An Epidemic of the Ethical Woulda-Dones

sad_docThe doctor has paid a house call and left, shaking his head. The diagnosis? American Christians have come down with a bad case of the Woulda-Dones. The symptoms? We are irresolute about making tough, righteous decisions today, but we know exactly what we bravely and clearly and boldly “woulda-done” if we had faced the moral dilemmas facing Christians in days gone by.

It’s easy to Dare to Be a Daniel – so long as we limit it to “I woulda defied the king like Daniel did, back, y’know, in the 500s BC!” The truism is right – “We are always fighting the last battle.”

The Great Physician detected the same disease, some 2000 years ago!

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous, and you say, “If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.” (Matt 23:29-30)

The original Aramaic, I amuse myself to think, used the equivalent verb “woulda-done” along with its flip side, “wouldna-done.”

The Pharisees knew, of course, that the prophets turned out to be on the right side of history – on God’s side – so they were taking zero risks when they acclaimed the prophets as great and admirable men of God. But when John and Baptist and Jesus and the apostles appeared, they had only their fears and lower instincts to guide them.

Why do people get the Ethical Woulda-Dones? Because history has already decided what was right and what was wrong, and it costs us nothing to stand on the side of the angels – so long as these were angels who were doing things long, long ago.

Example 1 – Don’t you love the movie “Amazing Grace,” which tells the story of how evangelical Christian William Wilberforce, undaunted by incredible opposition, invested 20 years in order to close down the British slave trade?[1] Well and good! And we may suppose that you woulda been one of the very few who stuck it out with him, and would not have argued that evangelicals should stick to preaching the gospel and not put government restrictions on the free market? Especially when his enemies had all the money? But the better question is, do you figure out What Would Wilberforce Do? and take concrete action to bring about an end to slavery today – and there are more slaves in the world now (29 million perhaps?)[2] than there were in the South in 1860 (about 4 million)?[3]

y,  Some evangelicals are against getting involved in social justice but focus only on inner change: “When people’s hearts are changed by Christ, godly governments and institutions will follow.”[4] (This is not a given, by the way. The population of Guatemala is 35-40% evangelical, and has had one of the most corrupt governments in our hemisphere, and is rife with violent crime). But most Christians believe in effecting social change – they mainly disagree on what issues they should focus. Fewer abortions? Great! Easy, right? (And this is an issue that deserves its own blog post).  For or against the Affordable Care Act (which too is mainly a bygone issue)? For or against the death penalty – or mandatory sentencing, or trying minors as adults, or prison reform? For or against federal guidelines on CO2 emissions? Maybe not so easy to  put together an integrated, righteous Christian response!

Don’t worry: in a few decades, those issues too will be clearer – and it will be too late for you to take a stand.

We prefer to fight yesterday’s battles – after all, we already know the right answers!

Example 2 – Do you tip your cap to the Voting Rights Act of 1965, in which the federal government forced – forced! – state governments to implement the 14th and 15th Amendments, allowing African-Americans full access to the ballot box? Many Christians were against it at the time! Of course, we know now that it was a great law; anyway, that’s what they taught me in Junior High. But the trickier proposition is, what active steps do you take today, right now, to ensure that no-one is disenfranchised through redistricting? How you vote today reveals your character, not how you woulda-done 60 years ago. Discernment is, after all, 20/20, but it takes more vision to see how to apply the Law of Love right here, right now. It’s a lot harder than just checking in on what our political opponent believes, and doing the opposite.

Example 3 – Would you have been one of the measly 4.9% of Americans in 1938 who said we should accept Jewish refugees in flight from the Nazis even if it meant raising immigration quotas, or the 95% who said No or Dunno?[5] Well, of course you would say Yes to Jewish refugees, we all would. But your woulda-done has little righteous value, history has already made up your mind for you, and you grew up knowing what the right answer is. Now, to look at one example, the Syrian refugee issue is a real problem, and Christians take different opinions. But the real trick is being able to make loving and righteous decisions about people who are refugees today – let me see – today, Friday, not back in the good old days.

