Ensalada Verboso

word salad

Sometimes words have a lot to say. And you should say them. A lot. People need to know. And when they know, they know. Ya know what I’m sayin’?

Words have meaning. In context. Sometimes words change meaning. Sometimes people change the meaning of words. In midstream, even. To know what they’re sayin’ you have to have the right dictionary. Or you just know they mean the opposite of what they’re sayin’.

But sometimes there are no words.

 

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’s 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.

_____________________________

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.

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.

___________________________

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.

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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

Vengeance Is Not for Us, Rejoicing Is.

As the times grow ever more, uh, ‘challenging’, take time to reflect. Like medicine for the soul, reading and reflecting upon the Psalms can have a calming effect. It can be cathartic. I’m sure it was for David as he was writing at least some of his.

The Psalm for today is 58, one of David’s.1 Bear in mind “Sons of Men” here refers to kings, rulers, etc.

58:1 So you truly speak righteousness?

You judge properly, ‘Sons of Men’?

2 For even in your heart you practice lawlessness on the earth;

with your hands you weave unrighteousness.

3 Estranged are sinners from the womb,

astray from birth, they utter falsehoods,

4 their venom as that of a snake,

like a deaf cobra also plugging up its ears,

5 which hears not the sound of the charmer

or enticements invoked with skill.

6 God shall crush their teeth in their mouth;

The teeth of the ‘lions’, the Lord shall shatter.

7 They shall dissipate as water passing through.

He shall stretch His bow until they grow faint.

8 Like wax melted, they shall be taken away:

Fire rains upon them, and they cannot see the sun.

9 Before you fathom your thorns, the thorny bush as living,

as in wrath, it shall swallow you up.

10 The righteous shall rejoice upon seeing vengeance on the ungodly.

He shall wash his hands in the bloodshed of the sinful.

11 Then a man shall say, “Truly there is fruit for the righteous!

Truly there is a God judging them on the earth!”

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1 Translated from the Septuagint/LXX 57. The main differences from the Masoretic Text (MT) are in verses 7b–9.

“By Your Pharmakeia Were All the Nations Misled”, Part II

[See Part I]

In the first part of this investigation we looked at the uses of pharmakeia, pharmakon, and pharmakos in the NT. The intent was and is to try to determine a more precise meaning for pharmakeia in our subject verse, Revelation 18:23:

18:21 Then a mighty angel lifted up a stone like a great millstone and threw it into the sea, saying, “In similar fashion, with violence shall Babylon the megalopolis be thrown, and she shall never be found again! 22 The sound of singing harpists and of musicians, flautists, trumpeters shall never be heard in you again. And never shall any kind of craftsman of any trade be found in you again. Noise from a mill shall never be heard in you again. 23 Lamplight shall never shine in you again. And the voice of bridegroom and bride shall never be heard in you again. For your merchants were the distinguished persons of the earth, because by your pharmakeia were all the nations/peoples misled. 24 And in her, blood of prophets and holy ones/saints was found, and all those who had been slain upon the earth.”

Below is a more expansive look at the use of pharmakeia. We will survey literature contemporaneous with the NT era. Later we will view material in the Greek Old Testament (OT), known as the Septuagint, aka LXX (Greek translation of the Hebrew OT, ca. 200 BC). And we will also look at synonyms of the pharma– nouns for comparison.

What It Does Not Mean

Sometimes determining what a word does not mean can aid in determining what it does mean. Immense help in this sort of investigation comes from Louw & Nida’s (L&N) Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament based on Semantic Domains (2nd ed.).8 Rather than sorting alphabetically, this lexicon categorizes terms by definitions, synonyms grouped together. Under the broad category Religious Activities (category 53) is the subdomain Magic (53.96–53.101), which includes the pharma- nouns. Within these definitions is the following crucial note:

Pharmakeia and the variant pharmakon (as in Re 9:21) differ from the preceding terms (53.96–53.99) in that the focus is upon the use of certain potions or drugs and the casting of spells.9

In other words, 53.100 (both pharmakeia and pharmakon), as well as 53.101 (pharmakos) include ‘focus upon certain potions or drugs and the casting of spells’. Conversely, the words correlating to 53.96, 97, 98, and 99 do not focus upon potions, drugs and casting spells.

