Friday, September 26
Titus 2:1-15: In the previous chapter Paul had spoken about being “sound in the faith” (hygiainosin en tei pistei-—1:13). Such “soundness” is the mark that he further inculcates in the present chapter, exhorting Titus to “speak the things which are proper for sound doctrine” (hygiainousei didaskalioi-—verse 1), so that mature men may be “sound in faith” (hygiainantes tei pistei-—verse 2) and of “sound speech” (logon hygie-—verse 8). This “soundness” (in the Greek root of which, hygi, we recognize our English words “hygiene” and “hygienic”) is a noted theme also in the letters to Timothy (cf. 1 Timothy 6:3; 2 Timothy 1:13; 4:3). Christian teaching, that is to say, should carry the marks of intellectual, moral, and emotional health. It will not recommend itself if it encourages thoughts, sentiments, and behavior that are manifestly unhealthy.
In verse 2 we observe the triad of faith, love, and patience. This conjunction, common to the letters to Timothy (cf. 1 Timothy 6:11; 2 Timothy 3:10), is also found earlier in Paul (cf. 2 Thessalonians 1:3-4).
In verse 5, as elsewhere in Paul (1 Corinthians 14:35; Ephesians 5:22; Colossians 3:18; 1 Timothy 2:11-14), wives are exhorted to subordinate themselves (hypotassomenas, from the verb tasso, “to set in order,” “to arrange”) to their husbands. With respect to this exhortation, the Baptist exegete E. Glenn Hinson, observes: “The initiative is to be with the wife. . . . Paul did not tell husbands to subdue their wives.” Even with this sage caveat, nonetheless, it is obvious that Paul’s exhortation runs directly counter to the contemporary egalitarian impulse.
Like Timothy (1 Timothy 4:12), Titus is exhorted to set a good example (verse 7). We recall that Paul rather often referred to his own good example. Pastors and missionaries surely teach more by example than they do in any other way.
The “great God” in verse 13 is identical with the “Savior Jesus Christ,” because in the Greek text a single article covers both words, God and Savior, and the rest of the sentence speaks only of Christ. It is He whose appearance we await (cf. 2 Thessalonians 1:7; 1 Corinthians 1:7; 1 Timothy 6:14-15; 2 Timothy 4:1).
Christ’s self-giving (verse 14) is a typical Pauline reference to the Lord’s Passion and blood atonement (Galatians 1:4; 2:20; Ephesians 5:2,25; 1 Timothy 2:6).
Saturday, September 27
Titus 3:1-15: As always, Paul is solicitous for the good reputation of Christians, knowing that the fortunes of the Church’s evangelism and ministry in this world depend, in no small measure, on that reputation. Thus, in the previous chapter he urged that the conduct of Christian women be such as not to hurt God’s cause (2:5).
Now, following that same solicitude in the present chapter, he urges Christians “to be subject [hypotassesthe, the same verb as in 2:5] to rulers and authorities, to obey, to be ready for every good work, . . . showing humility to all men” (verses 1-2; cf. verse 8). Few things, surely, would more seriously impede the cause of the Gospel than the impression that Christians are contentious, rebellious, disobedient, and unpatriotic (cf. also Romans 13:1-7; 1 Timothy 2:1-2; 1 Peter 2:13).
The doctrine of baptismal regeneration in verse 6 (cf. also Romans 6:4; 2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 6:15; Ephesians 5:26; Colossians 2:11-13), and the expression “renewing of the Holy Spirit,” used in conjunction with this reference to Baptism, seems to refer to the post-baptismal laying on of hands (cf. Acts 8:14-17; 19:5-6; Hebrews 6:2).
It is possible that the phrases in verses 4-7 were taken from a hymn or other liturgical prayer that Titus would recognize. This would explain Paul’s affirmation, in verse 8, that “this is a faithful saying” (cf. also 1 Timothy 1:15; 3:1; 4:9; 2 Timothy 2:11).
The unrepentant “divisive man” in verse 10 is literally the “heretical man”—haeretikos anthropos; the adjective appears only here in the New Testament. Paul’s counsel that such a one be avoided after, at most, two admonitions was understood rather strictly by the early Christians (cf. Irenaeus, Adversus Haereses 1.16.3; Tertullian, De Praescriptione 16).
