10: For victory songs to God, see Exodus 15 (Miram’s song) and Judges 5 (the Song of Deborah). [ NJBC]

7:11: 4:4 tells us that “Around the throne are twenty-four thrones, and seated on the thrones are twenty-four elders, dressed in white robes, with golden crowns on their heads” and 4:6 “Around the throne, and on each side of the throne, are four living creatures, full of eyes in front and behind”. See also 5:11. [ CAB]

7:12: A seven-fold ascription of praise to God. [ NOAB]

7:13-17: These verses are a brief interpretation of the second vision, set as a dialogue between John and the twenty-four elders. In Jewish apocalyptic texts, it is the interpreting angel who has this role. [ NJBC]

7:14: “great ordeal”: The godly will suffer during the end-time: 13:10 says “If you are to be taken captive, into captivity you go; if you kill with the sword, with the sword you must be killed. Here is a call for the endurance and faith of the saints”. Daniel 12:1 says: “At that time Michael, the great prince, the protector of your people, shall arise. There shall be a time of anguish, such as has never occurred since nations first came into existence. But at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone who is found written in the book”. See also Mark 13:19; John 16:33; 2 Timothy 3:12. [ CAB]

7:14: “made them white in the blood of the Lamb”: They are transformed, as Jesus was in his sacrificial death: see also 1:5; 5:6, 9. This may also be an allusion to repentance, conversion, and baptism. In John 1:29, John the Baptizer declares: “‘"Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!’”. 1 John 1:7 says: “... the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin”. [ NOAB] In Isaiah 1:18, Yahweh says: “‘though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be like snow ...’”. [ CAB]

7:15: “before the throne of God”: The greatest blessing is to be in God’s presence. They are in a favoured position because of their faithfulness. [ NOAB]

7:15: “worship”: One commentator translates the Greek as serving. They are active in heaven.

7:15: “within his temple”: They are very close to God. [ NJBC]

7:15: “shelter them”: Literally, spread his tabernacle over them. [ NOAB] Isaiah 4:5-6 says “... over all [Mount Zion] the glory there will be a canopy”. [ CAB]

7:16: “hunger no more ...”: In Isaiah 49:10, Yahweh says through the prophet: “they shall not hunger or thirst, neither scorching wind nor sun shall strike them down”. [ CAB] Satisfaction of physical and emotional needs symbolize fulfilment of the whole person. There will be no more suffering: see also Psalm 121:6; John 6:35; 7:37. [ NOAB]

7:17: “the Lamb ... will be their shepherd”: A paradox: the “Lamb” is their “shepherd”. See also Psalms 23:1-2; 80:1; Ezekiel 34:23-24; Isaiah 40:11; John 10:11-16. [ NOAB] In John 21:15-17, Jesus commands Peter to “Feed my lambs”, “Tend my sheep”, and “Feed my sheep”. [ CAB]

7:17: “guide them”: In Exodus 15:13,Moses and the Israelites sing, “In your steadfast love you led the people whom you redeemed; you guided them by your strength to your holy abode”. See also Deuteronomy 1:33; Psalms 5:8; 86:11; Wisdom of Solomon 9:11. [ JBC]

7:17: “ springs of the water of life”: See also 21:6 (“the river of the water of life”); 22:1 (“the river of the water of life”), 22:17. Jeremiah 2:13 speaks of *Yahweh as “the fountain of living water”. In John 4:10, Jesus tells the Samaritan woman at the well: “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water”. See also John 7:37-38 (“rivers of living water”). [ NOAB]

7:17: “God will wipe away every tear”: This recurs in 21:4. It probably comes from Isaiah 25:8: “Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces, and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken”. [ NOAB]

8:1-6: The opening of the seventh seal leads to reverential silence. [ NOAB] The opening of this seal serves the literary purpose of connecting the seals with the trumpets sounding in the next section. So the series of trumpets is included in the events caused by opening the seals.

