You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.
You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.
I find myself thoroughly challenged by Jesus’ words (Matthew 5:38-48). I hear in “love your enemies” a call to individuals. I am sure that at least that much is there. I know that “pray for those who persecute you” needs to shape our lives. When we pray for and seek the good of our adversaries–any with whom we have conflict–we inhabit a new and better Kingdom reality.
But is this portion of the Sermon on the Mount merely a private text, as Martin Luther and other interpreters have said? Is this call of Jesus just for the interpersonal domain?
Or–as a long line of Anabaptist thinkers and others are convinced–is it true that there really is no private vs. public distinction with Jesus? Jesus certainly doesn’t say in the Sermon on the Mount that loving enemies works differently at a corporate or national level. Many faithful Christians have inferred a difference, on various grounds, but it’s not explicitly stated, at least not in this text.
So Russia moves into Ukraine and today we hear Jesus say, “Don’t retaliate. Love your enemies.”
Turn the other cheek. Do not resist an evildoer. Pray for those who persecute you.
How does a Ukrainian read this text today? There were presumably churches in Ukraine who heard Matthew 5:38-48 last week, when it was the Revised Common Lectionary reading. These words from the Sermon on the Mount are still ringing in their ears, even as the sound of Putin’s tanks and soldiers try to drown it out.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in his Cost of Discipleship, adamantly defended this Gospel text in its fullness: he said it did not apply on a merely private level, but that it also applied at the level of those who hold office (i.e., corporately), because people are people, in whatever capacity they are acting…. If it’s wrong to retaliate with force in an interpersonal reaction, it’s wrong at a state level, too, Bonhoeffer argued. In an era in which Hitler had already come to power, Bonhoeffer would write in 1937:
The overcoming of others now occurs by allowing their evil to run its course. The evil does not find what it is seeking, namely, resistance and, therewith, new evil which will inflame it even more. Evil will become powerless when it finds no opposing object, no resistance, but, instead, is willingly borne and suffered….
And that sounds so good. I cling to that hope.
But Hitler, finding no opposing object, and no resistance, not even from much of the church in Germany, continued his rise to power. Evil became not “powerless,” but more powerful.
Bonhoeffer goes on:
There is no thinkable deed in which evil is so large and strong that it would require a different response from a Christian. The more terrible the evil, the more willing the disciple should be to suffer. Evil persons must be delivered to the hands of Jesus. Not I but Jesus must deal with them.
Critics were quick to call Bonhoeffer overly idealistic and impractical for this understanding of the Sermon on the Mount. But he was firm in his read of Jesus.
And then, something happened. Something happened in Bonhoeffer that led him to align himself with a group of folks who tried to overthrow Hitler, planning to use force if necessary. Bonhoeffer was arrested and imprisoned and implicated in a plot to kill Hitler. Bonhoeffer was hanged in 1945.
If we grant that “turn the other cheek” and “love your enemies” have to do with both individual and corporate domains, which Bonhoeffer was right? The one who wrote, “The more terrible the evil, the more willing the disciple should be to suffer. …. Not I but Jesus must deal with them”?
Or was it the Bonhoeffer who tried to make a plan to “deal with” Hitler in perhaps more physical ways?
Perhaps Bonhoeffer saw a distinction between evil done to him and evil done to another. You can turn your own cheek, but when it’s the cheek of another, and you see them being struck, it’s all you can do to run over and move (maybe even push?) the oppressor out of the way.
So I leave this text with questions and tensions. What seems a fairly straightforward statement, “Love your enemy,” is difficult. What does it mean to love enemies? In what spheres must that take place, and how should it happen, especially in the presence of an inordinately powerful evil? How categorical is Jesus in his forbidding of force? Was he speaking to disciples, or to disciples and states?
But even with the questions, there are two places I find myself landing. First, the one purpose statement in this passage is this: “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.”
That you may win them over? Hopefully, but not necessarily. “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” so that they might be converted and join the Kingdom of Heaven, turning from their ways of oppression? Yeah, that would be awesome, but it’s not always going to happen. “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” for by so doing, you are called children of your Father in heaven. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.” They are children who do the things they see their God doing.
