Israel and Palestine and a Hope for Peace

Seminario ESEPA held a conference in 2014 on the topic of “Israel and Palestine.” They asked me to be one of the participants; I offered the following thoughts, which I have updated a bit, with the warning that they come from a Bible student with only cursory knowledge of world affairs.

Good evening, and thank you for allowing me to participate tonight, alongside of my esteemed colleagues.

1. Where are the answers?

In my case, and I think in yours, there are answers to the Israel-Palestine conflict in the Word of God. There are many other levels, of course – historical, political, military, etc. – but our focus and our authority will be the Bible. And from the gospel I offer you two basic truths:

First – God’s people today is not equivalent to the modern State of Israel; rather, God’s people are those who believe in Christ, no more and no less. As it says in Romans 9:24-26 – “even us, whom he also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles? As he says in Hosea: “I will call them ‘my people’ who are not my people; and I will call her ‘my loved one’ who is not my loved one,” and, “In the very place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ there they will be called ‘children of the living God.’” And in Galatians 3:7 we have – “Understand, then, that those who have faith are children of Abraham.” That is the promise for the gentiles and the Jews who believe in Jesus, period; and there is no other manner for anyone, not even Israelites, to be saved, as some teach today, falsely teach, in my opinion. Any believer in Jesus is now a true descendant of Abraham. That is not Replacement Theology (or Supersessionism), by the way, as we shall now see, since:

Second – our other, corresponding, gospel truth is from Romans 11, which speaks of the olive tree, in which Gentile believers have been “grafted.” But in his conclusion, Paul adds a surprising note in Rom 11:23 – “And if they do not persist in unbelief, they will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again” and 11:26 – “and in this way all Israel will be saved.” I take this passage, admittedly a difficult one, to predict a universal conversion of Israelites to Christ as an eschatological even at or around the Second Coming. Paul does not, however, speak of a return of Israel to the Land in unbelief, nor of any mandate to control both halves of Jerusalem, nor the need or desirability to build a Third Temple – the temple he is concerned with in his letters (1 Corinthians, Ephesians) is the temple that is the body of Christ.

2. How does the Bible help us to solve modern questions about the Middle East?

I am not at all convinced that current events in the Middle East are specifically predicted in the Bible; that is to say, I see little to nothing in the prophets that speaks directly to 2017, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, ISIS, Iranian nuclear development, Iraq I, Iraq II, Afghanistan, and so forth. Taking the two truths described above as a basis, I will offer some brief thoughts to some of the main questions regarding Israel and Palestine, and will conclude my time with a positive suggestion. I will focus on Israel, because that’s the side that seems to interest my fellow Christians tonight.

Should Christians regard the modern state of Israel as God’s chosen nation? Or to use the language of one group, Christians United For Israel (CUFI), are we obligated “to stand with our brothers and sisters in Israel and to speak out on their behalf whenever and wherever necessary until the attacks stop and they are finally living in peace and security with their neighbors”? I say no, or at least I reject that this encapsulates the whole truth. I would suggest we say that, God’s ancient people will be redeemed in the End, when they come to Christ, but as of now the State of Israel has no special claim on our support, other than the justice we should seek for any nation; nor is it proper to call them “brothers and sisters” any more than we would say of any fellow human being.  A commitment to the Bible does not lead one to “Christian Zionism.”

Should Christians defend Israel, just as some hid Jews during the Holocaust? I say that, yes, Christians are always obligated to defend the persecuted. If we are speaking of Nazi persecution, we would have been under the solemn obligation to defend and protect the 6 million Jews and the 5 million non-Jews, which included Slavs, Catholic leaders, Gypsies, the mentally and physically handicapped, and – oh, yes! – Jehovah’s Witnesses and homosexuals. When ISIS looked about to exterminate thousands of Christians and Yazidis in August 2014, it was our obligation to pray for and aid all of them, despite the fact that theologically we Christians have been at odds with the Yazidis for almost 2000 years.