8:1: “silence in heaven”: Zephaniah 1:7 says “Be silent before the Lord God! For the day of the Lord is at hand ...”. See also Zechariah 2:13. [ CAB]

8:2: “trumpets”: They were used to gather God’s people to celebrate the great festivals (see Numbers 10:3, 10; 29:1) and to mark the beginning of the reign of a new king (see 1 Kings 1:34, 39; 2 Kings 9:13). [ CAB]

8:3: “incense to offer with the prayers of all the saints”: Psalm 141:2 says “Let my prayer be counted as incense before you ...” [ NOAB] Ephesians 5:2 speaks of Jesus giving himself up “a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God”. [ CAB]

John 10:22-30

Comments: Jesus’ claim to oneness with God and pre-existence with him : 8:58 says: “Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, before Abraham was, I am’”. Exodus 3:14 says “God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM.’ ...”. “I AM” is God’s name. Jesus is therefore claiming oneness with God and pre-existence with him. [ NOAB]

Verse 22: “the festival of the Dedication”: Hanukkah commemorates the rededication of the Temple in 164 BC, after its desecration by Antiochus IV Epiphanes: see 1 Maccabees 4:52-59 and 2 Maccabees 1:18. [ NOAB] Antiochus had a statue to the Greek god Olympian Zeus erected in the Temple. Antiochus' full name was Antiochus IV Zeus Olympias Epiphanes; he believed himself to be an incarnation or revelation (epiphany) of Olympian Zeus: thus the statue was to himself. [ NOAB] This was an example of the Hellenistic kings taking on the trappings of the Oriental emperor cult, which saw the king worshipped as a god. It caused some controversy when Alexander the Great first did it, and the temptation later would prove irresistible to Roman emperors such as Caligula, who, not incidentally, also ordered a statue of himself to be erected in the Temple.

Verse 22: “It was winter”: Either this is mentioned for the benefit of readers unfamiliar with the Jewish calendar or to explain why “Jesus was walking” under cover “in the portico of Solomon”. [ BlkJn]

Verse 23: “portico of Solomon”: Said to be a relic of the original Temple, it was on the east side of the Temple area, overlooking the Kidron valley. [ BlkJn] In Acts 3:11, it is there that Peter and John heal a lame man. See also Josephus, Jewish Wars 5.5.1. [ NJBC]

Verse 24: The question that “the Jews” ask is understandable because so far Jesus has only claimed to be the Christ to the Samaritan woman (in 4:26) and (less explicitly) to the man born blind (“Son of Man”, in 9:35-37). Their question is one to which he cannot give a straight answer: he cannot deny that he is the Christ, but claiming the title openly would invite misunderstanding, since he is not the kind of Christ the people seek. [ BlkJn] 7:13 says that “... no one would speak openly about him [Jesus] for fear of the Jews”. [ NJBC]

Verse 25: “The works that I do ...”: See also 4:34 (“‘My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work’”) and 5:36 (“The works that the Father has given me to complete, the very works that I am doing, testify on my behalf that the Father has sent me’”). [CAB]

Verse 27: Jesus has said “the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out” (v. 3), “I know my own and my own know me” (v. 14), and “the sheep follow him” (v. 4). [ BlkJn]

Verse 28: “eternal life”: For Jesus’ gift of eternal life, see also 3:15ff, 36; 5:24; 6:40, 47; 10:10; 1 John 2:25; 5:11. [ BlkJn]

Verse 28: “never perish”: For Jesus’ continual care of his “sheep” see also 6:37-40 and 17:12. [ BlkJn]

Verse 28: “No one will snatch them”: In v. 12, Jesus says: “The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away – and the wolf snatches them and scatters them”.

Verse 29a: BlkJn argues, against most manuscripts, for They are the greatest gift of all which my Father has given me. (The difference lies in one diacritical mark and one vowel in the Greek text.) Because they are God’s greatest gift to his Son, and since “the Father” (v. 30) “are one”, and no one can take anything from the Father by force, it follows that no one can take anything from the Son. 6:37 and 17:6 show that God has given Christ his followers. Comments follows the NRSV for obvious reasons.

Verse 30: To BlkJn, this verse simply explains why an attack on the Son is also an attack on the Father, and so is bound to fail; however it is 1:1 and 5:17-44 that form the basis for the later affirmation of the unity of substance of the divine personae (persons).

Verses 31-40: Some “Jews” again try to stone him, argue with him, and try to arrest him again. He escapes across the Jordan.

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