Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Take up your cross daily?

Luke 9 (23-25) says (quoting Yeshua):

"If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self?

Most christians believe and teach that this quote means that a person must be willing to give up their life (and indeed to die) for Yeshua. However, a close reading of this passage along with a sound understanding of Semitic idioms brings the true meaning to light.

First of all, we see the idiom “deny the self.” To the Semitic mind this is a simple enough idiom. It means “to set aside self interest.” This is precisely what is meant by the Semitic idiom “lose oneself.” A form of this idiom appears in this quote in the statement, “whoever loses his life for me…” Interestingly, in this passage, Yeshua uses this same phrase twice. Once to mean "deny the self," and once to mean "forfeit the soul." While the various Greek versions of this passage lose this subtlety, the Aramaic maintains it.

The extant Greek versions all say, in verse 24: apolesê tên psuchên - "[whoever] might lose his soul." In verse 25, they all say: eauton de apolesas - "himself, yet, losing." This shift from using the Greek word psuche for "self" to the pronoun eauton "himself" does two things. One, it undermines the wordplay here, and two it indicates that the intended meaning of psuche is indeed "self."

The Aramaic Peshitta, in verse 24, uses D'NaOB'eD N'PShH - "he is losing [his] self." In verse 25, it says: N'PShH DYN NaOB'eD "[his] soul, yet, he loses."

Plato, the foremost of the Greek philosophers, believed that the soul was a fallen divinity that had prior existence outside the body and that the soul contains all knowledge. He taught that it is up to each person to gnôti sauton - "come to know the self" - through reason and education. It was this self knowledge which led, in Plato's view to "inner harmony." Alternatively, Yeshua believed and taught that the way to shalowm - "harmony" is through service to others and to God, “denying” or “losing” the self. It is the idea of gnoti sauton that Yeshua is referring to here. He uses the word nephish to refer to both to the "self" of the Greek philosophers and the soul of the Hebrews-a clever wordplay.

Now, the word used for “cross” in Greek is Stauros – Greek – “a stake or post” from the Greek word, histemi “to stand.” Stauros does not mean “cross” per se. But, rather, it means “a standing beam.”

The Aramaic word for “to stand” is z’kaf.

In the Aramaic Peshitta, the words used for “take up his cross” are oon’sh’qool z’kifa.

Oon’sh’qool – “and he takes up (as with the hands)”

Z’kifa – n. “cudgel” “club” “rod” from the Aramaic word Z'KAF “to stand.” The word came to mean “rod” because Z’KAF, in addition to meaning “to stand” means “to lift up” or “to take up (as in one’s hand).”

A cudgel or rod was one of the primary tools of the shepherd. The rod specifically was used as a weapon to defend the flock. Idiomatically, to “take up the rod” was to pursue the work of the shepherd and defend the flock.

Thus, to the Semitic mind, what Yeshua was saying was that one must “take up his rod.” Now what does that mean exactly?

The scriptures say:

Exd 4:17 And thou shalt take this rod in thine hand, wherewith thou shalt do signs.

Exd 4:20 And Moses took his wife and his sons, and set them upon an ass, and he returned to the land of Egypt: and Moses took the rod of God in his hand.

Exd 7:20 And Moses and Aaron did so, as Yahweh commanded; and he lifted up the rod, and smote the waters that [were] in the river, in the sight of Pharaoh, and in the sight of his servants; and all the waters that [were] in the river were turned to blood.

Exd 17:5 And Yahweh said unto Moses, Go on before the people, and take with thee of the elders of Israel; and thy rod, wherewith thou smotest the river, take in thine hand, and go.

Num 17:9 And Moses brought out all the rods from before the LORD unto all the children of Israel: and they looked, and took every man his rod.

Num 20:11 And Moses lifted up his hand, and with his rod he smote the rock twice: and the water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their beasts [also].

Mar 6:8 And commanded them that they should take nothing for [their] journey, save a rod (rhabdos – “a rod”) only; no scrip, no bread, no money in [their] purse:

To “take up the rod” means to prepare to do the work of God. This at once demonstrates willingness and action.

In other words, in order to follow Yeshua, one need not be willing to die for him, but rather willing to live for him.

A better translation….

"If anyone would follow me, he must set aside his own self-interest and demonstrate willingness to work every day and accompany me. For whoever wants to be selfish will lose his soul, but whoever loses his self interest for me will preserve [his soul]. For, what good is it for a man to gain [even as much as] the entire universe, and yet lose his soul?"

Thursday, March 22, 2007

"My grace is sufficient for you."

