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.
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
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.
“Bible study – a work of prayer!” by Gary S. Shogren, PhD in New Testament Exegesis, Professor at Seminario ESEPA, San José, Costa Rica
With all due respect to the original, this is my thorough paraphrase, condensation, and updating of George Whitfield’s, “Worldly Business No Plea for the Neglect of Religion,” Sermon 20 of his Collected Sermons
Matthew 8:22 – “Let the dead bury their dead.”
When Paul preached at Athens, he observed that they were “very religious.” But if he came and visited us today, he wouldn’t be able to make the same claim. Rather he would say you are very “fixed on this world” or “pursuing your careers,” so much so that you neglect or even ignore completely the one thing that a Christian needs to do. That’s why I will point out to such believers that they are too busy grabbing material things and instead must be fixed on their future.
It is so easy to be fixed on this world. We claim to be doing God’s will by working hard at our job, but we allow this to make us spiritually dopey.
“Let the dead bury their dead” shows how we should be focused on the life to come.
Jesus Christ himself said these words after he had called on a man to be his disciple, but the man replied “Let me go home first and bury my father,” which probably means, “Let me go and bring my business dealings up to date, first.” Jesus replied, “Let the dead bury their dead.” This means, leave the business of this world to people of the world, let your secular matters become unraveled, if that is what is keeping you from following me.
We don’t know how this man responded in the end. But we do know that Christ is whispering the very same thing to people here, people who get up early and knock off late, and their income comes through stressful work. He says, “Stop fixing your heart on the things of this life (more…)
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.
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!!
Pastor Rainer has 15 objections to pastoral visitation, many of which are, upon closer examination, the same reason stated differently. To quote:
- 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…)
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!”
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
To download the entire article, click here Shogren_Strongs Concordance or take a photo
For Bible students who don’t use Hebrew and Greek, the Strong Concordance is a popular tool, available online. 
But it has a serious limitation – namely:
the “dictionary” in the back of Strong’s is not really a dictionary at all, and should not be used to find the “real, true, or root meaning” of a word
I will use the KJV version of Strong’s, since that is the one version I have on hand, but the same thing applies with the ESV or NASB editions.
We are all familiar with Matthew 1:20 –
But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost.
Let’s say I want to learn more about the words angel (Strongs #G32). (more…)
This is a topic which interests me very much, not just in theory, but because of my involvement of training both female and male soldiers for the kingdom of God. I hope to publish some thoughts of my own at some point, but for now I yield to the master, and his brief article from 1982.
Evangelical scholar F. F. Bruce promoted the ministry of women in the Christian Brethren Review, which is significant, as anyone who has attended a traditional brethren assembly will recognize. As was his custom, Bruce turned to the Word of God as his authority.
I would not say that he was “ahead of his time,” which attribution is not necessarily a compliment. But I do think he was able to see beyond his tradition and to look at Scripture afresh; also, to realize that the charge that one’s opponents are under “cultural influence” is a sword that cuts both ways.
Gary S. Shogren is Professor of New Testament at Seminario ESEPA, San José, Costa Rica
There are now hundreds of versions of the Bible in English, and more come out every year. And there is great benefit from comparing version with version. Still, if I were king, I would impose a moratorium on new Bible versions for at least a decade. If I were king.
But, let’s see what hand life has dealt us. First, there do exist twisted versions; the New World Translation is the most jarring example (available, btw, in 129 languages), as is the Queen James Bible (and no, the “Pink Cross” is not putting gay Bibles in hotel rooms, that one is just a rumor).
But once we eliminate the obvious problems, people continue to have strong opinions about Bible versions. When I write about the NIV or issues of Bible translation, on this blog or on my Spanish blog Razondelaesperanza.com, there are always a few who respond with vitriol. I have been accused of being in league with the Pope, of being part of the imaginary conspiracy (see, for example, the comic books of Jack Chick; New Age Bible Versions by Gail Riplinger; the site http://www.jesus-is-savior.com/), of being an apostate, a wicked sinner, and who knows what else.
Those are at the one extreme.
But in the more moderate camp I found out, to my surprise, that there exists a whole list of nicknames that Christians use for versions they do not like. I guess this has been going on for a while but, well, I’ve been out of the country.
Have you heard these?
“Ah, I see you use the ______!”
- Newly Incorrect Version, or Nearly-Inspired Version (NIV; get it?)
- New Liberal Translation (New Living Translation)
- Hard-Core Southern Bible (HCSB, published by the Southern Baptists)
- Bad News for Sinful Man (Good News for Modern Man)
- Elected and Saved Version (the ESV, I guess because Calvinists like John Piper like it?)
- King Junk Bible (KJV)
- Newly Reviled Substandard Version (New Revised Standard Version)
And on and on. See a full list here.
Please: might we “cool it” with these the jokes? I have my reasons:
- Because some of our judgments are based on misinformation.
Have you heard that the new NIV (2011 edition) is pro-gay? That only liberals use the NRSV? (more…)