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Revised Common Lectionary Commentary

Clippings: The Birth of John the Baptist - June 24, 2014



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 40:1-11

CAB sees this as prophecy to all peoples, not just Israel. Note “all people” in v. 5.

This passage combines:

  • the scene of God’s heavenly council: see also 1 Kings 22:19-23 and Isaiah 6
  • the literary style of commissioning of prophets as in Isaiah 6 and Jeremiah 1
  • the religious motif of the new exodus
  • preparation for the Babylonian new year with the paving of the holy way and triumphant possessions to the capital, and
  • the message genre and the motif of God as shepherd (vv. 9-11). [ NJBC]

Verses 1-2: God speaks to the heavenly assembly, court. Some scholars see God as addressing a group of prophets in whose ranks stands the author. [ NJBC]

Verse 1: “Comfort”: Repeated for emphasis. Similar repetitions are found in 51:9; 52:1; 57:14. [ NOAB]

Verse 1: “my people ... your God”: This is an echo of the bonding of Israel to God in the covenant: in Exodus 19:4-6, Yahweh tells Moses: “‘You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles' wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples. Indeed, the whole earth is mine, but you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation ...’”. See also Jeremiah 11:5; 31:1, 33. [ NOAB] [ NJBC]

Verse 2: “Speak tenderly”: God attempts to convince the chosen people in exile (“Jerusalem”) of his concern. See also Genesis 34:3 (Dinah); 50:21 (Joseph to his brothers); Hosea 2:16. [ NJBC]

Verse 2: “double”: This may reflect Exodus 22:7-8 (the punishment for stealing is to repay double what was taken) or may suggest that God exacted more from his people than was to be expected. [ NOAB] To NJBC, to have “received double” proclaims a completion of the purifying process of sorrow: see Jeremiah 16:18.

Verses 3-5: God comes to restore his people: see 35:1-10. John the Baptist heralds the fulfilment of this prophecy in Luke 3:4-6: “as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah, ‘The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God’”. (Luke is close to the Septuagint translation.) See also Matthew 3:3; Mark 1:3; John 1:23. [ NOAB]

Verse 3: As in Isaiah 6 (Isaiah’s commissioning), someone in the celestial assembly speaks up.

Verse 3: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord”: The Septuagint and Vulgate translations, and the New Testament (Mark 1:3 and parallels) divide the phrases differently so as to read a voice cries out in the wilderness. [ NJBC]

Verse 3: “the way of the Lord”: A common figure in Deutero-Isaiah: see also 42:16; 43:16, 19; 48:17; 49:11; 51:10. [ NOAB] See also Genesis 6:12 (Noah, “God saw that the earth was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted its ways upon the earth”); Isaiah 55:7; Deuteronomy 32:4. In John 14:6, Jesus proclaims that he is the way. See also Hebrews 10:20. [ NJBC]

Comments: Christianity was later known as The Way: Acts 9:2 tells us of Paul before his conversion: “ if he found any who belonged to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem”. “The Way” also occurs in Acts 19:9, 23. [ NJBC]

Verse 5: “the glory of the Lord”: i.e. the wondrous manifestation of God’s redeeming presence (see Exodus 14:4, 18; 16:7; Isaiah 58:8) particularly in the Temple (Exodus 40:34-35; 1 Kings 8:10-12). Ezekiel 43:1-2 sees this as returning to a new messianic temple, but Deutero-Isaiah sees this as a world-wide theophany. See also Psalms 96:3, 7-8; 97:6. [ NJBC] See also Ezekiel 1:28; 10:18-19. [ NOAB]

Verses 6-8: For the immutability of God’s word, see also 55:8-11. This verse is quoted in 1 Peter 24-25. [ NOAB]

Verse 6a: Perhaps for the only time (see 48:16c) the prophet speaks in his own name. [ NJBC] See also Jeremiah’s call in Jeremiah 1:4-8. [ NOAB]

Verse 6b: In 51:12, Yahweh asks through the prophet: “I am he who comforts you; why then are you afraid of a mere mortal who must die, a human being who fades like grass?”. [ NOAB]

