Thursday, December 12, 2019

Advent: The Trees Are Burning

About ten years ago I read about two-thirds of the Miles Franklin winning Australian novel Eucalyptus. The fact that I did not complete the novel says more about me than it does about the book. I had neither the patience, nor the discipline, to handle Murray Bail's mythic imagining of the Australian story and his opulent descriptions of every kind of eucalyptus trees.

Nevertheless, for the past decade I have been enchanted with the thought of planting and tending to trees. It is hard to surpass these wild and magnificent creatures. Whenever I pass through Canberra now, no visit is complete without some time spend wandering the forests and meadows of the National Arboretum. My imagination turns from Bail's Holland and Mr Cave to Tolkien's Ents - the shepherds of the forest - who protected the woodlands from the perils of Middle-earth. My mind turns too to a beguiling account of King Solomon in the Bible. Renowned for his wisdom and 'breadth of understanding as vast as the sand on the seashore', Solomon is a man who 'would speak of trees' - from the greatest pine to the smallest shrub. There's something Edenic, even Adamic, about this scene in 1 Kings. Solomon's wisdom consists not only in his compositions of proverbs, songs, poetry, and pithy little sayings. He knew and accounted of animals, birds, reptiles, fish, and trees.

What staggers me whenever I walk among the trees is the sheer vastness of type and kind. I surely would have been content with 10-20 species I think to myself. The fact that there is somewhere between 60,000-100,000 different species on the planet seems a little gratuitous. It is this abundance of arboreal life which sustains life.

We easily forget how bound our lives are to trees. Not only do I mean existentially; but scientifically and culturally too. From the air we breath to the paper we write on, from the shade we sit in to the desks we sit at, from the leaves we admire to the logs we burn on the fire; our lives are connected to the gums, cedars, and palms which cover this planet. Without each other we cannot be ourselves. And let's not be so anthropecene for a moment. It is not only us, but birds, insects, mammals, soil, and other plants which depend on trees too.

In the state where I live, since Semptember this year, almost 3 million hectares of land have been burnt and con summed by fire. We can put a number on some of the devastation these fires have wrought on human life. So far there have been six fatalities. 724 homes destroyed. 276 homes damaged. What's harder to quantify is the impact on the flora and fauna. Who knows how many trees have been lost?

At first that may not seem so significant for an ecosystem which for at least 60,000 years had been cultivated by fire. But after 23 decades of reshaping and re imagining the Australian landscape and climate, the species which have made this island continent their home for millenia appear to have reached breaking point.

Today it was revealed that a quarter of eucalyptus trees are threatened by extinction. It's not just this years fires (though they have burnt much of our local eucalyptus forests); its urbanisation and agriculture which have lead to this predicament. Personally, having grown up among gum trees (watching the lorikeets and parrots feed on their flowers in February each year), and having swept up more than my fair share of gum leaves, it's hard to imagine life in Australia without this endemic species. Their loss would be a loss for us all.

As I write this, my family is currently observing the season of Advent. It's a season which I have written about often before. We prepare ourselves for Christmas by a. joining Israel in their longing for an end to exile and God to come; and thereby looking to the time when Jesus will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead. And as my city is choking on smoke, and I find charred leaves in my yard - carried over 60kms by the winds from the nearest fires - I can't help but reflect on trees in the Bible. The are, literally and figuratively, a gift to be received and delighted in. They are a symbol of pride and an object of destruction. They are a depiction of hope for Israel and the nations of the world. They are the personification of obedience and hearing God's word. They are twisted and ruined, so that a tree bears God's Son to his death. They are sign of life, bearing healing in their leaves for all the world. The desire for everyone to sit under their own vine and fig tree is the desire of advent. The story of trees in the Bible weaves together the strands of beauty, justice, expectation, and salvation which make up the advent tapestry.

So what might advent offer us during the current climate and fire crisis? What might advent offer us in the midst of drought and heat waves? While some of my ecclesiastical peers would see the current conflagration to be a proleptic taste of the fire that is to come, the hope of advent is not annihilation but restoration. In one of my favourite quotes from French theologian John Calvin, we are told that: 'no part of the universe is untouched by the longing with which everything in this world aspires to the hope of resurrection.' Advent teaches us to long for and to live in light of the hope of the resurrection. We look for the one who came at Christmas to come again to mend, heal, restore, and remake his world. And that should give us reason to pause and question the tone and tenor of our lives. God made a world which was not only ontologically good and aesthetically good, but was hospitable for us and the conditions which we need in order to flourish. It was good for us. Faced then by the challenges of environmental degradation, perhaps we should attend to the Bible's diagnosis of the human condition: the voracious, intense, obsessive, and destructive misappropriation of God's good gifts in creation.

