Sunday Morning Greek Blog

November 5, 2015

Jesus, the Bible, Taxes, and Charity: Part 2

Filed under: Acts,Biblical Studies — Scott Stocking @ 8:58 pm
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In the previous post, we looked at how the greedy heir of Solomon wanted to impose even greater financial burden on the people of Israel, wealthy and poor alike. In fact, if Israel was working the way it was supposed to, there would be very few poor, if any in Israel. Deuteronomy 15 talks about the “year of cancelling debts,” which was to happen every seven years. Anyone who has ever felt the burden of great debt knows how that weighs on the soul and drains the livelihood out of life. Fortunately, our society has a mechanism to allow this freedom from debt: bankruptcy. Some Christians might say it’s a sin to not pay off your debts, but I believe God understood human nature well enough even in the days before MasterCard to establish a means for that kind of freedom.

Aiding the Poor, Old Testament Style

Care for the poor has always been the responsibility of the people of God. It was virtually unheard of that a government in biblical times would have considered the kind of wealth redistribution we practice in America today. As early as Leviticus 19, God was commanding the Israelite people, NOT the rulers, to make accommodations for the poor. “Do not reap the very edges of your field” (v. 9); “Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the foreigner” (v. 10); “When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them…[They] must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt” (vv. 33–34). (“Foreigners in the land” is quite different from illegal aliens today, but that will have to wait for another post.)

The Psalms and Proverbs are full of blessings for the poor and warnings about oppressing or mistreating them. There are even verses about God defending the cause of the poor and the orphans. But never once in Scripture will you find God or the biblical writers ever encouraging political leaders to extract money from the rich to give to the poor. Meeting the needs of the poor is always a voluntary compassionate effort. Wealth redistribution, on the other hand, is neither voluntary nor compassionate, unless you consider those who could be working to be voluntarily unemployed!

Aiding the Poor, New Testament Style

When we get to Acts in the New Testament, we see almost immediately a community that voluntarily shares their possessions or sells them to meet the needs of their newfound family of faith. Acts 2:44–45 says, “All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.” No taxation, no big brother government taking from the rich, keeping their own cut, then redistributing to the poor. It was a self-sustained community. Acts 4 continues the theme. In fact, they took the voluntary nature of giving so seriously, that when Ananias and Sapphira sold a field and lied to God about having given the entire sale price, they were struck dead! Peter even asks Ananias the question he never got to answer: “Wasn’t the money at your disposal?” (Acts 5:4).

The seriousness with which the young church handled charity is further seen in Acts 6. There was a complaint that the Greek Jewish widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. (Widows were an especially vulnerable demographic group, because family, if they were nearby, were their only means of support otherwise.) The disciples recognized the Old Testament principles discussed above and chose seven men of character and integrity to oversee the distribution.

But as far as charity goes in the New Testament, freeloaders need not apply. Paul is very clear about his attitude toward those who can work but don’t, even to the point of implying that they are thieves. “Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need” (Ephesians 4:28); “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat” (2 Thessalonians 3:10b; 3:6–14 is an extended warning about idleness). Even Paul himself worked at his own trade to pay his own way as he ministered across the northern Mediterranean region.

The Lesson for Today

Taking charity out of the hands of a bloated, corrupt government and reenergizing the church to fulfill its biblical calling to care for the poor is the absolute best thing we can do to fight poverty in our nation. The local church can do a much better job of weeding out frauds and phonies than the government ever will do. Here’s something to chew on: Medicare and Medicaid are number 1 and 3 when it comes to improper payments for government programs. Medicaid’s 2014 overpayments were $17.5 billion (that’s billion, with a b); NASA’s 2014 budget was $17.6 billion! And Medicare’s improper payments were beyond the reach of NASA: almost $46 billion.

Much of that is fraud and abuse, but even with program integrity efforts, it’s difficult to keep up with all the schemes perpetrated out there. But improper payments also reflect payments made that technically should not have been made because of honest human error, that is, someone didn’t dot their I’s and cross their T’s. Medicare and Medicaid regulations are about as thick as, if not thicker than, the tax code! So some providers who make an honest attempt help the poor and needy by accepting Medicare and Medicaid patients wind up losing money on the deal because it’s so hard to keep up with the ever-changing regulatory climate and the 55,000 new ICD-10 codes! Handling these things on the local level helps deal with fraud and abuse much more efficiently, because hopefully you know the people in your community.

