Jul
2022

“When God began to create . . .”

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FOREWORD: As many of you know, I have been working for some time on a book dealing with creation in Scripture.  I am planning to finish that book in December, and to see it in print next year.  Many of you have been praying for this project, and through your questions, comments, and discussion in classes and retreats have helped shaped my thinking.  Thank you!  This is a bit of my work in progress, dealing with the translation of the Bible’s first words.

 

Translation questions emerge with the very first word of the first creation story in Scripture. We are accustomed to reading Genesis 1:1 as a sentence, introducing the account that follows: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen 1:1 KJV, RSV, NIV, ESV). But in many recent translations, this verse is rendered not as a sentence, but as a dependent temporal clause: “When God began to create heaven and earth—the earth being unformed and void” (Gen 1:1-2 NJPS; compare  NRSVUE and CEB).

At issue is the first word in the MT, bereshit: reshit, “beginning,” with the prefixed preposition b, typically “in” or “with.” The problem is the absence of the article: as any beginning Hebrew student knows, were this word to be read unambiguously as “in the beginning,” it would be vocalized as bareshit. Without the article, the b should be read as “when” rather than “in,” making Gen 1:1 a clause providing “the temporal setting for the description of pre-creation elements in Gen 1:2” (David M. Carr, Genesis 1—11, International Exegetical Commentary of the Old Testament [Stuttgart: Kohlhammer, 2021], 47). It is true that Hebrew sometimes omits the article, particularly in poetry, so either translation is possible. But this unit is not poetry, and nowhere else in this first chapter has the article been omitted. With medieval Jewish commentators Rashi and ibn Ezra, we should render this first verse “When God began to create the heavens and the earth. . .”.

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Robert Jensen decries this shift in translation on theological grounds:

On the other hand, if we follow the creed’s unmitigated confession of God the Creator, we will read, ‘In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.’ Therewith we will do an intellectually and spiritually tremendous thing, for there can hardly be a proposition more upsetting to our inherited metaphysical assumptions . . . Christianity’s doctrine of creation presents a drastically revisionary metaphysics, a construal of reality that affirms an encompassing creaturely contingency: we and all our universe might not have been (Canon and Creed. Interpretation: Resources for the Use of Scripture in the Church [Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2010], 91).

Surely, whether we translate Gen 1:1 as an independent sentence or a temporal clause, the radical contingency of the world is the point of this first creation account—apart from God’s sovereign creative will and word, our ordered world would not be. But while creatio ex nihilo (“creation out of nothing”) is an important theological claim, to Muslims and Jews as well as to Christians, that is not what Genesis 1:1—2:4a is about. Quite apart from grammatical concerns, if our aim is to preserve creatio ex nihilo, translating Genesis 1:1 as a sentence is no real help. Genesis 1:2, with its description of uncreated watery chaos, already defeats that purpose, as the rabbis long ago realized. In Midrash Bereshit Rabbah 1:5, R. Huna says, “If it were not written, it would be impossible to say it. ‘In the beginning God created’ from what? ‘And the earth was empty [Hebrew tohu wabohu].’”  Creation begins with chaos.

The question posed by the beginning of the Bible is not, after all, “How, or from what, did God create the world?” Ancient people likely did not worry much about such abstract questions.  What they wanted, and needed, to know was more immediate and pressing: Will the sun rise again in the morning? Will the winter pass, and the spring come again? In short: is there a meaningful order to reality? The first creation account affirms that the world does make sense. God has established order, not chaos.

Artwork by Jackson Pollock, ORGANIZED CHAOS, Made of ACRYLIC ON CANVAS

The expression tohu wabohu (“formless void” in the NRSV) presents translation challenges of its own. The first term, tohu, occurs twenty times in Scripture, just over half of these in Isaiah alone (eleven times: Isa 24:10; 29:21; 34:11; 40:17, 23; 41:29; 44:9; 45:18-19; 49:4; 59:4). As used in these Old Testament contexts, tohu appears broadly to mean emptiness or nothingness: whether an empty, and so worthless, action (“I have spent my strength for nothing [Hebrew letohu], and vanity,” Isa 49:4 NRSV; cf. Isa 29:21; 40:7, 23); empty, vain idols (“Don’t turn aside to follow useless idols [Hebrew hattohu] that can’t help you or save you. They’re absolutely useless [Hebrew tohu]!,” 1 Sam 12:21 CEB; cf. Isa 41:29; 44:9); or an empty land (“God found Israel in a wild land—in a howling desert wasteland [Hebrew betohu],” Deut 32:10; cf. Ps 107:40; Job 6:18; 12:24). Apart from Gen 1:2, tohu is used three times in a context that refers to creation: Job 26:7; Isa 45:18-19, and Jer 4:23. Job 26:7 says of the Almighty, “He stretched the North [Hebrew Zaphon; evidently, God’s dwelling place; cf. Ps 48:1-2] over chaos [Hebrew tohu], hung earth over nothing.” From the anonymous prophet of the Babylonian exile called Second Isaiah, Isaiah 45:18-19 appears to relate not only to creation, but specifically to Genesis 1:

For this is what the Lord said, who created the heavens,
    who is God,
    who formed the earth and made it,
    who established it,
    who didn’t create it a wasteland [Hebrew tohu] but formed it as a habitation:
    I, the Lord, and none other!
I didn’t speak in secret
    or in some land of darkness;
I didn’t say to the offspring of Jacob,
    “Seek me in chaos [Hebrew tohu].”
I am the Lord, the one who speaks truth,
who announces what is correct (Isaiah 45:18-19 CEB).

Not only do the word tohu and God’s creation of the heavens and the earth (cf. Gen 1:1) connect these passages, but also the verb translated “create” in Isa 45:18 is bara’, the same verb used in Gen 1:1, 21; 2:3-4a. Here, as in the Job passage, tohu has cosmological implications: the NRSV translation “chaos” in Isa 45:18-19 seems apt.

The word bohu is found only three times in the Hebrew Bible, always following tohu: Genesis 1:2, Isaiah 34:11, and Jeremiah 4:23. Isaiah 34:11 comes from a bitter oracle against Edom (Isa 34:5-17), declaring its destruction as punishment for participating in Zion’s fall (for example, Ezek 35:1-15; Obad 10-16; Ps 137:7-9):

Screech owls and crows will possess it;
    owls and ravens will live there.
God will stretch over it the measuring line of chaos [tohu]
and the plummet stone of emptiness [bohu] over its officials.

Throughout this poem, wild animals and plants have taken over lands formerly inhabited by people, making clear that tohu and bohu refer to wilderness here.

Jeremiah 4:23-26 reads,

I looked at the earth,
and it was without shape or form [tohu wabohu];
        at the heavens
        and there was no light.
I looked at the mountains
    and they were quaking;
    all the hills were rocking back and forth.
 I looked and there was no one left;
    every bird in the sky had taken flight.
I looked and the fertile land was a desert;
    all its towns were in ruins
        before the Lord,
        before his fury.

Here as in the Isa 34:11, the context is a judgment oracle—indeed, a vision of judgment exacted not against a foreign enemy, but against Judah. Although there is no mention of creation in Jer 4:23, the allusions to Gen 1:1-3 are compelling: not only does this passage mention “heavens,” “earth,” and “light” (or rather, its absence), it is the only place in Scripture other than Gen 1:2 where the exact phrase tohu wabohu appears. As John Bright proposes in his classic commentary on Jeremiah,

in this poem, which is one of the most powerful descriptions of the Day of Yahweh in all prophetic literature, one might say that the story of Genesis i has been reversed: men, beasts, and growing things are gone, the dry land itself totters, the heavens cease to give their light, and primeval chaos returns. It is as if the earth had been ‘uncreated’; it is, if one cares to put it so, a ruin of ‘atomic’ proportions (Jeremiah, AB 21 [Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1965], 32-33)

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Intriguingly, the judgment oracle that opens the book of Zephaniah also speaks of “uncreation,” in terms that also appear to allude to Genesis 1:

I will wipe out everything from the earth, says the LORD.
         I will destroy humanity and the beasts;
        I will destroy the birds in the sky and the fish in the sea.
        I will make the wicked into a heap of ruins;
        I will eliminate humanity from the earth, says the LORD (Zeph 1:2-3).

Zephaniah 1:3 lists the living creatures created by God on the fifth (birds and fish) and sixth (land animals, and humans) days of creation (Gen 1:20-31). However, as Michael De Roche has observed, they are listed in reverse order, moving backwards through the list from humanity (“Zephaniah 1:2-3: The ‘Sweeping’ of Creation.” VT 30 [1980]:106–107), so that creation is undone. The psalms bracketing Nahum and Habakkuk (Nah 1:2-11; Hab 3), which come right before Zephaniah, are poems celebrating the Divine Warrior, evoking the theme of creation by combat.  The divine warrior who defeated chaos and brought an ordered world into being (Nah 1:3-4; Hab 3:8) can also undo that order and return the world to the chaos from which it came. In Zeph 1:2-3, as in Jer 4:23, Divine judgment is described as unmaking, the very opposite of creation: God’s ordered world returned to chaos.

