My month with the Book of Mormon – May 2017

TO read the entire article, download it as a pdf: Shogren_My month with the Book of Mormon – May 2017

The Bible is really, incredibly old! The Old and New Testaments were copied by hand for centuries, if not millennia! And to interpret the Bible correctly, an expert ought to be well aware of the original languages! At least, that’s how it is with my Bible.

All the more striking, then, that the Book of Mormon (BofM) was the first scripture I have read that were originally composed in – or, according to Joseph Smith, miraculously and infallibly translated into – my own language. That is, it is the English text of the BofM that is considered divinely authoritative, beyond which version there is no further appeal.[1]

The BofM is one of the principal books of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS) popularly known as the Mormons, and other related groups.[2] It is not the only one considered as new revelation; the LDS later added “Doctrine and Covenants” and “Pearl of Great Price” to their canon.

We live in an age of people giving reviews of books they have never read. The Bible is probably the most-reviewed and least-read book of our age. The Koran too, belongs on the list. Moby Dick is really long, and so seldom read that someone could actually get away with saying, “The point of Moby Dick is, ‘Be yourself.’” As I see it, if I am going to offer comments about books from other faiths, I had better read them at least once before doing so! And it isn’t just an ethical issue: this reflects the Renaissance ideal of going ad fontes, “to the [original] courses,” and not just reading derivative opinions of opinions of opinions.

And so, my 2017 reading list included The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ. The official Mormon site has a searchable text.[3] My first glimpse of the book was as a kid; as in many instances, I ran into this faith at the Rhode Island State Fair, where the LDS had a booth and a featured a print of the painting, “Jesus Descending in America.”

“Jesus descending in America”

This is a case of how a picture is worth a thousand words: the Book of Mormon (first published 1830) is a long epic, which purports to tell the story of how the Israelite groups the Nephites and the Lamanites fled before the Babylonian Exile and settled in North America. The Nephites were good (more…)

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…)

Read the Hebrew Torah in 2015-2016!

Some friends and I are going to read through the books of Moses over the next year. We will be follow the liturgical cycle of the synagogue for the Jewish year 5776, with a set portion or parashah every week. This breaks down to a chapter-plus per day.

I will be using Logos 6 with Stuttgartensia as my base text with the BDB lexicon.

Our reading will be exegetical and reflective rather than mystical or kabbalistic.

For those who wish to, we will be using Facebook to post our observations.

Please, this is for people who already are readers of Biblical Hebrew. I need to bring my level up, and so will others of the group, but this is not a course in Hebrew! You can study Hebrew online from many seminaries, and in Spanish from Seminario ESEPA, from May-December every year, online.

The liturgical year begins with Simchat Torah, on the evening of October 5, 2015. Will you join us?

We will follow the full kriyah calendar from Hebcal.com, the Diaspora version.

In addition, here is a full list of the 613 commandments or mitvot of the Torah, as compiled by Maimonides; it is a widely-accepted tabulation.

hebrew-scroll-torah

Elisabeth Elliot – to what extent was she defined by her sex?

Elisabeth Elliot was a spokesperson for a definite view of gender. Her book Let Me Be a Woman (1976) was a traditionalist – some would say “complementarian” – blueprint for women in the home: assertive women are missing out on God’s plan and divine joy, and they should not seek to be equal to men, beyond the fact that we are all sinners in need of God’s grace. “Why subject women to purely masculine criteria? Women can and ought to be judged by the criteria of femininity, for it is in their femininity that they participate in the human race.” I’m summarizing of course, and leaving a lot out, but that is much of her point.

On the other hand: Elisabeth Elliot also demonstrated by her actions, words, writings, that a woman in Christ can be every much the mighty warrior that a man in Christ can be; that the Holy Spirit has been poured out on both “sons and daughters”, leading us to rethink what is men’s and women’s work; that a woman can take a degree in Greek and work cross-linguistically (in Spanish, Quechua – she co-authored a Bible translation – and Waorani), and cross-culturally both without a husband (she was married to Jim Elliott after they had both gone to Ecuador as single missionaries), with a husband, as a widow and single mother; that a woman can in our collective memory outshine three husbands – even the martyred first one – in her faithful and determined labor.

On the back cover of her book for men, The Mark of a Man, it reads: “The world cries for men who are strong: strong in conviction, strong to lead, to stand, to suffer…glad to shoulder the burden of manliness.”

No argument here, that we need strong, godly men. But Elisabeth Elliot showed that you could swap out “men” for “women” in that blurb, and in the New Covenant it makes perfect sense for the sisters as well. Not feminism; not pc; just the gospel.

Many Christian women have been blessed by her teachings about the woman’s role, but I hope we can also – principally – remember her as a model to all women and men to take God’s call seriously. This is how I will remember her and try to honor her memory.

images

Elisabeth Elliot – 1926-2015

“A Disciple is basically an Imitator” [Sermon Notes on 1 Thessalonians, Week 4]

In 1 Thessalonians 1:5b-7, Paul is still thanking God for the Thessalonians, and his thanksgiving sets the pace for the rest of the letter.

You know how we lived among you for your sake. You became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you welcomed the message in the midst of severe suffering with the joy given by the Holy Spirit. And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia.

And again in 2:14 –

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.

disciplesLet’s read some verses that use the word “disciple”. In the gospels we see the word “disciple”. Disciples are learners. When Jesus called his first disciples, he said “follow me”. Later on in Matthew 5:1b-2, “His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them.”

