Romans Commentary, Romans 1:1-17

This commentary was prepared for Kairos Publications in Buenos Aires. It was composed specifically for the Latin American church. In some cases I have retained the words “Latin America,” at other times I have substituted “the Americas.” The bibliography reflects what is available to the Spanish-speaking church. We will publish it a section at a time, and eventually as an entire pdf file. The reader will notice that its purpose is to explain and apply this wonderful epistle to the church of today. Blessings! Gary Shogren

NOTE: Search for Romans Commentary on our Home page to find the other sections. Over the next few months we will publish the rest of this short book and bind them together in one pdf file.

Introduction to the Epistle (1:1-17)

It is the style of Paul in his letters that the introduction is a road map, to show where the apostle is going. A sermon is not like that! The pastor gives some announcements, he asks why the projector isn’t working, he has to change the batteries in his lapel mike, he tells a story, funny in its way, but having nothing to do with his message. And finally, he launches his sermon into the deep.

An epistle has another nature, or to use the technical term, it is in the epistolary genre. In this case, Paul indicates from the first word where he is going to take us. That is why, if we compare Romans 1 with 1 Corinthians 1 or Galatians 1, it will be evident to which epistle belongs which introduction, since they are not interchangeable parts.

Years ago, in a class dedicated to the Pauline letters, the professor told us: The introduction of an epistle is simply a way of saying Hello, there is no substance in it. So we can jump over the first two or four or six verses and move directly to the “body” of the letter. With all due respect to the teacher, this idea is indefensible, and in fact many scholars have written about the introductions to Paul’s epistles, showing that each one has its own agenda and also tone, and that they merit our full attention.

In 1:1-17, Paul drops several clues to show where we are going. One might speak of “foreshadowing”, a literary figure in which something that happens early in the story hints at what will happen later on. One example in Romans: once we arrive at chapter 3, Paul will have proved that the Jews and the gentiles have a desperate need for the gospel. And in that moment, we will see that his references to the Jews and the Gentiles (or Greeks) in 1:16 was no casual observation, but a foreshadowing of a vital part of the message to Rome.

Other foreshadowings in the introduction include:

  • 2 – the Old Testament prophesied the gospel
  • 3 – Jesus Christ is the descendant of David
  • 4 – God declared him Son of God by the resurrection, and the Spirit of God is who gives him life
  • 5, 14-16 – the gospel is for the Jews and for all the nations
  • 5, 8, 12, 16-17 – one receives the gospel by faith

And others too; the reader will gain much by tracing these themes throughout the book.

A. Greetings (1:1-7)

v. 1

Imagine a narrow, stuffy apartment in Rome, where you and your companions in the faith are seated shoulder to shoulder. When the time comes, you close their eyes to hear the words written on a scroll, read by Deacon Phoebe of Cenchrea (see Introduction). To recall Genesis 27, The voice is the voice of Phoebe, but the words, these are from the Apostle: “Paul, servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle…”

Epistles in the ancient world began with a formula in which the author identifies himself, then greets the recipient and offers some sort of blessing or prayer. A typical letter would thus start off with something general: Paul, to the Romans, may God grant you grace and peace. The fact that Paul takes seven verses to begin his epistle reinforces what we seen above, that he is adding extra material in order that his listeners might know from the very beginning which direction he is taking. (more…)

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Published in: on February 13, 2018 at 4:07 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Romans Commentary, Introduction Part 2

This commentary was prepared for Kairos Publications in Buenos Aires. It was composed specifically for the Latin American church. In some cases I have retained the words “Latin America,” at other times I have substituted “the Americas.” The bibliography reflects what is available to the Spanish-speaking church. We will publish it a section at a time, and eventually as an entire pdf file. The reader will notice that its purpose is to explain and apply this wonderful epistle to the church of today. Blessings! Gary Shogren

Introduction, Part 2

Literary Structure and Principal Themes of Romans

The letter to the Romans is the largest that we have from the hands of Paul. It is also the most systematic in its structure, touching upon many facets of soteriology (the doctrine of salvation), but saying relatively little, for example, of the doctrine of the end times. He 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 that 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?

ROMANS – Outline

To preserve the structure, download as a pdf file – Romans outline by Gary Shogren

SELECT BIBLIOGRAPHY

Calvin, John, Romans, Calvin’s Commentaries 19, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, 1979. The reader may access this volume at http://www.ccel.org/ccel/calvin/calcom38.html.

Cevallos, Juan Carlos y Rubén O. Zorzoli, eds., Romanos, Comentario Bíblico Mundo Hispano 19, Mundo Hispano, El Paso, 1999.

