Confusing Eschatology

The vlog below is very well presented. The speaker has a good grasp of Jewish eschatological expectations as well as Christian eschatology. His presentation likely finds allies in ‘former’ Christians, those acquainted with and/or adhering to orthodox Jewish beliefs, and those generally opposed to Christianity.

His basic premise is that the split nature of Christian eschatology, specifically the ‘already’ (inaugurated eschatology) and the ‘not yet’ (future eschatology)—which is at odds with Jewish expectations—was a Christian invention in the wake of Jesus’ death. In accordance with this view, he thinks the New Testament writers fabricated Jesus’ resurrection as a means by which to alleviate the supposed cognitive dissonance resulting from His Crucifixion. Furthermore, he claims that the 2000 year gap between Jesus’ first century appearance in flesh and the Second Coming makes such a split view of eschatology even more untenable.

There are many ways to counter his views; however, given that he does not affirm the NT writings as (in any way?) authentic, the argument would be unable to properly proceed. Yet, there are a number of Old Testament passages one could point to, the first of which I think should be Isaiah 53. Surely, if this is describing the Messiah, and yet Jewish expectations include a Messianic reign, then the Resurrection must implicitly be part of the plan. Motyer lays out Isaiah’s implied resurrection in 53:10–12 succinctly:

Isaiah does not use the word ‘resurrection’ but these verses display the Servant ‘alive after suffering’ (Acts 1:3). Not, however, alive in the Old Testament sense that the dead possess in the half-life of Sheol  [ED: cf. Luke 16:19–31] . . . The dead (9) is alive (10), the condemned (8) is righteous (11), the helpless (7) is the Victor (12).1

The way the vlogger chooses to discount the split aspect of Christian eschatology, though, is problematic. In tune with his confirmation bias, he posits a false analogy. He uses failed ‘prophecy’ in the form of Second Coming predictions—even though such predictions violate the Scriptures Christian orthodoxy accepts—to ‘prove’ how Christians use Cognitive Dissonance Theory (CDT) to resolve such failed prophecy.

He uses the Millerites and Seventh Day Adventism as his example, in which the failed date-setting is salvaged via a ‘spiritualized’ fulfillment, while the Second Coming remains yet future. He then implicitly equates this to the Resurrection and its attendant eschatology, suggesting that first century Christians supposedly used similar CDT in order to relieve their dissonance following Jesus’ Crucifixion.

My point in posting this is to show merely one way a person can try to cast doubt on the truths contained in Scripture. It’s all about one’s presuppositions.

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1 J. Alec Motyer, Isaiah: An Introduction and Commentary, Tyndale Old Testament Commentary [TOTC], (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2009 [1999]), p 381 (I Capitalized “Victor”).

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Related:

Creating Straw Men from Cognitive Dissonance

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God Came to Abide with Us

God came to abide with humanity and at the hands of humanity die,
so forever in His made-without-hands abode could humanity too reside.

__________________________________________________

Posts of Christmas past:

Coming Soon Near You!

Today an Eternal Present was Unveiled in the City of David

Time to Live

time

How long? How short. So live each day the daily way, trusting in God above (Matt 6:11, 6:34).

Forgive, forget; release your debts (Matt 6:12), living in step with the Helper (Gal 5:22–26).

The Clock of Life
(Robert H. Smith)

The clock of life is wound but once,
And no man has the power
To tell just when the hands will stop
At late or early hour.

To lose one’s wealth is sad indeed,
To lose one’s health is more,
To lose one’s soul is such a loss
That no man can restore.

The present only is our own,
So live, love, toil with a will,
Place no faith in “Tomorrow”
For the clock may then be still.

What Have I With You?

I get a kick out of idioms! Idiomatic expressions spice up speech and literature. They can add levity to mundane subjects or technical works.

Here are a few idioms to make you hunger for more:

Food for thought
A piece of cake
Pie in the sky
Egg on my face
Bread and butter
Out to lunch

Dolphy_Out_To_Lunch

Yet idiomatic expressions can be a challenge to translate from one language to another—especially if it’s a language no longer in use, such as Koine (New Testament) Greek. And such a challenge presents itself in John 2:4.

Technically Speaking

Chapter two of John’s Gospel opens with the wedding in Cana (John 2:1–2). Upon learning the hosts had run out of wine for their guests, Mary informed Jesus (2:3). In (transliterated) Greek He responded (2:4), Ti emoi kai soi? This translates most literally as, What to me and to you?

This idiomatic expression in John 2:4 recently featured in a segment of Daily Dose of Greek. See the corresponding YouTube video here:

Note the very different English translations of this idiom. Few are literal (formally equivalent), most are functionally equivalent (dynamic).

Though Dr. Plummer—following others—asserts this originates as a Semitic (Hebrew) idiom,1 this idiom is found in Classical (pre-Koine) Greek.2 In H. W. Smyth’s Greek Grammar, the Classicist adds the verb ‘to be’ (estin) and renders this expression functionally as, What have I to do with thee? Taking Smyth’s added (implied) Greek verb, we might render this more literally as, What is [it] to me and you?

Following are Smyth’s complete thoughts on this matter (§ 1479), with transliteration added in brackets:

Here belong the phrases (1) τί (ἐστιν) ἐμοὶ καὶ σοί [ti (estin) emoi kai soi]; what have I to do with thee?; cp. τί τῷ νόμῳ καὶ τῇ βασάνῳ [ti tō̗ nomō̗ kai tē̗ basanō̗]; what have the law and torture in common? D. 29.36. (2) τί ταῦτ᾽ ἐμοί [ti taut’ emoi]; what have I to do with this? D. 54.17. (3) τί ἐμοὶ πλέον [ti emoi pleon]; what gain have I? X. C. 5.5.34.