But being a disciple is not just learning about Jesus or the kingdom of God; it means to learn to do what Jesus does (more…)

“How do we know God is at work in us?” Part B [Sermon Notes on 1 Thessalonians, Week 3]

Paul has spoken about how he knows that the Thessalonians are genuine Christians: first of all, because they have the fruit of the Spirit. Words, yes, but also attitudes, actions, values that go beyond what we would expect from a human being, apart from Christ.

imagesYou can’t see the Spirit, but you can see what he does. Let’s start with v. 5 and later go to v. 4.

In v. 5 we read about “power, the Holy Spirit, and with deep conviction.”

When Paul speaks of power and the Holy Spirit, he is usually talking of miracles that he performed.

2 Cor 12:12 – I persevered in demonstrating among you the marks of a true apostle, including signs, wonders and miracles.

Rom 15:18-19a – I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me in leading the Gentiles to obey God by what I have said and done – by the power of signs and wonders, through the power of the Spirit of God.

In Macedonia, we assume that there were many miracles, although we have the record of only one, and that was in Philippi, not Thessalonica – the exorcism of the demon from the slave girl.

If there are miracles, Paul is saying, then God is at work. (more…)

The Lord’s Prayer – do we pray it or no?

There are two main approaches to the Lord’s Prayer (LP).

  • The Lord’s Prayer was meant to be prayed verbatim.
  • The Lord’s Prayer was not meant to be prayed verbatim, but rather serves as a model prayer.

Most of the church for 2000 years has opted for the first, while also affirming that it is also a valid application to use it as a pattern; some evangelicals accept only the second. Let’s explore the options:

  1. How not to pray
  2. The intent of the Lord’s Prayer
  3. The use of the Lord’s Prayer in the Early Church

1. How not to pray, according to Matthew 6

The Lord compares his teaching with two very different alternatives. First, he tells his disciples not to pray as “hypocrites” – in this case, he describes Jewish men who wish to be seen by other people (Matt 6:5-6). The problem was not that they stood to pray in the synagogue or Temple (Luke 18:9); that was common practice. Nor that they prayed in public; that too was the norm. The problem was their motivation, to be seen praying with extravagant piety. If they wanted to give the litmus test to their own motivations, they might try praying in private and see if they are still so earnest.

"Don't pray like the pagans do!"

“Don’t pray like the pagans do!”

The second warning has to do with “pagans.” They pray with “many words” and with “babbling.” This clause is poorly interpreted by some. Jesus is not saying, “Don’t pray like they do in the synagogue, because they use set prayers.” Rather he points to pagans who use magical formulas to gain the attention of their gods, like the one shown in the picture. In paganism, the more words the better, and the practitioner would crank out prayer after prayer of nonsense sentences. (more…)

Your preaching: does it go out over “channel clear” or “channel staticky”?

"And so, brothers SSSSSS reason for faith SSSSSSS glorif SSSSSS Amen? SSSSS"

“And so, brothers SSSSSS reason for faith SSSSSSS glorif SSSSSS Amen? SSSSS”

Last Sunday I was on a road trip, and wanted to hear some Bible teaching. I guess we had already driven past the FM station that I picked up, so we got a garbled message:

words words static words static words static static

When the buzzes and pops finally prevailed in their assault against the preacher, I switched it off. Message not received.

People in our congregations may be picking up more static than we would estimate. At times I have put myself in the shoes of people with less mileage in Christ than I have, or even people who are not believers; I’ve listened to sermons and mentally pushed a STATIC button every time the preacher used an uncommon word or failed to explain some concept. At times my index finger has been kept very busy. [1]

On the other hand, it is pleasing to Google “plain preaching” and to see the enthusiasm for that topic. Many cite William Perkins – “It is a by-word [“a popular compliment”, let’s say] among us: It was a very plain sermon: And I say again, the plainer, the better.” By plain he did not mean shallow, but the clear and unavoidable speaking of truth.

If I love my neighbor, than I will make sure that he or she can understand God’s Word. If they fail to obey it, it won’t be because they couldn’t make out what I am saying. (more…)

The Gospel and Choice, Part 1 – Is the battle for belief played on an even field?

Have you debated the doctrine of election, jaw clenched, over coffee? In a classroom? In your small group?

"Election!"  "Free will!"

“Divine sovereignty!”                                      “Free will!”

It’s a vital topic, but your venue is ill-chosen. Rather, we should be discussing the doctrine of election to the extent we are doing evangelism and being eyewitnesses to God’s transforming power.

That’s how the apostles did it, as traveling evangelists who by the Spirit were applying God’s truth to real life, analyzing their preaching and prayer life, and later the psychological, cognitive and behavioral transformation of their hearers. Only then did they draw conclusions about whom God had elected. (more…)

Studies in Thessalonians series

These posts are based on my commentary on 1-2 Thessalonians, available from Zondervan Publishing.

1 Corinthians and Thessalonians: My New Commentaries now available!

The review of my commentary in the international Review of Biblical Literature: http://www.bookreviews.org/pdf/8733_9615.pdf

What books have I used to write a commentary on 1-2 Thessalonians? [Studies in 1 Thessalonians]

What Would a Mother Do? [Studies in Thessalonians]

1 Thess 4:17 – “meet the Lord in the air” in the original Greek

The “Day of the Lord” in Paul’s Letters: what does it say about Jesus?

The Critical Text and the Textus Receptus in 2 Thessalonians [Studies in Thessalonians]

What comes before the Day of the Lord: the final “apostasy” or the “departure” of the church? [Studies in Thessalonians]

Were Thessalonians “meddling in divine matters”? 2 Thess 3:11 [Studies in Thessalonians]

How to write a commentary when your library is 2000 miles away

Published in: on May 2, 2013 at 2:35 pm  Comments (11)  
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