Cranfield, C. E. B., Epistle to the Romans, ICC, 2 vols., 2nd ed., T. & T. Clark, Edinburgh, 2004. The reader may prefer to use the abbreviated version, Romans: a shorter commentary, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, 1985.

Dunn, J. D. G., Romans, Word Biblical Commentary 38A-B, Nelson, Nashville, 1988.

Hendriksen, William, Romans: New Testament Commentary, 2 vols., Baker, Grand Rapids, 1980.

Jewett, Robert, Romans: A Commentary, Hermeneia, Augsburg Fortress, Minneapolis, 2006.

Käsemann, Ernst, Commentary on Romans, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, 1980.

Keener, Craig S., The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament, 2nd ed., IVP, Downers Grove, 2014.

Ladd, George E., A Theology of the New Testament, rev. ed., Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, 1993.

Moo, Douglas J., Romans, NICNT, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, 1996.

Stott, John, The Message of Romans, IVP, Downers Grove, 2001.

Wesley, John, Wesley’s Notes on the Bible, Francis Asbury, Grand Rapids, 1987. The reader may access this volume at https://www.biblestudytools.com/commentaries/wesleys-explanatory-notes/romans/.

Wilckens, Ulrich, La carta a los Romanos, Biblioteca de Estudios Bíblicos 62, 2 vols., Sígueme, Salamanca, 1992.

“Romans Commentary, Introduction Part 2,” by Gary S. Shogren, Professor of New Testament, Seminario ESEPA, San José, Costa Rica

Published in: on February 7, 2018 at 2:31 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Romans Commentary, Introduction Part 1

This commentary was prepared for Kairos Publications in Buenos Aires. It was composed specifically for the Latin American church. In some cases I have retained the words “Latin America,” at other times I have substituted “the Americas.” The bibliography reflects what is available to the Spanish-speaking church. We will publish it a section at a time, and eventually as an entire pdf file. The reader will notice that its purpose is to explain and apply this wonderful epistle to the church of today. Blessings! Gary Shogren

Introduction

The epistle to the Romans rises to meet the reader 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. Today’s disciple 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). Beyond that, secondly, 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 now call 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 the Americas 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.

Author and Date

Romans was written by the apostle Paul and almost certainly sent from the city of Corinth. While some commentators express doubts over whether the apostle really wrote Ephesians or the Pastoral Epistles, no-one has had any serious misgivings that Paul authored this document, dictating Romans to a Christian named Tertius (16:22), who wrote it down and perhaps polished its style. A Christian woman named Phoebe then took the letter to Rome (see comments on 16:1-2), a sea voyage of 2-3 weeks from Corinth.

At one time many believed that parts of Romans 15 or 16 were not part of the original epistle, but that Romans was sewn together from various letters. In that case, the last chapter might have been a short greeting sent to the church of Ephesus. This theory arose in part because it seemed unlikely that Paul could have known so many people in Rome, whereas he had spent years in Ephesus, which also happened to be Priscilla and Aquila’s last known location (cp. 16:3 with Acts 18:26). Secondly, there seem to be too many benedictions and closing remarks for just one letter. However, the tide of opinion turned in the 1970s with the publication of new research, which indicated that Romans as we now have it was always one, integrated document, sent to Rome.

Paul wrote Romans near the end of his third journey, while he was spending three months in “Greece” or Achaia (Acts 20:2), which region included the churches in Athens, Corinth, and the port of Cenchrea (see 16:1). He possibly also wrote Galatians around that time. Romans can be dated to AD 58, although some believe that 57 is more accurate.

Paul’s writing style reflects his dual upbringing. He had been trained to be a rabbi under the famed Gamaliel I, the very man who counseled the Sanhedrin to have patience with the followers of Jesus (Acts 5:33-40). The rabbi-trainee Sha’ul would have been taught how to study the Law, pass on traditions, and expound a theological position to other rabbis. It is particularly evident in 1:18-3:20 that he could speak in a Jewish manner to other students of Torah, using their own Scriptures to defend the gospel of Jesus. He also seems adept at the Greek language and rhetoric, perhaps gained as a schoolboy at Tarsus.

