Archives for posts with tag: Greek

I have just returned from vacation with my wife.  We had a great time.  I will again be leaving town for the Parish Life Conference in Houston, but I hope to keep the blog updated regularly this week.

Yesterday in the Orthodox Church we celebrated the feast of Pentecost, the descent of the Holy Spirit.  For those of you who heard my sermon yesterday, I apologize for repeating myself to you.  For those who did not hear it, I hope you find these comments helpful.  By the way, if you want to listen to the sermon in its entirety–or any sermon offered at St Mary, whether by me or our bishop or deacon or a guest homilist–check out our website at http://www.stmarywichita.org/sermons.html.  It is usually updated from the weekend by Monday or Tuesday.

In my sermon I tried to make the function of the Holy Spirit clear to my parishioners.  They have a great advantage over everyone else because they live in Kansas.  Why, might you ask?  Because in Kansas we understand what it is like to have a mighty wind.  In the Greek and Hebrew, the word translated as “spirit” (in reference to God’s Spirit) means “spirit,” “wind,” or “mighty wind.”  They are all one and the same word.  In relation to the Holy Spirit, this takes on great significance in two areas especially.

First, the wind cannot be controlled by human beings, or essentially anything else for that matter.  It blows where it wishes.  You cannot grasp the wind or stop it.  This is quite relevant to the function of the Holy Spirit in the Bible.  The Holy Spirit is uncontrollable.  He does what He wishes, when He wishes (of course, it is assumed He only acts in accordance with the will of the Father), irrespective of human thought or custom.  For example, in Genesis, God consistently chooses the younger rather than the older for the continuation of God’s promise and covenant.  This goes strongly against human convention at the time.  Another example: God decides to take His message to the Ninevites, a people despised by the Jews as we learn from the story of Jonah.  In the New Testament, God sends His Spirit upon the Gentiles equally to the Jews–the Jews cannot stop God from choosing the Gentiles just as He chose the Jews.  In yesterday’s reading, we also heard from the Pharisees that a prophet had never arisen from Nazareth.  Well, if God’s Spirit wants to blow on one from Nazareth and make him a prophet He will do so.  The consistent theme is this: the Spirit, just like the mighty wind of the Kansas tornadoes is unpredictable and unstoppable by us humans.  Therefore, we must always be ready for Him to blow where He wishes; we never know when He will raise a sinner to be a saint or bring in people who previously had been lost.  Consequently, we at all times must be prepared to welcome the sinner, the foreigner, and the stranger.

Second, as with the mighty wind, the Spirit can bring destruction.  The Holy Spirit blows a “gentle breeze” on those who follow God’s teaching, but on those who stubbornly refuse He wreaks havoc.  This is what St John the Baptist said would happen when Jesus “baptized with the Holy Spirit”: the threshing floor would be cleared with the wheat separated from the chaff.  If a tornado comes through Kansas, like it did so memorably this Pascha, we flee to our basement for shelter.  To be saved from the mighty tempest of God’s Spirit we have one protection: to walk in the commandments of God as taught to us most clearly by Jesus Christ.  In Ezekiel’s prophecy (which we read at Great Vespers of Pentecost), Ezekiel mentions that God will send His Spirit so we may walk in His commandments and keep His statutes (Ezekiel 36:27).  Jesus Himself mentions how the Spirit will remind us of all the things Jesus taught, so that we might walk in that way (John 14:26).

I know there is much more that could be said about the Holy Spirit, but for the time being I am limiting myself to these two key areas because I believe they are often overlooked.  Further, I think it is important to see that names are never chosen randomly or haphazardly in the Bible.  The Holy Spirit of God is thus called for specific reasons.  Namely, the Spirit functions as a mighty wind, with both the capability to bring about a gentle breeze or complete destruction.

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Yesterday’s Gospel reading in the Orthodox Church was John 4:5-42, the story of the Samaritan woman at the well.  The story is, of course, packed with meaning, but I would like to point out one interesting aspect that is frequently overlooked.

John 4 says Jesus came to a city of Samaria called Sychar.  To my knowledge, there is no historical evidence such a village existed.  This led some Church Fathers and scholars to conclude there is some sort of scribal error involved with Sychar.  However, I am inclined to think it is no error at all. 

The root of Sychar in Hebrew means to earn your living by working as a servant/slave.  It is this same word used in Genesis to describe the 14 years of Jacob’s labor to acquire Rachel.  In addition to this Sychar, several times throughout John 4 the Greek word “kopio” is used.  In verse 6 it is translated as “wearied” and in verse 38 several times as “labor.”  The word “kopio” is also used by St Paul in his epistles to speak of laboring for the Gospel.

