Monday 18 September 2017

A little Greek goes a long way

I heard a sermon a while back on Matthew 15. In that passage, Jesus exclaims “O woman!” (ὦ γύναι, 15:28) and in that sermon the preacher suggested that the ‘O’’s are significant in Matthew. That made me curious...

Sad to say, glancing down at the pew Bible, the NIV, was no help: it doesn’t translate the ‘O’ [tut tut NIV!] Moving to the ESV on my phone, I found it does translate it in Matt 15:28 and so I did a quick search in the English ESV text for other examples of ‘O’ in Matthew. There are ten such passages: 

2:6 "'And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.'"

6:30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?

8:26 And he said to them, "Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?" Then he rose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm.

8:29 And behold, they cried out, "What have you to do with us, O Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the time?"

14:31 Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, "O you of little faith, why did you doubt?"

15:22 And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, "Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon."

15:28 Then Jesus answered her, "O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire." And her daughter was healed instantly.

16:8 But Jesus, aware of this, said, "O you of little faith, why are you discussing among yourselves the fact that you have no bread?

17:17 And Jesus answered, "O faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him here to me."

23:37 “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not!

Lots to work with there, but then I checked the Greek and here’s the thing: there’s only an ‘O’ in Greek in two of those passages: 15:28 and 17:17. The ESV has added the rest [tut tut ESV!]

That said, what we’re left with might suggest that the two ‘O’’s are important after all. When the woman is introduced in ch15, she is an outsider (a Canaanite) whose faith contrasts with the mounting opposition from the Jews (15:1-9 and 16:1-4). By chapter 17 she stands out as a striking exception to a whole unbelieving generation which includes even the disciples. Her faith is great; the rest, for the time being, are faithless: 

15:28 “O woman, great is your faith”                    
 ὦ γύναι, μεγάλη σου ἡ πίστις·

17:17 “O faithless and twisted generation”           
ὦ γενεὰ ἄπιστος καὶ διεστραμμένη

So, not race, not gender, not even the best possible apprenticeship (which the disciples received) is a guarantee of anything. Faith is what counts.