Historical Context

Taken all together, the Christians in Rome may have numbered in the hundreds. The church was really a network of congregations, some meeting in Transtiberum, a poor and disagreeable neighborhood where Jews tended to live; Jewish Christians were probably low on the social and economic scale. Other congregations met in the homes of non-Jews. Among the Christians in Rome, as hints Paul in chapter 14, the gentile believers outnumbered the Jewish ones. Rome had a population of about 1 million, and experts calculate that there were perhaps 50,000 Jewish residents, that is, 5% of the population. We now know where some of the synagogues were, in and around Rome, buildings that were regarded as “houses of prayer” and also centers of instruction in the Law, the Torah. The Christians were a tiny sect in a sea of paganism. They had no neighborhood synagogue buildings nor grandiose temples but met in crowded apartments or in larger private dwellings. Aquila and Priscilla hosted one congregation “that meets in their house” (see 16:3-5); Romans 16 probably alludes to others. Paul knew about 26 of the Roman Christians by name. It is possible that he encountered most of them around the time that Jews were expelled from Rome in AD 49; that’s how he met the exiles Priscilla and Aquila in Corinth (Acts 18:2).

Whether they gathered as one unified group to hear the newly-arrived epistle, or whether Phoebe read the scroll from house to house, it was very much an oral experience (see for example Rom 10:17), since most of the people were illiterate. It would take perhaps an hour to read it aloud, plus Phoebe would have been able to answer questions about its content – she had probably been present when Paul dictated it and was anointed by circumstances as the letter’s first expositor.

Reading 15:14-33 we see that Paul’s planned itinerary was: Corinth-Jerusalem-Rome-Spain. In fact, what happened is that he was arrested in Jerusalem (Acts 21:33) and by the time he eventually arrived in Rome, it was as a prisoner (Acts 28:14-16); so 2-3 years after writing his epistle he finally connected with the Roman believers. And a short time later the Roman church would confront its greatest trial – when Rome burned in the summer of 64, the emperor Nero put the blame on this tiny sect, leading to fierce persecution and martyrdom.

Scholars have put forward various theories as to the basic purpose of this letter. The viewpoint that we will follow here is that Paul wrote to (1) inform the Romans of his future trip to their city and, even more importantly, (2) ask their help for his new missionary initiative and (3) convince them that it was absolutely necessary that Spain hear the gospel, because after all, the whole world needs to hear it.

But why go to Spain? Because it was a territory as yet untouched by the gospel, and Paul was called to be a pioneer: “it has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known, so that I would not be building on someone else’s foundation” (15:20). If the hearer or the reader of Romans does not sense this urgency, perhaps he or she does not understand the gospel, since it tells us that our relatives, neighbors, fellow citizens, or the inhabitants “unto the ends of the earth” must hear and receive it, or else confront the wrath and anger of God toward those who do not obey the gospel (2:8). That’s why Paul is going to demonstrate that “it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile” or Greek (1:16), and thus for that reason every believer ought to be an activist in the work of evangelism.

And so, the epistle to the Romans is missiological, designed to enroll the Romans – and by extension, us – in the work of the gospel. We have other examples of this in Paul’s writings, for example Philippians 4:15-16, “Moreover, as you Philippians know, in the early days of your acquaintance with the gospel, when I set out from Macedonia, not one church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you only; for even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me aid more than once when I was in need.” And with respect to Thessalonica, Paul asked them in 2 Thessalonians 3:1-2, “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. And pray that we may be delivered from wicked and evil people, for not everyone has faith.” Paul was seeking for support, both spiritual and economic, from the Roman church.

“Romans Commentary, Introduction Part 1,” by Gary S. Shogren, Professor of New Testament, Seminario ESEPA, San José, Costa Rica

Published in: on February 7, 2018 at 1:43 pm  Comments (3)  
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What? Me, a priest?!

Note: this is the abridged verion of a talk I gave at Seminario ESEPA, on the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation. To download the entire article with footnotes, go HERE or download the pdf here: Shogren_The Priesthood of All Believers in the Reformation En español: Shogren_El sacerdocio de todos los creyentes

We are celebrating the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, when believers came to reject certain tenets of the Roman church and attempted to restore biblical doctrine. And everyone remembers that doctrinal superstar, the final authority of the Scriptures; also, the famous justification by faith alone. But according to many experts in the field, the third principle, there would have been no Reformation. This is the doctrine of the universal priesthood of all believers; that because we are united with Christ, and anointed by the Spirit, then each and every Christian is a priest (more…)

Published in: on October 27, 2017 at 1:39 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Priesthood of All Believers in the Reformation

To download the entire article with footnotes, click here: Shogren_The Priesthood of All Believers in the Reformation En español: Shogren_El sacerdocio de todos los creyentes

Introduction
1. The Catholic Doctrine
2. The Reformation and Beyond: Luther, Calvin, the Anabaptists, the Wesleyans
3. Modern Abuses of the Doctrine: Anti-Intellectualism, the “Super-Anointed” Leader, Hyper-Individualism
Conclusion

Introduction

Some years back three opera singers formed a trio, and took the name “The Three Tenors.” With their recordings and concerts, they became a megahit and came to be even more famous. Ah yes, the people said: The Three Tenors! The magnificent Luciano Pavarotti! The incomparable Plácido Domingo! And the third guy. Yes, what was his name? (Ah, yes! The unforgettable José Carreras!)

