Book Plunge: Evidence Considered Chapter 38

Is Jesus superior? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

In this chapter, Glenton Jelbert responds to Tal Davis on if Jesus is superior to all other religious leaders. I really have no interest in prooftexting from the Bible and such. If the Biblical view of Jesus is true, such as Him being fully God and fully man, I think He is ipso facto superior to all other religious leaders. None of the rest of them could claim such a thing. What I am interested in are the ways that Jelbert gets Jesus wrong.

Jelbert wants to know the evidence that Jesus is perfect and sinless. Of course, as a Christian, I point to the resurrection as the validation of His specific claims about Himself. Jelbert doesn’t accept that. If one does not accept Christianity as true, they will not accept Jesus as sinless. They will definitely not accept the resurrection.

From here, Jelbert goes into the idea that if Jesus does anything as a perfect person, it must be good. This is so. It doesn’t mean that it is for us. It is just fine for Jesus to stand up and proclaim Himself as God. It would be blasphemy and/or idiocy for me to do the same thing.

Jelbert brings up supposed genocides in the Old Testament as another example of this. The difference I see here is that not only does God command war in the Old Testament, but the Israelites had abundant evidence to think it was God doing it. After all, they had seen Egypt destroyed by plagues, the parting of the Red Sea, manna falling from Heaven, Mount Sinai burning with the presence of God, and numerous other miracles. If you want to claim God has told you to do something that seems contrary, you’d better have just as good evidence.

Jelbert also says that going with revealed truth requires suppressing intelligence, rationality, and one’s moral compass. No argument is given for this statement. I see no reason to accept it and think it just implies Jelbert is saying that Christianity requires checking ones’ brains at the door. No doubt, some Christians do, but it is not a requirement.

Jelbert also writes about the atonement. He has a series of questions.

Why does God need to kill Himself/Jesus because of our sins?
What is the mechanism by which this works?
If Jesus and God are one, how did Jesus die and God not?
What does death even mean when applied to an infinite being?
Why would God be satisfied by this?

Jelbert says that none of these questions have meaningful answers and the produced doctrines just assert that no contradiction exists. Well, thus far, no contradiction has been presented. Asking questions is not the same as presenting contradictions.

Also noteworthy is that Jelbert does not interact with ANY theories on the atonement. There are multiple ones. Jelbert just accepts that none of them work. This is hardly the way to do research.

But hey, let’s look at these questions.

First off, God doesn’t kill Himself at all. Jesus gives Himself because our sins put a barrier up between us and God. Sin has to be taken seriously and sin is rebellion against a good and holy God. For God to ignore sin is to put creation above Himself. That would be treating us as greater than God. Meanwhile, we could not pay such a price. It’s not so much guilt as it is a debt.

What is the mechanism by which this works? There are many different ways, but let’s suppose I just said, “I don’t know.” Meanwhile, I do know that Jesus rose from the dead and is God’s chosen king. Am I to reject Jesus just because I don’t know how atonement works?

If Jesus and God are one, how did Jesus die and God didn’t? Jelbert assumes that Jesus and the Father are one person. They are not. The Son experienced death in that He was separated from His body on the cross, which wouldn’t apply to the Father since the Father has no body.

What does death mean when applied to an infinite being? For Jesus, it means the separation of His soul from His body. That doesn’t have anything to do with infinity.

Why would God be satisfied by this? See the second answer.

With this, I have answered Jelbert’s questions. Perhaps my answers aren’t all right. Okay. However, they are answers. Others will have different answers. Even if one can’t be proven, they can still be seen as coherent.

Jelbert then goes on to list some problems with Jesus. One is that Jesus was wrong about the time of His coming, which we saw earlier was actually false. He also says this led to unwise advice such as not worrying about tomorrow since it will take care of itself. How this is unwise is not stated. Jesus also could not have been talking about saving up since most people were day-wage earners and had nothing to save up. He was just telling such people to trust in God for tomorrow.

Of course, there’s something on eternal punishment. Jelbert apparently takes a one size fits all approach to hell and heaven. Some people in each place will be better off and worse than others. If Jelbert is aware of this, he shows no knowledge of it.

He points to calling the Canaanite woman a dog in Matthew 15. He says he doesn’t find it funny, but the key is the woman herself was not offended by it and saw it as a challenge from Jesus to rise up. Jesus was not joking, but offering the lady a chance to show herself. I think He was also speaking the way His apostles would speak and then letting the woman show herself even better than they were, and in turn, He did heal her daughter.

He speaks about the pigs being slaughtered and how the owners weren’t compensated, but in this kind of area, pigs would not have been a herd that should have been there. As for the fig tree, I just think we’re getting into bizarre areas when people are concerned over a fig tree. God as the Lord of Life can restore or kill a fig tree whenever He wants.