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How, then, should we render tohu wabohu in Gen 1:2?   From his etymological research into tohu and bohu (The Earth and the Waters in Genesis 1 and 2: A Linguistic Investigation, JSOTSupp 8 [Sheffield: Sheffield Academic, 1989], 17-22), David Tsumura concludes “Hebrew tohu is based on a Semitic root *thw and means ‘desert’; the term bohu is also a Semitic term based on the root *bhw, ‘to be empty’” (Tsumura 1989, 155). Therefore, Tsumura insists “the phrase. . . has nothing to do with ‘chaos’ and simply means ‘emptiness’ and refers to the earth as an empty place, i.e., ‘an unproductive and uninhabited place’” (Tsumura 1989, 156). So too Claus Westermann insists tohu wabohu “is not a mythological idea but means desert, waste, devastation, nothingness” (Genesis 1—11: A Commentary, trans. John J. Scullion, S.J. [Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1984; from Biblischer Kommentar, Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener, 1974], 103).

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The Vulgate, which in Gen 1:2 reads vacua erat et nihili, “it was empty and worthless,” could support this reading: the pre-creation earth was desolate and lifeless—a desert hostile to life. Similarly, in both Gen 1:2 and Jer 4:23, the Aramaic Targums render tohu wabohu as tsadya’ waroqanya’, “desolate and empty.” The Greek Septuagint, intriguingly, has aoratos kai akarskeuatos, “unseen and unready” (Brenton’s delightful 1870 translation reads, “unsightly and unfurnished”!) in Gen 1:2, and the single word outhen, “nothing,” in Jer 4:23.  The Septuagint translators of Jeremiah treated tohu wabohu as a hendiadys: two words expressing a single idea. Indeed, Westermann proposed that bohu “is added only by way of alliteration” (Westermann 1984, 103). Accordingly, Robert Alter translates tohu wabohu in Gen 1:2 as “welter and waste” (The Hebrew Bible: A Translation with Commentary, Volume 1 [New York: W. W. Norton, 2019], 11), while William Brown proposes “void and vacuum” (The Seven Pillars of Creation: The Bible, Science, and the Ecology of Wonder [New York: Oxford, 2010], 34).

On the other hand, in its context in Genesis 1, tohu wabohu is immediately followed by a description of dark, restless, unruly water (Gen 1:2), which is most naturally read as a depiction of tohu wabohu. Together with the numerous clear parallels between Genesis 1:1—2:4a and the Enuma elish, this makes it difficult to hold, with Tsumura and Westermann, that tohu wabohu is not mythological, and has nothing to do with chaos. The “uncreation” texts in Jeremiah and Zephaniah support reading this phrase as chaos: the opposite of the ordered world, but out of which (as Bereshit Rabbah 1:5 reminds us) God’s creation has been established. The translation tradition going back to the KJV “without form, and void” seems valid (NRSV, “formless void,” CEB, “without shape or form,” JPSV, “unformed and void,” NIV “formless and empty,” NRSVUE, “without shape or form”). The point of Gen 1:1-2 is that the pre-creation world was chaos, upon which God’s word imposed order.

 

Yet, in this priestly vision of beginnings, not even chaos was devoid of Divine presence! For “God’s wind [Hebrew ruakh ‘elohim] swept over the waters” (Gen 1:2). The Hebrew ruakh is a marvelously multifaceted word. Its base meaning is “breath,” but by extension it can mean “wind,” or the enlivening and empowering agency within a person, hence “spirit” (as in the KJV and NIV; compare the use of the similarly mutifaceted Greek noun pneuma in John 3:5-6, 8). In Ezekiel’s vision of the dry bones, all three meanings of the word appear. Ezekiel prophesies to the four rukhot (the east, west, north, and south winds; Ezek 37:9), which blow over and into the corpses in the valley, filling them with ruakh (breath), so that “they came to life and stood on their feet, an extraordinarily large company” (Ezek 37:10). In the interpretation of this vision, the LORD promises the exiles, “‘I will put my breath [Hebrew rukhi]  in you, and you will live. I will plant you on your fertile land, and you will know that I am the LORD. I’ve spoken, and I will do it. This is what the LORD says” (Ezek 37:14).

In Genesis 1:2 as well, we need not choose one meaning over the others: it is likely that all three meanings are present at once. The wind has mythic resonances with the Babylonian creation epic Enuma elish, where Marduk wields the winds as a weapon against the sea monster Tiamat. However, it is also appropriate to see this breeze as breathed by God onto the waters, and to understand ruakh as expressive of God’s spirit—God’s presence and person—even here.

Jun
2022

Juneteenth

Title: Lift Every Voice and Sing, or, The Harp [Click for larger image view]

FOREWORD: I am re-sharing this post from last year regarding what Juneteenth means, and why it matters to us all.  Pray, friends, for peace with justice, and for the willingness to let God send us forth, giving those prayers hands and feet and a public voice.

 

June 19th has long been a famous day in the African-American community, where it is remembered and celebrated as “Juneteenth.” In recent days, more and more white Americans have been brought to realize the significance of this day, as tragic events have brought forcefully and painfully to our national attention America’s original sin of racism and injustice. Juneteenth recalls June 19, 1865, when Union soldiers, led by Major General Gordon Granger, landed at Galveston, Texas with news that the war was over, and that the enslaved were now free. This was over two months after the surrender of General Robert E. Lee on April 9, 1865, and two and a half years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, delivered on January 1, 1863. Yet Black Americans in Galveston remained enslaved until the arrival of General Granger’s regiment overcame local resistance to the idea of liberation.

General Granger issued General Order Number 3, which began:

 

The people of Texas are informed that in accordance with a Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and free laborer.

 

Perhaps we should not be surprised that freedom came so late to Galveston. After all, while the decades following the Civil War saw the passage of the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments to the Constitution, promising freedom and equality, they also saw the betrayal of that promise, as with at best the indifference, and at worst the connivance of the federal government, the rights that the Constitution conveyed to all Americans were denied.

Corridor in the National Memorial for Peace and Justice

Whatever the Constitution said, the social norms of white supremacy were codified in Jim Crow laws, and enforced by horrific violence. The Equal Justice Initiative’s National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama honors the memory of more than 4,400 black people lynched in the United States–hanged, burned, murdered, tortured to death– between 1877 and 1950.

 

That legacy of violence is not past. In this past year alone, the lynching of Ahmaud Arbery, the police killings of Breonna Taylor and Rayshard Brooks, and most of all, the horrific videos of George Floyd‘s public murder by a Minneapolis police officer, prompted not only a national, but a world-wide outcry against racial injustice and police brutality.  Yet sadly, even as justice has prevailed in some of these cases, it remains deferred in others–while new acts of racist violence continue to arise.

 

Some readers of this blog may be wondering what any of this has to do with the Bible, which is after all the subject of this blog. That, as it happens, is a very good question. It is no accident that nineteenth-century abolitionists did not base their arguments on Scripture. The bulk of the biblical witness seemed to be on the opposite side of the issue–indeed, African slavery was justified then on biblical grounds.  After all, both testaments assume the existence of slavery, and the New Testament repeatedly urges slaves to be obedient to their masters (Eph 6:5; Col 3:22; 1 Peter 2:18).

 

While I was studying for my doctorate at Union Theological Seminary in Virginia, my library carrel was for a time near a tall shelf of books written by Bible scholars teaching and writing at that distinguished Southern school in the years prior to the Civil War. Their books noted, rightly, that the Bible never challenges the institution of slavery. Indeed, some argued that slavery had been a boon for the African people, civilizing these savages and introducing them to the Christian gospel.

 

What those white antebellum Bible scholars could not see, but new African American Christians could, were texts such as Paul’s statement, “There is neither Jew nor Greek; there is neither slave nor free; nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:28). Somehow those distinguished Bible scholars could not see that the heart of the Hebrew Bible–called by philosopher Emil Fackenheim the “root experience” of the Jewish people–was the exodus out of Egypt: God’s action to set slaves free.  Sadly, it still remains possible for us to read the Bible from cover to cover and somehow miss the passion for justice that runs like a river from Genesis to Revelation. Similarly, in white America, racism remains invisible to those who, thanks to white privilege, do not–or cannot–see it, over 150 years after that first Juneteenth.

 

Community and equality, cooperation and justice, mutual respect and mutual regard are biblical principles. Far from being unreachable ideals, they are the only way that the world truly works, reflecting the identity of the Creator, who is in Godself a community of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. When any culture elevates one person, class, or race over another, and exalts taking and having over giving and sharing, life itself breaks down. No wonder our economy, our world, and our church are in trouble!

Joe Biden

Thursday, June 17, 2021, President Joe Biden signed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act, in the East Room of the White House, in Washington, Making Juneteenth at last federal holiday.  This Juneteenth, may we Christians embrace the message of freedom which is at the core of the gospel. As Jesus Christ himself has said,” you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. . . . Therefore, if the Son makes you free, you really will be free” (John 8:31-36).

AFTERWORD:

The photograph at the head of this blog is from “Art in the Christian Tradition,” an on-line gallery linked to the lectionary, managed by The Vanderbilt Divinity School Library. The image comes from The Crisis, the magazine of the NAACP, April 1939. The sculpture by Augusta Savage (1892-1962) appeared in the 1939 New York World’s Fair. It is called “Lift Every Voice and Sing, or, The Harp,” and was inspired by James Weldon Johnson and J. Rosamond Johnson’s hymn, “Lift Every Voice:” sometimes called the African American national anthem.