It seems to me that the comparison (“cp.”) in (1) is instructive. Note the parallelism. It begins with the same interrogative pronoun ti and includes a kai (“and”) between the dative “law” and “torture”. Moreover, (2) is quite helpful: ti taut’ emoi is most literally What this to me? If we add the presumably implied ‘to be’ we would get What is this to me? Assuming my rationale is correct, we might think that the idiomatic expression is something like What (is) me and you? or What (is) me to you? This, then, would be understood as conveying something akin to What do I share with you? or What do I have in common with you?

Interestingly, in a few Biblical passages unclean spirits used this same idiom in response to Jesus. The NET Bible, for example, renders Mark 5:7 as follows: Leave me alone, Jesus, Son of the Most High God! I implore you by God–do not torment me!” The NET is certainly using dynamic equivalence, but I might challenge the rendering here. Elsewhere, I’ve translated this: What am I to You, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I implore you by God: Don’t torment me!”

The NET Bible notes for Mark 5:7 explain: Hostility between Jesus and the demons is certainly to be understood in this context, hence the translation: “Leave me alone….” Yet I’m not so sure the unclean spirits were openly hostile to Jesus here. They knew who He is and they understood the power He had over them; so, I’d think they would be a bit more cautious in their interactions with Him.

Conclusion

The title of this article should be understood as a possible dynamic rendering of this idiomatic phrase (‘What Have I With You?’), as well as a question as to whether this is a valid translation of this idiom (Is it ‘What have I with you’?)

So how should we translate this idiom in John 2:4?

Beats me!

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1 Follow the note in the online NET Bible translation here (footnote 8).

2 See Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996), pp 150–151; Rodney J. Decker, Mark 1–8: A Handbook on the Greek Text, BHGNT (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2014): “This is not a Hebraism, though Hebrew does have a similar idiom (. . . see also BDAG, 275, s.v. έγώ. col. 2 . . . )” [p 27].

Do You Yet Believe?

Are the shepherds pulling the wool over the eyes of the sheep?

Is this a test of the extent to which one might remain faithful to the prevailing orthodoxy—a test of religious zealotry?

Delta

It seems neutrality can be rather easily obtained, if one generates enough green. Money, that is.

In the words of Qoheleth (Ecclesiastes 5:10–12, ISV):

10 Whoever loves money will never have enough money.
Whoever loves luxury will not be content with abundance.
This also is pointless.
11 When possessions increase,
so does the number of consumers;
therefore what good are they to their owners,
except to look at them?
12 Sweet is the sleep of a working man,
whether he eats a little or a lot,
but the excess wealth of the rich
will not allow him to rest.

Indeed, there is a season for everything.

——–

Related:

Ted Turner’s Math Problem

“Climate Change” as Religion

Climocentrism: The New Geocentrism

Hymn to God and Jesus

This song has long been somewhat of an enigma for me. It clearly lays out the Gospel message and has appropriate accompanying music, which builds as it goes. Yet it contains some lyrics that strike me as a bit odd, out of place. Despite my own reservations, it may function well enough as a nice praise/worship song. Those familiar with the song may find my critique here a bit too—well—critical.

The song is “Hymn” by the progressive rock band Barclay James Harvest, the first track from their 1977 album Gone to Earth. See/hear video below the lyrics:

“HYMN”
(John Lees)

Valleys deep and the mountains so high
If you want to see God you’ve got to move on the other side
You stand up there with your head in the clouds
Don’t try to fly you know you might not come down
Don’t try to fly, dear God, you might not come down

Jesus came down from Heaven to earth
The people said it was a virgin birth
Jesus came down from Heaven to earth
The People said it was a virgin birth
The People said it was a virgin birth

He told great stories of the Lord
And said He was the Saviour of us all
He told great stories of the Lord
And said He was the Saviour of us all
And said He was the Saviour of us all

For this we killed Him, nailed Him up high
He rose again as if to ask us why
Then He ascended into the sky
As if to say in God alone you soar
As if to say in God alone we fly

Valleys deep and the mountains so high
If you want to see God you’ve got to move on the other side
You stand up there with your head in the clouds
Don’t try to fly you know you might not come down
Don’t try to fly, dear God, you might not come down

The first two lines together declare God as Creator. And though the second line affirms that no one can see God and live (Exodus 33:20; Isaiah 6:5–7; John 1:18, 6:46; 1John 4:12), it yet also seems a bit out of character with the rest of the verse. And the song. More on this further below.1

The next verse lays out the Virgin Birth. I could quibble, but it adequately functions as part of a simple worship song.  The third verse calls Jesus “Saviour of us all” (British spelling). It works well enough in the context of the song (though, again, I could quibble).

But the theological rubber hits the road in the fourth verse. After verses two and three proclaim Jesus’ coming to earth—and recall the album’s title Gone to Earth—being born of a virgin, and being “Saviour”, verse four declares His death by crucifixion (“For this we killed Him, nailed Him up high”) and His resurrection from the dead. The words “as if to ask us why” can be chalked up to poetic license to rhyme. The final two lines can be interpreted as Jesus being the first-fruits of many. That’s the Gospel!

The final verse is identical to the first. As such, they provide bookends to the Gospel message in between. So how does the song cohere?

According to one (secondary) source, the song is—presumably first quoting John Lees, the writer here—“’primarily about the dangers of drug abuse’ comparing it with the spiritual high of religion.”2 So now we have the interpretive key!

The first line has a double meaning. Besides the one described above, it refers to being high and, conversely, low in an illicit drug sense. This, then, makes sense of the rest of the lines. Some abusers have remarked how drug highs have a spiritual/religious feeling—a sense of ‘God’s’ presence or even seeing ‘God’. But Lees explains that this cannot be done in this life, but “on the other side”.

I think the reader can understand the rest.

So what do you think? Could this song be used in a Christian setting?

P.S. (Pre-Script)

I don’t know that I ever would have heard “Hymn” had it not been for a radio station I listened to when I was a teenager. My introduction to Barclay James Harvest was the track “May Day”, from their 1976 album Octoberon, when the station played the selection upon the album’s release. Though I was intrigued by the music and lyrics, it was the completely unexpected choral/orchestral (the latter likely using keyboards) ending that captivated me (beginning at around 4:53 in the video/vlog further below). I’d never heard such an unusual juxtaposition before. I bought the LP shortly after my initial hearing of this song. From there I explored some of the band’s other output, eventually acquiring the album Gone To Earth, but this was well-before my Christian conversion.