There were several cities named Nicopoplis, “city of victory,” in the ancient world. It is likely that the city mentioned by Paul (verse 12) was the one in Epirus, south of Dalmatia, founded by Octavian in 31 B.C. to celebrate his victory over the forces of Anthony and Cleopatra at Actium.
Sunday, September 28
Luke 10:25-37: This story may be read—among other ways—as an allegory:
First, there is the story of the Fall, concerning which we are told, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead.” This man started in Jerusalem, we observe. He began his history in the garden place of God’s presence. But he did not stay there. He made a deliberate decision to go on a journey. No one told him to go. He made the decision on his own, as an assertion of his independence from God.
Though the man did not know it at first, this was more than just a journey. It was a Fall; it was a descent. He went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers. This is a story, then, of man’s Fall. “Man in honor, did not abide,” says the Psalmist; “He became like the beasts that perish” (Psalms 49:12).
These robbers did not kill him completely. They left him, says the Sacred Text, half dead. This fallen man did not suffer total depravity, as it were. There was still some hope for him, though he had no way of saving himself from his terrible predicament. By this man’s disobedience, sin entered the world, and by sin death. Indeed, death reigned already in his mortal flesh.
How shall we describe this poor man’s plight except that he was alien from the commonwealth of Israel and a stranger from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world”? (Ephesians 2:12). He had been left half dead, Holy Scripture says, and there was no help for him in this world.
Along came a priest and then a Levite, men representing the Mosaic Law, but they had to pass by the fallen wayfarer, because by the works of the Law is no man justified. The priest and the Levite were hastening to the Temple, in order to offer repeatedly the same sacrifices that could never take away sins. Indeed, matters were made even worse, because “in those sacrifices there is a remembrance made of sins every year. For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins.”
Second, a Samaritan, the Bible tells us, “as he journeyed, came to where the man was, and when he saw him, he had compassion.” In the fullness of time, that is to say, God sent His Son to be a good neighbor to him who fell among the thieves. This Son, being in the form of God, did not think equality with God a thing to be seized, but He emptied Himself and took the form of a servant. Indeed, this Son became an utter outcast—in short, a Samaritan, a person without respect or social standing. Although He was rich, yet for our sakes He became poor, that we through His poverty we might become rich.
What was the first thing this Samaritan did for the man that fell among the thieves? He saw him, says the Bible. He looked upon the man in his misery. When Nathaniel was still under the fig tree, our Samaritan saw him. A certain paralytic lay beside the pool of Bethesda with an infirmity thirty-eight years, and our Samaritan saw him lying there. Showing Himself to be a good neighbor, this Samaritan, passing by, saw the man who was blind from birth. Blessed is he that falls under the gaze of our Samaritan. Such a one may say, “Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also have been known.”
What did the Samaritan do for the man that fell among thieves? He washed him in the waters of Baptism, cleansing his wounds, and into those wounds he poured His grace in the form of anointing oil, the holy Chrism, and the Eucharistic wine to prevent infection.
Our Samaritan did not leave beside the road this half-dead victim of the fall among thieves. On the contrary, “He set him on his own animal, brought him to an inn and took care of him.” And then he went away. He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father almighty. This Samaritan is also the great high priest that entered once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us. But even as He went away, He said to the inn keeper, “Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I come again, I will repay you.” And this promise brings us to our third point.
Three, our Samaritan says to the inn keeper, “when I come again.” He does not say, if I come again, but when I come again. There is no “if” about the return of this Samaritan. This same Samaritan, which is taken up from us into heaven, shall so come in like manner as we have seen him go into heaven. We solemnly confess, then, that He will come again in glory to judge the living the dead, and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time, apart from sin unto salvation.
All of history is given significance by the two visits of the Samaritan. Only those who abide in the inn, waiting the return of the Samaritan, really know the meaning of history. The inn is the house of history, the Church where innkeeper cares for the Samaritan’s friends.