Jun
2022

The Words, and the Word

2,690 Scribe Stock Photos, Pictures & Royalty-Free Images - iStockThis past Sunday was Trinity Sunday.  The lectionary  readings for the day were apt expressions of the mystery of the Divine life.  But I can imagine some readers wondering why 1 John 5:6-8, which in the King James Version clearly confesses the Trinity, was not chosen:

This is he that came by water and blood, even Jesus Christ; not by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is truth.  For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one.  And there are three that bear witness in earth, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one.

The reference to the Trinity in the KJV, which I have placed in bold-faced type, does not appear in the CEB, or indeed in any modern English translation of 1 John.  But that is not because of some conspiracy among Bible translators who do not believe in the Trinity!  While this verse is included in Erasmus’ Textus receptus (“the received [and therefore presumably authoritative] text,” 1516), it is not found in the oldest and best texts of this book.  Indeed, it does not appear in any Greek text of 1 John before the 14th century, and appears only in late texts of the Latin Vulgate (see the detailed discussion in A Textual Commentary on the New Testament, Bruce M. Metzger [London: United Bible Societies, 1975], 715-17).  Simply put, this neat Trinitarian confession does not belong to 1 John, but rather reflects later Christian reflection on that text.  Modern translators are right to exclude it.

Since we do not have the single, pristine, “original” text of ANY biblical book, New Testament or Old, responsible Bible scholars encounter this sort of problem all the time.   For every passage of Scripture, we have multiple witnesses, among which we must choose. This study is called text criticism. 

 

The best concise statement I know of why text criticism matters comes from Julia O’Brien: “Knowing what words are in the text is often as complex as understanding what those words mean” (The Oxford Handbook of the Minor Prophets, ed. Julia M. O’Brien [Oxford: University Press, 2021], xxii).  Before deciding how best and most faithfully to render the Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek text into clear and understandable English, we need first to determine what the best text is: which words to translate. Heavenly Jerusalem | Fol. 140v | The Morgan Library & Museum

For example, consider the climax of John’s vision of the world to come in Revelation 21.  Here, the New Jerusalem is a massive golden cube, 1,500 miles long, wide, and high (Rev 21:16)!  The most likely parallel for John’s image is the inner room of the temple, called the Most Holy Place: a perfect cube, with walls were covered in gold (1 Kgs 6:20; Ezek 41:4; see Craig Koester, Revelation, AB 38A [New Haven: Yale, 2014], 816] and Mathias Rissi, The Future of the World: An Exegetical Study of Revelation 19.11-22.15, Studies in Biblical Theology, Second Series 23 [Napierville, IL: Allenson, 1972], 62-63).  John tells us, “I didn’t see a temple in the city, because its temple is the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb” (Rev 21:22). But indeed, the entire city is the holy dwelling place of God, where all God’s people are invited to live.

As in Ezekiel’s vision of the ideal city, John’s new Jerusalem has twelve gates, named with the names of the twelve tribes of Israel (see Ezek 48:30-35). But in John’s vision, these gates are never shut (Rev 21:25)–which, since the whole reason for gates is to control access to the city, subverts their purpose entirely!  The light of God’s glory streams its invitation out of the open gates into the world outside, and John says, “The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. . . . People will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations” (Rev 21:24-26, emphasis mine).  Who are these people, outside the city, but now invited to enter it?  As the nations and their kings have just been thrown into the lake of fire (Rev 20:11-15), what are we to make of this extraordinary claim?

If you read this passage in the KJV, that question never emerges.  There, Revelation 21:24  reads “And the nations of them which are saved shall walk in the light of it” (emphasis mine). Holbein-erasmus.jpg As with 1 John 5:7, this translation is not based on any ancient Greek text of Revelation, but on Erasmus’ sixteenth-century Textus receptus.  Erasmus inserts ton sozomenon (“the ones who are saved”) after ta ethne (“the nations”) in Revelation 21:24. Neither the Latin Vulgate nor the majority Byzantine Greek text have this addition.  Nestle-Aland’s critical edition of the Greek New Testament Novum Testamentum Graece doesn’t mention this insertion, even as a minor variant to be considered, and Metzger’s Textual Commentary doesn’t even discuss it.

So why did Erasmus add these words to the text of Revelation?  Likely because he believed that John must have intended something like this.  Otherwise Revelation  21:24 contradicts the last chapter regarding the fate of the nations. Erasmus may have been right to resolve this conflict–but what if he wasn’t?  What if the text actually is contradictory, and ambiguous?  The evidence of the best text of Revelation forces us to confront that apparent contradiction, and ask what it may mean.  What if, in the end, God in God’s sovereign freedom includes even those once thought excluded? Why Does Small Group Bible Study Matter? - Topical Studies So, what does text criticism mean to Bible students who do not know the original languages, and so lack access to the many texts behind the text on the page?  First, the King James should not be your go-to study Bible.  The language of the King James is beautiful and poetic: more often than not, the passages I have committed to memory are from its pages!  For its day, the King James was an excellent translation.  However, quite apart from the fact that we no longer speak in King James English, the translators in 1611 simply lacked access to the many ancient texts now available.  Indeed, the oldest Hebrew manuscripts extant, the so-called Dead Sea Scrolls from Qumran, were unknown before the mid-twentieth century.

So, what should be your go-to study Bible?  I recommend the Common English Bible for ease of reading (it is my go-to reference for Bible quotes in this blog), and the New Revised Standard Version for serious study.  Comparing multiple translations is a good policy–but only if you are careful not simply to select from among them the reading we like the best!  Instead, ask why the translations differ?  What could account for the choices the translators have made? Some guidance to answering that question may come from the introduction in the front matter of your Bible, which discusses the translation team’s intentions and philosophy.

Any responsible translation will also include text notes on each page, marked like footnotes.  For example, on 1 John 5:7, a text note in the NRSV reads, “Other ancient authorities read (with variations) There are three that testify in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit, and these three are one. And there are three that testify on earth:”.  In the NIV, the note is more detailed: ” Late manuscripts of the Vulgate testify in heaven: the Father, the Word and the Holy Spirit, and these three are one. And there are three that testify on earth: the (not found in any Greek manuscript before the fourteenth century).”  Always make certain to check the text notes, to see what other options the translators had to consider.  I should note, by the way, that neither the NRSV, the NIV, nor the CEB has a text note on Rev 21:24, but that in itself tells us something: none of these teams of translators believed the added words in the KJV to be worthy of comment.

Finally, a good study Bible, with detailed footnotes, will discuss in greater depth the issues involved, including text-critical questions. I recommend the HarperCollins Study Bibleprepared under the auspices of the Society of Biblical Literature. This edition of the NRSV has lots of maps, charts, and other helps, but the best parts are the extended introduction to each book of the Bible, and the footnotes: a third or more of every page, providing cross-references, further information pertaining to the history back of the text, and in many cases, additional insight into the translation.  In some cases, the author of the introduction and notes on a book is the person primarily responsible for the translation of that book in the NRSV (for example, my late mentor S. Dean McBride in Deuteronomy), so that you can get straight from the horse’s mouth the reasons behind the choices made.

Determining, in O’Brien’s words, “what words are in the text” requires expert knowledge–and even experts may disagree as to their resolution. However, every reader of Scripture needs to be aware that these issues exist.  Believers come to the Bible in order to hear God’s Word for us.  But in order to hear the Word in Scripture, we must first be clear on the words of Scripture.

AFTERWORD:

For my jiffy summary evaluation of a number of Bible translations and paraphrases, enter “Which Bible?” in the search window above, or follow these links: “Which Bible?“;  “Which Bible? Part Two“; “Which Bible? Part Three“; “Which Bible? Part Four.”

Jun
2022

In Our Own Languages!

 

Sunday is Pentecost, which means that bewildered lay readers (and more than a few preachers!) across the church will once again be wrestling with the jawbreaking, tongue-tangling list of place names (go here for pronunciation help) in Acts 2:7-11.

They were surprised and amazed, saying, “Look, aren’t all the people who are speaking Galileans, every one of them?  How then can each of us hear them speaking in our native language?  Parthians, Medes, and Elamites; as well as residents of Mesopotamia, Judea, and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the regions of Libya bordering Cyrene; and visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism), Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the mighty works of God in our own languages!”

This concatenation of unfamiliar (to us, at least) places makes an important point.  Pentecost (called Shavuot, or the Feast of Weeks, in Judaism) was one of the pilgrim feasts, when Jews able to make the journey were to come to Jerusalem for the celebration (Deuteronomy 16:16; Exodus 23:14-17; 34:18-23). So Jewish pilgrims from all over the Roman world (and, in the case of the Parthians at least, even from beyond the empire) were gathered for Pentecost in Jerusalem’s streets.

People in Jerusalem at Pentecost Map - Acts 2 Nations of PentecostMeanwhile, Jesus’ followers were waiting in Jerusalem as he had commanded them (Luke 24:49), praying in an upper room.

Suddenly a sound from heaven like the howling of a fierce wind filled the entire house where they were sitting.  They saw what seemed to be individual flames of fire alighting on each one of them.  They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages as the Spirit enabled them to speak (Acts 2:1-4).

Boiling out of the upper room and into the streets, Jesus’ followers crashed into that polyglot crowd–and those pilgrims from distant lands discovered, to their astonishment, that they could understand these Galileans perfectly: “’we hear them declaring the mighty works of God in our own languages!’(Acts 2:11).

The "Little" Tower of Babel - Pieter Bruegel the Elder, 1563 ...