During the final days of the Cold War, I got in the habit of reading the Philadelphia Inquirer; only I would pick up and read the previous day’s edition. When someone asked me why, I joked that, “Well, the world didn’t blow itself, so I’m pretty sure yesterday’s news was positive.”

It pays to study history; but during our current spiritual war, let’s make sure we make today’s decisions, since


For all of us must appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each may receive recompense for what has been done in the body – in your lifetime! –, whether good or evil. (2 Cor 5:10 NRSV)







“An Epidemic of the Ethical Woulda-Dones,” by Gary S. Shogren, PhD, Professor of New Testament, Seminario ESEPA, San José, Costa Rica

Speaking in tongues, speaking in English [Studies in 1 Corinthians]

Paul taught:

I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you. But in the church I would rather speak five intelligible words to instruct others than ten thousand words in a tongue. (1 Cor 14:18-19)

Paul is not making a mathematical statement that five clear words are better than 10,000 unknown ones, but is speaking in hyperbole. 10,000 words is the product of a couple of hours of uninterrupted speech.

Yet even a sentence of five words or less could convey a more powerful message: “Christ loves you!” or “Christ died for sinners!” or “I forgive you, beloved sister!” or even a prophetic “Your sick baby will recover.”

Whether it is supernatural speech or everyday words said in the power of the Spirit, it’s all evidence of God’s grace to his people.

It is worth noting the number of words within this epistle: in the original Greek text it contains roughly 7,300 words; in the NIV about 8000.


“Speaking in tongues, speaking in English,” by Gary S. Shogren, PhD in New Testament Exegesis, Seminario ESEPA, San Jose, Costa Rica



What has Corinth to do with Patmos?

Devotional given at Wycliffe Associates for the assembled Translation Team, on Oct 7, 2015.

B2XX0G greece, dodecanese, patmos, psili ammos

Patmos, where John saw the beast rising from the sea

I am doing two tasks for Wycliffe at the moment – with my online group we are writing translation notes for 1 Corinthians and we have reached chapter 10. Here this week our group is working on Revelation and we are on chapter 10 there as well. These are two very different books, which leads to my title, with apologies to Tertullian: “What has Corinth to do with Patmos?”

Revelation, as we have seen, is filled with apocalyptic language.[1] When you read through it, you begin to notice that for every truth there is a dark parallel.

  • You belong to the Great Harlot, or you belong to the Bride of the Lamb;
  • you are a citizen of Mystery Babylon or a citizen of the New Jerusalem;
  • you have the mark of God on your forehead or the mark of the beast imprinted on your hand or forehead;
  • you follow the Lamb that was slain and later resurrected, or the beast who somehow managed to survive a fatal head wound;
  • you are a victim of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, or redeemed by the one who comes riding on his white horse, the Word of God who is called Faithful and True;
  • you are invited to the wedding banquet of the lamb, or you yourself will be a banquet for the vultures;
  • you will use your tongue to repent, or your will chew your tongue in agony.

We could mention a dozen more parallels or literary “foils.”

So, in Revelarion, for every question, there are only two answers: the right one and the wrong one. Everything is cast in terms of black and white.

1 Corinthians is the other book where I am helping to write Translation Notes, and it is a very different document! It is a different genre, of course, and that changes the style of writing, but it also has a different audience.

In Corinth, some of the believers can only think in terms of black and white. (more…)

Did your pastor/teacher/expert/YouTube guru set a wrong date for the Second Coming? Don’t let them off the hook

It appears to be the busy season of people telling us when Jesus will return. I have seen five dates for the period of September-December 2015 and others for 2016 or 2017. Four of those dates have already passed us by. Whether these date-setters claim to be prophets or not, they all transgress the Lord’s warning – “Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There he is!’ do not believe it.” (Matt 24:23); and Paul’s statement that we shouldn’t let anyone confuse us with their predictions (2 Thess 2:1-2).