The L&N lexicon appears to differ from Danker’s in this comment about potions and drugs. Or does it? Following is the L&N definition for pharmakeia and pharmakon (53.100): the use of magic, often involving drugs and the casting of spells upon people—‘to practice magic, to cast spells upon, to engage in sorcery, magic, sorcery.’10 If we take the “often” in the definition here and reconcile it with “the focus is upon” in the above note, we might understand this to mean that the pharma– nouns often, though not exclusively, refer to “the use of certain potions or drugs and the casting of spells”. Therefore, many times they do, but sometimes they don’t. This, then, would not contradict Danker’s definition: ‘manipulation through incantations, spells, substances, or combinations thereof’, sorcery, magic.11

Now we shall investigate the synonyms to the pharma– nouns—those that do not focus upon using potions or drugs and casting spells (53.96–53.99).

The first synonym is the verb mageuō and its noun form mageia (53.96): to practice magic, presumably by invoking supernatural powers—‘to practice magic, to employ witchcraft, magic.’12 Both forms are found introducing the account of Simon, known as Simon Magus, in Acts 8:

Acts 8:9 A particular man named Simon was formerly in the city practicing mageuō and amazing the people of Samaria, claiming to be someone great. 10 All, from the least to the greatest, began paying attention to him, exclaiming, “This one is the power of God called ‘Great’!”  11 And they continued paying attention to him, because of the long time he had amazed them with mageia.

Next is the noun form for the practitioner of the above, magos: (53.97): one who practices magic and witchcraft—‘magician.’13 The account of Elymas Bar-Jesus contains two occurrences in reference to him:

Acts 13:6 After traveling through the whole island up to Paphos, they found a certain man, a magos, a Jewish false prophet named Bar-Jesus, 7 who was with the proconsul Sergius Paulus, an intelligent man. He [Paulus] summoned Barnabas and Paul, wanting to hear the word of God. 8 But Elymas, the magos—for this interprets his name14—began opposing them, seeking to turn the proconsul from the faith.

(Read the rest of the account to see how Paul handles Elymas’ attempt at deception!)

The next synonym is baskainō (53.98): to bewitch a person, frequently by the use of the evil eye with evil intent—‘to bewitch, to practice magic on’ . . . Baskainō differs from mageuō ‘to practice magic’ (53.96) in that the former [baskainō] involves the use of so-called ‘black magic’.15 The sole NT occurrence of this word is used by the Apostle Paul in response to the Galatian ekklēsia upon learning they began Mosaic Law observance. It seems possible, if not probable, Paul is being a bit sarcastic and hyperbolic here, not literalistic:

Galatians 3:1 O foolish Galatians! Who baskainō you!

The final synonym for analysis here is periergos (53.99): the use of magic based on superstition—‘magic, witchcraft’.16 The only usage in the NT is in reference to those who burned their occult works after accepting Christ:

Acts 19:19 Many of those who practiced periergos gathered their books and burned them in front of everybody.

From this investigation we see that there are a number of synonyms to the pharma– nouns in the NT that do not encode ‘potions or drugs and the casting of spells’ as part of their definitions. And baskainō encodes ‘black magic’ as part of its definition, while mageuō/mageia/magos does not. And since the definitions of the pharma– nouns do not include ‘black magic’ in either Danker or L&N, we might assume these do not encode it either.

Venturing Outside the NT

These distinctions will prove useful as we survey extra-Biblical works written by those commonly known as the Apostolic Fathers (AF). The writers of these works are believed to have had contact with the first century Biblical Apostles. The works span part of the first and into the second centuries AD, all roughly contemporaneous with the NT era.