This parable does not describe that return of the Samaritan. It says simply “when I return.” The parable leaves that return in the future. The story ends in the inn itself. It goes no further. The parable terminates in the place where the Samaritan would have us stay—at the inn. It is imperative for our souls’ health that we remain within this inn, to which our Samaritan has sworn to return. In this inn, which has received the solemn promise of the Samaritan, let us pass all our days, as in eagerness we await His sworn return. This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and stedfast, and which entereth into that within the veil; Whither the forerunner is for us entered, even Jesus, made an high priest for ever after the order of Melchisedek.”
Monday, September 29
1 John 2:1-11: In the previous chapter John had asserted, “the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin” (1:7). In the present chapter John pursues this theme by declaring that Jesus “is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world” (verse 2).
The word translated here as “propitiation” is hilasmos, which John will use later in 4:10—“He loved us and sent His Son to be the hilasmos for our sins.” This word comes from the Old Testament theology of expiatory sacrifice, and John uses it here to mean that the shedding of Christ’s blood was the true sacrifice for sins, in that it effected the expiation or removal of sins.
With respect to this verse, it is important to observe that Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross expiated not only the sins of believers but also “the sins of the whole world”—holou tou kosmou. That is to say, Christ’s atonement was unlimited “"Behold!” exclaimed John the Baptist, “The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29).
How can we be truly certain that we really know God? John answers this question by telling us, not to analyze the state of our consciousness, but to observe the empirical data of our conduct. The question is simplified to “Am I obeying Christ’s commandments?” (verse 3). Our Blessed Assurance, that is to say, is related to the concrete moral evidence visible in how we live. This practical approach to the matter, typically Johannine (cf. John 13:35; 14:21-24) had a long antecedence in the Old Testament prophets (cf. Hosea 4:1-3; 6:4-7; Jeremiah 2:8). To take some other approach to the matter not only threatens us with self-delusion; it may simply render us liars (verse 4).
As in all things, John’s approach here is entirely practical. He regards a person’s conduct—how he walks—as the reliable barometer of that person’s spiritual state (verses 6,29). Like James (or, for that matter, Paul—“and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing”—1 Corinthians 13:2), John resists the thesis of justification by faith alone, or faith apart from works. Being “in Christ” means walking as Christ walked.
There is nothing “new” about this teaching, says John; his listeners have heard it over and over since the day of their conversion and new life in Christ (verse 7). Nonetheless, this same teaching is “new” in the sense that means newness of life, as the coming light begins already to shine into our human and demonic darkness (verse 8). The sight of believers loving one another, in obedience to the command of Christ, is truly God’s light shining into the world.
Not to love one another, on the other hand, is to remain in darkness, which is John’s metaphor for hatred (verses 9-11; cf. John 8:12; 11:10). It is not sufficient to make spiritual claims unsupported by one’s observable conduct. Indeed, to do this constitutes a true “scandal” (verse 10). This darkness, says John, is really blindness (verse 11).
Tuesday, September 30
1 John 2:12-17: This section especially teaches Christian caution with respect to the “world.” As in his Gospel (15:18-27; 17:19-26), John is markedly negative about the world, seeing nothing in it except “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life” (verse 16).
This combination indicates that “world” in this and similar texts is understood, not as God created it, which the Bible insists was “good” (Genesis 1:31), but the world in fallen and rebellious state, Creation “subjected to futility” and in “the bondage of corruption” (Romans 8:20-21).
The world here described by John is the world alienated from God by the fall of our first parents. Indeed, in the Bible’s description of Eve’s original act of disobedience we may discern the three elements that John says are “all that is in the world,” namely, “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life.” Narrating Eve’s fall, Holy Scripture says, “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food [the lust of the flesh], that it was pleasant to the eyes [the lust of the eyes], and a tree desirable to make one wise [the pride of life], she took of its fruit and ate” (Genesis 3:6).
This negative use of “world” indicates the rebellion of humanity satisfied with the purely physical aspects of existence, as we normally indicate by the adjective “worldly.” This is obvious in John’s reference to the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes. It is also true, however, of “the pride of life.” John’s word for “pride” here is alazoneia, found also in James 4:16, which denotes arrogance and proud self-sufficiency. (The participle of a cognate verb, alalazo, is used by St. Paul to speak of a “clanging cymbal [1 Corinthians 13:1].)
