Book Plunge: Imagine Heaven

What do I think of John Burke’s book published by Baker Books? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

John Burke’s book could be the most exciting book on near-death experiences (NDEs) that I have ever read. While the majority are not evidential in the sense that they tell about people seeing things that they could not have seen that can be verified, that doesn’t mean that there isn’t much information here that should bring joy to the heart of a Christian. Namely, are some of the ideas about what is possible in the city that is being prepared for us.

This doesn’t mean that we shut our brains off and just believe entirely everything said. One has to be on guard because there have been fake accounts of people having NDEs. Burke is right though that many of these come from people who could face public embarrassment for claiming the things that they do claim. What do they gain by making them up always?

Burke is also very reliant on Scripture to make sure that the claims do not go beyond what is written. When one reads the accounts, it’s hard to not get excited. Light is a common refrain that shows up and life is right behind it. It’s as if the place that is coming is full of light that seems to move through everything and life is all around us.

Beauty also plays a major role and with this one, I was surprised that Burke didn’t address an issue that many men wonder about and that is the issue of marriage and sex in Heaven. I think marriage could have been addressed, but not the sexuality aspect. I remain uncertain about whether it will be in heaven, though making babies certainly will not take place. Still, what it is here should be seen as a foretaste of what is coming with God flirting with us about the joys of this world.

Some ideas that were really convicting also included hellish NDEs and the life review. For the NDEs of a more hellish nature, I found myself looking at my life and wondering if I was living that nature more sometimes. I do think I found some areas in which I can improve.

The life review was something common to come across as well. In this, people would review their lives like they were movies and see thoughts and emotions and how their tiniest actions affected people around them. The main question that was being asked is “What did you do with the life that I gave you?” In the accounts, Jesus cares deeply about how we treat other people around us.

I also found it interesting to hear about actual homes in the next world. This was intriguing to think of places where people live in a city. I was very pleased to hear about books being there and the constant pursuit and learning of knowledge.

Burke at one point does describe a welcoming committee and one reason they come is protection. More was said to be coming about this later, but I don’t remember it coming and it was something I was looking for. It could have been hellish NDEs, but that was not specified.

Again, I do not think that we should accept blindly every account given of an NDE, but there are too many to just dismiss them. More and more of them are also coming with evidence that can be verified.  Those with an interest in this field need to read this one.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Evidence Considered Chapter 36

Were the resurrection appearances hallucinations? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

It’s been awhile since we looked at Glenton Jelbert’s work. Let’s get back into that. This time, we’re looking at his response to Michael Licona’s chapter on the appearances. Thankfully, there is no denial that the appearances happened. The difference is still based on what they are.

Jelbert quotes Licona who quotes Dale Allison saying that the topic of the historicity of the resurrection is the prize puzzle of New Testament scholarship. Jelbert tells us that this sentence succinctly concedes atheism and shows the presuppositional nature of the research. The quote shows that even conservative scholars agree more evidence is needed.

I have looked over this time and time again and wondered how Jelbert has arrived at this conclusion. Jelbert seems to have this tendency to make grand leaps without showing he’s really understood what has been said and is assuming a conclusion thinking everyone else will see how obvious it will. No. We won’t.

All Allison is saying is that the question of Jesus is the great topic of controversy in New Testament Studies. A number of New Testament scholars on both sides don’t even touch it. I still have no idea how Jelbert arrived at the conclusion that he did, but even if he does arrive at that conclusion, he should tell his readers how he arrived at it.

Jelbert quotes Licona speaking about the possibility of one person saying “I see Jesus here” and then another saying something else and hysteria developing. There is a great problem with this. I say this as a man married to a woman who has hallucinations. Normally, these hallucinations are all realized quickly. The only exception would be an extreme case of schizophrenia like that in A Beautiful Mind.

Of course, for this to follow, this must mean that of all the people Jesus chose to be His disciples, all of them had to have this kind of schizophrenia or something similar. After all, normally once a hallucination is done, while there can be some fear associated with it, it is realized to be a hallucination and one moves on. For the disciples, there is no indication that they moved on. They were convinced this was real.

Licona then quotes Gary Sibcy who says that there is no record in the peer-reviewed journal of a documented case of a group hallucination. Jelbert responds that the apparitions of Mary, including the famous example of appearances to six children in 1981 in Medjugorje suggest otherwise.

Yet here, Jelbert is assuming what he needs to prove. Let’s consider some points. First off, it could be the children are playing and that they are the only ones claiming to see something, but if playing, this is not a mass hallucination and if all we have are children seeing this while doing this and adults there claiming to believe them, that is a mass delusion and not a mass hallucination. I am not saying this is what happened. I am saying this is a possibility.

Second possibility, it could be the Catholics are right and this is an appearance of Mary. Again, as a non-Catholic, I am skeptical, but it would explain the data. If so, then this is not a hallucination.

Third, it could be that there was something there, but that this was a demon posing as the Virgin Mary. Again, I am not saying this is what happened but presenting all possibilities. Again, if there really was something there, then this is not a mass hallucination.

What Jelbert needs to do is demonstrate that there was no external referent. Since I doubt he was at the event, I don’t think he can do this. Further, the only way to establish there was no such referent is if he says there was no referent because such appearances by demons or the Virgin Mary do not happen and we know this because these things don’t exist. In this case, he is the one arguing in a circle.

When we get to Paul, Jelbert says Paul watched Stephen get stoned and heard Stephen talking about heaven opening and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God. He says it’s not hard to imagine such an emotional and traumatic experience impressing even an “enemy.” Well, yes, if you want to do psycho-history and assume people in the ancient world thought just like we do. There’s no indication that Saul had any guilt whatsoever in what he was doing and was still going through it. This is just an account given to explain data away without any real support. This seems to be a common ploy in atheist critiques of events.

  1. Take an event hard to explain.
  2. Give a story that you think explains the situation without any hard data to back it.
  3. Assume the problem is dealt with.

