Book Plunge: 26 Reasons Why Jews Don’t Believe In Jesus Part 6

Is the Christian Bible credible? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

We’re continuing our look at Asher Norman’s book 26 Reasons Why Jews Don’t Believe In Jesus. Now we look at the Christian Bible. This chapter and the next one I think are going to be my favorites to deal with, and dare I say it but the next one could be even more fun when we look at the historical Jesus.

You know this chapter is going to start out good when it has a quoting of Earl Doherty. Doherty is someone whose theories are not taken seriously by Biblical scholars and are that of Jesus mythicism. That theory is that the epistles were not aware of Jesus’s earthly history.

Of course, this is just false and we can see that looking even at just the ones that are universally accepted as Pauline. What are some of the facts we have?

1 Cor. 15:3-8

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried,that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.

Christ died, was buried, and appeared to several people. Note the James must be a unique individual called James since no clarification is needed. Could it be that this ties in with James, the brother of the Lord in Galatians 1?

Galatians 1:19

I saw none of the other apostles—only James, the Lord’s brother.

If Jesus had never existed, His brother would probably know about it. I don’t buy ideas about this being a spiritual term. If so, why are the other apostles not brothers as well?

Galatians 3:1

You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified.

1 Cor. 5:7

Get rid of the old yeast, so that you may be a new unleavened batch—as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.

This is fully consistent with Christ being crucified on Passover.

1 Cor. 11:23-26

23 For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

Romans 1:3-4

regarding his Son, who as to his earthly life was a descendant of David, and who through the Spirit of holiness was appointed the Son of God in power by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord.

Christ has a human and a divine nature.

Galatians 4:4

But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law,

Jesus lived a life born of a woman and under the Law, which means among His fellow Jews living a Jewish life.

Now I know the objections. Yeah. Not forgetting them. We will get to them as we go along.

All Norman has on the other side is an argument from silence. The maxim with those is that where silence is expected, the argument from silence is weak. We are told that there is no mention of his sayings, his miracles, or Calvary, to which we ask, why should they? These were occasional letters. They were written to deal with specific instruction. The fundamentals of the faith would have been covered. You don’t go to those who already know these and repeat them again and again.

Norman buys into the idea that these messages were received by revelations. If so, these revelations seem awfully constrained. Why not claim a revelation every time for every event? The language is actually that of oral tradition.

“Are you sure?! Look at 1 Cor. 11. What I received from the Lord! Paul is saying he got a message directly from Jesus!”

No. In his book on the historical Jesus, Keener points out that this kind of language was common for rabbis who claimed to receive interpretations from Sinai. They don’t mean the mountain or Moses appeared to them. They mean that is the foundation. So why does 1 Cor. 11 mention the Lord? Because Jesus is the foundation for what was said. He said the works in 1 Cor. 11. He did not say the words in 1 Cor. 15 so Paul did not receive those from the Lord.

Norman also thinks the Gospels are second century. (Of course, we know we can’t trust second century Gospels, but that fourth century Pseudoclementine Recognitions is totally reliable!) Unfortunately, he gives no scholarship for this as he is still just parroting Doherty. The main example he brings up as a problem is the date of the crucifixion of Jesus based on differences between John and the synoptics and says it can’t be reconciled.

I have no interest in debating inerrancy, but let’s suppose it can’t be. Oh well. That doesn’t overturn that there is much that is historical. All-or-nothing thinking is not the way good historians think. It’s the way fundamentalists think. Still, Norman is free to go and look at several commentaries and see what he can find. If he is so sure we have a defeater, I invite him to please go to a site like Skeptics Annotated Bible and see what “contradictions” they see in the Old Testament that cannot be reconciled.

Mark is said by Norman to be the first Gospel written. That is a statement that some scholars would disagree with, but not most, so we won’t make a big deal about that. The humorous idea is his problem with Matthew using Mark if Matthew was an eyewitness. If Matthew had been the one behind it, why use Mark, which I have addressed elsewhere. The most amusing part is when he says that Matthew speaks of himself in third person. Why didn’t he say “Jesus saw me sitting at the table” instead of “He saw Matthew.”

Poor Norman. He doesn’t realize how far behind the times he is. This was addressed by Augustine 1,600 years or so ago. Just go to Contra Faustum 17.

  1. Faustus thinks himself wonderfully clever in proving that Matthew was not the writer of this Gospel, because, when speaking of his own election, he says not, He saw me, and said to me, Follow me; but, He saw him, and said to him, Follow me. This must have been said either in ignorance or from a design to mislead. Faustus can hardly be so ignorant as not to have read or heard that narrators, when speaking of themselves, often use a construction as if speaking of another. It is more probable that Faustus wished to bewilder those more ignorant than himself, in the hope of getting

    hold

    on not a few unacquainted with these things. It is needless to resort to other writings to quote examples of this construction from profane authors for the information of our friends, and for the refutation of Faustus. We find examples in passages quoted above from Moses by Faustus himself, without any denial, or rather with the assertion, that they were written by Moses, only not written of Christ. When Moses, then, writes of himself, does he say, I said this, or I did that, and not rather, Moses said, and Moses did? Or does he say, The Lord called me, The Lord said to me, and not rather, The Lord called Moses, The Lord said to Moses, and so on? So Matthew, too, speaks of himself in the third person.

