Comments

Revised Common Lectionary Commentary

Clippings: Fifth Sunday after Pentecost - June 23, 2013



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.

1 Kings 19:1-4,(5-7),8-15a

Other stories about Elijah in 1 Kings are:

  • Elijah’s flight to “Wadi Cherith” (17:2-7), east of the Jordan, where ravens fed him, per God’s command,
  • God’s restoring of the widow's son to life, through Elijah (17:17-24),
  • Ahab’s search for fodder for the animals (18:1-6), and
  • Obadiah’s role in bringing Elijah to Ahab (18:7-16)

For other stories of Elijah, see 2 Kings 1-2. [NJBC]

It is important to realize how dependent the people of Palestine were (and still are) on rainfall. The area of land which was arable varied greatly, depending on the rains.

17:1: “Elijah”: His name means Yah is God. Yah is a short form for Yahweh. [NOAB]

The Canaanite (or Phoenician) god Baal was held to control the rain. 16:30-32 tells us “Ahab son of Omri did evil in the sight of the LORD more than all who were before him. And as if it had been a light thing for him to walk in the sins of Jeroboam ... , he took as his wife Jezebel daughter of King Ethbaal of the Sidonians, and went and served Baal, and worshipped him. He erected an altar for Baal in the house of Baal, which he built in Samaria”. [NOAB] By proclaiming a drought, Elijah issues a challenge to the worshippers of Baal. [NJBC]

17:2-7: We do not have Elijah’s calling but his claim to be Yahweh’s servant is verified by his immediate and meticulous obedience to the divine word. Like Israel in the desert, Elijah is miraculously provisioned by Yahweh. [NJBC]

17:3: “east of the Jordan”: Probably out of Ahab's jurisdiction. [NOAB]

17:9-10: “Zarephath”: Zarephath is in Baal’s territory yet God causes a drought there too. It is definitely outside Ahab's jurisdiction. [NOAB]

17:13: “make me a little cake of it”: The likeness to the food Yahweh provided in the desert continues: Numbers 11:8 tells us that “The people ... made cakes of it [the manna]; and the taste of it was like the taste of cakes baked with oil”. Note also the mention of “oil” in 17:12 [NJBC]

17:17-24: Some scholars have argued that the child was not really dead, so no miracle was performed, but this is to miss the point. The writer meant to portray a powerful God and a worthy prophet. Elisha performs a similar miracle (or sign of God’s power) in 2 Kings 4:32-37. In Acts 20:9-12, Paul proclaims that Eutychus is alive after he has fallen from a third-floor window and been thought to be dead. [NOAB]

18:1-46: Elijah’s role throughout the contest parallels that of Moses in Exodus 24 and 32. Elijah is a new Moses; the events on Mount Carmel are a new beginning for the Sinai covenant. [NJBC]

18:1-6: The text contrasts Ahab, whose concern is to avoid the livestock dying, with the efforts of his majordomo, Obadiah, who risks his life to avoid the prophets of Yahweh being killed by Jezebel. [NJBC]

18:3: “Obadiah” means servant of Yahweh. [NJBC]

18:17-19: Elijah is quick to point out that the fault lies with Ahab in not recognizing Yahweh as the supreme God, and in allowing his wife Jezebel to propagate her religion in Israel. [NOAB]

18:18: “the Baals”: Baal was a god in the religions of several nations. [NOAB]

18:19: “Asherah”: One of the consorts of Baal. Sacred poles were erected as symbols of Asherah. [NOAB]

18:22-24: Elijah outmanoeuvres the prophets of Baal by proposing the contest first to the people. [NJBC]

18:26: “They limped about the altar”: i.e. they performed a kind of limping dance, bending first one knee and then the other. [NOAB] NJBC is less precise (probably with good reason); he calls their dance some sort of ungainly cultic dance.