Luke’s account of Pentecost plainly alludes to the Babel story in Genesis 11:1-9.  But too often, preachers and teachers of Scripture (including me!) have described what happened on Pentecost as undoing the curse of Babel, as though cultural, racial, and linguistic diversity were problems to overcome.  But that is not at all what Luke says!  This passage does not say that the people all started speaking the same language—that their cultural and ethnic distinctiveness was denied or undone. The Spirit does not return them to “one language and the same words” (Genesis 11:1). Instead, each group hears God’s praise in its own language.

We should not be surprised that the members of the Pentecost crowd all hear the Gospel in their own languages. The entire Bible models for us how to escape what Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie calls the danger of a single story.  Scripture rarely gives us a single story about anything!  At the beginning of our Bible, we find two different accounts of the creation of the world (Genesis 1:1—2:4a and  Genesis 2:4b-25).   Our New Testament opens with four gospels, presenting four quite different accounts of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.

Scripture itself, by its very structure, calls for us to listen with open ears and open hearts for the truth told, not as a single story, but as a chorus of voices.  Sometimes those voices are in harmony, sometimes they are in dissonance, but always they are lifted in praise to the God who remembers all our stories, the comedies and tragedies alike, and catches them up together in love, forgiveness, and grace–as Luke’s account of Pentecost goes on to show.

Peter responds to the confused crowd’s questions with a sermon (Acts 2:17-21) based on a remarkable little book of prophecy, the book of Joel:

After that I will pour out my spirit upon everyone;
        your sons and your daughters will prophesy,
        your old men will dream dreams,
        and your young men will see visions.
In those days, I will also pour out my
    spirit on the male and female slaves.

I will give signs in the heavens and on the earth—blood and fire and columns of smoke. The sun will be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood before the great and dreadful day of the Lord comes. But everyone who calls on the Lord’s name will be saved (Joel 2:28-32 [Hebrew 3:1-5]).

The setting for Joel is a locust plague, which has decimated Judah.  After the swarm has passed, and the locusts all are gone, reassurance is offered to the community, the “children of Zion” (Joel 2:23), who twice are promised, “my people shall never again be put to shame” (Joel 2:26, 27).

But Joel’s audience also learns that they are part of a larger community than they had realized.  The “children of Zion,” called “my people” by the Lord, turn out to include far more than the adult men of the worshipping congregation!  Women, children, the aged, slaves:  all are a part of God’s congregation, upon whom God will pour out God’s Spirit–and as my dear friend and former pastor Ron Hoellein often says, “All means all.”  The Hebrew Bible emphasizes the importance of this affirmation by a chapter break: Joel 2:28-32 in our English Bibles (following the Latin Vulgate) is Joel 3:1-5 in Hebrew (the English Bible’s chapter 3 is Joel 4 in the Hebrew Bible).

Joel reminds us that we too belong to a larger community than we had realized.  We may have forgotten that—I confess that often I have forgotten that.  We succumb to the temptation to define our community too narrowly, as including only those like us, whether ethnically or ideologically or theologically.

This Pentecost weekend marks the gathering of the United Methodist annual conference in Western Pennsylvania, a meeting held in the shadow of schism, as many of our churches will likely join the newly-formed Global Methodist Church.

Myranda Raymond, right, of the South Hills crosses the Andy Warhol Bridge during the 2021 Pittsburgh pride parade.

Also this weekend, the Pittsburgh Pride march will be held on Saturday, in support of LGBTQ+ folk: a striking juxtaposition, as the new Methodist denomination is forming in large part to escape the continuing controversy in United Methodism surrounding the full inclusion of those very persons.

There may be no stopping that schism.  But in the days and weeks to come, friends, we must learn to listen to one another—not to agree, necessarily, but to listen, to learn, and to understand. Like Joel’s audience, and Peter’s centuries later, we today need to hear God’s promise of deliverance and freedom from shame. But we cannot experience those blessings separately and severally. They are not offered to us in that way. God calls us, not to homogeneity, but to unity in diversity.  We must find our salvation together.

May
2022

God and Guns

Here in the U.S., Monday is Memorial Day: a day for remembering and honoring the deaths of soldiers, sailors, and pilots who fought for freedom. It is good, and right, that we do so.  If you are a veteran, or if you are mourning today for a beloved veteran, thank you and God bless you for sacrificially following your calling.

But it is also right for us to remember that, in the Christian calendar, Tuesday May 31 is the Visitation of Mary, expectant mother of Jesus, to Elizabeth her cousin–also pregnant with her son, John the Baptist.  The Visitation is a celebration of God’s gift of new life.  It is also the occasion for Luke’s Song of Mary (Luke 1:46-55), often called the Magnificat after its opening in Latin, Magnificat anima mea Dominum (in the KJV, “My soul doth magnify the Lord”).  Here is the whole song, from the Common English Bible:

With all my heart I glorify the Lord!
    In the depths of who I am I rejoice in God my savior.
He has looked with favor on the low status of his servant.
    Look! From now on, everyone will consider me highly favored
        because the mighty one has done great things for me.
Holy is his name.
    He shows mercy to everyone,
        from one generation to the next,
        who honors him as God.
He has shown strength with his arm.
    He has scattered those with arrogant thoughts and proud inclinations.
    He has pulled the powerful down from their thrones
        and lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things
    and sent the rich away empty-handed.
He has come to the aid of his servant Israel,
        remembering his mercy,
    just as he promised to our ancestors,
        to Abraham and to Abraham’s descendants forever.

The Magnificat (the Presbyterian hymnal has a lovely and vigorous setting of this passage!) draws freely in style and imagery on the Song of Hannah, mother of Samuel (1 Samuel 2:1-10), although Hannah’s song is a bit more specific as to how God intends to upend the seats of the powerful:

The bows of mighty warriors are shattered,
    but those who were stumbling now dress themselves in power! (1 Samuel 2:4).

A woman kneels as she pays her respects in front of crosses with the names of children killed outside of the Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas Thursday, May 26, 2022. Law enforcement authorities faced questions and criticism Thursday over how much time elapsed before they stormed the Texas elementary school classroom and put a stop to the rampage by a gunman who killed 19 children and two teachers. (AP Photo/Dario Lopez-Mills)

The notion of God shattering the weapons of war speaks powerfully to me after these last two weeks.  First, a racist massacre at a Tops Grocery store in Buffalo, New York, perpetrated by an 18-year-old white nationalist who “wore body armor, tactical gear and a helmet, officials said, and carried a Bushmaster XM-15 semiautomatic rifle, modified to hold high-capacity magazines.”  Then, another racially-motivated attack at a Taiwanese Presbyterian church in Laguna Woods, California, carried out by a Chinese man armed with two handguns.  Now, this week, yet another horrific school shooting: 19 elementary school children and two adults gunned down for no apparent reason in Uvalde, Texas by an 18-year-old armed with an AR-15 assault rifle.  The same weapon was used nearly ten years ago when another gunman massacred 26 people, including 20 first-graders, at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Since then, there have been over 900 school shootings: Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida; Santa Fe High School in Texas; Oxford High School in Michigan; and FAR too many more.

At N.R.A. Convention, the Blame Is on ‘Evil,’ Not Guns

Meanwhile, also this week in Texas, the National Rifle Association convention continued unimpeded by these tragedies.

One by one, the gun rights activists and politicians who showed up at the National Rifle Association convention on Friday said they were appalled, horrified and shaken by the massacre of 19 children and two adults a few days earlier in Uvalde, Texas.
One by one, they then rejected any suggestion that gun control measures were needed to stop mass shootings. They blamed the atrocities on factors that had nothing to do with firearms — the breakdown of the American family, untreated mental illness, bullying on social media, violent video games and the inexplicable existence of ‘evil.’
Above all, they sought to divert pressure to support popular overhauls like expanded background checks by seizing on the issue of school safety, amid reports that the gunman in Uvalde gained easy access to Robb Elementary School through an unguarded door.
Former President Donald J. Trump, speaking at the event’s keynote session late Friday, called for “impenetrable security at every school all across our land,” adding that “schools should be the single hardest target.”
Friends, I refuse to believe that Americans are more evil, or more prone to mental illness, than folk in other nations; nor do I accept that the family is in worse shape here than elsewhere–yet, these repeated mass shootings do not happen anywhere else. Nor do I accept that our schools and churches need to become “hard targets,” like armed camps or fortresses–and in any case, such measures have been tried, and have failed.  As David Von Drehle of the Washington Post writes,
The milling cops outside the school are a strong reply to those who say the solution to mass shootings is to have more people with guns in our schools and churches, our concert venues and grocery stores. Judging from the videos posted to social media by confounded onlookers, there was no shortage of guns in Uvalde — only a shortage of officers willing to run inside and attempt to shoot a young man who was shooting back at them. “If they proceeded any further not knowing where the suspect was at, they could’ve been shot,” Texas Department of Public Safety spokesman Chris Olivarez explained on CNN. “They could’ve been killed.” Realistically, how confident can we be that schoolteachers, lunchroom cooks, church ushers or produce stockers will be any better prepared to draw down and do battle than those trained professionals in Uvalde?
Prayer is certainly needed.  However, we must head the wise advice of my former student and colleague in ministry Jeff Schooley:
“Thoughts and prayers” should be heard for what it is – “thoughtless prayers.”  You want to address the Divine in prayer? Good! But don’t be so thoughtless as to think the Divine has not already addressed you back.  Though it is not without irony, I can assure you – as both a pastor and a Christian – that it is possible to use prayer as a way of ignoring God; to keep talking to the Divine so that you aren’t burdened with having to listen in response.
A fine model for avoiding “thoughtless prayers” is this one, from the National Council of Churches:

May be an image of text that says 'PRAYER FOR UVALDE, TEXAS National Council Churches Almighty God, there are no words sufficient for the horror of this act. We weep for these dear, innocent ones just as Jesus wept for His friend, Lazarus. Comfort all who ache with overwhelming pain from this evil act. Give us the strengh to meet their needs in this moment and be with all who struggle through this extended time of grief. Give us the courage to take bold steps to do all that we can to make sure this never happens again. Amen'

We must be willing to put feet and hands to our prayers–to be a part of God’s solution.  And God’s solution, friends, is right there in the Magnificat. Our God is a God who takes sides, with the powerless against the powerful, with the oppressed against the oppressor, with the victims, and against the guns.  As Hannah knew, our God’s intent is to shatter the weapons of the warriors.  On this Memorial Day weekend, perhaps we can resolve at least to keep weapons of war on the battlefield where they belong, and out of our schools, churches, and grocery stores.