Which brings me to my second landing point, amid the questions I still have of this passage. Jesus, Philippians says,
made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
In the end, Jesus submitted himself to death. He humbled himself in the ultimate manifestation of turning the other cheek: “by becoming obedient to death–even death on a cross!”
And yet in that defeat was the very stuff of victory.
In that death was the very stuff of life.
In that humbling was the very stuff of exaltation.
Philippians goes on:
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
He knew full well what he was doing–he was going to that cross to die. He was accepting the unjust death penalty–even the torture–that had been set upon him. But he was also going to that cross to win. He was going to the cross to defeat death and evil. In the end he would rise again.
The Son of God endured suffering, and yet scorned its shame, unmasking the evil powers that put him on the cross, and razing them to the ground. Through death, through the cross, he made an offer of peace to even his enemies (including us!) so that we could love our enemies, too.
Jesus’ resistance to death was not violent, but neither was not passive. It was sure, deliberate, subversive, generous to all, and full of love, even to enemies.
There is power in Jesus’ going to the cross. It is the ultimate act of cheek-turning, self-giving love. The cross of Christ is an act of defiance that says:
You cannot warp me into a person I don’t want to be.
You cannot seduce me to kill.
You do not have the last word.
Here is part of the product description from Logos:
This volume in the ever-popular W. J. K. Armchair series turns its sights on contemporary theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906–1945). Born in Breslau, Germany, Bonhoeffer led quite an intriguing life. This book, with dozens of illustrations by artist Ron Hill, highlights Bonhoeffer’s background and theological education; his time at Union Seminary in New York City; his involvement in the resistance movement against Adolf Hitler; and his participation in the plot to assassinate Hitler.
Welcome to the Septuagint Studies Soirée #7, covering February in the Septuagintablogosphere.
There is now a Septuagint podcast. Check it out here.
Do you want to contribute to a Septuagint Dictionary? Then check this one out.
This is a review of the Joshua volume of the Septuagint Commentary Series (Brill).
Here’s Lawrence Shiffman on Isaiah and the Greek Septuagint.
Brian Davidson posted a rockin’ interview with the editors of the Lexham English Septuagint.
It’s the International Septuaginta Summer School 2014. It sounds incredible, and it’s on Greek Isaiah. If you have a benefactor, go (and then introduce him or her to me, and I’ll meet you there).
Into prizes? Submit an LXX paper here for a prize of $350.
UPDATE 3/3/14: Wayne Coppins writes about Dietrich-Alex Koch’s analysis of Paul’s use of the Septuagint.
Did I miss anything? Feel free to leave more February 2014 LXX links of interest in the comments.
Luke: A Handbook on the Greek Text is part of an expanding series by Baylor University Press that walks a reader through each word, phrase, and verse of the Greek New Testament. Of the series Baylor writes:
What distinguishes this series from other available resources is the detailed and comprehensive attention paid to the Greek text of the New Testament. Each handbook provides a convenient reference tool that explains the syntax of the biblical text, offers guidance for deciding between competing semantic analyses, deals with text-critical questions that have a significant bearing on how the text is understood, and addresses questions relating to the Greek text that are frequently overlooked or ignored by standard commentaries, all in a succinct and accessible manner.
The Luke volume is some 800 pages of lexical, grammatical, and syntactical detail. Language nerds will love it. The Baylor Handbook on the Greek New Testament series (BHGNT) ”is designed to guide new readers and seasoned scholars alike through the intricacies of the Greek text.”
Luke begins with a 15-page Introduction, with the following section headings:
- Luke’s Style: ”a mix of styles” and “higher on the literary scale than Matthew, Mark, or John”
- Verbal Aspect: aorist tense verbs encode perfective aspect, generally used for mainline narrative events; imperfect tense verbs encode imperfective aspect, generally used for background events; present tense (imperfective aspect) is for quoted speech… but these are “tendencies only, not hard and fast linguistic rules”
- The Use of Conjunctions at the Discourse Level: the authors focus here particularly on καί and δέ, which “serve distinct functions that assist readers in tracking the flow and status of information through large blocks of text”
- Participles: primarily context (not just syntax) “drives the analysis” throughout the handbook
- Word Order: the Greek verb defaults to a position at the start of a sentence; anything preceding it is “fronted” (which does not, the authors note, always imply emphasis)
Additionally, the Series Introduction addresses deponency, a label often given to middle/passive verbs with “active” meanings, but considered now by a number of scholars (and by the BHGNT series) to be an unhelpful concept “leading to imprecise readings of the text.” As a result,
users of the BHGNT will discover that verbs that are typically labeled “deponent,” including some with -θη- morphology, tend to be listed as “middle.”