At the time I picked up Octoberon I was not yet aware of Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, so I didn’t have a point of reference for the lyrics.3 Oh, but now I certainly do:

“MAY DAY”
(John Lees)

The rock on which I stand is slowly sinking in the sand
The sheer realities of life are rushing by
I am looking out at life and I don’t know what’s wrong or right
And I can’t even see the bright side of the moon

I stopped a man in the street today
And I asked him, “Sir, is it night or day?”
He just stared in disbelief
I asked again but he walked away
He said, “Don’t you know?”
I said, “Can’t you say? Is there something in between?
Is it something I’ve not seen?
Did it change so fast or was it just a dream?”

Time and time again I’ve tried to recreate the past few days
Evaluate the constants from the haze
But every time I think I’m right, they say I’m wrong
“This day is night and night is day –
It’s there in black and white”

Night is light and dark is day
If I disagree they say I’m insane
And the treatment will begin
If I say that the day is light
They just point my eyes to the blinding night, saying,
“We can’t set you free if you always disagree,
So the State is going to pay your doctor’s fee”

They put me out in the pouring rain
To enjoy the sun or to feel the pain
Of the nightmare life’s become
I asked a man in the street today
Or was it yesterday or the day before?
“Is there something I’ve not seen?
Is there something in between?
Did it change so fast or was it just a dream?”

The rock on which I stand is now beneath the ever-flowing sand
The sheer realities are here to stay
I’m looking out at life and now I know what’s wrong and right
It’s what you hear and what you read and what they say

I saw a man in the street today
Asked another man, “Is it night or day?”
He just stared in disbelief
He said, “Friend, it’s your lucky day
I’m a party man, won’t you step this way?
I’ve got something you’ve not seen.”
Now I know it’s not a dream
It just came so fast, that something in between

1 I also wince at the fifth line’s “dear God”, for, to me, it breaches the 3rd Commandment.  Lyrically, I understand why Lees wrote it in, but it comes off a bit frivolous. It doesn’t appear reverential but as a parallel to “you know” in the fourth line; but, “oh no” would have been much better. In fact, I propose that substitution for anyone wishing to cover the song.
2 See Songfacts.
3 The lyrics may have been influenced by David Bowie’s 1974 LP Diamond Dogs, with its dystopian landscape, as based on Orwell’s book. Bowie uses hyperbole to get the dystopian message across, then exaggerates the extent to which one will go to numb its inevitable emotional toll: They’ll split your pretty cranium, and fill it full of air / And tell you that you’re eighty, but brother, you won’t care / You’ll be shooting up on anything, tomorrow’s never there / Beware the savage jaw of 1984 (“1984”). But after the requisite preconditioning, the apocalyptic vision is accepted, welcomed: Someone to claim us, someone to follow / Someone to shame us, some brave Apollo / Someone to fool us, someone like you / We want you Big Brother (“Big Brother”). For his part, John Lees describes the workings and outworkings of the ‘Ministry of Truth’.

Art Intimates Scripture: In the Winter of ‘The American Four Seasons’

24:36 “Now, concerning that day and hour, no one knows—not even the angels of heaven, and not even the Son—except the Father alone. 37 For as the days of Noah, so will be the Parousia of the Son of Man. 38 For as in those days before the Flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark 39 —and they did not realize until the Flood came and carried them all away. So will be the Parousia of the Son of Man. 40 At that time, two men will be in the field: one is received and one is disregarded. 41 Two women will be grinding in the mill: one is received and one is disregarded.”1

What follows below is strictly my own interpretation and application of Philip Glass’ Violin Concerto No. 2, aka The American Four Seasons. But the composer explicitly welcomes such individual interpretation:

[Robert McDuffie’s] interpretation, though similar to my own, proved to be also somewhat different. This struck me as an opportunity, then, for the listener to make his/her own interpretation. Therefore, there will be no instructions for the audience, no clues as to where Spring, Summer, Winter, and Fall might appear in the new concerto—an interesting, though not worrisome, problem for the listener. After all, if Bobby and I are not in complete agreement, an independent interpretation can be tolerated and even welcomed.2

A bit of background information is necessary to explain my interpretation/application. The concerto is composed in eight parts, with a prologue preceding the first movement, and each succeeding movement preceded by a song:

Prologue
Movement I
Song No. 1
Movement II
Song No. 2
Movement III
Song No. 3
Movement IV

The Prologue and songs are short solo violin pieces. In contrast, the movements incorporate the ensemble. The Prologue, then, serves as a prelude to Movement I, while the songs function as interludes bridging each Movement.

In view of its overall structure, each Movement correlates to one of the four seasons. It seems best to conceive these seasons as proceeding in order beginning with spring, then summer, fall, and winter. Thus far, this is fairly straightforward.

Digressing just a bit while providing additional context, I must say I really like this piece. I think it is fairly accessible, even to the Classical music hesitant (or Classical music “purist” put off by ‘minimalism’). Movement I may be the most ear-pleasing. The slower and more melancholic Movement II features some achingly beautiful moments, after which it segues into its waltz section—my favorite part of the concerto. The up-tempo Movement III lifts the mood of II, and its quasi-harpsichord accompaniment and occasional flourishes—played on a synthesizer—merges the past with the contemporary. Movement IV is the fastest and musically the ‘busiest’ of them all:

I interpret these movements as indicating segments of time in chronology—as opposed to literal seasons of a calendar year. As such, Movement I correlates to the birth of the USA and each successive Movement relates to subsequent time periods. Movement IV, then, represents the time period we are currently living within. The American Empire is in the winter of its existence.