We are celebrating the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, when believers came to reject certain tenets of the Roman church and attempted to restore biblical doctrine. And everyone remembers that doctrinal superstar, the final authority of the Scriptures; also, the famous justification by faith alone. But according to many experts in the field, without the “third tenor,” the third principle, there would have been no Reformation. This is the doctrine of the universal priesthood of all believers; that is, that Christ is the one and only high priest, and that because we are united with Christ, and anointed by the Spirit, then each and every Christian is a priest.

Its biblical basis, among other texts, is:

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation (1 Pet 2:9, the NIV here and elsewhere in this paper). This is lifted textually from the promise made to Israel in Exodus 19:6 LXX – “you will be for me a kingdom of priests.”

[Christ] has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father (Rev 1:6).[i]

Theology Puzzle: Circle the priest in this photo. It’s fun!

Interestingly enough, the Protestant and the Catholic both are in agreement with respect to the importance of the doctrine, since priesthood is not a peripheral doctrine or secondary; it is one vital component of how we understand salvation itself.

1. The Catholic Doctrine

The Roman doctrine is that, of course, there is only one high priest, Christ, after the order of Melchizedek. Therefore, the ecclesiastical priesthood cannot be said to be a separate entity, but rather a participation by the ordained in the one true priest in heaven. The technical term is that the Catholic priests act in persona Christi, that is, “in the person of Christ.” (more…)

Published in: on October 22, 2017 at 10:50 am  Comments (5)  
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Benny Hinn’s nephew rejects his “gospel” of properity

This is one of the most interesting articles I have read in a while, so I will post a link to it HERE.

I am particularly tickled that he got, well, got “saved” I think is the appropriate term, by simply reading his Bible.

The so-called Prosperity Gospel, Word of Faith, Rhema Doctrine, Decreeing, whatever, is vitiating the church in my region, Central America.

Costi Hinn, a survivor of the Prosperity Gospel

False Apostles are Smacked Down by Hurricane Irma!

Companion essay: “Why would a hurricane hit Texas and Florida and not, for example, Alabama?”

As Hurricane Irma approached Florida in September 2017, Latin America awoke to hear a number of its anointed prophets and apostles shouting, “You, Irma, go away!”

This is a manifestation of the doctrine known as the Prosperity Gospel, the Rhema Doctrine, the Word of Faith, and more recently, “Decreeing” = I decree such and such to be so, and it will come to pass.

Decreeing a thing and asking God to intervene in a thing sometimes sound alike, but they couldn’t be more opposite.

  • The prayer of faith is humbly asking God for help. Prayer is based on our trust in God’s power and grace.
  • The decree is telling nature (or money or property or health) that you yourself have the authority over them. Sure, the name of Christ is tossed in for good measure, likewise some prayers to God, but by definition it is not prayer. It is Prayer’s Evil Twin, Magic.

I have seen videos of a half dozen of these “apostles” commanding Irma to go away, but perhaps Miami pastor Guillermo Maldonado is the best example, and it’s in both Spanish and English. He ordered Irma not to cross the shores of Florida and told it: “as an apostle with authority over this territory…I command to the winds of the east, I command the hurricane Irma…I command you disintegrate, dissolve.”

CLICK HERE TO VIEW. He gets to the meat of it around 2:00

Now, what happens if Irma turns away from making landfall?

  • If God answered your prayers? Thank him, show him gratitude!
  • But if Maldonado made the hurricane go away? Thank him, by whipping out your credit card.

Let’s add one thing: people have posted these videos, after Irma hit, in the forlorn hope that at long last God’s people will see through this charade and stop giving these fakes the attention they crave. Or maybe these leaders will repent, go on TV, admit to being stymied, and give back your money.

I think I know human nature enough to guess that that will not happen.

