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…)

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.

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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  Comments (2)  
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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]

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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 (17)  
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The Eclectic Text of the New Testament – a conspiracy against the Word?

God’s beloved Word – you’d better believe I study it daily. Yes, as a Bible teacher, since my ministry is teaching the New Testament in Spanish and English, and also from the Greek. But more fundamentally I read the Bible simply as a Christian, because it is through the reading, meditation, and obedience of God’s Word that we grow as believers. [1]

Therefore it concerns me when I read about a supposed conspiracy, made up of people who secretly despise God’s Word and are paving the way for antichrist, out to destroy the Bible and leave us in spiritual darkness. These charges are leveled against the Nestle-Aland edition of the Greek New Testament, the exact same “critical” edition I and my students read and interpret. [2]

That’s why I am impelled to read up on the so-called Alexandrian Conspiracy to ruin the Bible. If it is a real and present danger, I want to know. If it is a false alarm, then I must communicate that to you, the readers.

“Don’t destroy God’s Word! Or change it!”

My conclusion:

If the critical edition of the New Testament be treason against God’s Holy Word, then it’s the most poorly executed conspiracy in the history of Bible study.

Let’s see why. One extreme theory has it (more…)

Published in: on October 9, 2014 at 2:37 pm  Comments (20)  
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The Lord’s Prayer – do we pray it or no?

There are two main approaches to the Lord’s Prayer (LP).

  • The Lord’s Prayer was meant to be prayed verbatim.
  • The Lord’s Prayer was not meant to be prayed verbatim, but rather serves as a model prayer.

Most of the church for 2000 years has opted for the first, while also affirming that it is also a valid application to use it as a pattern; some evangelicals accept only the second. Let’s explore the options:

  1. How not to pray
  2. The intent of the Lord’s Prayer
  3. The use of the Lord’s Prayer in the Early Church

1. How not to pray, according to Matthew 6

The Lord compares his teaching with two very different alternatives. First, he tells his disciples not to pray as “hypocrites” – in this case, he describes Jewish men who wish to be seen by other people (Matt 6:5-6). The problem was not that they stood to pray in the synagogue or Temple (Luke 18:9); that was common practice. Nor that they prayed in public; that too was the norm. The problem was their motivation, to be seen praying with extravagant piety. If they wanted to give the litmus test to their own motivations, they might try praying in private and see if they are still so earnest.

"Don't pray like the pagans do!"

“Don’t pray like the pagans do!”

The second warning has to do with “pagans.” They pray with “many words” and with “babbling.” This clause is poorly interpreted by some. Jesus is not saying, “Don’t pray like they do in the synagogue, because they use set prayers.” Rather he points to pagans who use magical formulas to gain the attention of their gods, like the one shown in the picture. In paganism, the more words the better, and the practitioner would crank out prayer after prayer of nonsense sentences. (more…)

Is Bible memorization a good use of our time?

I just wrote a post in which I gave advice to a younger Christian, and I urged him to memorize Scripture. A reader questions the value of  Bible memorization compared with other Bible activities.

He says: I would say focus on reading comprehension and understanding what you are reading and ask questions whenever possible – instead of memorizing Scripture (unless you are illiterate). I found that simply understanding is hard enough, and to place memorization on top of that when any of us here in the US can pull up our Bibles on our smartphones is not a good use of time. It is not evil in and of itself of course, just not a good use of time (if one is literate, that is). Otherwise if illiterate by all means get audio and memorize!

Dear Reader: Thanks for the stimulating comment, it made me think through whether my opinion was really self-evident.

As a professor I keep in mind the insights of Bloom’s Taxonomy of Learning. The learning facilitator is supposed to push the learner higher and higher in the pyramid: that is, not just Applying but further toward Analyzing. This is why I have my students memorize certain facts (REMEMBERING dates of important biblical events) but push them further up the pyramid (an essay where the student is critically ANALYZING a certain view of historiography).

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Bloom’s Taxonomy

Nevertheless, Bloom’s point was not that the lower levels of cognition are inferior; in fact, they are the base upon which the higher thinking is built.

In the case of the Bible, we want to push people beyond merely memorizing verses; they must also learn to employ it to life situations, to discern what is Biblical thinking and what is not, etc. (more…)

Advice for a teenaged young man

mf6HAyEA few weeks ago, a young Christian friend of mine turned 13. His mom asked some of us to write out words of counsel for him. Here are things I wish someone had told me at age 13, given in no particular order and no with aim to be comprehensive:

  • At this stage, your brain is keyed to memorize things easily. It’s the best time of your life when you should memorize portions of the Bible. Believe me, it gets harder with every passing year.
  • You are also at an age when you can study the Bible for yourself. I read the Bible through for the first time when I was 14, and was pleased to see how much of it I could understand.
  • Always tell the truth, to people and to God, even about trivial matters. Always. Lying is for cowards and is one of the most corrosive practices in your relationship with God.
  • Choose your friends wisely. Don’t run with the cool people, run with the good ones.
  • Whatever bad habits you develop now will follow you the rest of your life (I’m thinking particularly of foul language, but the rule applies across the board). Even if you gain victory of them later on, they will never disappear completely, so I advise you to avoid them in the first place.
  • Treat women with kindness and respect, beginning with your mother and sisters.
  • Don’t just complain about problems, be a person who seeks positive solutions.
  • Extend your education, both formal and informal, as far as you possibly can. Read excellent books.
  • Seek out people of good Christian character and base your lifestyle on what you see in them.
  • Don’t be one of those Christians who just receives blessings; always keep an eye open to help other people in need.
  • When you are in a group, look around to see who is lonely; make them feel befriended.
  • Finally: You are at the stage when you can fully develop your own relationship with God, and not just relate to him through the church or through your parents. Go to him directly and build a good strong bond.

Happy 13th birthday! Gary