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

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

 

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…)

Love, sure, but during an election year?

A fresh preface to my essay, “The Forgotten Sign of the End Times: icy relations among God’s people.” I include here not only things I observe in others, but principally the things I’d like to root out of my own heart.

The Lord’s return may – or may not – be near, but no-one who reads church history would conclude that we clearly live in the last days. There are relatively no more wars today than throughout history (probably fewer), no more frequent earthquakes, no worse famines. And we have 2000 years of unloving actions on the part of the church to make our current lack of love seem mild by comparison.

Still, Jesus warned us in Matthew 24 that part of the future apostasy will be that “the love of most [believers] will grow cold.” And while 2016 isn’t necessarily the end of history, the fact that it is a political season gives us pause to gauge our level of charitableness.

The Evil One wants to freeze your helping hand

The Evil One wants to freeze your helping hand

The Enemy is pleased to put our love on ice, and he uses arguments both old and new to entice us to join in with him.

A few of his LIES:

“If you really have the truth, then you have the right to be reckless in how you present it.”

“If you feel charitable toward the needy, that is just as good as actually doing something to alleviate their needs. E. g., if you ‘share’ a post about starving children, that’s as filling as a sandwich.”

“Violence is tolerable, so long as it is doled out against the Other, not Us. Because They probably deserve it.”

“Using bad words, even from the pulpit, is okay, since if we love people, we need to get their attention, and fast.  If not curse words, then at least use sheeple, wingnut, moron, etc. Oh, and again, this is cool so long as it’s against the Other, not Us.”

“If you want to help a woman with an unwanted pregnancy, don’t worry about saving the child she is bearing.”

And conversely, “Keeping her from ending a pregnancy is the sole expression of love we need to show toward her.”

Take up your cross and follow Christ refers to abstract, spiritual things, not our daily behavior toward other human beings, and certainly not to our behavior on social media.”

“Hasty and off-the-cuff responses are sweeter to the tongue than slow-brewed wisdom.”

“It’s okay to hate the haters.”

“Well, they started it!”

“Those victims probably deserved it and shouldn’t complain, Our victims are faultless.”

“When people encourage us to act with respect to others, that’s just a ploy of the Politically Correct to shut us down.”

“We should love ‘our own’ first (family, neighborhood, race, religion, tribe) and others less.” [Note: Charity begins at home, while a Christian truth, is perverted when in Satan’s hand.]

Cynicism is a favorite of Hell, to despise the sinner, to make the Other the focus of evil in the world and the butt of “Well, what do you expect of Them?” The fruit of cynicism is sarcasm, sneering, suspicion, contempt, and given time, hatred. Love teaches us remain vulnerable, and endure and even embrace the pain that results from being witnesses to wickedness.

Christ was the one who was “oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth” (Isa 53:7), and he invited us to take up our cross and follow him, even during presidential elections, and he gives us the mighty Holy Spirit to rewrite the code of our mind to enable us to do it. This is what separates Christian charity from mere pleasantness or good manners.

But from all indications, Christian love apparently is meant to follow some weird liturgical calendar, by which the church allows us to lay it aside in 2008, 2012, 2016, 2020, etc., you do the math. That’s why Francis’s prayer of self-dedication, “grant that I may not so much seek to be understood as to understand” (see more below), strikes us nice and Christ-like, but only applicable outside of election seasons. Don’t eat meat on Fridays is sooo medieval; Don’t be charitable every four years is the new fashion!

I urge myself, and invite you, to take Francis at his word, in the run-up to the November election and in any season:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.

CLICK to go to The Forgotten Sign of the End Times: icy relations among God’s people.”

“Should we be loving during election years?” by Gary S. Shogren, Professor of New Testament, San José, Costa Rica

Is the Earth a flat disc after all?

Is it just me, or is anyone else running into Flat Earth proponents lately? (Check this ARTICLE) People who think NASA is doing mind control over us, that no one has ever been to space, that the Bible teaches the earth is a disc? Yeah, it’s a thing. It’s conspiracy thinking at heart. Basically an extension of the chemtrail/anti-flouridation/man-never-landed-on-the-moon approach to truth and reality. Airlines supposedly fake their travel times, no-one has ever been to the South Pole, all of those outer space pictures were Photoshopped, all Aussies lie about how long their country is (see the map below to deduce why – in a FE model, it would have to be the size of Russia), time zones are a fake, and the stars are just points of light in an umbrella, fixed maybe a few hundred miles up.

01 Flat Earth Society Map (Charles K. Johnson).jpg

Like so

Just for one example, here is a meme I ran into this week, one which “proves absolutely” that the world is flat and the center of the cosmos, and that the stars whirl about us in unchanging position.

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One can disprove it, I think, with a 10th-grader’s knowledge of math and the stars.

