ἰῶτα in Matt 5:18: Which “Law”?

It’s interesting that Matthew quotes Jesus as saying that not a ἰῶτα will pass away/fall away/disappear from the law. That’s a Greek letter. Could this mean Matthew/Jesus are referring to the Septuagint translation of the Torah, specifically? Or at least had the Greek translation in mind, alongside the Hebrew Torah?

More questions, maybe unanswerable: Was Jesus speaking Aramaic here? Or Greek? Or Aramaic and then said ἰῶτα in Greek?

Here’s John Nolland, from his NIGTC commentary:

“To what does Matthew intend ἰῶτα to refer? While ἰῶτα is the simplest of the Greek letters (a vertical line), it does not make a particularly striking image for a tiny detail of the wording of the Law. The synagogue practice of giving the reading from the Law in Hebrew, followed by translation, may suggest that Matthew has the Hebrew text in mind. In that case ἰῶτα could represent yod (as frequently claimed), the smallest of the Hebrew consonants, and one which sometimes contributes nothing to the meaning.”

I find this less than compelling. If Matthew had the Hebrew Law in mind, couldn’t he have put a Greek transliteration of yod (or some other Hebrew letter) on Jesus’s lips?

Or is Nolland right, and Matthew simply translated Jesus’s “yod” into Greek, much as he would already be translating Jesus’s Aramaic speech into Greek (assuming Jesus did, in fact, primarily speak Aramaic)?

The larger interpretive question of what Jesus means theologically doesn’t seem to hinge on these language-specific questions, but I find them interesting all the same.

2018: (Any Language) Gospels in a Year

from The Book of Kells

I am one week in with the Greek Gospels in 2018 reading plan I made. Last week I also invited my congregation to join me in English, so I’ll be able to have some good in-person conversations about the content of the Gospels, too.

Each Gospel has its own three months. Readings are listed for Monday-Friday, with weekends left open for review, other reading, catch-up, or a break. Friday always ends with the last verse of a chapter.

The plan linked below also includes suggested passages each week for ​lectio divina, an ancient way of reading Scripture that goes back to at least the Middle Ages. Lectio divina, many readers of this blog will be aware, is Latin for “divine reading” or “holy reading,” where we read Scripture slowly, reflectively, and prayerfully. (There is a short primer on the practice here, based on a sermon I preached in Lent 2016.)

Let me know if you’ll be reading along! The plan is here.

2018: Greek Gospels in a Year


I plan to read through the four canonical Gospels in Greek in 2018: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

I’ve created a reading plan, which divides the Gospels into three months each, Monday through Friday (with weekends to catch up, review, or take a break).

fullsizeoutput_39f2-e1514662411967.jpegThere is also a weekly reading suggestion for an accompanying Greek textbook to help with vocabulary and grammar: Rod Decker’s Reading Koine Greek.

The plan also includes suggested passages for ​lectio divina each week, for those who want to engage with the Greek text reflectively and prayerfully. Finally, the plan concludes with 16 tips for Scripture memory, for those who want to add that component, as well.

Phew! I am looking forward to reading through the Gospels in this way.

Here is the plan as a PDF, with navigable/hyperlinked Table of Contents: PDF.

And here is the plan as an interactive Accordance User Tool: User Tool.

Would you like to join me? Let me know in the comments or by emailing me through this form. I’m off all social media in 2018 (woo hoo!), but will respond to comments here, as well as at Accordance Bible Software’s “Greek in a Year” forum (here).

Guilty Deputyship: Bonhoeffer’s Justification for Trying to Kill Hitler

One of the abiding questions about the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer is: How did a theologian with pacifist leanings choose to join a conspiratorial effort to kill Adolf Hitler? How could he justify his action, let alone feel compelled to seek the life of another human?

Larry L. Rasmussen explores the question in his amazing book Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Reality and Resistance. (See my earlier book note here.)

