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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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

Yeshua? Iesous? Jesus? Some other form? Who’s right?

The reader may download the entire article as a pdf file, especially given the presence of long technical footnotes׃ Shogren_Yeshua Iesous Jesus Some other form Who’s right. The results from the TLG search, mentioned in the article, may be downloaded here: Ιησους in TLG first 1000 references

The headlines are usually IN BOLD PRINT!! With lots of COLOR!!!

names

Having studied the matter, I believe that the Hebrew name for Jesus is Yeshua, but here I’m talking about the extremists. For example, “Satan has had 2000 years of infiltrating the Church, and look at it, full of every sin and evil imaginable and all under the name of Jesus.”[1] The most extreme blog I have found includes this rant: in Spanish it goes on about how those who use the name Jesus instead of Yeshuaʿ are (supposedly) responsible for the Inquisition, the papacy, Satanism, Christian rock music (!), charging people money to go to heaven. Oh, and they are the ones responsible for killing 6.5 million Jews in the Holocaust.[2]

Spanish rant on JesusSo far, the most extreme rant I have found

“Ah,” we hear, “but we must explore the Jewish roots in order to appreciate the gospel!” And of course this is true: I myself spent some years learning how to read Hebrew, and this year I am reading the daily Parashah (the Torah in a year) in Hebrew with a group of friends. I teach our graduate-level course on Jewish backgrounds of the New Testament. I read the Mishnah, the Dead Sea Scrolls. All to say that I do appreciate, I think, the Jewish background of the faith.

No, what I am talking about here is the kind of people who blog and YouTube about Hebrew Roots and Sacred Names but who themselves know a little Hebrew at best, relying on others’ comments or the Strong’s Concordance for their information, people who must resort to copying and pasting Hebrew and Greek words from other sources.[3]

The premise of their argument, with some variations, is:

  1. “It is impossible to ‘translate’ a name from one language to another. Therefore, the Savior’s name has to remain in its Hebrew form.”
  2. “The name Iesous (the Greek form of the name of Yeshuaʿ) did not even exist before the crucifixion; it was invented by the Romans (or the Jews. Or the Catholic Church. Or Constantine[4])!”
  3. Iesous is a pagan Greek name.”
  4. Iesous has nothing to do etymologically with the Hebrew name Yeshuaʿ.”
  5. “Yeshuaʿ has a meaning in Hebrew, but Iesous does not mean anything in Greek.”
  6. Iesous was fabricated by an enemy of the faith and means ‘Behold the horse!’ Or maybe ‘a pig’ or ‘Hail, Zeus’ or some such thing.”
  7. “The use of Iesous or Jesus or other forms is a plot by the Vatican to blaspheme God and the Savior. If you use that form, you have fallen into their trap and are apostate.”
  8. “Greek or Latin names are by definition polluted with paganism; therefore, the Lord could not have the name Iesous.”
  9. “If you claim to follow Jesus, then you cannot be saved, because there is ‘no other name by which we can be saved’ except for Yeshuaʿ.”

This line of thinking is rife with historical and linguistic errors, and is logically self-contradictory. It fails to explain how the name Iesous could be applied over 1270 times to the Lord in the New Testament, let alone in all the literature of the early church, without a single exception. Let’s take these arguments one by one

1. “It is impossible to ‘translate’ a name from one language to another.” FALSE!

The example that always come up is, “George Bush is George Bush all around the world! You wouldn’t say ‘Jorge Bush,’ because names cannot change!” Well, let’s retire this claim from the outset: two minutes with Google reveals that George H. W. Bush is sometimes called Jorge in Spanish,[5] Giorgio in Italian,[6] and with the French form Georges, as in this article.[7]

Georges

In fact, names can change from one language to another. We could multiply examples: Why do the Italians call the king of France Luigi XIV, but the Spaniards say he is Luis XIV? Why don’t they say Louis XIV, like the French do? In English why do they say Christopher Columbus; in Spanish Cristóbal Colón? Why don’t they say it the right, Italian, way, Cristoforo Colombo? (more…)

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…)

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.

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“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

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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 Subnormal Christian Life

So: two kinds of Christian.