John qualifies this arrogance as “of life,” not using the word zoe, which in John always refers to eternal life, but bios (a root of “biology”), meaning purely physical life. By “pride of life” John thus describes the person who relies entirely on his physical strength, his sense of animal energy, and his material resources, presuming himself to be self-sufficient, satisfied with a robust earthly existence, not needing God. There is no compatibility between God and the world understood in this sense: “If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (verse 15).
John, to show that his appeal to unworldliness extends to all believers, breaks the structure of his exhortation into two parts, each of them listing Christians according to age groups: the old, the young, and the very young.
He begins with the “little children, reminding them of the forgiveness of their sins (verse 12). Since we associate sins rather with older people than with children, we are justified in suspecting that the “little children,” in addition to being understood literally, may be a reference to all believers. Indeed, John routinely uses this identical expression, “little children” or teknia, in this sense (cf. 2:1,18; 3:7,18; 4:4; 5:21). (Moreover, this word appears in only one other place in the more reliable manuscripts of the New Testament; namely, on the lips of Jesus in John 13:33.)
All believers in Christ overcome the Evil One and the world through the knowledge of the true God (verse 13; 3:8,10; 5:18-19; John 16:11).
Having thrice addressed his readers and listeners in the present tense, “I write” (grapho), John shifts to the aorist tense, “I have written” (egrapsa), certainly to be understood as an “epistolary past,” meaning “my present act of writing will be in the past tense when you read this.” This epistolary style, common even today, is exemplified elsewhere in the New Testament (Acts 23:30; Philippians 2:28; Colossians 4:8, and so on).
The Christian’s attitude toward the world is determined by victory—“you have overcome” (verses 13,14). The used twice here for “overcome” is neniketate (perfect tense, meaning past action enduring through the present), which presents a sonorous parallel with the word for “young men,” neaniskoi.
Wednesday, October 1
Ezra 1: Since the first verse of this chapter is identical with 2 Chronicles 36:22, there may be some merit in the suggestion that there was originally no break between these two books. That is to say, it may well be the case that at one time the books of Chronicles, Ezra, and Nehemiah were all one work. Interpreters have long observed that all these books are united by a common theological perspective, dominated by concerns of proper worship.
Cyrus, who had ruled the Persians since 557, began to reign over what had been the Babylonian Empire in October of 539, but the Bible "rounds out" that reign to the beginning of its first full year (verse 1), the "new year’s day" of which was in March of 538. This is the year, then, that the Babylonian Captivity came to an end. Cyrus’s decree, of which this chapter contains a Hebrew paraphrase (verses 2-4), indicates the relatively enlightened policy of the Persians toward those who had been conquered and deported by the Babylonians.
Unlike the Assyrians and Babylonians, the more liberal Persians sought to inspire loyalty among subject peoples by respecting their local religions ("which is in Jerusalem," specifies verse 3) and, where possible, safeguarding their local and ethnic traditions. From an inscription on a clay barrel known as "Cyrus’s Cylinder," we know of that emperor’s general policy of repatriating deported peoples and restoring deported gods back to the places of their traditional temples. That documented policy of Cyrus is obviously consonant with the biblical account.
If we examine the wording of Chapter 1 carefully, moreover, we observe that the interest of the author is not in the ending of the Captivity per se (because very few Jews actually returned from Babylon, after all, having established nice homes and lucrative businesses there during two generations), but in the restoration of proper worship in the temple. (Bear in mind that in 538 the ink was barely dry on those final chapters of Ezechiel, describing the glory of this new temple!)
The author’s real interest in the Book of Ezra is not geopolitical, but theological and liturgical (as also in the Books of Chronicles). The "seventy years" prophecy of Jeremiah 29:10 was not fulfilled until the temple was completed in 516, exactly seventy years after its destruction in 586. When that temple is eventually finished, it will house the confiscated sacred vessels that Cyrus now restores to the Jews (verse 7-10). Sheshbazzar (verse 11), incidentally, is the Persian way of referring to Zerubbabel, about whom more will be said in the following chapters.