AFTERWORD:

The statue that I have used to represent Mary and Elizabeth’s encounter is Two Women” (ca. 1950-1960), by Charles LePlae.  It stands outside the Openluchtmuseum voor Beeldhouwkunst Middelheim (Antwerp, Belgium).  I found this image in Vanderbilt Library’s wonderful online resource “Art in the Christian Tradition,” which is linked to the lectionary.  Also from that lectionary site comes this beautiful prayer for the Visitation of Mary:

Blessed God,
who invited us to be handmaids of your creative power:
Bless us as you blessed Hannah, Elizabeth, and Mary,
filling our barren hearts with your fertile word,
nurturing faith within us,
sustaining us as we ripen with hope,
until your desire calls us to the time of labor,
and we give birth to your incarnate love. Amen.
May
2022

On NOT Being Warriors

 

Recently, I was captivated by a quote from A. J. Jacobs, the author of The Year of Living Biblically (2007), regarding his most recent book, The Puzzler (2022):

I’m an advocate of what I call the Puzzle Mindset. Instead of seeing the world as a series of hard-to-win battles, I try to view it as a puzzle–to see the world through the eyes of an engineer, not a warrior.  Even using the word puzzle can help. When I hear about the climate crisis, I want to curl up in a fetal position. But if I think about the climate puzzle, I feel motivated to find solutions.

As a Bible Guy, I tend to think biblically–in terms of texts and images from Scripture.  So Jacobs’ challenge “to see the world through the eyes of an engineer, not a warrior” got me thinking about martial metaphors in Scripture.  The earliest passages in the Bible celebrate God as the Divine Warrior: the Song of Deborah in Judges 5; the song of David in 2 Samuel 22//Psalm 18; the psalm in Habakkuk 3; Psalm 68; and in particular, the oldest passage in Scripture, Exodus 15:1-18, the Song of the Sea.

I will sing to the Lord, for an overflowing victory!
    Horse and rider he threw into the sea!

The Lord is a warrior;
    the Lord is his name.

Pharaoh’s chariots and his army he hurled into the sea;
    his elite captains were sunk in the Reed Sea.
The deep sea covered them;
    they sank into the deep waters like a stone (Exod 15:1, 3-5).

 

Unfortunately, because we so readily think of our world as “a series of hard-to-win battles,” and so of life as combat, we are likely to forget that this ancient biblical metaphor is a metaphor, and to embrace it uncritically.  A personal example of this tendency takes me back eight years, to the time soon after my ankle replacement surgery.

I remember waking up on one morning to the realization that my leg was itching under the cast, where I couldn’t reach.  It was driving me crazy.  I twisted my leg inside the cast, got up, stomped around on the walker–and then realized that I would be trapped in that cast for another three weeks.

I sat in my recliner with the offending limb stuck up in the air, trying to read, trying to pray–trying desperately to think about something, anything, other than my leg–to no avail.  I imagined that ants were crawling around on my leg under the cast.  I began to have trouble breathing.  My heart was racing.  I was disoriented.  I thought, “I am having a panic attack.  This must be what a panic attack feels like.”

Then I thought about my son Sean.  Sean has wrestled since childhood with Tourette Syndrome and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.  Along the way, he has learned not only to cope, but to thrive.  So I asked him if he could teach me how to fight my obsession with my leg’s discomfort.

Sean’s answer astonished me.  He said he had learned that you can’t fight obsessive thoughts: “They just come.”  What you can do is rob those thoughts of the emotions and anxiety associated with them.  To do that, Sean taught me, you first relax your body and your mind.  Then, you let the forbidden thought come: you deliberately think about what you do not want to think about.  As you do so, you keep breathing slowly; you deliberately relax, and so replace the anxiety with calm.  Sean suggested that I think, “My leg is uncomfortable, but that really doesn’t matter!”

Pin on My Catholic Faith

That night, when my leg itched, I didn’t try to fight it.  I breathed slowly, in and out, praying the Jesus Prayer in time with my breathing: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, be merciful to me, a sinner.”  I thanked God for my healing.  I thought about the hundreds of other people who had had this same surgery, and had come through this period of recovery just fine.  I told myself, “My leg is uncomfortable, but that really doesn’t matter.”  And I fell asleep–the most restful sleep I had had since coming home from the hospital.

Over the next three weeks, I continued to practice my prayer and meditation, and bit by bit, my leg stopped bothering me.  It didn’t become magically more comfortable, or less prone to itching, but I stopped worrying about it.  I “won” the fight when I stopped fighting!

Debating the debate over the Russian war in Ukraine | Russia-Ukraine war | Al Jazeera

Please do not misunderstand me.  I do not question society’s need for warriors.  Undoubtedly, there are times when resistance to political and social evil requires a militant response: as is the case today in Ukraine.  But under the dominant influence of the martial metaphor, resistance to any evil becomes a war: the War on Drugs, the War on Crime, the War on Terror.  Theologian Walter Wink called this seductive notion the “myth of redemptive violence”:

Violence is the ethos of our times. It is the spirituality of the modern world. It has been afforded the status of a religion, demanding from its devotees absolute obedience to death. . . Violence is so successful as a myth precisely because it does not appear mythic in the least. Violence simply appears to be the nature of things. It is what works. It is inevitable, the last and, often, the first resort in conflicts (Walter Wink, Engaging the Powers: Discernment and Resistance in a World of Domination [Minneapolis: Fortress, 1992], 23).

Me, Myself, and Bob: A True Story About Dreams, God, and Talking Vegetables: Vischer, Phil: 9781595551221: Books - Amazon

In a seventeen-minute video appeal to his fellow Evangelicals, Phil Vischer, creator of the wonderful Veggie Tales series, briefly summarizes the horrific history of race in America–faulting, in particular, the martial metaphor.  The War on Crime and the War on Drugs, he argues, led us to militarize our police, and to criminalize and incarcerate an entire generation of Black and Brown Americans.

Tara O’Neill Hayes, the Director of Human Welfare Policy at the American Action Forum, has the sobering statistics:

There are currently an estimated 2.2 million people incarcerated in the United States.  The incarceration rate is now more than 4.3 times what it was nearly 50 years ago. This increase has led to the United States having the highest incarceration rate of any country in the world, 37 percent greater than that of Cuba and 69 percent greater than Russia. This high incarceration rate is not because crime has increased; in fact, crime rates have declined since the 1990s.  Rather, the arrest rate increased dramatically, while sentences—particularly for drug crimes—have gotten longer.  These policy changes have disproportionately affected low-income and minority populations, who now make up roughly three-fifths and two-thirds of the prison population, respectively.

President Biden’s recent clemency actions, pardoning three people and commuting the sentences of 75, were a small start on responding to this injustice: “White House officials say the president thinks too many people — many of them Black and brown — are serving unduly long sentences for drug crimes.”

Defund the Police" Faces the Same Problems as "Taxation Is Theft ...

In the wake of the very public, brutal murder of African American George Floyd by a white police officer, worldwide protests called for justice and reform–including calls, specifically, to “Defund the Police.”  But a far better call would be to ditch the martial metaphor, and demilitarize the police–as they did in Camden, New Jersey.

In 2013, Camden had one of the highest murder rates in the country.  In response to that sobering statistic, the city “dismantled the entire police department, starting a community policing approach.”

The department un-hired, then hired back most veteran officers and then 150 new officers — 50% of officers are now minorities.  . . . The new force has more officers on the streets out of their cars, having conversations and mostly listening. They go through de-escalation training. . . they are trained to use their words, and guns are a last resort.

Retired Police Chief Scott Thompson, who helped start the new program, describes the difference like this: “from day one. . . our officers would be guardians and not warriors.”  It worked.  After the police in Camden ditched the martial metaphor, choosing (and training themselves) to be “guardians and not warriors,” shootings and murders went down by 50% in two years.  Metaphors matter!

So, what about those biblical texts depicting God as a warrior?  It is important that we hear these ancient songs, not from the perspective of a strong, secure, and self-confident Israel, but of an Israel in its infancy—a people fragile and vulnerable, who had until very recently been no people, hanging onto survival by their fingernails. Otherwise, we may use the image of God as a warrior standing against Israel’s oppressors to justify our own violence.