Since we are now venturing outside the NT, it would be prudent to provide more suitable definitions. These are found in the BDAG, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd ed. One must be judicious in using this resource, however, for, as the title indicates, it includes ‘other early Christian literature’. Moreover, besides including definitions for the AF, it also contains definitions for “Selected Apocrypha”, the OT (LXX), “Intertestamental/Pseudepigraphical Literature”, “Inscriptions”, “Papyri/Parchments and Ostraca”, and “Writers and Writings of Antiquity”.17 Therefore, one must be careful not to apply a definition that is appropriate for an earlier work/period to the NT era (this could be anachronistic18). With that clarified, here are the relevant definitions (transliterated):19

mageia, a rite or rites ordinarily using incantations designed to influence/control transcendent powers, magic20

This definition is much like L&N above. Though it includes “incantations”, these are not spells cast upon others; these are, like L&N states, ‘to invoke supernatural powers’.

pharmakeia, sorcery, magic21

pharmakeus, maker of potions, magician22

pharmakeu, to make potions, practice magic23

pharmakon, Primarily ‘a drug’, ordinarily contexts indicate whether salubrious or noxious. 1. a harmful drug, poison 2. a drug used as a controlling medium, magic potion, charm 3. a healing remedy, medicineremedy, drug24

pharmakos, 1. one skilled in arcane uses of herbs or drugs, probably poisoner 2. one who does extraordinary things through occult means, sorcerer, magician25

Most of the above aligns with Danker (see previous segment). However, note the increased focus on making potions/drugs (-keus/-keuō/-kon/-kos). Taken all together, it seems like “magic” here primarily involves making potions/drugs. Yet, there must be some distinction between “magic” in the pharma– words and “magic” in mageia. We must keep this in mind as we go along.

Four occurrences of mageia or mageuō are found in the AF, and three of these are in contexts which also include pharmakeia or its verb form pharmakeuō. The first one we will look at is the one excluding any of the pharma– words. This is found in Ignatius of Antioch’s epistle to the Ephesians:

Ign. Eph. 19:3 Consequently, all mageia and every kind of bondage began to loosen, the ignorance of evil began to disappear, the old kingdom began to be abolished—being destroyed by the appearing of God in human form, Who brought newness of eternal life—only when what had been finished by God began to be received.

Next we will look at two selections from Didachē (Greek: Δίδαχή, literally “teaching”), typically dated to the first century (or early second).26 Both include forms of pharmakeia and mageia side-by-side in a list of prohibitions/vices. This fact of occurring side-by-side, of course, implies a clear distinction between the two.

Did. 2:1 The second commandment of this teaching is: 2 You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery [moicheuō], you shall not molest children [paidophthoreō], you shall not commit sexual immorality [porneuō], you shall not steal, you shall not mageuō, you shall not pharmakeuō, you shall not murder a child by miscarriage [i.e., abortion] or kill the born [i.e. infanticide], you shall not covet your neighbor’s possessions.

Take careful note as to how the above is grouped. Three sexual sins are listed in a row (one against children), abortion and infanticide are listed one after the other, and in between these two groupings are mageuō and pharmakeuō one next to the other. Each of the three groupings contains similarly-themed terms, but each term within each grouping is individually distinct, different in nuance.

Did. 5:1 But the path of death is this: First of all, it is evil and entirely cursed—murders, adulteries, inordinate lusts, sexual immoralities, thefts, idolatries, mageia, pharmakeia, extortions, false testimonies, hypocrisies . . .

The above is not grouped quite as well as the other selection from Didachē. However, once again, mageia is right next to pharmakeia. Below is the final occurrence of the two terms together, side-by-side. This is from the Epistle of Barnabas, and it is quite similar to the immediately preceding selection:

Barn. 20:1 But the path of the black one is crooked and entirely cursed, for it is a path of eternal death with punishment, in which is the destroying of all the souls—idolatry, audacity, exaltation of power, hypocrisy, duplicity, adultery, murder, extortion, arrogance, transgression, deceit, malice, stubbornness, pharmakeia, mageia, greed, lack of the fear of God.