In the end, I find Jelbert’s arguments again weak. Maybe he’ll do better next time.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Christian Delusion Chapter 7

Was God clear? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

If you read my blog, you may have recently noticed that in the past couple of months I blogged on this topic. It’s not a shock that John….whatever his name is….wants to bring up such a topic in his own book. God should have been more clear in His communication.

Keep in mind we live in an age where we have law codes written out to cover every possible contingency in any situation and the code for one law can be longer than all the books of Moses, but it doesn’t stop us from having armies of lawyers across the nation debating points back and forth. Yet somehow, Loftus thinks that if just a few things were clarified, we would all do better.

Who can blame him? After all, we have a great habit of listening to moral teachers. Right? No. We don’t. As Lewis said in Mere Christianity:

It is quite true that if we took Christ’s advice we should soon be living in a happier world. You need not even go as far as Christ. If we did all that Plato or Aristotle or Confucius told us, we should get on a great deal better than we do. And so what? We never have followed the advice of the great teachers. Why are we likely to begin now? Why are we more likely to follow Christ than any of the others? Because he is the best moral teacher? But that makes it even less likely
that we shall follow him. If we cannot take the elementary lessons, is it likely we are going to take the most advanced one? If Christianity only means one more bit of good advice, then Christianity is of no importance. There has been no lack of good advice for the last four thousand years. A bit more makes no difference.

Loftus should know this as in his original book he talks about how he gave in to adultery and yet he was a Christian and I think the text is quite clear. (Interestingly enough, he thinks that there are barbaric capital punishment laws for extramarital sex.) Naturally, Loftus interprets everything according to our moral grid much the same way that all Scripture needed to be clear for us. You see, we in the American West just have to have been God’s priority.

When we get to Leviticus 25 and the slavery passage, Loftus says that upon this rock, the Christian faith dies. Yes. The existence of this passage overturns all the data we have on the historical Jesus. Even if Loftus’s interpretation was correct, it would not put a dent in Christian theism.

Loftus also has the saying about Nazis having belts that said, “God with us.” These were belts that were not original to the Nazis but were part of the German army prior. What a shock anyway that politicians use God for their own purposes.

Loftus also looks at all that went on in Judges 19-22. First off, there are 21 chapters in the book. Second, this final section starts at 17. Finally, if John thinks what happened is awful, the writer agrees! He’s saying this is what happens when the people of God have no rightful ruling presence and turn from Him!

Loftus also says if God wanted people to be convinced of His message, just send a prophet who does great miracles! Wonderful idea! He did that! The name of the prophet was Jesus, and He got crucified by the people He came to save.

When we get to the New Testament, Loftus talks about the denial of the value of the world that has encouraged some people to sell everything and give it to the poor. Interesting that Loftus sees this as a negative. First off, the world as God created is not seen as evil and passages like 1 Tim. 6:17 said all things are given richly for our enjoyment. Second, it’s amusing to hear Loftus complaining because some people did sell and give to the poor. How awful!

In looking at responses, one argument Loftus makes in reply to true Christians didn’t do this is that there is no Christianity, but only Christianities! One wonders what this whole book is about or his whole blog is about because I thought he had a pretty clear idea what Christianity is. We don’t see denunciations that much if ever of Muhammad in here for instance. I wonder why.

He also has something about high-context societies, obviously still suffering from the pounding he got at TheologyWeb.com. Apparently, Loftus is opposed to the idea of doing work to understand a message and thinks God should have spelled it out and waited for a low-context society, but even in our low-context society, we still have the same debates. It’s hard to think why this would be an improvement.

In the end, I just see Loftus making excuses for his own inability and blaming God for it. It’s not that our society is so much better. We have problems with that as well. Could it be the problem really is us?

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: The Christian Delusion Chapter 6

How does the Bible fare against modern scholarship? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

We continue our look at John somebody or other’s work called The Christian Delusion. This next chapter is about the Bible and modern scholarship by Paul Tobin. So what do I think of his work?

Not very much. For one thing, scholarship is apparently a loose term in his world. He refers to Randal Helms as a scholar (He’s not) which is amusing since Richard Carrier does the same thing in his chapter.  This is not to say that Helms is right or wrong, (Even though he is wrong) but it is to say Helms is not a recognized scholar in the field. To say someone is a scholar when they are not is to avoid being honest.

Tobin tells us that in Galatians 3:13 we read the Law is a curse and compared it to dung in Philippians 3:8. Meanwhile, James spoke highly of it in James 1:25 and 2:8. Well, not exactly. In Galatians, Paul speaks about the curse of the law by saying that all who break the law are under a curse and that cursed is anyone who is hung on a tree. In Philippians 3, he says the works that he did compared to the righteousness in Christ that he has are dung. None of these are about the law but effects from the law. Now if only there were some place that we could go to where Paul said what he thinks of the law….oh wait! There is! Let’s go to Romans 7.

What shall we say, then? Is the law sinful? Certainly not! Nevertheless, I would not have known what sin was had it not been for the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of coveting. For apart from the law, sin was dead. Once I was alive apart from the law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died. 10 I found that the very commandment that was intended to bring life actually brought death. 11 For sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, deceived me, and through the commandment put me to death. 12 So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good.

