Is the Bible the “letter” that kills us? Not at all!

2 Cor 3:6 – “the letter killeth, but the Spirit giveth life.” A verse that is frequently misused and misapplied to mean that we should focus on our feelings as a source of light superior to the Bible (here’s one example). To my surprise, Calvin wrote about this almost 500 years ago – wish he had had the ability to make the error go away!

Those who, rejecting Scripture, imagine that they have some unique way of getting in contact with God, are to be regarded not so much under the influence of error as of madness. For certain giddy men have lately appeared, who, while they make a great display of the superiority of the Spirit, reject all reading of the Scriptures themselves, and deride the simplicity of those who only delight in what they call the dead and deadly letter [alluding to 2 Cor 3:6, “the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life”]. But I wish they would tell me what spirit it is whose inspiration raises them to such a sublime height that they dare despise the doctrine of Scripture as poor and childish. If they answer that it is the Spirit of Christ, their confidence is exceedingly ridiculous; since they will, I presume, have to admit that the apostles and other believers in the primitive Church were not illuminated by any other Spirit.

John Calvin, Institutes I.9.1 Beveridge edition (slightly paraphrased)

In context, Paul speaks in 2 Cor 3 of the letter that kills (the Old Covenant apart from Christ) and the Spirit who gives life (the New Covenant); he is speaking of salvation, not methods for determining God’s will.

“Is the Bible the ‘letter’ that kills us? Not at all!” by Gary S. Shogren, Professor of New Testament, Seminario ESEPA, San José, Costa Rica

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False Apostles are Smacked Down by Hurricane Irma!

Companion essay: “Why would a hurricane hit Texas and Florida and not, for example, Alabama?”

As Hurricane Irma approached Florida in September 2017, Latin America awoke to hear a number of its anointed prophets and apostles shouting, “You, Irma, go away!”

This is a manifestation of the doctrine known as the Prosperity Gospel, the Rhema Doctrine, the Word of Faith, and more recently, “Decreeing” = I decree such and such to be so, and it will come to pass.

Decreeing a thing and asking God to intervene in a thing sometimes sound alike, but they couldn’t be more opposite.

  • The prayer of faith is humbly asking God for help. Prayer is based on our trust in God’s power and grace.
  • The decree is telling nature (or money or property or health) that you yourself have the authority over them. Sure, the name of Christ is tossed in for good measure, likewise some prayers to God, but by definition it is not prayer. It is Prayer’s Evil Twin, Magic.

I have seen videos of a half dozen of these “apostles” commanding Irma to go away, but perhaps Miami pastor Guillermo Maldonado is the best example, and it’s in both Spanish and English. He ordered Irma not to cross the shores of Florida and told it: “as an apostle with authority over this territory…I command to the winds of the east, I command the hurricane Irma…I command you disintegrate, dissolve.”

CLICK HERE TO VIEW. He gets to the meat of it around 2:00

Now, what happens if Irma turns away from making landfall?

  • If God answered your prayers? Thank him, show him gratitude!
  • But if Maldonado made the hurricane go away? Thank him, by whipping out your credit card.

Let’s add one thing: people have posted these videos, after Irma hit, in the forlorn hope that at long last God’s people will see through this charade and stop giving these fakes the attention they crave. Or maybe these leaders will repent, go on TV, admit to being stymied, and give back your money.

I think I know human nature enough to guess that that will not happen.

What will the false prophets claim now? Some version of, “I, your anointed prophet, was right all along! So don’t blame me!” Perhaps one of the following:

  1. “Hurricane Irma would have been a lot worse, but my decree seriously weakened it.”
  2. “Hurricane Irma was in fact stopped, but, you know, on the spiritual plane, not on the meteorological one.”
  3. “I think the Christian attitude would be to help the victims, not assign blame to a godly leader. So, if you question why Hurricane Irma hit despite my decree, you are a bad, bad person.”
  4. “God told me afterward that Hurricane Irma was punishment on us for some thing or another, and so it couldn’t be stopped.” (Probably the sin will be a lack of faith. Which you can now rectify by whipping out your credit card, and operators are standing by to receive your donation.)

Of course, some people will combine many or all of the above. Ruddy Gracia hit 3, maybe 4 of them, now that I look at his post-Irma post, as does Ana Mendez. And people who point out the failure of their prophecies are hypocrites, liars, apostates. As in my prediction #3, above.

When a hurricane hits, it does a lot of erosion. But no storm, not even a Category 5, can erode the arrogance of the human heart.

“False Apostles are Smacked Down by Hurricane Irma!” by Gary S. Shogren, Professor of New Testament, Seminario ESEPA, San José, Costa Rica

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

Published in: on February 8, 2017 at 4:31 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Speaking in tongues, speaking in English [Studies in 1 Corinthians]

Paul taught:

I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you. But in the church I would rather speak five intelligible words to instruct others than ten thousand words in a tongue. (1 Cor 14:18-19)

Paul is not making a mathematical statement that five clear words are better than 10,000 unknown ones, but is speaking in hyperbole. 10,000 words is the product of a couple of hours of uninterrupted speech.

Yet even a sentence of five words or less could convey a more powerful message: “Christ loves you!” or “Christ died for sinners!” or “I forgive you, beloved sister!” or even a prophetic “Your sick baby will recover.”