But if advent is a season for attuning our desires to the desire of the nations, than that will lead us away from the desire to grasp after and consume the natural resources we see around us. In other words, it should lead us in our pneumatic transformation towards becoming more truly human, and away from the sins and pride which facilitates the doom of our fellow creatures.

As we await the redemption of all things at God’s hand, advent trains us to deal with our disappointment and discontent with our governments. Advent announces that time is short for all secular authority. There will come a time when queens and presidents, prime ministers and premiers will be held to account their dispensing of justice and provision of peace as they lay down their authority before the lamb who was slain. John's apocalypse warns us that God hates those who destroy the earth (Revelation 11.18).

Woe then to governments that neglect their duties to preserve life.
Woe to governments that hide behind a smokescreen of science denials and obsfuscation.
Woe to those governments that would suppress the reality of things.

That will be held accountable for their lies, spin, and sloth.

So in this season of advent, as the smoke clings to our clothes and our skin, and the trees perish, advent teaches us to mourn, to lament, to pray, and to look for God's blessing on all the creatures he has made.

Let not the trees and animals suffer on the altar of human pride and vain glory.

In a lecture he gave in York several years ago, Rowan William addressed what it look like for us to co-exist with the flora and fauna of the world:

In Genesis, humanity is given the task of 'cultivating' the garden of Eden: we are not left simply to observe or stand back, but are endowed with the responsibility to preserve and direct the powers of nature.  In this process, we become more fully and joyfully who and what we are – as St Augustine memorably says, commenting on this passage: there is a joy, he says, in the 'experiencing of the powers of nature'. Our own fulfilment is bound up with the work of conserving and focusing those powers, and the exercise of this work is meant to be one of the things that holds us in Paradise and makes it possible to resist temptation.  The implication is that an attitude to work which regards the powers of nature as simply a threat to be overcome is best seen as an effect of the Fall, a sign of alienation.  And, as the monastic scholar Aelred Squire, points out (Asking the Fathers, p.92), this insight of Augustine, quoted by Thomas Aquinas, is echoed by Aquinas himself in another passage where he describes humanity as having a share in the working of divine Providence because it has the task of using its reasoning powers to provide for self and others (aliis, which can mean both persons and things).  In other words, the human task is to draw out potential treasures in the powers of nature and so to realise the convergent process of humanity and nature discovering in collaboration what they can become.  The 'redemption' of people and material life in general is not a matter of resigning from the business of labour and of transformation – as if we could – but the search for a form of action that will preserve and nourish an interconnected development of humanity and its environment.  In some contexts, this will be the deliberate protection of the environment from harm: in a world where exploitative and aggressive behaviour is commonplace, one of the 'providential' tasks of human beings must be to limit damage and to secure space for the natural order to exist unharmed.  In others, the question is rather how to use the natural order for the sake of human nourishment and security without pillaging its resources and so damaging its inner mechanisms for self-healing or self-correction.  In both, the fundamental requirement is to discern enough of what the processes of nature truly are to be able to engage intelligently with them. 

- Rowan Williams, Renewing the Face of the Earth: Human Responsibility and the Environment, 2003.

Friday, November 01, 2019

'As you go'? Matthew 28:19 and Exegetical Fallacies

This post is based on an exegetical paper I wrote several years ago as a Moore College student. As a consequence, the paper is very technical as it considers the Greek syntax and grammar of Matthew 28:16-20. TL;DR: There is a common exegetical fallacy which argues that the go in Matthew 28:19 is a participle and should be translated as ‘as you go’, placing the emphasis on the verb make disciples. But syntactically, go is best translated as a participle of attendant circumstances, which carries the mood of the main verb make disciples. As Dan Wallace writes  "there is no good grammatical ground for giving the participle a mere temporal idea...Virtually all instances in narrative literature of aorist participle+ aorist imperative involve attendant circumstance participle. In Matthew in particular, every other instance of the aorist participle of 'go' followed by a main clearly attendant circumstance."

16 Ο δ νδεκα μαθητα πορεύθησαν
(ες τν Γαλιλαίαν)
(ες τ ρος)
 ο τάξατο ατος ησος,

17 κα δόντες ατν προσεκύνησαν,
ο δ δίστασαν.