The winter of America seems to be moving exponentially faster than previous seasons. Notice how Movement IV’s tempo quickens sharply, almost chaotically, just before it abruptly ends. I interpret that as analogous to the USA’s forthcoming demise.

Interestingly, Movement IV is seven minutes long. Just before its halfway mark it slows a bit, briefly pausing altogether before beginning anew. It returns to the original tempo, yet as it begins to decrease instrumentation, it appears to slow a bit. Following that, the full ensemble reenters. The violin plays faster arpeggios (the overall tempo remaining the same), until the tempo rapidly increases and the violinist speeds his bowing to match. Then the end.

Though the concerto was written specifically for Robert McDuffie (and it was premiered with this violinist featured), the above was performed by violinist Gidon Kremer and his Kremerata Baltica ensemble. In the liner notes for this release, new seasons, Kremer remarks:

The subject of seasons in music has always interested me and has become the focus of a number of my recordings and concert programs . . . Why the seasons? Why “new seasons”? As an artist I’ve always tried to keep in step with the times. Time and seasons are virtually synonymous.3

In the Greek of the New Testament, “time” is chronos, while “season” (or “appointed/proper time”) is kairos. The latter term, kairos (as opposed to chronos), is used when referring to Jesus’ Parousia—His return to usher in the end of all things. [See Not One Parousia, But Two.] For example, kairos is found twice in the Parable of the Tenants (21:34 and 21:41). And the term is found just after the section of Scripture beginning this post:

24:42 “Therefore, be alert, because you do not know on what day our Lord is coming. 43 But be certain of this: If the owner of the house had known which segment of nighttime the thief was coming, he would have been alert and would not have let his house be broken into. 44 Considering this, you must also be ready, because the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.

45 “Who then is the faithful and wise servant whom his master has put in charge of his household—the one giving them nourishment in season [kairos]? 46 Blessed is that servant whom his master finds so doing when he comes! 47 Amen I say to you that he will put him in charge of all his possessions. 48 But if that wicked servant should say in his heart, ‘My lord delays’ . . .”

How long till the closing of this American winter season I will not venture or dare to predict.  Yet I do suspect the end of the empire will come near the end of it all, though, again, I will not hazard a guess as to timing (concerning that day and hour, no one knows . . . except the Father alone). But I want to be ready, no matter the case.

Only time will tell in this season. Sadly, most will continue “eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage”, oblivious to the coming wrath.

Let’s endeavor to keep each other alert.

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1 After exegeting this passage, I consulted a few commentaries, especially regarding vv. 40 and 41. Some attempt to read too much into the context, construing 39’s ēren (“carried away” [some translate “taken away”, neglecting other nuances in the term]) as parallel to paralambanetai (“is received” [“is taken”, by many]) in 40 and 41, thereby concluding both refer to judgment. But this is clearly incorrect. 24:31 illustrates that the Son of Man sends His angels to “gather His elect” at His Parousia. This ‘gathering’ is what is referred to in paralambanetai in both 40 and 41. This is why I contrast “received” with “disregarded” in 40 and 41. One is “received” as part of the elect, the other is “disregarded” and s/he will be among those who will mourn (24:30). One is received as a child of God, the other is disregarded just as s/he disregarded the Son of Man. Donald A. Hagner (Matthew 14–28, WBC [Dallas, TX: Word Books, 1995]) is a fount of clarity here (24:40–41): “Presumably, those who are “taken” [ED: or “received”] are among the elect whom the angels of the Son of Man are to gather at his coming (v 31), while those who are left await the prospect of judgment. The application of these verses is made clear in the exhortation that follows” (p 720).

2 Taken from “NOTES” tab here: Philip Glass recordings: Violin Concerto No. 2 – The American Four Seasons 2010.

3 Liner notes to Gidon Kremer | Kremerata Baltica, new seasons (Glass, Pärt, Kancheli, Umebayashi), 00289 479 4817, © 2015 Deutsche Grammophon, GmbH, Berlin.

One Composer’s Conception of Time

“I saw a mighty angel descending from heaven, clad in a cloud, having a rainbow upon his head. His face was like the sun, his feet like pillars of fire. He placed his right foot on the sea, his left foot on the land; and, supporting himself on the sea and the land, he raised his hand heavenward and swore by the One Who lives forever and ever, saying: ‘There shall be no more time, but in the day of the trumpet of the seventh angel the mystery of God shall be consummated.’”

– Apocalypse of St. John, 10:1–2, 5–71

So begins Olivier Messiaen’s preface to his Quartet for the End of Time (Quatuor pour las Fin du Temps). We might call it the prologue or the prelude to his preface, for this excerpt from Revelation (aka Apocalypse of Jesus Christ) provides the sole inspiration for the entire piece.

The quartet here is unusual in that it is not the typical string quartet (two violins, viola, and cello), instead consisting of piano, violin, cello, and clarinet. Messiaen finished composing this chamber music work while imprisoned during World War II. A sympathetic guard provided the needed materials for the captive composer. Quartet for the End of Time premiered in Stalag VIII-A in Görlitz, Germany (modern day Zgorzelec, Poland).

In his preface he describes how the composition’s “musical language” evokes time, timelessness, and eternity:

Certain modes, realizing melodically and harmonically a kind of tonal ubiquity, draw the listener into a sense of the eternity of space or infinity. Particular rhythms existing outside the measure contribute importantly toward the banishment of temporalities. (All this remains mere striving and stammering if one ponders upon the overwhelming grandeur of the subject!)2

By “[p]articular rhythms existing outside the measure” the composer means irregular rhythms; in some sections the number of beats per bar (measure) varies. In the first movement, for example, one instrument is assigned notes/chords to be played at specific intervals, while another is given different notes to be played at different intervals.3 Such intermixing represents “the banishment of temporalities”.4 These musical effects express time nearing its end, after which it will segue into eternity, according to the composer.