The body of the handbook offers an English translation of each section of biblical text. Next there is the full Greek text of a given verse. Then follows a word-by-word (and/or phrase-by-phrase) analysis of the Greek text. One advantage to this structure is that, without having to have recourse to any other books, the user of this handbook has the full Greek and English texts of Luke in front of them.
There is also useful material at the back of the handbook: a glossary of nearly 50 grammatical terms and concepts, a bibliography, a grammar index (with grammatical concepts listed in English and words listed in Greek), and an author index. If I wanted to trace Luke’s use of the double accusative, for example, I’d see a list of verse references in the grammar index for further study.
An Example Passage: Zacchaeus in Luke 19:1-10
Luke 19:1-10 tells the well-known story of Zacchaeus’s encounter with Jesus. This handbook volume does comment on what a Greek phrase might “literally” mean, yet not (thankfully) to the point of making its English translation overly wooden, at least not on a regular basis. The translation is generally smooth, with additional comments on meaning throughout the notes.
Luke 19:1, for example, reads, “After entering Jericho, Jesus was passing through the city.” The handbook entry on that verse is as follows:
19:1 Καὶ εἰσελθὼν διήρχετο τὴν Ἰεριχώ.
Καὶ. The conjunction closely links this pericope with the preceding one, while the rest of the verse marks a shift in scene.
εἰσελθὼν. Aor act ptc masc nom sg εἰσέρχομαι (temporal).
διήρχετο. Impf mid ind 3rd sg διέρχομαι. The first three verses supply background information for the narrative that follows using imperfect verbs and equative clauses (διήρχετο; ἦν, v. 2; ἐζήτει, ἠδύνατο, v. 3).
τὴν Ἰεριχώ. Accusative complement of διήρχετο. Lit. “entering, he was passing through Jericho.”
Sometimes the entries are not much more than parsing, with a brief description of function (as in εἰσελθὼν, above). Other times there is more detail, as in διήρχετο. This reflects a concern throughout the handbook with discourse analysis: the authors are regularly asking (and answering) the question, “Why did Luke choose these words here? Why this verb tense? Why this position? What does it do for the narrative and the reader-hearer’s experience of it?”
Though Luke is not meant to be a full-on commentary, the authors nonetheless interact with other literature (commentaries and grammars, especially). For example, on 19:3′s “he was short in stature” (Greek: τῇ ἡλικίᾳ μικρὸς ἦν), they have this note:
The meaning of the phrase is debated. It could refer to Zacchaeus’ age (Green, 669–70) or his physical stature (Fitzmyer, 2:1223). The phrase probably not only refers to Zacchaeus’ height, but also serves to characterize him in a negative fashion (see Parsons 2001, 50–57; 2006, 97–108).
Whether or not one agrees with the conclusion (that Luke is talking about height), Culy, Parsons, and Stigall present the options, give bibliographical information, and–most important–say what the function of this phrase is in Luke’s story. Similarly, the authors consider textual variants where they would impact the meaning of the text.
What Luke: A Handbook on the Greek Text Is Not
This is a specialized work and does not aim to situate each passage in its literary or historical context. For example, when I was preaching on the Parable of the “Good Samaritan”, I turned to that passage. There is no introductory comment that sets it up, neither there nor at the beginning of chapter 10. There is a note that ἰδοὺ “is sometimes used to introduce a major character in a narrative, as here,” but that’s it.
