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Revised Common Lectionary Commentary

Clippings: The Naming of Jesus - January 1, 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.

Numbers 6:22-27

5:2: “leprous”: This not, in fact, leprosy as we know it, i.e. Hansen’s Disease, but several forms of skin disease involving scaling, flaking or open sores. Such conditions were probably felt to resemble the onset of death or decay in a clear, outward fashion. The same Hebrew word is used in Leviticus for fungus or dry rot. The wider concept is how visual imperfection damages the utopian sacred society. [ FoxMoses] Leviticus 13-14 deals extensively with the diagnosis of skin diseases and the uncleanness they cause. Leviticus 13:46 also specifies exclusion from the camp. [ NJBC]

5:2: “discharge”: Both semen and menstrual blood are included.

5:2: “unclean through contact with a corpse”: Leviticus 21:1-12 also deals with this issue. [ FoxMoses]

5:3: “they must not defile their camp ...”: Too much pollution would drive God away. [ NOAB]

5:5-10: Restoration of harmony between persons is an additional requirement for the maintenance of purity and order within God’s community. Leviticus 5 deals with the general case of wrongs done to another person but the law here adds how a case where there is no surviving heir should be handled. [ NJBC] This law is an advance on Leviticus 4-5, where only unintentional sins are forgiven. Here there are some intentional sins that can be expiated through confession and an offering. [ FoxMoses]

5:6: “breaking faith with the Lord”: Wronging another person is rebelling against God. [ NOAB]

5:7: “adding one fifth to it”: i.e. as a penalty.

5:8: “If the injured party has no next of kin to whom restitution may be made”: FoxMoses translates the Hebrew differently: Now if the man has no redeemer to make-restitution of guilt-payment to him and explains that redeemer means a relative who can pay the fine. The effect is that the rest of the verse does not make sense.

5:10: “The sacred donations of all are their own”: FoxMoses offers a different translation: So every-man, his holy-offerings shall be his, and explains that his refers to the priest.

5:11-31: In ancient Israel, adultery was a capital crime while elsewhere in the ancient Near East it was not. Note that there is no equivalent for wives who suspect their husbands of infidelity. [ FoxMoses] This case law deals with the case where there was no witness to the adulterous act. [ NOAB] Lack of smoothness in the text and the presence of repetitions suggests that two originally separate rituals have been combined: one involving drinking bitter waters and the other involving a grain offering combined with a curse. NJBC says that only if the woman’s psychological state induced physiological reactions would she suffer. I am not so sure rationally: who knows what maladies might be induced by the dirt on the floor; however the idea may be that God will render the woman immune if she is innocent.

5:15: “barley”: This was the cheapest grain, so even poor people could avail themselves of this legal procedure. [ FoxMoses]

5:16: “set her”: FoxMoses offers have her stand: a clearer translation into today’s English.

5:16: “set her before the Lord”: Exodus 22:9 states another law in which both parties come to the sanctuary: “In any case of disputed ownership involving ox, donkey, sheep, clothing, or any other loss, of which one party says, ‘This is mine,’ the case of both parties shall come before God; the one whom God condemns shall pay double to the other”. [ NOAB]

5:21: “your uterus drop, your womb discharge”: FoxMoses offers your thigh fall and your belly flood; his translation is close to the Hebrew. Thigh in the Old Testament is often a euphemism for genitals. Biologically this is not clear; suggestions range from miscarriage to a prolapsed uterus, even sterility. It is possible that the woman is pregnant and the intention is to abort the fetus, since if the husband’s suspicions of adultery are well founded, the child will be illegitimate and hence be a threat to the purity of Israel.

5:22: “Amen”: Meaning so be it. The Hebrew literally means established or firm, i.e. true. [ FoxMoses]

5:24: “water of bitterness”: NJBC offers water of testing.

5:29: “law”: The Hebrew word is tora, meaning priestly regulation. From such torot (the plural of tora) evolved the name for longer sections, and eventually for the Five Books of Moses (the Pentateuch). [ FoxMoses]

5:31: “bear her iniquity”: So the punishment, or the removal of iniquity, is left up to God. [ FoxMoses]

6:1-21: Originally the dedication to God was a lifelong commitment but after the exile, a person could be a Nazirite for a specified period of time.