What will the false prophets claim now? Some version of, “I, your anointed prophet, was right all along! So don’t blame me!” Perhaps one of the following:

  1. “Hurricane Irma would have been a lot worse, but my decree seriously weakened it.”
  2. “Hurricane Irma was in fact stopped, but, you know, on the spiritual plane, not on the meteorological one.”
  3. “I think the Christian attitude would be to help the victims, not assign blame to a godly leader. So, if you question why Hurricane Irma hit despite my decree, you are a bad, bad person.”
  4. “God told me afterward that Hurricane Irma was punishment on us for some thing or another, and so it couldn’t be stopped.” (Probably the sin will be a lack of faith. Which you can now rectify by whipping out your credit card, and operators are standing by to receive your donation.)

Of course, some people will combine many or all of the above. Ruddy Gracia hit 3, maybe 4 of them, now that I look at his post-Irma post, as does Ana Mendez. And people who point out the failure of their prophecies are hypocrites, liars, apostates. As in my prediction #3, above.

When a hurricane hits, it does a lot of erosion. But what storm, even a Category 5, can erode the arrogance of the human heart?

“False Apostles are Smacked Down by Hurricane Irma!” by Gary S. Shogren, Professor of New Testament, Seminario ESEPA, San José, Costa Rica

Why Would a Hurricane Hit Texas and Florida, and not, for example, Alabama?

Related essay: “False Apostles are Smacked Down by Hurricane Irma!

I offer the following difficult theme with, I hope, all respect to those who suffer and with prayer God’s blessings on the residents of Texas as they pull their lives back from the flood and the Caribbean and Florida and especially Puerto Rico. And we will close with an appeal for donations.

Hurricane Harvey, 2017

Human beings are wired to look for cause and effect. The car won’t start; that means the battery must be dead! That bell keeps ringing; there must be someone at the front door!

But we don’t always get it right.

My favorite “false cause” story comes from the great Northeast Blackout of 1965. Millions from Ontario through Pennsylvania went without power for hours. When it hit, a Conway, New Hampshire, boy was on his way home from school. As boys will do, he was hitting stuff with a stick. He swung with all his might at a telephone pole, and just as he connected, the lights went off all over town! He ran home distraught, telling his mother that the blackout was all his fault! (more…)

One of my “Other Ministries” in Costa Rica

Let’s label this ministry as: “Hi homeless friend! Would you like some breakfast?”

On Saturday, I go to the grocer and buy a kilo of local farmer’s cheese, a couple of loaves of bread, and big bottles of iced tea. Then I make up sandwiches for 25 or so people, gather paper cups, 2-3 New Testaments in a simplified version, maybe some second-hand clothes.

On the streets of San José, Sunday around 7am, I leave the car in a parking lot and head out with a jammed-full backpack. I take basic safety precautions, such as keeping all the people in my field of vision – but since I go out early, most of my contacts are still docile after their Saturday night. The street people migrate from one spot to another, so they aren’t necessarily where I last left them.

Then suddenly, there they are. It takes a second for the brain to register, That pile of rags is actually a man; that cardboard box is someone’s house.

Homeless man in San José, file photo

Wherever I see a cluster of people I stop and ask, Would you like some breakfast? I used to ask, “Are you hungry?”, but I switched my phrasing (more…)

It’s easy to preach against sins your people don’t commit

One of those, “Wish I had said this, in this way, but there’s no way I could have improved on this statement by Russell Moore

I think sometimes pastors and leaders simply take whatever they find objectionable in the culture and rail against it. They sometimes use the language of decline, where we’re in the worst situation we’ve ever been in before, and these very dire terms—which is not true. If you look at every generation of the Church you see older people complaining that the next generation is just going to pieces. That’s always been the case in every history of the Church. It’s fear-mongering. It’s easy to stand up and rail against other people’s sins in a way that can cause your congregation, or your Bible study group, or whatever it is that you have responsibility over, to think “Man he is really hard against sin,” when in reality, we’re just hard against other people’s sins, and we don’t have the courage to address the sins that are going on right in front of us. (emphasis added)

Gary again: preaching about THEIR sins is always going to be easier and less likely to get you fired than preaching about OUR sins. This may be why I have heard:

  • plenty of warnings against gay marriage, but little about the abuse that happens in Christian marriages;
  • a lot of denunciations of hateful Islamists, but little condemnation of Christians who hate the haters;
  • a lot about those lazy people on welfare, but little about Christians who spend every spare minute and dollar on their own recreation.

The Bible is a sharp sword, and meant to slice into Our consciences as well as Theirs.

Full article “Engaging the Culture in the New Year,” HERE. Russell Moore was for a while in the news, because he spoke harshly against Christian supporters of Donald Trump, but he is consistently one of the best evangelical spokespersons out there on public ethics.

Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission

Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission