No. It’s Not The End of The World.

Does Matthew 24 predict the end of the world? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

My view in eschatology is Orthodox Preterism. I understand the hesitancy many have towards it and I suspect often it’s because they see it through the lens of dispensationalism. In dispensationalism, when Jesus comes, it’s the end. Many hold to the idea that the world will end and we’ll all live forever in Heaven. Indeed, many messages in church have it that the goal of Christianity seems to be to get to Heaven.

This isn’t to say we shouldn’t think about Heaven. I think the reason we say this is actually the opposite. We’re not thinking about Heaven. We just hear about this place that is really good and we don’t think about what makes it really good. What makes Heaven good is God.

So when we come to a passage like Matthew 24, many people today think it talks about the end of the world. I mean, isn’t that what the text says? Let’s look at verse 3.

And as he sat upon the mount of Olives, the disciples came unto him privately, saying, Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?

There you go! Right there, it talks about the end of the world. Case closed! Right?

Not exactly. That’s in the KJV. It’s not the best translation job of that verse. Let’s look at the word. The word is aion.

  1. for ever, an unbroken age, perpetuity of time, eternity

  2. the worlds, universe

  3. period of time, age

    There were other words that can be translated as world. Matthew does not use them. Matthew refers to an age referring to the system of things. Besides, let’s consider some points. If the world is coming to an end, what good is it going to do to flee to the mountains? Will they somehow survive? May the end of the world not come in the winter on the Sabbath? Why those times specifically?

No. The end in mind refers as I said to this system of things. Let’s keep something in mind. When Jesus is there, His disciples ask about the destruction of the temple and when His coming would be. They have no concept of Jesus being crucified really. He’s said it would happen, but they’re expecting Him to be crowned king instead. They certainly don’t have a concept of Him dying, resurrecting, and leaving in an ascension. Why would they be asking Him about a return? He was right there and they did not anticipate Him leaving them.

This world is also not an evil thing. It is a good creation of God. God is going to redeem it just as much as He redeems sinners who come to Him. The enemy is not going to be allowed a victory so that God’s plans for this world come to failure.

So what is Jesus talking about? Jesus is talking about His coming to His throne, which is what the disciples would want to know about. Jesus is going to be the king so there’s no need of a temple. They could anticipate an earthly king, but Jesus is going to rule from Heaven. The Son of Man approaches the Ancient of Days. The Ancient of Days is not on Earth. He’s ascended in Heaven. Jesus is going up. He’s not going down.

Right now, Jesus is the ruling king. He is reigning and as Psalm 110:1 says, His enemies are being put under His feet right now. We await the full fruition of that in the resurrection, for as 1 Cor. tells us, the last enemy to be defeated is death.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Do We Take Christianity Seriously?

If Christianity is true, does it matter? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Our church has a stations of the cross going on now. Yesterday, my wife and I joined our small group there to go through it together. At one point, someone in our group asked a question along the lines of why we don’t seem to have excitement about this. We have a God who loves us so much that He did all of this. Does it really matter?

Let’s use a different example. The Star Wars films are awfully popular, although I never got interested in them really. Let’s suppose something about them. Let’s suppose that we found proof beyond a shadow of a doubt that these events that happened a long long time ago in a galaxy far far away really happened. What difference would it make?

There would be several people wanting to go on space explorations to try to find the locations in the movie. Scientists would be researching in new ways once they realized that feats shown in the movie were popular. Many people would be doing whatever they could to tap into the force. Some would use it for good and some for evil.

Now let’s compare this to the claims of Christianity. God is the most awesome and powerful and intelligent and wise and good being of all. There is no one that compares to Him. He loves humanity greatly and sent His Son to die for us. By His death and resurrection, all who trust in Him will rise again in glorified bodies never to suffer or die again. Those who do not will face an eternity of judgment.

Before it’s even debated if these claims are true or not, let’s say something. They are serious claims. I hope we can all agree also that if they are true, they do make a difference. If God exists and has spoken, we should all want to listen to what He has to say.

But does it make a difference? Often, it doesn’t. One of the reasons I think this is the case for us is often many of us are too familiar with it. We have heard the stories all our lives and they no longer shock and amaze us. Too many Christians just know it’s true because it’s in the Bible, without bothering to see how we got the Bible and how we can know it’s treu.

It also is because there’s not much at stake for us. Today, we can often think the worst persecution is being made fun of on the internet or perhaps economic pressure from society. While these are something, they don’t compare to what goes on in other countries where being a Christian is a crime and you can be put to death. If you know that what you believe can get you put to death, you’re going to want to make sure of it’s truthfulness and if you’re sure it’s true, you should take it seriously.

Many times, it can also be we don’t realize the implications of what we believe. A lot of people just think, “Jesus rose from the dead. Therefore, Christianity is true.” The goal of Christianity is to make sure you get to Heaven. Very little of it seems to apply to this life.

If that is the idea you’ve got, then it’s a highly lacking one. Christianity says that Jesus is our companion in all things and the Holy Spirit lives in us. That means we have the third person of the Trinity (Maybe some Christians need to see what a difference that makes too!) living in us. We have a God we can come to in our hour of need. Jesus doesn’t just help us overcome death. He helps us in all of our battles here.

That also means all our suffering is redeemed. No suffering a Christian undergoes will be wasted by God. All of it will be used for His glory. That should really revolutionize the way we view suffering.

The resurrection also tells us that this world is good. It’s not an accident. Our bodies are good things and we should take care of them. It also means that there is something great and good worth focusing on. Sadly, many Christians say they love God, but they seldom bother to seek to understand anything about Him.

Think about this if you’re married and if you’re not, imagine you are. What kind of spouse are you if you only look to your spouse and think about the good feelings they give you and what they do for you? You’re not much of them. You need to seek to understand who your spouse is, do things for them, do what they want and like and need. There aren’t exact parallels, but the marriage relationship is the picture most often used of that of Christ and the church.

Now I haven’t said anything about if Christianity is true, but that’s a benefit of apologetics. By studying it, one sees that it is true and it does really change the way you live. If you haven’t studied any apologetics, I really encourage you to do so. If you found out that Star Wars really happened, it would change things. Won’t it change them if you find out Jesus is who He said He is and did what He said He would do and still does that?

If you and I are still unexcited about this, then maybe we need to examine ourselves.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Things To Not Do or Say When Someone Dies

Are there some things you don’t want to say after someone’s death? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Just yesterday, we got a surprise as Allie and I woke up and she saw on Facebook that one of our friends back in Charlotte had died recently. We still don’t know much about it, but it was something sad. This got me to thinking about what happens when people die. People can mean well by these, but they are not good or accurate to say or do.

#1. God needed a new angel.

This one is false and really unkind, especially to children. No. When a person dies they do not become an angel. An angel is a wholly separate kind of being. Angels as Hebrews says are ministering spirits. We are not going to be just spirits. We are going to be humans.

But why is this unkind, especially to children? Imagine a child who has lost his mother. What happens when he hears “God needed a new angel.”? What kind of God are you giving these children then? A God who will take their mother away from them just because apparently He is lacking something?

#2. They are experiencing the resurrection!

This one can come in a number of varieties. When my grandmother passed away, I was one of three ministers assigned her funeral. I was to speak last and the minister at her church did a message and said, “Right now. She is experiencing the power of the resurrection!” I was just looking and thinking, “Sorry Pastor, but I’m pretty sure I can see her body down there right now.”

Another time in Tennessee when Allie and I were looking for churches, we visited one that had an elderly pastor speaking and the kind that was disappointing me since I was surely half his age and yet I knew he didn’t know what he was talking about. He talked about a friend who had died recently and said that right now, he is walking on streets of gold. Allie had to put her hand on my leg to make sure I’d remain calm.

Why are these so bad? Both of these in essence deny the resurrection! They treat the resurrection like a spiritual event and the body is not necessary. The person I think surely still exists, but they do not exist in unity with their bodies at this time. If we say that they do something physical like this, then we are treating the body as unimportant, something Jesus and Paul never did.

#3. Putting the emphasis on Heaven.

To some extent, this is what we should do, but if you treat heaven as the whole point, you miss it. The main message has always been resurrection. I saw this one when an aunt of mine passed away in Tennessee. The pastor was spending more time talking about himself, such as coming back from his vacation to do a funeral, than talking about her. I was waiting to hear something about the resurrection. Towards the end, he finally spoke about having that blessed hope that Paul spoke about in 1 Thess. 4.

I perked up. What? Is this it? Are we finally going to hear about the resurrection?!

The blessed hope that we will see our loved ones again in Heaven!

I slouched back down again.

Yeah. Heaven is real and we should celebrate it, but heaven is not total and complete until we are there as body and soul unities and that is the final victory over death. To say that we never have anything to do with this world is not Christianity. It’s Gnosticism. This world was created to be where God would dwell with His people and these bodies are the tools we were born to use to interact with the world.

If you are speaking about a believer in Christ who has died, I recommend just saying they are in the presence of Jesus. There is much debate about what happens when people die, but there is no question that their bodies are not there with them. Those bodies stay here and await the resurrection.

#4. Don’t glamourize suicide.

It’s hard to realize, but this sometimes happens. My family told me about going to a funeral for the friend of my Dad’s best friend. The husband had killed himself in an effort to remove a financial burden from the family or give life insurance or something of that sort. The pastor actually got up and said that the last act this man did was an act of love.

This man might have meant well, but it was not an act of love. Can you imagine being one of those kids hearing that? Your Dad killed himself and that killing of himself was an act of love? You experience it as the worst thing that has ever happened to you in your life!

I understand this minister got a number of complaints. Good. Such an act is a disgraceful act to the family involved. Suicide should always be shown as a tragic way to die and never the right action.

#5. Preaching Someone Into Heaven.

I am using the term Heaven due to that being the normal parlance, but we know this kind of thing. Someone dies who we have no reason to believe was a Christian and yet none of us wants to say it and everyone tries to paint the best picture of him possible. When this happens, there is a fine line to walk.

There’s a story about two really bad brothers in a town. One of them died and the surviving one told the pastor he would make a huge contribution to the church if the pastor would refer to his brother as a saint. The pastor on the day got up and said, “I want to be honest. This man in the coffin was a liar, a swindler, an adulterer, and a scoundrel overall, but compared to his brother, he was a saint!”

So if you don’t do these, then what do you say? I would simply say that the person is in the hands of God. There could always be a last minute conversion. We don’t know, but we can be skeptical. It’s not yours to decide ultimately who goes to Heaven or Hell. You certainly don’t want to say “I’m pretty sure your loved one is being tormented in Hell right now.” Say they’re in the hands of God.

#6. Pretty much anything at all.

It’s often tempting to think we should have just the right words to say when someone dies, but you know what? You don’t. You at least don’t have the words to take away the pain. Most people wouldn’t even want the pain to go. They truly want to mourn and grieve, and why shouldn’t they? They have experienced a loss.

Do what the Bible says. Mourn with those who mourn. Keep in mind we also mourn, but not like those who have no hope. We have hope, but that doesn’t discount mourning. It’s okay to be sad. Somehow we have this idea in Christianity that we should have it altogether and never be sad. Nonsense! We are still human beings. Being human does not mean always being happy. Some things should make you smile. Some things should make you laugh. Some things should make you sad. Some things should make you cry.

There’s a story that the composer Beethoven had a friend who experienced the death of someone. Beethoven went to visit. He saw a piano in the main room, played it for half an hour with beautiful music for mourning and then left. The friend said it was the most impactful visit of all. I don’t know if it’s true, but the message of the story is the same. Do something to mourn with the person. Come alongside them. Carry the pain with them. Enter into it.

There are no quick cures for grief and this is especially the case for suicide. When I meet people who had loved ones kill themselves decades earlier, it still affects them. Death is a defeated foe to be sure, but it is still a foe and nothing to take lightly. It has real effects on us today. Handle it properly.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Zealot

What do I think of Reza Aslan’s book published by Random House? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

My wife is an anime fan and when we go to the mall, she always wants to stop at the anime store there and see what they have. During a recent visit there, we somehow got started talking with the guy working there and the topic of religion came up. He asked me if I had read Reza Aslan’s Zealot and if so, what were my thoughts on it. I told him that what I had heard wasn’t good, but I would be willing to read it myself.

So I went to the library web site and ordered it. Aslan’s book has a generally good enough writing style to it. A difficulty is all the referencing is in notes in the back instead of properly footnoting or even endnoting what is found. I do want to make some statements about some matters early on in the book.

Aslan starts with his personal testimony (It’s like some people never get the fundamentalism knocked out of them!) and how he became a Christian before abandoning it. On xix he says “The bedrock of evangelical Christianity, at least as it was taught to me, is the unconditional belief that every word of the Bible is God breathed and true, literal, and inerrant.”

I wish I knew who it was who was teaching this stuff to him. The bedrock of evangelical Christianity should be the death, burial, and resurrection of the God-man, the Messiah Jesus Christ. Unfortunately, too many evangelicals do place a premium on Inerrancy and too many do so on literalism as well. This is largely an American phenomenon as well.

He also says on the next page that if you have a well-attested, researched, and authoritative argument for a position, someone on the other side has one just as well done critiquing yours. Of course, people on all sides do research well, but this would end up in an epistemological relativism if it was really believed. If this is the case, why should I believe Aslan instead of his opponent?

But I need to get into the meat of the work. For a surprise, much of it was well-researched, although there are a few blunders and such. It’s certainly not on the level of the zaniness of Jesus mythicism. I went through for awhile wondering what all the fuss is about.

Aslan is certainly off on Jesus being a zealot since that movement as he recognizes did not come till later. If all he meant was that Jesus was zealous for God, then He certainly was a zealot and may all Christians be. Unfortunately, Aslan takes one side of God, the side of the Conquest specifically, and then says this is the God Jesus worshipped, completely ignoring other passages in the Old Testament on love and grace.

Aslan’s book as I said starts off fine enough, but the further you go, the more strange it becomes. Aslan never offers an explanation for the rise of the Christian church or tries to explain the resurrection. In many cases, he acts like a naturalist in explaining the text, especially when it comes to miracles. Somehow people have this idea that reasonable people can’t believe in miracles. It is a wonder why this is. They do not contradict science or logic. They actually presuppose both as you must have a working order to recognize the exception.

The main stuff I want to hit on is really in the center of the book. Aslan writes about the Kingdom of God and how it was revolutionary. Indeed it was, but it was not a kingdom that would come by the will of men or by political might. As an orthodox Preterist, I believe the Kingdom of God has been established. Jesus did it by His death and resurrection. I am writing this right now in a location thousands of miles from where Jesus lived and in another language and 2,000 years later. I’d say his message spread well as did His kingdom.

Aslan does not see this as eschatology seems to play no major role in his work. It could be he has a hang-up on the literalism he spoke of earlier and reads passages like Matthew 24 in a literalistic sense instead of seeing them along the lines of Old Testament prophecies that were not to be seen as literal.

This problem shows up again when he gives references to Jesus saying He did not come to bring peace but a sword. Sure, but this is not a literal sword. Jesus knew what His kingdom would do. Jesus was the dividing line. You are either for Him or against Him. That would tear one’s very household apart. The sword is a metaphor.

On 121, Jesus also says the idea of love your neighbor applied only to a fellow Jew. Aslan leaves off interaction with the parable of the Good Samaritan where Jesus specifically addresses the question of who one’s neighbor is and goes with someone completely reprehensible to His fellow Jews. This was so much the case that in the end when Jesus asks who it was who was the neighbor, the lawyer says “The one who showed mercy.” He cannot bring Himself to say, “The Samaritan.”

Aslan also says on 122 that if one thinks Jesus is the begotten Son of God, His being Jewish is immaterial. WOW! Really? I think Jesus is that and His being a Jew is essential. That’s the only way He can be the promised Messiah and in the lineage of David. Jesus has to fulfill the promises of the Old Testament to truly be the revelation of God.

This also explains Aslan’s puzzle that the Kingdom never came in 135. The Kingdom Jesus preached is not what Aslan thinks it was since he is hung up on the literalism. Interestingly, Aslan gives no Scripture references in describing the Kingdom on this page.

Aslan writes about how the Gospel writers wanted to blame the Jews for the death of Jesus moving further and further away from the Romans, yet on 156 he’s quite clear the Romans killed Jesus and this was clear to Luke. Luke also doesn’t present Pilate as a saint in Luke 13.

Some ask why Pilate would seem to be so weak and light on Jesus when he had a reputation for being a cruel leader. Cruel sure, but that doesn’t mean he held execution parties whenever the Jews wanted someone executed. Pilate knew it was just the Jews being jealous and was thinking, “Yeah. Not going to be your person to do your bidding.”

Furthermore, there is debate on when Jesus was crucified, but it could have been around the time of Sejanus who had been executed for treason. He and Pilate had had a close relationship. Pilate could have been walking on thin ice and didn’t want to upset Rome by causing any more riots.

Aslan also makes much out of the trial of Jesus being totally out of sync with how Jewish trials were to be done. At this, most every conservative scholar wants to say, “Duh!” That’s the point. The Jewish courts were breaking laws left and right to get rid of Jesus. Something like this isn’t news if you’ve been reading scholarship.

