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

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Published in: on February 8, 2017 at 4:31 pm  Leave a Comment  
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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

 

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!

 

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

Thou Shalt Not Bully Those who use a Different Bible Translation!

There are now hundreds of versions of the Bible in English, and more come out every year. And there is great benefit from comparing version with version. Still, if I were king, I would impose a moratorium on new Bible versions for at least a decade. If I were king.

But, let’s see what hand life has dealt us. First, there do exist twisted versions; the New World Translation is the most jarring example (available, btw, in 129 languages), as is the Queen James Bible (and no, the “Pink Cross” is not putting gay Bibles in hotel rooms, that one is just a rumor).

But once we eliminate the obvious problems, people continue to have strong opinions about Bible versions. When I write about the NIV or issues of Bible translation, on this blog or on my Spanish blog Razondelaesperanza.com, there are always a few who respond with vitriol. I have been accused of being in league with the Pope, of being part of the imaginary conspiracy (see, for example, the comic books of Jack Chick; New Age Bible Versions by Gail Riplinger; the site http://www.jesus-is-savior.com/), of being an apostate, a wicked sinner, and who knows what else.

Those are at the one extreme.

But in the more moderate camp I found out, to my surprise, that there exists a whole list of nicknames that Christians use for versions they do not like. I guess this has been going on for a while but, well, I’ve been out of the country.

Have you heard these?

“Ah, I see you use the ______!”

  • Newly Incorrect Version, or Nearly-Inspired Version (NIV; get it?)
  • New Liberal Translation (New Living Translation)
  • Hard-Core Southern Bible (HCSB, published by the Southern Baptists)
  • Bad News for Sinful Man (Good News for Modern Man)
  • Elected and Saved Version (the ESV, I guess because Calvinists like John Piper like it?)
  • King Junk Bible (KJV)
  • Newly Reviled Substandard Version (New Revised Standard Version)

And on and on. See a full list here.

"Okay, so like, Heather pulled out a Good News Bible at youth group, and Kendra said like, "Eww, what's that?" and Linda told Meghan who told Lisa's Mom, and now Lisa's Mom said she can't come to our sleepover!"

“Okay, so like, what happened is, Heather pulled out a Good News Bible at youth group, and Kendra was like, “Eww, what’s that?” and Mrs Andrews was all like, “Not on my watch you don’t!” and then Linda told Meghan who told Lisa’s Mom, and now Lisa said her Mom said Heather like totally can’t come to our sleepover!”

Please: might we “cool it” with these the jokes? I have my reasons:

  1. Because some of our judgments are based on misinformation.

Have you heard that the new NIV (2011 edition) is pro-gay? That only liberals use the NRSV? (more…)

How do God’s servants handle unforeseen questions?

I was as fresh in ministry as could be, still a bit amazed that grown-ups had actually voted me to be their full-time pastor. And it was my first Sunday, my first sermon, with us still fuzzy from memorizing all the names of all the members even as we unpacked our boxes: “Who is the man with the mustache? His job? His wife’s name? How many kids?”

As a pastor I was rolling right off the factory floor: I had just mailed my doctoral thesis back to Scotland and was waiting for the oral exam. So I was primed and filled with data about Pauline eschatology. I’m ready, folks, ask me anything!

The first question I fielded was not about Greek, theology, church history, anything that I had ever read about.

It was: “So Gary, tell me….Ford or Chevy?”

Pardon?

“Ford or Chevy?”

For you non-Americans, Ford trucks versus Chevrolet is one of our long-lived debates (think of “Apple or Microsoft?”). It runs deeper than politics. Google it if you don’t believe me.

I was opinion-free on the Ford/Chevy debate; I had no dog in that fight. And I didn’t want to spend my first Sunday afternoon of my ministry, alienating someone because I chose the wrong darn pickup.

However the thought occurred to me (Is that you, Spirit of God?) that I plickneeded to respond differently than I normally would. Not deceitfully, but along a different tack. So: I had once owned a Ford, a 1971 Maverick. A real dog, too; many of the miles I put on it were driving to the mechanic and back. But definitely a Ford.

The Spirit works quickly. Within a second or two after hearing the question, I snorted and said, “FORD!! Of course!” (In New England, one pronounces Ford and course deeply in the throat, and I said them with the proper intonation).