There are two passages containing pharmakon, which also, helpfully, include adjectives to assist in defining them. This eliminates the necessity of providing any further context. The first is from Ignatius’ Epistle to the Trallians (6:2): thanasimos pharmakon, “deadly poison/potion”, or “deadly drug”. The next one is from Papias of Hierapolis (3:9): dēlētērios pharmakon, “destructive poison/potion”, “harmful drug”.

Two more passages contain pharmakon. The first one we shall investigate is again from Ignatius’ Epistle to the Ephesians:

Ign. Eph. 20:2 . . . that you come together in one faith and one Jesus Christ—Who according to the flesh is from the lineage of David, Who is son of man and Son of God—in order that you obey the bishop and the presbytery with an undisturbed mind, breaking one bread, which is the pharmakon of immortality [athanasia], the antidote against dying, but rather to live everlastingly in Jesus Christ.27

Clearly, the term means “medicine” in the above. The word for “immortality” (athanasia) is the same word Paul uses in 1Cor 15:53–54 to refer to our spiritual (non-flesh and blood) bodies we receive at “the last trumpet” (1Cor 15:52).28

The final pharmakon appears in The Shepherd of Hermas, in which the term occurs twice and in context with two occurrences of pharmakos, as well:

Shep. 17:6 (3.9.6) Look, therefore, you who exult in your riches, lest those in need groan, and their groaning rise up to the Lord, and you be excluded, with your goods outside the gate of the tower. 7 (3.9.7) Now, therefore, I say to you, those leading the ekklēsia and in the exalted chairs, do not be like the pharmakos[pl]. For the pharmakos[pl] indeed take up their pharmakon[pl] in wooden boxes, but you [take up] your pharmakon and its poison [ios] into your heart.

The context defines the terms. The pharmakos (plural pharmakoi) make substances, pharmakon (plural), and we can infer that these are poisonous. The leaders, those in the exalted seats, are like the pharmakos in that they also carry poison (not in literal ‘wooden boxes’, but, figuratively, in their exalted chairs) but they take it into their own hearts. The Shepherd is using plays on words here (“to exult”, “rise up”, “exalted”, “take up”).

Tentative Findings

From our investigation of synonyms in the NT and in Christian-themed works contemporary (or nearly contemporary) with the NT, in conjunction with our more expansive survey of pharma- words in these extra-Biblical works, we can arrive at some tentative findings. Comparing the pharma- terms with these synonyms has helped to better define both the pharma- terms and the mag- terms. Though it would be intellectually dishonest to completely take these findings and impose them onto our subject verse (Rev 18:23), it seems we have enough data to come a tentative conclusion: pharmakeia is more likely than not to include “potions” or “drugs” in its definition—understood as carrying negative connotations, of course (not “remedies” or “medicines”).

The next part, the conclusion will survey the LXX, which will include both the Greek OT and works known as the apocrypha (or deuterocanon [literally, “second canon”] in some traditions).

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8 Johannes P. Louw and Eugene A. Nida, eds. Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament Based on Semantic Domains, 2nd ed. (New York, NY: United Bible Societies, 1988, 1989) Accordance electronic ed., OakTree Software, Inc. Version 4.4.

9 This is under 53.100 pharmakeia, p 545. Greek transliterated.

10 L&N, p 545, bold added.

11 Danker, Concise Lexicon, p 370.

12 L&N, p 545.

13 L&N, p 545. Note that this same term is used for the Three Wise Men in Matthew 2. L&N categorizes this usage under Understanding: Capacity for Understanding, with the following definition: a person noted for unusual capacity of understanding based upon astrology (such persons were regarded as combining both secular and religious aspects of knowledge and understanding) . . . (p 385).

14 From the ISBE (S. F. Hunter, “Bar-Jesus”, in The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, James Orr, Gen Ed., 1st ed. [1915] prepared by Accordance/Oak Tree Software, Inc. Version 2.5): “Elymas is said to be the interpretation of his name (Acts 13:8). It is the Greek transliteration of an Aramaic or Arabic word equivalent to Greek μάγος [magos]. From Arabic ‘alama, ‘to know’ is derived ʾalı̄m, ‘a wise’ or ‘learned man’” (paragraph 7611).