He also tells us that the appearances traditions contradict. If we just go with the ones in 1 Cor. 15, which are sufficient, we don’t have a problem. Still, Jelbert’s work is sloppy here. He says that Luke has the ascension at the end of his first book and then forty days later. Let’s start with a basic assumption. Luke is not an idiot. He knows what he’s doing. He is just condensing a large portion of material into a small space.

He also says John 21 is plainly the same story as Luke 5. It’s just moved to the end. Again, why should I think that? Could not Jesus have done this again to remind the disciples of a past event where He showed who He was?

Jelbert also says that Ehrman points out doubt in the appearances. One verse is in Matthew 28:17, but I don’t think this is doubt about Jesus’s resurrection, but doubt about if they should worship Him or not. That Jesus gave many proofs isn’t a problem either. We don’t know for sure what He was doing, but apparently Ehrman is sure He knows why. Could He not be showing them the wonders of the resurrected body that they will have some day?

He also looks at Luke 23:43. He sees a problem in Jesus saying that the robber would be with Him in paradise today. Why? Jesus goes to a waiting intermediate state before His resurrection with the robber. That’s not a problem. Yet Jelbert says that maybe the comma is in the wrong place and it’s Jesus just saying that He’s saying this today.

First off, what’s the point of saying He’s saying it today? When else will He tell it? This explanation doesn’t fit.

Second, most Greek experts think the placement of the comma is just fine. What evidence does Jelbert have otherwise? Let’s see. The United Church of God. The UCG is not considered an orthodox Christian demonination at all. Why not go to a New Testament scholar instead?

Jelbert also says that shifts in doctrine could occur easily at the start where oral tradition was the main way of communicating. There are problems here of course. The first is that the best place for evidence is 1 Cor. 15 and that’s at the start of the oral tradition. Second is that oral tradition is really a great way of communicating information and Jelbert has done no research into how it is done or at least hasn’t shown it.

In the end, I find Jelbert’s case extremely lacking. If he would rather believe in a mass hallucination that we have no data for, then it reminds me that once again, an atheist will often choose to believe anything rather than to believe the resurrection happened. Any port in a storm will do.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

A Tribute To Nessie

How do you handle the loss of a furry friend? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Last week, a friend took us to a concert and since I wasn’t able to do the blog and since I like to do the same number every week, I took a week off so no worries readers that this had stopped forever. While my wife enjoyed the concert (I actually stayed in the hotel to read instead which was fine to her and her friend), she had something concerning her. What about Nessie?

Just after my wife turned twelve, her family went to get a dog and had decided to get a West Highland White Terrier. The dog was named Nessie and Allie had a strong bond with her. When I started dating Allie, there were times when Allie and I would be sitting on the couch and the dog would jump up in between us. We suspect she didn’t like me too much then. After we married, Nessie stayed with Allie’s parents and when I came over for awhile to visit, she did seem a bit cold to me, perhaps saying I was the one who took Allie away. Eventually, she did come to accept me.

But that was about 16 years ago. Dogs age like everything else does. Nessie was getting sicker. Her hearing and eyesight were going. She had diabetes. There were other conditions as well. We were sure it would be any day now. Allie was dreading the day.

The day came and it was February 1st. Now I was the one thinking I would have to be the really strong one. After all, I’m the one that’s not nearly as close to the dog as everyone else is. Yet when I went over to see my in-laws, it was sad to see everyone holding the dog in a blanket as if to get one final time together.

We all rode to the vet together. Everyone decided we all needed to be back there when Nessie was put to sleep so she wouldn’t be alone. I actually found myself getting choked up which was surprising to me, but how could I not? This was death right here in front of me that I was watching.

We as Christians know that Jesus did defeat death ultimately, but it still has some hold on us. It’s not permanent, but it reminds us that something is wrong with this world. Death causes a separation of sorts to take place. You can no longer enjoy the person’s company the way that you did in the past. Honestly, I would think any skeptic of Christianity who wanted to see loved ones again would jump at the chance to see if this could be true.

Shortly after it was done, my wife left the room and couldn’t take it. I went out there with her of course. While we were out there, I saw the vet who did the operation go by. I asked him if it ever gets easier to do that. He told me it never does. Another friend who’s a vet confirmed the same thing when we talked to her on the phone.

That day, I felt a great sorrow in me and I couldn’t really explain it except it’s just death. Sometimes you want to go to God and say the system that has been set up just sucks. Of course, I realize that we can say that we’re responsible for that because of the fall and all, but regardless of what you think of that, we all hate the system at this point. We think it shouldn’t have happened. God should have done a better job.

Yet could I think of a better way? It’s tempting, but no. This world will just stay fallen until Christ returns. We have to deal with that. In the meantime, I think it’s okay to have that anger towards God. Not everything is perfect. The Psalmists regularly had such anger.

Here we are a few days later. I think I’ve already sufficiently grieved. My wife and her parents are different which is understandable. They were all closer to Nessie than I was. Allie has been listening to a song regularly by Disturbed about holding on to the memories. It really is a good one. The whole point is to hold on to and celebrate the people you love while there’s time.

Which is a lesson we don’t really ever seem to learn. We tend to take people for granted. They are not going to be in our lives forever. Allie was tempted to not get close to our cat Shiro some this weekend, but then realized that wouldn’t be fair. It would be saying she regretted getting Shiro and Nessie. We have to realize that love is worth it even if it comes with the pain of known loss. When Allie and I married, we knew it was till death do us part. We need to celebrate one another until that day comes that we can’t.

Too often, we treat those people like annoyances. Every chance to love is something special. Allie looks back now and says she wishes she had gone on walks with Nessie more instead of being on the computer so much. How many of us say the same kinds of things?

This is why whenever I go out somewhere and Allie doesn’t come with me, the last thing I say is “I love you” to her. If anything happened to me while I was out, that way at least the last thing I said to her would have been that I loved her and she said it to me. I want her to always know that.

Some of you may wonder about animal afterlife. I did an interview on my show on it with Dan Story. You can listen to that here.

