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…)

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

The Golden Rule and Political Discussion

This has been the most difficult election season, at least since 1948, perhaps since 1860.

For that reason, may I request that, when someone didn’t vote the way you or I did, that we not automatically respond:

  • “Oh, that means you don’t care at all about ____.”
  • “Oh, you’re ignoring the sins of your candidate, and damning the sins of mine.”
  • “Oh, you’re deluded by your choice of news outlet.”
  • “Oh, you only look at information that backs your candidate.”
  • “Oh, only imbeciles and morons vote for ____ (not my terms, I’m quoting).”
  • “Oh, only people with zero education vote for____.” When I tell people I have a college education, some reply, “Well, there are plenty of stupid people with degrees, they don’t mean anything!”
  • “Oh, you must be brainwashed or a ‘useful idiot’ or politically-correct or anti-politically-correct.”
  • “Oh, you must be a lemming (or some other slow-witted mammal).”
  • “Oh, why would you vote for the devil” or “the antichrist?”
  • “Oh, you must be morally corrupt.”
  • “Oh, you have an agenda! (And I sure don’t).”
  • “Oh, you can’t possible be a Christian if you voted like that!”
  • “Oh, God told me how to vote, so if you voted differently, you must not love the Lord!”
  • “Oh, prayed about my vote, and if you did not vote the same, you must not have prayed.”
  • “Oh, that means you are a (communist, fascist, Nazi, etc.).”
  • “Oh, you just threw your vote away (maybe on a Third-Party Candidate).”

These are all more or less quotes from things I’ve seen the last few days. From Christians and non-Christians.

Personally, I can’t think of anyone I know who found this election easy. Maybe you didn’t have to think hard about whom to choose, I certainly did. This isn’t a math problem, where 2 + 2 = 4 every time, there are hundreds of variables, and I know thoughtful people who have come up with different answers. That’s not “moral relativism,” it’s a nod to the difficulty of the problem we are trying to solve.

The Golden Rule would suggest that I should do unto others (I should assume they had wrestle through this) as I would have them do unto me (I want people to assume that I had to wrestle through this).

May we please – for the nation’s sake – assume until we hear otherwise, that perhaps, just perhaps, the person who voted for the other team really does care, really did look into things, and really did have to struggle about how to vote.

Yes, it works in politics, too

Yes, it works in politics, too

“The Golden Rule and Political Discussion,” by Gary S. Shogren, Professor of New Testament, Seminario ESEPA, San José, Costa Rica

Lady Apostle Lands in Jail!

If I asked you “Who were the martyrs of the early church?” you would, quite properly, begin with Stephen in Acts 7; James in Acts 12; and then go on to Peter and Paul.

“Brave, godly men were early martyrs” = a right answer

But not a complete answer.

Why not? Because we all, simply by being human, look at history through our own set of lenses. Because of such “cognitive bias,” the data that confirm our expectations stand out in bold print, and the data that don’t fit into our grid fade into the background. To answer our question, may I suggest that:

“Brave, godly men and women were the early martyrs of the church” = a better answer

Christian women were singled out for persecution in a way that their Jewish and Gentile contemporaries were not.

lady-martyr

Let us first honor those Jewish women who were victims of (more…)

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!

 

A Year of Aramaic and Syriac!

October 10, 2016 is the day!

We will be launching Peshar (Aramaic for “interpretation”), our new Facebook group for learning and reading Aramaic and Syriac. If you can already read biblical Hebrew and would like to expand your skills, let me know if you want to join! Visit HERE.

Within a few weeks we will be reading about Daniel in the lion’s den, in the original Aramaic, in fact, all the relevant sections of Daniel and Ezra.

And we will be reading portions from 1 Enoch, Tobit, Genesis Apocryphon, the Targums, the Peshitta, Ephrem of Syria, the Midrashim, the Talmud.

Let me know if you’re interested!

The Syriac Peshitta

The Syriac Peshitta

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.

 

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

Are you kidding me??

My name is Gary, and I am a recovering compulsive kidder. Yes, it’s true. No fooling, I mean it.

Probably my ultimate attempt at “pranking” took place at the university. See, what happened is, I managed to get my hands on some official college stationary. I didn’t boost it, by the way! It seems to me that we found it in the trash. Anyway, I used it to write a fake letter to a student who had previously pranked me; in the letter, the department told him he might be getting suspended for being so immature.

Just kidding!

Just kidding meme

Another incident: years back I plotted out what would have been my definitive prank. A nearby Christian ministry was thinking of buying a piece of land, and it got me thinking: I started designing a mock-up for an “old newspaper article”, which was to recount how the property was the site of an old Indian burial ground and that, well, there was a long history of spectral appearances. I was going to stain it with some tea to age it, and then “discover” and share it with the purchasers at some point during the negotiations. And shortly afterward, of course, reveal it as a gag. But, I decided to wave it off. The Indian Burial Ground Prank was, I realized, beyond the pale even for me – I had finally found my limit. Or perhaps hit bottom. There are other anecdotes, but I think I’ll just hold off on telling them.

But those were years ago. Really, I don’t do that stuff anymore. Still, long after I stopped launching these weapons-grade pranks, I was still known as a “kidder”, and this is the gist of my confession here. (more…)