In the section I’ve been reading recently, Rasmussen draws on two key concepts for Bonhoeffer: deputyship and guilt.

Deputyship is “the master mark of responsibility” (38). It is vicarious being and action. As Rasmussen puts it, “Man is not man [sic] in and by himself but only in responsibility to and for another” (38). And Jesus Christ is “the Responsible Man par excellence” (51), the ultimate “deputy” through his sacrifice-for-others on the cross.

Then there is guilt. Rasmussen writes:

If deputyship is the master mark of responsibility, acceptance of guilt (Schulduebernahme) is the heart of deputyship. …Jesus did not seek first of all to be good or to preserve his innocence. Rather, he freely took upon himself the guilt of others. (51)

Rasmussen concludes, “Responsible men should do the same.”

230113_1_ftcYou can see where this is going: the concepts of deputyship and guilt have a great deal of explanatory power when it comes to Bonhoeffer’s attempt to take Hitler’s life.

I love this idea of Bonhoeffer’s that Rasmussen describes, namely, that preservation of our sinlessness, innocence, or purity is not to be our primary motivation in acting in the world. Rather, our deputyship (responsibility for the other) should drive us. This means for Bonhoeffer that we may need to get our hands dirty if a tyrant is threatening the well-being of the “others” on whose behalf we act.

But this notion of guilt is difficult for me to fully grasp, and I wonder how we can still leave room for the fact that Jesus, even if not seeking to preserve his innocence, did preserve his innocence.

1 Peter 2:22 quotes Isaiah 53:9 when it says, “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.” The verse before even says that Christ’s suffering for us in this way leaves us “an example, that you should follow in his steps.”

Specifically in 1 Peter the example we are to follow is Jesus’s suffering for doing good and enduring it (1 Peter 2:20). But Jesus also suffered innocently and is lauded for so doing. 1 Peter 2:23 says:

When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.

Are we called to follow Jesus’s example in patient suffering on behalf of others (Bonhoeffer’s deputyship) and in emulating Jesus’s innocence when we suffer on behalf of others?

Yet we will never be like Jesus who “committed no sin.” Should we cut our losses and leave room for our guilt—as Rasmussen seems to read Bonhoeffer—when it comes to suffering for others?

(If so, it could be important to distinguish between the guilt Jesus took on through the crucifixion (not a direct consequence of his own impure action) and any guilt a co-conspirator has (presumably a direct consequence of the “impurity” of conspiratorial involvement)).

Bonhoeffer’s idea of deputyship, and acceptance of any guilt deputyship entails, leads Rasmussen to this utterly astounding summary of Bonhoeffer’s thought:

To maintain one’s innocence in a setting such as that of the Third Reich, even to the point of not plotting Hitler’s death, would be irresponsible action. (51)

It’s as if Bonhoeffer thought one could not resist in Nazi Germany in a sinless, innocent, or pure way. This was no longer the non-violent resistance in The Cost of Discipleship. Again: “To maintain one’s innocence in a setting such as that of the Third Reich, even to the point of not plotting Hitler’s death, would be irresponsible action” (51).

If that’s not enough, here’s where Rasmussen, describing Bonhoeffer, gets really intense. (How’s this for a take on martyrdom?)

To refuse to stand with others trying desperately to topple the perpetrators of mass crimes, to refuse to engage oneself in the demands of necessità [where necessity transcends law], would be the selfish act of one who cared for his own innocence, who cared for his own guiltlessness, more than he cared for his guilty brothers. It would be a rejection of deputyship as the form of the responsible life and of acceptance of guilt as the heart of deputyship. If responsible men have no choice but to infiltrate Hitler’s war machinery, the Christian does not forsake them but joins them. And if in the process he becomes a martyr he will not be a saintly martyr but a guilty one. He may have to forfeit every taint of perfectionism in his pacifism. He may have to join the grotesque, evil enterprises of his very enemy. He may even have to consider and carry out tyrannicide, or actively support those who do. He will bear his colleagues’ burdens and share their sinfulness even when they are not related directly to his own actions. And he will do so as an extraordinary form of the imitatio Christ in a demonic society. (52)

Amazing. I’m still trying to work through all this. It at least helps shed light on how Bonhoeffer could actively join efforts to take Hitler’s life. And a step further: Rasmussen suggests Bonhoeffer saw his conspiracy to murder as not just permissible, but as a Christian duty of sorts: deputyship with guilt.

