Category Archives: Greek Bible Stuff

Authority Words in the Bible

It turns out that the word “authority” in English translations of the Bible covers a whole range of Greek words. Which are not the same at all.

There’s “exousia” and all of its derivatives, which usually are the words used in the Gospels. No problem there. There’s an interesting Esther LXX version that has Esther along with Mordecai sending out letters with authority.

Then there’s “those in authority,” which is really “hyperoche,” preeminent people or superiors.

Then there’s the Titus “with all authority,” which is “meta pas epitage,” where epitage means a command, and a bunch of other similar meanings. It’s not the Gospel thing where Jesus is teaching with authority; it’s Paul telling Titus to teach it like he’s ordering it.

The bit about women not usurping authority over a man is “authentein,” which originally could mean “to do something oneself” (which is where we get our word “authentic”), but which eventually meant “to domineer over somebody else, in a self-appointed way.” I think this is significantly different from “usurp authority,” unless there’s some Greek literature example I’m missing. “Don’t let women push men around” is significantly different than “don’t let women run anything involving men.” It’s more like, “Thou shalt not be Karens.” Adding that they should be “in silence” means “and mind your own business” in Greek.

While I was poking around, I looked at the verse about “let the women learn,” and it’s got some interesting things going on.

“Gyne en hesychia manthaneto en pase hypotage.”

Okay, the first interesting thing is “manthaneto,” which is from the same rootword “matheo,” to learn, as “mathetai,” disciples or students. 3rd person singular, present imperative active.

Yup, it is a command, and “gyne” is singular, in the nominative case.

The other interesting thing is that the sentence is set up with “en hesychia” and “en pase hypotage” separated by “manthaneto,” which is a nice stylish way to put it. It’s not supposed to be a nasty comment, IMHO. But how can “silence” be nice? And “hypotage” means subjection, right?

Well, let’s go to “hypotasso” first. It was originally a word about arranging a Greek phalanx in a military way. The men in a phalanx were fellow citizens, not slaves, and they normally would have no command over each other. But they’d elect or choose some military leader, and obey him in battle and in the field. He wasn’t better or worse than them; they had put him in charge. He had command, as we saw above with “epitage,” but he fought in the same phalanx line with all the rest.

So no, this isn’t some weird slavish submission thing. If it had been, why would Jesus have been subject to His parents, in Luke 2:51? (“en hypotassoumenos”) He was by nature the boss of them, their God and Messiah. But like the citizens of Athens, He chose them and obeyed them voluntarily, because it made sense to Him in the situation.

Secondly, “silence” isn’t a bad thing in Christianity or in Greek secular literature. Someone who lived in silence was someone who didn’t meddle in his neighbor’s business. Hesychia was seen as the root of Christian mysticism, because it let you listen to God.

In general, a good disciple of a secular philosopher would listen receptively and take it all in. He would regard himself as under orders while learning, even if he later went off and did his own teaching.

Secular female disciples would ask questions of their teacher and try to spend a lot of alone time with the teacher, but from various verses in Paul, this wasn’t seen as fitting for Christian women. The female disciples of Jesus traveled around and spent time with Him in an aboveboard way, just as the informal female rabbinical students (mostly relatives or daughters of rabbis) did. And maybe that’s why we don’t hear about female Christian disciples getting the sexual harassment that was standard for female secular philosophers and students.

“I do not permit women to teach” is clearly about formal teaching, during Mass, because Paul compliments how Timothy was taught Christianity at home, by his mom and grandma.

And finally, the whole chapter begins with Paul talking about unauthorized men who presume to teach crazy talk while sinning, and the men who believe them. So yeah, people take some of these verses as anti-woman, when really Paul is just telling all these people to quit doing crazy stuff at church.

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Clothed by Jacob, Supported by Leah

Every so often, we have to remind people that the Woman in Revelation 12 is alluding to Biblical imagery from the Book of Genesis, not to anything pagan.

“A great sign appeared… a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head, a crown of twelve stars.”

Specifically, we’re being referred to Genesis 37:5-10 —

“Joseph told his brothers a dream that he had dreamed, which made his brothers hate him more…

“‘I thought we were binding sheaves in the field, and my sheaf stood up, and your sheaves bowed to my sheaf…’

“His brothers answered, ‘Are you going to be our king? Or shall we be subject to you?’…

“He dreamed another dream, which he told to his brothers, saying, ‘I dreamed a dream where the sun, the moon, and eleven stars were bowing down to me.’

“And when he had told this to his father and his brothers, his father [Israel/Jacob] rebuked him, saying, ‘What does this dream that you have dreamed mean? Shall I, and your mother, and your brothers, bow down to the ground before you?'”

At this point, Joseph’s biological mother Rachel is dead. But Leah is still alive, and is the highest-ranking woman in the household. She’s “the moon.” Jacob, now named Israel, is “the sun.” The eleven stars (the Hebrew says “one and ten”) are all the other sons of Israel.

Leah doesn’t get a lot of modern attention; but both Judah (and hence David) and Levi (and hence the priests) are descended from her. The rabbis liked to point out that Rachel got all the earthly attention, but that the eternal promises from God went to Leah’s sons. Leah is the “rafter” that holds up the whole roof of the house. (Although often Leah and Rachel are described as twin rafters, where both are needed.) Leah is also seen as a prophetess, because her words about her children came true.

Most importantly, though, Leah is tied to Mary by her words in Genesis 30:13, on the birth of her son Asher — “The daughters [ie, women] will call me blessed.”

So the Woman of Revelation 12, previously tied to the Ark of the Covenant, is shown to be clothed with the sun — ie, showing her descent from Israel — and she has the moon under her feet — showing that she springs from Leah. All the tribes of Israel crown her. She comes from them, but she is higher in status than all of them.

