Revised Common Lectionary Commentary

Clippings: The Baptism of the Lord - January 13, 2019

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 43:1-7

The prophet contrasts helpless Israel ( 42:18-25) with a compassionate Lord ( 43:1-7). [ NJBC]

42:18-25: In putting Israel on trial, Yahweh addresses the defendant ( 42:18), asks questions ( 42:19), sets forth the accusation ( 42:20-21) and the punishment ( 42:22), and repeats the accusations ( 42:23-25). [ NJBC]

42:18-19: Blindness is the inability of Israel to accept the earlier prophecies of doom, and to recognize a plan of God in the Exile. [ NJBC] To Deutero-Isaiah, being blind to God’s will and way is Israel’s chief sin. But the orders here are the opposite of those in the passage telling us of Isaiah’s calling: “‘Go and say to this people: ‘Keep listening, but do not comprehend; keep looking, but do not understand.’ Make the mind of this people dull, and stop their ears, and shut their eyes, so that they may not look with their eyes, and listen with their ears, and comprehend with their minds, and turn and be healed.’” ( 6:9-10). [ JBC]

42:21-43:28: Although Yahweh was ready to display his power to set things right in the world (“righteousness”, 42:21) and to make known his teaching, his people’s disobedience led to their being “trapped” ( 42:22) and consumed by his judgment on them. [ CAB]

42:21: “was pleased ... for ... his righteousness”: The word translated “righteousness” can also be rendered as justice. [ NJBC]

42:25: The Exile isn’t really that bad. [ NJBC]

43:1-7: This fine poem interprets the return from exile as a new creation, performed from the obligations of blood relationship. Three key words form an inclusio uniting vv. 1 and 7: “created”, “formed” and “name”. V. 1 begins with “now” and v. 7 ends (in Hebrew) with you; these words have almost the same sound. [ NJBC] The message in 41:8-13 is similar. [ NOAB]

43:1-3b: God is Israel’s creator (see 44:2, 21, 24) and redeemer (see 41:14; 48:17; 49:7). [ NOAB]

43:1: “called you by name”: Israel is God’s unique possession (see 45:3-4; Exodus 19:5; 33:17). Through all dangers, God is with his people: see also Psalm 66:12. [ NOAB]

43:2: “waters ... fire”: e.g. the Mediterranean and Reed (Red) seas. For demonic monsters haunting thunderstorms and large bodies of water, see Psalm 89:9-10; Isaiah 51:10; Genesis 6-9 (the Flood); Exodus 14:21-31; 15:8-13. [ JBC]

43:3: “ransom”: Surely this word is not to be taken literally: in saving his people, God has never paid a price to the evil one. [ NJBC]

43:3: “Egypt ... Ethiopia and Seba”: Cyrus was expected to conquer all of these nations. While JBC places “Seba” in southern Egypt, NJBC says that it is in Arabia. JBC says that “Ethiopia” is modern Sudan. JBC says Israel is preferred to all other nations, but only to be God’s mediator for sharing his love with them.

43:5-6: The great ingathering (see Jeremiah 31:1-22; Ezekiel 37:15-28) will exceed all expectations (see Galatians 3:26-29; Ephesians 2:13-16) as the world becomes one family in Christ. [ JBC]

43:6: “my sons ... my daughters”: For praying to the Father, see Luke 11:2 (the Lord’s prayer). God speaks of his “sons” and his “daughters” because he is continually imparting life – one of love, decision and devotedness. But only when Jesus sends his spirit into the hearts of humans will humans respond with “Abba! Father!” (Romans 8:14-17). [ JBC]

43:7: “glory”: The experience of the divine life, recognized and enjoyed, constitutes God’s glory. 40:3 says: “A voice cries out: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God’”. [ JBC]

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, are 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] Some scholars translate this verse as “He 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 8:14-17

6:1-8:4: In response to a request from Greek-speaking Jewish Christians, the apostles have called a meeting to select seven men to ensure that Greek-speaking widows are looked after “in the daily distribution of food” ( 6:1). One of the seven (traditionally deacons) was Philip. Later, “a severe persecution began against the church in Jerusalem and all except the apostles were scattered throughout the countryside of Judea and Samaria.” ( 8:1). Samaritans were despised by Jews, because they had intermarried, claimed to be the true heirs of the covenant, had their own version of the Pentateuch – which they claimed to be the true version – and had their own Temple (on Mount Gerizim). By this time Samaritans share with Jews a belief in the coming of a messianic figure, the Returning One. [ JBC]