Whether it is supernatural speech or everyday words said in the power of the Spirit, it’s all evidence of God’s grace to his people.

It is worth noting the number of words within this epistle: in the original Greek text it contains roughly 7,300 words; in the NIV about 8000.

group-conversation

“Speaking in tongues, speaking in English,” by Gary S. Shogren, PhD in New Testament Exegesis, Seminario ESEPA, San Jose, Costa Rica

 

 

“Oh, before I conclude let me just say…” 1 Thess 5:12-28 [Sermon Notes on 1 Thessalonians, Week 15]

These are notes of a sermon outline, not a full message.

This is an exciting epistle, full of joy and energy. Despite all the persecution they have experienced, the Thessalonian church is thriving and growing and reaching out with the gospel. Sure, Paul has to remind them about the resurrection of the dead when Jesus returns; and he also wants to remind them to work hard, to keep pure, to be alert for Jesus’s coming, but in general things are fine.

So as he concludes, it’s upbeat and encouraging.

This is common with Paul and other letter-writers of his day, to conclude a letter with a brief list of commands or exhortations. “Time is running out, just a little more space on the page, Do this, don’t do that, don’t forget this! (more…)

Published in: on September 30, 2015 at 1:31 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“The Resurrection, Our Goal” 1 Thess 4:13-18 [Sermon Notes on 1 Thessalonians, Week 12]

Note: These are sermon outlines, not full messages.

13 Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. 14 For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. 15 According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.

Paul has said, You know how to love one another; you know how to live in purity; you know how to work and have a good reputation before “outsiders” – you are all set, just keep on doing what it is you do

Now – Timothy has gone and returned, and he says, “there is only one (doctrinal) problem, one thing where they are confused”.

Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death (more…)

Published in: on September 9, 2015 at 1:59 pm  Leave a Comment  
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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…)

Is There Prophecy Today? John Piper, along with John MacArthur, John Wesley, John Calvin, and John/Joan Q. Christian

Download a pdf version here: Prophecy and John Piper or take a picture here:

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Is the New Testament gift of prophecy operative in the church today? Many say Yes; [1] many, No, famously John MacArthur in 2014, in his Strange Fire conference and book. [2]

There is third response, a Yes, but viewpoint which has been popular among some non-charismatic evangelicals, and affirmed in recent times by John Piper: the gift of prophecy is a special experience that befalls a preacher while in the act. In an essay that synthesizes and defends Piper’s view:

 “I pray for the gift of prophecy almost as often as I pray for anything, before I stand up to speak.” This prayer for prophecy is a desire to preach under an anointing, in order to “say things agreeable to the Scriptures, and subject to the Scripture, that are not in my manuscript or in my head as I walk into the pulpit, nor thought of ahead of time, which would come to my mind, which would pierce in an extraordinary way, so that 1 Corinthians 14:24-25 happens.” [3]

The Corinthians text is he refers to is:

But if all prophesy, an unbeliever or outsider who enters is reproved by all and called to account by all. After the secrets of the unbeliever’s heart are disclosed, that person will bow down before God and worship him, declaring, “God is really among you.”

imagesThe difficulty here is the fact that in the New Testament the sina qua non of prophetic utterance is that the prophets passes along information from God which is not knowable from mere human observation or reasoning. [4] (more…)

“Come over here and help us!” [Sermon Notes on 1 Thessalonians, Week 1]

Note: this sermon outline is based on my volume in the Zondervan Exegetical Commentary of the New Testament; readers might want to acquire that commentary if they wish to see the exegetical work behind these talks. These  posts are Sermon Notes, not polished messages.

Introduction

A few years ago I went to a reunion; there were people I hadn’t seen in decades. There are only one or two believers in my class. Most of them know I am a missionary, and some of them cannot understand why I would want to waste my time doing that. On the other hand, I heard from a few people: “Gary, your work must be so fulfilling.” The value these people were expressing is, It doesn’t matter if you don’t have money or success; if you feel personally fulfilled, then what you’re doing is right and admirable.

Now, I can assure you that I do feel fulfilled. But what we have there is a partial truth, since it isn’t the same as what the Bible tells us. By the same token, people might imagine that Mother Theresa worked with the lepers because it made her feel really good about herself. No.

I believe that all who are Christians are called to serve God, not just pastors or missionaries. That means that if you are a disciple of Jesus, he has called you too, period. From that point on, it’s just a matter of finding out how and where.

However, if you serve the Lord because it is fulfilling, that program will only take you so far, and will sooner or later end in disillusionment and defeat. And God may at some point make us confront another truth, a deeper one: that God’s call is true even on the days we feel like victims, disappointed, stressed, confused, cheated, failures.

We know this, because this is what the apostle Paul experienced when he went to Thessalonica (more…)

FREE BOOK FOR CHRISTMAS!

As a Christmas gift this year, I have bundled together some of my blog posts that have to deal with “How to Life the Christian Life: throw out the old rules and play by the New Covenant.” Over a hundred of you have downloaded it already – enjoy!

Simply click here: How to live the Christian Life_Shogren

I ask only that you consider signing up for my blog on the right-hand column. Either way, the gift is without obligation, and I will not use your email or name in any way.

Gary Shogren, Christmas 2014

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