The interesting bit is that “hypokato ton podon” is the same Greek used by Matthew and Mark to translate, “The Lord said to my lord, ‘Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet.'” (Ps. 110:1)

The idea of the original psalm, in Hebrew, is that the enemies become a footstool. (The Septuagint translation is “hypopodion ton podon sou.”) Hypokato literally means something like “down under,” whereas “hypo” just means “under.”

But there is a Septuagint text that uses “hypokato ton podon autou” — Ps. 8:7/8:6.

The Gospel writers deliberately honor Jesus, and indicate both his divinity and His humanity as the everlasting king of the House of David, by combining Ps. 110:1 with Ps. 8:7/8:6. (1 Cor. 15:25 has Paul talking about these verses together, also.)

So…. what kind of “mighty sign” is it, if John combines Ps. 110:1, Ps. 8:7/8:6, and Rev. 12:1?

Let’s go back and look at Psalm 8, to get the context.

“O LORD our Lord, how excellent is Your Name in all the earth!

You have set Your splendor in the heavens.

Out of the mouths of babies and suckling children, You have ordained praise

Because of Your adversaries, to silence the Enemy and the vengeful.

When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers,

The moon and the stars which You have established firm,

What is man [enowos] that You are mindful of him,

And the son of Adam [ben Adam] that You visit him?

For You have made him a little lower than the angels,

And have crowned him with glory [kabod] and honor.

You made him reign over the works of Your hands;

You have put all things under his feet:

Sheep, and oxen, and even the beasts of the field,

The birds of the air, and the fish of the sea

That pass through the paths of the seas.

O LORD our Lord, how excellent is Your Name in all the earth!”

So I think we have to understand the Woman through the lens of this psalm. Even a fallen ordinary human is walking around crowned with God’s kabod, and has power over all created things, including the moon and the stars. A Christian who overcomes until the end will have the iron rod that rules the pagan nations and will wear a crown. Mary and the Church, Daughter Zion, are not any less important than that.

So why does this image of the Woman upset people?

(One last thing: Leah’s name means “cow,” and Rachel’s name means “ewe.” So if the Woman is standing on Leah, she’s standing on the cows, and one assumes, on the sheep too.)

(And walking around crowned with God’s kabod is obviously connected to the whole female headgear discussion, which supports the idea that women are indeed wearing diadems of authority, including the coming Christian authority to judge angels.)

Of course, what we usually connect to Rev. 12:1 is Songs 6:4, 10 —

“My love, you are as fair as Tirzah, lovely as Jerusalem, terrible as an army with flags flying!

“Who is this who peers out [the window] like the dawn?

“Fair as the moon, pure as the sun, terrible as an army with flags flying?”

And since the Beloved is clearly Israel, we’re back with Daughter Zion again. Tirzah was the capital of Israel in the North, as Jerusalem was capital of Judah in the South. “Tirzah” means “my pleasure” or “pleasant,” and alludes to God’s promise in Isaiah 62:4 that “you shall be called ‘my delight.'”

But what did it say in Songs 6:9?

“The daughters saw her, and called her blessed.”

Hmmmmmm. Almost like we’re talking about Mary, isn’t it? Obviously there’s no reason at all to connect the Woman with Mary, noooo.

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“Neighbor” vs. “Kinsman”

Today I learned that, in a few places in the Vulgate translation of the Old Testament, “proximus” (usually “neighbor”) actually means “near kinsman,” or “the avenger of blood.”

In one of these cases, “vicinus” is used to represent a neighbor who physically lives close to a person. (A “vicinus” is a person in your neighborhood, a person whom you meet when you’re walking down the street, a person whom you meet each day.)

The Greek used for “neighbor” in “love your neighbor” is “plesion,” a neuter noun which means “person living physically nearby.” The Septuagint uses other words for the avenger of blood.

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Jesus Wants You to Ask for Stuff

It’s okay to want to pray for things you need. It’s a sign of spiritual growth to be happy with what God gives you, or to ask for important things that are worthy of prayer; but the lives of the wonderworking saints tell us that a lot of things are worthy of prayer, according to God.

It’s a sign of spiritual trouble if you are ashamed to pray for what other people need or what you need, or think that prayer is useless. Jesus orders and encourages us on many occasions to ask the Father for stuff we need, to be persistent about it, and not to be afraid that the outcome will be bad. The Lord’s Prayer that He gave us is all about asking for essentials and for eternal life. He’s not a vending machine and the “prosperity gospel” is heresy; but He’s not stingy, either.

John records that Jesus spent a lot of the Last Supper leading up to telling the Apostles to ask the Father for stuff. He’s the true Vine, we’re the branches, and we dwell in Him if we keep His commands. If we keep His commands and dwell in Him and His words and His love, we will bear much fruit. If we keep His commands, we are His friends, and He will lay down His life for us.

John 15:16-17 – “Y’all did not choose me. But I chose y’all and I appointed (etheka: literally, placed, laid down – the same verb in “lay down his life for his friends”) y’all, so that you may go out and bear fruit and your fruit may dwell/remain — so that whatever y’all might ask the Father in My Name, He may give to y’all.

“I command these things so that y’all may love one another.”

John 16:24 – “Up until now, y’all have not asked for anything in My Name. Ask and you will receive, so that the joy of y’all may be filled up.”

So basically, Jesus did all this for us, and we bear fruit in response, so that we can have joy and eternal life, and so that the Father answers our prayers, and so that we love one another. That’s a lot of trouble for the Trinity to go to, if we never ask God for what we need; and it’s ignoring a direct commandment.

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“Thinking He’s the Gardener….”

