Christians and “Coincidences” or Is There a Hex in the Patternicity?

This article has many images and footnotes; I encourage the reader to download it as a pdf here: Shogren_Christians and Coincidences

It happened just the other day: I had been thinking about James Bond, and later when I pulled out a form of identification for the bank teller, I noticed that my ID number began with 007! Was I a secret agent? Perhaps one suffering from amnesia?

Or, let’s say a man “has a system” for beating the Vegas roulette table. He has noticed that black has come up eight times in a row. So he bets everything on black, because “there’s clearly a pattern to the wheel tonight.” Meanwhile, a man across from him is thinking to himself, “I’d better put everything on red, since it looks like it’s due to come up.”

A child and her companion lie on their backs, looking up at the clouds. “That one looks like a giraffe!” she says. “And that one a camel!” “No, not a camel, look at it upside-down, it looks just like an octopus.” One child says, “An angel!”; another says, “Actually, it looks quite like Charles Darwin!”

We have all played this game without realizing that we were doing pattern recognition. As Paul Simon wrote many years back, in the song “Patterns”:

The night sets softly
With the hush of falling leaves,
Casting shivering shadows
On the houses through the trees,
And the light from a street lamp
Paints a pattern on my wall,
Like the pieces of a puzzle
Or a child’s uneven scrawl.

Leaves, shadows, trees, indecipherable scrawling – these can all seem like messages because of our human tendency for patternicity. So can tortillas and numbers and corporate logos, as we shall see.

This is why astronomers speak of the Horsehead Nebula, which was not modeled after a terrestrial animal, but just sort of looks like a horse!

From ages past, people have imagined patterns in the stars and constructed “constellations” of animals, gods, heroes. And we can get a cross-check on patternicity by seeing how different cultures “read” the same stars –  it’s Orion in European legend, but the same stars are a hunter and his dogs chasing a deer in India. Mr. Rorschach invented his famous ink blots on the basis of human pattern recognition (“Ummm…is it, maybe, two ducks kissing?” “Okay, Mr. Anderson, we’d better make it three sessions per week!”)

We are wired to quickly detect patterns in the data we see and hear. This is a huge help to get us through the day: when our alarm clock goes off, we don’t have to puzzle over, “Now, what could that buzzer possibly mean?”

But for some people, that recognition faculty goes beyond what is useful (more…)

Is the Nestle-Aland Bible against the deity of Christ? No!

It is the narrative in a few remote corners of Christendom that only the Textus receptus reflects the original text of the New Testament. Some would add a second chapter, that newer critical editions – which, in fact, are based on almost 6000 manuscripts, let alone ancient versions and church fathers – are part of a conspiracy to destroy the church’s faith. Their editors are supposedly hell-bent on erasing any Bible verse that affirms the trinity, the deity of Christ, redemption by his blood, justification by faith, and other cardinal doctrines. Or so the legend goes.

The evidence for this curious notion simply does not add up. Take a look at the Nestle-Aland Greek New Testament, and you will find all of those doctrines fully and clearly taught; and you will find no evidence of any systematic dismantling of the faith once for all handed down to the saints. This will be evident to those who can read Greek: they can freely access the NA28 online, as well as other information. [1] English readers might look over the ESV on the same quest.

And in fact, there is some nice counter-evidence to the theory. It appears in the little epistle of Jude, where the deity of Christ is more clearly set forth in the latest critical edition than it has been in previous ones.

First, let’s place the critical version in context. The Nestle-Aland 28th edition (published 2012) has the exact same text as the United Bible Societies 5th edition (published in 2014). They differ in the amount of detail in the textual notes. The NA28 is the standard international text for Bible scholars, while the UBS5 edition presents the text in a format more suitable for Bible translators. Contrary to rumor, NA28 and UBS5 are not the same as the Westcott-Hort edition (1881).

This was the first time since the 26th edition of 1979 (and the UBS 3rd edition of 1975) that there were any modifications to the Bible text itself; the intervening editions included updates of the textual apparatus. The new editions have changes in 34 passages, and only in the Catholic Epistles (James through Jude). Most of these are tiny variants, which would not even be noticeable in an English translation (for example, the addition or omission of a definite article, which often is untranslated either way). [2]

These 34 changes were not made willy-nilly, nor in order to forward some theological or cultural agenda – they were based on scholarly analysis of all the data available, put forward in the new edition because the editors concluded that they better reflect what the apostles originally penned.