This is a post that my wife wrote on Nessie. I hope you will read it as well to see her perspective. I think she writes much more from the heart than I do.

And finally, here is a picture I made at Allie’s request for Nessie. May we see her again someday.

In Christ,
Nick Peters


Evidence Considered: Chapter 35

Is there a case for the resurrection appearances? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

In this chapter, Glenton Jelbert decides to take on Gary Habermas on the resurrection appearances. He says that he concedes Jesus died on the cross, but he disagrees with the empty tomb. Our last look at that found his denial of the empty tomb lacking. He says this issue, however, is the one that caused him to lose his faith.

At the start, Jelbert disagrees that the resurrection is the foundation of Christianity. There are plenty of Christians apparently that deny it and maintain their Christianity. It’s hard to know what kind of Christianity they maintain. If they just like the moral teachings of Jesus, then an atheist could be a Christian by that standard. Historical Christianity has always agreed on the bodily resurrection of Jesus.

Habermas says that naturalistic explanations fail to account for the appearances of Jesus. Jelbert refers to this as an appeal to ignorance, but how it is is difficult to see. If naturalistic explanations fail, then one is justified in thinking that an extra-materialistic explanation works. Jelbert does say that if someone told you they saw someone risen from the dead, you would think there was a misunderstanding. No one is denying that. What is being denied is that if more evidence piles up in favor of resurrection and naturalistic explanations fail, one should seek more than those at that point. If Jelbert wants to say that evidence will not change his mind on this point, then evidence isn’t what changed his mind to begin with.

Jelbert also says that this was a time when miracles were readily accepted. He has provided no evidence for this claim. It could be true, but shouldn’t Jelbert make some sort of argument for that? He also says they are in a document written to persuade, much like any historical account was written to persuade. This is a reason to deny all of history. Does Jelbert think there would be people impartial about the resurrection? Isn’t Jelbert’s account written to persuade? If accounts written to persuade cannot ipso facto be trusted, then I cannot trust Jelbert.

He also says these stories were written down in an account that passed through communities orally. We could go on about the reliability of oral tradition, but at this point, there is no need to do so. The account that Habermas bases it on does not have this problem since it is the 1 Corinthians 15 passage.

Jelbert says he is surprised that Habermas did not use the Gospel accounts. He says they are irreconcilable and maybe Habermas is tacitly acknowledging that. Nothing of the sort. Habermas uses Paul because the critics love Paul and the testimony is accepted across the board and it is earlier than the Gospels.

Jelbert also uses 1 Cor. 15:44 to say that the body was a spiritual body and not a physical body. Unfortunately, Jelbert does not interact with any of the contrary scholarship on this point. There is no looking at a work like Gundry’s Soma in Biblical Greek. There is no looking at the word for raised in 1 Cor. 15 indicating rising from a position of sitting or laying down.

From here, Jelbert thinks that the argument is Paul had a vision. Yet if Jelbert’s interpretation of spiritual body is wrong, and it is, then that is not the case. After all, Paul speaks of spiritual men and rocks in the book of 1 Corinthians and none of these refer to something immaterial.

Further along on this, Jelbert says in verse 50 that flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God. It is ignored that this is not a statement of ontology, but rather a statement of the sinful nature of man. A man in his mortal and sinful state cannot inherit the kingdom. That is why a resurrection is needed to begin with.

In Philippians 2:8-9, Jelbert says Jesus is exalted with no mention of an empty tomb or a resurrection, but why should there be? We have songs about Jesus reigning today that don’t explicitly mention a resurrection. This is another modern idea that unless something is explicitly mentioned, it is not the case. Philippians 3 also has our bodies being transformed to be like Christ’s glorious body.

What this means is that for Jelbert, Jesus’s appearances were direct from Heaven, but if that is the case then why do we have an idea of bodily resurrection even in the Gospels so much so that it totally supplants the original tradition? How did this belief totally replace apostolic teaching of just divine exaltation? Jelbert does not explain this at all.

Jelbert also says Romans 1:4 says that Jesus was appointed the Son of God in power by His resurrection from the dead. Jelbert sees this as adoptionist. That is not the best reading of the text. The term better means that the resurrection revealed who it was that Jesus was. Another example of this is in Acts 2:36 which Jelbert says that this Jesus, God has made Lord and Christ. Yet this is from Luke and even in Luke 2, Jesus is referred to as Christ the Lord. This is about vindication and not declaration.

Jelbert really shows his bad exegetical skills when he says that in 1 Cor. 1:18, that Paul believed the Gospel message he taught to be foolish. Paul says it is foolish to those that are perishing. Paul is making a comparative statement about the philosophy of his day and how the philosophical minds saw the Gospel as foolishness for following a crucified Messiah. He is saying this that the world sees as foolish is what God was using to confound their so-called wisdom. Jelbert reads it to say that Paul thinks the evidence is unconvincing even to him. There is something foolish here, but it is not the Gospel.

Next he goes to the creed. Jelbert says the creed does not state time or place. This is not surprising since creeds are meant to be short and abbreviated by nature. He also says that it would not refer to the twelve, but this is an acceptable practice. Sports fans can speak of the Big Ten conference knowing there are more than ten teams involved. The twelve came to be a name for the apostles, which did have a replacement at that point if the account in Acts is accurate of Matthias being elected.  It’s interesting that he says the Gospels are clear that there were only 11 witnesses. This is not clear since we have the two on the road to Emmaus and many in Matthew 28. It’s also interesting that this is a time Jelbert wants us to trust the Gospels.

The women are also not mentioned and Jelbert says this is to be an exhaustive list since it says that last of all, Jesus appeared to Paul. Yet why should that imply the list is exhaustive? It is just saying that Paul received the final appearance.

Jelbert sees theological evolution taking place, but this is quite strange. The texts evolved from Paul having over 500 witnesses to Mark which has, well, none. This is hardly the case of evolution.