The composition consists of eight movements, two of which center on Christ. The first of these, the much-lauded fifth movement, is titled “Praise to the Eternity of Jesus”. The composer explains:

Jesus is here considered as one with the Word [Logos]. A long phrase, infinitely slow, by the cello magnifies with love and reverence on the eternality of the powerful and gentle Word, “whose years will never cease.” Majestically, the melody unfolds at a sort of distance, both tender and supreme: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

As I understand the composer, he appears to recognize that the earthly Jesus (the Word become flesh) preexisted as the Word. That is, there is continuity in the ‘Person’ of “the Word” and the Person of Jesus Christ. At the same time, then, he seems to correctly recognize that Jesus is coextensive with the Word only at the point of the Incarnation. Before that point in time the Word was not with flesh, and the Word was simply “the Word”.

Thus, while the Word eternally exists, Jesus has a beginning in time—at the instant of Incarnation, at the Conception of the Virginal Birth. In other words, though the Word exists eternally, the Word began a new mode of existence at the Incarnation—as Jesus of Nazareth, Jesus the Christ—which did not alter His eternality. Stated another way, the Word has unbounded eternality; comparatively, Jesus Christ has bounded eternality—bounded at the moment of the Virginal Conception, when the Word took human nature unto Himself (see An Eternal Christological Conundrum).

The second movement exalting Jesus Christ is the final (eighth) one: “Praise to the Immortality of Jesus.”

Expansive violin solo as counterpart to the cello solo of the fifth movement. Why this second eulogy? It addresses itself more specifically to the second aspect of Jesus—to Jesus the man, to the Word made flesh, resurrected immortal in order to share His life with us. It is total love. Its slow ascent towards the highest pitch is the ascension of man towards his God, of the child of God towards his Father, of the divinized creature towards paradise.

In keeping with his Roman Catholic faith, it seems likely the composer has in mind Athanasius, whose words were revised a bit to become the pithy aphorism “God became man so that man could become God”. That Messiaen understood this not as a full-on capital ‘D’ Deification seems evident in the last sentence above, especially the French créature divinisée. This retains the Creator-creature distinction, for a creature cannot truly become “Divinized”—capital ‘D’. The created cannot become just like the Creator. That would be oxymoronic. We are ‘partakers of the Divine nature’ (2Peter 1:4), not wholly Deity, God.5

Coming full circle, one last aspect of Messiaen’s preface commands our attention: his translation/interpretation of time in the prologue/prelude. A quick search of various English translations finds quite a variety in Revelation 10:6. Of this, the composer states:

“There are people who understand [the Biblical passage as] ‘there will be no more delay.’ That’s not it. [Instead it is] ‘there will be no more Time’ with a capital ‘T’; that is to say, there will be no more space, there will be no more time. One leaves the human dimension with cycles and destiny to rejoin eternity. So, I finally wrote this quartet dedicating it to this angel who declared the end of Time.”6

His is an interesting interpretation. As for the translation, Messiaen is technically correct. Let’s look at the Greek (transliterated):

Hoti chronos ouketi estai
That time no-longer will-be
That time will be no longer
That time will no longer be
That there will be time no longer
That there will be no more time

The first Greek word, hoti, can be understood as “that”, followed by a statement, in narrative form, of what someone had said. Or it can be construed as the beginning of a quotation, as Messiaen construes it, along with a few English translations. Messiaen goes a bit further, though, by prefacing this statement by the angel with “saying” (French: disant), which is not in the Greek. The composer also capitalizes “Time” (French: Temps).

Those versions that render this either as a quotation of the angel as “There will be no more delay” or the narrator’s reporting of what the angel had said as that there will be no more delay are making interpretive decisions based on the larger context. It is beyond the scope of this blog post to go into more detail, but the reader is free to make any comment on this.

The composer follows the words accompanying movement VIII—and thus concludes his preface—with the same words he had used parenthetically earlier in the preface, this time without the parentheses: All this remains mere striving and stammering if one ponders upon the overwhelming grandeur of the subject!

In sum, Messiaen offers an intriguing take on the Revelation 10 passage, which then functions as a basis for his unique conception of time musically, as realized in his chamber music piece Quatuor pour las Fin du Temps (Quartet for the End of Time). That this piece was conceived and completed while a WWII captive makes it perhaps all the more intriguing.

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1 As translated from Olivier Messiaen’s French, with the assistance of various online helps.

2 Again, as translated from Messiaen’s French, though comparing with the English translation in the CD  liner notes of RCA Victor Gold Seal (reissue of original 1976 RCA Red Seal), MESSIAEN Quatuor pour la Fin de Temps, Tashi (Peter Serkin, Ida Kavafian, Fred Sherry, Richard Stoltzman), 7835-2-RG, BMG Classics, © 1988 BMG Music. The translation in the above text above differs, e.g., in “the eternity of space or infinity” as compared to liner notes’ “the eternity of space or time” (the French is infini), and in “if one ponders upon” as compared to “if one compares it to” (French is songe à). The rest of the translations follow similar methodology.

3 See Lawrence University’s Gene Biringer’s “Analysis” tab here: I. Liturgie de cristal. Also, under the “Musical Elements” tab the author writes: [Heterophonic texture] can also describe certain polyphonic textures, like that of the first movement of Messiaen’s Quartet, in which there is no discernable relationship among some of the parts . . .  the violin and clarinet parts, which are meant to evoke birdsong, are so independent of the cello part and, especially, the homophonic piano part that they seem to occupy a wholly different sonic world . . . here four characters are speaking simultaneously, unresponsive and perhaps even oblivious to the others. Instead of a harmonious counterpoint between independent but related melodies, we hear a juxtaposition of seemingly unrelated ideas – a true heterophony.

4 For further—and better—explanation, see Peter Gutmann’s Classical Notes site, particularly here.

5 See Roman Catholic Catechism 460.

6 As quoted from the Lawrence University site (see Biblical Source tab) as found in Rebecca Rischin, For the End of Time: The Story of the Messiaen Quartet (New York, NY: Cornell University Press, 2003), p 51.

Not Declining the Divine Name?