Food banks, food pantries, and local shelters and “soup kitchens” run by the church or other charitable groups have the potential to be far more efficient than a government-run welfare program. I’ve seen many churches and religious groups get very creative in the things they do to help the poor and needy. You can find ministries that do everything from providing food and shelter to job training to medical care and legal services. And in some cases, big brother Government has stepped in and squelched their generosity by imposing a bunch of needless regulations and rules. The government that’s supposed to be of the people, by the people, and for the people has become a self-perpetuating behemoth swallowing up the people. It’s time for the church to rise up and reclaim the biblical principles of charity. Let’s show the world we’re not afraid of the politically correct bullies.

Scott Stocking

The views expressed in my blog are my own. Period.

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February 20, 2012

Judas’s Kiss (Matthew 26:48–49; Mark 14:45)

Introduction

Those of us who read the Scriptures with any regularity (and even with some irregularity) have noticed the phenomenon of selective attention. What I mean by this is, when you read a passage of Scripture you know you’ve read before, you notice something that speaks to your heart in such a way that you say, “Why didn’t I see that before.” That has happened to me quite often in reading the English translations of the Bible, even though English is my native tongue. You’d think I’d remember more than I do when I read Scripture. But now on my second time through the Greek New Testament (GNT), I am experiencing that same phenomenon. Of course, having that full year of experience has seasoned me to notice certain features of the text that the occasional reader of the GNT might not notice.

Matthew 26:48–49

The subject of this blog post is one such passage. Matthew 26:48–49 is part of the story of Judas betraying Jesus to the authorities. My discussion in this post centers around the nature of the “kiss” by which Judas identified Jesus to the authorities. Here is how the text reads in the NIV, with the Greek words translated “kiss” identified:

Now the betrayer had arranged a signal with them: “The one I kiss [φιλήσω from φιλέω] is the man; arrest him.” Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” and kissed [κατεφίλησεν from καταφιλέω] him.

The “Kiss”

New Testament Usage

Some may think the different words used for “kiss” here represent merely a stylistic difference, but an examination of the second word, καταφιλέω, reveals an interesting nuance that is lost in translation but not in context. The word is used six times in the New Testament: once each by Matthew and Mark (14:45) in their respective betrayal pericopes; and four times by Luke—three in his Gospel (Luke 7:38, 45; 15:20) and once in Acts (20:37).

Luke mentions the φιλέω kiss in his passion story, but he never outright says that Judas kissed Jesus. But it is Luke’s use of καταφιλέω that reveals the important nuance in Matthew and Mark. Luke 7 is the story of the woman who washes Jesus feet with perfume, tears, and her hair. The kissing is portrayed as a repeated action that at the same time indicates a sort of “sorrowful joy.” She is both truly repentant and truly grateful for the forgiveness Jesus would proclaim to her. In vs. 45, Luke even contrasts the φιλέω kiss he should have received from Simon as a customary greeting with the woman’s repeated καταφιλέω kissing. So Luke was fully aware of the contrast between the two words, just as Matthew and Mark were.

In Luke 15, Jesus uses καταφιλέω of the father welcoming home the prodigal son. In Acts 20:37, Luke again uses the word to describe what happened when Paul departed from Miletus after saying farewell to the Ephesian elders. Paul is facing grave danger as he returns to Jerusalem, and many of his friends think they will never see him again. This is no peck on the cheek. Strong emotions always accompany this kind of “kiss.”

Old Testament Usage

The use of this word in the Septuagint (LXX) is no different. It describes the affection Laban showed his grandchildren when Jacob departed (Genesis 31:28, 32:1). It also describes Joseph’s reunion with his brothers in Egypt (Genesis 45:15). Naomi parted with Orpah with this kind of kiss, and the bond was so strong that Ruth insisted on returning to Bethlehem with Naomi (Ruth 1:9, 14). The word describes David’s friendship with Jonathan as well (1 Samuel 20:41). But lest I be misunderstood or misinterpreted, there is absolutely no sexual connotation in these farewell “kisses.” They reveal the very deep bond of friendship that the people experienced.

Judas’s Kiss: What It Means

So what does this all mean for Judas’s kiss? The fact that Matthew and Mark use καταφιλέω to describe Judas’s betrayal kiss reveals a couple things in my mind. First, Judas seems to have genuinely loved Jesus. I don’t think it’s fair to suggest he wasn’t genuine about the show of affection, especially given the desperation of his remorse after the fact. Second, because of that love, I have to wonder if Judas was trying to force Jesus’s hand by having him arrested. Judas wanted as much as anyone to throw off Roman rule, but Judas apparently didn’t like where things were headed. I think it is within the realm of reason to suggest that Judas thought by having Jesus arrested, Jesus’s followers would rise up rebellion against Rome. Or perhaps he even thought that Jesus would make a mighty show of divine power to overthrow Rome.

