How to Read Romans [Studies in Romans]

Certeza Unida and Kairos will publish my Romans commentary as part of their Comentario Bíblico Contemporáneo (Contemporary Bible Commentary). More than 160 scholars participated in the project.

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What follows is adapted from the section “How to Read Romans,” in which I show its particular application for Latin America.

The epistle to the Romans meets the Christian on two levels: (1) as a treasure house of beloved gospel texts; (2) as an ancient missionary letter, written for a specific moment in Paul’s work among the nations.

Both levels are valid, since the disciple today first comes to know Romans because of its neat formulations of, for example, the deadliness of sin (3:23), the free gift of eternal life (6:23), the transformation of the new person in Christ (12:1-2). Then beyond that, we must enter into the mind of Paul and appreciate his plan for the final years of the AD 50s – a missionary journey that would take the gospel farther west from Jerusalem than it had ever gone, across several of what we know as time zones. We then see that Romans, when first delivered, was a clear call to action for the believers in the capital to receive Paul for a time, and later to sponsor his trip to evangelize Spain.

In Latin America too we are arming ourselves to take the gospel to the nations, in particular, unreached ones. We too will benefit from knowing, not just what Paul said about salvation, but why he said it to these Christians in Rome, and by extension how it is God’s summons to us to show forth the gospel.

Romans is the largest extant letter by Paul. It is also the most systematic in its structure, touching on many facets of the doctrine of salvation (soteriology) but saying little about other themes, for example, the Last Days. Paul begins with the lostness of the world, then God’s solution in the death of Christ, the power of the new life in the Spirit, and later, details about how to live the Christian life. He also introduces a long section in chapters 9-11 to answer the questions Why don’t Jews believe in their own Messiah? Will Israel come to God eventually?

The best way to enjoy this letter is to read it; one can read Romans aloud at an unhurried pace in about one hour.

“How to Read Romans [Studies in Romans],” by Gary S. Shogren, PhD in New Testament Exegesis, Professor at Seminario ESEPA, San José, Costa Rica

Published in: on February 8, 2017 at 4:31 pm  Leave a Comment  
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My Time with the Koran, April 2016

Read the whole file here shogren_my-time-with-the-koran or download it on your phone. my-time-with-the-koran

My reading the Koran is like a rock-and-roller trying to figure out what in the world that jazz trio is up to. Still, if I will opine that the Koran is right, wrong, or indifferent, I feel I should have at least a basic, first-hand awareness of what it actually says. This, even though people all the time comment on books they haven’t yet gotten around to; the Bible in particular, unread by many Bible-believers.[i]

I bring this up because, like you, I have seen certain Facebook memes and books that “prove” that all Muslims are “really” in a jihad against the West; and that when some (apparently very nice) Muslims claim they are not planning to blow stuff up, well, they are lying, since everyone knows that in Islam it’s cool to lie about not being involved in jihad in order to be more effective in jihad. See my dilemma?

We live in a world where from all directions, especially in the social media, we see quotations taken out of context. I love the new usage of “cherry-picked,” a term that is often applied during election years. According to the Urban Dictionary, it is “When only select evidence is presented in order to persuade the audience to accept a position, and evidence that would go against the position is withheld. The stronger the withheld evidence, the more fallacious the argument.”

Jefferson’s well-known statement that “a little rebellion now and then is a good thing” is usually taken out of context; when Lincoln “said” that he was not concerned about slavery, but maintaining the Union, that’s cherry-picking; and when the Lincoln meme tells us “Don’t believe everything you read on the internet,” that’s just a fake. We run into supposed quotes from George Washington, Albert Einstein, Gandhi, Joe Stalin, even George Carlin. A snatch of a phrase from Alexis de Tocqueville or Gibbon’s Rise and Fall, also practically useless unless read in context.

At any rate, I have had on my reading list for some time to go ad fontes (Latin, “back to the sources”) and read books of other faiths, not objectively—which is unattainable for anybody—but directly and unmediated. I have a copy of the Book of Mormon waiting in the wings; a dear Hindu friend gave me a beautiful edition of the Bhagavad-Gita, also on my list; Confucius’s Analects I read long ago, also the Mishnah and the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Gnostic literature. On the wackier side, I have read the prophetic quatrains of Nostradamus (meh) and looked over some of the “exposés” of the Catholic Church by Charles Chiniquy (yow!). I read Pope Francis’s Laudato Sii on environmental issues and later on his Bull of Indiction of the Extraordinary Jubilee: the latter in part because I heard somewhere that it promised to send Protestants to the guillotine in a 21st-century Inquisition; turns out, it did not mention decapitation or any bloodshed; who knew?

