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Revised Common Lectionary Commentary

Clippings: Christmas - Set III - December 25, 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.

Isaiah 52:7-10

Verse 1: “the uncircumcised and the unclean”: i.e. foreigners ( 33:19) and ritually unclean Jews. [ NOAB]

Verse 3: “redeemed without money”: 43:3-4 offers a different explanation: “I give Egypt as your ransom, Ethiopia and Seba in exchange for you.”. At best, Israel contributed nothing except a strong, humble obedience to God’s will in its history. [ NJBC]

Verses 5-6: Yahweh will not tolerate Israel’s enemies gloating over his people: see also Psalms 42:11; 79:10. [ NJBC]

Verse 6: “know my name”: Involves knowing God’s person. He will not allow his people to be oppressed by Egypt (see Ezekiel 29:9), Assyria (see 10:7-11) and Babylon (see Jeremiah 50:29). (Regarding 10:7-11, in Syria the Assyrians captured the cities listed in v. 10:9 between 742 and 732 BC.) [ NOAB]

Verses 7-8: All creation awaits word of God’s decisive victory. See Psalm 125:2; 2 Samuel 18:25-27; Nahum 1:15 (“Look! On the mountains the feet of one who brings good tidings, who proclaims peace! ...”); Romans 10:15. [ NOAB]

Verse 7: 40:9 says: “Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good tidings; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings, lift it up, do not fear; say to the cities of Judah, ‘Here is your God!"’”

Verse 7: “the messenger ... who brings good news”: For a similar enthronement of Yahweh, see Psalms 47; 93; 96-99. [ NJBC]

Verse 8: 62:6-7 says: “Upon your walls, O Jerusalem, I have posted sentinels; all day and all night they shall never be silent. You who remind the LORD , take no rest, and give him no rest until he establishes Jerusalem and makes it renowned throughout the earth”. [ NJBC]

Verses 9-10: A thanksgiving hymn in response to the messenger, with texts from other Old Testament books: see Zephaniah 3:13-18 and Joel 2:21. [ NJBC]

Verses 11-12: Ritually clean, people and priests return home in peace: see also Exodus 13:21-22 (the pillar of fire). [ NOAB]

Psalm 98

The language of this psalm is strikingly similar to that of many passages in Isaiah 40-55, e.g. 44:23; 52:10; 55:12. [ NOAB]

Verses 1-2: A call to God’s people to praise him for his saving deeds to Israel, for God’s triumph over all the powers that oppose him. The verbs are in the past tense, but the reference is to a future event. [ NOAB]

Verse 3: “remembered ... house of Israel”: i.e. God’s covenant commitment. “Remembered”: as in Exodus 20:24: “in every place where I cause my name to be remembered I will come to you and bless you”.

Verse 3: “have seen the victory”: God has acted (will act) to save Israel.

Verse 5: “with the lyre and the sound of melody”: The inclusion of musical instruments shows that the setting of the psalm is the Temple. [ NJBC]

Verse 6: “before”: i.e. in the presence of.

Verses 7-8: The alternation of watery and dry places emphasizes that all creation should join in the chorus of joy. [ NJBC]

Verse 9: Israel’s missionary outlook, though never a major motif in the Old Testament, saw nations coming to Zion to worship God. See also Isaiah 2:1-4. [ NJBC]

Verse 9: “he is coming to judge the earth”: messianic.

Hebrews 1:1-4,(5-12)

Verses -1-4 : These verses have remarkable similarities with the writings of Philo, a contemporary Jewish philosopher, in which the Logos is the image ( eikon) of God and the instrument through whom the universe was created. The word charakter (“imprint”, v. 4) occurs only here in the New Testament but is frequently used in Philo’s writings.

Verse 1: “in many and various ways”: NJBC translates the Greek as incompletely and in varied ways. His point is that revelation in Old Testament times was fragmentary.

Verse 1: “our ancestors”: NJBC points out that Paul uses the same language in 1 Corinthians 10:1 with reference to Gentile Christians; so, he argues mention of “ancestors” does not necessarily mean that this epistle is addressed to Jewish Christians. Through Christ, he says, Gentiles have been brought into the spiritual Israel: see Galatians 3:29.