18:27: This is one of the sharpest satires on non-Hebraic religion ever penned. “He has wandered away” is probably a euphemism for attending to natural needs. [NOAB]

18:28: Ritualistic gashing of one's self was fairly common: Deuteronomy 14:1 commands: “You must not lacerate yourselves ...”. Leviticus 19:28 contains a similar law. Hosea 7:14 indicates that people of Ephraim rebelled against Yahweh partly by gashing themselves. See also Jeremiah 16:6; 41:5; 47:5. [NOAB] The prophets of Baal gash themselves to try to get Baal’s attention. [NJBC]

18:29: “the time of the offering of the oblation”: i.e. 3 pm. 2 Kings 16:15 tells us of the various kinds of offerings. In Acts 3:1, Peter and John goto the Temple at 3 pm. [NOAB]

18:31-32a: These verses are based on Genesis 35:10 (Jacob at Bethel). [NOAB]

18:32: “he made a trench around the altar”: The purpose of the trench is unknown. [NJBC]

18:33-35: In a time of drought, drenching all with water was a priceless libation, no less vital than the blood shed by the prophets of Baal. These verses recall the covenant sacrifice of Moses on Mount Sinai (see Exodus 24:4-8). Moses builds a similar altar, involves the people in offering sacrifice, and pours precious liquid (the blood of the sacrificial animals) over the altar and the people. [NJBC]

18:36-38: Elijah's prayer recalls that of Moses in Exodus 32:13. [NJBC]

18:38: “the fire of the LORD”: Some consider this to be lightning preceding the rain, but the ancient writer intended to describe a miracle. [NOAB]

18:40: The slaughter of “the prophets of Baal” is sometimes interpreted as a vast human sacrifice to Yahweh, but the people of the time (and the slightly later writer) saw the struggle between Baal and Yahweh as one of life and death. [NOAB]

18:41: “eat and drink”: i.e. break the fast which was in effect during the religious ceremonies. [NOAB] The meal parallels the covenant meal following the sacrifice on Sinai. [NJBC]

18:42: Whether Ahab does indeed “eat and drink” we are not told. Does he indeed respond to Yahweh’s demonstrations of power and authority? [NJBC]

18:45: “Jezreel”: This town was near Mount Gilboa, some 35 km (20 miles) south-east of Mount Carmel. It was used by Ahab as a second place of residence (see 21:1) the primary capital being Samaria (see 16:24; 20:43; 21:1). See also 1 Samuel 29:1; 31:1. Elijah runs all the way, through the downpour, in his excitement, outrunning Ahab’s chariots! [NOAB] [NJBC]

19:1-8: These verses show that Ahab is still attached to the Baalist cause of his queen. [NJBC]

19:3: “Beer-sheba”: Elijah flees about as far as he can – a distance about 200 km (130 miles)! [NOAB]

Comments: Elijah asks to be relieved of his mission: See also v. 10: “I have been ...”. He is the reluctant prophet at this point! [NJBC]

19:8: “forty days and forty nights”: Exodus 34:28 tells us that Moses “was there with the Lord forty days and forty nights; he neither ate bread nor drank water”. Elijah does similarly. [NOAB]

19:9-18: It was on Mount Sinai (here called “Horeb”) that God revealed the Law to Moses: see Exodus 33:17-23. [NOAB] For Moses’ theophanies there, see Exodus 3-4; 33:18-34:8. [NJBC]

19:13: Elijah has partly obeyed God. Elijah’s question shows that God expects him to be somewhere else, i.e. “on the mountain before the LORD” as God has specified, or in Israel. [NJBC]

19:15-19a: At last, Yahweh commissions Elijah. He answers each of Elijah’s complaints:

  • To Elijah’s desire to resign his mission in face of Israel’s infidelity, Yahweh responds by naming his successor, Elisha
  • To Israel’s violence, Yahweh provides military allies in Hazael and Jehu.
  • To Elijah’s feeling of isolation, he points out that there are still thousands of faithful in the land

In fact, Elijah only fulfills the first of the three charges given to him; Elisha will be responsible for the other two. [NJBC]

19:15: “wilderness of Damascus”: Now called the Syrian desert. [NOAB]

19:18: “seven thousand”: A faithful remnant is also mentioned in Amos 5:15 (“... the LORD, the God of hosts, will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph”); Isaiah 10:20 (“On that day the remnant of Israel and the survivors of the house of Jacob ... will lean on the LORD, the Holy One of Israel, in truth”); Isaiah 11:11 (“On that day the Lord will extend his hand yet a second time to recover the remnant that is left of his people ...”). [NOAB]

Psalms 42;43

Superscription: “Korahites”: The Korahites were the Levitical group responsible for singing in the Temple: see 2 Chronicles 20:19. They are also mentioned in the superscriptions of Psalms 44-49; 84; 85; 87-88. [HBD]

Note the references to water in 42:2 (“thirsts”); 42:3 (“tears”); 42:7.

42:1: “As a deer”: The comparison is also known in Ugaritic literature. [JBC]

42:5: “my help”: Literally the salvation of my face, meaning my personal saviour.