Jelbert also says about James that we cannot be sure this is the brother of Jesus since the term “brothers” is used as a familiar term and James is called “The Lord’s brother” and not “Jesus’s brother. Yet why would James be specified then? Would Peter and John and not be brothers of the Lord in that sense?

Jelbert also says that for Paul, the term Lord referred to the risen Lord and not the historical Jesus. He quotes Romans 10:9 which tells us that if you declare with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. If you can figure out how this backs Jelbert’s argument, please let me know. I have no idea.

Jelbert then returns to 1 Cor. 1 and says that Paul tells Christians to expect to be called fools.  This in conjunction with ideas like blessed are those who have not seen and believed indicate that Christians didn’t care about evidence, much like today. If they didn’t care, then why even bother writing about the creed? Why even bother having one? Jelbert does such eisegesis here that the Mormons and JWs would be amazed.

When asking about natural explanations, Jelbert also says that Christians persecuted those who disagreed. No evidence is given of this. We see nothing indicating that Strauss or Hume or others went through persecution. It also doesn’t explain why there is a lack of natural explanations today.

Jelbert also says the church has not remained the same. On the foundational issues, it has. Are there some secondary issues that have changed? Yes. The resurrection hasn’t.

In the end, it’s a shame Jelbert lost his faith over this because his explanations are just weak. He has some of the worst interpretations out there of the text and has not done proper research. We’ll see next time what he has to say about the claim that the appearances were hallucinations.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Evidence Considered

Was Jesus’s tomb found empty? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

In chapter 34 of Evidence Considered, Jelbert decides to take on Gary Habermas on if there was an empty tomb or not. At the start, Jelbert says that all of Habermas’s material comes from Christian sources. He also says these are diluted by internal disagreements and contradictions.

However, Habermas is just doing what all scholars do. Even Bart Ehrman will grant this point.

If historians want to know what Jesus said and did they are more or less constrained to use the New Testament Gospels as their principal sources. Let me emphasize that this is not for religious or theological reasons–for instance, that these and these alone can be trusted. It is for historical reasons pure and simple. (Ehrman, The New Testament, page 215)

Now if Jelbert thinks he has some sources that are more relevant to the life of Jesus and closer to the time, he’s free to come forward and show them to us. I am sure the scholarly world would love to hear these sources. If not, then there’s no reason to complain because Habermas uses the main sources that we have. Everyone does that.

Jelbert says that Jesus had in the accounts left the tomb. Why on Earth would it be that angels would have left it open? This sounds like a good question unless you actually think about it for a few seconds. The tomb was open so that everyone could see that it was empty. It wasn’t open so that Jesus could get out, but so that others could get in.

He also says Habermas makes two assumptions. The first is that the Gospels are reliable which is what needs to be shown and that anyone would care to disprove the story anyway. Naturally, both of these are weak claims.

For the former, he’s not trying to prove the Gospels are reliable. He’s trying to prove a part of the tradition in the Gospels, the empty tomb, is reliable, That’s a big difference. The way he’s doing it is by examining the sources we have with normal scholarly protocol. Again, everyone in the field does this.

For the second, apparently Paul might have been in such a position. We know that within a year or two he was already out there persecuting Christians and that’s just one person we’re told about. Christians were regularly facing some sort of persecution from Jewish interlocutors.

Jelbert goes on to say that Christian teachings explicitly encouraged belief without sight. Not at all, but we have the usual litany. Let’s go through each of them.

We have Jesus with Thomas saying “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.” This is a strange passage to use because it would imply that we who are later on are in a better position than the apostles who saw Jesus themselves. Thomas’s problem was that he had every reason to trust Jesus and he failed to believe.

1 Cor. 1:19 says God will destroy the wisdom of the wise and the intelligence of the intelligent he will frustrate. This verse has absolutely nothing to do with seeing something. What it is talking about is a masterful rhetorical work where the teaching of Jesus would challenge the sophists of the day by going against their preconceived notions of what a king should be and by revealing them to be frauds. Sophists, after all, could stand up one day and make a powerful argument that the nation ought to go to war against the enemy and receive applause for it, and the next day get up and argue the exact opposite.

No list of verses like this would be complete without Hebrews 11:1. I have written on that one before here. Nothing further needs to be said.

Jelbert says 1 Thess. 5:21 is often brought out, but that it applies to prophecy. I do agree on that one. Still, I think it’s a principle that can easily be applied across the board.

When he talks about the women discovering the tomb, he says that if the Gospel writers wrote that, they probably believed it. Yet this is what strikes me as odd. Jelbert talks about the accounts evolving over time. If they did, why did this part not evolve? Wouldn’t women witnesses be one of the first ones to change? Why not make the disciples into the heroes?

Jelbert says Mark and Luke have the women wanting to anoint the body with spices, but Matthew has them just wanting to look in the tomb. This is because Matthew has a story about guards that is found nowhere else. There’s one reason that I really think the story has credibility and this is something Jelbert never mentions. The text says the story has been told “to this day.”

If this story wasn’t being told in Matthew’s day, any reader would say, “Well not it hasn’t. We’ve never heard that story.” This is a direct acknowledgment of what was being said at the time. Again, Jelbert never mentions this.

Jelbert also says since Matthew changes Mark, that shows he doesn’t think Mark is reliable. That doesn’t follow. It could mean he does some editing to highlight certain points. It could be he wants to refine a detail. It could be he thinks a detail is unneeded. Jelbert just assumes the worst and goes with it.

Jelbert says that Paul never mentions the tomb at all, but what he needs to show is that he needs to. Paul writes about Jesus buried and risen and the word there indicates coming up from a lying down position. As a Pharisee, Paul would believe that what is placed in the tomb naturally comes back up again. Also, one will search in vain for any interaction with a work like Gundry’s Soma In Biblical Greek to see what is meant by a body.

Jelbert also says that when Paul says “Last of all he appeared to me, it implies an exhaustive list.” Why? Your guess is as good as mine. I see nothing here to make me think the list had to be exhaustive.