Wise Words from Bonhoeffer for These Troubled Times: “The Tyrannical Despiser of Humanity”

Read it carefully, read it well. From Bonhoeffer’s Ethics:

The message of God’s becoming human attacks the heart of an era when contempt for humanity or idolization of humanity is the height of all wisdom, among bad people as well as good.

The weaknesses of human nature appear more clearly in a storm than in the quiet flow of calmer times. Among the overwhelming majority of people, anxiety, greed, lack of independence, and brutality show themselves to be the mainspring of behavior in the face of unsuspected chance and threats. At such a time the tyrannical despiser of humanity easily makes use of the meanness of the human heart by nourishing it and giving it other names. Anxiety is called responsibility; greed is called industriousness; lack of independence becomes solidarity; brutality becomes masterfulness. By this ingratiating treatment of human weaknesses, what is base and mean is generated and increased ever anew. The basest contempt for humanity carries on its sinister business under the most holy assertions of love for humanity. The meaner the baseness becomes, the more willing and pliant a tool it is in the hand of the tyrant.

The small number of upright people will be smeared with mud. Their courage is called revolt, their discipline Pharisaism, their independence arbitrariness, and their masterfulness arrogance. For the tyrannical despiser of humanity, popularity is a sign of the greatest love for humanity. He hides his secret profound distrust of all people behind the stolen words of true community. While he declares himself before the masses to be one of them, he praises himself with repulsive vanity and despises the rights of every individual. He considers the people stupid, and they become stupid; he considers them weak, and they become weak; he considers them criminal, and they become criminal. His most holy seriousness is frivolous play; his conventional protestations of solicitude for people are bare–faced cynicism. In his deep contempt for humanity, the more he seeks the favor of those he despises, the more certainly he arouses the masses to declare him a god.

SOURCE: Bonhoeffer, Dietrich, Ethics. Vol. 6 of Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works. Accordance electronic ed. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2009. [Paragraph divisions mine]

Available here (Fortress Press) and here (Accordance).

A Mind Map of Revelation’s Letter to Smyrna

Last week I posted the mind map I made to help me visualize the letter to Ephesus in Revelation 2:1-7.

Here is my mind map of Greek Revelation 2:8-11, the letter to Smyrna. Interesting to see how the structure of this “oracle” is both similar to and different from the letter to Ephesus.



As with last time, this passage outline definitely informed my sermon outline, but the latter differs quite a bit from the former. If you want to hear these sermons, by the way, you can subscribe or listen to the podcast here.

A Mind Map of Revelation’s Letter to Ephesus

I haven’t posted about it since, but I mentioned a while ago that I’m preaching through the first three chapters in Revelation, calling the series, “The 7 Last Words to the Church.” God still speaks to the church today, I believe, but these are the 7 last “words” (or messages) as recorded in Scripture.

This Sunday I’m preaching on the message to Ephesus, the first of seven churches to be addressed (Revelation 2:1-7).

If you are reading this post, it is at least possible that you read Words on the Word because of its nerdery and not in spite of it.

So I wanted to share how much fun I had this morning working through the Greek text (via Accordance) and making a mind map outline of the passage (with MindNode). This is my passage outline, which is not always the same as the sermon outline itself (generally I think of this much alliteration as verboden). Seeing the verses visually like this has helped me get a good grasp on the flow of Revelation 2:1-7. (Click or tap the image to enlarge it.)