42:6: “Mount Mizar”: The exact location is unknown, but it was probably near Mount Hermon. Mount Hermon is the source of the Jordan. [JBC]

42:7: The sea is life-threatening. [JBC]

43:3: “your light and your truth”: Personified attendants of Yahweh. [NJBC]

Galatians 3:23-29

Comments: Some Jewish Christians had visited Galatia ...: Paul wrote in 1:6-7: “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel – not that there is another gospel, but there are some who are confusing you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ.” Paul founded churches in Galatia during his first missionary journey.

Those who are advocating the law are the Judaizers, i.e. Jewish Christians who see Christianity as still a sect of Judaism, which is still under the Law. Paul argues vehemently throughout this whole letter against a law-based religion, and in particular against the Judaizing party. It is probable historically that these were not native Galatians but itinerant evangelists who were coming after Paul to correct the error that he had left behind in the various communities where he had planted churches.

The Judaizers had moved into Galatia after Paul's departure and convinced the new converts Paul had left behind that they needed to bring themselves under the Law. There is an obvious attraction in this sort of approach, because it makes life a lot easier: with a law to follow there is no need for discernment or decision-making. But for Paul that is not the way forward. Instead, Paul functions with a high (developed) theology of, and a great deal of trust in, the Spirit.

Verse 15: “no one adds to it or annuls it”: NJBC offers no one can annul or alter a man’s will. Only the testator can do so, by cancellation or a codicil, but no one else. So God’s will, made manifest in his promises and covenant, cannot be altered by “angels” (v. 19).

Verse 15: “will”: The Greek word, diatheke, means (in Hellenic Greek) last will or testament. The Septuagint translators had used diatheke (rather than syntheke, treaty) to express Hebrew berit (covenant) probably because it characterized more closely the kind of covenant that God made with Israel, in which, as in a vassal treaty, stipulations were set by the overlord that Israel was expected to obey. Paul begins using it in its Hellenic sense, and by v. 17 he has shifted to using it in its Septuagint sense. So the NRSV translates it there as “covenant”. [NJBC]

Verse 16: “the promises”: i.e. those made to Abraham: see Genesis 17:4-8: “the ancestor of a multitude of nations ... exceedingly fruitful ... make nations of you ... establish ... an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you ... I will give to you, and to your offspring ... all the land of Canaan, for a perpetual holding”. [CAB]

Verse 16: “offspring”: The word used in Genesis 12:7 (Yahweh’s promise to Abram); 17:7-8; 22:17-18 is literally seed, a collective singular. [NOAB] While Abraham had more than one son, only one was the child of the promise, Christ. [CAB]

Verse 17: “four hundred and thirty years later”: Paul follows the chronology found in some manuscripts of the Septuagint translation of Exodus 12:40, according to which the 430 years included the sojourn of Israel’s forebears in Canaan and in Egypt; on the other hand the Masoretic Text of this verse refers to the 430 years as solely the sojourn in Egypt (thus the NRSV). In Acts 7:6 (Stephen’s speech to the Sanhedrin), the figure is 400 years, a rough estimate. [NOAB]

Verse 17: “covenant”: The unilateral disposition diatheke made to Abraham was not altered by subsequent obligations imposed in Mosaic law. Thus Paul rejects the Judaizers contention that the covenant promises were subsequently made conditional to the performance of deeds of the Law. [NJBC]

Verse 18: “inheritance”: This comes either from the Law or from Christ, not from both. [CAB] If inheritance comes from the Law, it is bilateral, not a “promise” (which is unilateral). “Inheritance” in the Septuagint translation means the land of Canaan but here it denotes the blessings promised to Abraham in general. [NJBC]

Verse 19: “because of transgressions”: The Greek literally means for the sake of transgressions, so NJBC translates it as to produce transgressions. He says that the sense is clear from Romans 4:15; 5:13-14, 20; 7:7-13. In Romans 4:15, Paul says “For the law brings wrath; but where there is no law, neither is there violation”. [NJBC] Where there is no law, there is none to break, but where there is one, it will be broken.

Verse 19: “until the offspring would come”: The Law was a temporary measure by God: see also vv. 24-25. [NJBC]

Verse 19: “ordained”: Literally ordered or directed. [CAB] NJBC has enacted.