Speaking of "a thorn in the flesh," Paul writes that he "beseeched the Lord three times that it would be removed from him," but that the Lord replied "my grace is sufficient for you." This is one of our translations at least. This phrase has generally been interpreted to mean that Paul should basically learn to live with his "thorn" and accept God's "grace" and be content with it.

But, this is not what Paul wrote nor what he meant. Remembering that Paul's thorn was a man who was tormenting the church, one can easily see from 2 Corinthians, that Paul's thorn was indeed removed.

Paul said that he was given "a thorn in the flesh," "lest I should be exalted above measure." In the Aramaic language (Paul's native tongue), the word for "exalted" is sageb "to raise up." Paul, here makes a play on words using this same Aramaic word in two senses. Sageb can also mean or "to defend" in the sense of raising up out of the way of danger. "To defend" is precisely the meaning of the Greek word arkeo, which is used in the Greek texts and normally translated as "sufficient."

What Pauls is saying in his clever wordplay is that he was given a "thorn in the flesh" so that he would not be "overly raised up" by men, and, though he asked God three times to remove the "thorn," God's reply was, "my grace will raise you up." A good English translation is "my grace will avail you."

In another wordplay, Paul contrasts the notion of "grace" with "rest." To the Semitic mind, "grace' is derived from the concept of "the hospitality of the nomad's camp" (Hebrew - chanan) where perfect shalom (harmony) is to be found. This is also what is meant by the Greek word (episkeenoo - to camp with) translated as "rest."

Yet another clarification is needed in order to explain this complex text. The word that Paul uses for "made perfect," or "made complete," is teleitai, the passive present form of the word teleioo. Now, although this word is often translated as "to make complete" or "to make perfect," the intent here is the passive form of "to accomplish."

mou gar dunamis en astheneia teleitai - "for my powerful deeds, with weakness are accomplished." What this means is that God, no matter how powerful he is, does not perform powerful acts without the help of his comparatively weak servants.

A better translation...

(7) ...that I should not be exalted (raised) too much, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, that I should not be exalted (raised) too much.
(8) Concerning this thing I implored the Lord three times, that it might depart from me.
(9) And he has said to me, "The hospitality of my camp will avail (raise) you: for my powerful deeds are accomplished with weakness." Most gladly therefore, I will rather rejoice in my weakness, so that the power of Christ may camp upon me.
(10) Because of this, I take pleasure with weaknesses, with insults, with dire needs, with persecutions, with distresses, for the sake of Christ. For when I may be weak, then I am capable.

Monday, March 12, 2007

A "thorn in the flesh?"

In 2 Corinthians 12:7, Paul writes

7 And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure.

Many Christians believe that this verse means that God wants some of us (Paul included) to stay sick. They say that Paul's "thorn in the flesh" was an eye disease, migraine, baldness or some other type of sickness, and that God refused to heal him, telling him “my grace is sufficient for you.”

However, the word “thorn” as an idiomatic expression, is never used in the Bible to mean a sickness or physical affliction.

Numbers 33:55 But if ye will not drive out the inhabitants of the land from before you; then it shall come to pass, that those which ye let remain of them shall be pricks in your eyes, and thorns in your sides, and shall vex you in the land wherein ye dwell.

Here, the “thorns” are people who have been allowed to remain in the land of Canaan to become an annoyance to the people of God.

Joshua 23:13 Know for a certainty that YAHWEH your God will no more drive out any of these tribes from before you; but they shall be snares and traps to you, and scourges in your sides, and thorns in your eyes, until you perish from off this good land which YAHWEH your God has given you.

Again, here, the “thorns” were people who have been allowed to remain in the land of Canaan being bothersome "scourages".

Judges 2:3 Wherefore I also said, I will not drive them out from before you; but they shall be as thorns in your sides, and their gods shall be a snare unto you.

Here also, the "thorns" refer to people who have been allowed to remain among the Israelites tripping up the people of God.

2 Samuel 23:6 But the sons of Belial shall be all of them as thorns swatted away, because they cannot be seized with hands:

Here, once more, David makes it clear that “thorns” are people (enemies) allowed to remain among the children of Israel. M,oreover, the Bible makes it clear that these people, in all cases, are a hindrance to the people of Israel, like thorns that must be swatted away because they cannot be seized. A modern idiom may be to compare them to gnats to be swatted away only to return.

So, it is clear that the Semitic idiom “thorn in the flesh/side/eye” refers to anoying people left to live, and cause trouble, among the saints. In fact, Paul's reference is a double insult. At once, a reference to troublemakers, and also a belittling comparison to a minor annoyance.

So, who was Paul’s thorn left among the Corinthians to torment them?