15 L&N, p 545, bold added. Since there is some uncertainty as to its nuance and application here, the editors also place this word under Moral and Ethical Qualities and Related Behaviors: Mislead, Lead Astray, Deceive (88.159): to deceive a person by devious or crafty means, with the possibility of a religious connotation in view of the literal meaning ‘to bewitch’ . . . It is also possible that baskainō in Ga 3:1 is to be understood in the sense of bewitching by means of black magic . . . (L&N, p 760). Nonetheless, I take Paul’s words as hyperbole, sarcasm, not literal.

16 L&N, p 545.

17 BDAG, pp xxxi–li. Many thanks once again to the late Rodney Decker for providing a learning shortcut: BDAG (scroll down to second post “BDAG” dated October 10, 2012, then scroll further down to hyperlink “A Basic Introduction to BDAG” to open a PowerPoint.

18 Words may change over time, with nuances added or subtracted.

19 Of the other synonyms in the NT, none proved to help in our analysis here. Periergos occurs only one time, but there the connotation is “meddling” or “curious”. As to baskainō, it appears more often and in two other (noun and adjective) forms, but none of these appeared to mean “bewitched” in some black magic sense; the terms connote “begrudge” or “envy”.

20 BDAG, p 608.

21 BDAG, p 1049.

22 BDAG, p 1050.

23 BDAG, p 1050.

24 BDAG, p 1050.

25 BDAG, p 1050.

26 The work as we have it today appears to be a composite, seemingly redacted over the course of time. The ISBE (J. R. Michaels, “Apostolic Fathers”, in The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, G. W. Bromiley Gen. Ed., Rev. Ed., [Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1979]) states: “Total agreement is seldom possible as to which forms are primitive and which are later adaptations. Therefore, it is difficult to speak about dates, but the compilation of purportedly apostolic material under the name of the apostles as a group [ED: complete title is The Lord’s Teaching through the Twelve Apostles to the Nations] indicates the apostles are already figures of the past. This together with the apparent use of Matthew’s Gospel tends to suggest a date of composition in the 2nd cent., though many specific elements . . . may well go back to the apostolic age and even perhaps to the early days of the Jerusalem church” (p 207).

27 This text is used to support the “real presence” doctrine, but one must understand Ignatius through his strong use of metaphorical expression. See the White Horse blog for explanation of how Ignatius is not teaching the “real presence” (much less Transubstantiation): Eating Ignatius.

28 Note also that athanasia (noun) is the opposite (the prefix a negating it) of thanasimos (adjective) in the selection from Ignatius’ Epistle to the Trallians just above.

“By Your Pharmakeia Were All the Nations Misled”

[See Part II]

In Scripture, as in all literature, a word takes on meaning only in its specific context. But sometimes the immediate context (sentence, paragraph) does not shed enough light to provide precise meaning. In such instances, broadening the scope by viewing the entire Biblical book, or the New Testament (NT) as a whole, may further illuminate. However, there are cases which require a more panoramic lens. The untranslated pharmakeia in the title to this article provides such an example.1

As the reader can readily perceive, the modern words pharmacy, pharmacist, pharmaceutical, and pharmacology are derived from this Greek word. But it would be wrong to automatically (and anachronistically) impose modern definitions upon the NT era.

This article’s title is taken from the final clause in Revelation 18:23. The noun pharmakeia and its related noun forms occur only five times in the entire NT. Four are in Revelation (Apocalypse of Jesus Christ).2 The remaining instance finds itself in Paul’s description of living by the flesh (as opposed to the Spirit) in Galatians:

5:19 Now the works [ergon] of the flesh are obvious, which are: sexual immorality, moral impurity, lewdness, 20 idolatry, pharmakeia, hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, rivalries, dissensions, discriminations, 21 envy, drunkenness, carousals, and such things similar to these. All these I tell you to forewarn you as before: All those who engage in such things will not inherit the Kingdom of God.