Verse 19: “angels”: In Jewish tradition, angels had a role in the giving of the Law at Sinai; it was not given directly by God. See Deuteronomy 33:2, Septuagint translation (NRSV: “holy ones”). This idea is also found in Acts 7:38, 53; Hebrews 2:2. [NOAB] Its mode of promulgation reveals its inferiority, when compared with promises made directly by God. [NJBC]

Verse 19: “mediator”: NOAB says Leviticus 26:46 identifies Moses as a mediator between God and God’s people; however NJBC says that Leviticus 26:46 and Deuteronomy 5:4-5 contain vague allusions to Moses as mediator and that this is the most likely interpretation of a highly disputed phrase.

Verse 20: “Now a mediator involves more than one party; but God is one”: REB has but an intermediary is not needed for one party acting alone, and God is one; NJBC offers a similar translation. The translations appearing to be rather different, let us look at the Greek. A literal translation is: The and/but mediator one not is, the and/but God one is where and/but translates de (which can mean and or but).

One can now see the translator’s problem, but not the solution. The King James Version, being a rather literal translation, is helpful in showing us how many words had to be inserted to turn the Greek into reasonably coherent English; it shows these words in italics: “Now a mediator is not a mediator of one, but God is one”. This verse is a perfect example of the difficulty of doing justice to one language when translating into another. The thought processes are often very different.

The translators do agree that the first one does not refer to the mediator; Paul is not saying that the mediator is plural while God is singular: something that would make no logical sense.

In this case the REB is a bit more literal in its translation than the NRSV on this point, in that it expresses the first phrase in the negative, as Paul does, but it still interprets significantly. Both are trying to get at the same notion: that where there is a mediator, there are two parties, and where there is only one party there is no need for a mediator. But/and God is one. In other words, God being one does not require a mediator; hence the Law is rendered null and void in God's case.

Recall earlier verses: a mediator is only needed in a bilateral agreement (or dispute); the Law is bilateral but a promise (and the fulfilment) is unilateral. Both the NRSV and the REB are correct; they both do the best possible in translating between thought processes and languages. [Alan T. Perry]

A very free rendering is: There is no need for a mediator where there is only one party; and God is one. [Therefore in God's case the Law is superfluous.]

Verses 21b-22: Paul says, in Romans 3:20, “For ‘no human being will be justified in his sight’ by deeds prescribed by the law, for through the law comes the knowledge of sin” and, in Romans 7:7, “What then should we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet, if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, ‘You shall not covet.’”. [NOAB] The Law cannot give life: v. 11 says “Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law; for ‘The one who is righteous will live by faith.’”. [NJBC]

Verse 21: “make alive”: Paul has just written in v. 11: “Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law; for ‘The one who is righteous will live by faith’”. See also Romans 8:3. [NJBC]

Verse 21: “righteousness”: God’s act of putting a person in a right relationship with him. [CAB]

Verse 22: “scripture”: Two interpretations are possible: the entire Old Testament biblical tradition, [NOAB] or the Law and the texts quoted in Romans 3:10-18 (which are from Psalms and Isaiah 59:7-8 and together illustrate the sinfulness of all human beings) . [NJBC]

Verse 22: “all things”: Two interpretations are possible:

  • human beings: in Romans 11:32, Paul writes: “... God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all”
  • all creation, as people were before Christ’s coming: the Greek word translated “all”, panta, is neuter. See Romans 8:19-23: “... the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God ...”. [NJBC]

Verse 22: “faith in Jesus Christ”: Per the NRSV footnote, faith of Jesus Christ is also a good translation. Faith of Jesus Christ assumes Christ’s faithful obedience unto death (see Romans 5:18-21 and Philippians 2:8) or in becoming incarnate (see Philippians 2:6-8), or the entire ministry of Jesus, possibly involving an interchange with “all who believe” in God (Romans 4:24) and in Christ (Galatians 3:24). The same Greek phrase also occurs in Romans 3:26; Galatians 2:16, 20; Philippians 3:9. [NOAB]

Verse 23: “until faith would be revealed”: NJBC offers in view of the coming revelation of faith. The reign of Law was divinely ordained to prepare for the coming reign of Christian freedom. In 1 Corinthians 4:3, Paul says “But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. I do not even judge myself”. [NJBC]

Verse 24: “disciplinarian”: The same Greek word is translated as guardian in 1 Corinthians 4:15. [NOAB]

Verse 27: “baptized into Christ”: See also Romans 6:3-11 for development of the connection between baptism into Christ and its implications for daily living. [CAB] Baptism is the sacramental complement of faith, the rite whereby a person achieves union with Christ and publicly manifests his commitment. [NJBC]