At 166, I have to wonder if Aslan meant Daniel 9:26 instead of 7:26. On this page, he also says Peter uses Acts 2 to say it’s about Jesus when it’s really about David. Aslan ignores that in the very passage of Acts 2, Peter says it could NOT be talking about David since David was still in his tomb.

On 168-9, Aslan looks at Stephen’s vision of God and says he no longer sees the Messiah, but a God being coming in judgment. Aslan never seems to consider to ask if there was any reason Jesus would be standing instead of sitting which He was supposed to do. Perhaps there is a simple one. That simple one is Stephen is before the Sanhedrin to be judged by them, but when He sees Jesus standing, the standing is because Jesus is pronouncing judgment. The Sanhedrin is putting Stephen on trial, but Jesus has put them on trial and found them wanting for killing the first Christian martyr.

Aslan tries to deal some with the resurrection on 174 saying that obviously a man dying a gruesome death and rising again 3 days later defies all logic, reason, and sense. It does? In what way? The only way is if you rule out ipso facto miracles, but this has not been done. All that has happened is the question has been begged for naturalism. Aslan does admit that people were convinced they had seen the risen Jesus, but He gives no explanation for this.

It’s also clear that Aslan really has it in for Paul and wants nothing to do with him. Aslan doesn’t look at how the church fathers treated Paul and it is bizarre to think that Paul would be able to distort Christianity so badly and yet the people who wrote the Gospels seemed to give messages that according to Aslan would contradict Paul. One wonders what is going on here.

Aslan’s book can be interesting reading, but it is not a theory that has caught on well and for good reason. Aslan has Jesus as a zealot, but then the zealots weren’t really around, and has just begun with what he wanted to find. He also still has a fundamentalism in him found in his introduction that shapes his approach. Scholars long ago abandoned the idea that Jesus was a zealot. Aslan has not brought back the idea enough to have it be considered by scholars again.

A fuller review can be found by my friend David Marshall here.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Muhammad’s Night Journey

Does this story compare to the resurrection? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Many times when I argue for the resurrection, I get told that the accounts are just like the accounts of Muhammad’s night journey on a horse. Both of them show up in a book. That’s it. One should not be said to be more historical than the other. The evidence for both is equal.

First off, much of our knowledge of the ancient world comes from books. Archaeology provides some data, but if all we had was just archaeology, our knowledge would be far far less than what it is. If people want to say something is questionable because it’s found in a book, then they will throw out much of our knowledge of the ancient world.

Second, one should treat the Gospels better. (Although of course, the main place is still 1 Cor. 15) They are human and historical and if you treat them differently, you misunderstand and misinterpret them. Sure, these books later became documents of faith for Christianity, but that has no bearing on whether they can be used for historical purposes. It is simply unfair and unscholarly to dismiss them from the historical record.

Yeah. I get it. That sounds like the ravings of a fundamentalist seeking to defend the Gospels. If you think that, you have a problem. I have just simply paraphrased Bart Ehrman with statements he made on pages 72 and 73 of Did Jesus Exist?

Third, I offer this challenge when I meet someone who says this. It’s no doubt Christians will argue for the truth of their book. Muslims will do the same for theirs. What if we went outside of that? Let’s take claims that are in the books that skeptics will grant. What will non-Christian scholars grant about the case surrounding the resurrection of Jesus and what will non-Muslim scholars grant about Muhammad’s travel on a horse?

You see, with the Qur’an, this is the passage often discussed.

Exalted is He who took His Servant by night from al-Masjid al-Haram to al-Masjid al- Aqsa, whose surroundings We have blessed, to show him of Our signs. Indeed, He is the Hearing, the Seeing.

Now looking at this, I don’t see anything about a flying horse that’s usually talked about. Of course, the scholars of Islam know better and if they agree that the account is that of the flying horse, then I will not disagree. I also understand that this passage is explained further in the Hadith. Let’s keep in mind the Hadiths come much later, at least a century or so.

There is also the problem that there was no temple and from my understanding, the one that was built that is described in these passages did not come about until 691. Muhammad had been dead for fifty years. I could grant that the passage I see here does not mention a temple, but if the Hadith keeps getting more and more elaborate long after eyewitnesses and has anachronisms, one has to wonder.

What of non-Muslim scholarship? Now I see nothing granting that this story has any validity in any part there. They could grant the story has been handed down, but I have yet to see someone present the scholarship that non-Muslim scholars will grant.

What of the resurrection of Jesus? The first place people go to is 1 Cor. 15. This includes the death, burial, and resurrection. When we go to the Gospels, we find explicit statements of the empty tomb, although I would argue the empty tomb is explicit in 1 Cor. 15.

What do skeptical scholars of the NT grant about Jesus?

Let’s start with the crucifixion.

“The fact of the death of Jesus as a consequence of crucifixion is indisputable, despite hypotheses of a pseudo-death or a deception which are sometimes put forward. It need not be discussed further here.” (Gerd Ludemann. .”What Really Happened To Jesus?” Page 17.)

Christians who wanted to proclaim Jesus as messiah would not have invented the notion that he was crucified because his crucifixion created such a scandal. Indeed, the apostle Paul calls it the chief “stumbling block” for Jews (1 Cor. 1:23). Where did the tradition come from? It must have actually happened. (Bart Ehrman, The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings. Third Edition. pages 221-222)

 

Jesus was executed by crucifixion, which was a common method of torture and execution used by the Romans. (Dale Martin, New Testament History and Literature. Page 181)

 

That Jesus was executed because he or someone else was claiming that he was the king of the Jews seems to be historically accurate. (ibid. 186)

 

Jesus’ execution is as historically certain as any ancient event can ever be but what about all those very specific details that fill out the story? (John Dominic Crossan http://www.huffingtonpost.com/john-d…_b_847504.html)

What about his burial?

“Jesus came from a modest family that presumably could not afford a rock- cut tomb. Had Joseph not offered to accommodate Jesus’ body his tomb (according to the Gospel accounts) Jesus likely would have been disposed in the manner of the lower classes: in a pit grave or trench grave dug into the ground. When the Gospels tell us that Joseph of Arimathea offered Jesus a spot in his tomb, it is because Jesus’ family did not own a rock- cut tomb and there was no time to prepare a grave- that is there was no time to dig a grave, not hew a rock cut tomb(!)—before the Sabbath. It is not surprising that Joseph, who is described as a wealthy and perhaps even a member of the Sanhedrin, had a rock-cut family tomb. The Gospel accounts seem to describe Joseph placing Jesus’ body in one of the loculi in his family’s tomb. (Jodi Magness, Stone and Dung, Oil and Spit: Jewish Daily Life in the Time of Jesus, pg 170)

“There is no need to assume that the Gospel accounts of Joseph of Arimathea offering Jesus a place in this family tomb are legendary or apologetic. The Gospel accounts of Jesus’s burial appear to be largely consistent with the archeological evidence” ( Magness, pg 171)

How about the appearances?

“The only thing that we can certainly say to be historical is that there were resurrection appearances in Galilee (and in Jerusalem) soon after Jesus’s death. These appearances cannot be denied” (Gerd Ludemann. .”What Really Happened To Jesus?” p. 81)

“We can say with complete certainty that some of his disciples at some later time insisted that . . . he soon appeared to them, convincing them that he had been raised from the dead.” (Bart Ehrman, Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium, pg 230).

 

“That Jesus’ followers (and later Paul) had resurrection experiences is, in my judgment, a fact. What the reality was that gave rise to the experiences I do not know.” (E.P. Sanders, The Historical Figure of Jesus, pg 280)

Now does this mean that these scholars believe in the resurrection of Jesus? No. Does it mean that they accept the data that we use? Yes. The only exception would be some are not as sure of the empty tomb. Bart Ehrman doesn’t even think Jesus was buried for instance.

So compare this to the case for Muhammad’s night journey. Do we have the same? No. Does that mean the account of Muhammad is necessarily false? No. It does mean the evidence is not the same. Does it mean the resurrection of Jesus is true? No. It does mean the evidence is not the same.

Of course, anyone can show up here and show scholarship from non-Muslim sources if they think I’m wrong. I would welcome that. The ball is now in their court.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

 

What Is The Foundation?

What is the centerpiece of the Gospel? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Not too long ago, I wrote a blog post that was looking at a critique of the New Perspective on Paul. While I don’t sign on the dotted line yet on the NPP, I am certainly open to it and think it makes some cogent points. One reason I wrote it is also because of a claim I hear often that justification is the Gospel.

Of course, some people will immediately get defensive hearing that. Am I saying that justification is not important? Not at all. It is important that we are forgiven and that forgiveness is by grace through faith. What has to be asked though is if that is what our faith is built on?