So Mary Magdalene thought Jesus was the gardener — which is “kepouros” in Greek. It literally is “garden” (kepos) + “watcher, guard, keeper” (ouros).

The last time we saw somebody watching and guarding a garden, it was an angel with a flaming sword, keeping humans out of Paradise and away from the Tree of Life.

And then there was the leader of the Lord’s hosts, who talked to Joshua while bearing a flaming sword. He let Israel’s people into the garden of Israel, but they did not get the Tree of Life.

But He has not come as garden security, to keep her out. It’s Life Himself, alive after dying on a tree, alive after spending time in the cool of the evening in a garden.

And He calls her by name.

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“My Father Is the Farmer”

In John 15:1, Jesus says, “I am the true Vine, and My Father is the Farmer” (georgos).

“Georgos” literally means “land/earth” + “worker”, and thus “farmer.” It’s where we get the name George.

It’s usually translated as “vineworker” or “vinedresser” when it shows up in a vineyard context, especially since the Septuagint used it that way; but it really is just the generic word for “farmer.”

So yes, Jesus is in the construction trades like His Dad, and He’s a shepherd like His Dad; but the Father is a farmer too. So it’s not surprising, maybe, that Mary Magdalene would confuse Jesus with the gardener!

UPDATE: John 15:2 uses another surprising expression. It doesn’t warn us literally that branches not bearing fruit (me pheron carpon) will be cut off; it says that the Father “takes it away” (airei auto) in the sense of “picks up, pulls off, plucks, removes”; but also, that the Father “cleans up,” (kathairei) every branch that bears fruit, in the sense of “prunes.” And then Jesus adds, “Y’all are already clean (katharoi), by the Word that I have spoken to y’all.”

There’s a lot of “clean” and “pure” in John’s Gospel…. (As seen in my previous post.)

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Priest and Servant II: Sacrificial Victim

If you keep up with Brant Pitre, Scott Hahn, etc., you know that the Hebrew Bible and the Septuagint don’t say, “Sacrifice this animal,” but “Do this to the animal” or “Do this animal.” So when Jesus said, “Do this in memory of Me,” He was saying, “Offer this sacrifice.”

So… in the Holy Thursday reading, we have John quoting Jesus as saying, “Do y’all know what I have done to y’all?… I have given y’all a pattern, so that as I did to y’all, y’all should also do.” (John 13:12, 15)

[Btw, the verse does NOT say, “to each other.” It just says they should do it. Argh, translators adding things!]

The word for pattern, “hypodeigma,” is the same word that is used for God’s patterns of the Temple furniture and layout and vestments, which He showed Moses on Mount Sinai. So yes, we are at a greater version of the heavenly banquet with God and the elders of Israel, and it’s not just an upper room but the heavenly mountain.

Also, when the Apostles (except Judas) are described as already washed and therefore “clean” (John 13:10), the word that is actually used is “katharos” and “katharoi.”

That means “pure,” really. It is used in the Septuagint to mean “clean” in the clean/unclean ritual sense, or to talk about “clean beasts” that are suitable for sacrifice. But it’s also used for “pure” gold as a material.

Anyhow… my point is that Jesus is serving the Apostles while making them priests, as I talked about in my last post. But also Jesus is preparing to “do” Himself, and for them to help “do” Him in a continual re-presentation of His perfect once-for-all sacrifice.

But by “doing” something to them, it implies that they are also being made into little Christs who will also be sacrificial victims. Jesus is implying that a servant who wants to be like Himself will sacrifice his time and effort, and maybe even his life, to serve others.

Also, it seems to me that it’s setting the Apostles up to turn other people into priests, and servants, and living sacrifices. It’s a process being instituted.

And then Jesus says something interesting. He says that a servant/slave (doulos) is not greater than the master/lord (kyriou), nor an emissary/apostle (apostolos) greater than the one that sent him. (cf. John 13:16) So yup, that’s pretty pointed! I don’t know why it’s not usually translated “apostle,” since every other use gets translated as “apostle.”

Before moving onto the actual Supper, He says, “If y’all know these things, blessed are y’all — if y’all do them.” (John 13:17)

Yeah, that’s not stern at all….

UPDATE: Going back to the “pattern,” it’s worth pointing out that all of us Christians have bodies that are temples where the Holy Spirit dwells, and where the Son and the Father dwell. So this is one of the heavenly patterns for how to build and furnish our individual temples.

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Priest and Servant

As we saw last night, Holy Thursday is about the institution of the Eucharist and the New Covenant; but right before then, it’s about the institution of the priesthood, and the obligation for the new priestly people, Christians, to act as servants toward each other.

Jesus takes off His himation, or cloak, which leaves Him in His long seamless robe; and then He ties a towel around Himself as a belt.

And what did the Jewish priests wear at the Temple? A long seamless linen robe down to the ankles, and a belt or sash tied around the robe.

But the way Jesus was doing it (ie, with the towel) seems to have been how servants did the footwashing for guests. So it was a sort of visual pun.

Leviticus 8:6 – “Moses had Aaron and his sons come forward, and he washed them. He put the linen robe on Aaron and fastened the belt around him.” (This is when Aaron and his sons are made priests of the Lord.)

Exodus 40:30-32 – “He placed the basin between the Tent of Meeting and the altar, and put water in it for washing; and from it, Moses, Aaron, and his sons washed their hands and their feet. They washed whenever they entered the Tent of Meeting or approached the altar, just as the LORD had commanded Moses.

You get another priestly thing when Jesus warns Peter that unless he is washed, “You do not have a portion with Me.” (John 13:8) The Levites and priests of Israel were the only tribe that did not have a portion of the land; their portion and inheritance was God Himself.