6:2: “nazirite”: The word means consecrated one, separate-one or dedicated-one. [ FoxMoses] Judges 13 tells us that Samson was chosen by Yahweh to be a Nazirite lifelong. In 1 Samuel 1, Hannah promises Yahweh that if he will give her a son, he will be a Nazirite throughout his life. Amos 2:11-12 tells of corrupted Nazirites. [ NOAB]

6:3: “shall drink no wine vinegar or other vinegar”: For “wine vinegar”, FoxMoses offers wine and ... intoxicant. For abstinence from the fruit of the vine, see also Jeremiah 35. In Luke 1:15, the angel tells Zechariah that his son, John the Baptizer, “must never drink wine or strong drink”. [ NOAB]

6:3: “shall not drink any grape juice ...”: So strict is the prohibition of alcohol that so chances are taken. [ FoxMoses]

6:6: “shall not go near a corpse”: See Leviticus 21:1-12 for more details. [ NOAB]

6:7: “their consecration to God is upon the head”: FoxMoses offers (hair) consecrated for one’s God is upon one’s head.

6:11: “sin offering ... incurred guilt”: FoxMoses offers decontamination-offering ... became contaminated.

6:12: For “separate”, FoxMoses offers reconsecrate; for “guilt offering”, he offers compensation offering.

6:12: “The former time shall be void”: Time already done as a Nazirite shall not count towards the time dedicated to God, i.e. the clock is reset to zero.

6:14: “without blemish”: Only an unblemished lamb was considered fit for sacrifice to Yahweh.

6:14: “well-being”: The Hebrew is shalom. [ FoxMoses]

6:15: “unleavened bread ...”: FoxMoses offers matzot of flour, round-loaves mixed with oil, wafers of matzot spread with oil. Matzot is the plural of matza, unleavened bread.

6:18: Hair offerings were not uncommon in ancient religion. [ NOAB]

6:20: “an elevation offering”: This refers to the act of moving the sacrifice towards and away from the altar, symbolizing presenting the gift to Yahweh and receiving it back as a portion.

6:22-27: Sirach 50 gives an outline of a service in the Temple. Vv. Sirach 50:20-21 tell us that the high priest pronounced a blessing at the end of the service: “Then Simon came down and raised his hands over the whole congregation of Israelites, to pronounce the blessing of the Lord with his lips, and to glory in his name; and they bowed down in worship a second time, to receive the blessing from the Most High”. [ NJBC]. The popularity of this blessing in Old Testament times is indicated by its appearance in Psalm 67:1 and on ancient Israelite amulets. [ FoxMoses]

6:23: “Aaron and his sons”: The right of invoking Yahweh’s name upon the community is here reserved to the sons of Aaron, a post-exilic development that restricted earlier practice. In 2 Samuel 6:18, we read that David “... blessed the people in the name of the Lord of hosts”; in 1 Kings 8:14, Solomon blesses the people; Deuteronomy 10:8 tells us that in Sinai Yahweh “set apart the tribe of Levi ... to bless in his name”. Deuteronomy 21:5 is similar. [ NJBC]

6:25: “the Lord make his face to shine upon you”: This signifies that the holy God graciously turns towards the people in concern and favour. For this notion, see also Psalms 4:6; 31:16. In Psalm 80:3, a psalmist says on behalf of the congregation: “Restore us, O God; let your face shine, that we may be saved”. [ NOAB]

6:26: “the Lord lift up his countenance upon you”: God lifting his face is a favourable gesture, as can be seen in Psalms 4:6-7; 33:18-19; 34:15-16. In times of difficulty, the people believed that God had hidden his face from them, and abandoned them: see Deuteronomy 31:18 (for turning to other gods); Psalm 104:29 (“When you hide your face, they are dismayed ...”). [ NJBC]

6:27: “they shall put my name on the Israelites”: In antiquity it was believed that selfhood was expressed in the name given a person. In Genesis 32:27-29, Jacob’s new name, Israel, signifies a new self: he is now one who has struggled with God. In Exodus 3:13-15, Moses asks God his name and receives the answer “‘I AM WHO I AM”. [ NOAB]

Psalm 8

Verse 2: “Out of the mouths of babes and infants”: A more literalist interpretation is that the glory of God is manifest in the songs of children and in the night sky (v. 3). [ NOAB]

Verses 2b-3: NJBC says that scholars’ efforts to elucidate these difficult lines have not met with success.