In this context, pharmakeia clearly carries a negative connotation.  English versions translate it either “sorcery” (ESV, NASB, NET, HCSB, ERV) or “witchcraft” (KJV, NIV, ISV, YLT). But what do these English words mean exactly?

F. W. Danker’s The Concise Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament will assist here.3 As its title suggests, Danker’s concise lexicon focuses strictly on the NT. Following are the relevant words (transliterated), with corresponding Scripture references:4

pharmakeia: [{from} pharmakeus ‘specialist in mixing drugs/potions’] ‘manipulation through incantations, spells, substances, or combinations thereof’, sorcery, magic Gal 5:20; Rv 9:21 [variant]; 18:23.

pharmakon: ‘a mixture of various items designed to manipulate’, magic potion, charm Rv 9:21.

pharmakos: [= pharmakeus see pharmakeia] ‘an expert in manipulation through occult means’, sorcerer, magician Rv 21:8; 22:15.

So, from the above definitions we see what these nouns pertain to: pharmakos is the person who manipulates, pharmakon is the method or mixture of methods used for manipulation, and pharmakeia is the word used for this type of manipulation. Thus, the practice of pharmakeia (manipulation) is performed by a pharmakos (manipulator), who uses a pharmakon (manipulating method or mixture) for such manipulative purposes. This manipulation is occultic, as in sorcery or magic (witchcraft), and may or may not involve substances (drugs or potions).

The contexts in Revelation follow, in chronological order.

9:20 And the rest of humankind—those who were not been killed by these plagues—did not repent of the works [ergon] of their hands, so that they would not worship demons and idols made of gold, silver, bronze, stone, and wood, which cannot see, hear, or walk. 21 And they did not repent of their murders, their pharmakon[pl], their sexual immorality, or their thefts.

The subscripted “pl” indicates plural (pharmakōn) instead of singular. The “they” in 9:21 refers to “the rest of humankind—those who were not killed by these plagues” (9:20). Observe in Danker’s definitions above there is the note in brackets “variant”. Some manuscripts have pharmakeia instead of pharmakon here in 9:21. In the case of the text as it stands (pharmakon), this refers to the methods or mixtures; the variant (pharmakeia), the practices of it. Whatever the case, the context does not assist in determining specific meaning.

Moving on to the next context, which contains our subject verse:

18:21 Then a mighty angel lifted up a stone like a great millstone and threw it into the sea, saying, “In similar fashion, with violence shall Babylon the megalopolis5 be thrown, and she shall never be found again! 22 The sound of singing harpists and of musicians, flautists, trumpeters shall never be heard in you again. And never shall any kind of craftsman of any trade be found in you again. Noise from a mill shall never be heard in you again. 23 Lamplight shall never shine in you again. And the voice of bridegroom and bride shall never be heard in you again. For your merchants were the distinguished persons of the earth, because by your pharmakeia were all the nations/peoples misled. 24 And in her, blood of prophets and holy ones/saints was found, and all those who had been slain upon the earth.”

So Babylon misled—or will mislead—all the nations/peoples by her pharmakeia. There appears to be a causal relationship between Babylon’s pharmakeia misleading the nations and Babylon’s merchants being “the distinguished persons of the earth”. In other words, Babylon’s merchants were “distinguished persons” seemingly as a result of her pharmakeia misleading “all the nations”. The NET Bible explicitly interprets it that way: For your merchants were the tycoons of the world, because all the nations were deceived by your [pharmakeia]! Stated another way, by Babylon’s manipulative deception (pharmakeia) her merchants were “the distinguished persons of the earth” (became wealthy?).

The next occurrence is in Revelation 21:8. The larger context describes the forthcoming new heaven and new earth, the Holy City and the New Jerusalem (21:1–2). A “voice from the Throne” relates how God’s dwelling place will then be with His people (21:3–4):

21:5 Then the One sitting on the Throne said, “Take note! I make all things new.” Adding, He said, “Write, for these words are trustworthy and true.” 6 And then He said to me, “These things6 have come to fruition! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last. To the thirsty I will freely give from the spring of the water of life. 7 The one who overcomes shall inherit these things, and I will be his God and he will be My son7 (or daughter). 8 But to those who are cowardly and unbelieving, to the abominable, to murderers, the sexually immoral, pharmakos[pl], idolaters, and all falsifiers, their portion shall be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.