(Oh, and here’s something funny. Peter didn’t just say, “Lord, you will _never_ wash my feet.” He said, “You will not wash my feet eis ton aiona,” which literally means, “to the age,” and is a translation of some kind of Hebrew expression about “olam.” It’s something like “ever in my life,” “in this age,” or even “forever.” So it’s a pretty exaggerated or emotional way to talk. Jesus says it because He’s God and He can, but Peter saying it is silly.)

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“The Word Is Hard.”

The other day, I was listening to a talk about the Bread of Life Discourse (aka “All that stuff in John 6”), and suddenly I wondered what the Greek was for “This is a hard saying.” (Sometimes you also see it translated as “This is a hard teaching.” It’s John 6:61/6:60.)

Ha! It was a good thing to check!

What the grumbling listeners said was, “Skleros estin ho logos.”

Which literally means… “The Word is hard.”

“Skleros” is something dried out and stiff, hence also hard, stubborn, unyielding, harsh.

And yup, Jesus the Word was particularly unyielding and stubborn about every single point in the Discourse.

The Word is hard. Sweet like manna, tender like a lamb, but harsh too. He’s not going to back down from telling you to gnaw on His Body and drink His Blood. His Flesh is real food, and His Blood is real drink. Come to the marriage feast of the Lamb.

UPDATE: In case you were wondering, St. Jerome has it as “Durus est hic sermo.” One of the Old Latin translations of “the Word of God” was “Sermo Dei” instead of “Verbum Dei.” So Jerome was riffing off the Greek here. The idea that “sermo” primarily means “saying” or “teaching” or “sermon” is a later understanding of the connotations, although it does go along with secondary meanings of “logos.”

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The Greek Words for Good and Bad

If you take a classical/koine Greek class, the first words you learn for “good” and “bad” are “kalos” and “kakos,” which also mean something like “beautiful” and “sh*tty.”

The Septuagint decided to translate certain kinds of good and bad things with two different Greek words: “agathos” and “poneros.” These also mean something like “admirable, excellent, suited to the purpose, fertile for agriculture” and “toilsome, painful.”

“Agathos” is good as in the seed falling on good ground, in a good heart. “Poneros” is bad, as in a bad decision for bad reasons, that makes life worse for you in the long run. “Agathos” is also used to express righteousness. In Greek literature, someone who is “agathos” is noble in character, the opposite of someone who is “kakos.”

There are some other Greek words for good and bad, but “agathos” comes up in today’s second reading at Mass in the OF, 1 Peter 3:18-22. We’re not actually asking God for a “clear” or “clean” conscience, but for a good, righteous conscience that bugs us and keeps us out of trouble.

(We also have the word “makrothymia,” which doesn’t mean “longsuffering” or “patience” the way we use it, even though that’s how it’s translated this week. “Thymia” is passion, temper, spiritedness, the way a bold warrior acts. It comes from “thymos,” which also means spiritedness, and usually a sort of righteous anger. “Makrothymia” is the quality of biding a long time before deploying the thymia and making havoc. “Slow to anger” is more to the point than “longsuffering.” In the Septuagint, Isaiah 57:15 has God promising to give makrothymia to the lowly of soul/mind (“oligopsychois”), where the Hebrew promises to “revive” the spirit of those with a humble spirit. So having makrothymia is a dynamic quality, promising action.)

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Mary Among the Evangelists

Last night I started reading an interesting book called The Definitiive Guide for Solving Biblical Questions about Mary: Mary Among the Evangelists, by the Rev. Dr. Christiaan Kappes and William Albrecht.

This is a great book for my current interests, because it deals particularly with Gospel information about Jesus, His mom, His foster-father, and the whole situation with His disciples and His extended family. It turns out that the literary structures used by the Evangelists, and the parallel verses and Greek usages in the Septuagint, provide a lot of additional story that is “left out” in most English translations.

Some of it is even present in the original Hebrew of the Old Testament, but still gets ignored, or translated in a non-transparent way. For example, in the story of Jephthah and his daughter, the text doesn’t say “she was a virgin” as it is often translated. The Hebrew says, “she did not know man,” and then the Greek uses “ouk egno andra,” which is the same thing but in the aorist tense. So even though it’s an unusual Hebrew phrase, it does show up in the Bible elsewhere. Even without being native Hebrew or Aramaic speakers, we are supposed to be thinking about Jephthah’s daughter… especially since in the Greek and Hebrew both, Jephthah’s daughter tells her dad, “Let this thing be done to me according to your word.”

Okay, according to your “rhema” in Luke and according to your “logon” in our Septuagint, and according to your “dabar” in Hebrew; but using synonyms is still saying the same thing — especially since Mary’s doing some wordplay, using the same “rhema” that Gabriel just used.

It’s kind of a witty thing for Mary to say, especially to cap the words of an angel — but it comes with a heavy implication that she’s scared as heck. I mean, Jephthah’s daughter was assenting to being killed. And then what does Mary do? She goes up to the hills for a few months and spends time with another woman before coming back home, just like Jephthah’s daughter went to the mountain with her friends for a couple months before reporting home to become a human sacrifice. I mean, yes, Luke is also using Ark of the Covenant language, but the rest of the implications are freaking dark. So the Magnificat is even more amazing in context — Mary is not mourning herself, but is praising God.

The other interesting bit is that, when Gabriel says “rhema,” the primary meaning is “word, thing said,” but the extended sense is “things that happen, factual occurrences.” So he does simultaneously say, “For all things are possible with God” and “For every word will be possible with God.”

So of course, Gabriel is saying “What I’ve just said to you, which comes straight from God, will come true.” But he’s also talking to a girl, who by all tradition and implication of what she just said, is a vowed virgin. Her vow is also a “rhema,” just as Jephthah’s vow was a “logon.” So Gabriel is telling Mary that her spoken vow will not be disregarded; again, God shows His lovingkindness and courtesy. “For with God, every word is not impossible.”