Verses 4-7: These verses are quoted in Hebrews 2:5-9. There they are applied to Christ. [ NOAB] [ NJBC]

Verse 4: “what are human beings ... ?”: Psalm 144:3 and Job 7:1-17 also ask this question but there the sense of it is different. [ NOAB]

Verse 4: “mortals”: The Hebrew, ben ‘adam, literally son of proto-human, is a Jewish idiom meaning mortal or human being. Some scholars consider Son of Man, as used in the New Testament, to be a Christian technical term. [ NOAB]

Ben ‘adam can also be translated as children of earth. Before Eve was created Adam was of no gender; he was simply earth-creature, a literal translation; after the rib was removed they became man and woman. So ben ‘adam is more inclusive, referring back to the pre-gendered humanity. [Chris Malcolm, email]

Verses 5-8: See also Genesis 1:26-30 (the first Creation Story, the sixth day). [ NOAB]

Verse 5: See also 90:1-3. [ NJBC]

Verse 5: “God”: The Hebrew word here is plural: note that in Genesis 1:26 God says: “‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; ...’”. (God is plural there too.)

Verse 5: “crowned them with glory and honour”: This may point to a king: blessed with glory and honour, he is almost a god. [ NJBC]

Verse 9: A repeat of the opening verse, as a refrain. [ NOAB]

Galatians 4:4-7

Galatians was written to Jewish Christians who were tempted to return to Judaism.

Verse 1: “minors”: Paul uses the word nepios, meaning an infant, one who does not speak. [ NJBC]

Verse 2: “guardians and trustees”: According to CAB, a “guardian” was entrusted with the general care of a child up to the age of 14, and a “trustee” with the financial affairs of a young man up to the age of 25; however NJBC sees this as Palestinian usage, not Roman. As minors, they are in an interim state; such is being under the Law.

Verse 2: “until the date set by the father”: In Roman law, a father could set limits to the time of trusteeship. [ CAB]

Verse 3: “the elemental spirits of the world”: There are four possible meanings:

  • based on the translation quoted above:
    • the cosmic powers controlling the universe, as in v. 8 [ NOAB]
    • the elemental signs of the zodiac [ NJBC]
  • based on the alternative translation “rudimentary spirits of the world” given in the NRSV footnote:
    • the rudiments of the world, i.e. earth, air, fire and water [ NOAB]
    • rudimentary rules and religious observances: see also vv. 9-10 and Colossians 2:8, 20 [ NOAB]

Verses 4-5: Christ was sent at a time determined by God in order to ransom those who were in bondage. “under the law”. [ NOAB]

Verse 4: “born of a woman”: Both Matthew 11:11 and Luke 7:28 tell us that there is no one “born of women” greater than John the Baptizer. This phrase is also found in the Old Testament: see Job 14:1; 15:14; 25:4. It is also found in the Qumran Hymns. Some patristic writers read genomenon with an omega (a long O) rather than an omicron (a short O), so they saw here a reference to Mary’s virginal conception, but this is an anachronism. [ NJBC] In the Old Testament and at Qumran we see its use as a typical Jewish circumlocution for the human person, so it does not to the process by which God’s Son became a man (his birth), but it simply describes his human condition. This phrase is echoed in v. 5: “so that we might receive adoption as children”. [ BlkGal]

Verse 5: “in order to redeem”: In the sense that Christ secured release of those retained in the Law: Paul says in 3:12: “the law does not rest on faith; on the contrary, ‘Whoever does the works of the law will live by them.’”. [ CAB]

Verse 5: “adoption”: Under Greco-Roman law, an adopted child received the full legal status of a natural child. Perhaps Paul’s analogy is influenced by Israel’s release from bondage in Egypt in Hosea 11:1: “Out of Egypt I have called my son”, a verse quoted in Matthew 2:15. See also Romans 15:8. [ CAB]

Verse 6: “because you are children”: NJBC translates this differently: the proof that you are sons is that God sent ...”.

Verse 6: “sent”: The Greek word, apostellein, developed a specific meaning: to send someone in the service of the Kingdom with authority fully grounded in God. [ NJBC]

Verse 6: “Abba! Father!”: In Romans 8:15-17, Paul writes: “you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ – if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him”.