“Good answer,” my new friend nodded sagely. “Good answer.”

You see, the only really wrong answer I could have given was indifference: I don’t care. I don’t know. They’re both okay. Does it really matter? Why are we bothering about this while all the starving children, etc.? I don’t even remember if he thought Ford was better than Chevy. But he did think it mattered, and he was pleased that I understood that.

Jesus didn’t tell people their questions were frivolous. He answered them, but he then turned the discussion around to deeper things. John 4 is a fine example, with the Samaritan woman’s implied question: “So, Jesus – Samaritan Temple or Jerusalem?” “Jerusalem, of course,” said Jesus, because it was true to a point, and because it really mattered to her. But his interest in the question was limited. It was already too late in history to be debating such matters – the Father was really interested in people worshiping him in the Spirit and in truth, that is, each believer is a temple (John 4:21-24).

When people ask us questions, they might be looking for information, or an opinion. Or they might just be wanting to hear that they matter, both to us and to God. And we who follow the way of love will understand that and act accordingly.

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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1 Cor 13 – when and how will “the perfect” come?

Shogren_1 Cor 13 Perfect in Patristic Exegesis

This article is a technical study of how the Church Fathers interpreted Paul´s prediction that tongues, prophecy, and knowledge would pass away when “the perfect” comes. My conclusion is that nearly all orthodox fathers believed it referred to the age to come, whereas Marcion, Mani, the Gnostics and others believed that their particular groups now possessed a more perfect revelation.

This article was originally going to be re-published in the forthcoming anthology, Stranger to Fire, the refutation of John MacArthur´s Strange Fire. Unfortunately there were copyright issues. Two other articles of mine will be included instead.

Get my full-length commentary on 1 Corinthians HERE, along with two other free books!

 

“HOW DID THEY SUPPOSE ‘THE PERFECT’ WOULD COME? 1 CORINTHIANS 13.8-12 IN PATRISTIC EXEGESIS,” by Gary S. Shogren, Ph. D., Professor of New Testament Exegesis, Seminario ESEPA, San José, Costa Rica

Preaching means putting yourself in the place of the listener

When we want to illustrate causation or chronology, we usually motion from left to right: that’s the way we do math, that’s the way we write. Preachers sometimes do so, but most will begin at their left and move or gesture toward their right. That is, what seems the natural order to the speaker is backwards to the audience, who see movement as from right to left, that is, like Hebrew or Chinese or maybe some new math.

It’s a detail, and only we fussy ones who notice things like this will see the difference. A student in preaching class wouldn’t even lose a fraction of a point over it.

But it illustrates a larger truth: when preachers want to communicate clearly, they must go beyond, “Does this seem clear to me?” They must put themselves in the place of the listeners and ask, “But will it be clear to them?”

For related articles, search for PREACHING in the right-hand column. Your right, not mine.

“Preaching means putting yourself in the place of the listener,” by Gary Shogren, PhD in New Testament Exegesis, Professor of New Testament at Seminario ESEPA, San José, Costa Rica

Pastor, tell your flock the truth about itself [Studies in 1 Corinthians]

brad pitt

(Actually, I think my caricature turned out pretty well)

It’s summertime, let’s stroll down the boardwalk! Inevitably there’s someone drawing chalk pictures of self-conscious passersby. His caricature is a sketch of a person which exaggerates some aspect of one’s appearance or character. At the beach, it’s meant to be fun; on the editorial page it might demean. In some hands, it is a weapon: all propaganda contains a dollop of truth blended with distortion.

The Scripture tells us not to bear false witness against our neighbor (Exod 20:16). The CEV version has, “Do not tell lies about others,” which captures part of the verse; you might say something untrue: “Shemaiah stole my ox!” (when he really hadn’t). Another, more sinister version is to offer a distorted picture: “Shemaiah” (who is quite reputable) “has over the years committed the following 27 offenses against me; he is no good.”

In 1 Corinthians, Paul delivered a carload of hard statements: You harbor an incestuous church member! You nullify the meaning of the Lord’s Supper! You go to prostitutes! You’re arrogant! And this is only the beginning. He will speak frankly and at time angrily. But that does not prevent him from sincerely noting the Corinthians’ spiritual successes in the first few sentences of the letter. His disappointment does not poison (more…)