His actions do not strike me as those of a man who had a traitorous heart from the beginning. Rather they seem to be desperate measures by a disillusioned man who was trying to make one last attempt to have things go his way. When he failed miserably and realized he had condemned his friend to death rather initiating a new world order, he killed himself in an ultimate act of desperation.

Conclusion

How many times do you and I get disillusioned about the way God is working in our lives? I know I have done my share of complaining to God that he’s not doing things the way I think he should be doing them. Then in desperation, I do something in an attempt to force God’s hand and realize after the fact how foolish I really was. I need to work on developing that deep and abiding trust in God that makes me want to melt into his καταφιλέω affection for me, just as the prodigal experienced when he returned home.

Peace!

Scott Stocking

June 26, 2011

The Nature of “the Fellowship” (κοινωνία koinōnia) in Acts 2:42

Filed under: Acts,Biblical Studies,Ecclesiology,Greek,New Testament,Theology, Biblical — Scott Stocking @ 8:29 am

My Logos-generated Bible reading schedule does some odd things at times. Yesterday, I was scheduled to read Acts 2:1–42 (42 verses) followed by verses 43–47 today (5 verses). What’s up with that? So since yesterday was Saturday and I had some extra time, I decided to read all of chapter 2 and get ahead a little bit in my reading schedule. But this is a good thing, because Acts 2 really should be taken as a whole unit. Peter preaches to the crowd, recounting David’s Messianic prophecies in the Psalms, with the entire message coming to a climax in 2:37–38: “Those who heard this were pierced [κατανύσσομαι katanyssomai /kah-tah-NOOSE-ȯ-my/] to the heart and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘What shall we do, Men of the Brothers?’ And Peter to them, ‘Repent!’ [saying] ‘And let each one of you who does [italics my gloss] be immersed upon the name of Jesus Messiah into the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.'”

Now I have already dealt with Acts 2:38, specifically the phrase “into the forgiveness of your sins” (click link in verse above), but I want to deal with the results of that call to repentance. In Acts 2:41, we learn that over 3000 were added to the number of Christ-followers on that day. Verse 42 is my focus today: ἦσαν δὲ προσκαρτεροῦντες τῇ διδαχῇ τῶν ἀποστόλων καὶ τῇ κοινωνίᾳ, τῇ κλάσει τοῦ ἄρτου καὶ ταῖς προσευχαῖς (ēsan de proskarterountes tē didachē tōn apostolōn kai tē koinōvia, tē klasei tou artou kai tais proseuchais, ‘And they devoted themselves to the apostles’s teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to the prayers’). This is how the verse appears in most modern Greek texts of the New Testament and subsequently translated into most English versions.

Much Ado about a Comma

You may have noticed that in the verse, I highlighted the comma after the word κοινωνίᾳ. I can hear you now: “Come on, Scott! A comma? Really? Give me some filet mignon I can savor, not a dinky little baby-carrot comma!” But fasten your seatbelts, because the presence or absence of this comma has a huge impact on how this verse is understood. A few years ago, I presented a paper in a professional conference on this verse, and my personal joke is that it was my 25-page paper about a comma. Read on and see why this comma is so important (and no, I’m not reproducing the entire 25-page paper here!).

First of all, I must say that the original manuscripts of Scripture did not have punctuation as we know it today. Not only did they not have punctuation, they did not have spaces between words, either. Just look at an image of the Rosetta Stone to see what I mean. So how does a comma (or any punctuation, for that matter) end up in today’s versions of the Greek New Testament (GNT)? Because the modern-day editors of the GNT put it there in an effort to help translators see the presumed syntax of the text.

But a good translator knows that the placement of a punctuation mark in the Greek text can be just as interpretive as how one translates a particular Greek word into English (or into whatever receptor language). As such, there are a couple reasons to question this comma here. The first reason is that in the history of the transmission of the text, someone decided that καί (kai ‘and’) needed to be inserted in that spot at some point. The variant is not well attested, but it did make it into the textus receptus, the Greek manuscript that has been the foundation for all versions of the King James Bible. Thus, the KJV renders the middle part of the passage: “and fellowship, and in breaking of bread.” Modern eclectic texts do not have the καί, but replace it with the comma. The 3rd edition of the UBS GNT does not even reference the variant reading.

The second reason to question the comma is that it is possible to make a sensible translation of the verse without it, if the translator does his or her homework. I have done that homework, and I present to you here my understanding of Acts 2:42. To be fair, I will offer four possibilities of translation, but my study leads me to believe that one of the last two possibilities is more probable, with Option 4 being my personal preference.