To begin with, the first two figures are a smokescreen, since our daily rotation and our annual revolution around the sun would not be expected to alter the shape of constellations in any way. So these two are moot and can be put aside.

As for the third datum, the rate of speed is relevant, although it’s off by a factor of 10! It should be 45,000 mph; this goof doesn’t fill me with confidence in the meme. In cosmic terms, by the way, 45,000 mph is a creeping pace, a little bit more than twice the speed of the space shuttle. The same shuttle that, at top speed, would need 165,000 years to reach the nearest star system, Alpha Centauri.

Anyway, the sun is moving at 45,000 mph in relation to an imaginary fixed point in space, but the meme fails to take into account that the other stars in our sector of the galaxy are all in motion through space as well, and more or less in the same direction. So it’s a bit like asking, “If that horsie on the merry-go-round is really moving at 10 feet per second, then how come he doesn’t move further and further away from the other horsies??? Therefore, the horsie is not moving at all, and if NASA tells you otherwise, they’re lying!!

"I full-out gallop, but the others keep right up with me! What gives??"

“I full-out gallop, but the others keep right up with me! Neigh! What gi-i-i-i=ves??”

Another point, is that in fact constellations do shape-shift over time, but it takes so long that they wouldn’t have seemed to move much in the few thousand years that people have been imagining patterns in them. HERE’s a good short article on the phenomenon, showing that stars have slightly changed their positions over the past couple of thousand years. And thousands of years from now, the Big Dipper will look slightly less like a dipper.

Not that this evidence will change anyone’s mind. As with all such theories, you can cut off one head (or disprove one meme!) and a hundred others will grow up to replace it. That’s one reason why I’m not going to attempt to prove that the earth is really a sphere: I’m following my Golden Rule, “Cans of Worms shall not be Opened on This Blog.”

imagesToxicity warning: Flat Eartherism as such is a relatively harmless notion, but it does seem to come tangled up with anti-Semitism (the Zionists control NASA!), Nephilim mythology, Who Really Killed Diana theories, “Fold up a dollar bill and tell me you don’t see the Illuminati!” handcrafts, and other conspiracy thinking. As careful study has shown, “people who believe in one conspiracy are prone to believe others.” If we need proof, Alex Jones is Exhibit A. Conspiracy thinking is, as the earlier article notes, almost resembles a religion, with a fervor that rivals jihadism for its fury, single-mindedness, and closed thinking. In this case, NASA is the Flat Earther’s Antichrist, Galileo really was a heretic, and “Like the tobacco companies, NASA is now trying to target children with their lies!”

Strange days indeed.

Recommended Link

IBRI has excellent studies on science and faith

Our friend Dr. Bob Newman has a fine article; the title gives it away, but he takes a gentle, pastoral approach to alternative science: Evangelicals and Crackpot Science

Related Posts

Christians and Myths

“The Paranoid Style in American Politics” has its 50th Anniversary

“Is the Earth a flat disc after all?” by Gary S. Shogren, PhD in New Testament Exegesis, Professor at Seminario ESEPA, San José, Costa Rica

An Epidemic of the Ethical Woulda-Dones

sad_docThe doctor has paid a house call and left, shaking his head. The diagnosis? American Christians have come down with a bad case of the Woulda-Dones. The symptoms? We are irresolute about making tough, righteous decisions today, but we know exactly what we bravely and clearly and boldly “woulda-done” if we had faced the moral dilemmas facing Christians in days gone by.

It’s easy to Dare to Be a Daniel – so long as we limit it to “I woulda defied the king like Daniel did, back, y’know, in the 500s BC!” The truism is right – “We are always fighting the last battle.” (more…)

“Imitating other Believers in Judea” – 1 Thess 2:13-16 [Sermon Notes on 1 Thessalonians, Week 8]

(13) And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is indeed at work in you who believe. (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 (15) who killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets and also drove us out. They displease God and are hostile to everyone (16) in their effort to keep us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved. In this way they always heap up their sins to the limit. The wrath of God has come upon them at last.

Paul here goes back once again to the major theme in 1:2, in his thanksgiving: You Thessalonians didn’t just hear the message, but you accepted it.  When he says word of God in 2:13 he is not speaking of “the Bible” – in this case the Old Testament – but the gospel message.

They accepted it “not as a human word”, in the sense of “not as something that people made up”, but as what it is, the message God spoke. See how he keeps repeating the word “God” (we have underlined it above).

And the gospel message works in them, transforming them from the inside out. This reminds us of a key text from Isa 55:11:

…so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.

And now these new believers were responsible to pray for those who were even then hearing the gospel for the first time in Achaia, as we see in Paul’s next letter:

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. (2 Thess 3:1)

So, the Thessalonians imitated Paul, the Lord Jesus (1:6) and also other churches, especially the churches in Judea. It is interesting that the bulk of new believers in Thessalonica came from paganism (1:9-10), but most Jews did not receive the gospel in that city, nor in Jerusalem and Judea.