Title: Prophet Miriam [Click for larger image view]

Certainly Jewish tradition did not read the Song of the Sea as a call to arms!  According to the Talmud (the authoritative collection of the teachings of the rabbis), when the Israelites began to celebrate the defeat of the Egyptians, God asked, “How can you sing as the works of my hand are drowning in the sea?” (b. Megillah 10b).

Without doubt, the imagery of warfare and struggle is part of the biblical witness. But Scripture also, in many places, subverts the martial metaphor, transforming it unexpectedly into imagery of peace.

An actual rainbow | Rainbow, Quotations, Love quotes

Following the flood in Genesis, the LORD declares, “I have placed my bow [Hebrew qeshet] in the clouds; it will be the symbol of the covenant between me and the earth” (Gen 9:13).  Elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible, qeshet refers to a weapon, whether in the hands of a hunter (for example, Genesis 27:3) or a warrior (for example, Zechariah 9:10).  The rainbow is the LORD’s war bow (Habakkuk 3:9; Psalm 18:14), which God now sets aside, placing it in the clouds.

Remember, God had just finished destroying the world with a flood! Now, as life begins again on the renewed earth, the unavoidable question for the reader has got to be, what if this happens again?  God promises that it never will:

I will set up my covenant with you so that never again will all life be cut off by floodwaters. There will never again be a flood to destroy the earth (Gen 9:11).

To underscore and seal that promise, God disarms Godself.

This is far from the only Bible passage subverting the martial metaphor! Not too long ago, on Palm Sunday, we recalled Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem (Matt 11:16-19, 25-30). In their accounts, both Matthew and John (Matt 21:5 and John 12:15) quote Zechariah 9:9 :

Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion.
Sing aloud, Daughter Jerusalem.
Look, your king will come to you.
He is righteous and victorious.
He is humble and riding on an ass,
on a colt, the offspring of a donkey.

By riding an ass rather than a war horse or chariot, the king in Zechariah’s passage shows humility, and declares that he comes in peace.  But there was a long tradition of kingly processions involving the king riding an ass (Carol and Eric Meyers, Zechariah 9-14; AB 25c [Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1993], 129).  Why should this one be any different than all those others?  Zechariah declares that this time, it is more than theater!  The LORD’s Messiah truly is humble, and not only comes in peace, but comes to bring peace:

He will cut off the chariot from Ephraim
and the warhorse from Jerusalem.
The bow used in battle will be cut off;
he will speak peace to the nations.
His rule will stretch from sea to sea,
and from the river to the ends of the earth (Zech 9:10).

By entering Jerusalem in this way, Jesus declares what sort of Messiah he intends to be.

Your God is a Mighty Warrior - Good News Unlimited

So, what about Revelation, where a blood-soaked Jesus returns to earth at the head of a heavenly army (Rev 19:11-16)?  Doesn’t this vindicate the martial metaphor?  Of course, that may be just fine with us!  In the end, God is finally going to trot out the big guns, and act in a way we can understand.

If we read the book of Revelation closely, however, we are in for a surprise.  The familiar biblical imagery of divine warfare (see especially Isa 63:1-3 for the blood-soaked garments and the winepress of divine wrath) is transformed when we realize that the robes of the rider on the white horse are already red with blood as he descends from heaven–so the blood cannot be from his slaughtered enemies!  Indeed, the only weapon he bears is his word: the sword which comes from his mouth (Rev 19:15; see also Rev 1:16; 2:16; Heb 4:12; Eph 6:17), as is appropriate for the one called The Word of God (Rev 19:13).  Whose blood, then, stains his robes?  It must be his own.

Crucifixion of Jesus - Wikipedia

In Revelation 5, John finds himself in the heavenly throne room.  In God’s hand is a scroll, sealed with seven seals.  John desperately wants to know what secrets the scroll contains,

But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth could open the scroll or look inside it. So I began to weep and weep, because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look inside it. Then one of the elders said to me, “Don’t weep. Look! The Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has emerged victorious so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals” (Rev 5:3-5).

John turns, fully expecting to see a Lion.  But instead,

I saw a Lamb, standing as if it had been slain. It had seven horns and seven eyes, which are God’s seven spirits, sent out into the whole earth. He came forward and took the scroll from the right hand of the one seated on the throne (Rev 5:6-7).

Ecce agnus Dei | 12.4.2009: from Matthias Grünewald, Isenhe… | Flickr

Anything further removed from the lion John had expected to see is difficult to imagine. The lion is regal, the lamb is ordinary. The lion is powerful, the lamb is powerless. The lion is a predator, the lamb is prey.  Further, it is a slaughtered lamb, which emphasizes even more its absolute powerlessness, as well as calling up another set of images associated with the lamb: the lamb as sacrifice.

Yet the lamb, although bearing the marks of slaughter, is standing–and so obviously alive, not dead!  Clearly, as John the Baptist had declared in John 1:36, Jesus is the Lamb of God.  In the remainder of Revelation, Jesus is never again called a Lion; but he is called the Lamb 30 times (e.g., Rev 5:12-13; 7:9-10; 12:11; 17:14; 21:22-23),

We often say that God is love (1 John 4:7-8), which surely means, if it means anything at all, that love is the strongest power in the universe: stronger than violence or coercion or control. So we should not find at all strange the marvelous assertion at the close of Scripture that the kingly power of the Lion is now invested, and manifested, in the suffering, sacrificial love of the Lamb.  God, in the end, has no need of the martial metaphor.  Perhaps we too should give it a rest.

 

Apr
2022

Christ is Risen!

In the early church, when believers met in this holy season, they would greet one another with a hearty and enthusiastic Christe anesti–“Christ is risen!”–to which the only possible response is Allthos anesti–“He is risen indeed!”

God bless you, friends!  In celebration of this day of resurrection, I would like to share with you two short and very sweet Easter poems by Ann Weems. First, “The Story and the Child.”

Mess-free Easter egg dyeing tricks for parents – SheKnows
The child comes, and we dye eggs
and make a cake and decorate.
“Why are we doing this?” he asks
“Because,” I answer, “Life is about to happen,
and on Sunday morning we’ll catch stars.”
He looks at me, quizzically at first,
and then grins. It’s then I ask him
to tell me the story. The only way he’ll learn
is to tell it himself.
The only way we’ll learn
is to tell it again… and again…

 

The second poem, by way of retelling the story, is “Lost and Found.”

Jack Dawson: Day 19 - The Borrowed Tomb - The Great Passion PlayAs we approached Jerusalem
The crowd stood at the gate and cried in a tear-choked voice:
“We are lost in his death.”

Icon of the Resurrection – F86 | Skete.com

Upon the hill the angels sang: “We are found in his rising.”

Christe anesti, friends!

Apr
2022

Riding On a Donkey

Facts about donkeys | Live ScienceI am a lectionary preacher–a practice I commend as a way to break out of the hamster wheel of our favorite, comfortable passages and encounter the wideness–and wildness–of the Bible.  But I confess that sometimes, the logic of the lectionary escapes me.  The only reading from Zechariah in the Revised Common Lectionary is 9:9-12.  Apart from it being yet another witness to the comparative paucity of readings from the left-hand side of the Bible in the Revised Common Lectionary, I have two problems with this reading.

My first beef  is its location in the church calendar: as the alternate Old Testament lection for Year A, Proper 9: the Sixth Sunday after Pentecost; the Gospel for that day is Matt 11:16-19, 25-30.  How, I wonder, is this is not one of the readings appointed for Palm Sunday?

Entry of Christ into Jerusalem by Anthony van Dyck.jpgBoth Matthew and John quote Zechariah 9:9 in their accounts of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem (Matt 21:5 and John 12:15), while Mark 11:1-11 and Luke 19:28-40 both use the word polon, “colt,” found in the Greek Septuagint (commonly abbreviated LXX) of Zechariah 9:9:

Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion.
        Sing aloud, Daughter Jerusalem.
Look, your king will come to you.
        He is righteous and victorious.
        He is humble and riding on an ass,
            on a colt, the offspring of a donkey.

Applying to this passage a wooden literalism, Matthew describes Jesus entering Jerusalem mounted on both an ass and her colt, like a circus act (Matt 21:6-7)!  But this was no mistake on Matthew’s part: the most Jewish of the Evangelists certainly knew how Hebrew poetry works.  Rather, this bizarre image was intended to ram the point home, making absolutely certain that the reader could not miss the connection between the prophecy and its fulfillment. Similarly, in his commentary on this book, the early Christian teacher Theodoret of Cyrus records, “This acquires a clear interpretation in actual events: the king who is prophesied has come.”

The NRSV translation “triumphant and victorious” (9:9) is difficult to understand, although the CEB “righteous and victorious,” is only a little better. The Hebrew reads tsaddiq wenosha’. The first term means “righteous,” perhaps defending “the royal legitimacy of the king” (so Carol and Eric Meyers, Zechariah 9-14; AB 25c [Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1993], 127), although it may also refer to his morality (the Aramaic Targum on this verse has zaqay, which means “innocent”).