Philippians 2:5-13

For other fragments of early Christian hymns on the subject of Christ’s work, see 1:15-20; Ephesians 2:14-16; 1 Timothy 3:16; 1 Peter 3:18-19, 22; Hebrews 1:3. [ CAB]

Verse 6: “in the form of God”: i.e. pre-existent and divine (see John 1:1-3; Colossians 1:15; 1 Corinthians 8:6; Romans 8:3; Galatians 4:4), sharing in God’s very nature. [ NOAB]

Verse 7: “slave”: Perhaps there is an allusion here to Isaiah 52:13-53:12 (the fourth Servant Song). [ NOAB]

Verse 8: Matthew 26:39 tells us “And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want’”. See also John 10:18; Romans 5:19; Hebrews 5:8; 12:2. [ NOAB]

Verses 9-11: “the name ... Jesus Christ is Lord”: In 1 Thessalonians 1:1, Paul writes of “the Lord Jesus Christ”. The title of Israel’s covenant God is applied by Christians to the risen and glorified Jesus. [ NOAB]

Verse 9: “highly exalted him”: In his resurrection and ascension. In Acts 2:32-33, in his sermon on the Day of Pentecost, Peter tells the crowd: “This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses”. See also Acts 5:30-31 and Ephesians 1:20-21. [ CAB]

Verses 10-11: In Isaiah 45:23, Yahweh says through the prophet: “... ‘To me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear’”. [ NOAB]

Verse 11: Paul says in Romans 10:9: “... if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved”. See also 2 Corinthians 9:13. [ NJBC]

Verse 12: “as you have always obeyed me”: Paul is saying that the Philippians’ obedience to him shows that they know how to be obedient, so they are able to be obedient to God following the example of Christ. His physical absence should increase, rather than decrease, their fidelity to the demands of the good news. [ NJBC]

Verse 12: “with fear and trembling”: NOAB says that this means humbly and with constant dependence on God’s help; however NJBC says that this is a standard Old Testament expression. In Paul’s letter it simply denotes a humble and lowly attitude towards fellow human beings. In 1 Corinthians 2:3, Paul writes: “I came to you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling”. In 2 Corinthians 7:15, Paul thanks the Corinthian community for welcoming Titus “with fear and trembling”. Ephesians 6:5 says: “Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, in singleness of heart, as you obey Christ”.

Verse 12: “work out your own salvation”: This is directed to the community rather than each individual, as are vv. 3-4. The community’s collective passage to salvation is in view. [ NJBC]

Verse 13: “for it is God who is at work in you”: The divine creative power will more than compensate for Paul’s absence: see v. 12. [ NJBC]

Verse 13: “will”: NJBC translates the Greek as goodwill and says that the context shows that what is meant is goodwill towards each other (rather than God’s goodwill).

Luke 2:15-21

The angelic song (see v. 14) shows that the divine purpose is to be achieved through Jesus while the visit of the shepherds emphasizes the simple human aspect of him. [ CAB]

Verse 14: “peace among those whom he favours!”: Those whom God has chosen in accord with his good pleasure. Lack of a single letter in later Greek manuscripts accounts for the alternative rendering: peace, goodwill among people. [ NOAB] BlkLk says that among men of goodwill is not a valid translation.

Verse 14: “peace”: Isaiah 52:7 says that the Messiah will bring peace. Isaiah 57:19 says “Peace, peace, to the far and the near, says the Lord; and I will heal them”. Luke speaks of peace as a gift from God equivalent to salvation in 1:79 (Zechariah in the Benedictus); 10:5- 6 (Jesus’ instructions to the seventy sent out); 19:42 (Jesus weeps over Jerusalem). [ BlkLk]

Comments: Jesus will later stress the urgency of his mission: One verse in which Jesus does this is in Mark 6:8: Jesus orders the disciples as they set out on missionary journeys “to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts” but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics”. The parallels in Matthew 10:10 and Luke 10:4 do not permit taking a staff and wearing sandals. The disciples are to prepare for mission without delay. Until Jesus arrives in Jerusalem, almost every passage begins with a verb of motion: see Mark 1:12, 14, 16, 19, 21, 29, 35; 2:1, 13, etc. There is an unconditional response to a divine urgency. [ HenMk] Does this reflect the expectation of many that the end-times would come soon? I don't think so; a sense of the urgency of the mission is appropriate today.

Verse 17: “what had been told them about this child”: This is complementary to:

  • The announcement to Mary (see 1:31-33) that Jesus is Saviour (see v. 11)
  • Mary’s statement in the Magnificat (see 1:46-55)
  • Zechariah’s statement, the Benedictus (see 1:68-79) [ NJBC]

Verse 19: Mary tries to find the meaning of these events. She models for believers the necessity of reflecting on, and embodying, peace. 1:45 says “blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her by the Lord”. [ NJBC]

Verse 21: “circumcise the child”: Jesus is formally made a member of God’s chosen people through whom world salvation is to be achieved. [ NJBC]

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