So why didn’t Tobin go to this place? This is the clearest statement of Paul on the Law and yet Tobin ignores it, apparently hoping to catch readers off guard who don’t know their Bibles as well. It looks like Tobin didn’t read well the passages that he presented and didn’t present the clearest disagreeing passages.

Tobin later goes to the Genesis flood. He says that the Genesis account depends on Gilgamesh for the following reasons.

Floods are common in the ancient Mesopotamian world while Israel is more arid.
The geographic accounts make Mesopotamia a more likely origin spot.
Gilgamesh was known throughout the ancient world, and a fragment was even found in Israel.
Babylonia was the more dominant and it’s more likely that the greater culture influenced the lesser.

We can forgive Tobin since The Lost World of the Flood was not out for not knowing arguments in there, but even these are not convincing. That floods are common shows that it is quite likely some great flood happened. The story of Adam and Eve does start more in the Mesopotamian area and Abraham came from the area of Babylonia. A fragment of the text of Gilgamesh was found in Israel. So what?

Ignored are all the differences. The craft in Gilgamesh is not seaworthy and ends with the hero gaining immortality and meanwhile, the story of Noah ends with the hero getting drunk and being shamed by his son. Note in all of this, Tobin doesn’t go to any of the text of any of the works itself. It’s enough to just do something like this and say that copying took place.

Tobin also says Moses’s father-in-law had three names. Yes. This was common depending on the context and culture one was speaking to that one could go by multiple names. This isn’t a problem.

He also says that a nation of about a million people wandered for forty years and nothing has been found. The Scythians also wandered for longer and had that many people and the only things we’ve found from them are the things that were built to last, such as tombs from their kings. What does Tobin expect us to find exactly?

Tobin concludes in the end that modern archaeology is no friend of the Bible. What’s interesting about this is not a single thing is said about the New Testament and archaeology. This is something quite serious to leave out. Did Tobin not do this because the case in the New Testament is indeed much better?

He moves on to fairy tales saying that Genesis 2 and Numbers 22 have a talking snake and donkey respectively. Let’s grant for the sake of argument that this was a fully literalistic account, which can be debated. How is this necessarily a problem? This might be a shock to Tobin, but ancient people knew that animals don’t talk just as much as we do. The only way you can say it’s ipso facto nonsense is if there is no extra-material agent that can work miracles of some kind. That’s a huge assumption to make. It’s just atheists saying “This disagrees with my worldview, so it’s nonsense.”

Tobin also claims the virgin birth, which I do affirm, was taken from pagan cultures all around. Go read these accounts and see how similar they are to the New Testament. You’re going to find they’re vastly different and is another reason the copycat hypothesis is losing its appeal.

We naturally have something about the silence of the slaughter in Bethlehem. After all, wouldn’t Josephus have mentioned such a massive event. First off, it was hardly massive. If anything it would have most likely been a dozen or so kids. Second, how could we possibly know we have an exhaustive list from Josephus of every horror that Herod ever did?

There are also claims about forgeries. Tobin is convinced 2 Thessalonians is a forgery that is calling 1 Thessalonians a forgery. I have a much more different view. I do think both letters are Pauline and that Paul doesn’t realize the letter spoken of is 1 Thessalonians and that he was badly misunderstood.

Later on, Tobin also says that if evolution is true, then Genesis is no longer history and humans aren’t in the image of God. No argument is given for this and there is a history of Christians as far back as Darwin who had no problem with evolution. Tobin shows no awareness of them.

We conclude in the end that Tobin’s chapter is, like the others, highly lacking.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Christian Delusion Chapter 5

What are we to make of the cosmology of the Bible? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

It’s an odd world I live in where I actually find reading Edward Babinski more refreshing than I do the other writers I have read so far. Not that I’m a big fan of Babinski, but at least he had an approach that was simply just the facts. So what were the facts in this case? This time, it was all about Biblical cosmology.

So in preparing to see what I would write about in this chapter that I thought was worthwhile, I decided to go back through and see what all on my Kindle I had highlighted. I started at the beginning of the chapter and went straight through. What did I find?

Nothing.

You see, Babinski’s work might be troublesome to someone who thinks the Bible has to speak in precise scientific language but to the rest of us, it really isn’t a problem. I don’t have a problem with the language being used any more than I have a problem when I hear the weather forecast and hear when sunrise and sunset will be.

Consider when we are told to seek the Lord with all of our heart. Most of us realize that the organ that handles the blood flow in our bodies does not lead the way in our love. Still, we have this kind of mindset today. We just had Valentine’s Day and you can find boxes of candy shaped like hearts at the store on discount that weren’t bought.

It’s my contention that God was not interested in teaching the ancients the proper science. That material would be useful to them. It would also distract from the message that was wanting to be given at the time. We might consider that the most important information ever, but that’s our own prejudice kicking in and telling us how the work should be read.