Getting back to the guard story, Jelbert says the chief priests and Pharisees go on the Sabbath to request a guard from Pilate who gives them one. That’s a problem at the start because there’s debate on if Pilate gives them a guard of if he acknowledges they had their own guards. He says the angels knock the soldiers out with an earthquake, which again I do not see in the text. They come to and run to the leaders who tell them what to say and assure them they will keep them safe. Jelbert says none of this is plausible. I suppose it isn’t when you straw man all of it.

Jelbert also says that if a body was raised from a mass grave, that would not leave an empty tomb. Sure, but no one claims it is a mass grave. If Jelbert thinks he has such a source, let him show it. All four of our early sources here all agree that Jesus was buried in a tomb alone.

Jelbert now goes to 1 Cor. 15 and the passage about the spiritual body. If this means immaterial, we have a problem. Paul speaks of spiritual men in chapters 2 and 3. He speaks of a spiritual rock in chapter 10. In that same chapter he writes about spiritual food and drink. Spiritual does not necessitate immaterial and again, the reader is invited to check the work of Gundry.

Right now I am convinced the tomb was empty, but not only that, so is Jelbert’s critique of it.

In Christ,
Nick Peters


Does It Matter If The Resurrection Is A Metaphor?

Does it matter if the resurrection was literal? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Wednesday night, I was at the debate between my father-in-law, Mike Licona, and John Dominic Crossan about who the historical Jesus was and how he saw himself. I hate to say it, but it really wasn’t much of a debate because I don’t think anyone really understood what Crossan was arguing. Crossan was putting practically everything into the world of metaphor and saying that the message was a metaphor and that he would die for a metaphor and if the resurrection is literal, what difference would it make? The real question is are we living resurrected lives.

When I got up to ask a question, I said my wife and I enjoy being married. Still, we wonder what will happen when our time comes. Will we be together forever? I replied that a literal resurrection can assure us that we will be. What hope can a metaphor give us?

The reply was something along the lines of how the message was not the resurrection of individuals but that the human race would overcome. The violence of Rome would be overthrown by non-violence. This is supposedly the good news of Jesus.

There are a number of things I wonder about this, such as how this Jesus got crucified. Despite that, there is one thing I want to focus on. The resurrection. Does it make a difference if it’s a metaphor or literal?

I’m not going to go into making a whole case for the resurrection. That has been done plenty of times elsewhere. I am going to be emphasizing the difference it makes and to be fair, it is easy to miss this many times.

One big difference is that we live in a world where death is a reality. We see it all around us. We know that when the game over comes for someone, it really is game over barring a miracle. It’s a sad reality. When we bury a loved one, they are dead, and the relationship is not the same.

Will it ever be? Is that it?

We live in a world of injustice. Recently here in Atlanta, we had a police officer shot who died from that and his killer was found within 48 hours and also died when he pulled out a weapon on police officers. There are many crimes that take place and sadly, the culprit is never found. Some people seem to go free.

Will there ever be justice?

Sometimes people die from disease. Our friend, Nabeel Qureshi, died from stomach cancer at an extremely young age. Just today in my Facebook memories I saw something about a friend who passed away last year. She was an older lady, but it’s still hard to see.

Will this ever be righted?

What about our universe itself? Some of you out there I am sure believe we are responsible for some climate change. We live in a world there does seem to be a lot of destruction. We want to colonize other planets, but even if we do, the universe is destined to die a cold death and take us with it.

Is there any point?

What about our bodies themselves? Do they matter? Are human beings just objects. Does it matter what I do with my body? Does it matter how I behave sexually or how my diet is?

What difference does it make?

This is why the resurrection matters? Will we live again and see each other again? Yes. Will evil be judged and good rewarded? Yes. Will lives be redeemed that died from tragic disease? Yes. Will the Earth and the universe be renewed and made eternal paradises? Yes. Do our bodies matter and how we treat them? Yes.

The resurrection matters.

It matters that it’s literal.

I think I’ll stick with the literal resurrection. That’s the good news that overcame the Earth. Christianity isn’t just a nice story. It’s a reality about the world and everything in it.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Those interested in the debate can listen to it here.

Book Plunge: The Case For Miracles

What do I think of Lee Strobel’s book published by Zondervan? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Lee Strobel holds a special place in my heart. It was his books that really lit my fire in the area of apologetics. Not only does Strobel present great information, he also does it while introducing you to the best scholars in the field so you know where to go to next for more information. It was through him that I came across scholars like Craig Blomberg, Ravi Zacharias, Peter Kreeft, J.P. Moreland, Gary Habermas, William Lane Craig, Ben Witherington III, etc.

This book is no exception, though in some ways it is quite different. One obvious way is that it does start off with interviewing a skeptic. The interview is with Michael Shermer. While Shermer is a lot nicer and more real than many other skeptics, many of his arguments are really just as weak. As I read through the chapter, I kept thinking that if this is one of the leading faces of skepticism, then we’re in good hands.

Still, I think it’s a good change to have taken place. I would like to see in his books Strobel interviewing both sides. It’s also quite impressive to realize Strobel resisted the urge to be a debater with Shermer and just let him speak.

From there, Strobel goes on to interview other scholars. Big shock that on this topic, the first person on the list is Craig Keener. Keener wrote an epic two-volume work on miracles called Miracles. Anyone skeptical of the reality of miracles should read it. The good news is if you have read it, you will find still new stories in this one. Craig Keener has more miracles and I understand from my interactions with him that he collects them regularly now.

The next interview is with Candy Gunther Brown on prayer studies. Now I will say that these kinds of studies have never really convinced me. There are too many variables that can’t be tested and you’re dealing with a free-will agent. What is much more convincing with prayer are testimonials like the ones Brown talks about where she goes to third world countries and sees people being healed after they are prayed for in the name of Jesus.

Other interviews on topics related are J. Warner Wallace on the resurrection and Michael Strauss on the origins of the universe. Both of these are interesting and to be expected. Both are also highly enjoyable chapters.