Verse 7: “breath”: Jeremiah 4:11 prophesies, “At that time it will be said to this people and to Jerusalem: A hot wind comes from me out of the bare heights in the desert toward my poor people, not to winnow or cleanse – a wind too strong for that”. [ NOAB]

Verses 9-11: “‘Here is your God!’”: He comes in celestial grandeur, yet is compassionate: see also Ezekiel 34; Acts 10:36 (Peter’s speech at Cornelius’ house); Romans 10:15; Revelation 22:7. [ NOAB]

Verse 9: “Jerusalem”: This name is used to indicate not just the city but also Judah over 30 times in Deutero-Isaiah. [ NOAB]

Verse 10: “arm”: A symbol of power, as it is also in 33:2; 48:14 (“his [*Yahweh’s] arm shall be against the Chaldeans”); 51:5 (“my arms will rule the peoples”), 9; 52:10; 53:1. [ NOAB]

Psalm 85:7-13

Superscription: “Of the Korahites”: The Korahites were the Levitical group responsible for singing in the Temple according to 2 Chronicles 20:19. They are also mentioned in the superscriptions of Psalms 42; 44-49; 84; 87-88.

Verse 6: “revive us again”: i.e. restore us to life. 104:29-30 says: “When you hide your face, they are dismayed; when you take away their breath, they die and return to their dust. When you send forth your spirit, they are created; and you renew the face of the ground”. [ NJBC]

Verses 7,9: “salvation”: In the original context: prosperity, good crops. [ NJBC] People saw material prosperity as an outcome of spiritual well-being, of living in favour with God.

Verses 8-13: A priest or temple prophet delivers an oracle of assurance. [ NOAB]

Verses 8-9: See also 25:12-13 and 145:18-19. [ NJBC]

Verse 8: “Let me hear”: NJBC says that let me declare is a preferable translation.

Verse 10: “Steadfast love”: The Hebrew is hesed. It is now granted to the faithful. [ NJBC]

Verse 12: “what is good”: Perhaps God gives the autumn rains. [ NJBC]

Acts 13:14b-26

This passage compares closely with Jesus’ inaugural preaching at Nazareth (see Luke 4:16-30), which is similarly structured: synagogue instruction on the sabbath, contrasting public reactions (vv. 14b-41 versus vv. 42-52), scriptural argument for the mission beyond Israel, and the preacher’s flight from town (vv. 50-51). There is emphasis on the continuity between the ministry of Jesus and that of the apostles. [ NJBC]

Verse 13: “Paphos”: On the west coast of Cyprus.

Verse 13: “Perga”: Perga is inland from Attalia, the main seaport of “Pamphylia” (mid-way along the southern coast of Asia Minor). [ NOAB] Pamphylia was a poor region. Earlier joined to Galatia, it was part of Lycia from ca. 43-63 AD. Thereafter it returned to being part of Galatia. [ BlkActs]

Verse 13: “John ... left them ...”: We do not know why. He was later to return to Cyprus with Barnabas: 15:37-38 says that, during Paul’s planning for his second missionary journey, “Barnabas wanted to take with them John called Mark. But Paul decided not to take with them one who had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not accompanied them in the work [ BlkActs] [ NJBC]

Verse 14: “they went into the synagogue”: When entering a town, Paul’s first visit was to the synagogue. See also 9:20 (Damascus); 14:1 (Iconium); 17:1-2 (Thessalonica), 10 (Beroea), 17 (Athens); 18:4 (Corinth), 19 (Ephesus); 19:8 (Ephesus). To Luke, Jesus came first to Jews and then to Gentiles. [ NJBC]

Verse 14: “Antioch in Pisidia”: Strictly speaking, Luke means Antioch near Pisidia. This is near modern Yalovach. [ NOAB] Perhaps Persidian Antioch, found in some manuscripts, is a clearer translation. From Perga to Antioch was long and dangerous mountain journey. [ BlkActs] [ NJBC]

Verse 15: If Paul was dressed as a Pharisee, it would be natural to ask him to speak. [ BlkActs]