18 κα προσελθν ησος λάλησεν ατος λέγων·
δόθη μοι πσα ξουσία
(ν οραν)
κα (π [τς] γς).
19 πορευθέντες ον μαθητεύσατε πάντα τ θνη,
βαπτίζοντες ατος
(ες τ νομα)
το πατρς
κα το υο
κα το γίου πνεύματος,
20 διδάσκοντες ατος τηρεν πάντα
σα νετειλάμην μν·
κα δο γ (μεθ᾿ μν) εμι πάσας τς μέρας
ως τς συντελείας το αἰῶνος.[1]

This passage functions as the conclusion of Matthew’s Gospel. However, rather than operating as an epilogue to Matthew’s narrative, it serves as the climax of the Gospel: the crucified and risen Lord commissions his disciples in mission. It has been noted by many commentators that many of the theological themes introduced and developed in Matthew find their resolution and culmination in these five verses.[2] Alone among the synoptics, Matthew records this interaction in Galilee rather than Jerusalem.

The coordinating conjunction δ introduces a change, as the narrative moves from Judea to Galilee.[3] With the death of Judas Iscariot, it is the eleven disciples who make this journey. Like the bulk of Matthew’s Gospel, the commencement of their mission occurs in Galilee, perhaps suggesting continuity with Jesus’ own mission.[4] Whilst ες τ ρος has a broad reference, with the general meaning of ‘into the hills’, the exact phrase recalls Jesus’ own earlier ministry of teaching, prayer, and healing (5:1, 15:23, and 15:29). More generally it echoes the seven previous mountain-top experiences in the Gospel (4:8, 5:1, 14:23, 15:29; 17:1, 24.3, and 26.30).[5] As with some of these earlier episodes, there are probably also Mosaic overtures. Whilst the aorist middle indicative verb τάξατο might suggest a prearranged place, the general sense of ες τ ρος places the focus not on a particular mountain, but Galilee in general.

Much like women did (v.9), the disciples worshipped Jesus when the saw him. Yet the mixed reaction from some of their companions has been the source of consternation among commentators. The worship of the disciples could refer to the obeisance Persians and Greeks displayed before their kings. However, these kings were deified. Moreover, the reference here is most likely that of worship, parallelling a fragment found at Qumran that all the nations would come to worship the Son of God. [6] Yet some doubted. The aorist verb, διστάζω, occurs only twice in the New Testament: here and earlier in Matthew as Peter’s faith wavered on the Galilean waves (14:31). Yet it was widely used in the Hellenic world, referring to either doubt or waiver over something, or hesitancy over a certain course of action.[7] Commentators have attempted to resolve the issue of whether it was hesitation or actual doubt by questioning whether verse 17 refers just to the eleven, or other unnamed accomplices. Carson is amongst those who suggest that the doubters were outside of the eleven. On this reading ο δ refers to others in contrast to those who have already been the mentioned.[8] However, one would normally expect the presence of the particle μν.[9] Both Carson and France point to 26:67 as evidence of Matthew’s use of ο δ to support their position. Yet France is probably correct when he argues that in both verses ο δ refers to a ‘countercurrent within the group, affecting some but not all of them.’ Nonetheless, both France and Carson agree that ἐδίστασαν is not the opposite of προσεκύνησαν, as in intellectual doubt; instead ἐδίστασαν refers to hesitancy on the disciples behalf.[10] It is possible then that this hesitancy is related to an uncertainty whether it was Jesus standing before them. (cf. Luke 24:16, 31-32, 37; John 20:15, 21:4-7). Within the narrative frame of Matthew, it is likely that the hesitancy of some of the eleven stems from an uncertainty over the reception they would receive from Jesus. The last time they had seen Jesus was as they fled from him in Gethsemane.[11]

Into this hesitancy Jesus approached (v.18). The only other time Matthew uses προσέρχομαι with Jesus as the subject is following the transfiguration (17:7). Both times Jesus’ calms the baffled disciples.[12] Silent through Matthew’s narration of the last two verses, from hereon only Jesus speaks. His speech is held together by the repetition of πᾶσ: all authority, all nations, all of his commandments, and at all times. Firstly, Jesus claims all authority in heaven and earth. (cf. 7:29, 10:1-8, 11:27, 22:43-4, 24:35), strongly echoing Daniel’s Son of Man (Daniel 7:14). Like the Septuagint, Matthew uses ἐξουσία to describe Jesusdominion.[13] Throughout the Gospel, Jesus uses the language of Daniel 7 to describe his future authority and vindication (16:28, 19:28, 24:30-31, 25:31-34, 26:64). Now that authority is realised, including not only the earth as in Daniel 7, and as offered by Satan (4:8-10), but heaven too. Jesus’ authority is coextensive to that attributed to his Father (11:25-27). Having had his claim to sovereignty mocked (27:11, 29, 37, 42), Jesus stands before the eleven vindicated in his authority. Wright notes that this brings together the opening of the Lord’s Prayer, perhaps as its answer, that earth should match heaven.[14] Of course, this authority has not been assumed by Jesus; instead it has been given to him. The passive use of the aorist δίδωμι not only presents the action in summary, but also highlights Jesus own passivity.[15]

