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…)

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

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.

 

The Emperor Constantine the Great – a villain or a hero, or something in-between?

Download the article as a pdf: Shogren_The Emperor Constantine the Great – a villain or a hero, or something in-between

To many, the Emperor Constantine was a saint: in the Orthodox church he is one of the “Equal-to-Apostles” (isapóstolos) a title given to people (such as Patrick, Cyril the evangelist of Russia and others) who were especially effective in establishing the gospel.

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To others, Constantine is Great was a tool of evil, a corrupter of the church.

The attacks against Constantine come from several quarters. Some Messianic believers imagine that he turned the church into a Gentile movement. Others charge him with introducing pagan practices into the church. Seventh-Day Adventists credit him (or some pope) with changing the Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday.[1] Jehovah’s Witnesses think he turned Jesus into God, made the cross a symbol of Christianity, and established Easter and Christmas. All of these parties tend to gang up and use the same materials as the basis for their attacks – for example, many anti-Constantine groups hale back to Babylon Mystery Religion – Ancient and Modern, by Ralph Woodrow (1966). And they and Woodrow borrow much of their “information” from Alexander Hislop’s The Two Babylons (1858), another sketchy attempt to connect Catholicism with Babylonian religion.[2] More on this later.

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Who was Constantine? (more…)

“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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“Children of the Light” 1 Thess 5:4-11 [Sermon Notes on 1 Thessalonians, Week 14]

Note: These are sermon outlines, not full messages.

Let’s begin with a “tip” for Bible reading – it’s a good idea to look for repetition, repeated words or ideas. This certainly helps in the case of this passage. I would like you to look for pronouns: we, our, us; you; they, them, those

But you, brothers and sisters, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. You are all children of the light and children of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be awake and sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet. For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. 10 He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him. 11 Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.

INTRO

If you asked a Greek person of Paul’s day, how might we divide people into groups, one answer is: Greeks and barbarians; someone else might offer, men and women; someone else, slave and free person

If you asked a Jewish rabbi in Paul’s day, how can we divide people into groups, the typical answer would be, Easy – Jews and non-Jews (or Gentiles, or Greeks)

What Paul is saying is that there are two groups of people in the world: people in Christ, who also walk in the light; the rest

Col 3:9b-11 – “you have taken off your old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. 11 Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.”

Gal 3:28 – in Christ “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

This is what he says here in 1 Thess 5 – you are in darkness or in light; you are drunk or sober; you are dozing or you are alert (more…)

Published in: on September 23, 2015 at 1:20 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Does John 4:22 say that salvation is just for Jews?

[Note – this is a very live topic in Latin America, and I wrote this for the church there. I also offer it for the English-speaking church].

Every time I write that salvation is for all who believe the gospel; that Gentile believers are not obligated to be circumcised or observe the 613 laws of the Torah; or that we can keep our Gentile names (as Paul, Luke, Silvanus, and so many others did in the early church); or any number of other basic truths of the gospel, someone, inevitably, writes in and says:

But wait! Salvation is of the Jews! It says so in John 4:22!

These people rarely specify what they think this verse means, or proves, or whether it indicates that Gentiles cannot be saved. It seems to be used more as a mantra than as a clear statement of intent.

What do my readers think that Juan 4:22 really means, and why don’t they say so openly and clearly? Why speak indirectly, as does this website: [1]

“Salvation is from the Jews”. As you can observe, salvation does not come from Catholicism, nor does it come from evangelical Christian churches, neither through the Jehovah’s Witnesses, and much less does it come through Muslims, Adventists, or Mormons. The Messiah Himself, Yahshua [sic] [2], tells us that Salvation comes through the Jews.

The author implies that you cannot be saved in the Roman Church, nor in the evangelical churches, but only through…what? Converting to Judaism? In another place they urge Gentiles to return to their “Jewish roots”. It’s all very vague. By the way, I don’t believe that anyone is saved by going to meetings of the Catholics, evangelicals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Muslims, Adventists, Mormons, nor of Messianic groups.

And note that he switches the terms around: Jesus said that salvation comes from the Jews, but it gets changed somehow to “through” the Jews.

I will suggest that those who say that “salvation is only for the Jews” or “only for those who submit to the messianic rabbis of today” misinterpret the meaning of John 4:22; neglect its historical and theological background in Second Temple Judaism; and also are not informed with regard to the actual teachings of rabbinic Judaism for the past 2000 years.