We said that the deity of Christ is advanced more in the NA28 than in NA27 and other editions. This rests on the revised text of Jude 5, shown here in the Greek and then in representative English versions.

NA28 = ἅπαξ πάντα ὅτι Ἰησοῦς

NA27 = πάντα ὅτι [ὁ] κύριος ἅπαξ

Stephanus Textus receptus = απαξ τουτο οτι ο κυριος

Hence:

KJV, based on the TR, has: “I will therefore put you in remembrance, though ye once knew this, how that the Lord, having saved the people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed them that believed not.”

NASB 1995, based on the NA26: “Now I desire to remind you, though you know all things once for all, that the Lord, after saving a people out of the land of Egypt…”

ESV, anticipating the NA28: “Now I want to remind you, although you once fully knew it, that Jesus, who saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe…”

Again, all three translations have a basis in Greek manuscripts, but the critical text now states that after a consideration of all evidence, “Jesus” now seems the best reading, and “the Lord” a later scribal change.

Let’s give some thought as to what this means. In earlier editions and in the Textus receptus, Jude is saying that “the Lord” (Greek kyrios) is the God of the exodus; he uses the same Greek word that the Septuagint uses to translate both Yahweh and Adonai.

On the other hand, the NA28 states that the evidence points to Jude having written “Jesus.” He is saying that Jesus – of whom Jude is the servant (Jude 1), the Son of God (2), the only Lord and Master (4), the Lord of the apostles (17), the merciful Lord (21), the Lord who is to be praised along with God (25) – that this same Jesus is none other than the Yahweh God who led Israel out of Egypt. Jesus is fully God.

This has a parallel in 1 Cor 10:4 – Israel “drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ.” This is based on the ancient teaching that Yahweh himself is the rock of Israel: “I will proclaim the name of the Yahweh. Oh, praise the greatness of our God! He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just” (Deut 32:3–4); and as for the pagans: “For their rock is not like our Rock, as even our enemies concede … [Yahweh] will say: ‘Now where are their gods, the rock they took refuge in …?’” (Deut 32:31, 37). For Paul, the rock of salvation is Christ; it was he who went with his people through the desert. As the chorus says: “Jesus is the rock of my salvation” and Jesus is Yahweh God.

Jude 5 unmistakably teaches the “pre-existence” of Jesus, that is, that he existed before his incarnation. Deserving to be ranked up with John 1:1 and John 20:28 and Titus 2:13 and others, Jude 5 is now one of the clearest New Testament proofs of the deity of Jesus: Jesus is Yahweh, Jesus is the God of the exodus.

We can delve even deeper: if, as I think is likely, the author of this epistle was Jude son of Joseph and Mary of Nazareth, then he is saying that his older brother Jesus is the God of the exodus – the same exodus that Jude and his brothers heard about every single Sabbath in the synagogue!

If the editors of Nestle-Aland had as their goal the obliteration of the deity of Christ from the Bible, then they have fatally – and stupidly! – sabotaged their own efforts. A simpler explanation of the facts is that they are not on a jihad against that doctrine; that they are not some hidden cabal trying to usher in the antichrist; and that where the apostles wrote about Jesus’s deity, they wanted to represent that precisely in their Greek New Testament, the Nestle-Aland 28.

God is the author of Scripture; let’s read it, uphold it, obey it, share it!

NOTES:

[1] http://www.nestle-aland.com/en/home/. One of the editions of the Textus receptus – and there are various, and the TR editions all differ one from the other, is the 1550 Stephanus edition, available here – http://www.bibles-online.net/1550/.

[2] The list of all the 34 changes can be read here: http://intf.uni-muenster.de/NA28/files/TextChangesNA28.pdf. 2 Peter 3:10 NA28 contains the second most interesting new reading. In some manuscripts it says the eartu and the works done in it “will be burned up” (so KJV; NKJV; NASB; NJB; RSV); in others “will be found” (perhaps meaning “exposed before God’s judgment” – CEB; ESV; GW; GNB; HCSB; NET; NAB; NEB; NIV; NLT; NRSV; REB); but the critical text now reads “will not be found.” Some object to the new reading of NA28, given that it is contained in no Greek manuscripts, but only in some ancient versions; this is an interesting discussion, but not relevant to our topic here. By the way, since someone might bring this up, the critical text is as clear as the Textus receptus on another point: “just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire.” (Jude 7, as rendered by the ESV)

“Is the Nestle-Aland Bible against the Deity of Christ? No!” by Gary S. Shogren, Professor of New Testament, Seminario ESEPA, San José, Costa Rica

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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What I read in 2016, the short list

I have always been a big reader, but never anything close to my list for 2016. That’s when I began to use the wonderful online group, Goodreads.com, to log the books that I have read, am reading, and want to read. I am up over 1900 books that I have logged as “read” in my lifetime, so far, but I know there are hundreds I cannot remember; I imagine the number should be more like 2500.