When I go to bed at night, normally I read a short section of Scripture if I’m reading a narrative, like a Gospel, but if not, just a couple of verses to think about. Last night I did three to finish off Romans 4.  So what did I read?

The words “it was credited to him” were written not for him alone, but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness—for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.

Please note what is necessary for our justification. It was the resurrection of Jesus. Just dying on the cross was not enough. As Paul says, if Christ is not raised, you are still in your sins.

Part of the problem I have with the idea that justification is the Gospel is that justification is a result of something else happening. That something else is the primary thing. That is the message that changed the world. If that did not happen, we would not be able to talk about justification. That primary thing is the resurrection.

A secondary problem is that justification is important, but it also doesn’t go far enough. We can celebrate that we are forgiven, but God did much more than just forgive us. He could have forgiven us without offering us eternal life for instance, but He did do that. With every step, He could stop, but He doesn’t. As Luke 12:32 tells us, it is the Father’s good pleasure to give us the kingdom.

The kingdom is sadly lacking in our Gospel messages today. Jesus did not say as much about justification as He did about the Kingdom of God, but guess which one we spend the most time talking about today? Very few people have any idea of a doctrine of the kingdom. It’s sadly true that we often treat the Gospels as appetizers and the main course are the epistles of Paul. This is why it can often be asked if Jesus taught Paul’s Gospel. The more important question we should ask is if Paul taught Jesus’s Gospel, which he did of course.

If we want to see what’s further ahead, let’s see what Paul does say in 2 Cor. 5:19.

For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation.

Sure. The forgiveness of sins is in there, but the reconciliation is with the world. The world is not as it should be and that is to be corrected. We can be forgiven, but even forgiven people will still die. Death is still the enemy to overcome. Is God going to let the world be a casualty? Did the evil one ruin the world so much that it cannot be redeemed and it will fall from the purposes God created for it?

Absolutely not. The resurrection is as it were uncreation working backwards. The path of destruction is stopped and the path of restoration begins. Let us celebrate justification, but we are not the end of it all. Everything is to be reconciled. This does not mean universalism as some people will not be reconciled due to their own will nor will demons or the devil, but all that submit to God will be.

Yet always remember, whatever your stance on justification, it’s not possible without the resurrection. The resurrection message is the Gospel. The king has come and He is taking His throne. That is the cause of everything else. Let’s not confuse the effect with the cause.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Deeper Waters Podcast 11/11/2017: Richard Bauckham.

 

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

Can we trust the Gospels? One of the questions that this comes down to often is the question of who their sources are. Were they written by eyewitnesses? Did they use eyewitnesses? Can we really trust anonymous sources like the Gospels? Did the Gospels even cite their sources?

Even if the Gospels are eyewitness testimonies, can we still trust them? Can’t eyewitnesses get things wrong? Why should we treat the Gospels as if they are serious historical works and their information is something that we can base our lives on?

In order to discuss this, I decided to have come on a second time a scholar who has done in-depth research on this. He has done so much that he has updated his great work on this topic. The work is Jesus and the Eyewitnesses and the author and scholar is none other than Richard Bauckham. So who is he?

I am a biblical scholar and theologian. My academic work and publications have ranged over many areas of these subjects, including the theology of Jürgen Moltmann, Christology (both New Testament and systematic), eschatology, the New Testament books of Revelation, James, 2 Peter and Jude, Jewish and Christian apocalyptic literature, the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, the New Testament Apocrypha, the relatives of Jesus, the early Jerusalem church, the Bible and contemporary issues, and biblical and theological approaches to environmental issues. In recent years much of my work has focused on Jesus and the Gospels. Probably my best known books are Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony (2006), God Crucified: Monotheism and Christology in the New Testament (1998), The Theology of the Book of Revelation (1993) and Bible and Ecology (2010). As well as technical scholarship and writing aimed at students and those with some theological background, I have also written accessible books for a wider readership, of which the best known is At the Cross: Meditations on People Who Were There (1999), which I wrote with Trevor Hart. A recent book is Jesus: A Very Short Introduction (2011), published in Oxford University Press’s Very Short Introduction series, and providing a historical account of Jesus for the general reader. Various of my books have appeared in translation in Italian, Japanese, Chinese, Russian, Korean, Spanish, Portuguese, French and Farsi.

Until 2007 I was Professor of New Testament Studies at the University of St Andrews, Scotland. I retired early in order to concentrate on research and writing, and moved to Cambridge. For more information about me, see my Short CV. On this site, you will find complete lists of my publications. You can find out about my forthcoming books. You can read unpublished papers, lectures and sermons. You can find out about the More Old Testament Pseudepigrapha project (directed by myself and James Davila).

You can also read some of my poetry, and two story books written for children (adults also enjoy them) about the MacBears of Bearloch.

I hope you’ll be watching for this episode. We’re going to get a good in-depth look at this important book that every student of the New Testament needs to know about. Please be watching for this one and go on iTunes and leave a positive review of the Deeper Waters Podcast.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

NYC Terrorism And Gospel Reliability

Can we really know what happened? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

On Halloween afternoon and early evening, there was a news story broke about a radical Islamic terrorist that killed multiple people in New York. My wife and I go to Celebrate Recovery on Tuesday nights at our church, so we only got to hear bits and pieces, yet as it turns out, I did hear different things. That evening on the news, I had heard that he got shot in the abdomen. Another report said he got shot in the stomach. Still, another said he got shot in the buttocks.

Yesterday, my wife and I had the news on and heard even more different stories. This time, we heard that he had been shot in the leg and then it was more specifically, the thigh. We could say that this is a later story that is more clear, but as an outsider, I can’t really know. I could hypothetically go to the hospital and see for myself, but that’s not really an option right now.

So what do I gather from all of this? If we were in the area of New Testament studies, there are some things that some people would conclude. For instance, there are some who would be consistent and conclude that there never was a shooting or even that there never was a terrorist. After all, shouldn’t there be agreement?

Some will point to the idea of eyewitness testimony being unreliable. To an extent, it can be, but there are cases where it isn’t. In a time of chaos when people are dying around you and you could be looking out to save your own life, you might not remember everything that happens well. There will be some things you would not be at all mistaken about. You would not be mistaken about being at the scene or seeing a terrorist mowing down people in a vehicle and you would likely remember the peace that came when he was taken down.

I also often think that if we want to see how reliable testimony is over time, we need to check with people whose lives were significantly impacted by the event in question. Consider 9/11. Who is more likely to remember and relive the events in their mind over and over? Is it someone who was a passerby on the street and knew no one who worked in the towers, or is it someone who lost a spouse on that day? I don’t know of any such study like this, but it would be good to see it done.

When we compare this to the Gospels, there can be times that there are supposed contradictions that do differ on minor details. I am not saying all differences are like this, but many are. These are differences much like the shooting of the terrorist. It might be unclear to those of us on the outside without direct proof to know where the terrorist was shot, but we all know that he was. (Well, aside from perhaps some fringe conspiracy theorists who are no doubt convinced this was all staged, but then that is an apt comparison with the mythicist community.)

Minor differences do not do anything to change the fact of the major events. Someone might be tempted to say that it’s different when we talk about the New Testament. It’s supposed to be the Word of God isn’t it? At this point then, one is treating the New Testament with an entirely different standard. You’re not doing history so much as you’re doing religion. There is no reason to have a position where either all of it is true or none of it is true.

Instead, one can approach it much like any other document. Sure, there might be a few differences, but does that detract from the major points? Note I am not saying you have to sacrifice Inerrancy at all. I am saying you do not have to make it everything.

So what happened in NYC? A radical Muslim terrorist killed several people and was stopped when he was shot. Do I know the minor details beyond that? No. Do I have any reason to believe the major ones are false? No. Do I have justification to believe they are true? Yes.

When we come to the New Testament, we need to do the same. Let’s first see what the major outline of the story is. Then we can work on the minor details. Maybe we won’t even resolve them all, but we can still trust the major points.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

A Response to Phil Johnson on N.T. Wright

What do I think of Johnson’s critique of Wright? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

ETA: My first writing of this said R.C. Sproul. I was notified that this was by Phil Johnson so I have done necessary edits..

When I was in seminary, for a class on salvation for systematic theology proper, we were assigned to read The Future of Justification by John Piper. This was a response to N.T. Wright’s work on the topic of justification. I had heard about it some, but I never took the time to really look at it. As I read Piper, he would frequently quote Wright. When I read those quotes of Wright I would think “That certainly seems like a plausible way of looking at it more in line with Second Temple Judaism.” Before too long after finishing that book, I got Wright’s book on the topic and went through it and while I don’t sign on the dotted line yet, I do find it quite persuasive.