This is a mistake I think both atheists and Christians often make with the Bible. Many people who go to Genesis 1 make the exact same mistake. They read it as a scientific account and think it has to be that way. It makes sense because when we think about an origins story of the universe, we think of how it came to be. The Bible is not interested in how it came to be or when it came to be, but it is more interested in who brought it to be the way that it is and why did He do it that way?

I do think at times Babinski is too quick to quote things in a literalistic way still, such as when the Bible speaks about the ends of the Earth. We can still use that saying today. There is also the fact that the Bible speaks about the circles of the Earth and the four corners of the Earth and John was certainly not ignorant of what Isaiah said. When a figure of speech is used and when it is not is up to hermeneutics. I also think Matthew would know very well that there was no mountain in Israel from which you could see all the world. I’m inclined to think that Jesus was given a vision.

So those who are greatly troubled by this chapter, you might want to check your hermeneutic. The rest of us could find things about ancient cosmology from surrounding cultures that was interesting, but nothing that troubled us. We don’t approach the Bible as concordists.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

Book Plunge: Born Divine

What do I think of Robert Miller’s book published by Polebridge Press? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Miller’s book is a book looking at the birth narratives with an emphasis on the virgin birth (Which I do affirm). It reminds me of what I read in Richard Shenk’s book on the topic that the virgin birth is really a shibboleth. If you want to know someone’s ultimate worldview and how they see Jesus, this is one question to ask. Was Jesus born of a virgin? Larry King was once on David Letterman’s show and asked if he could interview one person past or present who would it be. He immediately answered Jesus Christ. When asked what he would ask he said, “I would ask if He was born of a virgin. For me, the answer would explain all of history.”

So it is in Miller’s book. I certainly agree that most people don’t approach the doctrine of the virgin birth apart from all the others. It is more based on other doctrines. I hold to the resurrection, for instance, and with that, the virgin birth naturally follows. The resurrection shows that Jesus’s claims to be the Son of God and fully God and fully man are true and if so, then the account of the virgin birth fits.

Miller does speak often about how a miracle needs to be public, but I think that misses the point of the virgin birth. The virgin birth was not done as a public sign I think just so much as it was done so that Jesus could not be at all an adopted Son of God. He really is a unique human being with both natures fully in Him. I do not agree either with early church theologians who said it was done this way because sex is something fallen and Jesus didn’t need to come about through that.

Sometimes, Miller gives criticisms of the birth narratives that strike me as weak. Consider that there is often a repeated claim that the angel tells Joseph to return the boy to Israel from Egypt because those who were seeking His life are dead. Miller will tell us there were no those. There was only Herod. I don’t find this convincing at all since when Herod says he wants the child dead, I have no reason to think Herod himself went all around Bethlehem looking for boys and murdering them. Those would refer to soldiers of Herod that were sent to do the job.

Miller also speaks some about how Matthew interpreted prophecy. He gives about a paragraph to how Qumran did the same, but this strikes me as highly insufficient. Why is there no interaction with Jewish exegesis at the time? Why not reference the work of Longenecker that has been done on this topic?

By the way, that brings me to another concern I had. Miller’s bibliography is written on just two pages. I see this as the sound of one hand clapping. Why not look and see what someone like Keener or Witherington has to say in response to some claims? Sure, those two could be wrong, but isn’t it best to interact with them?

Consider as an example his look at the slaughter of the infants. Why should we not consider it? Miller tells us the story can’t stand apart from Matthew’s writing. Since the magi and the star are fictions, so is the slaughter. Also, Jesus would have to be born in Bethlehem, which he was most certainly not. Finally, the story fits perfectly with Jesus being the new Moses.

I find this as somewhat circular. If you don’t see the accounts as historical, they are not historical. Miller does look at the accounts of the magi, but I think there is a lot lacking. Who are they? Where did they come from? These are questions that needed more. I find it odd that when the narratives disagree, there is a problem, but when they agree, such as Jesus being born in Bethlehem, there is still a problem. As for Jesus being the new Moses, if you are a believer in God who is working behind the scenes, this really isn’t a problem.

There is something on history and miracles. He quotes N.T. Wright who talks about people who come with a high view of a closed continuum and everything being in the system so there can be no outside interference. Wright rightly says that this is something we cannot know ahead of time and gives the impression of a mouse sitting up on its hind legs and looking down on the elephant.

Miller says that this sounds open-minded, but it is intending to belittle people with the opposite view and make them look foolish. I find this amusing since this is exactly what is often said about those of us who believe in miracles. I also think Wright is correct. This attitude is right there in many scholars who assume that miracles can’t happen.

Miller replies to this saying that if we want to go the route of openmindedness and say Jesus had no human father, you must be open also to Plato, Pythagoras, Augustus, and others. Why yes indeed! As historians, we must be open! Let’s compare the evidence for them to the evidence for Jesus and see who comes out better!