The second word, nosha’, is a passive participle, meaning literally “one who is saved” (reflected also in the Targum). The LXX renders this as sozon, an active participle (“saving”). Following the Greek rather than the Hebrew, both the CEB and the NRSV read nosha’ actively, as “victorious.”  Carol and Eric Meyers, however, stay with the plain sense of the Hebrew: “Yahweh is victorious over the enemies, with the result that the king is ‘saved,’ thereby enabled to assume power” (Meyers and Meyers 1993, 127). In short, Zechariah 9:9-10 presents a transformed notion of kingship, grounded not in dynastic and regal pomp, but in God’s own action.  Remember Zechariah’s words to the governor Zerubbabel, earlier in this book:

This is the LORD’s word to Zerubbabel:
        Neither by power, nor by strength,
        but by my spirit, says the LORD of heavenly forces (Zech 4:6).

As this unit unfolds, it continues to draw distinctions between this king and other, previous kings. Although the humble mount in 9:9 derives from a long tradition of kingly processions involving the king riding an ass (Meyers and Meyers 1993, 129), this passage surely catches the point of that tradition: by riding an ass rather than a war horse or chariot, the king shows humility, and declares that he comes in peace. Yet this time, the prophet declares, this is more than theater!  This king truly is humble, and not only comes in peace, but comes to bring peace: a promise our war-torn world desperately needs to hear!

He will cut off the chariot from Ephraim
        and the warhorse from Jerusalem.
The bow used in battle will be cut off;
        he will speak peace to the nations.
His rule will stretch from sea to sea,
        and from the river to the ends of the earth (Zech 9:10).

The mention of Ephraim (the largest of the northern tribes, often used to represent the entire northern kingdom of Israel, for example, see Isa 7:2; Jer 7:15; Ezek 37:19; Hos 5:3) shows that this renewed kingdom will include those formerly excluded: the “lost tribes” from the northern kingdom destroyed and dispersed by the Assyrians long before.

This brings me to my second problem with this lectionary reading: it is two verses too long!  Although in its final form, Zechariah 9 is a unit, the differing histories of its parts call for attention.  Zechariah 9:9-10 belongs with the first eight verses of the chapter–a series of oracles against the nations of Syria-Palestine, culminating in the arrival of God’s appointed king.   Zechariah 9:11 and 12  belong with 9:11-17.

Your God is a Mighty Warrior - Good News Unlimited

In sharp contrast to the peaceful vision of Zech 9:9-10, but in continuity with older visions of divine kingship (see Nah 1:2-11; Hab 3:1-19; Zeph 1:2-18), these verses describe the LORD as a blood-soaked warrior. The exiles are gathered, not so that God can guard them in peace (Zech 9:8), but so that God can muster them as an army. The expression “the blood of the covenant” appears only in Zechariah 9:11 and Exodus 24:8, where Moses sprinkles the people with the blood of their offering at Sinai, sealing their promise to obey God’s torah. Here as there, God has delivered Israel from bondage and oppression, but will now lead them into times of trial and conflict.  Including Zech 9:11-12 in our reading will likely prompt us to misread, or even ignore, the peaceful message of Zech 9:9-10–which would be a tragic shame.

It is little wonder that Zechariah 9:9-10 so captured the imagination of the Gospel writers. While the first Christians confessed Jesus as Christ (Greek christos, the term used in the LXX for Hebrew meshiakh, “Messiah”), it is clear that their understanding–and Jesus own understanding–of what being “Messiah” means transformed this title.

St Sophia Cathedral, Kiev | The Christ Pantocrator. Mosaic, … | FlickrMark 1:1 identifies Jesus not only as Christos, or Messiah, but also as “the Son of God.” While related to the idea of the king as God’s adopted son (Psalm 2:5-9; 45:6-7), this confession goes much further than any Jewish conception of Messiah: Jesus the Messiah is God! This confession creates new problems, raising the need for the church to affirm that “Christ has come in the flesh” (1 John 4:2; John 1:14).

But while on the one hand Christian confessions about Jesus exalt the role of Messiah far beyond traditional Jewish expectations, on the other hand these ideas subvert the idea of Messiah as king. In debate with the Pharisees, who believed in a literal future Messiah, Jesus asks. “‘What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?” ‘David’s son,’ they replied.” (Matt 22:42). In response, Jesus quotes Psalm 110:1

The Lord says to my lord,
    “Sit at my right hand
until I make your enemies your footstool” (NRSV)

Assuming the speaker to be David, Jesus asks, “If David calls him [that is, the Messiah] Lord, how can he be David’s son?” (Matt 22:45). Although Matthew’s genealogy takes pains to demonstrate Jesus’ descent from David (Matt 1:6, 17), Christ is more than David’s son!

Grünewald's Resurrection from the Isenheim Altarpiece - Kelly BagdanovParticularly subversive of traditional Messianic expectation is the Christian view that the Christ must suffer. Thus, in Mark, Peter’s confession at Caesarea Philippi that Jesus is Christos is inadequate: faced with Jesus’ determination to suffer and die, Peter rebukes him, and is in turn himself rebuked by Jesus (Mark 8:29-33). Indeed, in Mark, the first human to make a full confession about Jesus is his executioner, who declares when Jesus dies, “This man was certainly God’s son” (Mark 15:39).

It may well be that Jesus understood his own role in terms of the Suffering Servant in Second Isaiah (42:1-4; 49:1-6; 50:4-11; 52:13—53:12). Certainly, early Christians did (1 Cor 15:3; Acts 8:32-35; 1 Peter 2:22-25), and the idea must have come from somewhere (Matt 8:17; 12:18-21; Mark 9:12; 10:45[//Matt 20:28]; Luke 22:37). In any case, for early Christians, the image of the peaceful and humble king in Zechariah 9:9-10 was the perfect representation of Jesus–and one we as well must learn to embrace.

AFTERWORD

The mosaic icon of Christ Pantocrator (Christ as king of all) above comes from the central dome of  the Cathedral of St. Sophia in Kyiv, Ukraine.  The scene of wartime violence is also from Ukraine, following the Russian missile strike on refugees at the Kramatorsk train station.  The continuing senseless violence perpetrated by Mr. Putin in Ukraine is a reminder of how much we need the peace-bringing Messiah of Zechariah 9:9-10.

If you would like to support the people of Ukraine, I recommend that you consider giving through the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR).  Since administrative costs are covered through the church by other means, 100% of money you donate will go to Ukrainians.  UMCOR is communicating with partners in the region to coordinate a humanitarian response. You can support UMCOR’s international disaster response efforts by making a gift to Advance #982450. Global Ministries’ Advance #14053A supports Methodist pastors in Ukraine and Moldova.

 

Apr
2022

Bodies and Souls

This has been a hard month for our family.  We lost two dear friends: our cat Mocha on March 9, and our son Mark’s cat Diana this past Saturday.  Mocha came to us fifteen years ago, as a kitten so tiny that Wendy brought her home cupped in one hand.  She was so playful and hyperactive that I joked we should name her “Ritalin”–but her coffee and cream coloring made Mocha a more fitting (yet suitably caffeinated) substitute.

Diana, named for the goddess of the moon and the hunt, was eighteen–a venerable age for a cat.  She moved with our family from Ashland to Pittsburgh, and then moved out with our son Mark when he left home.  But wherever she lived, Diana always carried herself with the dignity of a queen, accepting adoration as her due, and graciously conferring affection upon her subjects.

It was hard to say goodbye.  We wept in the veterinarian’s office, praying, holding one another, and stroking these dear friends as they breathed their last.  The end of these wee, wild lives is tragedy enough.  But it has also been a hard reminder that all things end–and that we, too, will one day die.

Friends have offered solace.  Many, in their well-meant words of comfort, simply assumed that Mocha and Diana had gone on to another life.  Others asked me what I believed, as a Christian pastor and a Bible Guy.  Do animals have souls?

WILLIAM BLAKE: GOLDEN STRING: CREATION OF ADAM

Many will be confident that the answer to that question is “no.”  Surely, the soul is what distinguishes we humans from the animals.  Some would point, as evidence, to Genesis 2:7:

And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul (KJV).

The problem (as it so often is) is a matter of translation.  The Hebrew phrase rendered “living soul” in the KJV is nephesh khayyah.  The NRSV instead reads “the man became a living being,” while CEB simply has, “the human came to life.” Intriguingly, the phrase nephesh khayyah is used for the animals as well in Genesis 2:19 (there, the KJV renders it “living creature”).  Not only the human (Hebrew ‘adam) but “all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky” are nephesh khayyahSo if nephesh means “soul,” then the animals have them, too.

But while nephesh is sometimes translated as “soul,” it never refers to some separate, separable, supernatural part of the self.  Its basic meaning has to do with breath; in fact, nephesh can sometimes mean something as narrow and specific as “throat” (for example, Habakkuk 2:5; Jonah 2:5[6]).  Most commonly, nephesh simply means “self.”  So, a corpse can be called a dead nephesh (for example, Leviticus 21:11), while in Genesis 2:7 ‘adam becomes a living nephesh, alive and self-aware–or, as the NRSV reads, “a living being.”

Biblical cosmology - Wikipedia

What happens when we are no longer “living beings”?  Where do the dead go?  In the Hebrew Bible, the dead go to the underworld, or Sheol: a term that appears 66 times. But that Sheol appears only 66 times in such a huge, wide-ranging collection as the Old Testament tells us something important about the interests of the biblical writers!  The Hebrew Bible is focused on life, not death or what comes after.