Verse 27: “clothed yourselves ...”: See also Romans 13:13; Colossians 3:9-10 and Ephesians 4:22-24 ; Psalm 132:9; Isaiah 61:10; 64:6; Zechariah 3:3. [CAB] The term may either:

  • be borrowed from Greek mystery religions, in which an initiate identified himself with the god by donning his robes, or
  • be Paul’s use of an Old Testament expression for adoption of another’s moral dispositions or outlook. In Job 29:14, Job says: “I put on righteousness, and it clothed me; my justice was like a robe and a turban”. 2 Chronicles 6:41 says: “... Let your priests, O LORD God, be clothed with salvation ...”. As Paul also uses it in Romans 13:14 (“put on the Lord Jesus Christ”), this interpretation is more likely. [NJBC]

Verse 28: Romans 10:12 is similar: “there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him”. See also Colossians 3:11. [CAB]

Verse 29: “Abraham’s offspring”: And so fulfilling God’s promise. See also vv. 6-7, 16-17. [NOAB]

Luke 8:26-39

The parallels are Matthew 8:28-34 and Mark 5:1-20. [NOAB] The account here is very close to that in Mark.

Verse 26: “Gerasenes”: Gerasa was a city of the Decapolis, a federation of ten cities of Hellenic culture in an area east of Samaria and Galilee. Gerasa was about 50 Km (30 miles) southeast of the Lake of Galilee. While Gergesenes and Gadarenes are found in some manuscripts, “Gerasenes” is the best attested reading. From a geographical viewpoint, this story presents problems. Swine have no sweat glands, so they would not survive a 50 km rush down to “the lake” (v. 33, the Sea of Galilee) from Gerasa; on the other hand, Gergesa is thought to have been close to the shore of the Sea. Gadera was about 8 Km (5 miles) from the Sea, but this would still be a long way for pigs to run! The story is moving at a symbolic level. [BlkLk] [NJBC] [OBA]

Verse 27: “demons”: Demons were thought of as non-material existences of a personal sort, hostile to God. The gospels reflect the widespread dread of demons and a general sense of helplessness when faced with demonic activity. See also Matthew 4:24; 8:16, 28; 9:32; 15:22; Luke 4:33; 13:11, 16. Per Revelation 9:1-11; 11:7; 17:8; 20:1-3, demons are ultimately under God’s control. [NOAB]

Verse 27: “had worn no clothes”: Comments: People who had been deprived of their liberty (e.g. prisoners) lost the right to wear clothes. Other examples were slaves (see Isaiah 20:2-4), prostitutes (see Ezekiel 16:38-40), demented people (see 1 Samuel 19:23-24) and damned people. [NJBC]

Verse 29: “unclean spirit”: The spirit was considered “unclean” because the effect of the condition was to separate the person from the worship of God. [NOAB]

Verse 30: “‘Legion’”: A Roman legion consisted of 6,000 foot soldiers. Perhaps the man is saying that his personality has lost unity, that he has multiple personalities, as did a legion. [BlkLk]

Verse 31: “abyss”: Elsewhere in the New Testament the Greek word occurs only in Romans 10:7 and Revelation 20:1-3 (“pit”). There it is the abode respectively of the dead and of evil spirits. It occurs frequently in the Septuagint translation of the Old Testament; there it means sea. Luke may be connecting the depths of the sea with the abode of evil spirits. The demons are, in the story, literally assigned to the Sea of Galilee. [BlkLk] [NJBC]

Verse 32: “swine”: Roman might was symbolized by a very fecund sow that gave birth to thirty piglets, and by the wild boar. The wild boar was the symbol of the Legio X Fretensis; this legion was stationed in Syria, and fought in the Jewish revolt of 66-70 AD. See also 15:15-16 (the Prodigal Son feeds the pigs). The pig was the most frequently used sacrificial animal in Greek and Roman worship. For Jews, eating pork was equivalent to paganism and apostasy from Judaism. See 2 Maccabees; 4 Maccabees; Isaiah 65:1-5. [NJBC]

Verse 35: “at the feet of Jesus”: The posture of a follower of Jesus. In 10:39, Mary, sister of Martha, sits at Jesus’ feet to listen to what he is saying. In Acts 22:3, Paul says that he was “brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel”, the great teacher. [NJBC]

Verse 39: “throughout the city”: Mark 5:20 says “in the Decapolis”. Note Luke’s emphasis on the city. [CAB]

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