A friend asked me about this all yesterday. He has a fear that Wright has a position here that is heretical. Our discussion, which was friendly and I do like that, ended with him sending me this from Phil Johnson. So let’s take a look at this piece.

Johnson starts off with glowing praise of Wright and what a great scholar he is. Before too long, the clouds darken. Wright has a position that is not evangelical at all obviously. He has a position that denies Sola Fide.

Let me point out early on then that I am not a Calvinist. You can hold that against me if you want, but I’m just not, and that was before reading Wright even. I have never subscribed to Calvinism. I just do not find it a persuasive position on the Bible.

So let’s gon on and quote Johnson.

Wright begins by giving a sketch of the pedigree of twentieth-century scholarship on Paul. He acknowledges that the New Perspective is deeply rooted in the work of a line of scholars who were by no means evangelicals. Indeed, most of them were hostile to the evangelical perspective. He lists, for example, Albert Schweitzer, W. D. Davies, Ernst Käsemann, and E.P. Sanders as the main influences in developing the New Perspective.

Schweitzer’s contribution was to emphasize the fact that Paul was a Hebrew, not a Hellenist. Paul thought in Jewish categories, not Greek ones. Schweitzer therefore argued that the traditional Protestant emphasis on justification by faith missed the heart of Pauline theology. Paul’s emphasis was on our union with Christ [true enough], but Schweitzer argued that it is therefore wrong to think of justification by faith as a forensic declaration, the way historic Reformed and Protestant theologians always have. Here’s how Wright describes Schweitzer’s view on page 14: “What mattered [to Schweitzer] was being ‘in Christ’, rather than the logic-chopping debates about justification, [and therefore] one was free to live out the life of Christ in new and different ways.”

Notice, then: the historic Protestant understanding of justification by faith was under attack from the very birth of the earliest ideas that led to this new interpretation of the apostle Paul. Forensic justification was denied in favor of living out the life of Christ.

Please note that part of the problem with this and with later looks is that this is simply poisoning the well. These people were not evangelicals. So what? It’s good to read critics of our position. They can point us to our blind faults. If the evangelical perspective has not been correct all these years, maybe it’s the others who can show us that who are just as much trained in the field as we are.

What has to be asked is can the data be separated from those who hold it? If the answer is yes, then there is no problem, and I don’t see any other answer. Data is data regardless of who discovers it. We also have no reason to think Wright would be wanting to be in line with someone just because of who they are. Wright has in fact written a leading evangelical defense of the resurrection of Jesus. (You know, the central fact of Christian teaching.)

Wright’s point seems to be that the New Perspective on Paul has an impressive scholarly pedigree. What I want to point out is that these views are rooted in the kind of scholarship that has historically been hostile to evangelical distinctives, such as the authority and inspiration of Scripture. It is ironic, and I think not without significance, that the earliest exponents of this new expertise on Paul were all men who were happy to discard whatever portions of the Pauline writings did not fit their theories. So you have experts on Paul who reject large portions of what Paul actually wrote.

Okay. Did Wright do this? Has Wright jettisoned parts of Paul just because they disagree with his theories? It reminds me of how for a time thinkers in the medieval period were hesitant to take the words of Aristotle. He had been used by the Muslims after all. It was Aquinas who took this information and said it could be used by the church and in essence Christianized Aristotle. Did he take every belief Aristotle held? No. Still, he took his system of thought and said that it was in line with Christianity. He was also right.

I think Wright has done similar. He has not thrown out the material because it comes from non-evangelicals. Instead, he has looked at the data, said they might be on to something, and figured how it does work better with the Pauline corpus in his mind than the traditional interpretation. If this is so, the point of origins is irrelevant and just a big genetic fallacy.

Wright also claims that our misunderstanding of Judaism reached its zenith with Luther and the Reformers—in other words, historic Protestantism. Wright thinks evangelicals in particular have perpetuated the misunderstanding because of our systematic and theological approach to interpreting the New Testament. We’re guilty of thinking in Greek categories rather than Jewish ones. We have been too prone to read Augustine’s conflicts with Pelagius and Luther’s conflict with Rome back into the biblical text, and that has corrupted and prejudiced our understanding of the Jewish culture surrounding Paul.

Note what Johnson is saying about Wright. It is not our misunderstand of Scripture. It is our misunderstanding of Judaism. That did affect how we read Scripture. I think the Reformers were right in their stance on a problem in the RCC back in their day. They looked at the issue of their day and I think they gave the right answer. The problem was they also looked at what Paul was saying and thought Paul was dealing with the same issue. It was understandable why they would think that, but were they right? That is the key question.

For instance, if we look at the Gospels, we don’t find this being discussed that much. There is not really discussion on justification. It could be damaging that one time Jesus is asked about this topic, he tells the questioner to follow the commandments and then go and sell everything he has and give to the poor. He hardly gave the answer of justification by grace through faith.

Does that mean that it is false? No. It means that Jesus knew the heart of this person and this person was not willing to sacrifice to be a disciple. Jesus often speaks about the cost of discipleship. The strong words in Luke are highly misunderstood but they are the ones about hating your own mother and father and brother and sister. It doesn’t mean to literally hate, but Jesus is saying “Don’t become a disciple unless you are willing to give up everything.”

And let’s face it, we’re all still working on that one!

Let’s go to Jesus’s message in Mark. He starts by saying the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand. Repent and believe the Gospel. Question. What was He telling people to believe? If He was saying justification by grace through faith, on what grounds? No one other than Jesus had the foggiest idea that He would die on a cross and rise again, yet there was something in Jesus’s message to already be believed. What was it?

His baptism had had Him displayed as the Son of God which would be implicit evidence that He is the Messiah. The good news then is that the Kingdom of God is here. God is becoming king. Jesus regularly spoke about the Kingdom of God in His messages. Jesus spoke of it often. We barely say a word about it in church today.

How does this tie in with Paul? Go to 1 Cor. 15. Paul says that the Gospel is that Jesus Christ died and was buried and rose again for our sins. For Paul, this was the sign that the kingdom had come. Jesus being the promised Messiah meant something. The promise to the patriarchs of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, had come to pass. The one whom Moses wrote about had arrived. By raising Jesus from the dead, God had vindicated Him and shown that this man is His chosen king to rule the world. It was a new age. Our modern new age culture is wrong. The true new age began when Jesus was declared king of this world. Christ does not find His identity in us. We find ours in Him.

Let’s also keep in mind we have something the Reformers did not have. We have access to Jewish writings they were not aware of that have changed the way we see the culture and we can see that we were wrong in some understandings. I am sure that if the Reformers were here, they would be eagerly wanting to look at these writings and learn all they could from them and if they were wrong about something, they would want to be the first ones to know it.

Please note also that you can say all of this and still say the Reformers were right in their struggle. You can still say that faith alone is all that one needs to be saved. We will get into more of this as we go along.

He goes on to say (still on p. 32), “This point is clearly of enormous importance, but I cannot do more than repeat it in case there is any doubt: Jews like Saul of Tarsus were not interested in an abstract, timeless, ahistorical system of salvation. They were not even primarily interested in, as we say today, ‘going to heaven when they died.’” (By the way, that is a ridiculous statement, and if you want to see how ridiculous it is, read Hebrews 11:13–16. Those who had true faith were interested in going to heaven when they died. Hebrews 11:16: “they desired a better country, that is, an heavenly [one].”)

Except it’s not a ridiculous statement. What we have apparently is one text in the Bible that Johnson thinks makes his point. We don’t even have anything from Paul who this is supposed to be about. When Hebrews speaks of a heavenly country, what were they thinking? Going some place else when they died? No. They were thinking I think about God making this world His abode. This world is not an accident. It is not an afterthought.

Unfortunately, we have done this so much that we think going to heaven is the point of Christianity and then it’s not often so much about heaven as it is a get out of hell free card. You can have a call to salvation in a church service that talks about heaven and says absolutely nothing about the resurrection. It has no call to repentance. It says nothing about discipleship. Instead, it all becomes about how do I get to heaven.

If Johnson thinks that one passage can make something a ridiculous statement, then I have one passage from Jesus (Said three times) about selling all you have and giving to the poor to have eternal life. Therefore, it would be “ridiculous” to think that Jesus would believe in justification by faith. Do I think that? Not at all. I think all the passages have to be properly understood. The same with the Hebrews passage.

Johnson quotes Wright saying

Despite a long tradition to the contrary, the problem Paul addresses in Galatians is not the question of how precisely someone becomes a Christian or attains to a relationship with God. (I’m not even sure how Paul would express, in Greek, the notion of ‘relationship with God’, but we’ll leave that aside.) The problem he addresses is: should ex-pagan converts be circumcised or not? Now this question is by no means obviously to do with the questions faced by Augustine and Pelagius, or by Luther and Erasmus. On anyone’s reading, but especially within its first-century context, [the problem] has to do, quite obviously, with the question of how you define the people of God. Are they to be defined by the badges of the Jewish race, or in some other way?