Like the Jewish Christians, these Gentile disciples suffer at the hands of their own people, their neighbors, and their local government. Thessalonians suffer at the hands of Thessalonians, while the churches in “Judea” (2:14a) are persecuted by Judeans. When Jews or Gentiles receive Christ, they find themselves cut off from their former people and persecuted by them. The underlying premise is that, if the people of the covenant act this way when their fellow Jews receive Christ, then imagine the reaction of the Gentiles among whom you live.

Some people point to this paragraph, which has very strong language, and they ask whether Paul is anti-Jew, anti-Semitic. But we need to keep in mind that Paul is not speculating about race but is responding to a concrete historical situation: the synagogue wielded great power in Judea and enough power in Macedonia to cause serious persecution to the Christians there.

Ruins of the Ostia synagogue, outside the city of Rome

Ruins of the Ostia synagogue, outside the city of Rome

(more…)

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 Paranoid Style in American Politics” has its 50th Anniversary

[One of my few blog entries on politics, and how it relates to psychology, sociology, and modern apocalyptic eschatology. Here is a full pdf version: Paranoid Style Turns 50_Shogren]

Because of his ability to describe and predict American political behavior, Richard Hofstadter’s “The Paranoid Style in American Politics” should be required reading for the citizen. And except for Sacred Scriptures and the US Constitution, I never say any text should be mandatory. “Paranoid Style” was a short, dynamite article in the November 1964 issue of Harper’s, and is still available on their website archive. [1] We will look at some of its insights for today, and in particular, its implications for the evangelical church.

His immediate interest was the conservative movement that backed Barry Goldwater for president in the 1964 election. As a confirmed liberal of the old style, that is, to the left of typical Democrats of today, Hofstadter argued that he was not simply being anti-conservative – and that he was! – but rather: “I believe there is a style of mind that is far from new and that is not necessarily right-wing.”

I offer my own summary of the script of the “paranoid style”:

Nothing is what it seems to be: there are evil forces at work, carrying out their treacherous actions and shielding themselves from the attention of the general public;

I and a small group of whistle-blowers are even now revealing this hidden reality;

the proofs are extraordinarily complex and interwoven, but the central truth is simple and can be explained in a few sentences;

we who are “in the know” are continually hampered or even checkmated due to powerful enemies and widespread public apathy and gullibility.

“Nothing is what it seems to be – there are evil forces at work, carrying out their treacherous actions and shielding themselves from the attention of the general public”

conspiracy-theory-top-secretExamples from recent decades would have to include Senator Joe McCarthy, who argued that the loss of Eastern Europe and China to the Reds could not reasonably have happened by accident, or by normal political (more…)

Published in: on December 19, 2014 at 7:29 pm  Comments (16)  
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“No, but wait…MY pastor doesn’t tell us how to vote!”

“My pastor doesn’t tell us how to vote! What he does is give out a score card that describes what the issues are [remember that phrase!] and then shows what each candidate stands for. But then he tells us to make up our own minds!”

Anyway, that’s the word on the street.

The election is coming up in November [2012]; let’s look at two preachers in Anytown, USA, and put this method to the test:

Pastor Smith is guiding his congregation with a list of political issues that he has compiled. He puts in the left column: high taxes, the Second Amendment, American military superiority, gay marriage, the minimum wage, capital punishment, Common Core curriculum, and other issues. In the 2nd and 3d column he has put a sentence or two on where the candidates stand on each issue.

So, says Pastor Smith: “Who stands for God’s truth, Candidate Anderson or Candidate Benchley? I’m not telling you how to vote, I’m just giving you the facts!”

Across town, Pastor Jones designs questions about the environment, the Innocence Project, high military spending, worker rights, the Fourth Amendment, concluding: “I wouldn’t tell you how to vote, but who is closer to the Bible: Candidate Anderson or Candidate Benchley?”

I have an agenda, you have, he she or it has, we have, they have

I [Gary] have an agenda, you have, he, she, or it has, we have, they have an agenda

Both can claim “I’m not using the pulpit to tell anyone how to vote!” Both might be faithful to the letter of political neutrality, but both would be violating its spirit. And two congregations will go away believing that they know who is God’s candidate for the office – only they will be backing different candidates!

Even when Pastors Jones and Smith don’t give you a political ANSWER SHEET, he or she is arranging a VOTER GUIDE or SCORECARD so that they lead to a specific end and communicate a particular agenda. Whoever lays the tracks has already determined which way the train will go!

In fact, Pastors Jones and Smith might both put, oh, let’s say school lunch programs, voter registration laws, Iraq, the minimum wage on their charts (more…)