Luke 1:53 ESV

This Sunday morning (liturgically Advent 4), the Gospel reading caught my attention. I had mentally read the passage many times in the Greek and in several translations preparing for the Bible study on Luke (in the past two months). But I had not read it aloud. When I heard it read this Sunday, I grabbed the bulletin to see whether the person read it correctly – he did. But the text itself was “wrong”.

The reading, Luke 1:39-56, was from ESV. Note 1:53:

he has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent empty away.

I think many people read it in their minds (like I had before this Sunday) and make the necessary mental adjustment so that it reads correctly. But when this is read orally, it is clear how awkward the English phrasing is.

The way it is written, “empty” functions as noun/pronoun as the direct object (substitute “them” and see how you would speak it). As it is, I would wonder whether “empty” was lonely when sent away? Was “empty’s” feelings hurt?

In reality, the word “empty” should be an adverb telling “how” the rich were sent away. Thus it should read:

he has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.

Thus, a typically good liturgical translation (ESV) fails in this specific liturgical text.

Just to clarify my use of the ESV: I use several translations for preparing Bible studies, in addition to the original language texts. ESV is one of them, but I personally prefer the combination of NAS, NKJV, HCSB, and GW. However, the congregation where I teach has now started using the ESV for Sunday readings – because Concordia Publishing House began using ESV on the back of the bulletins beginning with Advent 1 Sunday (four weeks ago). And CPH used the ESV as the base for the liturgical sections of the new hymnal published in August (Lutheran Service Book – LSB)

In the past couple of years I was encouraged by the ESV translation because of its “standardized” liturgical texts (i.e. Ps. 116:12-13, 17-19, Ps. 136:1, Is. 6:3, John 6:68 etc.). However, the more I have read the ESV (about 1/2, so far), the less I like it. I find it not as easy to read as NAS and NKJV, which are usually considered “choppy”. Could I teach using the ESV? Yep, just like I can with other translations. But I would use it with caution.

Given my exposure to the ESV over the past year (through private reading/devotion and some teaching), I would definitely state that the NKJV is a much better liturgical translation.

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Luke 1 Some Thoughts

I begin teaching the Gospel According to Luke next month. Although I have taught this class before in other congregations and once as a Concordia University class, I still like to approach the text fresh. As I began re-translating the text in my preparation, I investigated a few interesting tidbits.

For instance, in Luke 1, there is the Greek noun ἀγαλλίασις (“intense joy, gladness”). My first thought was to look at where in the NT this word occurs. Luke 1:14, 1:44, Acts 2:46, Hebrews 1:9, and Jude 24. In the LXX it occurs 22 times, 18 in the Psalms.

Then I looked for the verb form: αγαλλιαω, Matthew 5:12; Luke 1:47; 10:21; John 5:35; 8:56; Acts 2:36; 16:34; 1 Peter 1:6; 1:8; 4:13; and Revelation 19:7. In the LXX, it occurs 70 times, 50 in the Psalms and 10 in Isaiah.

I also briefly reviewed another prominent word group connected with joy: χαρα. It occurs 46 times in the LXX (3 times in Psalms, and 4 times in Isaiah). I’ll pursue this more in the future.

Initial reading and context of these occurrences in LXX suggest a worship and/or liturgical orientation. Such a connection fits well with a similar connection in Revelation.

Now the questions arise: Are both elements important in Luke’s two volume work? Are Luke 1-2 both liturgical and eschatological? If so, what is significance of both in the development of his two writings? Obviously Arthu Just, Concordia Commentary: Luke 1:1-9:50, provides a liturgical view of the text, and David Pao stresses the eschatological element in his examination of Isaiah as the framework for Acts (and Luke), particularly ISaiah 49:6.

So, these two angles will provide further food for thought in my study and preparation for Luke.

Mission, Isaiah, Acts, and Romans

To continue the thought of the previous post: the book by David Pao is Acts and the Isaianic New Exodus, Biblical Studies Library, J.C. B. Mohr, 2000 (Baker Academic, 2002). The key point of his study relative to Acts 1:6-8 is the framework of Acts in light of Isaiah 49:6. This is the second Servant Song in Isaiah and focuses on the mission objective (Isaiah 52:13-53:12 focuses on the how):

Isaiah 49:6
he says: “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the preserved of Israel; I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.

Notice that the Servant has two objectives: 1. restore Israel, and 2. be a light to the nations. When these are achieved, then salvation goes to the end of the earth.

In Acts 1:6, the disciples ask “Is it at this time you are restoring the kingdom to Israel?” Jesus does not rebuke them for their question, nor does he say that their theology is mistaken. Rather, their theology is incomplete. Jesus focuses the disciples on the two fold objective (Israel and the nations), and they will be guided in that objective by the Holy Spirit, the same Holy Spirit who guided him when he began his ministry (Luke 4:16-30). Their ministry will be begin in Jerusalem, then to Judea/Samaria, and finally to the end of the earth.

Pao notes that the phrase “to the end of the earth”, “the exact form of the phrase (with the singular εσχατου) appears only five times in the LXX, and twice in the Lukan writings, and nowhere elsewhere in ancient Greek literature not influenced by either Isaiah or Acts” (pg. 94). Thus, the mission outlined in Acts 1:8 is more than a geographic mission, rather a theological mission, and more particularly an Isaianic mission. Pao adds to this perspective by noting that Isaiah 49:6 is quoted in Acts 13:47. Barnabas and Paul had been commissioned by the church in Antioch, receiving the Holy Spirit for the mission ahead. The pattern of Barnabas and Paul (now Paul and Barnabas) has been to go to the Jews, but when they reject the message, to turn to the Gentiles, in fulfillment of Isaiah 49:6.

Now, what is interesting is that the restoration of Israel only happens as the second part (light to the nations) happens. And this bring us to Paul’s thematic phrase in Romans, “first to the Jews and then to the Greeks”. One can not happen without the other. Paul emphasizes this in Romans 11, when he writes:

Romans 11:25-26a
Lest you be wise in your own conceits, I want you to understand this mystery, brethren: a hardening has come upon part of Israel, until the full number of the Gentiles come in, and so all Israel will be saved;

Thus, Paul’s missional understanding in Romans parallels the missional understanding of Acts – and both reflect the Isaianic mission (“restore Israel, bring light to nations – and bring salvation to the end of the earth”).

As always this post leaves many unanswered questions and raises even more. It is not definitive, but a starting point for further investigation.