During the 2017 Pentecost Season, alternative readings from the Hebrew Bible are offered. Scripture in Context will discuss both readings and the reading from the Christian Scriptures.
The word “Genesis” means “origin” and the Book of Genesis starts with Creation and concludes with the death of Joseph (Jacob’s son) in Egypt. The Book is an amalgam of religious traditions, some of which are dated to about 950 BCE and some as late as 450 BCE.
Today’s reading is the account of three “men” (also identified as YHWH in verse 13) who came to Abraham’s tent at Mamre (whose oaks were regarded as oracles). They predicted that Sarah (who was over 90 years old) would have a son in a year. Sarah’s laughed. This anticipated the name of her son, Isaac (which means “he laughs”). Abraham’s hospitality to the three sacred figures was overwhelming: an entire calf and three “measures” of flour (about 63 quarts of flour).
Exodus, the second book of the Bible, covers the slavery in Egypt under Pharaoh (around 1250 BCE, if the account is historical), the Exodus itself, and early months in the Wilderness.
Today’s reading is from the Priestly writer – shown by the emphasis on precise dates. The events occurred “on the very day” of the third new moon after leaving Egypt, the day the Israelites reached Sinai. (The holy mountain is called “Horeb” by other writers – for example, Ex. 3:1.)
YHWH proposed a conditional covenant to Moses and the Israelites (“If you obey my voice” v.5), and all the people responded that they would do all that YHWH had spoken (v.8). This event is the basis in Judaism for the Feast of Pentecost (Ex. 23.16).
Paul’s letter to the Romans is his longest, last and most complex letter. It was written in the late 50s or early 60s (CE) – about ten years before the first Gospel (Mark) was written.
Paul uses some words that are difficult for us. He says we are “justified” in verse 1. This means living in “righteousness” or in a right relationship with God and others – being “justified” as a page of type is “justified” when the margins are square on both the left and the right.
Paul’s use of “faith” (v.1) is better understood as “faithfulness” because the Greek word has an active aspect. Today, “Faith” is often understood as intellectual assent to one or more propositions. “Faithfulness” is active living into one’s beliefs through grace and trust in God.
Paul was a Jew who became a Jesus Follower (the term “Christian” hadn’t been invented in his lifetime). All during Paul’s life, animal sacrifices at the Jerusalem Temple were a way Jews were reconciled to YHWH. This continued until the Temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE – after Paul’s death. It is therefore not surprising that Paul uses “sacrifice” language to interpret the meaning of the Crucifixion: “Christ died for us” (v.8); we are “justified by his blood” (v. 9).