The Sole (and Very Interesting) Occurrence of “Mediator” in the LXX

God’s covenant people have always needed a mediator. And God—with limitless grace—has always sent mediators to the people.

A mediator joins two parties together, stands in the gaps, bridges their conflict. A mediator is “a go-between,” a re-negotiator, an arbitrator. An effective mediator is a miracle worker.

Scripture narrates a familiar pattern: God makes covenants with his people; his people break them; God uses mediators to make peace.

The Greek word for mediator is μεσίτης (mesitēs). Careful readers of Scripture know that “the idea of mediation and therefore of persons acting in the capacity of mediator permeates the Bible” (New Bible Dictionary, 3rd edition). However, the word mediator=μεσίτης (mesitēs) occurs only six times in the Greek New Testament.

Three of those uses are in Hebrews (8:6, 9:15, and 12:24). Two are in Galatians 3:19-20. And one is in 1 Timothy 2:5, a theologically rich verse:

For
there is one God;
there is also one mediator between God and humankind,
Christ Jesus, himself human….

The concept and practice of mediation (think: sacrifice, atonement) does indeed fill the pages of the Old Testament. Most of the New Testament uses of mediator, in fact, reference the old covenant. So I found it especially fascinating when I learned that mediator=μεσίτης (mesitēs) occurs only once in the Greek Septuagint.

It comes up in a striking passage in Job 9:33.

Job has already lost everything. But we remember as he utters these words in chapter 9 that the Bible describes him as “blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil.” It said he would “rise early in the morning and offer burnt offerings,” just in case his children had sinned. He covered all his bases. He kept at least the semblance of a covenant with God.

And yet Job senses a breach. All manner of tragedy has befallen him, and everyone around him tells him to curse God. He won’t, but still he feels at odds with God. Job says to the Lord:

… you are not a mortal like me, with whom I would contend,
that we should agree to come to trial.

Would that there were a μεσίτης/mesitēs/mediator for us and an investigator
and one to hear the case between us two.

(This is from the NETS translation, which translates μεσίτης as arbiter.)

Job longs for a mediator, an arbiter between him and God. An “umpire,” the NRSV says, translating the Hebrew.

Again, Job calls for a mediator, even though we have no narrative evidence that he broke a covenant with God! He acknowledges that he can’t “contend” with God as in court, but still yearns for a “mediator” to bridge the gap between him and God.

And now, for the pastoral payoff:

If Job, who led a blameless life, thought he needed a mediator to get to God, how much more do we, God’s not-blameless people, need a mediator to be in the presence of a perfectly holy God?

Getting Absorbed in the Beauty of Scripture: First Impressions of the ESV Six-Volume Reader’s Bible

Crossway Image.jpg
Image via Crossway

 

We who would read the Bible experience hindrances in our quest. I am interested especially in the competing values that create internal conflict, keeping us from Scripture reading. We do well to think through what other values we have that potentially undermine our goal of spending time reading the Bible.

Readers of this blog know how much I value reflection on and study of Scripture, down to the verse, word, and even ἰῶτα. I love reading Scripture atomistically. But I hope that kind of reading is always an accompaniment to (not replacement for) reading Scripture as a narrative, paying attention to its grand sweep. Reading Scripture slowly and word-by-word goes well with reading Scripture in big chunks.

Until recently I have underestimated the impact of chapter and verse divisions on my ability to engage Scripture fully. I have nothing against versification per se, but even the most casual Bible readers are likely to have a sense that those ways of marking the text are later additions and not present in the first manuscripts themselves.

Not that we can get back to some sort of pure, unadulterated “early church” experience of reading Scripture, but can we at least try to simulate the experience of original hearers.

An article by Ruth Graham in Slate recently reminded me of the advent of reader’s Bibles, which present the Bible in single-column, verse-less, novel-like format for more fluid reading.

Crossway has been kind to send the ESV Reader’s Bible, Six-Volume Set for me to review. I’ll write more in the future, but for now I want to comment on my experience of reading Scripture with the ESV Reader’s Bible. I want to say just two things at the outset.

 

1. This Reader’s Bible is beautiful. The production and presentation of Scripture is unlike anything I’ve seen.

 

Behold:

 

 

 

 

The binding, layout, and font are all gorgeous. I don’t love the graphic surrounding “ESV” on the binding, but that’s a minor quibble.

 

2. This Bible more than any other has facilitated my being fully absorbed in the biblical text.

 

I’ve had inspiring and Spirit-filled reading experiences already (and I’m only up to Genesis 22). To be clear, the experience is due primarily to the power of Scripture and the Holy Spirit who inhabits it. No binding or font choice can bring that about. But this reader’s Bible removes what I didn’t realize were distractions to prolonged reading: verses, chapters, headings, study notes, cross-references, etc. I don’t even know which chapter of Genesis I’m on sometimes, and I don’t want to stop reading. That’s a win on the part of Crossway, and (especially) a shout-out to the power of Scripture.

Here’s the link to the Reader’s Bible page at Crossway (here on Amazon). It’s not cheap, but it’s also reasonably priced considering its value (and the immense value of the Bible itself). This fall there is also a paperback version coming out, available now through CBD.

In future posts I’ll write more about the ESV translation itself, the font and layout specifics, and more, but for now I wanted to share how valuable and formative it’s been for me to use this edition for reading Scripture and getting caught up in its beauty.

Did Abraham Lie (Again) When He Called Sarah His Half-Sister?

In both Genesis 12 and Genesis 20 a sojourning, scared, and self-preserving Abraham urges his wife Sarah to lie and say she is his sister.