According to Acts 18:1-17, Paul visited Corinth on his second missionary journey and established a church there about AD 50. About five years later, in about AD 55, while in Ephesus, Paul heard of serious problems within the Corinthian church from “Chloe's people" and wrote a letter of instruction to them. He referred to this "previous letter" in 1 Corinthians 5:9. This “previous letter” no longer exists (perhaps, but at least one non-conanical version makes the claim).

Later, Paul was visited in Ephesus by Stephanas, Fortunatus and Achaicus (I Cor. 16:17), friends of Chloe of Corinth. On the basis of a second letter brought by them, and other information that reached him in Ephesus about problems in the church, Paul wrote what is now called 1 Corinthians in about A.D. 55 and sent it to Corinth via Timothy (I Cor. 4:17).

This letter, like the “previous” one was not successful and the situation grew worse. In fact, it seems to have stimulated rebellion against Paul's authority. In response Paul may have traveled to Corinth and certainly wrote a third letter to the Corinthians "out of much affliction and anguish of heart and with many tears." This third letter is referred to in 2 Corinthians 2:3-4, 9, and 7:8, 12. The text of this third letter is almost certainly the last four chapters (10 – 13) of 2 Corinthians, in which he refers to his principal tormenter as a “a thorn in my flesh; a messenger of Satan”

Titus visited Corinth with this "severe letter" in an attempt to reconcile the situation. Paul, in the mean time, was so anxious to hear from Titus that he left Ephesus traveling north to Troas seeking him (2 Cor. 2:13; 7:5, 13). Somewhere in Macedonia, probably Philippi, Paul received the good news from Titus of a change in attitude in the Corinthian church. The leader of rebellion, the “thorn in (Paul’s) flesh” had been rejected and disciplined. The church was once again open to Paul's counsel and desirous of his friendship.

Paul responded by writing what is now called the first 9 chapters of 2 Corinthians around A.D. 56 or 57. He eventually made a final visit to Corinth (Acts 20:1-3) during which he solidified his relationship with the church.

Because the “sorrowful letter” has been appended to 2 Corinthians, it has been mistakenly understood to have included the reference to some physical malady. However, if we understand this letter to have been written before the reconciliation, it is clear that the “thorn in the flesh” of Paul is his chief (yet unnamed) tormenter and opponent who was allowed to dwell (as all of Israel’s enemies) among the saints to “buffet” them.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Forever his mercy?

The Hodu cry of the Hillel (Psalm 118:1) says: "howdu layhwah ciy ´ tOV ciy l',owlaM Has'DO." - " Let us give thanks to Yahwah for [he is] good; for forever [is] his mercy."

Now, Websters defines "mercy" as: benevolence, mildness or tenderness of heart which disposes a person to overlook injuries, or to treat an offender better than he deserves; the disposition that tempers justice, and induces an injured person to forgive trespasses and injuries, and to forbear punishment, or inflict less than law or justice will warrant.

The remainder of Psalm 118 describes how Yahwah will provide a means for the writer (David) to destroy his enemies. Hardly an act of mercy.

The Hebrew word translated as "mercy," is chesed from the root chasad, a primative Hebrew root meaning, to bow by bending the neck.

But, can an all-powerful God be described properly as "bowing" rather than "merciful?" The answer, of course is yes! Once one understands that the semitic concept of chesed is more closely translated as "committed." God is committed to Shalowm. God has promised shalowm for those who take up his name. He is committed to this promise and this shalowm.

In the Hillel, David is praising this committment.

Forever is his commitment!
Mark of the Beast?

Many Christian groups believe in the so-called “mark of the beast”—a supposed mark or sign upon the forehead and hand of those who worship the image of the antichrist.
Revelation 13:16: “And the small and the great, and the rich and the poor, and the freemen and the slaves, it causes that they give to them all a mark on their right hand, or on their foreheads”
Of course, this interpretation fails to recognize a Hebrew idiom--"a mark upon the hand/head." In the old testament this idiom has a simple meaning. To have "a mark upon the head" means to recall that which the mark stands for, namely God's word. To have "a mark upon the hand" means to be marked for the work of God's word.

Exo 13:9 "Moreover, it will serve you as a sign on your hand and as a reminder between your eyes, so that Yahweh's Law may be on your lips; because with a strong hand Yahweh brought you out of Egypt.

Deu 11:18 Therefore, you are to store up these words of mine in your heart and in all your being; tie them on your hand as a sign; put them at the front of a headband around your forehead;
Therefore, the reference to the "mark of the beast" in Revelation means:

“And the small and the great, and the rich and the poor, and the freemen and the slaves, it causes that they give to them all to recall and do the work of his word.