Sheol is no afterlife, however.  The dead in Sheol are dead, removed from the living, worshipping community of Israel. So, in his thanksgiving prayer following his healing, Hezekiah says:

The underworld [Sheol] can’t thank you,
        nor can death praise you;
    those who go down to the pit
        can’t hope for your faithfulness.
The living, the living can thank you, as I do today.
    Parents will tell children about your faithfulness (Isa 38:18-19).

In the Psalms, death is not an event at the end of life, but a power that reaches back into life, to rob the living of joy and fulfillment–a power from which the righteous person prays to be delivered (Psalms 6:4-5; 30:1-3, 8-10). Death and contact with the dead were a major source of ritual defilement in the priestly worldview (Numbers 19:11-22; 31:19-24), and the cult of the dead (sacrificing to ancestors, or calling upon the dead for knowledge or for power) is universally condemned (for example, Leviticus 19:31; Deuteronomy 18:10-12; Isaiah 28:14-18; 65:2-4). Texts that affirm God’s presence in Sheol, such as Psalm 139:8 (“If I went up to heaven, you would be there.  If I went down to the grave [Sheol], you would be there too!”), or that speak of death in positive terms (such as Psalm 104:28-30), are the rare exceptions to the rule.

The earliest explicit statement about a life beyond death in the Bible is Daniel 12:2, a text that in its final form dates to the second century BCE: “Many of those who sleep in the dusty land will wake up—some to eternal life, others to shame and eternal disgrace.”  Notice that this passage is not about the assured immortality of the soul, but rather about the hoped-for future resurrection of the body.    Indeed, the resurrection of the body at the end of the age is the teaching of the rabbis in the Mishnah, and is assumed throughout the Christian New Testament (for example, Luke 14:14; John 5:29; 11:24; 1 Corinthians 15:20-28).  The creeds of Christianity, too, confess the resurrection of the body, not the immortality of the soul.

Most importantly, the accounts of Jesus’ resurrection everywhere emphasize the empty tomb (Matthew 28:11-15; Mark 16:6) and the physical, tangible nature of the risen Jesus, who displays in his body the wounds of crucifixion, invites his friends to touch him, and even shares a meal with them (for example, Luke 24:36-43; John 20:26-29). The risen Jesus is not Jesus’ ghost, but Jesus himself: the same Jesus who was crucified.

Crucifixion of Jesus - Wikipedia

This Sunday marks the beginning of Holy Week, leading us inexorably to Golgotha, and the cross.  The entire witness of Scripture resists any attempt to shy away from Good Friday’s grim finality.  Jesus will suffer and die here–as all of us will one day die.  On Easter Sunday, we will celebrate the joyous surprise of his resurrection, but that the resurrection is a surprise–a glorious, grand, miraculous, and unexpected gift–must not be forgotten.  Death is real.  But so is life.

So–what do I believe happens when we die?  I believe in the resurrection of the dead.  That means, first of all, that I believe that the dead really die: not only Mocha and Diana, but those saints whom I have loved.  One day soon, I too will really die.  But I am also certain that the last word belongs to the Lord of life.  The God who raised Jesus can, and will, raise us up at the end of the age, in the world to come.

What will happen in the meantime?  Will I sleep, as Luther believed?  Will there be the opportunity to strive further toward perfection in purgatory, as Catholic dogma holds?  Frankly, I do not know.  But like Paul, I believe that nothing can separate me from the love of God in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:38), and so when I leave this life, I will be with him (Philippians 1:23).  I remember Jesus’ words to the thief on the cross, “today you will be with me in paradise”  (Luke 23:43), and whatever that may mean, I trust him not to let me go.

Christian theologian Jurgen Moltmann puts it this way: “The immortality of the soul is an opinion – the resurrection of the dead is a hope.”  Christian hope is not Pollyanna optimism–a saccharine denial of the hard realities of life, and of death.  It is rather the confidence that we may place ourselves, our world, our future, and even our mourned and beloved dead into the hands of God, trusting that the power at the heart of all things is indeed just and loving and kind, and that nothing beautiful–not even the tiniest wild and wonderful life–will ever be lost.

 

 

 

Mar
2022

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

FOREWORD:  This week, in keeping with my duties, obligations, and privileges as the World’s Biggest Leprechaun, I am reposting this blog entry in celebration of St. Patrick’s Day.  Beannachtai Na Feile Padraig Oraibh, friends–May the blessing of St. Patrick’s Day be upon you!

Thursday March 17 is the feast of Saint Pádraig–better known as Patrick, patron saint of Ireland.  The saint was likely born in the late fourth century; according to Saint Fiacc’s “Hymn of Saint Patrick,” he was the son of a Briton named Calpurnius.  Patrick was just sixteen when he was kidnapped from the family estate, along with many others, by Irish raiders.  He would be a slave in Ireland for six years.

Once he was free, Patrick studied for the priesthood under Saint Germanus of Auxerre, in the southern part of Gaul.  Saint Germanus took his pupil to Britain to save that country from Pelagianism: together they travelled through Britain convincing people to turn to God from heresy, and throwing out false priests (some say that this is the source of the legend that Patrick drove the “snakes” out of Ireland!).

Despite his experience of hardship and abuse as a slave, Patrick longed to return to Ireland.  He told his teacher that he had often heard the voice of the Irish children calling to him, “Come, Holy Patrick, and make us saved.” But Patrick had to wait until he was sixty years old before Pope Celestine at last consecrated him as Bishop to Ireland.  At the moment of Patrick’s consecration, legend says, the Pope also heard the voices of the Irish children!

That year, Easter coincided with the “feast of Tara,” or Beltane–still celebrated today by kindling bonfires. No fire was supposed to be lit that night until the Druid’s fire had been kindled.  But Saint Patrick lit the Easter fire first.  Laoghaire, high king of Ireland, warned that if that fire were not stamped out, it would never afterward be extinguished in Erin.

King Laoghaire invited the Bishop and his companions to his castle at Tara the next day–after posting soldiers along the road, to assassinate them!  But, according to The Tripartite Life, on his way from Slane to Tara that Easter Sunday, Patrick was reciting his Breastplate prayer (a masterpiece of Celtic spirituality, which has, not at all surprisingly, been set to music many, many times; the links in this blog will take you to a few of these).  As the saint prayed,

A cloak of darkness went over them so that not a man of them appeared. Howbeit, the enemy who were waiting to ambush them, saw eight deer going past them…. That was Saint Patrick with his eight…

Therefore, “St. Patrick’s Breastplate” is also called the “Deer’s Cry.”

As the legend of the Deer’s Cry demonstrates, Celtic spirituality is linked closely to nature.  St. Patrick’s teaching embraced God’s presence manifest in God’s creation.  Even the tradition that Patrick used the shamrock to teach the Trinity connects God’s revelation to the natural world.  This is particularly evident, however, in the Breastplate prayer:

I arise today

Through the strength of heaven:

Light of sun,

Radiance of moon,

Splendor of fire,

Speed of lightning,

Swiftness of wind,

Depth of sea,

Stability of earth,

Firmness of rock.

Patrick embraces a joyful spirituality of nature, wherein a simple herb expresses the mystery of God’s nature, the vibrancy and constancy of wind and water and stone and tree witness to God’s presence and power, and the line between the human world and the animal world, between people and deer, can blur and vanish.  This St. Patrick’s Day, may we too seek God first, and so find fulfillment for ourselves and for God’s world.

Oh, and–Erin go bragh!

AFTERWORD

Here is the complete traditional text of the “Breastplate of St. Patrick.”

I arise today

Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,

Through the belief in the threeness,

Through confession of the oneness

Of the Creator of Creation.

 

I arise today

Through the strength of Christ’s birth with his baptism,

Through the strength of his crucifixion with his burial,

Through the strength of his resurrection with his ascension,

Through the strength of his descent for the judgment of Doom.

 

I arise today

Through the strength of the love of Cherubim,

In obedience of angels,

In the service of archangels,

In hope of resurrection to meet with reward,

In prayers of patriarchs,

In predictions of prophets,

In preaching of apostles,

In faith of confessors,

In innocence of holy virgins,

In deeds of righteous men.

 

I arise today

Through the strength of heaven:

Light of sun,

Radiance of moon,

Splendor of fire,

Speed of lightning,

Swiftness of wind,

Depth of sea,

Stability of earth,

Firmness of rock.

 

I arise today

Through God’s strength to pilot me:

God’s might to uphold me,

God’s wisdom to guide me,

God’s eye to look before me,

God’s ear to hear me,

God’s word to speak for me,

God’s hand to guard me,

God’s way to lie before me,

God’s shield to protect me,

God’s host to save me

From snares of devils,

From temptations of vices,

From everyone who shall wish me ill,

Afar and anear,

Alone and in multitude.

 

I summon today all these powers between me and those evils,

Against every cruel merciless power that may oppose my body and soul,

Against incantations of false prophets,

Against black laws of pagandom

Against false laws of heretics,

Against craft of idolatry,

Against spells of witches and smiths and wizards,

Against every knowledge that corrupts man’s body and soul.

Christ to shield me today

Against poison, against burning,

Against drowning, against wounding,

So that there may come to me abundance of reward.

 

Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,

Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,

Christ on my right, Christ on my left,

Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down, Christ when I arise,

Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,

Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,

Christ in every eye that sees me,

Christ in every ear that hears me.

 

I arise today

Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,

Through belief in the threeness,

Through confession of the oneness,

Of the Creator of Creation.