As I have written at length elsewhere, these Date Setters tend to fall into predictable behaviors. Download the entire article here: “Shogren_How to calculate when Jesus will come without even being a prophet!”

First, people speak with great confidence ahead of time, naming dates or months or years and offering incontrovertible proof that the Lord will return as they predicted.


Second, when he does not return, what happens? Most date-setters have a strong psychological (more…)

Published in: on September 30, 2015 at 3:36 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“Oh, before I conclude let me just say…” 1 Thess 5:12-28 [Sermon Notes on 1 Thessalonians, Week 15]

These are notes of a sermon outline, not a full message.

This is an exciting epistle, full of joy and energy. Despite all the persecution they have experienced, the Thessalonian church is thriving and growing and reaching out with the gospel. Sure, Paul has to remind them about the resurrection of the dead when Jesus returns; and he also wants to remind them to work hard, to keep pure, to be alert for Jesus’s coming, but in general things are fine.

So as he concludes, it’s upbeat and encouraging.

This is common with Paul and other letter-writers of his day, to conclude a letter with a brief list of commands or exhortations. “Time is running out, just a little more space on the page, Do this, don’t do that, don’t forget this! (more…)

Published in: on September 30, 2015 at 1:31 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“Children of the Light” 1 Thess 5:4-11 [Sermon Notes on 1 Thessalonians, Week 14]

Note: These are sermon outlines, not full messages.

Let’s begin with a “tip” for Bible reading – it’s a good idea to look for repetition, repeated words or ideas. This certainly helps in the case of this passage. I would like you to look for pronouns: we, our, us; you; they, them, those

But you, brothers and sisters, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. You are all children of the light and children of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be awake and sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet. For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. 10 He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him. 11 Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.


If you asked a Greek person of Paul’s day, how might we divide people into groups, one answer is: Greeks and barbarians; someone else might offer, men and women; someone else, slave and free person

If you asked a Jewish rabbi in Paul’s day, how can we divide people into groups, the typical answer would be, Easy – Jews and non-Jews (or Gentiles, or Greeks)

What Paul is saying is that there are two groups of people in the world: people in Christ, who also walk in the light; the rest

Col 3:9b-11 – “you have taken off your old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. 11 Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.”

Gal 3:28 – in Christ “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

This is what he says here in 1 Thess 5 – you are in darkness or in light; you are drunk or sober; you are dozing or you are alert (more…)

Published in: on September 23, 2015 at 1:20 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“A Thief in the Night” 1 Thess 5:1-3 [Sermon Notes on 1 Thessalonians, Week 13]

Note: These are sermon outlines, not full messages.

Now, brothers and sisters, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, “Peace and safety,” destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.

How do you prepare for the Second Coming?

Some say – we prepare by setting dates! I know of 242 examples of people doing this, from the time of the early church until 2011, but I think there are probably many more that didn’t make the list.

Others are selling things, robbing people: buy my book! Buy my survival kit!

Paul now examines the coming of Christ from the angle of daily living. First, no one knows the time of his return (more…)

Published in: on September 16, 2015 at 1:09 pm  Leave a Comment  
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How to Calculate when Jesus will Come – without even being a prophet!

Download the entire article here: Shogren_How to calculate when Jesus will come

What follows is my response to the outbreak of Blood Moon Fever and the Shemitah Virus, and more broadly, to the rapidly-spreading epidemic of predictions of Jesus’ near return between 2015-2017. I offer it to the Christ whose coming I love.

Something like 41% of the American people believe that Jesus will definitely or probably return by 2050. That figure shoots up to 58% when the pollster asked white evangelical Americans.[1] So, once someone starts with that basic assumption, that we must be in the Latter Days, very few will question it: it now becomes a question of detail and voilà, a whole End Times cottage industry springs up.[2]

My readers know that I am a “Matthew 24:36 Strict Constructionist”: that when Jesus said that no human – or angel, or the Son of Man – knows the time of the Second Coming, his original intent was to forbid all date-setting, not just the “day or hour” but any time at all; and that he meant that we should leave off amateur predictions of the End Times.