In the above, the term (in its plural pharmakoi) occurs in a list (like 9:21), making it impossible to determine precise meaning. The final instance is also in a list and is thematically similar. As an aside, note that the immediately preceding section has “the One sitting on the Throne” as speaker, while below it is the glorified Jesus:

22:12 Behold! I am coming soon. And with Me is My rewards, to repay each one according to his own work [ergon]. 13 I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End. 14 Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have their right to the tree of life, and may enter by the gates into the city. 15 Outside are the ‘dogs’, the pharmakos[pl], the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters, and everyone loving and practicing falsehood.

So, once again, the context of this term here (again in its plural form pharmakoi) is insufficient to help us determine anything more than a general idea as to its meaning.

Summarizing all the above, the context of Rev 18:23 does not provide enough illumination to resolve the question of the precise definition of pharmakeia. Disappointingly, the other occurrences of pharmakeia/kon/kos in the NT, though thematically similar (carrying negative connotations within lists), fail to shed any additional light on our subject verse.

Part II will widen the scope. This additional survey will certainly prove beneficial, illuminating. But will it be enough to solidify the meaning of pharmakeia in Revelation 18:23? More pointedly, will we be able to determine with any confidence whether or not the term implies that drugs or potions are included in its meaning here?

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1 A synchronic study would be strictly NT, though could include some extra-biblical works of the NT era. A broader approach, to include pre- and/or post-NT literature, would be a diachronic study. By necessity, we will venture a bit into diachrony here.

2 The Inscriptio, the “title” of Revelation, is Apokalypsis Iōannou, “Apocalypse of John” (with manuscript variations), but it is doubtful this was present originally. It was probably added by later copyists. The first three words of the book begin with Apokalypsis Iēsou Christou, Apocalypse of Jesus Christ. This is more likely the ‘title’ of the Book—or, better, the beginning of its longer title. According to, e.g., David Aune (Revelation 1–5, Word Biblical Commentary, 52A [Dallas, TX: Word Books, 1997]): “[W]hether the author gave his work a title originally is uncertain; titles were often regarded as superfluous for works intended for oral recitation (such as Revelation [ED: see 1:3: Blessed is the one who reads and those who hear . . .]), for their ‘titles’ were inherent in the opening lines. It is therefore relatively certain that the first sentence of the book in 1:1–2 was intended by the author to function as a title” (pp 3–4). Nevertheless, for our purposes here we will retain the more common “Revelation” as the title.

3 F. W. Danker, The Concise Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (Chicago, IL: Chicago UP, 2009). Danker is the “D” in “BDAG” (The letters correlate to the first letter in each of the last names of those involved in the project: Walter Bauer, Danker, W. F. Arndt, and F. W. Gingrich), considered the standard lexicon for NT Greek studies, namely, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd ed. (Chicago, IL: Chicago UP, 2000). The late Rodney Decker wrote: “. . . [Danker’s] Concise Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament [is] a 400 page lexicon published in 2009. (A 400 page lexicon can only be called “concise” by comparison with the 1,100 pages of BDAG!) This was not an abridgment of BDAG, but a new work (though obviously dependent in many ways on the larger lexicon).”

4 All definitions are taken from Danker, Concise Lexicon, p 370.

5 English versions typically render hē megalē polis as “the great city”, but I prefer “the megalopolis”, for this leaves room to mean either ‘one large city’ or ‘an urban region consisting of several adjoining cities and suburbs’. I think the latter makes better sense.

6 I interpret the implied subject in the 3rd person plural gegonan here to be either hoitoi hoi logoi (“these words”) or panta kaina (“all things new”).

7 This is a paraphrase of the Davidic covenant in 2Samuel 7:14: I will be his Father, and he will be My son.

Lament

This post is an attempt at reflecting the myriad emotions presently troubling me about a variety of things. Thus, it will likely come across just as disjointed as my mix of inner turmoil and yet vague sense of optimism. The process of writing this will probably prove to be cathartic.