John writes some strange things in Revelation, aka The Apocalypse of Jesus Christ. An angel fills a golden censer with fire from the heavenly altar, and throws it to the earth. And there’s an angel standing in the sun, crying with a loud voice to birds flying mid-heaven, “Come and gather together for the great supper of God.”

More mundane perhaps is the case below. It appears John does not decline the Divine Name. Now why would that be strange?

The One Who Is

Before proceeding directly, some necessary background must be provided. The applicable verbiage in Revelation 1:4, our subject verse, comes not from the Hebrew but the Greek of Exodus 3:14.1 This portion of the Greek ‘Old Testament’ was translated from the Hebrew Bible (Tanakh) by Jews in the middle of the 3rd century BC.2 Exodus 3:13 is included, in order to provide necessary context:

3:13 Then Moses said to God, “Behold: I shall go to the sons of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of our fathers has sent me to you.’ They shall ask me, ‘What is His Name?’ What shall I tell them?” 14 God replied to Moses, “I AM THE ONE WHO IS [EGŌ EIMI HO ŌN].” Then He said, “So tell the sons of Israel, ‘THE ONE WHO IS [HO ŌN] has sent me to you.’”3

Moses is concerned that telling the Israelites “The God of our fathers has sent me to you” will be deficient. They may also want to know His Name. In response, God first provides what appears to be His Name:4I AM THE ONE WHO IS.” The pertinent portion is THE ONE WHO IS, for this forms part of God’s directive to Moses when He speaks again:  “So tell the sons of Israel, ‘THE ONE WHO IS [HO ŌN] has sent me to you.’”

It will prove beneficial to examine the (transliterated) Greek. We will begin with an overly literal word-for-word translation, and then proceed until we reach a more suitable rendering at the bottom. In the first part of verse 14 is God’s initial reply to Moses:

EGŌ EIMI HO ŌN
I I-am the being/existing5
I am the existing (one)
I am the-one existing
I am He-who exists/is
I am He Who Is
I am The One Who Is

EGŌ is simply the first person singular pronoun “I”. The second word, EIMI, is the first person singular finite verb “be” (“I-am”). Since person and number are encoded in all Greek finite verbs, each one has a built-in subject. In this instance, it is the first person singular “I”. Therefore, strictly speaking, the pronoun “I” (EGŌ) is not necessary and likely implies emphasis. So, the initial part of God’s response should be understood as the emphatic “I AM”.

The third word, HO, is the Greek article.6 It can be crudely translated simply “the”. In our context, the article functions to substantivize the participle following it. In other words, the Greek article + participle here form a noun, a nominative.

To further explain, a Greek participle is a non-finite verb, which means it can never be a complete sentence unto itself.7 Participles can function either as adverbs (modifying a verb) or adjectives (modifying a noun). When the article precedes it, as it does here (the article HO + participle ŌN), the participle is functioning as an adjective. And when the combination of article + participle stands alone,8 it is a substantival, taking the place of a noun. HO ŌN is in the nominative case, functioning here as the predicate nominative. ŌN is the masculine singular present participle of “be” (=“being”, “existing”, “is”), and taken together with the article yields: THE ONE WHO IS.

A Greek article also encodes grammatical gender (masculine, feminine, or neuter), matching that of its associated part of speech—in this case the participle. Hence, they are both masculine. Therefore, a valid translation is HE WHO IS. For our purposes, we will use THE ONE WHO IS.9

Thus, we translate the above I AM THE ONE WHO IS. The predicate nominative of this proclamation then becomes the subject nominative in God’s instructions to Moses to tell the sons of Israel: ‘THE ONE WHO IS has sent me to you.’

With this background provided, we shall proceed to the applicable portion of Revelation 1:4:

1:4 John to the seven ekklēsiais in Asia: Grace to you, and peace from [apo] THE ONE WHO IS [HO ŌN], THE ONE WHO WAS [HO ĒN], and THE ONE WHO IS COMING [HO ERCHOMENOS]…

John the Revelator is using poor Greek grammar! In the first instance [HO ŌN], it appears John does not decline the Divine Name. To be more specific, in the prepositional phrase (PP) beginning with apo (“from”), THE ONE WHO IS should be grammatically declined to the genitive case [TOU ONTOS], not remain in the nominative case [HO ŌN]. R. H. Charles explains John’s apparent rationale:

We have here a title of God conceived in the terms of time. The Seer [John] has deliberately violated the rules of grammar in order to preserve the divine name inviolate from the change which it would necessarily have undergone if declined. Hence the divine name is here in the nominative [case].10

Mathewson provides further comment:

This PP [prepositional phrase] is one of the first clear examples of John’s numerous solecisms. Here the preposition apo is followed by the nominative case (ho) rather than the expected genitive (tou). There is broad agreement that the grammatical incongruity is intentional . . . The most likely explanation is that by grammatical incongruity the author wishes to draw attention to the titular nature of this expression and the OT text from which it comes: Exod 3:14.11

Of the three elements, the first [HO ŌN] and third [HO ERCHOMENOS] follow the same pattern. Each uses the nominative case in the form of the substantival Greek article + participle after their common preposition apo (“from”). So, both seem to follow the same logic and purpose, if grammatically odd.

The second element, however, is grammatically worse than the other two! It is not ‘merely’ a nominative where it should be in the genitive case. It is in the incongruous form of Greek article + finite verb. Recall that a finite verb encodes person and number; so, each has a built-in subject, and each can form a complete sentence. Thus, if we were to translate the second element word-for-word, it would be the nonsensical THE ONE WHO HE WAS, HE WHO HE WAS, THE HE WAS, or THE WAS. In other words, even when standing on its own—outside the apo (“from”) PP—this construction (article + finite verb) is nonsensical.