Verse 15: “the reading of the law and the prophets”: It was customary to read a lesson from Mosaic law (the Pentateuch) and another from the prophets. [ NOAB]

Verses 16-41: The speech is hardly to be regarded as an actual summary of what Paul said but rather a summary of the sort of things which he was in the habit of saying to an audience of Jews and Gentiles familiar with Judaism, based on speeches Luke actually heard on such occasions. [ BlkActs] It is neatly marked off into sections by repeated words of salutation:

  • “‘You Israelites ...’”: a summary of Old Testament history, the era of promise (vv. 16-25)
  • “‘My brothers ...’”: the Jesus kerygma with scriptural argument demonstrating fulfilment of promise (vv. 26-37)
  • “‘Let it be known, my brothers ...”: the concluding summons to faith and forgiveness (vv. 38-41).

It conforms to the schema of earlier sermons: see 2:38-40 (Peter to the first converts) and 3:19-26 (Peter in Solomon’s Portico). [ NJBC]

Verse 16: “others who fear God”: See also 10:3 and 15:21. [ BlkActs] They were neither circumcised nor did they take on total commitment to Mosaic law. This group was particularly fertile soil for Christian mission. [ NJBC]

Verse 17: “this people Israel”: The demonstrative pronoun, “this”, makes the synagogue assembly representative of the whole “people” (v. 15). “Israelites” is an honorific title. In v. 46, Paul and Barnabas say “‘It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken first to you. Since you reject it and judge yourselves to be unworthy of eternal life, we are now turning to the Gentiles’”. [ NJBC]

Verse 18: “put up with them”: Some manuscripts have cared for them. The difference in the Greek is one letter. BlkActs favours “put up with them” being, he says, better attested textually; however, NJBC favours cared for them on the grounds that it is found in the Septuagint translation of Deuteronomy 1:31 and conforms with the Lucan summary’s positive form. See also 7:2-49 (Stephen’s speech).

Verse 19: “seven nations”: Deuteronomy 7:1 names seven nations as the inhabitants of Palestine before the Israelites arrived: “the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites”. [ NOAB]

Verse 20: “four hundred and fifty years”: Three reckonings are offered:

  • from the entrance into Canaan to the building of the first Temple, as reckoned by the rabbis [ NOAB]
  • the sojourn in Egypt, the wilderness wanderings, and the time from the entry into Canaan to the distribution of the land [ BlkActs]
  • Counting all the years allotted to the judges, as found in the Hebrew (but not in the Septuagint translation) of the book of Judges, assuming (as modern scholars do not) that these were all successive and not at all contemporaneous (though there is no other indication that Jews adopted this chronology for Judges) [ BlkActs]

Verse 20: “Samuel”: He, after Moses, was the first of the prophets and the last of the judges. [ BlkActs]

Verse 21: “Saul ... of the tribe of Benjamin”: Paul tells us in Philippians 3:5 that he was of this tribe, so mentioning Saul is particularly appropriate. Jewish tradition said that Saul reigned for “forty years”. [ BlkActs]

Verse 22: “made”: The Greek is egeirein, meaning “raised up”. See also v. 23. Paul sees David as a type for Jesus. V. 30 says “... God raised him from the dead”, again egeirein . [ NJBC]

Verse 22: The quotation is a combination of the Septuagint translation of Psalm 89:21 and of 1 Samuel 13:14. [ BlkActs]

Verse 22: “will carry out all my wishes”: From Isaiah 44:28. [ BlkActs]

Verse 23: “brought ”: Some manuscripts have egeiren , meaning raised up, rather than egagen. The difference is EI versus A, all relevant manuscripts being in uncial (capital) letters. [ BlkActs]

Verse 23: “as he promised”: In v. 32 Paul says “we bring you the good news that what God promised to our ancestors”. It includes all the Old Testament promises of a “Saviour”, which came to fulfilment in the resurrection of David’s descendant: see v. 33. [ NJBC]

Verse 23: “Saviour”: This was the name given to one who saved a city, rescued, or healed. The New Testament uses it of Jesus as healer and deliverer from sin and death. See also 5:31 (Peter and the apostles before the Sanhedrin). [ NOAB]

Verse 24: BlkActs puts it more forcefully: John having preached beforehand in view of His coming a baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel.