Miller says we don’t believe in those stories because we don’t believe in those gods anymore, but too many Christians will say their God is real so the story is real. The question I have to ask here is why do we not believe in those gods? We don’t believe in them because they were more glorified superhumans. One God is overall a far better explanation and many of us have arguments that lead us to believe that there is one God, such as the Thomistic arguments that I prefer, though we could happily say that demons could take on the guise of any Greek or Roman god.

Miller also says that belief your God is real is religious and not historical. Sure, but my belief is not outside of history as it is my belief that this God acted in history and that cannot be ruled out at the outset. There is an attempt to compare this to the Muslim denial that Jesus died on the cross based on the Qur’an. I would ask in reply to see what non-Muslim scholars will grant is true in the Qur’an and compare that to non-Christian scholars on the New Testament.

One good benefit of Miller’s book that will be fascinating is that he lists several birth narratives in other works about Jesus outside the New Testament, such as infancy Gospels. These were very interesting to read, but at the same time it is quite astounding to realize how many people treated them as historical in church history.

Overall, I am unpersuaded by the counterarguments. I still hold that Jesus was truly born divine based on the evidence of the New Testament. Rest assured all that I still affirm the virgin birth.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Slavery, Abolitionism, and the Ethics of Biblical Scholarship

What do I think of Hector Avalos’s book published by Sheffield Phoenix? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

In scholarship, there are people who have strong positions on both sides. Many of them come with a lot of passion and that can be a good thing. Sometimes, they come with a passion that unfortunately taints what they say too much. Hector Avalos is one such person. When reading this one, it’s pretty clear that he’s practically dripping with venom against Christianity on every page.

This book called have been called a response to Rodney Stark, who seems to be the major villain in the piece. While Avalos questions Stark’s research, which is just fine, I often suspect Avalos has fallen into the same trap. If Stark gives the impression that Christianity brought sunshine and puppies and can do no wrong, Avalos treats it like a universal acid that eats through everything it touches.

At the start, Avalos says his book is the critique of the idea that the Bible should be the basis for modern ethics. I wonder who exactly is saying that. Most Christian apologists I know of argue from the basis of natural law theory on issues of morality. The Bible gives good and true information, but we also realize our secular friends won’t hear it, so we try to establish truths on grounds they do accept. We also realize the natural law is something known to all men even without explicit revelation, which I think even the Bible teaches.

Avalos also admits that even non-Christian scholars have high praise of Jesus. They say that Jesus can do no wrong. This is a good admission I like to see. Avalos doesn’t seem to share it (And in the text actually says he’s agnostic on the historicity of Jesus.), but it shows once again what a unique figure Jesus is.

On p. 7, we are told “slavery is a socioeconomic system centering on the use of forced laborers, who are viewed as property or under the control of their superiors for whatever term was determined by their masters or their society.” This could be fine insofar as it goes, but it still raises questions. What exactly is meant by property? What does it mean to be under control? How does this differ from indentured servitude or even employment today? These are questions unanswered. Avalos does admit that slavery is a hard term to define, but it doesn’t help to just arbitrarily make a definition.

On p. 12, Avalos has a paragraph about literalism and how the anti-slavery position went against the plain sense of the text. Yet at this point, we have to ask what is the plain sense? The plain sense differs from person to person. Part of the problem was thinking there was a plain sense that should have been immediately known by every reader. As Mark Noll says

“On the other front, nuanced biblical attacks on American slavery faced rough going precisely because they were nuanced. This position could not simply be read out of any one biblical text; it could not be lifted directly from the page. Rather, it needed patient reflection on the entirety of the Scriptures; it required expert knowledge of the historical circumstances of ancient Near Eastern and Roman slave systems as well as of the actually existing conditions in the slave states; and it demanded that sophisticated interpretative practice replace a commonsensically literal approach to the sacred text. In short, this was an argument of elites requiring that the populace defer to its intellectual betters. As such, it contradicted democratic and republican intellectual instincts. In the culture of the United States, as that culture had been constructed by three generations of evangelical Bible believers, the nuanced biblical argument was doomed” – Mark Noll, The Civil War As A Theological Crisis.

It’s worth noting that when Avalos talks about the American abolitionists and such, he doesn’t really say anything about Noll’s work. It’s referenced a few times, but serious engagement is lacking. I suspect there’s a reason for this.

On p. 16, he talks about the moral foundations and how they’re best found in secularism. One must base them on verifiable individual and group interests. Absent is any question of how to verify them or even tell that these interests are good and which individual or group? I seriously doubt Avalos wants to take into consideration the will of “religious” people, after all.

For finding the practice of caring for the poor, Avalos asks why we go to Deuteronomy instead of Job when the term in question is used in Job more times. Probably because Deuteronomy is our command on how we should live. Job while providing good wisdom, is not that kind of work.