8:5: “the city of Samaria”: This could be Sebaste or Shechem, or Simon’s village, Gitta ( Justin Martyr, Apologia, 1:26.1-3) [ NJBC]

8:6: “Philip”: Philip is a Greek name so he was probably a Hellenist. He was from Caesarea Maritima (the seat of the Roman governors of Judea) and is called “Philip the evangelist” in 21:8. [ NOAB] [ CAB] From this time on, Philip mostly worked in the Gentile Hellenistic areas of the coastal plain: see v. 40. [ NJBC]

8:10: The quotation from Simon suggests that he was already more than a magician (Latin: magus), a monger of gnostic thought. [ NJBC] From this passage he is known in later Christian literature as Simon Magus.

8:14: Comments: representatives of the mother church: To Luke, new communities are bonded to the mother church by visitation of her delegates. In 11:22, he tells us “News of this came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch.” Whenever baptism is received, the Holy Spirit operates only where there is communion with the apostles who, as “witness[es] ... to his resurrection” ( 1:22), certify the risen One’s continued activity on earth. [ NJBC]

8:14: “John”: Which John? Possibilities are John son of Zebedee, John Mark and John the Evangelist (authors of gospels).

8:15: “receive the Holy Spirit”: Signifying Christ’s continuing activity on earth. In Acts, believers usually receive the Holy Spirit at baptism ( 2:38; 19:5-6) or before baptism ( 10:44), but here they receive it after baptism, and only when the apostles visit. [ NOAB]

8:17: “laid their hands on them”: Laying on of hands expresses both the giving and receiving of a gift. For example: Jesus blesses children (Mark 10:16); he heals with a touch (Mark 6:5); the Holy Spirit is given to the baptised (her and in 19:6); believers are set aside for special tasks in the Church (Acts 6:6; 13:3). See also 1 Timothy 4:14 (“the laying on of hands by the council of elders”). [ NOAB]

8:18: The term simony, the buying of church offices, comes from this verse. [ NOAB]

In Matthew 10:5, Jesus forbids the disciples to visit Samaritan towns, but he is friendly to Samaritans: see Luke 10:30-37 (the Good Samaritan); 17:11-19 (the ten lepers); John 4:4-42 (the Samaritan woman at the well). Perhaps in Matthew the point is that the conversion of Jews should come first.

The story of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch follows in 8:26-40.

Luke 3:15-17,21-22

The parallels are:

Matthew Mark John
vv. 16-17 3:11-12 1:7-8 1:25-28
vv. 21-22 3:13-17 1:9-11 1:29-34

Verse 15: In John 1:19-23, when asked “‘Who are you?’”, John the Baptiser answers “‘I am not the Messiah’”. In Luke 7:19, John sends two of his disciples to Jesus to ask him: “‘Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?’”. See also Acts 13:25 (Paul tells the good news in the synagogue in Antioch in Pisidia). [ NOAB]

Verse 16: In Acts 1:5, before his ascension, Jesus says “... John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now’”. See also Acts 11:16 (Peter explains the events at Cornelius’ house) and Acts 19:4 (some disciples of John are baptised “in the name of the Lord Jesus”). [ NOAB]

Verse 16: “more powerful”: The Greek word is used in the New Testament for the leader of the final struggle against evil: see Mark 3:27; Luke 11:20-22; Revelation 18:8. So perhaps this is the meaning here. [ JBC]

Verse 16: “untie the thong ...”: When Paul is visiting Antioch (the one in central Asia Minor) and speaks in the synagogue there, he quotes John the Baptiser as saying: “‘What do you suppose that I am? I am not he. No, but one is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of the sandals on his feet’” (see Acts 13:25). [ NJBC]

Verse 16: “fire”: Fire often indicates the presence of the Saviour-God. Fire has prominence in the liturgy where humankind meets its saviour: see Leviticus 1:17ff. In Acts 2 (the Day of Pentecost), Luke tells us how the fire of the Holy Spirit accomplishes its work in humans. [ NJBC]

Verse 17: “winnowing”: This image is found in Isaiah 21:10; 41:16; Jeremiah 4:11; 15:7; 51:2. It is also found in Proverbs.

