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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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…)

“How do we know God is at work in us?” Part A [Sermon Notes on 1 Thessalonians, Week 2]

Paul was in a terrible fix: he had been forced to leave his new disciples in Macedonia, and he was particularly uneasy about the new Christians in the second church, planted in Thessalonica. After all, hadn’t Jesus taught that sometimes the gospel mission ends in disaster? (Matthew 13:20-21)

The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away.

The underground shopping mall of ancient Thessalonica

The underground shopping mall of ancient Thessalonica

And what had happened in Macedonia looked ominously like that parable: the Thessalonians had received the word with joy; then trouble and persecution had come, and come precisely because of the word. Had they, then, just as quickly fallen away?

No wonder Paul was anxious, as we saw last week in 1 Thessalonians 3:1-2:

So when we could stand it no longer, we thought it best to be left by ourselves in Athens. We sent Timothy, who is our brother and co-worker in God’s service in spreading the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you in your faith…

Paul said that Satan had kept him and Silas from returning from Athens to Thessalonica (2:18). We have no idea what that might have looked like, we only know that it was effective. But what happened? (more…)

The Eclectic Text of the New Testament – a conspiracy against the Word?

God’s beloved Word – you’d better believe I study it daily. Yes, as a Bible teacher, since my ministry is teaching the New Testament in Spanish and English, and also from the Greek. But more fundamentally I read the Bible simply as a Christian, because it is through the reading, meditation, and obedience of God’s Word that we grow as believers. [1]

Therefore it concerns me when I read about a supposed conspiracy, made up of people who secretly despise God’s Word and are paving the way for antichrist, out to destroy the Bible and leave us in spiritual darkness. These charges are leveled against the Nestle-Aland edition of the Greek New Testament, the exact same “critical” edition I and my students read and interpret. [2]

That’s why I am impelled to read up on the so-called Alexandrian Conspiracy to ruin the Bible. If it is a real and present danger, I want to know. If it is a false alarm, then I must communicate that to you, the readers.

“Don’t destroy God’s Word! Or change it!”

My conclusion:

If the critical edition of the New Testament be treason against God’s Holy Word, then it’s the most poorly executed conspiracy in the history of Bible study.

Let’s see why. One extreme theory has it (more…)

Published in: on October 9, 2014 at 2:37 pm  Comments (20)  
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The Lord’s Prayer – do we pray it or no?

There are two main approaches to the Lord’s Prayer (LP).

  • The Lord’s Prayer was meant to be prayed verbatim.
  • The Lord’s Prayer was not meant to be prayed verbatim, but rather serves as a model prayer.

Most of the church for 2000 years has opted for the first, while also affirming that it is also a valid application to use it as a pattern; some evangelicals accept only the second. Let’s explore the options:

  1. How not to pray
  2. The intent of the Lord’s Prayer
  3. The use of the Lord’s Prayer in the Early Church

1. How not to pray, according to Matthew 6

The Lord compares his teaching with two very different alternatives. First, he tells his disciples not to pray as “hypocrites” – in this case, he describes Jewish men who wish to be seen by other people (Matt 6:5-6). The problem was not that they stood to pray in the synagogue or Temple (Luke 18:9); that was common practice. Nor that they prayed in public; that too was the norm. The problem was their motivation, to be seen praying with extravagant piety. If they wanted to give the litmus test to their own motivations, they might try praying in private and see if they are still so earnest.

"Don't pray like the pagans do!"

“Don’t pray like the pagans do!”

The second warning has to do with “pagans.” They pray with “many words” and with “babbling.” This clause is poorly interpreted by some. Jesus is not saying, “Don’t pray like they do in the synagogue, because they use set prayers.” Rather he points to pagans who use magical formulas to gain the attention of their gods, like the one shown in the picture. In paganism, the more words the better, and the practitioner would crank out prayer after prayer of nonsense sentences. (more…)

A most unusual wish: “Damn me to hell!”

Should you pray for the lost? I mean, as if it’s crushing you like a huge weight? Let’s step back 2000 years.

You and Paul are walking past the synagogue of Corinth, a building where he is unwelcome and could be beaten for trying to attend the Sabbath service. He sees dozens of men inside, chanting a psalm. His eyes grow misty: “You know,” he finally gets out, “I pray for them and for all of my fellow Israelites, constantly, that they might have redemption in the Messiah. It’s a burden on my soul, to see them saved. I can taste it, I ache for it.”

“I would give up everything I have in Jesus just to see the nation of Israel come to his feet. No exaggeration; all of it, 100%.”

“You don’t believe me?” he says. “Well, let me spell it out for you:”hell

  • God works out all things for my good; I would forego that.
  • The Holy Spirit prays for me, constantly; I would unplug that.
  • I have a purpose in God’s eternal plan; I would allow my name to be erased from it.
  • “Save them, not me!” I would cry out.
  • I was predestined to be like Christ for eternity; I would give that up.
  • I felt God’s call on me to believe on the Damascus Road; I would rewrite that history.
  • I was given the verdict that I am absolutely right with God my Judge; I would petition to have that decision reversed.
  • I would allow charges to be brought against me.
  • I am on my way to the glory of the final resurrection; I would willingly get in the other line, for those  who will be resurrected to damnation
  • I would make myself forget that Christ died for sinners. I would bare my chest to trouble and hardship without God’s kind protection.
  • I would settle for being less than a conqueror, in fact, a loser.
  • I would let death be the victor over me.
  • I would allow demons to do their worst to me.
  • I would taunt anything, in all creation, I would dare them to demolish me and separate me from God.

(more…)

The Gospel and Choice, Part 1 – Is the battle for belief played on an even field?

Have you debated the doctrine of election, jaw clenched, over coffee? In a classroom? In your small group?

"Election!"  "Free will!"

“Divine sovereignty!”                                      “Free will!”

It’s a vital topic, but your venue is ill-chosen. Rather, we should be discussing the doctrine of election to the extent we are doing evangelism and being eyewitnesses to God’s transforming power.

That’s how the apostles did it, as traveling evangelists who by the Spirit were applying God’s truth to real life, analyzing their preaching and prayer life, and later the psychological, cognitive and behavioral transformation of their hearers. Only then did they draw conclusions about whom God had elected. (more…)