Verse 25: “I am not worthy ...”: See Matthew 3:11; Luke 3:16, Mark 1:7; John 1:27. Both Acts and John have worthy rather than sufficient, suggesting that John was one of Luke’s informants. BlkActs takes John to be the son of Zebedee.

Verse 26: “others who fear God”: See v. 16 above. [ BlkActs]

Verse 26: “this salvation”: While salvation was a concept known in the Hellenic world, Paul clearly has in mind salvation through Jesus.

Luke 1:57-80

NJBC says that Luke has adapted and joined together two Jewish Christian hymns (vv. 68-75; 76-79).

Verse 67: Just as Elizabeth spoke of the greatness of Jesus (in vv. 41-44), so too does Zechariah. [ NJBC]

Verse 68: “Blessed ...”: This imitates the style of hymns of praise in Psalms 103:1-2; 113:2; 1QH (Qumran Hymns) 13:20; 18:14; 19:27-28.

1QH 13:20 ( Vermes 5:20) says: “... Be blessed Lord, because you did not desert the orphan nor have you slighted the wretch.” [ Martinez]

1QH 18:14 ( Vermes 10:14) says: “Be blessed, Lord, God of compassion and of abundant favour, because you have made me know these things so that I may recount your marvels, and I do not keep silent day and night.” [ Martinez]

1QH 19:27-28 ( Vermes 11:27-28) says: “... Be blessed Lord, because you have given your servant the insight of knowledge to understand your wonders and your deeds without number through the abundance of your favour.” [ Martinez]

Verse 68: “God of Israel”: The entire canticle stays within the orbit of Judaism and God’s dealings with the elect people. [ NJBC]

Verse 68: “looked favourably”: The Greek word can also be translated blessed: in the sense that God is present, and not in a neutral way. See Exodus 3:16; 4:31; Isaiah 10:12. [ JBC]

Verse 69: “saviour”: See also Psalms 18:1-3; 92:10-11; 132:17-18; 1 Samuel 2:1 (Hannah’s prayer). [ NOAB]

Verse 69: “David”: This fleshes out what Gabriel has said in v. 32. [ NJBC] See also Acts 4:25.

Verse 71: “saved from our enemies”: In 2:1-20, Jesus is pacific. God conquers enemies by bringing them peace.

Verse 74: Jeremiah 30:8 is a prophecy in similar language: “On that day, says the Lord of hosts, I will break the yoke from off his neck, and I will burst his bonds, and strangers shall no more make a servant of him”.

Verse 76: “you will go before the Lord ...”: An echo of Gabriel’s words in vv. 16-17. There is also an echo of Malachi 3:1: “See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight – indeed, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts”. [ NJBC] See also Malachi 4:5 (the promise to send Elijah) and Luke 7:26. [ NOAB]

Verse 77: See 3:1-20 and Mark 1:4 (“John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins”). [ NOAB]

Verse 78: Malachi 4:5 says: “Lo, I will send you the prophet Elijah before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes”. A quotation in Ephesians 5:14, probably a verse of an early baptismal hymn, is “Sleeper, awake! Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you”. A close parallel is to be found in *Tosefta Zebahim 9:8: this verse incorporates two key words in v. 78, anatelei (arise) and eusplanchnia (mercy): “And after these things the Lord himself will arise (anatelei) for you, the light of righteousness, with healing and mercy (eusplanchnia) in his wings.” [ NJBC]

Verse 78: “the dawn”: We are familiar with various names for Jesus, but not this one. It seems that it did not catch on in the early Church. NOAB offers another interpretation: “the dawn” will be when God fulfils his purpose to bless mankind.

Verse 79: “sit in darkness and in the shadow of death”: A combination of Isaiah 9:1-2 and 42:7 (in the Septuagint translation). Matthew 4:16 speaks of Jesus as being the one who fulfils the prophecy in Isaiah: “the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned”. See also Luke 4:18. [ NOAB]

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