I am continually dismayed by individuals making various assertions with misplaced confidence. And the blows coming from within and without in attempts (successful, sadly) at a divide and conquer strategy at unprecedented scale is completely missed by many of the distracted masses. Too many are enslaved by their own minds, imprisoned by the limited information they intake. They place outsized trust in their self-constricted list of myopic sources. Others completely tune out via the various electronic distractions available to them, oblivious to it all.

I am continually amazed at the amount of smart and seemingly intelligent individuals waylaid by apparent cognitive dissonance. In an enlightening vlog published 9 months ago, I found this exemplifying and yet clarifying comment (by Paul Hopper):

Many years ago, on a trip to Bucharest [the capital city of Romania], my wife and I visited her family’s cemetery, which happens to also be where Nicolae & Elena Ceausescu are buried. I was stunned to see a group of older Romanians holding a vigil, lighting candles and still mourning at the grave of this notorious, murderous tyrant. When I asked my wife—who was at the revolution in ’89—why anyone would feel sorry for this dead despot, she said that the older generation were so conditioned to be controlled by the state that they didn’t know how to live any other way. Just like the metaphor of the totalitarian womb in this video, it’s the illusion of security and safety. Sadly, she now sees the U.S. falling into the same communist mindset that she experienced growing up in Eastern Europe.

I am reminded of a work by Ukrainian neoclassical composer Valentin Silvestrov. Devastated by the death of his wife, companion, and supporter of 30 years, he wrote “Requiem for Larissa” in memoriam.

Time in Valentin Silvestrov’s music is a black lake. The water barely moves; the past refuses to slide away; and the slow, irregular stirrings of an oar remain in place. Nothing is lost here. A melody, which will rarely extend through more than five or six notes, will have each of those notes sounding on, sustained by other voices or instruments, creating a lasting aura.1

At times I feel as though I’m situated on this black lake—time seemingly standing still yet moving ever so slowly, almost imperceptibly—its eerie blackness enveloping me. It seems both distressing and calming simultaneously.

Within Silvestrov’s “Requiem” is an excerpt from Ukrainian poet Taras Shevchenko’s “The Dream”. From the Wikipedia entry on Taras Shevchenko:

Dogged by terrible misfortune in love and life, the poet died seven days before the 1861 emancipation of serfs was announced. His works and life are revered by Ukrainians throughout the world and his impact on Ukrainian literature is immense.

Below is the English-rendered text of the excerpted poem:

Farewell, O world! Farewell, O earth!
Thou dismal, dreary land!
I’ll hide my torments, fierce and keen,
Within a cloud-bank bland

Then to thyself, my own Ukraine,
A widow sad and weak,
shall come flying from the clouds
And with thee I shall speak;

From our communion, soft and low
My heart shall gain some cheer;
At midnight shall my soul come down
In dewdrops cool and clear2

This post is purposefully a bit vague and yet non-purposefully a bit scattered, reflective of my emotions and the overarching opacity permeating Western society as a whole. But to be absolutely clear, I’m not suggesting any sort of reactive call to action. My hope is that individuals become aware of the myriad machinations being perpetuated upon the populace and refuse to engage in them. Divided, we fall.

We must have compassion for those caught up. Leave the door open for open discussion. Leave the door open to preach the Gospel message. The time is short.

I will end on a less somber note. Listen to master oudist Anouar Brahem (and his assembled band) describe “The Astounding Eyes of Rita” in a live recording in Bucharest, Romania:

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1 Paul Griffiths, Time Was, from the liner notes of Valentin Silvestrov Requiem for Larissa, ECM New Series 1778, (© 2004 ECM Records GmbH), p 2.

2 Taras Shevchenko, excerpted from “The Dream”, in The Poetical Works of Taras Shevchenko, translated from the Ukrainian by C. H. Andrusyshen and Watson Kirkconnell (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1964), as cited from the liner notes of Silvestrov Requiem, p 23.

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