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…)

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

Will it Kill your Pastor if he Visits You? A Response to Thom S. Rainer

Thom S. Rainer is the president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources and has a very popular blog on church life. Having read with approval a number of his other articles, I was surprised to find one that I roundly disagreed with.

It is titled “FIFTEEN REASONS WHY YOUR PASTOR SHOULD NOT VISIT MUCH”

And he is serious. He is really not happy with churches which expect to see their pastor in their home any time soon. Unless it’s an emergency. A big one.

So with all due respect, I responded to him on his blog, and will offer much the same thoughts here. (Here is another, very useful, response, by Andrew Roy Croft, who offers a positive argument for pastoral visitation).

To begin with, I thought this was one of those stealth articles that start off, “10 Reasons to Vote the Socialist Ticket,” but turn out to be pro-Republican. But no, I read it through a number of times, and it’s not ironic.

His point is that pastoral visitation a newfangled idea, that there’s altogether too much visitation going on, and it should be slimmed down and (perhaps) limited only to extreme situations. Otherwise pastor visitation is the Zika virus that will kill your church, leave your pastor burned (out) beyond recognition, and make him/her leave! Oh yes he will!!

Don't answer the door! It might be the pastor, and it will lead to him burning out, quitting, and destruction for your church!

Don’t answer the door! It might be the pastor, and it will lead to him burning out, quitting, and apocalyptic destruction for your church!

Pastor Rainer has 15 objections to pastoral visitation, many of which are, upon closer examination, the same reason stated differently. To quote:

  1. It’s unbiblical. 2. It deprives members of their roles and opportunities. 3. It fosters a country club mentality. 4. It turns a church inwardly. 5. It takes away from sermon preparation. 6. It takes away from the pastor’s outward focus (the same as #4, right?) 7. It takes away vital leadership from the pastor. 8. It fosters unhealthy comparisons among the members. 9. It is never enough. 10. It leads to pastoral burnout (see #9). 11. It leads to high pastoral turnover (see #9, 10). 12. It puts a lid on Great Commission growth of the church (see #4, 6). 13. It leads pastors to get their affirmation from the wrong source. 14. It causes biblical church members to leave. 15. It is a sign that the church is dying (see #14). And then later: It’s a key sign of [church] sickness. It’s a clear step toward [congregational] death.

So, it is no exaggeration that his message is that pastoral visitation may even now be killing your church!

Let’s define “pastoral visitation” as, where one or more of the leaders of the church go to where their people are, traditionally but not necessarily in the home, hospital, or long-term care facility, in order to spend time with them and to conduct pastoral ministry (exhortation, encouragement, correction).

Here is part of the response that I wrote on his website, that there were three weaknesses to the argument; I address the author as “you.”

First, the historical. You write that “‘Visitation of the members’ became a common job description of pastors about a century ago.” You imply that it is a recent innovation.

While it may have become more conventional these days to write the thing out in a job description, visitation of the members has been part of the pastoral task since the beginning. In fact, it was a vital aspect (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

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…)

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

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…)