The Bible is deep stuff. You can’t say that too often.

PS – This also makes Jephthah’s daughter the exact female parallel to Abraham’s son Isaac, by making Mary the New Jephthah’s Daughter against Jesus being the New Isaac. She is the ewe lamb who does her part, even though her Son is the True Lamb of God. This time it’s the daughter who is spared and the Son Who dies. Last time, the women mourned Jephthah’s daughter every year; this time, Mary is “blessed among women” and “all generations shall call me blessed.”

Another interesting bit is that Jewish tradition is adamant that Jephthah should have tried harder to get out of his vow, by asking around, and by determining that it was not fitting to sacrifice a human, willing or not. (The Book of Judges is all about people doing “what seemed right in their eyes,” and mostly doing sinful things because of it.) God doesn’t want us to be stubborn and keep bad vows, or abet others in toxic pigheadedness. So if God says through Gabriel that Mary’s vow is good, and that her parents and Joseph letting her keep it was good, that means that Mary as antitype improves on Jephthah’s daughter as type. She offered herself up in a fitting way, which is part of why it was fitting for God to take her up on it, and offer her an even more important depth of offering.

(There’s also a minority interpretation that Jephthah’s daughter remained alive and was sent to serve God at the Tabernacle, having been vowed a virgin by her dad instead of by herself. Which would also be relevant to Mary.)

Either way, Mary is obedient and responsive to God… but she’s also got that dark Jewish sense of humor. Obediently snarky.

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The Magnificat Says Mary Knew

I’ve been studying the Greek 101 course on The Great Courses, off and on. (Not very diligently. Basically, whenever I’ve got enough brainpower.)

Not long after the bit where you realize you can understand the first five lines of the Iliad, the second episode about dactylic hexameter includes a portion of Luke’s Gospel, where Gabriel speaks to the Virgin Mary. And yesterday, thinking about it, I noticed something that connects to the Magnificat.

St. Gabriel says about the son that Mary is being asked to bear, “He will be great.” (Literally, “Houtos estai megas,” He will be big/great/important.)

Some people say that Mary couldn’t have known Who her son was. But St. Elizabeth knew right away. The Spirit of the Lord came upon her, and she cried out in a loud voice (“krauge megale“) that Mary was “the mother of my Lord.”

Well, obviously the Holy Spirit had done a lot more quality time with Mary, by overshadowing her, and God Himself was right there inside! Prophecy might occur!

So what does Mary say about her unborn son?

Megalynei he psyche mou ton Kyrion.” (Literally, My soul makes the Lord big, or My soul displays/proclaims that the Lord is big. “Megalynei” has the extended sense of “extols.”)

Mary is clearly alluding to her promised son being the Lord Himself! And then she underlines it, saying as a pregnant woman:

“Hoti epoiesen moi megala ho Dynatos.” (The Mighty One has done big things to/at me.) Like in her womb. Getting big.

But wait, there’s more! In Luke 1:58, after Mary had gone home and Elizabeth had given birth, the neighbors and relatives of Elizabeth heard that: “…hoti emegalynen Kyrios to eleos autou met autes, kai synechairon aute.” (“….that the Lord was magnifying His Mercy with her, and they rejoiced with her.” And notice Gabriel’s greeting being echoed with “chaire.”) So literally, the double meaning was that the Lord had been staying at her house, working on getting big!

Probably this is old news to a lot of you, but I’ve never heard it pointed out before. (And this allusion pattern is probably why some scholars are super-anxious to deny Mary’s composition of the Magnificat — because it shows that she understood what was going on, and was a Bible-contemplating poet as well as a prophetess.)

It would make sense for Luke to back up Mary’s allusions with at least one of his own, because that would show his audience that he also understood what was going on. It also rounds out the story, by alluding to elements of the Annunciation at the announcement of John the Baptist’s birth and name.

This will probably be a better-sounding Marian argument if you say “great” instead of “big.”

UPDATE: The Greek word “megas” is used in the Septuagint to translate Hebrew “gadol,” great (or big!). The Greek word “dynatos” is used to translate Hebrew “gibbor,” which can mean “mighty,” “the Mighty One” (as in Zephaniah 3:17), or “warrior.”

SECOND UPDATE: The sacred extension of the “extols” meaning is “make the Lord’s Name big, by letting other people know His deeds and power.” And it shows up a lot.

Megalynei references at Bill Mounce’s website.

Acts 10:46 — “For they were hearing them speaking in tongues, and exalting [megalynonton] God.”

Acts 19:17 — “And the Name of the Lord Jesus was exalted [emegalyneto].”

Phil. 1:20 — “Christ will be exalted [megalynthesetai] in my body, whether by life or by death.” (See, being Christian does imply identifying with Mary….)

The word also shows up in the Septuagint. One of the most important ones is in Sirach 43:35 — ‘Who shall see [God] and describe Him as He is? Who shall magnify [megalynei] Him as He is, from the beginning?’

Well, apparently Mary will see God, and will magnify Him. So there’s an answer to Ben Sira’s question, heh….

Another super-important LXX reference is 2 Sam. 7:18-29. Mary’s Magnificat refers a ton to the prayer of Samuel’s mother, Hannah; and legend identified her own previously barren mom, Anna/Hannah, as also identifying strongly with Hannah. But Mary was of the House of David, so it’s not surprising that she would also identify strongly with David, since her entire situation was a fulfillment of what the Lord had promised David through the prophet Nathan — that God would be father to the Son of David, that David’s House and kingdom would endure forever, and his throne would endure forever. So Mary refers to David’s thankful response to God, and Elizabeth also calls back to this speech (although obviously 2 Sam. 6:9 and Hannah’s song even more). David calls himself the Lord’s servantman [“doulo” – Hebrew “ebed”] and Mary calls herself His servantwoman or handmaid [“doula”], so the parallel is strong. (And obviously this is the usual OT way to talk directly to God, so it’s not surprising.)