Four Possible Translations

1. Four individual manifestations, reflecting an implied or variant medial καί, with each dative case noun functioning as a direct object of the main verb:

“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to the fellowship, and to the breaking of the bread, and to the prayers;” or
“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship [i.e., apostles’ modifies both teaching and fellowship, which seems to be the gist of the KJV translation], and to the breaking of the bread, and to the prayers.”

2. Two complementary pairs of manifestations, rejecting the implied or extant medial καί and acknowledging Luke intended a comma break between the two pairs:

“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of the bread and to the prayers.”

3. Two manifestations, with the second (“fellowship”) qualified by the following couplet (double appositive, explains lack of καί, no comma necessary in Greek text):

“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, [which includes] the breaking of the bread and the prayers” (see 1 Corinthians 10:16).

4. Three individual manifestations (lack of καί before “breaking of bread”):

“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, [and] to the fellowship of/participation in the breaking of the bread, and to the prayers” (again, see 1 Corinthians 10:16; because we have the serial comma in English, we wouldn’t need to translate the first καί).

Four Sentence Diagrams

Anybody remember sentence diagramming from junior high English? How fun was that, right? Well, for my part, I’m glad I half-way paid attention to that, because it comes in quite handy in this analysis. I hope my English teachers approve. Note Figures 1 through 4 below. [NOTE TO READERS: If for whatever reason you don’t see the diagrams, please let me know. They show up in my browser (IE9), but I’m not sure how they’d work in other browsers.]

Figure 1: Sentence Diagram for Options 1 and 2: Acts 2:42.

Two pairs separated by a comma (Option One; as in the USB 4th Edition), or, if the variant reading with καί is accepted (textus receptus), four individual manifestations of their devotion (Option Two).


Figure 2: Sentence diagram for Option 3: Acts 2:42

The first or both of the latter two dative nouns are in an appositive relationship to κοινωνίᾳ. No comma is necessary.


Figure 3: Sentence diagram for Option 4: Acts 2:42

Three manifestations of the believers’ devotion, with τῇ κλάσει in a genitive relationship to τῇ κοινωνίᾳ; or alternately, with τῇ κλάσει as the direct object of the verbal action of τῇ κοινωνίᾳ, that is, “the sharing/participation in the breaking of bread.” See 1 Corinthians 10:16 for support for this latter option. Accepting either reading would mean neither the Greek nor English texts should have a comma after τῇ κοινωνίᾳ/”fellowship.”


Figure 4: Partial sentence diagram for the translation “participation in the breaking of the bread”: Acts 2:42

The alternate reading would look like this (akin to 1 Corinthians 10:16), with κλάσει as the dative case direct object of the verbal action of κοινωνίᾳ:


Option 4 actually follows the Vulgate (Latin) translation, which has “the breaking of the bread” in genitive case (case of possession) rather than in dative case (object case), as in Greek. But if the two nouns are essentially the same thing, they can take the same case in Greek even if they have a genitive relationship. This actually seems quite common in the opening chapters of Acts, especially in the phrase ἄνδρες Ἰουδαῖοι/Ἰσραηλῖται/ἀδελφοί (andres Ioudaioi/Israēlitai/adelphoi, ‘men of Judah/Israel/brothers’): ἄνδρες is nominative/vocative plural, as is the relational noun. Alternately, the phrase could be translated “fellow Judeans, Israelites, brothers [and sisters].”

And All This to Say What?

The point of this whole study was really to find out just what κοινωνίᾳ (koinōnia ‘fellowship’) embraced in the early church. I believe the reference to “the breaking of the bread,” because both nouns have the definite article in Greek, is more specific than just a general meal. I believe the reference is to the Last Supper (the Lord’s Table, my preferred term for “communion”), where Jesus commanded his disciples to “do this in remembrance of me.” So fellowship is not just a potluck or a gathering of believers for whatever purpose, but as 1 Corinthians 10:16 says, a “participation [κοινωνίᾳ] in the body and blood of Christ.”

Those of us in the Restoration Movement (Christian Churches/Churches of Christ) as well as the Catholic Christ-followers instinctively understand the centrality of participating in communion/the Lord’s Table/Eucharist on a weekly basis, even if we have differing theologies about the elements. If there are other denominations or congregations out there that practice a weekly as opposed to an erstwhile communion, they are to be commended for showing the same devotion to this “fellowship” as the early Christ-followers.

So whenever you partake of the Lord’s Table, remember that the elements are not just bread and juice, but an intimate connection to the sacrifice of Jesus and a sharing with one another, regardless of denominational background, in the historical events that should be foundational to all Christ-followers, the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus.

Peace!

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