On p. 30, Avalos talks about how we often don’t have enough information to know what an author meant. In some cases, this is true, but it’s interesting to me that when it comes to a text that someone else is interpreting, Avalos plays this card. When it comes to text like Jesus saying He came not to bring peace but a sword or that we must hate our parents, all of a sudden, those texts are clear and there’s no hint of authorial intent. This is a huge double-standard on Avalos’s part. I am not exaggerating. Avalos says Martin Luther King Jr. said Jesus had a love ethic, but Avalos contends that Jesus taught us to hate our parents in Luke 14:26 and therefore He was preaching hate. Statements like this really make Avalos lose credibility with me.

More and more of this shows up in the text and while I could list numerous more problems, I don’t wish to do so much of that. I want to hit on some major points. For one thing, Avalos spends a good deal of time talking about slavery in the ancient world in both testaments. One question is never answered. Why did slavery exist to begin with?

Most readers won’t think of this kind of question, but it’s an important one. You couldn’t just walk down to the street and go to Wal-Mart and get a job. If you wanted to pay for your family to have food on the table, you had to work for someone else and slavery was the system. Does that mean slavery was all sunshine and rainbows? Not at all.

Does it mean slavery was endorsed for all time? Of course not. Some things were granted for hardness of hearts, such as divorce. God started with the people where they were. There’s also the important question on the relationship between the two testaments and what applies to just Israel at a specific time and place and what applies to all people for all time. Avalos doesn’t touch these questions.

Any reference that can put God in a negative light is used. If God is portrayed as a king, that’s negative. If someone claims they are a slave of Christ, like Paul did, then Jesus is a wicked imperial ruler. Even in the parable of the owner of the vineyard who chose to give everyone a day’s wages even if they worked an hour, Jesus is still a villain. If evangelicals think Jesus can do no wrong, Avalos thinks he can do no right.

Avalos goes throughout history and I don’t honestly know enough about the accounts to say anything on those. Still, considering how he has acted throughout the book, I take things with a grain of salt. For Avalos, Christianity never did anything good except for fellow Christians. I am not at all claiming that everything Christianity has done throughout history has been wonderful and the church has no innocent blood on its hands, but I am claiming we have done a lot of good still.

Avalos also asks why the New Testament never commanded the release of slaves. There’s a quite good reason. I think such would have led to insurrection and Christianity would have been a movement about freeing the slaves largely and thus shut down so it could do no good. Christianity worked from the bottom up and not the other way around.

In conclusion, I found this book highly lacking. If other historians have gone through and documented errors in other parts, I would be interested. The parts I do know about, I found to be incredibly lacking and Avalos is just as much fundamentalist I suspect as the opponents he critiques. He just has a different loyalty.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Should The Word Of God Be Clear?

Should the Bible always be easy to understand? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

There are two people that are exactly opposite in their outlooks. These will be your usual run of the mill atheist who thinks everything in the Bible is a bunch of nonsense. On the opposite side is your average fundamentalist Christian who thinks everything in the Bible is true. These two have something in common normally.

They both think that if the Bible is the Word of God, it will be clear.

And clear, what does that mean? Well, it means that they as a modern Western 21st century reader should understand the text. One difference might be the latter group thinks all you need is the Holy Spirit and you can understand the text.

Sadly, this idea is never really questioned. An interesting point about this is that this is not a historical objection to Christianity. It’s a theological objection. Yes. Even an atheist has a theology. If you have some ideas about what God should be like if He exists, you have a theology.

Why should this be true? Isn’t it rather arrogant of us to think that the God of the universe should write a book thousands of years ago that would be geared directly towards our time? Shouldn’t it be understandable more by the people of the very time reading it?

But isn’t God supposed to transcend cultures? Isn’t His truth for all people?

Yes. Of course. However, not all cultures are identical nor will they be. All cultures have a different idea of what clear is. What is clear to us might not be clear to a 16th century Japanese person.

If we look at the Bible, even Jesus speaking in His own time was not clear to His contemporaries. In 1 Peter, we’re told that angels longed to understand what was being prophesied in the Bible. The prophets themselves did not know for certain what it was that they were saying would happen. They were just the messengers.

Why would God do things this way? Why would He not make it easy?

Maybe because easy isn’t the goal. God doesn’t want us to treat Him like an answer to a trivia game. God wants us to treat Him as a person that is worth knowing. Consider you’re walking down the street as a single person and you think you see the most awesome person of the opposite sex. If you really want that person, you know what you will do? You will work to pursue them and win their heart and it might not be easy, but if you want the prize, you will do it.

Job speaks about wisdom and when it does, it starts with talking about a place where precious metals like silver are mined. If you want those metals, you have to work hard for them. Most anything we really want in life we have to work for. If you want to be physically fit, you have to work out at a gym. If you want to be a scholar, you have to work to get a Ph.D. If you want to be even good at a video game, you have to work really hard at it.

If something is easy to come by, it’s nothing really worthwhile for the most part. Even in marriage, if a man wants to have a “lucky” evening with his wife, he knows he has to put forward effort on his part, which might be washing the dishes or cleaning a toilet or anything else. If he values the prize, he will do the work.