Confronted by Abimelech about his lie (the second one), Abraham says,

I did it because I thought, There is no fear of God at all in this place, and they will kill me because of my wife. (Gen. 20:11)

Amazingly, Abraham goes on to say:

Besides, she is indeed my sister, the daughter of my father but not the daughter of my mother; and she became my wife.

At this point Abraham has been caught a second time in his lie. The truth of his marriage to Sarah has been revealed, and he is not going to be killed. So he has no real motivation to lie about being half-sibling to Sarah.

Still, he’s proven himself not trustworthy on this front already, so why believe him?

Going back to Genesis 11:31:

Terah took his son Abram and his grandson Lot son of Haran, and his daughter-in-law Sarai, his son Abram’s wife, and they went out together from Ur of the Chaldeans to go into the land of Canaan; but when they came to Haran, they settled there.

Abraham has just claimed that Sarah is Terah’s daughter by another mother. But when Genesis introduces Sarah (then Sarai) in relation to Terah, it says “his daughter-in-law Sarai.” If Abraham is telling the truth that Sarah is Terah’s daughter, might we not expect the text to have said so in Genesis 11:31? Instead, she is just “daughter-in-law, his son Abram’s wife.” Not “daughter.”

This admittedly could be an argument from silence—arguing for a claim just because a text doesn’t say something. That’s generally to be avoided, but at the same time it seems remarkable that in Sarai’s relationship to Terah, her being his daughter is not mentioned.

I see three potential ways to make sense of this:

  1. Abraham is lying about Sarah being his half-sister.
  2. The biblical text contradicts itself.
  3. Abraham is telling the truth and the biblical text is not contradictory, but selective (if oddly so) in what it mentions.

On theological, evidential, and many other grounds, I do not believe that Scripture contradicts itself. (There’s a post for another time!)

Is it possible that the genealogy in Genesis 11 mentions Sarai as daughter-in-law and just misses the chance to identify her also as daughter to Terah? Yes, but that seems unexpected, given how detailed other Genesis genealogies are with family relations.

I conclude, then, if tentatively, that Abraham is lying again in claiming Sarah as half-sister. He has little motivation to (save face?), but his untrustworthiness in claiming her as full sister (to save his own life!) means his credibility on this point is shot.

Interestingly, having wondered about this in my own reading already, it took about 10 commentaries before I finally found one that is open to the possibility that Abraham continues to lie. (I was amazed at how many commentators just take Abraham’s “half-sister” claim in Genesis 20:12 at face value.) Here is Victor P. Hamilton on the question:

Abraham now proceeds to share with Abimelech a bit of family biography. He reminds the king that Sarah is indeed his half-sister, for she and Abraham have the same father, but not the same mother. But Gen. 11:27ff., where one would expect to find the details of this kinship, gives no genealogy for Sarah. She is never mentioned there as the daughter of Terah. One wonders why Abraham did not volunteer this information earlier, when he first came to Gerar. Had he been honest about their situation, he would have saved Sarah and himself a lot of shame, and Abimelech a lot of guilt. Then again, the writer may have intended it as a total fabrication on Abraham’s part.

Hamilton and I could both be wrong in our wonderings, but I see no compelling reason to trust Abraham’s follow-up claim that Sarah was his half-sister.

Please feel free to weigh in via the comments section below.

Jesus and Malachi? Septuagint or Hebrew Bible? (All I Really Want)

Matthew 10:21 reads:

NRSV   Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death

NA28   Παραδώσει δὲ ἀδελφὸς ἀδελφὸν εἰς θάνατον καὶ πατὴρ τέκνον, καὶ ἐπαναστήσονται τέκνα ἐπὶ γονεῖς καὶ θανατώσουσιν αὐτούς.

which made me think of Malachi 4:6 (versification from English Bible):

NRSV   He will turn the hearts of parents to their children and the hearts of children to their parents, so that I will not come and strike the land with a curse.

It’s as if two possible realities (choose wisely!) are being prophesied in each place… surely Jesus had Malachi in mind?

Maybe! The Septuagint does not have the parents-children-children-parents rhythm, but gives instead:

NETS   who will restore the heart of the father to the son and the heart of a person to his neighbor so that I will not come and utterly strike the land. 

LXX     ὃς ἀποκαταστήσει καρδίαν πατρὸς πρὸς υἱὸν καὶ καρδίαν ἀνθρώπου πρὸς τὸν πλησίον αὐτοῦ, μὴ ἔλθω καὶ πατάξω τὴν γῆν ἄρδην.

If Jesus did have the Malachi text in mind to allude to here (of course he knew it), he sure does seem to favor the Hebrew text over its Greek translation.

This itself is not shocking, as Jesus would have known the Hebrew Scriptures (in Hebrew) well, have heard them read at synagogue, etc. But as much as the NT writers seem to employ the LXX over the Hebrew (where they diverge), this was surprising to me.

But in the post linked in the sentence above, I also found this from R.T. France (may he rest in the good Lord’s great peace!) that seems to suggest perhaps I should not be surprised (IF Jesus has Malachi in mind in the first place).

Summarizing the results so far, we may now say that of the sixty-four Old Testament quotations in the sayings of Jesus which may be regarded as certain or virtually so, twenty are to some degree independent of the LXX, and of these twenty, twelve are closer to the MT at this point. The addition of a further ten cases of likely or possible allusions to the MT against the LXX further strengthens the impression that it is wrong to speak of the Old Testament quotations in the sayings of Jesus as basically LXX form.

The textual comparisons are fun, but at the end of the day, all I really want is to be a father whose heart is turned to his children, and whose children turn their hearts to me!

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).