Verse 1: “the prophets”: i.e. others besides Moses through whom God spoke in Israel’s history are Abraham (see Genesis 20:7), Nathan (see 2 Samuel 7:2), and Elijah (see 1 Kings 18:22). [ NJBC]

Verse 2: “in these last days”: Literally, at the end of these days. The Greek phrase is one used in the Septuagint translation to translate a Hebrew phrase meaning in the end of days. The Septuagint phrase usually refers to the end times, the final age. See Isaiah 2:2; Jeremiah 23:20; Ezekiel 38:16; Daniel 10:14. Christ’s sacrifice, resurrection and ascension inaugurated the final age. [ NJBC]

Verses 3-4: These verses most probably contain a liturgical hymn. [ NJBC]

Verse 3: The description of the Son as mediator between God and created-ness assimilates him to the personified Wisdom of the Old Testament and Apocrypha. In Proverbs 8:30, Lady Wisdom says “I was beside him, like a master worker; and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always”; of Lady Wisdom, Wisdom of Solomon 7:26 says “For she is a reflection of eternal light, a spotless mirror of the working of God, and an image of his goodness”. [ NJBC]

Verse 3: “reflection”: The Greek word, apaugasma, can be understood actively (as radiating God’s power) or passively (as a reflection of it). Because this verse seems to be dependent on Wisdom of Solomon 7:26, the passive is more likely here. Thus the NRSV. [ NJBC]

Verse 3: “the exact imprint”: The Greek word translated imprint is charakter. Wisdom is further described, in the verse cited, as the image (eikon) of God’s goodness. Charakter probably means the same as eikon, a term applied to Christ in Colossians 1:15. [ NJBC]

Verse 3: “sustains all things”: Just as Wisdom “reaches mightily from one end of the earth to the other” (Wisdom of Solomon 8:1), so Christ guides and sustains all that has been created through him: Colossians 1:17 says “He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together”. [ NJBC]

Verse 3: “he had made purification for sins”: In the Old Testament, Wisdom’s role is both cosmological and soteriological: see Proverbs 8:22-36 and Wisdom of Solomon 9:9-18. In v. 2, the emphasis was on Christ’s cosmological role; now it is on his soteriological role. [ NJBC]

Verse 3: “Majesty”: i.e. God the Father. (In Mark 14:62, before the high priest, Jesus says “‘you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power’”.)

Verse 4: “much superior to angels”: The lot of Jewish Christians who fall away from the word of God spoken by Christ will be much worse than that of Israelites who disobeyed the word of God spoken through angels (see 2:2), i.e. Mosaic law. The author may also be saying that Jesus, and not an angel, is the priest who functions in the heavenly sanctuary. [ NJBC]

Verse 5: By combining Psalm 2:7 (probably originally used at the enthronement of a king of Judah) with 2 Samuel 7:14 (which says that the relationship between God and the Davidic ruler is father to son), the author expects the reader to conclude that the day of the king’s accession was when he became a son of God. These texts are interpreted as messianic in 4QFlorlegium (Qumran Eschatological Midrash) 1:11-13. [ NJBC]

Verses 6-13: These verses can be summarized as follows: the author adapts quotations from the Old Testament to show that:

        Angels are to worship the Son (v. 6).

        Angels are mutable (v. 7) but the Son joyously rules for ever (v. 8).

        The Son loves the godly and hates evil people.

        The Son is the creator of earth and “heavens” (v. 10); the heavens (populated by angels) will “perish” but the Son will live for ever (v. 12)

        Never has an angel been exalted as the Son is (v. 13).

Hebrews was written in a time when any verse in the Bible could be applied to any situation, without considering the original context.

Verse 6: If a comma is intended to follow “again” (thus the NRSV), “when he brings the firstborn into the world” refers to the exaltation of Jesus; however, if the comma is omitted, the reference is to Christ’s second coming. The latter seems more likely. The quotation is the Septuagint translation of Deuteronomy 32:43. [ NJBC]

Verse 7: The quotation is the Septuagint translation of Psalm 104:4. The meaning, which differs greatly from that of the Masoretic Text, seems to be that God changes angels into wind and fire, a notion found in 2 Esdras 8:21-22. Angels are changeable and transitory, while the Son is not. [ NJBC]

Verses 8-9: The quotation is Psalm 45:6-7. Given the context, the author seems to be speaking of the Son as “God”. [ NOAB]