Often, it’s as if atheists think God just wants to convince them of His existence, but that’s treating Him like a trivia game. If that’s not His goal, it’s not a surprise that He doesn’t just suddenly appear before people. I think He’s much more like many of us who want to be wanted. We want someone to want us because of who we are. No one likes to feel used.

If we want to understand Scripture then, we might just have to work on it. That’s not the case for everything in Scripture. Some messages I think are simple. Not all are. Many of them have several complexities to them that we don’t immediately grasp. If we care about truth, we will do the work.

If an atheist thinks that God should be clear, it’s up to them to back that. God never encourages laziness in Scripture. It’s up to them to show why He would outside of Scripture.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Behind The Scenes of the Old Testament

What do I think of Jonathan S. Greer’s, John Hilber, and John Walton’s book published by Baker Academic? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

It’d be tempting to think that this book is purely nerdy academic stuff and material that no one can understand. Topping in at 514 pages of content, it would make sense. Such a thought would be wrong. While this book is scholarly, it is also very layman-friendly. It is a read that if you want to pick it up and read a chapter, you can walk away informed.

Granted most people will probably not do what I do as a reviewer and that’s read it straight through. If you do, you will be blessed. If you don’t, but you just read the chapters relevant to what you’re studying, you will still be blessed. These chapters are collected from a wide array of scholars.

Something else interesting is very little Biblical interpretation goes on. You won’t find a chapter on what this prophecy means or on the age of the Earth or the scope of the flood. The material is to help you be able to interpret the text better, but the book does not do the job of interpreting the text for you.

There are also over sixty chapters here and all of them touch on different aspects. One I found particularly interesting was on slavery in the Old Testament world. This is a frequent favorite of critics of the Christian faith and if anyone is struggling with this, reading this chapter will be a benefit to them.

Really that is the kind of work this book is. It looks at what was going on in the world of the Old Testament. What was daily life like? What were simple things we take for granted like food production and music like? How are we to understand the role the Law played? What about marriage and family?

The book is also not preachy. You’re not going to get an essayist who is going to go and try to squeeze Jesus into the text. Even with a chapter on God, the book is surprisingly not very theological, and that could be a good thing. The book is not meant to give you the nature of God, but rather to introduce you to how the gods were seen in the world of the Old Testament and then apply that to Israel in its own proper way.

Also, the book points to several other resources which is always a plus. If you want more information on any one topic, you know where to go. You can either see what else the writer of that essay had to say elsewhere or look at the material that he or she cites.

I would have liked to have seen a little bit more on the world of honor and shame in the Old Testament. This would also include the client/patron system. Such a system I think is also behind the suzerainty treaty that I see Deuteronomy as. This way of thinking is common in much of the world, but completely foreign to modern Americans.

This is the kind of book Christians who want to understand the Old Testament need to read. It’s also the kind of book that most critics of Christianity who use the Old Testament will not dare read. In conclusion, it ultimately is the kind of book anyone serious about the Old Testament, and thus the rest of Scripture, needs to read.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Contextualizing Inerrancy

What’s the new resource at Deeper Waters? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

What is inerrancy? It’s a question that normally if you ask ten evangelicals you’ll get eleven opinions. An even more controversial question would be what counts as going against inerrancy? There’s also the problem that today, the inerrancy of Scripture is often equated with the inerrancy of interpretation.

In a new resource available just recently, my ministry partner, J.P. Holding of Tektonics.org, and I look at the question of inerrancy. The book is called Contextualizing Inerrancy and you can find it here. The goal of the book is to go further than our Defining Inerrancy and include some real scholarly interaction.

What we do in this work is not just look at the topic of inerrancy, but see what some scholars say by reviewing their work on the topic. There are many people that don’t just disagree with someone’s interpretation on a particular text, but contend that by taking on that interpretation, that person has denied inerrancy. Most notably is the case of Norman Geisler going after Mike Licona. (And for those who don’t know, possible bias on my part is that Mike is my father-in-law.)

Those of us who are contextualizers do not believe that the text can be fully divorced from the context. This includes not just the Biblical context, but the social context. There are a number of remarks I could say to my wife that would grant her and me instant laughter. Most everyone else would not understand them. Why? Because there is a background knowledge known between the two of us that explains the context.

We hold that the Biblical writers also lived in a culture where they did not have to explain the culture. We do not live in that culture and we have to do the work to find out about it. While this includes studying the original languages, it goes beyond that. It looks at archaeology and other writings of the time to find out what life was like. We use all of this to inform our interpretation. How can study of the Biblical text be damaged by studying the world of the Bible?

With this, we look at evangelical scholars today and the work that they’re doing to see how that helps with the question. Our goal is to help Christians have a more refined look at Scripture and in the end, we hope you’ll walk away with a greater appreciation for the Bible. After all, anyone can pick up a book and find something about it to criticize, and many people are doing just that, but few will sadly bother to take the time to actually really study and see if their criticisms are accurate.

