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 earth 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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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

Thoughts on Hebrew and Greek from a Scholar: Will Varner

Thanks to Dr. Will Varner for this article, to which I here post a link. It’s a topic that interests me, but once in a while I come across an article and have to conclude, “This person expresses it so much better than I could, so I’ll just link to their article!”

DO WE NEED TO GET INSIDE THE HEBREW MINDS OF THE NT AUTHORS?

I also recommend my own series that starts with my essay: “But the Greek REALLY says…”: Why Hebrew and Greek are not needed in the pulpit, Part 1

Strong’s Concordance – a Good Tool Gone Bad

To download the entire article, click here Shogren_Strongs Concordance or take a photo

static_qr_code_Strongs Concordance

 

Strong's Concordance - a Good Tool Gone Bad

Strong’s Concordance – a Good Tool Gone Bad

For Bible students who don’t use Hebrew and Greek, the Strong Concordance is a popular tool, available online. [1]

But it has a serious limitation – namely:

the “dictionary” in the back of Strong’s is not really a dictionary at all, and should not be used to find the “real, true, or root meaning” of a word

I will use the KJV version of Strong’s, since that is the one version I have on hand, but the same thing applies with the ESV or NASB editions.

We are all familiar with Matthew 1:20 –

But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost.

Let’s say I want to learn more about the words angel (Strongs #G32). (more…)

Women in Ministry, according to F. F. Bruce

Woman-Praying-Bible

This is a topic which interests me very much, not just in theory, but because of my involvement of training both female and male soldiers for the kingdom of God. I hope to publish some thoughts of my own at some point, but for now I yield to the master, and his brief article from 1982.

Evangelical scholar F. F. Bruce promoted the ministry of women in the Christian Brethren Review, which is significant, as anyone who has attended a traditional brethren assembly will recognize. As was his custom, Bruce turned to the Word of God as his authority.

I would not say that he was “ahead of his time,” which attribution is not necessarily a compliment. But I do think he was able to see beyond his tradition and to look at Scripture afresh; also, to realize that the charge that one’s opponents are under “cultural influence” is a sword that cuts both ways.

Enjoy! Gary

Women in the Church – A Biblical Survey FF Bruce

See also:

Thoughts on Greek from a scholar – F. F. Bruce

Gary S. Shogren is Professor of New Testament at Seminario ESEPA, San José, Costa Rica

Thoughts on Greek from a Scholar: F. F. Bruce

(Thanks to Paul D. Adams of for bringing this to my attention! Check out Paul’s blog at http: http://inchristus.com/. I also recommend the series that starts with my essay: “But the Greek REALLY says…”: Why Hebrew and Greek are not needed in the pulpit, Part 1)

F. F. Bruce was the prime mover of the renaissance of evangelical New Testament study in the English-speaking world that began after the Second World War and continues to today. He was also known as a humble man, who loved God’s people.

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“I have met students who claimed to ‘know Greek’ on the basis of their acquaintance with the Greek New Testament; even if that latter acquaintance were exhaustive, it would no more amount to a knowledge of Greek than an acquaintance with the English New Testament could amount to a knowledge of English.

There is a story told of A.S. Peake writing a Greek word on the blackboard of his Manchester classroom, and one of his students saying, ‘You needn’t write it down, Doctor; we know Greek.’ To which he replied, ‘I wish I did.’

To know a language, even an ancient language, involves having such a feeling for its usage that one can tell, almost as by instinct, whether a construction is permissible or not, or whether a translation is possible or not.

Translation is not simply a matter of looking up a word in a dictionary and selecting the equivalent which one would like to find in a particular passage.

It is this manifest mastery of Greek usage which makes William Kelly’s New Testament commentaries, especially those on Paul’s epistles, so valuable. ‘And you know what is restraining him now,’ says the RSV of 2 Thessalonians 2:6, following some earlier interpreters. This construing of ‘now’ with ‘what is restraining’ Kelly describes as a solecism, pointing out that the ‘now’ is ‘simply resumptive’.[1] Kelly is right. But how did he discover that the construction of the adverb with ‘what is restraining’ is a solecism? No grammar-book or dictionary would tell him that; it was his wide and accurate acquaintance with Greek usage that made it plain to him, an acquaintance which is the fruit of long and patient study.” (F. F. Bruce, In Retrospect: Remembrance of things past, p. 293)

See further Bruce quotes at http://ntresources.com/blog/?p=1685

See also Women in Ministry according to F. F. Bruce

NOTES:

[1] That is, Bruce agrees with Kelly, that 2 Thess 2:6 should be translated as “And, now [or as it is], you know what is restraining him.” Bruce and Kelly think that the RSV version “what is restraining him now” is a solecism, that is, a mistranslation. I happen to agree with Bruce and Kelly on this point, see my commentary on 1 Thessalonians.

 

“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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“Imitating other Believers in Judea” – 1 Thess 2:13-16 [Sermon Notes on 1 Thessalonians, Week 8]

(13) And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is indeed at work in you who believe. (14) For you, brothers and sisters, became imitators of God’s churches in Judea, which are in Christ Jesus: You suffered from your own people the same things those churches suffered from the Jews (15) who killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets and also drove us out. They displease God and are hostile to everyone (16) in their effort to keep us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved. In this way they always heap up their sins to the limit. The wrath of God has come upon them at last.

Paul here goes back once again to the major theme in 1:2, in his thanksgiving: You Thessalonians didn’t just hear the message, but you accepted it.  When he says word of God in 2:13 he is not speaking of “the Bible” – in this case the Old Testament – but the gospel message.

They accepted it “not as a human word”, in the sense of “not as something that people made up”, but as what it is, the message God spoke. See how he keeps repeating the word “God” (we have underlined it above).

And the gospel message works in them, transforming them from the inside out. This reminds us of a key text from Isa 55:11:

…so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.

And now these new believers were responsible to pray for those who were even then hearing the gospel for the first time in Achaia, as we see in Paul’s next letter:

As for other matters, brothers and sisters, pray for us that the message of the Lord may spread rapidly and be honored, just as it was with you. (2 Thess 3:1)

So, the Thessalonians imitated Paul, the Lord Jesus (1:6) and also other churches, especially the churches in Judea. It is interesting that the bulk of new believers in Thessalonica came from paganism (1:9-10), but most Jews did not receive the gospel in that city, nor in Jerusalem and Judea.

Like the Jewish Christians, these Gentile disciples suffer at the hands of their own people, their neighbors, and their local government. Thessalonians suffer at the hands of Thessalonians, while the churches in “Judea” (2:14a) are persecuted by Judeans. When Jews or Gentiles receive Christ, they find themselves cut off from their former people and persecuted by them. The underlying premise is that, if the people of the covenant act this way when their fellow Jews receive Christ, then imagine the reaction of the Gentiles among whom you live.

Some people point to this paragraph, which has very strong language, and they ask whether Paul is anti-Jew, anti-Semitic. But we need to keep in mind that Paul is not speculating about race but is responding to a concrete historical situation: the synagogue wielded great power in Judea and enough power in Macedonia to cause serious persecution to the Christians there.

Ruins of the Ostia synagogue, outside the city of Rome

Ruins of the Ostia synagogue, outside the city of Rome

(more…)