“And David went in, and sat before the Lord, and said, “Who am I, O Lord God, and what is my house, that You have brought me thus far? But yet this has seemed little in Your sight, O Lord God… For Your Word’s sake, and according to Your own heart You have done all these great things [megalosynen], so that You would make it known to Your servant. Therefore You are magnified [megalynai], O Lord God, because there is none like to You. 

“And what nation is there upon earth like Your people Israel, whom God went to redeem for a people to himself… and to do for them great things [megalosynen] and awe-inspiring things upon the earth, before the face of Your people…

“And now, O Lord God, raise up for ever the Word that You have spoken concerning Your servant and concerning his house: and do as You have spoken, so that Your Name may be magnified [megalytheie] for ever… Because You, O Lord of hosts, O God of Israel, have revealed this to the ear of Your servant, saying, ‘I will build You a house.’ Therefore Your servant has found it in his heart to pray this prayer to You. 

“And now, O Lord God, You are God, and Your words shall be true, for You have spoken these good things to Your servant… and with Your blessing let Your servant’s House be blessed for ever.”

(Oh, and btw, the Hebrew for “great things” in this passage is “hagedullah,” from “gadol,” and “be magnified” is “weyigdal,” also from “gadol.”)

I love finding all these deep things, just sitting there in plain sight. I guess people think more about Hannah’s Song and the Magnificat because it’s apt for a woman, but there’s a ton of stuff pointing out that David’s response is sort of a bookend to Hannah’s Song. So why wouldn’t Mary refer to them both?

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“Because of the Angels”

I have been learning Ancient Greek by way of Professor Mueller’s Greek 101 on The Great Courses, so of course I am rummaging around in Greek texts of the Bible. I was also looking at an interesting 1994 article by Fr. Thompson about St. Hildegarde of Bingen’s ideas about sex and the priesthood.

He notes St. Hildegarde’s “misquote,” or rather, her deliberately partial quote, of 1 Corinthians 11:9. Rather than St. Paul’s “….the man was not created for the woman, but the woman for the man,” she quotes it as “The man was… created for the sake of the woman, and the woman for the sake of the man.” This is a pretty common thing for medieval authors to do. They know the quote, and they know that the reader knows the quote. But they like to show that an opposite version of the quote is also true!

So anyway, this led me to look at 1 Corinthians 11 with fresh eyes.

Okay, so the rule that St. Paul is teaching is that is that Christian men at Mass (unlike Jewish men at synagogues or the Temple, or so one is told — but see below) do not cover their heads at prayer, because Christ (Who is God) did not cover His head at prayer. But Christian women (like Jewish men and women) do cover their heads at prayer.

St. Paul was Jewish first. What did he learn about the creation of woman?

Woman was created to be the man’s ‘ezer, his helper and rescuer, much as the Lord is the helper of Israel.

Similarly, God has a glory around Him (shekinah in Hebrew, doxa in Greek). Sometimes the glory is displayed, but mostly it was concealed from the people, inside the Temple’s Holy of Holies. The glory concealed God, but also revealed His Presence.

So when Paul says in 1 Cor. 11:15 that a woman’s hair is her glory and given to her as a covering, he’s comparing women and hair to God and His glory cloud.

So yeah, not exactly a disrespectful attitude.

Finally, the whole situation with wearing a covering or not is referred to as being “because of the angels.” But earlier, in 1 Corinthians 6:3, St. Paul asked the Corinthians, if they didn’t already know that Christians were going to be judging angels? So obviously, it doesn’t have anything to do with angels being the boss of Christian women…

So what is really going on?

1 Corinthians is a letter with a lot of stuff about discipline and manners. But it is couched in a context of eternal dignity for all Christians. So the whole letter is addressed to the Corinthians in the Church. Paul says they have been sanctified (hegiasmenois) and called to be holy/saints (kletois hagiois). He says they have been enriched by all the Word and by all knowledge (en panti logou, kai en pase gnosei), and that in their community, they do not lack even one spiritual gift.

But all the same, stuff is going wrong? Why?

St. Paul blames a lack of love among the members of the Church. Then he goes through all the bad stuff they’ve been doing, from lawsuits among themselves and sexual sins, all the way down to a general lack of orderliness. He answers some questions, in case they just haven’t been putting the pieces together; then he wades back into the disorder problems.

And that’s where we find the hairy comments about heads and hair.

First off, Paul points out that all the spiritual gifts and knowledge only belong to the Corinthians in Christ Jesus —

“Who for us has become wisdom from God, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption.” (1 Cor. 1:30)

Now the interesting bit is that the same Greek word for “became” shows up in the Septuagint/Gospel version of one of the famous quotes about Jesus — the lyrical bit from Psalms, about how the stone which the builders rejected has become (egenesthe) the head (kephalen) of the corner. So St. Paul is thinking about Christ as our head, from the very beginning of the letter.

(There may also be a horrible continuing pun about Greek Kephas from Aramaic Kepha, Peter the rock, versus Greek kephalos, head.)

Obviously St. Paul has a thing about Christ and Temple theology, so it’s not surprising that it shows up again in 1 Cor. 3:9-17.

“For we are God’s coworkers. Y’all are God’s field –

“Y’all are God’s building. According to the grace of God given to me, like a wise master builder I laid a foundation. And another is building upon it; but each one must be careful how he builds upon it. For no one can lay a foundation other than the one that is there — namely, Jesus Christ…

“Do y’all not know that y’all are the Temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in y’all?