“Do you want that reading list Super-Sized?”

Over Christmas break 2015 I decided to join their Reading Challenge for 2016, and set a (as it turns out, too ambitious!) personal goal of 150 books/plays this year, including the complete works of Shakespeare, the Koran, and others, let alone material for class prep. Typically I am reading eight books at a clip; some short documents, some long tomes, some Audible recorded books from Amazon.

Overall, I read a lot more non-fiction this year than I usually do, although I also read some marvelous fiction.

Here are some of the highlights, in no particular order:

Russian themed. Ivan Turgenev, Fathers and Sons (1862) was excellent. I am about a third of the way through the fictionalized biography of Trotsky by Leonardo Padura, The Man who Loved Dogs. Dostoyevsky, The Idiot (1868-69) is a Christ-allegory. All are available on Kindle.

George Orwell beyond 1984 and Animal Farm. I have read 1984 a dozen times since Junior High, and decided I should branch out. Keep the Aspidistra Flying is a novel (more…)

Bible study – a work of prayer!

This is a prayer of the great church father Augustine, which he was accustomed to use after his sermons and lectures. I have updated the version found in NPNF 1,8, p. 683.

We now turn to the Lord God, the Father Almighty, and with pure hearts we offer to him, so far as we can with the little we have, great and sincere thanks.

With all our hearts we pray for his exceeding kindness:
– that of his good pleasure he would condescend to hear our prayers,
– that by his power he would drive out the Enemy from our deeds and thoughts,
– that he would increase our faith, guide our understanding, give us spiritual thoughts, and lead us to his bliss,
through Jesus Christ his Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Gary again: I don’t care how well you know the original languages, or what study method you use, or how many commentaries, and what preaching method – and I affirm them, one and all! – without prayer, there is no authentic Bible study or teaching.

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“Bible study – a work of prayer!” by Gary S. Shogren, PhD in New Testament Exegesis, Professor at Seminario ESEPA, San José, Costa Rica

Lady Apostle Lands in Jail!

If I asked you “Who were the martyrs of the early church?” you would, quite properly, begin with Stephen in Acts 7; James in Acts 12; and then go on to Peter and Paul.

“Brave, godly men were early martyrs” = a right answer

But not a complete answer.

Why not? Because we all, simply by being human, look at history through our own set of lenses. Because of such “cognitive bias,” the data that confirm our expectations stand out in bold print, and the data that don’t fit into our grid fade into the background. To answer our question, may I suggest that:

“Brave, godly men and women were the early martyrs of the church” = a better answer

Christian women were singled out for persecution in a way that their Jewish and Gentile contemporaries were not.

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Let us first honor those Jewish women who were victims of (more…)

“Eye has not seen” – or has it? [Studies in 1 Corinthians]

What does it mean when Paul (quoting Isaiah) says “What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived, the things God has prepared for those who love him.” (1 Cor 2:9)? Is this a parallel to, for example, 1 Cor 13:12, “For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then [at Christ’s coming] we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.”? Is he speaking about the unimaginable glories of the life to come?

In fact, this is one of those passages that loses some of its mystery, once it is read in its context:

 We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. No, we declare God’s wisdom, a mystery that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. However, as it is written:
“What no eye has seen,
what no ear has heard,
and what no human mind has conceived”—
the things God has prepared for those who love him—
10 these are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit.
The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. 11 For who knows a person’s thoughts except their own spirit within them? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. 12 What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us.

First, we begin with 2:6-8. One reading of “the rulers of this age” is that Paul is referring to the invisible demonic principalities and powers that ultimately sought to destroy Jesus, including the devil, who pushed Judas to betray him (John 3:2). Although that opinion is plausible, the other viewpoint fits better in this context: Paul is referring to the human rulers who arranged the crucifixion, that is, the Jewish priests, Herod Antipas, and Pilate. Paul’s other use of this word in the plural definitely refers to human rulers (Rom 13:3; also Acts 3:17, 13:27)…The tension here lies between the gospel and human wisdom, the sort that a Pilate or a Caiaphas might claim to have.