Roger Olson was a chapter that was really convicting. The chapter was on being ashamed of the supernatural and while I don’t care for the term supernatural, the point is still there. We often pray for wisdom for doctors in operations instead of for healing. It’s as if we expect God to not do miracles. This really caused me to look at how I approach prayer.

Then there’s the chapter that could be the hardest one to read in the book. This is the chapter about what about when miracles don’t occur. Douglas Groothuis is the person interviewed for that one. His wife Becky had a disease that was killing her memory and brain function bit by bit. Sadly, Becky has since the time of publishing passed away. Groothuis is there to remind us that miracles don’t always occur and how to handle it.

If there was one chapter I would have liked, it would have been one on the philosophy of Hume. Keener touched on that some, but he’s not a philosopher. Perhaps it would have been good to have had someone like John Earman as an interview to talk about it.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Evidence Considered Chapter 32

Did Jesus predict His death and resurrection? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

In this chapter, Glenton Jelbert takes on Craig Evans with the claim that Jesus predicted His death and resurrection. Now I do agree that Jesus knowing the trouble He was causing was not saying much by predicting His own death. Of course, if He predicted how and when, which I think He did, that makes it a little bit different.

One place that Evans goes to is Mark 14:36.

And He was saying, “Abba! Father! All things are possible for You; remove this cup from Me; yet not what I will, but what You will.”

Jelbert says that Evans applies the criterion of embarrassment whereby the early church would not make up a passage that has Jesus being frightened and unwilling to go to His death. Jelbert says that the criterion can be valid in general, but one has to apply it carefully. Did Evans turn every stone looking for other explanations? Let’s see about that.

Jelbert first says this supports the idea that Mark thought Jesus was more man than God. At the start, we have to ask if Jelbert thinks Mark thought Jesus was something like a demigod or what. Christianity has never denied the full humanity of Jesus including the full display of human emotions.

Second, Jelbert says the courage and anguish and sacrifice are beautiful instead of embarrassing and this may be the most moving verse in all of Scripture. Perhaps you might think that if you lived in a modern Western individualistic society. In Jesus’s world, one was to face their death with dignity and a man was to be a man and a king was to be a king. This is not the way a Messiah figure would act. I see no reason why I should really care what Jelbert thinks so far into the future after the event.

Third, Jelbert says embarrassment is resolved by seeing what the story requires. Isaiah 53 would say the Messiah had to suffer, but the question is would Jews and Gentiles really see that, or would they see it as more of a “Jesus was a failed Messiah, but we’re going to come up with this explanation to explain what doesn’t fit for a Messiah.” Jelbert says that applying Isaiah 53 still raises a myriad of problems. How does resurrection work? Was it planned by God? How did Jesus feel about death?

All of these are good questions to ask, but in this case, they’re all irrelevant. If we want to know if Jesus predicted His death and resurrection, none of these questions change the facts. If we want to know if He rose again, none of them change the facts. A police officer can come upon a victim that everyone agrees is murdered. Does he know how it was done? Does he know why? Does he know what the victim was thinking? He could know none of these things and he might want to investigate, and probably will, to see what answers he finds to these questions, but it won’t change that a murder has taken place.

Jelbert also says that if Jesus is God and was sent by God to suffer through the will of God to save us from God’s judgment, was Jesus really suffering? At the start, this is quite a word salad. Let’s be clear on terminology. When we say “Jesus is God” it does not mean that Jesus is the entirety of the Godhead. It’s more theological shorthand rather than quoting and explaining something like the Nicene Creed every time. It simply means that Jesus possesses all the attributes of the divine nature in His person.

Jelbert says God in Jesus has to suffer or there will be no salvation, but no argument is given for this. The early church would have all condemned it. The man Jesus suffered, but God did not suffer. God did not undergo change. God did not die on the cross. (Always be watchful of prayers to the Father that change to “Thank you for dying on the cross.”)

It wouldn’t be an accident that Jesus suffered or else God is not sovereign. Yet surely God cannot victimize His Son, so Jesus did it willingly. Jelbert says that a passage like this tidies it all up. Jesus was hesitant but agreed to go.

And yet, this wouldn’t address the issue at all. How would the outside world see this? Christians could agree that Jesus went and suffered wilingly, but hesitatingly, but why include even the fact that Jesus was in anguish? Wouldn’t it be easier to just ignore that? Why give oneself a difficulty?

Evans also points to the idea of Jesus to carry one’s own cross and points out that Jesus didn’t do that. Someone had to help Him with His cross. This argues strongly for the authenticity of the saying.

Jelbert says that all that happened most likely is that stories were spreading and changing and Mark wrote down the two different accounts. We can applaud his not trying to smooth it out and this shows his sincerity but not his accuracy. Unfortunately, Jelbert provides no data from oral tradition. Nothing is given to back this.

As is pointed out in works like The Lost World of Scripture, stories were told in groups and minor details could be changed, but not the central thrust. There would also be gatekeepers of the story who would make sure that the story was being shared accurately. Jelbert instead just gives a just so story with no data to back it and expects us to think it’s true.

Jelbert also says resurrections apparently happened all the time in the ancient world. He then goes to Matthew 27:52-53 on this passage. It is a wonder why a passage like this should lead one to the conclusion that resurrections happened all the time.

One point Jelbert brings up is that these stories of resurrection lack corroboration outside of the Scripture. He ignores that even in Q, which if accurate is the most basic account of the life of Jesus, miracles are included. Scholars now do not really hesitate to agree that Jesus had a reputation as a healer and/or exorcist. This does not mean that they think He actually did these things, but He had that reputation.

Today, you can read the accounts of Craig Keener about miracles where resurrections are said to take place. These do not receive worldwide coverage. Why? Skepticism. It was just the same back then. The most well-to-do writing histories were normally outside of Judaism. How many of them are going to seriously investigate a crucified Jewish rabbi from Nazareth to see if He did miracles or not?