“If anyone destroys God’s Temple, God will destroy him. For the Temple of God, which y’all are, is holy.”

He goes on to point out even more about Christian dignity as baptized children and members of God Himself:

“So let no one boast about human beings, for everything belongs to y’all: whether Paul or Apollo or Kephas, the world or life or death, or the present or the future. They all belong to y’all; and y’all belong to Christ, and Christ to God.

“So let a human being count us as servants of Christ and stewards of God’s mysteries.” (1 Cor. 3:22-23, 1 Cor. 4:1)

Paul goes on to point out that he’s trying to act like a trustworthy steward, and that God is the only real judge of his work; even Paul can’t judge himself on that point. Then he points out that if he and Apollos are nervous about God’s judgment, it’s a bit much for the Corinthians to be so confident that they’re heading for heaven. And it is at this point that the angels show up for the first time in the letter.

“For as I see it, God has exhibited us apostles as the last of all, like people sentenced to death. For we have become a spectacle [theatron egenethemen] to the world [tou kosmou], both to angels and to humans [kai angelois kai anthropois].” (1 Cor. 4:9)

I really like the way this is put. Christ has become the head of the corner, and Christian apostles have become a gladiator theater show!

Paul then talks about all the trouble and disrespect that the apostles face in their mission. He describes them as being treated like gunk scraped off a plate (peripsema) and like throwaway scum (perikatharma). He compares himself and other apostles to the prosperous and popular Corinthian Christians, and urges the Corinthians to imitate his own hardy attitude and loving behavior.

He points out that he is not just sending Timothy to be a reminder of the teachings, but that he will be coming himself. Anybody who is a big talker will then have to prove that he has as much of God’s power as Paul can wield. Do they want a loving Paul, or a punishing smitey Paul?

This brings him to the next topic: a supposedly Christian man who is sleeping with his own stepmother. Ew! Even the pagans don’t do that! Maybe only God can judge someone’s stewardship… but in this case, Christians not only can judge, but must judge their own.

“The one who did this deed should be expelled from your midst. Although absent in body but present in spirit, I for my part have already pronounced judgment, as if present, on the one who has committed this deed… Is it not your business to judge insiders?… Purge the evil person from your midst.” (1 Cor. 5:2-3, 12)

After this comes all the talk about lawsuits. Disputes should be settled within the Church, if at all possible; and it should be possible.

“How can anyone among y’all, with a case against another, dare to bring it for judgment to the unjust, instead of to the saints?

“Do y’all not know that the saints [hoi hagioi] will judge the world [ton kosmon]? If the world is going to be judged by y’all, how are y’all unqualified for the most minor cases?

“Do y’all not know that we will judge angels? Then how much more, the things of this life?” (1 Cor. 6:1-3)

Angels as underlings again.

Anyway, St. Paul advises two things — that people put up with injustice rather than drag things outside the Church, but also that the Church get its act together and quit letting the members do bad things. People were supposed to change their ways after being baptized and becoming part of Christ. Just as people sleeping with prostitutes make themselves one with the prostitute, Christians shouldn’t be trying to drag Christ’s Body into their own sins. The body of a Christian is a Temple of the Holy Spirit.

Paul moves along to talk about marriage. Of course, for those who can handle it (like Paul) —

“It is a beautiful thing for a man not to touch a woman.” (1 Cor. 7:1)

[In Greek, “kalos” means good, beautiful, noble, clean, etc.]

But otherwise, marriage is a good thing.

And this is where it gets interesting!

“But on account of immoral sexual behavior,” [dia de tas porneias] “each man may have his own wife, and each woman may have her own husband. Let the husband do his duty to the wife, and the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority [exousiazei] over her own body [tou idiou somatos]; but rather, the husband does. Yet neither does the husband have authority over his body; but rather, the wife does.” (1 Cor. 7:2-4)

O ho ho! Shades of Yentl! And yup, the phrase is put exactly the same way for either husband or wife. (Everybody tells me that Paul is soooooo sexist.)

Paul goes on:

“Do not deprive one another — unless perhaps by mutual consent, so that y’all might be at leisure for prayer for a time. But then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you through your lack of self-control.

“However, I say this as a concession, not as a command. For I wish all human beings could be as I am.

“But each person has his own gift from God — one this, another that.

“And so I say to the unmarried people and to the widows, that it is beautiful for them to remain like me. But if they don’t have self-control, let them marry; for it is better to marry than to burn.” (1 Cor. 7:5-9)

And now it gets interesting again.

“But to those who have married, I send this message [parangellou] — I, not the Lord.

“A wife is not to be separated from a husband.

“But if she has been separated from him, let her remain unmarried, or let her be reconciled with her husband.

“And let a husband not divorce his wife.” (1 Cor.

Paul then says that if a Christian has an unbelieving spouse who wants to stay married, they should stay married; the unbelieving spouse will be sanctified in his union with the believer, and their children will be holy/saints/members of the Church. If the unbeliever doesn’t want to be married, the believer can let them go. In general, everybody should live as they already do (barring sin).

“Concerning virgins, I have no command from the Lord. But I give my personal advice from experience, as one who is trustworthy from having received the Lord’s mercy.” (1 Cor. 7:25)

Again, his advice is to stay as you are; but if a person wants to marry, that’s fine too. This will cause some suffering in the present life.

But ideally, all Christians should live as if the world were about to end, because it is an ephemeral place and Christians are immortal. Christians should set aside anxiety and live for God.

This leads to a discussion of eating food offered to idols. Basically, it’s a bad idea because it gives the wrong idea, and thus leads people astray. Paul talks about how he doesn’t use all his rights as an apostle; other Christians should be thinking of helping others, too. He advises everyone to “run so as to win,” exercising and training themselves with discipline in every possible way. Do not be overconfident in Christ’s mercy. Avoid idolatry and think of the good of others around you.