Yet this can be explained somewhat. The verb “be” in Greek (EIMI) lacks a past participle, and so the finite verb ĒN (WAS) is substituted as the closest compromise. The purpose of the article preceding it—though absolutely wrong grammatically—is to retain parallelism with the other elements in this PP to the extent possible.12

But one might contend (this writer would) that THE ONE WHO IS [HO ŌN] by itself sufficiently connotes eternality; that is, if God simply IS, then this implies He has no beginning and no end.13 Swete observes that “the [Jewish] Targums read into the words [the Hebrew of Exodus 3:14] a reference to the infinite past and future of God’s eternal ‘now’”.14 

In his Prepositions and Theology, Murray J. Harris refers to this text of Rev 1:4.15 After providing various explanations for the grammatical anomalies, he concludes, “The easiest and most common explanation is that this threefold title of Yahweh is an indeclinable noun that by its very form effectively highlights the unchangeable and eternal character of God.”16

Divine Name or Title?

The careful reader may have observed that HO ŌN is sometimes referred to as the Divine Name and other times as a title or part of a longer title, depending on the source. The larger context of Exodus 3 may provide clarity on this. Following is the same selection above but with the next two verses included:

3: 13 Then Moses said to God, “Behold: I shall go to the sons of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of our fathers has sent me to you.’ They shall ask me, ‘What is His Name?’ What shall I tell them?” 14 God replied to Moses, “I AM THE ONE WHO IS.” Then He said, “So tell the sons of Israel, ‘THE ONE WHO IS has sent me to you.’” 15 Then God spoke again to Moses, “So, say this to the sons of Israel: ‘The LORD [Hebrew: YHWH], the God of your fathers—God of Abraham, God of Isaac, and God of Jacob—has sent me to you.’ This is My Name forever and how I am to be remembered from generation to generation.16 Now go and gather together the elders of Israel and say to them, ‘The LORD [YHWH], the God of your fathers, appeared to me—God of Abraham, God of Isaac, and God of Jacob…’ ”

Observe that God specifically states His Name as “The LORD [YHWH]” in verse 15. The Greek ‘OT’ consistently translates the Tetragrammaton (YHWH) as KYRIOS. English versions usually render this the all caps LORD. The portion following His Name, “the God of your fathers”, should probably be understood such that it further describes/defines “The LORD [YHWH]”.

So what do we make of THE ONE WHO IS? Is it to be understood as yet another Name? A Title?

Prior to the transcription of the Targums, a section of the Jewish pseudepigraphic work Sibylline Oracles dated ca. 2nd century BC–20 BC17 describes God as existing eternally, by using present participles of “be” [accusative forms]:

3:15 But He, Himself eternal, has revealed Himself 16 as One Who Is/Exists [ONTA], and so even heretofore exists [prin EONTA], and yet even still hereafter.18

The way this is phrased, it seems that the first part of the sentence (“But He, Himself eternal, has revealed Himself as One Who Is/Exists”) is intended to state God’s eternality, while the rest of the phrase further describes it. He exists, meaning He has existed at all times past up to and including the present, and will continue to exist into the future. And this selection provides a clue to further define John’s likely intention.

There are contemporaneous secular works describing ‘gods’ as existing eternally. But they use Greek finite verbs instead of participles. “Zeus was, Zeus is, Zeus shall be” (Pausanias, Greciae descriptio, 10.12.10).19 Also, “Aion, the god of time, ‘is and was and will be’”.20

Comparatively, Aune notes, “The title [HO ŌN] was known to Jews in Asia Minor as attested by an inscription on an altar from Pergamon that reads THEOS KYRIOS HO ŌN EIS AEI.21 This could be rendered: “God, the LORD, the One who exists/is forever.”

Taken altogether, it is the opinion of this writer that the phrase I AM THE ONE WHO IS in Exodus 3:14 is God’s declaration of His eternal existence—His proclamation of His Divine attribute of eternality. Assuming so, THE ONE WHO IS, then, was used as a Divine Title, not a Divine Name. It seems possible it reflects (part of) a self-description inherent in His Divine Name YHWH, the Tetragrammaton.

Therefore, assuming the above, in apparent reverence, John the Revelator kept this Divine Title HO ŌN intact, instead of subjecting it to the usual grammatical declining. But what about the rest of John’s phrase?

Note that John’s full expression does not follow the pattern in any of the others above. Perhaps the most obvious difference is the third element, which does not reflect ‘infinite future’ but rather God’s coming (HO ERCHOMENOS) at the culmination of salvation-history—the eschaton, the end of all things from our earthly perspective.22 This fact more foundationally supports the position that HO ŌN by itself sufficiently expresses eternality.

Less clear is the time referent, temporal or eternal, for the grammatically incongruous second element (HO ĒN) in the three part phrase. It could be a corollary to “the beginning/originator of God’s creation” (HĒ ARCHĒ TĒ KTISEŌS TOU THEOU) in Revelation 3:14.23 If so, the second and third elements would reflect the entirety of salvation-history, from beginning to end.

If all this holds, John’s expression would reflect God’s intrinsic Self-existence in the Divine Title in the first element, while the second and third elements together would represent the termination points of salvation-history. Stated differently, the first element in this triadic Title reflects God’s eternality, the second and third reflect the beginning and ending, respectively, of God’s direct interaction with humankind in the earthly realm–in temporality.

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1 The Hebrew of the first words of God in Exodus 3:14 is usually rendered I AM THAT I AM.

2 The Greek ‘OT’ is part of the larger Septuagint (LXX), which includes a body of works known as the Apocrypha, aka Deuterocanon (“second canon”) in some traditions.

3 We must also take note that in the next verse God continues the same line of thought, this time by explicitly explaining and stating His Name; however,  John the Revelator does not reference this portion directly. More on this below.

4 Or perhaps this is God’s way of proclaiming an ontological attribute, one exclusive to Him: His eternality. The LORD God simply IS. See note 13.

5 “I am THE BEING” is Brenton’s translation.

6 While English has both a definite article (the) and an indefinite article (a), Greek has only one article. 

7 This is in distinction from finite verbs (see EIMI above), which can and do sometimes form complete sentences unto themselves, since both person and number are appended morphologically. A great example is Jesus’ final word on the Cross in John 19:30: Tetelestai. It is a 3rd person singular perfect tense-form verb, in the middle voice, and in the indicative mood. It is best translated “It is finished”, or, perhaps better, “It has been finished.”