At this point, the question to ask is “Is Wright right?” Let’s go back to the sources and look and see. Let’s look at those writings we have now that the Reformers did not have. Let’s look at the research. Johnson responds with

Wright is explicitly acknowledging that if the New Perspective is correct, and first-century Judaism had no issue with works-righteousness, then all the traditional interpretations of Romans, Galatians, and the other Pauline epistles must be thrown out the window, and we must go back to square one in our exegesis of the apostle Paul.

Wright’s critics, including me, have pointed out that this is a pretty audacious claim. Wright is claiming, in effect, is that he is the first person in the history of the church—or at least since the time of Augustine—who has correctly understood the apostle Paul (and hence the majority of the New Testament). Wright is pretty careful not to state explicitly that he thinks this would require a complete overhaul of Protestant confessional standards. And some of Wright’s Presbyterian advocates in America have denied with great passion that Wright’s beliefs pose any threat whatsoever to the historic Protestant creeds. But it would seem patently obvious to me that if the whole foundation of our Pauline exegesis is brought back to square one, then we can throw out every creed and systematic theology ever written by anyone who adhered to the old perspective on Paul, and start over with our theology as well. And in practice, that is precisely what is happening. That’s the very upheaval you see in the various controversies that are being addressed in this conference this weekend.

One can picture what it would be like if R.C. Johnson had been in a position of power in the RCC at the time of Luther.

“Can anyone believe this monk? He thinks he is the first one in church history for 1,500 years to truly understand the Scriptures and the rest of us have got them wrong! This is surely an audacious claim! If we follow him, we will have to go back to square one in our understanding of Paul!”

I remember years ago someone sent me a conversation with Al Mohler and others talking about Wright’s perspective. One speaker on this panel said “Wright may think he’s found something new in the Scripture, but he’s going against the tradition.” Yes. We as Protestants should have a problem with someone going with what they think they found in the Scriptures when that goes against our traditional understanding. Pardon me, but isn’t that what happened in the Reformation?

It’s happened elsewhere too. Galileo went against the tradition at the time as well. I also do think Galileo was arrogant. There was something else about him too. He was right. If we just say “Tradition!” then we always risk just being wrong. We dare not say we want skeptics to be open to Christianity if we are not open to being wrong.

We go on.

Of course, the apostle Paul uses that phrase repeatedly. In Galatians 2:16— in that one verse alone—he uses it three times: “Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified.” According to Wright, when Paul spoke of “the works of the law, he did not have in mind the moral requirements of the law of God. Rather, he was speaking of the badges of Jewish nationalism—circumcision, the dietary laws, the priesthood, the holy days, and whatnot. In other words, he’s talking about the ceremonial law. Quoting again from page 120, Wright says that the question Paul is addressing in Galatians is “the question of how you define the people of God. Are they to be defined by the badges of the Jewish race, or in some other way?”

In this, I think Wright is definitely on to something. Peter’s main issue was not what must I do to be saved. His issue was how he would be perceived by the others. People living the Gospel do not need to eat according to the Law. The Law does not show that they are Christians. It is faith in Christ. Peter’s actions were a denial of that. Peter’s salvation was never an issue.

Paul is then saying to the Galatians that the Judaizers think that to be a Christian, you must keep the law. It is not so you can be saved, but to show that you are saved. All true Christians will keep the Law. How can you recognize a Christian? He keeps the law. Unfortunately, this would catapult us right back to Judaism. How do you recognize a Jew? He keeps the law. How do you recognize a Christian? He keeps the law. Christ becomes useless then.

So what is it that sets a Christian apart? Faith in Christ. How do you know someone is a Christian? They have faith in Christ. If you want to say the law is what identifies you, then you indeed have to keep all of it.

Wright insists that in the true Pauline theology, justification by faith has almost nothing to do with a person’s standing before God, but it has everything to do with the corporate makeup of the covenant community. To quote Wright again (p. 119),

Justification” in the first century was not about how someone might establish a relationship with God. It was about God’s eschatological definition, both future and present, of who was, in fact, a member of his people. In Sanders’ terms, it was not so much about “getting in,” or indeed about “staying in,” as about “how you could tell who was in.” In standard Christian theological language, it wasn’t so much about soteriology as about ecclesiology; not so much about salvation as about the church.

So in Wright’s view, justification is not about how we relate to God; it’s about how ethnic and cultural groups relate to one another. Page 122: “What Paul means by justification … is not ‘how you become a Christian’, so much as ‘how you can tell who is a member of the covenant family.’ … [Justification] is the doctrine which insists that all who share faith in Christ belong at the same table, no matter what their racial differences.”

Is Wright right? I don’t think Johnson is. Wright is not saying it is about how we relate to one another. It’s about indeed who the community is. How the community treats itself is a good question, but the question is who is a part of the community. Whose community is it? The community of God.

This fits in very well with Judaism at the time. We in our world are much more individualistically based. To say to march to the beat of your own drummer and be your own man would make no sense to them. We often have the habit of reading our questions into Scripture thinking the Scripture is addressing the same questions when it is not. I think this is what is often happening in our reading of Genesis 1 as an example.

Is there no soteriological or personal dimension in Wright’s understanding of justification, then? There is, and this is one of the most troubling aspects of his work. Like many today who are proposing new understandings of justification, he bifurcates justification into immediate and future aspects, and pushes the personal and salvific dimensions of justification into the eschatalogical future, in a final judgment. Page 129: “Present justification declares, on the basis of faith, what future justification will affirm publicly … on the basis of the entire life.”

That’s troubling for two reasons: first, it makes a person’s covenant faithfulness—obedience—the basis of final justification, thus grounding the ultimate declaration of righteousness in the believer’s own works, rather than grounding justification completely in the finished work of Christ on our behalf.

And it does no such thing whatsoever. Last I checked, we all seem to think that works are a part of the evidence of salvation. James is right. If you say you have faith and you have no works, then you do not really have faith. How is this a problem? I don’t know any evangelical who wants to say you can say the sinner’s prayer, live like a heathen, and still get eternal life at the end. Faith in Christ ought to result in some works.

And even though Wright’s defenders have tried desperately to exonerate him from this charge, it seems clear to me that throughout his book, he is selfconsciously and deliberately rejecting the main distinctive—the material principle—of the Protestant Reformation. In Luther’s words, this is the article by which the church stands or falls. In Calvin’s words, it is the principle hinge of all religion.

If Johnson thinks this is convincing, then I’ll use the same principle. It seems clear to me that Johnson has encountered a new idea and it goes against what he has always believed in his mind, so he has started pushing the panic button. I think this is also what Geisler did when Licona came out with his ideas and it is sadly a common evangelical tactic.

I also think it’s odd to say the church stands or falls by this. What happened to the resurrection? Do we really think the world was hearing in the first century “Good news! You can be justified by grace through faith!” and that was the contorversial message? The controversial message was about this dead man named Jesus who was alive and God’s Messiah through whom He would rule the world.

And you see this most clearly in the fifth distinctive of Wright’s position that I want to highlight for you. Here is idea number five, if you’re making a list of these: According to Wright, Protestant and Reformed exegetes who in the mainstream of evangelical theology have all misread what Paul meant when he spoke of “the righteousness of God.” According to Wright, divine righteousness is not an asset that can be imputed from God to the believer. It has nothing to do with virtue or excellence or moral rectitude that can be imputed. Instead, God’s righteousness is simply His covenant faithfulness. And when Paul speaks of the believer’s righteousness as a righteousness that comes from God, he is talking about covenant membership, our status in the covenant, which ultimately must be maintained by our own faithfulness.

Now if that sounds to you like implicit denial of the classic doctrine of imputation, I believe that is precisely what Wright is saying. He downplays or denies or redefines the principle of imputation at every turn. Page 98: “If we use the language of the law court, it makes no sense whatsoever to say that the judge imputes, imparts, bequeaths, conveys, or otherwise transfers his righteousness to either the plaintiff or the defendant. Righteousness is not an object, a substance or a gas which can be passed across the courtroom.”

According to Wright (p. 123), 1 Corinthians 1:30 is “the only passage I know of where something called ‘the imputed righteousness of Christ,’ a phrase more often found in post-Reformation theology and piety than in the New Testament, finds any basis in the text.” Wright then goes on to argue that if we are to claim 1 Corinthians 1:30 as a proof text about the imputation of Christ’s righteousness, “we must also be prepared to talk of the imputed wisdom of Christ; the imputed sanctification of Christ … “ and so on.