Second, Jelbert says that if everyone was claiming resurrection, it’s not a big deal if Jesus did. Note how far we have gone. Jelbert has taken one passage, and a passage that is often highly debated as to what it means at that, then said based on this passage we know that resurrections happened all the time, and then based on that bizarre idea says that everyone was predicting resurrection. Even if they were, that resurrection would be at the end and not in the middle of the space-time continuum.

Next, Jelbert returns to Matthew 16:28. This is the one that has Jesus saying some standing there would not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom. Jelbert says this is just false, but many theologians have spilled much ink to explain it. We have to ask if Jelbert did what he asked of Evans. Did he turn over every other stone to find another explanation other than what he thought the text meant? Obviously not, because most any orthodox Preterist could have explained it easily enough.

So what is it? Note that no one there was thinking about Jesus leaving let alone returning. Jesus in talking about His coming would be giving a message of judgment. Jesus would come in judgment before some there would die. The transfiguration would show the disciples He had this authority, but it would not prove to be that event.

Around 2000 I had to get a set of Tyndale commentaries for Bible College. R.T. France did the one on Matthew and said the coming is one of judgment and kingly authority. It is not a coming to Earth but a coming to God to receive His kingdom. Jelbert assumes this must mean the return of Jesus. He gives no argument for that.

This would happen in 70 A.D. when Jesus was publicly vindicated with the destruction of the Temple. Jelbert says Christians must admit Jesus’s prediction is false. Not at all. I must admit it is true based on years of studying eschatology. Perhaps Jelbert should do what he advised Evans to do. Once again, when something comes up in science that seems like a puzzle, well we must investigate and study and if it seems to go against evolution, we must wait and study more. When it comes to Christianity, we must throw in the towel immediately. Keep in mind I have no problem with studying and I have no problem with that even when it seems to counter evolution. I have a problem with a double standard.

Next time we look at this book we’ll study if Jesus died on the cross.

In Christ,
Nick Peters


Book Plunge: Evidence Considered Chapter 30

What do we make of Jesus being said to be the Son of God? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

We continue our look at Glenton Jelbert’s work with him taking on the first part of Ben Witherington’s work on Jesus. In this chapter, it is about Jesus being the Son of God. Son of God did not equate to divinity in Judaism. For the pagans, it would have done that, but it certainly would not be in a monotheistic sense.

Witherington does say that Mark quotes “You are my Son” and leaves out “Today I have become your Father” to show that this is not adoptionism. It is recognition of who Jesus is by the Father. Witherington also argues that Jesus did have a unique relationship to God in praying to Him as abba, a term of endearment. Jesus also saw Himself as central to a relationship with YHWH for those estranged from Him.

Witherington also looks at the Johannine thunderbolt. This is Matthew 11:27. In this, Jesus sees Himself as the unique conduit of knowledge between God and man. The only way to know God is through Jesus.

Witherington also offers the parables. In the parable of the tenants, Jesus makes a strong implication to being the Son of God. Jesus understood that in some way, He had a unique connection to God.

Jelbert responds that looking at the argument, it’s clear these were not strong divinity claims. I disagree. Jelbert doesn’t say anything beyond his claim so one could say I don’t have to say anything more.

I will say more. I will say that Jesus approached God in a unique way not seen by any other teacher of His day. Jesus’s statements would be blasphemous on the lips of anyone else. These were the kinds of statements that led to His being crucified and also to nearly being stoned several times.

Jelbert says that in the last essay we were to look at the unquoted context about the Son of Man and assume it applies to Jesus. Here, we are to ignore it and assume it does. I am puzzled as to what is meant by unquoted context. Context of a passage normally isn’t quoted period. It’s just assumed.

Jelbert says that a plain reading shows terms weren’t linked to divinity. Witherington has quoted 1 Timothy 2:5 about one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus. Jelbert tells us the verse specifically cited says Jesus is a man.

I am sure Witherington would be extremely grateful for this. No doubt, in all of his reading of the text, he had never noticed that. We can expect a strong retraction of his usage of this verse any moment now.

Except Jesus being a man has always been a part of Christian theology. What would we say? The God Christ Jesus? That would lead to something like polytheism.

Jelbert also says we can’t be sure that Jesus said these things because it was written down later while the theology was evolving. Naturally, there is no interaction with scholars like Hurtado, Bauckham, Bird, Tilling, etc. who make up the early high Christology club. Jelbert also lives in a strange world where apparently before a scholar quotes any text he has to make a strong case for it going back to Jesus.

On a side note, Jelbert also talks about Jesus referring to the Canaanite woman as a dog in Matthew 15. In this case, I think Jesus is playing along and showing the disciples where their own hostility towards outsiders led them. Sadly, the text cannot convey tone of voice or anything like that. There was something in Jesus’s statement to the woman that indicated that she should press harder, and she did. Jesus does end up healing her daughter.

Jelbert goes on to talk about the evolution of the person of Jesus. Paul and the early Gospels do not see Jesus as God. It would be good to see some backing of this claim. Philippians 2 and Romans 9:5 and other such passages come to mind in Paul. There’s also the Christianization of the Shema in 1 Cor. 8:4-6.

For Mark, I think it’s all throughout. Jesus, in the beginning, is given a divine title compared to Caesar and then John the Baptist shows up preparing the way of the Lord and lo and behold, there’s Jesus. In the next chapter, Jesus claims to be able to forgive in the name of God and to be the Lord of the Sabbath and such. Perhaps Jelbert lives in a world where you have to come out and explicitly say “I am God” to be seen as making such a claim.

Jelbert says that this also shows a move from monotheism to the Trinity. Absent is any notion that even in Jewish monotheism, there was a question about the possibility of plurality in the person of God. One could see the work of How God Became Jesus for examples. It also ignores that the Trinity is monotheistic.

Jelbert then says that in the words of the immortal Alan Bennett, “Three in one, one in three, perfectly straightforward. Any doubts about that see your maths master.” It took awhile to find who it was, but apparently Bennett is a playwright who wrote a play called Forty Years On. Well, that’s a great place to go to get your scholarship!

