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

Advertisements

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

Why Would a Hurricane Hit Texas and Florida, and not, for example, Alabama?

Related essay: “False Apostles are Smacked Down by Hurricane Irma!

I offer the following difficult theme with, I hope, all respect to those who suffer and with prayer God’s blessings on the residents of Texas as they pull their lives back from the flood and the Caribbean and Florida post-Irma. And we will close with an appeal for donations.

Hurricane Harvey, 2017

Human beings are wired to look for cause and effect. The car won’t start; that means the battery must be dead! That bell keeps ringing; there must be someone at the front door!

But we don’t always get it right.

My favorite “false cause” story comes from the great Northeast Blackout of 1965. Millions from Ontario through Pennsylvania went without power for hours. When it hit, a Conway, New Hampshire, boy was on his way home from school. As boys will do, he was hitting stuff with a stick. He swung with all his might at a telephone pole, and just as he connected, the lights went off all over town! He ran home distraught, telling his mother that the blackout was all his fault! (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…)

Holy books, wholly understandable

I try, every year, to read the scripture of some other faith. That is, read the books themselves, not just a second-hand analysis of them

In 2016 it was the Koran, which I found well worth the read, if a little repetitious. It is about 4/5 the length of the New Testament.

In 2017 I have read the Bhaghavad Gita, which is a substantially shorter book. And I have just started the Book of Mormon, which is twice as long as the New Testament.

The two books I did as Audible recordings, of which I am a major fan, the Book of Mormon on LibriVox.

My observation here has to do with clear communication:

The Koran I read was the Penguin edition (1956) by N. J. Dawood; it is meant for non-specialists and was very understandable. Click HERE.

The Bhaghavad Gita I accessed two ways; first through then through the wonderful introduction and translation by Eknath Easwaran. And much, but not all, of the 2000-page commentary by Swami Ramsukhdasji, a gift from a dear Hindu friend.

Especially in the case of the Eknath Easwaran edition (click HERE), the rendering is very clear, with technical terms carefully explained; and then before each chapter, the author sums up the previous context, then gives a summary of the new chapter. In other words, it couldn’t be easier for the non-Hindu.

Foment curiosity and independent thinking? Sure! Create confusion? No!

All to say that, in both cases, someone exerted a great deal of effort to make clear to me the basic message of the holy books of another faith. In neither book was I ever lost, although of course my understanding of them remains superficial.

The application for the Christian should be clear.

How much more should someone who is interested in communicating our true message take great pains to

  • study it seriously,
  • meditate on it deeply,
  • pray about it thoroughly,
  • rely on God’s grace to live it authentically, and
  • seek God’s direction to proclaim it truthfully and powerfully.

Also, I would add, use straightforward language instead of flowery or technical; and to employ good English – rather than Greek, Latin, Hebrew, Aramaic, or Bohairic, or who knows what. (See my long article on this issue HERE). To give Paul’s statement a different but legitimate application: “in the church I would rather speak five intelligible words to instruct others than ten thousand words in a tongue.” And out of the church, even more so.

These versions of holy books remind me of our dear late professor, I. Howard Marshall; the first sermon I heard him preach, in Kings College Chapel in Aberdeen, was on the theme of “repentance” from Romans 2: “Do you not realize that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?” He was speaking to a mixed group, some of whom were not very familiar with the Bible. I paraphrase him: “Repentance is not making ourselves out to be the worst person that ever lived,” he began, and then gave us a simple short sentence on what it does mean to repent. Clear as a bell. The handful of times I went to hear John Stott preach, same thing.

That is the apostolic way, it is the way of love.

“Holy books, wholly understandable,” by Gary S. Shogren, Professor of New Testament, Seminario ESEPA, San José, Costa Rica

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.

11222491_1028680553839403_3462959078166812279_o

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  
Tags: , ,

Bible study – a work of prayer!

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-prayer-620x480

“Bible study – a work of prayer!” by Gary S. Shogren, PhD in New Testament Exegesis, Professor at Seminario ESEPA, San José, Costa Rica