I mention this verse, which is found in my Bible in Matthew 24; but I suspect that some imp has gone around and whited out v. 36 from many copies.

There are two types of individuals who set dates for the Second Coming: the one who regards him or herself as a “prophet” who receives messages from God; the one who insists that he or she not be called “prophet”. I break them down as follows:

Date-Setter by Revelation – an early example is that in the 2nd century, a man named Montanus claimed that Jesus would soon return, to a little town in Asia Minor; more recently, all sorts of prophets – and psychics – predict the Second Coming – we can probably put Emanuel Swedenborg in this group, also Edgar Cayce; so did Joseph Smith, founder of the Latter-Day Saints. Just go on YouTube and you’ll find plenty of these dreams and visions, and most are not cult leaders.

Date-Setter by Calculation – these are the people whom we will study in this article. They base their predictions principally on the Bible text or some strained reading of the Bible text. They dazzle us with numbers, dozens of verses, references to lunar eclipses, killer asteroids, flip-flopping magnetic fields, RFIDs,[3] chemtrails, earthquakes, assertions about how many years a “generation” really is, and so on. Let’s call them End-Time Number Crunchers or ETNCs.[4]

I guess we could consider a third group the Blended Date-Setters; they appeal now to their calculations, now to dreams and visions. Here’s one, a man who sets dates according to Jewish feasts, and also collects testimonies of “Dreams and Visions of September [2015] Rapture”; for example, he tells of one dream about how Puerto Rico was covered by snow – hence the End is Nigh.[5]


Who are the End-Time Number Crunchers (ETNCs)?

One of the reasons ETNCs are dicey about the label of “prophet” is because Deut 18:15-22 prescribes the death penalty for all who make “presumptuous” predictions, that is, “if the word does not come to pass or come true.”[6] I have run across a number of these date setters, some of whom use the title Watchman or Watchman on the Wall (see Isa 62:6, Ezek 3:17, 33:6). The idea is that they have a Get out of a Stoning Free card if they make mistakes in their calculations. (more…)

Published in: on September 10, 2015 at 5:47 pm  Comments (13)  
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“The Resurrection, Our Goal” 1 Thess 4:13-18 [Sermon Notes on 1 Thessalonians, Week 12]

Note: These are sermon outlines, not full messages.

13 Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. 14 For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. 15 According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.

Paul has said, You know how to love one another; you know how to live in purity; you know how to work and have a good reputation before “outsiders” – you are all set, just keep on doing what it is you do

Now – Timothy has gone and returned, and he says, “there is only one (doctrinal) problem, one thing where they are confused”.

Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death (more…)

Published in: on September 9, 2015 at 1:59 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“The Unglamorous Christian Life” 1 Thess 4:9-12 [Sermon Notes on 1 Thessalonians, Week 11]

Note: These are sermon outlines, not full messages.

For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life. Therefore, anyone who rejects this instruction does not reject a human being but God, the very God who gives you his Holy Spirit.

Now about your love for one another we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other. 10 And in fact, you do love all of God’s family throughout Macedonia. Yet we urge you, brothers and sisters, to do so more and more, 11 and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, 12 so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.

We continue on in a section where Paul tells the people how to live; and what’s interesting about this letter is that he don’t need to correct them, and least not very much.

Now about your love for one another we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other.

He uses a particular word for love, which is Philadelphia. In this epistle alone, he speaks to the Christians as “brothers and sisters”. In 1:4-5 he said For we know, brothers and sisters loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not simply with words but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and deep conviction. That is, calling them brothers and sisters is not just being friendly, but he means that it’s through the gospel that we are now family. (more…)


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