Jelbert says that Witherington’s essay shows that Jesus did not teach the Trinity. Of course, it would have been relevant if Witherington had argued any such thing. We might as well say Jesus didn’t teach the Pythagorean Theorem. I don’t think Jesus would have had much success teaching the Trinity to the local people in Israel and it would have only led to confusion. He planted the seeds instead in His own person.

John 10:30, I and the Father are one, merely defines a special relationship. Well, unless you ignore that Jesus said that no one can snatch believers out of the Father’s hand and out of His own hand just before this and you ignore that the people picked up stones saying Jesus claimed to be God. No doubt, Jelbert understands things better than the immediate listeners did.

Jelbert says that it’s unlikely Jesus said the Great Commission since Jesus’s followers didn’t go to Gentiles immediately. Yet why think this? Could they not have thought to go into all nations telling all the Jews in the diaspora about Jesus? Jelbert also draws a distinction between baptizing in Jesus’s name and the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but Jesus is not giving a baptismal formula here that must be followed. Peter says Jesus’s name in Acts 2 due to Jesus needing to be the new one to recognize as Lord.

Jelbert will also try to explain the rise of Christianity. He brings up Mormonism and scientology as counter-examples. Never mind that these were based in modern individualistic cultures with a more tolerant live and let live attitude. Never mind that these were cultures that more readily accepted new ideas. Never mind that these built on, especially in the case of Mormonism, previously successful ideas.

So what does Jelbert say made the religion successful? For one, it upheld church authority and gave them control, which would be absolutely worthless as a matter of appeal. All religious people had that authority in a culture that didn’t have separation of church and state. This would also only appeal to people who wanted to be in control and then, why be in control of such a small movement that would be opposed to Rome?

He also says it undermines self-worth making us question our own senses and reasoning abilities. No examples of this are given. Could it be Jelbert is revealing something more about his own psychology than Christianity itself?

It also promoted wishful thinking with ideas of eternal life and eventual justice. Unfortunately, this kind of thing is only appealing if you believe the promises can be delivered on. If you don’t, then it doesn’t appeal. It’s a nice story. Also, it’s worth noting that our emphasis on Heaven and such is absent in much of the New Testament, such as the Pauline epistles.

Finally, it exhorts its members to proselytize, which is surely a great draw! Go out and tell your neighbor who could report you to Rome about your new faith! One wonders why Jelbert thinks this way.

Jelbert then says it’s easy to imagine that a religion with these characteristics would be successful. Of course, it’s hard to imagine a religion with a crucified Messiah, a belief seen as new, radical exclusivity, and a bodily resurrection that would be seen as shameful being successful, but hey, details. Who needs them?

Thankfully, Jelbert doesn’t say that this speculation is accurate. It’s a good thing, but apparently it’s a good just-so story to justify atheism. Could it be Jelbert is engaging in his own wishful thinking?

Jelbert also says on a side note that the burden of proof is on the one making the claim. If the claim is unpersuasive, then atheism is justified. Well, that’s only if atheism is seen as the lack of belief which I do dispute, but what about the problem of who decides if something is unpersuasive? I find the arguments persuasive. Jelbert doesn’t. Why should his view be the rational one? Maybe he’s the irrational one and doesn’t know how to recognize a persuasive argument. Maybe I am. How could we know?

Next time we’ll look at a second essay by Witherington on Jesus as God.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Deeper Waters Podcast 9/29/2018: Ross Hickling

What’s coming up? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Evidence. We all say we want it, but do we really? If we get evidence, do we know how to evaluate it? What are the standards of legal investigation that are to be used for a claim? Can we use these on historical claims?

And what of the skeptics of the faith? On the internet, Richard Carrier is one of the big ones that comes up. While he is indeed well-known on the internet, outside of the internet he’s not having the impact he would like to have. His big book on doubting the existence of the historical Jesus really didn’t get much notice.

That’s most scholars. Not all are like that. There is one who decided to look at this internet blogger and see what he was saying. He took the work of Carrier and subjected it to tests based on his life in law enforcement and evaluating evidence. He focused mainly on the resurrection of Jesus. Does Carrier’s case against it hold up? He concludes no. His name is Ross Hickling, but who is he?

According to his bio:

Ross retired as a Senior Inspector with the U.S. Marshals Service in 2014 after serving in federal and local law enforcement for 26 years.  During his career in law enforcement, Ross functioned in various investigative roles to include a narcotics detective, SWAT team operative, threat investigator, seized assets investigator, fugitive investigator, and sex offender investigations coordinator. Midway through his career with the U.S. Marshals Service, Ross began to prepare for a career in ministry after retirement when he began his seminary education.  Since that time, Ross has earned a BS in Religion (Liberty University), an MA in Religion (Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary), an MA in Christian apologetics (Biola University), and a PhD in Missiology/Christian apologetics from North-West University, Potchefstroom Campus, South Africa. Ross worked under the supervision of prof. dr. Henk Stoker while completing his thesis at NWU Potch critiquing a skeptic’s challenge to the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  During his time with the U.S. Marshals Service and while completing his studies, Ross realized the need to bring evidentiary principles to the study of Christian apologetics. Since retiring, Ross founded “Shield Your Faith,” an organization dedicated to sharing the great reasons for faith in Jesus Christ from an evidentiary perspective, took part in an international apologetics campaign in the Philippines (2016)/South Africa (2017, 2018), currently teaches apologetics on the seminary level (Charlotte Christian College and Theological Seminary), and is currently the chapter director at a Ratio Christi club at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.  Ross is married to Andrea, his lovely wife of 29 years, has two adult children, and resides in Kernersville, NC.
As one who has spent a lot of time arguing with mythicists, which gets more and more pointless, I have always been interested in excellent critiques of those proponents of it and while Hickling doesn’t really take those on, his insights are still great to have. We will be talking about such things as evidence for the resurrection, the appearances of Jesus the disciples claimed to experience, and pagan copycats. I hope you’ll be listening and please go on iTunes and leave a positive review of the Deeper Waters Podcast!
In Christ,
Nick Peters