I also wanted to read the Koran because of a phenomenon that is very obvious from a Google search, that there are Muslims apologists who carefully read the Bible—in order to refute it.[ii]

So, this was my first time through the Koran, and I went cover to cover. I looked up some points to clarify what I was looking at, but tried to avoid the Hadith interpretations or other viewpoints, except for the ones I read afterward about jihad. It was “Back to the Koran” time.

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Let me give some broad observations, from a Christian for Christians, and then address specific topics. (more…)

Yeshua? Iesous? Jesus? Some other form? Who’s right?

The reader may download the entire article as a pdf file, especially given the presence of long technical footnotes׃ Shogren_Yeshua Iesous Jesus Some other form Who’s right. The results from the TLG search, mentioned in the article, may be downloaded here: Ιησους in TLG first 1000 references

The headlines are usually IN BOLD PRINT!! With lots of COLOR!!!

names

Having studied the matter, I believe that the Hebrew name for Jesus is Yeshua, but here I’m talking about the extremists. For example, “Satan has had 2000 years of infiltrating the Church, and look at it, full of every sin and evil imaginable and all under the name of Jesus.”[1] The most extreme blog I have found includes this rant: in Spanish it goes on about how those who use the name Jesus instead of Yeshuaʿ are (supposedly) responsible for the Inquisition, the papacy, Satanism, Christian rock music (!), charging people money to go to heaven. Oh, and they are the ones responsible for killing 6.5 million Jews in the Holocaust.[2]

Spanish rant on JesusSo far, the most extreme rant I have found

“Ah,” we hear, “but we must explore the Jewish roots in order to appreciate the gospel!” And of course this is true: I myself spent some years learning how to read Hebrew, and this year I am reading the daily Parashah (the Torah in a year) in Hebrew with a group of friends. I teach our graduate-level course on Jewish backgrounds of the New Testament. I read the Mishnah, the Dead Sea Scrolls. All to say that I do appreciate, I think, the Jewish background of the faith.

No, what I am talking about here is the kind of people who blog and YouTube about Hebrew Roots and Sacred Names but who themselves know a little Hebrew at best, relying on others’ comments or the Strong’s Concordance for their information, people who must resort to copying and pasting Hebrew and Greek words from other sources.[3]

The premise of their argument, with some variations, is:

  1. “It is impossible to ‘translate’ a name from one language to another. Therefore, the Savior’s name has to remain in its Hebrew form.”
  2. “The name Iesous (the Greek form of the name of Yeshuaʿ) did not even exist before the crucifixion; it was invented by the Romans (or the Jews. Or the Catholic Church. Or Constantine[4])!”
  3. Iesous is a pagan Greek name.”
  4. Iesous has nothing to do etymologically with the Hebrew name Yeshuaʿ.”
  5. “Yeshuaʿ has a meaning in Hebrew, but Iesous does not mean anything in Greek.”
  6. Iesous was fabricated by an enemy of the faith and means ‘Behold the horse!’ Or maybe ‘a pig’ or ‘Hail, Zeus’ or some such thing.”
  7. “The use of Iesous or Jesus or other forms is a plot by the Vatican to blaspheme God and the Savior. If you use that form, you have fallen into their trap and are apostate.”
  8. “Greek or Latin names are by definition polluted with paganism; therefore, the Lord could not have the name Iesous.”
  9. “If you claim to follow Jesus, then you cannot be saved, because there is ‘no other name by which we can be saved’ except for Yeshuaʿ.”

This line of thinking is rife with historical and linguistic errors, and is logically self-contradictory. It fails to explain how the name Iesous could be applied over 1270 times to the Lord in the New Testament, let alone in all the literature of the early church, without a single exception. Let’s take these arguments one by one

1. “It is impossible to ‘translate’ a name from one language to another.” FALSE!

The example that always come up is, “George Bush is George Bush all around the world! You wouldn’t say ‘Jorge Bush,’ because names cannot change!” Well, let’s retire this claim from the outset: two minutes with Google reveals that George H. W. Bush is sometimes called Jorge in Spanish,[5] Giorgio in Italian,[6] and with the French form Georges, as in this article.[7]

Georges

In fact, names can change from one language to another. We could multiply examples: Why do the Italians call the king of France Luigi XIV, but the Spaniards say he is Luis XIV? Why don’t they say Louis XIV, like the French do? In English why do they say Christopher Columbus; in Spanish Cristóbal Colón? Why don’t they say it the right, Italian, way, Cristoforo Colombo? (more…)