Again he urges the Corinthians to imitate him, as he imitates Christ. In fact, he tells them to be “mimetai,” mime actors! (“Hypocritai” are the talking actors with masks or makeup.) In Greek society, the students of a philosopher or trademaster were expected to try to imitate him in every way; so were the students of a rabbi in Jewish society.

So finally we get to the stuff about headcovering.

As St. Paul says in a paraphrase of Genesis 2, the woman was literally created out of the man, not the man out of the woman. So man is literally the head of humanity and woman is literally the human rib; whereas the head man of all men is Christ, the new Adam; and Christ’s head is God. This much is clear reasoning.

The tricky bit is that, since Christian men are the image and glory of God, their heads should be exposed; but that since Christian women are Christian men’s doxa or shekinah, their heads should be hidden. Possibly this is talking about how humans are fallible and should be modest before God. In this idea, God’s glory should be exposed and revealed to the world, and should not be covered before God because it is of God. Probably I am missing something Jewish about this.

OTOH, Paul then says that the woman ought to have “authority” (exousian) “on the head” (epi tes kephales). I am not clear why the obvious meaning (going by the earlier passage in 1 Corinthians) is not taken — that the wife does still have authority over the body of her husband, even though he is her head. Possibly this is because it’s a feminine “kephales.”

But in that case, wouldn’t it be saying that the woman has authority over her own head, even if she should be wearing a headcovering and isn’t? Wouldn’t that fit Paul’s argument style better? (And indeed, this is one interpretation — they have more authority than non-Christian women, and need to exercise it so they’ll be ready for judging the world.)

The stumbling block seems to be Paul’s interjection, “because of the angels/messengers” [dia tous angelous]

Traditionally the saying is associated with the idea that bad angels liked the looks of the daughters of men, including their hair. But that doesn’t seem to have been a factor in the Adam and Eve story, in early Jewish tradition. If anything, Eve was a figure of authority in Eden, and Satan resented the fact that such a newbie, made out of meat instead of spirit, was being given such power by God.

All the angels (or messengers) mentioned in 1 Corinthians, up to this point, are good angels. So what is the deal? Is “authority on the head” a symbol of Christian humans being able to judge angels? A sign of dignity, scholarship, and power, or a sign of awe before the Lord?

(long aside follows)

Before the Diaspora, it was not required that Jewish men ever cover their heads, although it was considered pious to do so during prayer, at synagogues, or in the Temple. Temple Judaism did tend to regard covering the head or face as an expression of awe before God or of penance. OTOH, grief or reckless behavior could require one to bare the head and expose the hair. Headcoverings for male scholars were a sign of dignity and learning. Covering the heads of boys was thought to make them more serious. But it may in fact have become customary for Jewish men to cover their heads always, and particularly at prayer, as a contradiction of Christian custom.

As with most of the ancient world, Temple Judaism only wanted married women to cover their heads outside the home, basically as a sign that they were taken. It was only gradually that unmarried Jewish women began to cover their hair; it would not have been the custom in the time of Jesus or Paul. Pagan Greek and Roman married women covered their hair.

After the loss of the Temple, custom got meaner; it was permissible for a man to divorce his wife if her hair was ever seen outside, and showing female hair was said to be the same as showing female genitalia. Similarly, the idea that married Jewish women should shave their heads and keep their hair covered forever, even from their husbands inside their bedrooms, was a late medieval or early modern idea, apparently born of an excessive sense of “keeping a fence around the Law.”

Obviously none of this, er, devotional creativity (ahem) has anything to do with Christian women or the strictures of St. Paul. Similarly, Christian women should dismiss the moral reasoning behind Muslim headcoverings. We should not be anywhere on the same page with the heretical Quran. (And yes, I shouldn’t have to say something as obvious as that.)

(long aside ends)

Amusingly, there is at least one Christian group today that believes that only women wearing headcoverings have the authority to exorcise demons. Others associate it with angels covering their faces before God. (Actually, I only know about angels throwing themselves down before God, and seraphim covering up God from human sight.)

Anyway, Paul quickly moves on from the headcovering issue, unlike the rest of us!

“However, in the Lord, woman is not separate from man, nor is man separate from woman. For just as the the woman came out of the man, so the man exists because of the woman. But everything comes from God.

“Judge for yourselves whether it is proper for a woman to pray to God while unveiled.” (1 Cor. 11:11-13)

Then the next knotty problem: long-haired men in the congregation.

“But on the other hand, doesn’t Nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a dishonor [atimia] to him?” (1 Cor. 11:14)

Men or boys having long hair was a sign of effeminate sexiness among the pagan men who liked catamites. Some Jewish men grew their hair long, which was… um… misunderstood.

In ancient ancient Athens, atimia was a legal term for losing the powers of citizenship. You weren’t exiled, but you couldn’t vote or act as a juror, and you couldn’t defend yourself by suing anyone else. So having atimia growing on your head is pretty much the opposite of having exousian over your head.

This is the point of the argument where Paul says that long hair is the shekinah glory (“doxa“) of women.

“However, if a woman has long hair, it is a glory to her; for long hair was given to her instead of a warm cloak.” (1 Cor. 11:15)

Presumably “was given” is a reference to Eve in Eden. A peribolaion was often a man’s traveling cloak. Some suggest that it is referring here to chest hair, heh… Probably not, but it’s a fun idea.

Paul ends his comments with:

“So if anyone is inclined to be argumentative — we have no other practice, and neither do any of God’s churches.” (1 Cor. 11:16)

This got a lot longer than I planned on! Let me know if you actually read this wall of text!

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