   1. Many Messianic teachers of today misunderstand John 4:22

The flow of John 4:22

Readers of my blog will know me, but I will also add that I serve as a consultant for an organization that translates the Bible into the world’s languages, and that the gospel of John is one of our current projects; that I have taught the gospel of John for many years, based on my own research; that I teach among other topics Second Temple Judaism on the graduate level. Therefore I provide my own translation of the passage in question. I also wish to point out that I am looking at John 4 in the original language – not in some faked “Hebrew” original that everyone talks about – but which no-one seems able to show us – but the real Bible text as represented in the earliest available manuscripts. [3]

Aerial view - the ruins of the Gerizim temple

Aerial view – the ruins of the Gerizim temple, the “mountain” where the Samaritans worshiped

Why don’t we begin at the beginning, and study precisely what the Messiah told the Samaritan woman? (more…)

“The First Task of the Church is to Preach the Word” [Sermon Notes on 1 Thessalonians, Week 5]

Our text for today is:

8 The Lord’s message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia – your faith in God has become known everywhere. Therefore we do not need to say anything about it, 9 for they themselves report what kind of reception you gave us.

They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, 10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead – Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath.

Throughout 1 Thessalonians 1, Paul lists one evidence after another that God is truly working in them. They have faith, hope, love, endurance; they imitate the apostles; they persevere in tribulation; and now finally here is one more piece of evidence, a really extraordinary one: they share the gospel.

Sometimes when Christians are under pressure, they are able to survive, but they turn in on themselves. They are like turtles that pull their heads in until they stop banging on the shell.

The Thessalonians didn’t pull inward; instead they reached out to their neighbors and beyond their neighbors with the gospel message. (more…)

“Come over here and help us!” [Sermon Notes on 1 Thessalonians, Week 1]

Note: this sermon outline is based on my volume in the Zondervan Exegetical Commentary of the New Testament; readers might want to acquire that commentary if they wish to see the exegetical work behind these talks. These  posts are Sermon Notes, not polished messages.

Introduction

A few years ago I went to a reunion; there were people I hadn’t seen in decades. There are only one or two believers in my class. Most of them know I am a missionary, and some of them cannot understand why I would want to waste my time doing that. On the other hand, I heard from a few people: “Gary, your work must be so fulfilling.” The value these people were expressing is, It doesn’t matter if you don’t have money or success; if you feel personally fulfilled, then what you’re doing is right and admirable.

Now, I can assure you that I do feel fulfilled. But what we have there is a partial truth, since it isn’t the same as what the Bible tells us. By the same token, people might imagine that Mother Theresa worked with the lepers because it made her feel really good about herself. No.

I believe that all who are Christians are called to serve God, not just pastors or missionaries. That means that if you are a disciple of Jesus, he has called you too, period. From that point on, it’s just a matter of finding out how and where.

However, if you serve the Lord because it is fulfilling, that program will only take you so far, and will sooner or later end in disillusionment and defeat. And God may at some point make us confront another truth, a deeper one: that God’s call is true even on the days we feel like victims, disappointed, stressed, confused, cheated, failures.

We know this, because this is what the apostle Paul experienced when he went to Thessalonica (more…)

Those Veiled Women of Corinth

[Note: I spent a number of years writing a commentary on 1 Corinthians for a Latin American audience (you can get it free in English HERE). 20 pages contain the full exegesis of the passage; in this blog I will mainly spell out my conclusions].

Part of Bible study is not just understanding what the author was teaching, but what problem the Scripture was intended to solve, and also to apply his teaching in a context today. In this case, we live in a culture that is far removed from first-century Corinth:

 …every wife who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, since it is the same as if her head were shaven. For if a wife will not cover her head, then she should cut her hair short. But since it is disgraceful for a wife to cut off her hair or shave her head, let her cover her head. (1 Cor 11:4-6)

My interpretation of this section is:

Paul taught all his churches that in a worship service both men and women are free to pray aloud and to speak prophetically to the congregation. Men should pray and prophesy with their heads bared; women, who arrive already wearing a veil – like a scarf or small shawl on their head, as dictated the local culture – should continue to wear it throughout the meeting. This rule was given for several reasons: it reflected the created order as described in Genesis; because it was “natural”; because to do otherwise would bring cultural shame. But later on, some Corinthian women wanted to shed the veil. Paul perceives that, while the veil in itself is not a fundamental issue of the faith, the motivations for rejecting the veil were questionable: to declare independence from men/husbands; to reject the relevance of cultural mores for a Christian; to act as if gender differences did not exist. For these reasons he reaffirms that women and men must maintain the status quo that he has established for Christian meetings.

Those women who wish to pray without a veil need to realize that they are obligated to glorify God in part by honoring “the men,” that is their brothers in Christ. Neither man nor woman in Christ is an individual unit; each must come to Christ through serving the other. Thus Paul also reminds the men: if you are tempted to lord it over women, remember that you came from a woman (11:8) and that you too have to answer to a head, that is Christ, and to make very sure that you are reflecting glory to another, not to yourself.

A "respectable" Roman woman with veil

A “respectable” Roman woman with veil

Clothing in some societies conveys strong signals about social position, self-consciousness, and gender. For example, not many generations ago, when a girl reached a certain age and started wearing her hear bound “up,” she was signaling that she was available for marriage. For boys, the purchase of their first pair of long pants was an anxiously-awaited step toward manhood. In Roman society, a respectable married woman or widow went out in public with her hair worn up and covered with a veil or shawl (more…)