Say what you will about Wright; he himself makes it abundantly clear that he does not like the notion of imputation, because he does not believe divine righteousness is something that can be reckoned, or put to the account, of the believer. And he is equally silent—ominously silent—about the biblical teaching that the believer’s guilt was imputed to Christ and paid for on the cross.

We can wonder if Johnson has changed any of this since Wright has now a whole book on the atonement, but I am doubtful that he has. Wright is correct that only one text explicitly says anything like that. It’s strange that Johnson would seem to have a problem with Wright saying he only has one text that can be said to argue for this position when that’s exactly what Johnson did earlier in this article with Hebrews 11:13-16.

Therefore, he says, we have got the gospel all wrong. And he says this repeatedly. Page 60: “‘The gospel’ is not, for Paul, a message about ‘how one gets saved’, in an individual and ahistorical sense.” Page 41; here is how Wright 10 describes what he is convinced is a misunderstanding of the gospel: “In certain circles within the church … ‘the gospel’ is supposed to be a description of how people get saved; of the theological mechanism whereby, in some people’s language, Christ takes our sin and we his righteousness.”

Some people’s language”? Wright himself disdains to use such language. He is careful to insist that he is not intolerant of people who do use that language. He goes on (p. 41): “I am perfectly comfortable with what people normally mean when they say ‘the gospel’. I just don’t think it’s what Paul means.”

But if that’s not what Paul means, it’s not what Scripture means. Is Wright suggesting that Protestants have historically proclaimed a “different gospel”? It would certainly be uncharacteristic of Tom Wright to anathematize anyone, but he does rather clearly imply that he thinks Protestants have been getting the gospel wrong since the 16th century.

And many Calvinists have been saying the same about others. Anybody seen that saying “Calvinism is the Gospel”? If that is really meant, then that would mean anyone who is an arminian is holding to a different Gospel. Wright has not denied the Gospel. Instead, He has broadened it. It’s not just about the individual. It’s about the community of God and God Himself.

Johnson says Wright thinks we’ve been getting it wrong for a long time. So did Martin Luther. If we followed Johnson consistently, we would have to get rid of the Reformation.

Now I promised to give you as many biblical answers to Tom Wright’s New Perspective as time allows, and in the time that remains, that is what I want to do. Let me try to answer each one of the five ideas I have outlined with at least one or two biblical arguments:

First, there’s the notion that we have misunderstood first-century Judaism. I answer that Tom Wright has erred by lending more credence to secular scholarship than he does to the testimony of Scripture. We ought to draw our understanding of the first-century religious climate from the New Testament itself, and not from the disputed conclusions of a handful of skeptical twentieth-century scholars who refuse to bow to the authority of Scripture.

And I say Johnson has not looked at the data that has been presented. Is the data wrong because some non-Christians came up with it? Do we really want to present an echo chamber approach? We tell non-Christians they should learn from Christians and non-Christians both, but we will not do the same?

And what about Johnson? Is he going directly to Scripture? I contend that he has pointed to tradition in this piece far more than he has to Scripture. Once again, I thought the Reformation had something to do with questioning long held traditions because of the truth of Scripture, but maybe I was wrong.

And what does Scripture say about the religion of the Jews, and the Pharisees in particular? Scripture clearly teaches that their central error was that they trusted too much in their own righteousness rather than resting their faith in the Old Testament truth that God would cover them with the garment of His own righteousness. Paul says this explicitly in Romans 10:3: “They being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God.” Jesus also said it repeatedly. He constantly criticized the Pharisees for trying to justify themselves. Remember the parable of the Pharisee and the Publican? Luke 18:9 says Jesus told that parable “unto certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others.” And the whole point of Paul’s testimony in Philippians 3 was to show that he once had “confidence in the flesh”—those are Paul’s precise words in Philippians 3:4. But Paul turned from that, jettisoned his self-righteousness, regarded it as dung, and testified that his one hope now, as a Christian and a believer, was “To be found in [Christ,] not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith.”

Unfortunately, quoting a Scripture does not mean your interpretation of it is correct. The Jews in Romans 10 were rejecting Christ and saying “We will show our righteousness by the Law.” That would fit in just fine with what Wright says. In Luke, the Pharisee is not righteous because he keeps the law. The tax collector is because he lives by faith. Again, this is just fine with Wright. In Phillipians 3, Paul was one who kept the law blamelessly by his words, but his righteousness was not in keeping the law, but by identifying himself as a believer in Christ. Again, Wright would have no problem.

Wright tries to do away with the force of that text by removing the word righteousness, and suggesting that Paul was talking about “covenant membership.” But both the context and the very words of the passage prove that what Paul was describing was the difference between two contrasting ideas of righteousness—one he calls “my own righteousness,” and the other, an alien righteousness—the righteousness of God in Christ.

Not at all. Paul being faithful to the old covenant would not save if God had made a new covenant. The righteousness of the new is superior to the old for it is based on the fulfillment of the promises of Christ. That Johnson has not considered what someone who works to understand this can come up quickly shows me that Johnson is just pushing the panic button.

Wright is simply wrong—egregiously wrong—when he suggests that self-righteousness was not a problem in first-century Judaism.

Johnson is simply wrong—egregiously wrong—when he suggests that self-righteousness was a problem in first-century Judaism and maybe he should have read those scholars that Wright read instead of dismissing them.

By the way, Wright is making a caricature of the historic Protestant position when he suggests that most interpreters have equated first-century Judaism with Pelagianism, the notion that sinners can pull themselves up by their own bootstraps and save themselves through their own works.

Just quoting this to say the irony of a caricature here is amazing.

Of course Judaism had a major emphasis on grace, and the mercy of God. The Pharisees knew the Old Testament, and the idea of grace was plainly prominent in the Old Testament. But the religion of the Pharisees, and the bulk of first-century Judaism, had corrupted the Old Testament notion of grace. Their religion wasn’t like Pelagianism, which is utterly devoid of grace. But it was much like semi-pelagianism, which has a watered-down notion of grace, and still places too much stress on human works. Semi-pelagianism suggests that grace is enough to get your foot in the door of salvation, but you have to maintain your salvation, or your covenant membership, by your own faithfulness and obedience to the law.

And Johnson bases this on….what? What scholarship on Second Temple Judaism is he reading to tell us that this is the way Jews thought? Your guess is as good as mine.

Listen, even in the way Tom Wright describes first-century Judaism, it is clear that there was a semi-pelagian tendency in that religion. And frankly, one of my great concerns with Wright and others who have followed his lead (as well as people like Norman Shepherd and the Auburn Avenue movement) is this: Their notion of “covenant faithfulness,” where a person maintains his membership in the covenant by legal means, through obedience, and looks for a final justification grounded at least partly in their own works—smacks too much of neonomian legalism for my tastes. It turns the gospel into a “new law”—a toned-down legal system where the requirements are diminished so that imperfect obedience counts as true obedience. And that makes the sinner’s own works either the ground or the instrument of final justification. That kind of thinking frankly has the stench of semi-pelagianism all over it. It is a subtle form of works-righteousness.

Except Johnson is reading his individualism into this. The Jew would not say I am doing the works of the Law so that I can be saved. They would say they are doing it because they are saved and this is what people of the covenant do. How do I know I am in the covenant? I fulfill my part of it! God is my patron! My role is to do what He has commanded me to do!

My reply is that if Wright is correct and the only issue Paul was concerned about was racial and cultural divisions in the Galatian churches and elsewhere, the force of Paul’s response is a little bit hard to understand. If Paul’s plea was merely an echo of Rodney-King theology (“Why can’t we all just get along?”) it’s hard to see why Paul himself pronounced such harsh anathemas against the Judaizers in Galatians 1. In effect, Paul banned them from the table Wright insists ought to be open to everyone who acknowledges Christ as Lord.

Actually, Paul’s response is pretty easy to understand. If the Galatians go the way they are doing, then Christ is useless because it’s being part of the community by the old standard as I said earlier. This is not about getting along. Again, Johnson has made, dare I say, a caricature, of the situation.

What about this third distinctive? Wright says we have mistaken what Paul meant by the expression “works of the law.”

Romans 3:20 alone blows that argument to smithereens. Paul says, “By the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.”

It’s the moral law, not the ceremonial law, that puts our sin under a bright light and condemns us. Paul is not talking about ethnic badges here; he is talking about the moral demands of the law. And he is saying as plainly as possible that the law, with all its high moral standards, cannot possibly justify us, because it condemns us as sinners.

Romans 3:20 hardly blows it to smithereens. Johnson speaks about the moral law and not the ceremonial law, but we have to ask if a Jew would have made that distinction. Paul in fact in the passage that talks about the morality of those who follow the Law also talks about circumcision. Does Johnson think that circumcision is part of the moral law? Is a Gentile man immoral if he does not get circumcised?