I really hope you’ll go and partake of this resource and share it with a friend as well. Christmas is here and this could be a great gift for someone as well. We appreciate every copy that you buy and we also hope that you’ll leave a positive review.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

 

Why I Don’t Take Internet Bible Critics Seriously

Should you really pay attention to that critic? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Let’s be fair. There are some skeptics out there that do their homework. They do try to really find out what scholars in the world of the Bible are saying and make reasonable cases. I disagree, but at least they are doing their due diligence.

The majority are not.

For the past couple of weeks or so, I’ve been going through a big book. It’s Behind The Scenes of the Old Testament and it’s about 512 pages and most of these pages have plenty of lines on them. It’s the kind of book that these same skeptics will not even read. It would be practically a miracle if they even skimmed it and looked at the pictures.

And yet, these same people will think they can speak with authority on the events in the Bible. They will speak on slavery in the Old Testament and all they have is their knowledge of the Civil War in America and the fact that they are offended and think that is sufficient. Never will they dare ask questions like, “What is slavery in the ancient world? What was the purpose of it? What other alternatives did they have?”

Let alone do these people really have an understanding of the Law for Christians. Many think that the Law was meant to lead us to some kind of Utopia and everything in it is a moral principle for all time. It’d be kind of hard for a Christian to say this since Jesus in the New Testament said that Moses permitted divorce to the people because their hearts were hard. This is not to say there are no moral truths in the Law, but the purpose of the Law is not to produce perfect people.

Too many critics of the Bible read the Bible from a modern Western perspective and then look back on the dumb and unenlightened culture they see in the Bible thinking they’ve made a powerful critique. Argument from outrage is a favorite. God did XYZ! What kind of God would do this? The conquest narratives are a favorite. Lately, I’ve seen David’s baby dying as a result of David’s sin as an example of this. (Strangely enough, these same people will also defend abortion. Go figure.)

My advice to Christians on this is to first off not take such critics seriously. If someone is not willing to read and study life in the Ancient Near East, they shouldn’t comment on it. If they do, we shouldn’t take their comments seriously. I say the same thing about Christians who want to go and critique evolution, but will never ever pick up a book on science in their lifetime. Reading your favorite Christian who argues against evolution without studying science yourself and just repeating what they say is just as bad as reading a new atheist on the Bible and repeating what they say without studying it yourself.

Let me make a caveat here. If you are a Christian and you do read the science and you do want to argue against evolution, have at it. It’s not the route I take as evolution is a non-issue to me. I just don’t repeat the arguments. Someone could be making powerful arguments against evolution or talking nonsense. I don’t know.

Also Christians, if I go after the atheists for doing this, I want to be fair and go after us. Too many of us who are Christians don’t bother to study the context either. We take one little section out of a prophecy and either make it about the end times in a dispensational paradigm (As if the prophets never ever said anything about their own culture) or they make it about themselves.

Let’s go with an example. In Jeremiah 29:11, God tells the people that He knows the plans He has for them, plans to prosper and not harm and to give them a hope and a future. Great passage. It’s used so many times in cards for college graduates and such. Horrible interpretation right there.

Jeremiah is making this point to Israel as they are going to Babylon. If you are sending a card to a college graduate who’s part of a covenant people and is being shipped off to Babylon, then that’s okay. If not, you might want to rethink it.

“Great. So are you saying this verse is useless aside from historical information?”

Not at all. We could apply this to us today. Picture a pastor saying this.

“The children of Israel had received a promise from God. They were about to face suffering and that suffering would make them wonder about the promise. They would doubt it and think God had failed them to let this happen. God assures them that is not so. In the same way, we today are recipients of the promises given to Israel and in Christ. We can often go through hardship and suffering still where we wonder if God has abandoned us. Hebrews tells us that God will never leave us or forsake us. As there was a purpose for the children of Israel going into Babylon, so there is a purpose for our suffering and Romans 8 tells us that God will work all things for good to those that love the Lord. Whatever you are going through in your life, realize that God is in control. As He did for the children of Israel in being with them in their suffering, so will He be with you.”

There. If anything, this is a richer understanding I think because it is connected to the New Testament. In the passage in Jeremiah, we can know that some of the people who went to Babylon never came back. After all, the return was about 70 years later. In the New Testament, some promises are individualized, such as Romans 8. We will all in Christ be resurrected in new and glorified bodies and each of us will give an account of what we have done and each of us will be treated accordingly. At the same time, we are a community in Christ and should live that way.

Studying the context of the passage goes a long way and will help us. Critics of the Bible need to really work to study the text instead of thinking that outrage is an argument. Christians need to study it because we think it comes from God and we need to treat it seriously and not misapply it. Will we always interpret it properly? Of course not, but we should always seek to bring the best information to the table that we can.

In Christ,
Nick Peters