My Favorite 5 New Testament Archaeology Discoveries in Recent Years!

To download the full article with all images and notes, click here: Shogren_Archaeology of the New Testament

Usually it’s the Old Testament that garners all the publicity for archaeological finds, and for good reasons: the Israelites inhabited the land for centuries and left behind all kinds of artifacts. Jesus and the apostles did not erect buildings or put up inscriptions or make special clay pots.

Nevertheless, New Testament archaeology has yielded some excellent and surprising finds. My criteria here are: finds from the last few years; finds that reveal some sort of physical evidence for the New Testament story; and frankly, things that I find cool. Consult an expert for rankings of findings in order of scholarly importance.[i]

#5. The Pool of Bethesda. The Pool of Siloam (John 9) was discovered in 2005, and it fit very neatly with the biblical description of the place where the blind man washed and was healed. The Pool of Bethesda, by contrast, was discovered long ago but positively identified only recently.[ii] It lay just north of the Temple, by the Sheep Gate, as John states.

In John 5, Jesus visits Bethesda and sees the lame man who had been waiting for years. John describes the structure as a pool “surrounded by five covered colonnades.” Now, a five-sided structure would have been rare indeed, and some skeptics used to dismiss John’s description and other elements of his gospel as a myth. But sure enough, the ruin of Bethesda shows that it definitely did have five colonnades and porticos, just as John describes it – and its architectural oddness is probably the reason why he mentioned it in the first place! It appears that the pool was a mikveh, that is, a place where people would bathe to purify themselves before entering the temple.[iii] The Pool of Bethesda backs up what John says, and suggests that he had reliable information about its details.

The Pool of Bethesda

#4. The Magdala Synagogue. We remember Magdala principally because it gave Mary her nickname, Mary Magdalene (more…)

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What has Corinth to do with Patmos?

Devotional given at Wycliffe Associates for the assembled Translation Team, on Oct 7, 2015.

B2XX0G greece, dodecanese, patmos, psili ammos

Patmos, where John saw the beast rising from the sea

I am doing two tasks for Wycliffe at the moment – with my online group we are writing translation notes for 1 Corinthians and we have reached chapter 10. Here this week our group is working on Revelation and we are on chapter 10 there as well. These are two very different books, which leads to my title, with apologies to Tertullian: “What has Corinth to do with Patmos?”

Revelation, as we have seen, is filled with apocalyptic language.[1] When you read through it, you begin to notice that for every truth there is a dark parallel.

  • You belong to the Great Harlot, or you belong to the Bride of the Lamb;
  • you are a citizen of Mystery Babylon or a citizen of the New Jerusalem;
  • you have the mark of God on your forehead or the mark of the beast imprinted on your hand or forehead;
  • you follow the Lamb that was slain and later resurrected, or the beast who somehow managed to survive a fatal head wound;
  • you are a victim of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, or redeemed by the one who comes riding on his white horse, the Word of God who is called Faithful and True;
  • you are invited to the wedding banquet of the lamb, or you yourself will be a banquet for the vultures;
  • you will use your tongue to repent, or your will chew your tongue in agony.

We could mention a dozen more parallels or literary “foils.”

So, in Revelation, for every question, there are only two answers: the right one and the wrong one. Everything is cast in terms of black and white.

1 Corinthians is the other book where I am helping to write Translation Notes, and it is a very different document! It is a different genre, of course, and that changes the style of writing, but it also has a different audience.

In Corinth, some of the believers can only think in terms of black and white. (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…)

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…)

How do God’s servants handle unforeseen questions?

I was as fresh in ministry as could be, still a bit amazed that grown-ups had actually voted me to be their full-time pastor. And it was my first Sunday, my first sermon, with us still fuzzy from memorizing all the names of all the members even as we unpacked our boxes: “Who is the man with the mustache? His job? His wife’s name? How many kids?”

As a pastor I was rolling right off the factory floor: I had just mailed my doctoral thesis back to Scotland and was waiting for the oral exam. So I was primed and filled with data about Pauline eschatology. I’m ready, folks, ask me anything!

The first question I fielded was not about Greek, theology, church history, anything that I had ever read about.

It was: “So Gary, tell me….Ford or Chevy?”

Pardon?

“Ford or Chevy?”

For you non-Americans, Ford trucks versus Chevrolet is one of our long-lived debates (think of “Apple or Microsoft?”). It runs deeper than politics. Google it if you don’t believe me.

I was opinion-free on the Ford/Chevy debate; I had no dog in that fight. And I didn’t want to spend my first Sunday afternoon of my ministry, alienating someone because I chose the wrong darn pickup.

However the thought occurred to me (Is that you, Spirit of God?) that I plickneeded to respond differently than I normally would. Not deceitfully, but along a different tack. So: I had once owned a Ford, a 1971 Maverick. A real dog, too; many of the miles I put on it were driving to the mechanic and back. But definitely a Ford.

The Spirit works quickly. Within a second or two after hearing the question, I snorted and said, “FORD!! Of course!” (In New England, one pronounces Ford and course deeply in the throat, and I said them with the proper intonation).

“Good answer,” my new friend nodded sagely. “Good answer.”

You see, the only really wrong answer I could have given was indifference: I don’t care. I don’t know. They’re both okay. Does it really matter? Why are we bothering about this while all the starving children, etc.? I don’t even remember if he thought Ford was better than Chevy. But he did think it mattered, and he was pleased that I understood that.

Jesus didn’t tell people their questions were frivolous. He answered them, but he then turned the discussion around to deeper things. John 4 is a fine example, with the Samaritan woman’s implied question: “So, Jesus – Samaritan Temple or Jerusalem?” “Jerusalem, of course,” said Jesus, because it was true to a point, and because it really mattered to her. But his interest in the question was limited. It was already too late in history to be debating such matters – the Father was really interested in people worshiping him in the Spirit and in truth, that is, each believer is a temple (John 4:21-24).