Does the Law show what sin is? Yes. The Law then could not be the final basis for justification. It would have to be something else that would show someone is justified. That would be faith in Christ. Again, this is not a problem for Wright’s view. Johnson strikes me as someone who does not want to learn what his opponents believe. He’s quick to find something he thinks makes the case and then declares victory.

Wright’s definition of justification (as “covenant membership”) downplays and almost completely eliminates the ideas of sin and forgiveness from the doctrine of justification completely. But forgiveness and redemption from the guilt of sin are the very issues Paul is dealing with in Romans 3 and 4. And Paul’s illustrations and Old Testament proofs make it clear that what he is talking about is first of all individual, not corporate, justification. He is dealing with guilt, not merely covenant status. Romans 4:4–5: “Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as grace but as debt. But to the one who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted [“reckoned”; “imputed to him”] for righteousness.”

Verses 6–7: “Just as David also describes the blessedness of the man to whom God imputes righteousness apart from works: Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, And whose sins are covered.”

There’s no way to be faithful to the meaning of that text if you try to evacuate the notions of individual guilt and forgiveness from the idea of justification.

No way? Challenge accepted!

In fact, it is quite easy to be faithful to the text. Why is Abraham cited? Abraham is exhibit A in all of these. Abraham was the friend of God. Abraham was the person God made an original covenant with. If Abraham was justified by works, then the Jews would have a case. What does the text say though? Abraham believed in God and it was credited to Him as righteousness. Abraham’s identity marker then was not circumcision. It was faith to the covenant. We today are declared righteous by faith in the covenant. The difference is we see the covenant afterward.

David says the same. There is no need for individualism here. Community minded people certainly know individuals exist. Their focus is just not on the individual. It is on the community. The group comes first and then the person comes second.

I could go on, but time is short. Let me just give you one other example, from the teaching of Jesus. That parable of the Pharisee and the publican in Luke 18 teaches the very thing N. T. Wright wants to deny about the doctrine of justification. This is the one place where Jesus expounds most clearly on the principle of justification. And he is fully in agreement with the classic Reformed interpretation of Paul. He ends that parable by saying in Luke 18:14: “I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

There you have the principle of justification apart from works of any kind. It deals with individual guilt and forgiveness, not merely corporate relationships. One man was justified; the other was condemned.

And this passage I also explained earlier. Each individual has to show how they are a part of the community, but the question is what establishes the community? Many of us are interested in what establishes the individual. The ancients were not.

But Scripture nonetheless does speak of the imputation of righteousness to the believer. Jesus commands us in Matthew 6:33 to “seek” God’s righteousness—a notion that doesn’t fit with the New Perspective definition. Ephesians 4:24 connects the notion of righteousness with “true holiness.” In other words, it is a extensive moral attribute, not merely “covenant faithfulness.” Any definition of righteousness that does not include those concepts is an impoverished definition.

But why not? This is again simple enough. Jesus’s point is that God will be faithful to His people. Seek that when seeking God. Remember His promises and trust Him. Ephesians is about our being faithful to the covenant on our end. Again, this is not a problem.

Righteousness is a much bigger concept than Tom Wright will acknowledge, and herein lies my chief complaint with his approach to theology: he has made righteousness a smaller concept than Scripture does. He makes sin a minor issue. He downplays the idea of atonement. He barely touches on the sinner’s need for forgiveness. He diminishes the doctrine of justification by declaring it a second-order doctrine. What he ends up with is a theology that is destitute of virtually all the lofty concepts that the Protestant Reformation recovered from the barrenness of Medieval theology.

Yes. Next we’ll be told that he kicks dogs when he walks across the street and takes candy from babies. Not at all. Johnson is pushing the panic button here. In fact, I think many on the other side diminish the resurrection by making it a second-order doctrine. Justification is a result of the resurrection. The resurrection is not the result of justification.

There is nothing in Wright’s perspective that downplays sin. Sin is the reason the Kingdom of God has to come on Earth. There is nothing that downplays forgiveness. One cannot enter the Kingdom without it. There is nothing that denies the atonement. One cannot be at peace with God without accepting His covenant.

From here we go on to a look at Steve Chalke and that this is where Wright is taking us. We will downplay sin and the atonement and everything else. If downplaying is the problem, then let me make a suggestion. Only twice in this article does Johnson mention the resurrection. When he does, he is talking about Wright’s defense of it. Nowhere in this piece does Johnson in any way tie justification to the resurrection.

Now if I was talking about justification, I would have to go to the resurrection. The cross is not what justifies us because if Jesus had remained dead, there would be no forgiveness. Jesus would have been just another sinner who died for His sins. It is because He rose from the dead that everything is different.

In fact, I’d go back even further. Too often when we give our talks about the Gospel, we start with Adam and Eve and then jump straight to Jesus. Maybe it’s just me, but I think that stuff in the middle that we call the Old Testament could be important. Just saying!

Like Johnson, I am not a prophet, but I do think I see where the wind is blowing here. We can expect that evangelicals will once again push the panic button when a new idea comes up and refuse to look at the claims and go into protection mode instead. Such is a disgrace for us. It is better to debate a question without settling it than to settle it without debating it.

What do I encourage you to do? Do what should be done. Read both sides. If you think these secular scholars are just trying to undermine evangelicalism, read their work. See what they say. What is their claim? What is the data behind it? Does the data back the claim? Read Piper, but read Wright as well. Learn from all. Come to your own conclusion.

And let it be clear also I am not pronouncing any anathemas on those who disagree. I stand with any who proclaim that Jesus is the Lord of all who rose from the dead bodily. That is the essential for me. I don’t expect my theology to be right in everything. When my time for judgment comes, I will say that I placed my trust in Christ and that is all.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Evidence That Demands A Verdict

What do I think of Josh and Sean McDowell’s latest book published by Thomas Nelson? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

The Evidence books have been classic staples of apologetics for some time. When I found out the latest one was coming out and there was an advance launch team, I decided I would try to be a part of it. Since I have a good relationship with Sean McDowell, it wasn’t too difficult to get that done and spent the next month or so reading on my Kindle the copy I had.

So I figured this time I would put my thoughts down in the form of pros and cons.

Pros — This one is definitely thorough. While it focuses on historical objections, there are other sections, such as asking if miracles are possible and questions related to a postmodern climate such as the nature of truth. Questions like theism itself or creation-evolution questions for the most part are left untouched, but that’s fine because an apologetics book is not meant to cover everything.

Also, the writers do admit any problems in the field. For instance, in a chapter on Old Testament archeaology, they rightly say that some claims from the past are being questioned today and we need to do more research. The goal in these cases is not to establish certainty but plausibility. I consider this quite helpful.

There’s also sections on popular internet fads today, such as if Jesus existed and if He was copied from pagan gods. Of course, scholars don’t take this seriously, but we all know that internet atheists don’t really pay attention to the world of scholarship. Those who do care will get information from this to give them the upper hand.

Another positive is that each chapter can be read on its own. Want to read about the Exodus but don’t really care about establishing that Jesus wasn’t copied from pagan gods right now? Fine. Go to the chapter on the Exodus. Prior knowledge of earlier chapters isn’t necessary.

Finally, there’s also the fact that there is interaction with real scholars in the field and often on both sides. Evidence can be seen as a gateway book. The person who gets this book should not think it’s the be-all and end-all. Instead, they should find the sections they like the most and be willing to read the scholars that are cited to learn even more.

Cons — There are of course some things I would like to see improved. For instance, sometimes reading can seem like one is reading encyclopedia articles. As I thought about this, it occurred to me that an interesting format would be for them to do something like Strobel has done and that’s to go and do the research and then go and interview scholars on the matter and ask about what was come across in the research to create a much more conversational feel, which is what I think so well contributed to the success of Strobel’s books.

Second, sometimes the interaction with the other side was not the best. For instance, on the resurrection of Jesus, there is examination of the counterclaims of Richard Carrier. I would much rather have seen Gerd Ludemann or Bart Ehrman or even Jeffrey Jay Lowder here. Save Carrier for the chapter on the existence of Jesus.

Third, sometimes I did tire of seeing regularly the language of “noted scholar” or “prominent scholar.” This was often used too abundantly and many times, I have seen the language used in the sense of “A great man has spoken. The case is closed.” I am not saying the McDowells necessarily used it that way, but the language does put me on my guard. I find it a good practice after all to be as skeptical of books by my own side as I am the other side.

Still, there is a lot of information here that can be helpful, and the price for the most part is reasonable from what I’ve seen on Amazon. I am also pleased to see both Josh and Sean working together. Sean is certainly working to be a great apologist in his own right and I am eager to see what the future holds.

In Christ,
Nick Peters