The second ‘all’ is connected to the first by the inferential participle ον. It signals a development that is highly constrained by the previous argument.[16]. As an aorist imperative, μαθητεύσατε conveys specific commands.[17] As the other actions in vv.19-20 (go, baptise, and teach) are participles, verse 19 is sometimes translated ‘Having gone/As you go, make disciples...’ to stress the action of making disciples.[18] However, Carson cautions against this reading.[19] Additionally, Wallace rules it out on account of the first participle, πορευθέντες, being an aorist that comes before an imperative in narrative.[20] To treat πορευθέντες as either an adverbial participle or a temporal participle would, argues Wallace, reduce the Great Commission into the Great Suggestion. Rather than a temporal participial, πορευθέντες is most likely a participle of attendant circumstances. There is a similar use of the participle πορευθέντες preceding an aorist imperative in Matthew 11:4, ‘Go and tell John what you see and hear’. It would be strange to translate πορευθέντες here as a temporal participle; ‘As you go, tell John...’ In this instance, πορευθέντες carries the same mood as the main verb. Undoubtedly the emphasis falls upon μαθητεύσατε. Yet it remains that πορευθέντες is not optional but a prerequisite to the action of the main verb. After all, given who the disciples are commanded to disciple, namely the nations, it would be difficult to obey Jesus' command without travelling. 

The verb μαθητεύσατε is unusual as this is only one of two times it appears as a transitive in the New Testament (cf. Acts 14:21). It has the sense of causing someone to become pupils.[21] This discipling has a particular object: the nations. Again Matthew picks up the language of the Septuagint. When God reconfirmed his covenant with Abraham, he used the words πάντα τ θνη (Genesis 18:18, 22:18). Rather than replacing Israel, Matthew has in mind the inclusion of the gentiles alongside faithful Israelites in the kingdom.[22] In this sense Knox suggests that Jesus has in mind not merely individuals from the nations, but the nations themselves which are to be discipled.[23]

Discipling the nations will include both baptism and teaching. These two particles operate as participles of means; baptism as the means of induction into community of the triune God, and instruction as the means of how to live in that community.[24] This is the first time baptism has appeared in Matthew since John’s ministry (chapter 3). It appears to be different from John's baptism, and differrent to the customary Jewish purification baptisms as well. It is baptism into a relationship; BDAG notes that the combination of εἰς τὸ ὄνομα refers the possession of the name borne.[25] Of note here is the particular name to be borne: the singular Triune name. Rather than being an original liturgical formula, the relating of the three persons here fits with earlier moments in Matthew, such as Jesus’ baptism and transfiguration (3:13-17, 17:1-8). Although this form is echoed in the Didache, there is no evidence of later manuscript tampering to make Matthew conform to second-century practice. On its own this verse does not prove Trinitarian consciousness in the New Testament, but it does make it difficult to deny the presence of Trinitarian thinking.[26]

The third ‘all’ relates to Jesus’ teaching. To be a disciple of Jesus is to obey his commandments. The use of ἐνετειλάμην is significant, as hitherto Matthew has connected ἐντέλλω with the Mosaic commandments (i.e. 15:4, 19:7).[27] Additionally the infinitive τηρεῖν is particularly associated in the Septuagint with the law.[28] Now the focus is on Jesus’ own words (cf. Matthew 5:17-20). This is not abstract teaching, but instruction to be obeyed.[29] The fourth ‘all’ is the promise of Jesus’ enduring presence (cf. 1:23); κα δο emphasises the size of something.[30] This is filled out by the accusative for extent of time, πάσας τς μέρας.[31] This hapax legomenon complements the imperfective aspect of εμι, which portrays Jesus’ presence as ongoing.[32] This final clause is Matthean; whilst Matthew uses the phrase συντελείας το αἰῶνος five times (13:39, 40, 49, 24:3, 28:20), it is only used once elsewhere (Hebrews 9:26).[33] Jesus speaks of the consummation of this world or unit of history.[34] This speaks of Jesus presence not only with the eleven, but to those they disciple and so on, until the final renewal of the world.[35]