The normal – “normal” according to God’s definition, that is – walks in the Spirit, and through His transforming power enjoys a life of miraculous love, joy, peace, and all the rest.

The subnormal – the person who lives by his or her own strength (or as Paul would say it, “in the flesh”). These people might quote Scripture, urge us to holiness, look faithful. They might know some theology terms and Greek words and be highly-educated. They might even be in Christian service. But they cannot attain the normal Christian walk: some live in “traditional” carnality; others in frustration and defeat; or perhaps legalism; or following “principles of success” offered by the world; or devouring self-help manuals; that is, they stumble along in any life pattern that is natural, not supernatural.

So: the Christian life without the miraculous transformation by the Spirit is…what?

Is it driving a car that’s low on gas? No.

A car running on fumes? Nope, keep reading!

A car out of gas, then? Uh-uh, keep going!

It’s a car, better a thing, without gas. Also without motor, drivetrain, radiator, brakes, headlights, mirrors, dashboard, wheels; really devoid of anything that might get you where you need to go.

This sort of person, who doesn’t know the all-consuming permeation and transfiguration of the promised Holy Spirit, is just sitting in a cardboard box of his own choosing and going, “Vroom, Vroom!”

He doesn’t draw an inch closer to God; in fact, he drifts or even accelerates in the opposite direction.

"Lookit me! Vroom, vroom!"

“Lookit me go! Vroom, vroom!”

Gal 5:17 says – “For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law” – or really, any version of religious do-it-yourself-ism.

Let’s do the Christian life, in Christ’s way.

[The reader might also enjoy a short book of mine in pdf form – How to Live the Christian Life – in the right-hand column look under “Several of my books, free and without obligation”.]

“The Subnormal Christian Life,” by Gary S. Shogren, PhD, Professor of New Testament, Seminario ESEPA, San José, Costa Rica

Life in the New Covenant, according to Romans

[The following thoughts are taken from my new commentary on Romans in the Comentario Bíblico Contemporáneo, to be published in 2015 by Ediciones Kairós. It is also available in pdf forms as a small book, How to Live the Christian Life – in the right-hand column look under “Four of my books”.]

A “paradigm shift” is not simply coming up with new answers to the same old problems; rather, it involves reworking one’s assumptions and attempting to reframe the questions. For example, the apostle Paul grew up under one paradigm, that the people of God was constituted by the covenant God made with Abraham and the Law given to Moses. That meant that the Israelite was automatically one of God’s own, unless he or she came to reject God’s Law; and that non-Israelites c (more…)

A most unusual wish: “Damn me to hell!”

Should you pray for the lost? I mean, as if it’s crushing you like a huge weight? Let’s step back 2000 years.

You and Paul are walking past the synagogue of Corinth, a building where he is unwelcome and could be beaten for trying to attend the Sabbath service. He sees dozens of men inside, chanting a psalm. His eyes grow misty: “You know,” he finally gets out, “I pray for them and for all of my fellow Israelites, constantly, that they might have redemption in the Messiah. It’s a burden on my soul, to see them saved. I can taste it, I ache for it.”

“I would give up everything I have in Jesus just to see the nation of Israel come to his feet. No exaggeration; all of it, 100%.”

“You don’t believe me?” he says. “Well, let me spell it out for you:”hell

  • God works out all things for my good; I would forego that.
  • The Holy Spirit prays for me, constantly; I would unplug that.
  • I have a purpose in God’s eternal plan; I would allow my name to be erased from it.
  • “Save them, not me!” I would cry out.
  • I was predestined to be like Christ for eternity; I would give that up.
  • I felt God’s call on me to believe on the Damascus Road; I would rewrite that history.
  • I was given the verdict that I am absolutely right with God my Judge; I would petition to have that decision reversed.
  • I would allow charges to be brought against me.
  • I am on my way to the glory of the final resurrection; I would willingly get in the other line, for those  who will be resurrected to damnation
  • I would make myself forget that Christ died for sinners. I would bare my chest to trouble and hardship without God’s kind protection.
  • I would settle for being less than a conqueror, in fact, a loser.
  • I would let death be the victor over me.
  • I would allow demons to do their worst to me.
  • I would taunt anything, in all creation, I would dare them to demolish me and separate me from God.

(more…)