Since the commentary does not set out to provide literary context or structural outlines, it would be unfair to criticize it for not doing that. The reader should be aware that this book is really true to its series title: it’s a handbook (that at times feels like a collection of notes) on the Greek text. Given that even technical, Greek-oriented commentaries pass over some words and concepts in the Greek text, there is definitely a place for a book like this. Those who want to go in-depth with the Greek (word-by-word and phrase-by-phrase) will find many riches to appreciate here, as I have.
Even so, I was pleasantly surprised by some places (i.e., the difficult Luke 18:7) where Culy, Parsons, and Stigall did offer insight into how to understand a passage as a whole.
The handbook will not replace a good lexicon. Some words simply have parsing information given, with little to no elaboration on the word’s meaning. To be truly comprehensive in this regard would double the size of the book, so it’s an understandable decision. Just keep BDAG close by as you read. That said, in this handbook you will get detail even down to the level of Greek accents!
The series preface says:
Readers of traditional commentaries are sometimes dismayed by the fact that even those that are labeled “exegetical” or “critical” frequently have little to say about the mechanics of the Greek text, and all too often completely ignore the more perplexing grammatical issues.
I have definitely felt this way as a commentary reader and user (and wanna-be Greek nerd). To have a handbook (albeit one that requires large hands to hold!) devoted to the Greek and its grammar is a great aid to anyone wanting to maintain or deepen their use of biblical languages. The lexical analysis (with sensitivity to larger New Testament context), grammatical insights, and linguistic nuances make for a smart and challenging companion to the Greek text. I’m excited to see more coming from this series.
… you were right. But check this out:
Brill’s MyBook program, available on the BrillOnline Books and Journals platform, enables users to purchase a print-on-demand paperback copy of books of their choosing, provided they have access to the e-book version via their institution.*
MyBook has a fixed price of €25.00 / $25.00* per copy. Brill will ship your copy free of charge, though VAT will be added where applicable.
Read more details here.
The below is adapted from my full-length review of the print edition of NIGTC Matthew. Here I reproduce some of the content of that post, but with an eye toward the commentary’s presentation and use in Logos Bible Software.
Readers of this blog (and those with whom I worship on Sunday!) will know I’ve been preaching through Matthew this year. I have made profitable use of John Nolland’s commentary almost every week in my preparation.
This is what Nolland says about his commentary:
My central concern in this commentary is with the story Matthew has to tell and how he tells it. Though the reader will recognise that I have been influenced by some scholarly methods more than by others, my work is committedly eclectic.
Nolland comments on Matthew using redaction criticism, grammatical analysis, rhetorical criticism, and more. Though the NIGTC series does not seek to be devotional, per se, and though Nolland’s Matthew is not an application commentary, the author is consistently sensitive to the broader context of Matthew and his aims. (Nolland says he cares about “a close reading of the inner logic of the unfolding text.”)
Nolland’s Introduction to Matthew
The introduction includes the following sections (the bullet points below are all the author’s words):
- authorship of the Gospel
- the sources for the Gospel
- the prehistory of the sources
- the date and provenance of the Gospel
- the kind of document the Gospel intends to be
- the state of the Greek text of the Gospel
- aspects of the author’s narrative technique
- the Gospel’s use of the OT and of other Jewish tradition
- and the theology of the Gospel of Matthew.
Here’s what it looks like in Logos on a PC. You can hide or show the table of contents at the left, and many of its sections have expand/collapse triangles (click or open in a new tab to enlarge the image below):
Any highlights or notes I add (which you can see above) automatically sync with any other devices that run the Logos app.
Like R.T. France, Nolland would rather elaborate on certain points in the body of the commentary itself, which makes the introduction accordingly shorter. I experienced this as a relief, because (a) I could get into the commentary proper more quickly and (b) when primarily coming to the commentary with a specific passage in mind, I found quite a bit of substance in the commentary proper, without having to go back to the introduction. Getting to a given passage via Logos is almost instantaneous.