When people ask us questions, they might be looking for information, or an opinion. Or they might just be wanting to hear that they matter, both to us and to God. And we who follow the way of love will understand that and act accordingly.

1 Cor 13 – when and how will “the perfect” come?

Shogren_1 Cor 13 Perfect in Patristic Exegesis

This article is a technical study of how the Church Fathers interpreted Paul´s prediction that tongues, prophecy, and knowledge would pass away when “the perfect” comes. My conclusion is that nearly all orthodox fathers believed it referred to the age to come, whereas Marcion, Mani, the Gnostics and others believed that their particular groups now possessed a more perfect revelation.

This article was originally going to be re-published in the forthcoming anthology, Stranger to Fire, the refutation of John MacArthur´s Strange Fire. Unfortunately there were copyright issues. Two other articles of mine will be included instead.

Get my full-length commentary on 1 Corinthians HERE, along with two other free books!

 

“HOW DID THEY SUPPOSE ‘THE PERFECT’ WOULD COME? 1 CORINTHIANS 13.8-12 IN PATRISTIC EXEGESIS,” by Gary S. Shogren, Ph. D., Professor of New Testament Exegesis, Seminario ESEPA, San José, Costa Rica

Gog of Magog is dead…and I have seen his grave

Link – How to calculate when Jesus will come – without even being a prophet!

In my first days as a Christian, they filled me in that the Soviet Union was predicted in Ezekiel 38-39 and that Russia and the Warsaw Pact countries would attack Israel at any time. Hal Lindsey’s The Late Great Planet Earth was the #1 bestseller; it had a chapter called “Russia is a Gog,” and said it was clear as could be that the Bible foretold a Soviet invasion more than 2500 years ago.[1]

great

With the Russian invasion of Crimea and Ukraine, this topic has come to the fore once again. Google Magog Russia and you will see how many “prophecy experts” take the Lindsey/Russia view as gospel, without doing any serious biblical or historical research of the basic facts. [2] For example, now Perry Stone seems to have invented an entire End Time scenario out of this interpretation; it includes, of course, the prediction that the current US president – Obama – is the linchpin of  the apocalypse; as I update this post, Obama only has 15 days left in office, so things had better speed up. I should also mention Joel Rosenberg’s Ezekiel Option; clearly, he too has done no independent research on this aspect of Ezekiel and depends on earlier, faulty, investigation.

Where did this idea that Magog is Russia come from? From an amateurish reading of certain Hebrew terms.

Rosh – this word is probably not in your Bible at Ezek 38:2 (unless you read the NKJV or the NASB), but the Hebrew word that is rendered “chief” is rosh = head. But others said, “Hey, think about it! Rosh…uh?? Roshuh? Russia, you see?”

Meshech – “Why, that sort of sounds like Moscow!”

Magog – “Magog was a Scythian city, and the Scythians later migrated into Russia, so Magog is Russia!” (Actually, they did no such thing, I later found out, but that is the accepted narrative among some prophecy buffs)

Tubal – “Well, this would have to be Tobolsk which (some wrongly stated) was the eastern capital of Russia!”

Gomer – “This must be East Germany!” (a country that no longer exists)

To cap it all off, these enemies come “from the north,” and Russia, at least its extreme western frontier, lies due north from Israel.

This meant, then, that Russia and its Warsaw Pact allies would attack Israel, immediately before or after the rapture

“Gog is dead and I have seen his grave”

of the church, and that Israel’s enemies would be totally eliminated, perhaps by nuclear weapons. Imagine the chills this gave me in October 1973, when the United States and Russia very nearly intervened with A-bombs in the Yom Kippur war between Israel and Egypt. (more…)

Can the use of Greek help the preacher? An example

Should a preacher refer to Hebrew or Greek from the pulpit? In all but a few instances, emphatically not, see “But the Greek REALLY says…” Why Hebrew and Greek are not needed in the pulpit, Part 1

The study of original languages, like all study of technical background, is to inform the preacher, not to impress the audience. The preacher takes that material and puts it into plain English (or Spanish, in my case). Unless the audience can read the biblical languages, there is no reason to mention them, and plenty of reasons not to. (more…)

Rediscovering God in the Age of Therapy, Part II

II. COUNSELORS AND THE LANGUAGE OF HEALING

We will now turn our attention to the second question: how do our contemporary counselors use healing nomenclature? The answer is not a simple one, but a survey of two influential “disease” models may help us to find the roots of the therapeutic culture. We begin with the classic formulation of Alcoholics Anonymous.

In the 1930’s, Dr. William D. Silkworth (regarded as one of the ideological co-founders of A. A.) contributed the medical model of alcoholism to the emerging movement: certain individuals are physically/psychologically unable to handle even moderate alcohol use. The alcoholic has a disease of the mind and body – a mind obsessed with alcohol and with taking the first drink, and a body that cannot handle any alcohol without a severe reaction that triggers further compulsive drinking. Alcoholics manifest their disease on three levels: spiritually they are estranged from their Creator through self-centeredness, emotionally they are cut off from human society, and physically they suffer brain damage and ill health. In traditional A. A. teaching, the alcoholic may be out of control, but he is accountable before God and responsible to pursue recovery. While never healed of his alcoholism, he is restored to wellness, one day at a time, through surrender to a Higher Power. [8]

Who, then, is sick? A. A. preaches that a substantial minority of the population has the disease of alcoholism, and that it entails defiance against God. The disease is not universal, nor is it coterminous with what theologians call “depravity.” (more…)