Second, the reference to “no eye, no ear no mind” in the Isaiah quotation in 2:9 fits better with a reference to human beings. Paul’s point then is that, Human power structures are passing away; so why look to them for insight into God’s truth? They would not have crucified Jesus had they known God’s plan, and thus they cannot provide wisdom to the Corinthian church.

Paul then quotes from Isa 64:4 and amplifies it with his own words – No eye has seen, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.

This citation backs up what Paul has said in 2:7, that God has planned to reveal his truth from ages past.

“Heaven” is not the point at all here. Paul is speaking about the truth that can be known in the here and now, since the crucifixion. No human being could ever guess or observe or reason out the blessings of the gospel of Christ, but we Christians already understand them – “these are the things God has revealed [past tense] to us by his Spirit (2:10).

In that case the lesson of 1 Corinthians 2 is – enough of fancy philosophy! Enough of dividing the church over human wisdom! Every Christian already has the fundamental revelation of God’s truth, and should seek truth, wisdom, and love in the basic gospel message.

This post is adapted from my Corinthians commentary; you can download it HERE or purchase it on sale from Logos.

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“‘Eye has not seen’ – or has it? [1 Corinthians],” by Gary S. Shogren, PhD, Professor of New Testament, San José, Costa Rica

Spirituality and intellect

Wish I had said this, but in no way can I improve on this quote:

…there are two common, but misguided, sentiments in some quarters of the Christian church regarding the relationship between spirituality and the academic or intellectual life. One is the belief that intellectual pursuits do not benefit the spiritual life and may even be dangerous to it. The other is the belief that spirituality is somehow ‘beneath’ those who are intellectually serious about Christianity and specifically about the literary and historical study of the Bible.

Taken from: Patricia D. Fosarelli and Michael J. Gorman, “The Bible and Spiritual Growth,” in Scripture: An Ecumenical Introduction to the Bible and Its Interpretation, ed. Michael J. Gorman (Peabody: Hendrickson, 2005), 229.

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Dr. Patricia D. Fosarelli is an MD, a theologian, and a pastoral associate in a Catholic parish in Baltimore. Dr. Michael Gorman is a Protestant (Methodist) theologian. Two highly educated people, with whom I would probably have many theological differences – but not in this area!

 

Ancient copy of Leviticus deciphered

Experts announced on 9/21/16 that they had deciphered a very old copy of a book of Moses, perhaps from the year AD 100.

As technology advances, so does the ability to read an unopened scroll, just as an MRI can read layer after layer of your brain. By scanning the unopened roll, it was discovered that it was a copy of Leviticus. The reining champion for the oldest manuscript of this book is the Leviticus scroll discovered at the Dead Sea, which dates from the 2nd or 1st century BC.

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See the story HERE. And a video HERE, another HERE.

This is an amazing turn of events, because (1) the new technology will now be used on other rolls that cannot be unrolled and read; (2) it reveals a very early copy of Leviticus; and (3) the text that has been uncovered so far is identical to the Massoretic text, which is the primary source for all Bibles today. This means that the text of Leviticus remained unchanged for century on century.

Every year, experts in the field are discovering new copies of the ancient Scriptures, and for the most part are confirming that the Bibles we have are reliable.

ADDENDUM: 

In fact, experts are already using this in the towns ravaged by Vesuvius in AD 79. We have a decent amount physical evidence that there were Christians who were living in Pompeii when the volcano blew.

If I had one wish, it would be the discovery of a copy of 2 Timothy amid the ashes of Pompeii. Bible students will know why, since the letter is often dated as later in the first century, and because it was supposedly written from Rome, just up the road from Vesuvius.

If I had a second wish, it would be for a copy of Matthew’s Gospel in Greek.

 

Related articles:

The Eclectic Text of the New Testament – a Conspiracy against the Word?

Thou shalt not bully those who use a different Bible translation!

A Year of Aramaic and Syriac!

October 10, 2016 is the day!

We will be launching Peshar (Aramaic for “interpretation”), our new Facebook group for learning and reading Aramaic and Syriac. If you can already read biblical Hebrew and would like to expand your skills, let me know if you want to join! Visit HERE.

Within a few weeks we will be reading about Daniel in the lion’s den, in the original Aramaic, in fact, all the relevant sections of Daniel and Ezra.

And we will be reading portions from 1 Enoch, Tobit, Genesis Apocryphon, the Targums, the Peshitta, Ephrem of Syria, the Midrashim, the Talmud.

Let me know if you’re interested!

The Syriac Peshitta

The Syriac Peshitta