Does the modern state of Israel have an absolute, immediate right to annex all the territory God promised to Abraham, which would include not just all of Palestine but also parts of Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria? I say no. In Genesis 15:18 God says to Abraham “To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates.” This is repeated almost wholesale in Joshua 1:4 – “From the wilderness and the Lebanon as far as the great river, the river Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites, to the Great Sea in the west shall be your territory.” There are people who say that if Israel allows even a square meter of the West Bank to be under Palestinian control, then it is acting out of wickedness and unbelief. For example, in 1967 Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook argued that all land west of the Jordan had to be occupied by Israel: “Yes, where is our Hebron? Have we forgotten it? And where is our Shechem? And our Jericho? Will we forget them? And the far side of the Jordan, it is ours, every clod of soil, every region and bit of earth belonging to the Lord’s land. Is it in our hands to give up even one millimeter?”[i] To this I must say No. Israel has never in any one moment of time occupied all of the territory of these two texts; so why, all of a sudden, do they have to, are they obligated by God to, occupy Palestine and not, one should hasten to add, the areas of Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Gaza, and Egypt that are also implied?

Are the Palestinians an “invented” people, as said US politician Newt Gingrich? That they do not deserve a state, and should just pull up stakes and “go elsewhere”?[ii] I say no. (more…)

The NIV and six degrees of Rupert Murdoch

We see it in panicked blog posts and garish YouTube videos, and hear it in whispers from concerned friends! That Rupert Murdoch is trying to take your Bible away from you and make you use the NIV Bible instead! That he is a friend to the Vatican and a pornographer and the guy who put shows like “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” on TV, and so he must be involved in some sort of Illuminati/Vatican/Jesuit/New World Order/Antichrist/Satanist conspiracy. And of course, anyone who helps in the production of Murdoch’s Bible, any pastor or seminary professor who recommends it, must be under suspicion of being neck-deep in the conspiracy.

Rupert Murdoch – I won’t be defending him; frankly, I don’t have to defend him

The narrative boils down to:

Rupert Murdoch owns a publishing company that sells Bibles in the New International Version. Therefore, it is said, should we not reject the NIV, given that Murdoch might be trying to destroy the church’s faith in God’s Word? And so, shouldn’t we just stick with the King James Version, which is tried and true?

(more…)

False teachers: a bad road to a bad end

Few individuals set out to be heretics.

But there are those individuals who believe the devil when he says they will get money, power, cars, houses, sex, bestsellers, huge crowds, lasting fame.

“Just give your doctrine a bit of a twist,” he whispers, “and in exchange for a few tiny drops of falsehood you’ll get a whole lot of goodies!”

Thus the father of lies dupes people in two ways: by fabricating corrosive false teaching; by roping in the gullible to hawk it.

He’s a con artist on both counts, and finds it jolly to eventually let “his preachers” hang on their own rope, choking on disgrace, recrimination, back-peddling, exposure, lawsuits, divorce, accusations, addiction, disease. And then the hard stuff: divine judgment. And the Evil One chuckles.

Says John Chrysostom, on Philippians 1: “Nothing is more villainous than the Devil. This is how he everywhere pulls people in to work on his worthless jobs, and then tears them apart. So not only does he deny them a reward, he goes so far as to set them up for punishment!”

Don't be a victim!

Don’t be a victim!

“False teachers: a bad road to a bad end,” by Gary S. Shogren, Professor of New Testament, Seminario ESEPA, San José, Costa Rica

My month with the Book of Mormon – May 2017

To download the article as a document, take a picture here:

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The Bible is really, incredibly old! The Old and New Testaments were copied by hand for centuries, if not millennia! And to interpret the Bible correctly, an expert ought to be well aware of the original languages! At least, that’s how it is with my Bible.

All the more striking, then, that the Book of Mormon (BofM) was the first scripture I have read that was originally composed in – or, according to Joseph Smith, miraculously and infallibly translated into – my own language. That is, it is the English text of the BofM that is considered divinely authoritative, beyond which version there is no further appeal.[1]

The BofM is one of the principal books of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS) popularly known as the Mormons, and other related groups.[2] It is not the only one considered as new revelation; the LDS later added “Doctrine and Covenants” and “Pearl of Great Price” to their canon.

We live in an age of people giving reviews of books they have never read. The Bible is probably the most-reviewed and least-read book of our age (more…)

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…)

Mini Sermon: Matt 22, “What is the Greatest Commandment?”