Nolland on Matthew’s Use of the OT
There is more of note in the introduction, but “Matthew’s Use of the OT” is probably the most exceptional section (pictured above). It details both (a) what text forms Matthew might have had and (b) how he used them. Nolland lists 14 (!) “different approaches to the generation of the wording of the quotations.” And yet, amid the detail, he can conclude:
Though some of Matthew’s text forms come to him straight from the Gospel tradition, the overall impression is of a man who freshly scrutinises, at least on many occasions, the OT texts to which he appeals, and is able to do so in Greek, Hebrew (not always the Hebrew of the preserved MT), and occasionally in Aramaic. When it suits him to do so, he produces translations that reflect influence along more than one track of tradition.
Nolland then identifies eight different ways in which Matthew uses the OT. This section of the commentary alone is worth half the price of the commentary. A nearly 20-page “Annotated Structural Outline of Matthew” at the end of the introduction is quite impressive (and maybe even worth the other half of the price of the commentary).
The Author’s Translation of Matthew
Nolland admits that his translation of Matthew (located at the beginning of each section) “may at times be wooden,” and this woodenness is noticeable in a number passages. For example, the genealogy reads: “Abraham produced Isaac; Isaac produced Jacob….” Nolland acknowledges the “unfortunately impersonal and nonbiological” implications of that translation. Indeed, a better word is needed.
And for the Beatitudes (where the Greek μακάριος is admittedly difficult to translate), he has, “Good fortune now to….” I liked the “now” part of this (it carries an “implied sense of immediacy”), but the more traditional “blessed” still seems to leave room in English for the divine blesser, who should be kept in view here. “Good fortune now” seems to miss that.
A more readable translation would not have compromised Nolland’s aims in producing a fairly literal rendering of the Greek. It wasn’t an enormous distraction from a well-written commentary, but it stood out, nonetheless.
The Commentary Proper
It would be impossible for Nolland to be comprehensive at every turn. There were some Greek words or passages of Matthew where I had hoped for more detail, but on the whole, Nolland is thorough.
For instance, in the narrative of the devil’s temptation of Jesus in Matthew 4, Nolland writes of verse 1:
The opening ‘then’, the role of the Spirit, and the Son of God language to come in vv. 2 and 6 create a strong link between 4:1–11 and 3:13–17.
Because of the agency of the devil (and the specific temptations to come) πειρασθῆναι has been translated ‘to be tempted’, but there is in fact a play on the two senses of the πειραζ- root: ‘test’ or ‘tempt’.
This commentary matches literary sensitivity and Greek analysis with conclusions that can easily lead the reader to application. In the same passage: “[T]he devil suggests that sonship is a privilege to be exploited, that Jesus should use his opportunities to see to his own needs.”
Nolland often presents multiple scholarly interpretations of a given passage before offering his own–and even then, he does it humbly (though not unconvincingly). In the Beatitudes, for instance, he notes 11 different understandings of “poor” and four different understandings of “in spirit” for Matthew 5:3. One gets the sense that the author is just as interested in historical interpretation of given passages as he is with his own. This is a good thing.
In Logos, one can search the commentary using control+F (PC) or command+F (Mac):
One cool thing about this is that if you are already in Matthew 6:25 of the commentary (as above), the search results start right where you are (instead of going back to the beginning of the commentary). This way one can research a given word or theme as it unfolds in Nolland’s writing.
Despite the technical nature of the commentary (which I appreciated), the writing style is engaging and accessible, even inspiring in places. I loved this:
Jesus proclaims the imminent arrival of the kingdom of heaven. God now intends to establish afresh his rule among his people. If people are to be ready for this development, then repentance is urgent. Only a fundamental change of life direction will match the needs of the moment.
The bibliographies are a gold mine. One wonders if there’s any journal article or monograph on Matthew that Nolland hasn’t examined. Even so, he says in his preface that he had to trim his listing to accommodate the requirements of the editors!
My critique of the author’s translation notwithstanding, Nolland’s Matthew is a magnificent work, probably even one of the very first places one should go when doing in-depth study of Matthew’s text. Nolland does not disappoint in his technical analysis of words and passages, and yet he somehow is able to keep the Gospel as a whole before him and the reader as he expounds on its component parts. The reader cannot help but be impressed throughout the commentary, both with Nolland, and with Matthew’s Gospel which he describes.
Thanks to Logos for the review copy of the NIGTC series. I will post more in the future about the series and its use in Logos.