The decree of Cyrus orders all the neighbors of the returning Jews to assist them “with silver and gold, and good, and livestock” (verse 4). This provision puts the reader in mind of Israel’s departure from Egypt several centuries earlier (cf. Exodus 3:21-22; 11:2; 12:35-36). The typological correspondence between the Exodus from Egypt and the Return from Babylon thus appears in this book for the first time. As we see from the second part of the Book of Isaiah (cf. 43:14-21; 48:20-21; 51:10; 52:12), this correspondence was much on the mind of sixth century Jews. We shall see other examples of it during the course of the present book.
Thursday, October 2
Ezra 2: This chapter, which is repeated verbatim in Nehemiah 7, accounts for 49,897 people who returned from Babylon to the Holy Land. This very high figure surely indicates, however, not those who were immediately repatriated in the year 518, but includes, rather, those who came in the ensuing years. That is to say, it includes those who arrived by the time of Nehemiah nearly a century later.
The introductory list of twelve names (verse 2) puts the reader in mind of the twelve original patriarchs of Israel. Both of these lists—like the New Testament’s lists of the twelve Apostles—indicates the fullness of God’s people. The represent “all Israel.”
Those listed in verses 2-20 are named according to their families, those in verses 21-35 according to their towns (which list, curiously, does not mention Jerusalem). This chapter lists a disproportionate number of priests (verses 36-39), which is exactly what we would expect. Since all the sacrificial worship of the Jewish religion, in accord with the Deuteronomic reform of 622, was limited to Jerusalem, there was certainly no reason for priests to remain in Babylon.
The number of Levites (verse 40), on the other hand, seems disproportionately small, which disproportion will require the adjustments described in Ezra 8:15-20. Nehemiah 7 will list an additional forty-five singers.
These lists of names throughout Chronicles, Ezra, and Nehemiah are theologically important. This is the People of God, not an amorphous mass of nondescript ciphers. No one remains nameless in some anonymous flock, because the Good Shepherd knows each of His sheep and calls them all by name. Such lists, therefore, of which Romans 16 is a later example, are precious in the sight of the Lord and deserve to be held precious in our eyes as well. Ultimately the Book of Life itself is a list of names.
Friday, October 3
Ezra 3: The seventh month (verse 1) roughly corresponds to our September, the time of the Feast of Tabernacles. Accordingly, when an outdoor altar was erected so that the sacrificial worship can be resumed, the first feast day to be celebrated was Tabernacles (verse 4). This seems to be a feast very appropriate to the actual living conditions of the returned exiles, who were still obliged to live in tents, lean-tos, and other makeshift dwellings.
Some preparatory work for the construction of the temple began in the spring of the following year (verses 7-8), and there follows an account of the liturgical dedication of the new temple’s foundations, which may have included the floor (verses 10-13). With a lively sense of history the returned exiles dedicated these foundations at the same time of the year when construction had begun on Solomon’s temple (cf. 1 Kings 6:1; 2 Chronicles 3:2).
In verse 7 we find several other points of correspondence that tie the construction of the second temple to Solomon’s construction of the first: the “cedar logs from Lebanon, to the sea, to Joppa”; the skilled workers from Tyre and Sidon; the provision of food and oil (1 Chronicles 22:4; 2 Chronicles 2:8,10).
Verse 11 gives the refrain of the psalm chanted during the laying of the foundation stone, evidently indicating that the psalm employed on this occasion was Psalm 136 (Greek 135). This makes perfect sense and serves to illustrate the context of certain lines in that psalm. For example, the end of the Babylonian Captivity and the return to the Holy Land are indicated in the lines that read, "who remembered us in our low estate . . . and redeemed us from our enemies." The older members among the returned exiles, who still remembered vividly the splendors of Solomon’s temple, wept on this occasion, overcome by emotion (verse 12). They could also see, by examining the dimensions of its foundation, that this next temple will be appreciably smaller than Solomon’s (cf. Haggai 2:3; Zechariah 4:10). Eventually the new temple would prove satisfactory only to those who had never laid eyes of the old one.