8 A Greek article + participle can also function as an attributive adjective, if it is modifying a noun, thus further describing that noun.

9 Masculine gender here is to correlate with THEOS, GOD, which is also masculine in grammatical gender. While HE WHO IS works, it is subject to possible misinterpretation in English—that God is male in a biological sense.

10 R.H. Charles, Revelation of John, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary; ed. Samuel Rolles Driver, Alfred Plummer, and Charles A. Briggs; Accordance electronic ed. (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1920), para 41640. Charles adds: “It could have been preserved in classical Greek, i.e. apo tou ho ōn. But our author shows no knowledge of this construction” (para 41640; Greek transliterated, bold added for emphasis). Yet the Textus Receptus (the Greek text underlying the KJV) inserts tou here (see this site, e.g.); but, take notice of Charles’ comment that John “shows no knowledge of this construction”. The language/dialect of Classical Greek, from which tou would emanate in this instance, ended about 400 years before the Koine Greek of the NT era. As far as I can determine, the Textus Receptus sources only one manuscript for Revelation here, specifically GA 2814 (12th century), and this tou appears to be a singular reading. That is, it appears to be the only extant manuscript with this reading. Yet, quite a few manuscripts (including 𝔐 [Majority Text]) insert the genitive for “God” (theou) between apo and the nominative HO ŌN, in an attempt to smooth out the grammar.

11 David L. Mathewson, Revelation: A Handbook on the Greek Text, Baylor Handbook on the Greek New Testament (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2016), p 4 (Greek transliterated).

12 Cf. Charles, Revelation, para 41641.

13 Craig R. Koester (Revelation, The Anchor Yale Bible [New Haven: Yale University Press, 2014]) comments that the neuter form of article + EIMI present participle [TO ON] had been used to imply eternality: “Greco-Roman sources sometimes used the form to on for God as “the existent one” or as “being” (Seneca the Younger, Ep. 58.7, 17; Plutarch, Mor. 393B–C)” (p 215).  See notes 4 and 5.

14 Henry B. Swete, The Apocalypse of John: The Greek Text with Introduction, Notes and Indices, 3rd ed. (London: MacMillan, 1917), p 5. This is in the public domain and available online here. And here the Targums understand the Hebrew of Exodus 3:14 as I SHALL BE WHO I SHALL BE [Gr. ESOMAI HOS ESOMAI].

15 Murray J. Harris, Prepositions and Theology in the Greek New Testament: An Essential Reference Resource for Exegesis (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012), pp 66–67

16 Harris, Prepositions and Theology, p 67. Cf. Swete, Apocalypse: This construction “must be explained by regarding the whole phrase as an indeclinable noun” (p 5).

17 See J. J. Collins, “Sibylline Oracles” in James H. Charlesworth, Ed. The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha: Apocalyptic Literature & Testaments, Anchor Bible Reference Library (New York, NY: Doubleday, 1983): “[Verses 1–45] could have been composed at any time in the late Hellenistic period or early Roman periods. If we assume that they originally formed a unit with any part of 46–92, we can fix their date more precisely . . . Verses 46–62 must be dated shortly after the battle of Actium” (p 360).

18 The Greek (transliterated): all’ autos avedeixev aiōnios autos eauton onta te kai prin eonta, atar pali kai metepeita. Charles renders it: “But he, himself Eternal, hath revealed himself as One who is and was before, yea and shall be hereafter.”

19 The Greek here is Zeus ēn, Zeus estin, Zeus essetai (Ζεὺς ἦν, Ζεὺς ἔστιν, Ζεὺς ἔσσεται).

20 Koester, Revelation, p 215.

21 David Aune, Revelation: Revelation 1–5, Word Biblical Commentary 52A (Dallas, TX: Word Books, 1997) p 30, (Greek transliterated).

22 Charles, Revelation, opines that the present participle of erchomai [“is coming”] is used here instead of the future form, “with a definite reference to the contents of the Book and especially to the coming of Christ, 1:7; 2:5, 16; 3:2; 22:7, 12, etc., in whose coming God Himself comes also [ED: in 1:8, e.g.]” (para 41641).

23 Note the first words of John’s Gospel: “In the beginning (ARCHĒ) was (ĒN) the Word”.

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Similarly themed posts:

An Eternal Christological Conundrum

Looking Past the Future

Jesus’ Kingly Appearance

Being Blessed

Da Pacem, Domine (Give Peace, O Lord)

[This is a slight revision of a post from 3 years ago.]

Estonian composer Arvo Pärt had been commissioned to compose a work to be premiered at a peace concert in Barcelona on July 1, 2004. The piece, “Da Pacem Domine” (Give Peace, O Lord), was begun two days after the March 11, 2004 Madrid train bombings, in memoriam. It has been performed in Spain every year since.

The text of “Da Pacem Domine” has its origins as an antiphon circa 6th or 7th century (though, as the liner notes to Pärt’s 2005 release Lamentate and the 2009 In Principio state, this piece is based on 9th century Gregorian antiphon), a Christian hymn sourced from 2 Kings 20:19, 2 Chronicles 20:12,15 and Psalm 72:6-7. Prior to Pärt’s adaptation, it was apparently last used in Roman hymnals (and perhaps in the Church of England) in the late 1800s.

The vlogger below set this prayer of peace—as sung by the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir & Paul Hillier—against a backdrop of soberingly haunting black and white war-themed images:

Da pacem, Domine,
in diebus nostris,
quia non est alius
qui pugnet pro nobis
nisi tu, Deus noster

Give peace, O Lord,
in our time,
for there is no other
who fights for us
but you, our God

Yet I offer this more broadly. To all in need of peace for any or a variety of reasons, may the Prince of Peace grant it to you faster than you can say “amen”.

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