Whilst both Luke and possibly Mark include a final, post-graveside scene which includes mission to the nations and Jesus’ ascension, these serve as the climax of Matthew’s Gospel. Out of Galilee where a great light initially dawned at the onset of Jesus’ ministry the eleven are sent (4:12-17). Whereas Jesus had gone only to the house of Israel (15:24), they are to go to all the nations. They are to make the nations what they themselves already are: disciples of the risen Christ.[36] As the beneficiaries of the eleven’s mission, Christians today continue in this mission through the presence of Jesus in the apostolic announcement of his authority over all things.[37] On this basis it is entirely fitting that Jesus – Emmanuel, who saves his people from their sins, and whose name is included alongside the Father and the Holy Spirit – is worshipped.

[1] αἰῶνος. A* B D W 1 33 itaur, d, e, ff1, g1, h, n, qvg syrpalmss copsa, meg, bopt arm ethpp, TH geo1, B Origenvid Chrysostom Severianvid Cyril; Jerome // αἰῶνος. μήν. A2 D Q ƒ13 28 157 180 205 565 579 597 700 892 1006 1010 1071 1241 1243 1292 1342 1424 1505 Byz [E F Gsupp H S] Lect ita, b, c, f, ff2, l vgmss syrp, h, palms copbopt ethms geoA Apostolic Constitutions.

[2] cf. R. T. France, The Gospel According to Matthew (NICNT) (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007), 1107; D. A. Carson, ‘Matthew’, in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary (Revised Edition): Volume 9 – Matthew & Mark (ed. Tremper Longman III & David E. Garland; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010.

[3] Steven E. Runge, Discourse Grammar of the Greek New Testament: A Practical Introduction for Teaching and Exegesis (Peabody: Hendrickson, 2010), 31-32.

[4] Leon Morris, The Gospel According to Matthew (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1992), 744.

[5] David L. Turner, Matthew (Barker: Grand Rapids, 2008), 688.

[6] Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (ed. F.W. Danker. 3rd ed.; Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001), 882-883; Craig A. Evans, Matthew (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012), 482.

[7] Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon, 252.

[8] Carson, ‘Matthew’, 663.

[9] France, The Gospel According to Matthew, 1111.

[10] Carson, ‘Matthew’, 663; France, The Gospel According to Matthew, 1111-1112. cf. Morris, The Gospel According to Matthew, 744-745.
[11] K. Grayston, ‘The Translation of Matthew 28.17’ JSNT 21 (1984): 105-109.
[12] France, The Gospel According to Matthew, 651.
[13] Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon, 353.
[14] N. T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God (London: SPCK, 2003), 643.
[15] Constantine R. Campbell, Basics of Verbal Aspect in Biblical Greek (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008), 1286, Kindle.
[16] Steven E. Runge, Discourse Grammar of the Greek New Testament, 43.
[17] Campbell, Basics of Verbal Aspect in Biblical Greek, 1383.
[18] Evans, Matthew, 483; cf. Colin Marshall and Tony Payne, The Trellis and the Vine: The Ministry Mind-Shift That Changes Everything (Kingsford: Matthias Media, 2009), 12-13.
[19] Carson, ‘Matthew’, 666.
[20] Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 642, 645.
[21] Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon, 609.
[22] Carson, ‘Matthew’, 666-667.
[23] D. B. Knox, ‘New Testament Baptism’, in David Broughton Knox Selected Works Volume II - Church and Ministry (ed. K. Birkett; Kingsford: Matthias Media, 2003), 277-282.
[24] Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, 645.
[25] Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon, 713; Carson, ‘Matthew’, 668.
[26] Carson, ‘Matthew’, 668.
[27] France, The Gospel According to Matthew, 1118.
[28] Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon, 1002.
[29] Carson, ‘Matthew’, 669.
[30] Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon, 468.
[31] Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, 202.
[32] Campbell, Basics of Verbal Aspect in Biblical Greek, 894-900.
[33] Morris, The Gospel According to Matthew, 356, n.96.
[34] Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon, 32.
[35] The textual variant at the conclusion of v.20, which includes ‘Amen’ in the text, is of doubtful origin given its absence from Alexandrian sources. It can be accounted for via the later liturgical use of the text. cf. B. M. Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament (2nd ed.; Peabody: Hendrickson, 1994), 61.
[36] Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics Vol. IV: The Doctrine of Reconciliation 3.2 (Trans. G. W. Bromiley; Peabody: Henderson, 2010), 860.
[37] cf. Peter G. Bolt, Matthew: A Great Light Dawns (South Sydney: Aquila, 2014), 268.