Verse 17: “unquenchable fire”: i.e. ferocious heat. Isaiah 66:24 says: “... they [the faithful] shall go out and look at the dead bodies of the people who have rebelled against me; for their worm shall not die, their fire shall not be quenched, and they shall be an abhorrence to all flesh”. In Mark 9:43, 45, Jesus says: “If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell”. [ JBC]

Verse 18: ‘he proclaimed the good news”: or preached the gospel. This refers to the message of forgiveness (in v. 3) abd the advent of a new relationship between individuals and God (vv. 15-17). [ NOAB]

Verse 18: “Herod the ruler”: or tetrarch. He ruled Galilee and Perea from 4 BC to 39 AD. [ CAB]

Verse 19: See also Matthew 14:34 and Mark 6:17-18. [ NOAB]

Verses 21-22: Note that, according to Luke, John is not present at Jesus’ baptism: he is in prison (v. 20). This suggests that Luke divides salvation history into three phases: pre-John, John, and Jesus; however, Luke uses a literary style where one person is on the stage at a time. [ NJBC] The other synoptic gospels tell us that John was actually imprisoned later: see Matthew 14:1-12 and Mark 6:14-29. [ JBC]

Verse 21: “all the people were baptized”: we read in 7:29-30: “(And all the people who heard this, including the tax collectors, acknowledged the justice of God, because they had been baptized with John's baptism. But by refusing to be baptized by him, the Pharisees and the lawyers rejected God's purpose for themselves)”. [ NJBC]

Verse 21: “praying”: For examples prayer in Jesus’ life, see also Mark 1:35 (healing); Luke 6:12 (before selecting the twelve); 9:18 (before his prediction of the passion); 9:28-29 (before the Transfiguration); 11:1-2 (before teaching the disciples how to pray); 22:31-46 (praying for Peter); 23:34, 46 (twice, on the cross). Jesus in prayer is also mediator: his power to save comes from God. As 11:13 makes clear, the Holy Spirit will be given in response to prayer. [ NJBC]

Verse 21: “heaven was opened”: An eschatological symbol indicating that divine revelation is about to be made. See also Ezekiel 1:1 (“the heavens were opened, and I saw visions of God”) and Isaiah 64:1 (“O that you would tear open the heavens and come down”). [NJBC] Luke uses a Greek word similar to the one used in the *Septuagint translation of Isaiah 64:1. [JBC]

Verse 22: As Joel 1:1-3 indicates, God’s eschatological coming to his people is characterized by the outpouring of the creative prophetic Spirit. [ NJBC] The Old Testament frequently attributes messianic achievement to the Spirit: see also Ezekiel 36:26ff (“A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you ...”) and Isaiah 44:3. For extraordinary accomplishments of the Spirit in the Old Testament, see:

  • for creation: Genesis 1:2 (“wind”, ru’ah, spirit)
  • for support of warriors: Judges 3:10; 11:29; 1 Samuel 11:6 (Saul)
  • for support of particular offices: Genesis 41:38-40 (Pharaoh); Numbers 11:17, 25 (the seventy elders); 27:18 (Joshua)
  • the Servant of God: Isaiah 42:1
  • the messianic king: Isaiah 11:1-11

Verse 22: “like a dove”: Some explain the dove as a symbol of the Spirit; this symbolism is not explicitly in the Bible but it is found in later rabbinic literature. To JBC, it represents the new people of Israel, the eschatological community.

Verse 22: “a voice came from heaven”: A common biblical style that indicates that a message or action expresses God’s hopes and determination. Recall God calling Samuel in 1 Samuel 3:4ff, and God thundering “with a mighty voice” which throws the Philistines “into confusion” in 1 Samuel 7:10. See also Psalm 29. [ JBC]

Verse 22: “You are my Son ...”: A combination of Psalm 2:7 and probably Isaiah 42:1 (a verse in a Servant Song). [ NJBC]

Verse 22: “Beloved”: “Beloved” refers to an act of will, rather than a feeling. See also 9:35 (“my Chosen”) and 2 Peter 1:17. The voices calls on Jesus as Son and Servant to assume the power that has been his since his conception: see 1:32, 35 (the angel’s words to Mary). [ NJBC]

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