One more thing to keep in mind is the play on the five husbands in the story.  The number five in Scripture is often a reference to the Torah, the five books of Moses (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy–the Mosaic Law).  Since the Samaritans only accepted the five books of Moses (and not the rest of the Old Testament), Jesus’ discussion here about the five husbands is likely referring to the woman being under bondage to the five books of Moses.  Remember, a woman during these times was legally subject to her husband, under his authority.

Based on this info, you can see how there is a play going on between Sychar and kopio.  The Sychar, the laboring to keep every aspect of the Mosaic Law, leads to bondage.  Drinking of that water leaves one thirsty, always needing to do more and more, work harder and harder.  On the other hand, the kopio, the laboring for the Gospel of grace, leads to freedom.  Those who drink of the Gospel’s waters will never be thirsty again.  They will reap that for which they had not labored (vs. 38) and, following this path of grace, will continue to kopio/labor for those who will come after them and reap of their work.

As Christians, this should be our worldview: freely you received, freely give (Matthew 10:8).  We have freely received God’s grace, so we must in turn labor to make this grace known to others–not only in our preaching, but through our works of love and mercy.

Yesterday our parish hosted our annual Mediterranean Festival.  It was another great year for us.  I would like to thank everyone who worked countless hours to make our event a success.

Speaking of yesterday, I want to highlight an interesting aspect of yesterday’s Epistle reading (according to the Orthodox lectionary).  We read Acts 9:32-42.  This passage speaks of the healing of Aeneas and the raising from the dead of Tabitha by the holy apostle Peter.

Here is what I find most fascinating about the passage: Aeneas is the name of a Trojan hero in Greek mythology (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aeneas).  He left the city of Troy and helped start Rome.  According to the myth, Aeneas is considered a progenitor of the Romans.  He was no small figure as both Julius Caesar and Augustus traced their lineage to him.  He was also the subject of Virgil’s Aeneid. 

So what makes this interesting in relation to the Bible is that the original readers of Acts almost certainly would have made a connection between the Aeneas of mythology and the Aeneas of Acts 9.  Thus, when the original reader heard, “Aeneas, Jesus Christ heals you” in Acts 9:34, they heard much more than we hear (unless it is explained to us).  They hear, “Aeneas, a founder of the Roman Empire/dynasty, you are healed by Jesus Christ.” 

The healing of Aeneas in Acts is written as an invitation to all Romans–and by extension, all nations (i.e. non-Jews/Gentiles)–to accept the healing provided by the teaching of the Jewish messiah, Jesus of Nazareth.

The main purpose of this blog, as I have mentioned before, is not to provide a full commentary on books of the Bible, but to highlight certain aspects of the Bible often overlooked by the average reader (and sometimes the average commentator).  Today’s post is quite short for this reason, but I did want to point out an interesting aspect to yesterday’s reading in the Orthodox Church.  We read Mark 15:43 – 16:8.  Much could be said about this passage, but I will limit myself to an important distinction made between 15:43 and 15:45.  This distinction is entirely lost in every English translation I have found.

In Mark 15:43, Joseph of Arimathea asks for the body (Gr. soma) of Jesus.  In Mark 15:45, English translations unfortunately translate like the NKJV: “[Pilate] granted the body to Joseph.”  This translation misses an important distinction.  The word translated as “body” in vs. 45 is actually the Greek word ptoma.  As you can see, this is an entirely different word than the soma in verse 43.  The Greek word ptoma means body/carcass.  So the translation as body is not entirely wrong, but it misses an important distinction made by Mark’s Gospel.  Someone hearing the Gospel in Greek would hear it similarly to how we would hear the following in English: Joseph asked for the body of Jesus…he was granted the carcass.

I personally believe the biblical writers chose every word carefully, and thus I think it was no accident Mark used two separate words in vss. 43 and 45.  The body (soma) of Christ is used in the New Testament as a reference to the Church.  In Mark 15:43, Joseph asks for the soma, but according to 15:45 he is granted not the soma/body, but the ptoma/carcass.  In other words, Christ’s body, the Church, is not granted to Joseph.  The body of Christ/the Church is directly under God and is not permitted for anyone to hold or control as their own, except God Himself.  To put it simply, we belong to the Church, the Church does not belong to us.