Verses 10-12: The quotation is Psalm 102:25-27. The psalm itself addresses these words to God, but here they are addressed to the Son. That he sees the Son as creator is not surprising: he has already described him as mediator of creation. That the “heavens will vanish like smoke” is stated in Isaiah 51:6. [ NJBC]

Verse 13: The quotation is Psalm 110:1, a psalm alluded to in v. 3. [ NOAB]

Verse 14: Unlike the Son, angels are “spirits”, who are sent to serve. [ NOAB] It is likely that there is an implication here that they are not to be worshipped: Colossians 2:18 says “Do not let anyone disqualify you, insisting on self-abasement and worship of angels”. The contemporary Jewish philosopher Philo speaks of angels as ministering spirits. [ NJBC]

John 1:1-14

Verses 1-2: The “Word” (Greek: logos) of God is speech, but also God in action, creating (see Genesis 1:3 and Psalm 33:6), revealing (see Amos 3:7-8), redeeming (see Psalm 107:19-20). Jesus is this “Word” (see v. 14). He was eternal (“in the beginning”, Genesis 1:1), personal (“with God”), divine (“was God”). Note “was”: not became. This contrasts with v. 14. [ NOAB]

Verse 1: “In the beginning ... was with God”: This also recalls the traditions of Wisdom being with God at creation (see Proverbs 8:30 and Wisdom of Solomon 7:25), but John goes beyond the stance of wisdom literature, which carefully avoids showing Wisdom as equal with God. [ NJBC]

Verse 3: He was the sole agent of creation: see Genesis 1:1; Proverbs 8:27-30; Colossians 1:16-17; Hebrews 1:2. [ NOAB]

Verse 4: Apart from him, both physical and spiritual life would recede into nothingness: see 5:39-40 and 8:12. [ NOAB]

Verse 5: “The light shines in the darkness”: Wisdom of Solomon 7:29-30 speaks of a beauty that surpasses the sun and stars; sin cannot prevail over Wisdom. [ NJBC]

Verse 5: “darkness”: Total evil in conflict with God – it cannot overcome God. [ NOAB]

Verses 6-8: John the Baptist was commissioned by God (see Malachi 3:1) to point to Jesus (vv. 9-34). John the Baptist is a witness. [ NOAB]

Verse 9: “The true light”: The real (authentic, divinely given reality), underived light contrasted not with false light but with those such as John the Baptist: he was a lamp: in 5:35, Jesus says: “He was a burning and shining lamp, and you were willing to rejoice for a while in his light”. [ NOAB]

Verse 11: “his own people”: i.e. the Jews. [ NOAB] Recalls the rejection of Wisdom in 1 Enoch 42:2: “Wisdom went out to dwell with the children of the people, but she found no dwelling place; (so) Wisdom returned to her place and she established herself among the angels.” [ NJBC]

Verse 12: “he gave power ...”: This may have originally referred to Wisdom finding a dwelling in the souls of the righteous (see Sirach 1:9-10), and has been recast to reflect the soteriology of the Gospel. 2:23 says “When he was in Jerusalem during the Passover festival, many believed in his name because they saw the signs that he was doing” and 3:18 says “Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God”. [ NJBC]

Verse 13: “born ... of God”: 3:3-8 attributes divine rebirth to the activity of the Holy Spirit. [ NJBC]

Verse 14: “the Word became flesh”: This goes beyond the Old Testament images of divine glory and Wisdom dwelling in Israel, as found in Exodus 25:8-9; Joel 3:17; Zechariah 2:10; Ezekiel 43:7; Sirach 24:4, 8, 10. The word translated here as “flesh” is sarx. [ NJBC]

Verse 14: “we have seen”: The witness of John and the Johannine community. [ NJBC]

Verse 14: “glory”: This is God’s glory as seen in Jesus and Jesus’ pre-existent glory with the Father. As Jesus looks up to heaven, he says to the Father: “So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed”, and a little later: “Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world” ( 17:5, 24). [ NJBC]

Verse 14: “grace”: Redeeming love.

Verse 14: “truth”: Faithfulness to his promises.

© Chris Haslam

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December 14
December 21
Christmas Set I
Christmas Set II
Christmas Set III
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