Is the Nestle-Aland Bible against the deity of Christ? No!

It is the narrative in a few remote corners of Christendom that only the Textus receptus reflects the original text of the New Testament. Some would add a second chapter, that newer critical editions – which, in fact, are based on almost 6000 manuscripts, let alone ancient versions and church fathers – are part of a conspiracy to destroy the church’s faith. Their editors are supposedly hell-bent on erasing any Bible verse that affirms the trinity, the deity of Christ, redemption by his blood, justification by faith, and other cardinal doctrines. Or so the legend goes.

The evidence for this curious notion simply does not add up. Take a look at the Nestle-Aland Greek New Testament, and you will find all of those doctrines fully and clearly taught; and you will find no evidence of any systematic dismantling of the faith once for all handed down to the saints. This will be evident to those who can read Greek: they can freely access the NA28 online, as well as other information. [1] English readers might look over the ESV on the same quest.

And in fact, there is some nice counter-evidence to the theory. It appears in the little epistle of Jude, where the deity of Christ is more clearly set forth in the latest critical edition than it has been in previous ones.

First, let’s place the critical version in context. (more…)

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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My Time with the Koran, April 2016

Read the whole file here shogren_my-time-with-the-koran or download it on your phone. my-time-with-the-koran

My reading the Koran is like a rock-and-roller trying to figure out what in the world that jazz trio is up to. Still, if I will opine that the Koran is right, wrong, or indifferent, I feel I should have at least a basic, first-hand awareness of what it actually says. This, even though people all the time comment on books they haven’t yet gotten around to; the Bible in particular, unread by many Bible-believers.[i]

I bring this up because, like you, I have seen certain Facebook memes and books that “prove” that all Muslims are “really” in a jihad against the West; and that when some (apparently very nice) Muslims claim they are not planning to blow stuff up, well, they are lying, since everyone knows that in Islam it’s cool to lie about not being involved in jihad in order to be more effective in jihad. See my dilemma?

We live in a world where from all directions, especially in the social media, we see quotations taken out of context. I love the new usage of “cherry-picked,” a term that is often applied during election years. According to the Urban Dictionary, it is “When only select evidence is presented in order to persuade the audience to accept a position, and evidence that would go against the position is withheld. The stronger the withheld evidence, the more fallacious the argument.”

Jefferson’s well-known statement that “a little rebellion now and then is a good thing” is usually taken out of context; when Lincoln “said” that he was not concerned about slavery, but maintaining the Union, that’s cherry-picking; and when the Lincoln meme tells us “Don’t believe everything you read on the internet,” that’s just a fake. We run into supposed quotes from George Washington, Albert Einstein, Gandhi, Joe Stalin, even George Carlin. A snatch of a phrase from Alexis de Tocqueville or Gibbon’s Rise and Fall, also practically useless unless read in context.

At any rate, I have had on my reading list for some time to go ad fontes (Latin, “back to the sources”) and read books of other faiths, not objectively—which is unattainable for anybody—but directly and unmediated. I have a copy of the Book of Mormon waiting in the wings; a dear Hindu friend gave me a beautiful edition of the Bhagavad-Gita, also on my list; Confucius’s Analects I read long ago, also the Mishnah and the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Gnostic literature. On the wackier side, I have read the prophetic quatrains of Nostradamus (meh) and looked over some of the “exposés” of the Catholic Church by Charles Chiniquy (yow!). I read Pope Francis’s Laudato Sii on environmental issues and later on his Bull of Indiction of the Extraordinary Jubilee: the latter in part because I heard somewhere that it promised to send Protestants to the guillotine in a 21st-century Inquisition; turns out, it did not mention decapitation or any bloodshed; who knew?

I also wanted to read the Koran because of a phenomenon that is very obvious from a Google search, that there are Muslims apologists who carefully read the Bible—in order to refute it.[ii]

So, this was my first time through the Koran, and I went cover to cover. I looked up some points to clarify what I was looking at, but tried to avoid the Hadith interpretations or other viewpoints, except for the ones I read afterward about jihad. It was “Back to the Koran” time.

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Let me give some broad observations, from a Christian for Christians, and then address specific topics. (more…)

Busyness is no excuse for being an uncommitted Christian

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.

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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…)