  And John does the same; for towards the end of his book he says: “Peter, turning, saw the disciple whom Jesus loved, who also lay on His breast at supper, and who said to the Lord, Who is it that shall betray You?” Does he say, Peter, turning, saw me? Or will you argue from this that John did not write this Gospel? But he adds a little after: “This is the disciple that testifies of Jesus, and has written these things; and we know that his testimony is true.” [John 21:20-24] Does he say, I am the disciple who testify of Jesus, and who have written these things, and we know that my testimony is true? Evidently this style is common in writers of narratives. There are innumerable instances in which the Lord Himself uses it. “When the Son of man,” He says, “comes, shall He find faith on the earth?” [Luke 18:8] Not, When I come, shall I find? Again, “The Son of man came eating and drinking;” [Matthew 11:19] not, I came. Again, “The hour shall come, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God, and they that hear shall live;” [John 5:25] not, My voice. And so in many other places. This may suffice to satisfy inquirers and to refute scoffers.

Consider the Anabasis by Xenophon. Here’s the 1st part of book three with a note at the end by the editor.

After the generals had been seized, and the captains and soldiers who   1
formed their escort had been killed, the Hellenes lay in deep
perplexity--a prey to painful reflections. Here were they at the
king's gates, and on every side environing them were many hostile
cities and tribes of men. Who was there now to furnish them with a
market? Separated from Hellas by more than a thousand miles, they had
not even a guide to point the way. Impassable rivers lay athwart their
homeward route, and hemmed them in. Betrayed even by the Asiatics, at
whose side they had marched with Cyrus to the attack, they were left
in isolation. Without a single mounted trooper to aid them in pursuit:
was it not perfectly plain that if they won a battle, their enemies
would escape to a man, but if they were beaten themselves, not one
soul of them would survive?

Haunted by such thoughts, and with hearts full of despair, but few of
them tasted food that evening; but few of them kindled even a fire,
and many never came into camp at all that night, but took their rest
where each chanced to be. They could not close their eyes for very
pain and yearning after their fatherlands or their parents, the wife
or child whom they never expected to look upon again. Such was the
plight in which each and all tried to seek repose.

Now there was in that host a certain man, an Athenian (1), Xenophon,
who had accompanied Cyrus, neither as a general, nor as an officer,
nor yet as a private soldier, but simply on the invitation of an old
friend, Proxenus. This old friend had sent to fetch him from home,
promising, if he would come, to introduce him to Cyrus, "whom," said
Proxenus, "I consider to be worth my fatherland and more to me."

 (1) The reader should turn to Grote's comments on the first appearance
    of Xenophon. He has been mentioned before, of course, more than
    once before; but he now steps, as the protagonist, upon the scene,
    and as Grote says: "It is in true Homeric vein, and in something
    like Homeric language, that Xenophon (to whom we owe the whole
    narrative of the expedition) describes his dream, or the
    intervention of Oneiros, sent by Zeus, from which this renovating
    impulse took its rise."

 

The Wars of The Jews by Josephus. 2.20.4

4. They also chose other generals for Idumea; Jesus, the son of Sapphias, one of the high priests; and Eleazar, the son of Ananias, the high priest; they also enjoined Niger, the then governor of Idumea, 32 who was of a family that belonged to Perea, beyond Jordan, and was thence called the Peraite, that he should be obedient to those fore-named commanders. Nor did they neglect the care of other parts of the country; but Joseph the son of Simon was sent as general to Jericho, as was Manasseh to Perea, and John, the Esscue, to the toparchy of Thamna; Lydda was also added to his portion, and Joppa, and Emmaus. But John, the son of Matthias, was made governor of the toparchies of Gophnitica and Acrabattene; as was Josephus, the son of Matthias, of both the Galilees. Gamala also, which was the strongest city in those parts, was put under his command.

De Bello Gallico by Caesar

VII.—When it was reported to Caesar that they were attempting to make their route through our Province, he hastens to set out from the city, and, by as great marches as he can, proceeds to Further Gaul, and arrives at Geneva. He orders the whole Province [to furnish] as great a number of soldiers as possible, as there was in all only one legion in Further Gaul: he orders the bridge at Geneva to be broken down. When the Helvetii are apprised of his arrival, they send to him, as ambassadors, the most illustrious men of their state (in which embassy Numeius and Verudoctius held the chief place), to say “that it was their intention to march through the Province without doing any harm, because they had” [according to their own representations] “no other route:—that they requested they might be allowed to do so with his consent.” Caesar, inasmuch as he kept in remembrance that Lucius Cassius, the consul, had been slain, and his army routed and made to pass under the yoke by the Helvetii, did not think that [their request] ought to be granted; nor was he of opinion that men of hostile disposition, if an opportunity of marching through the Province were given them, would abstain from outrage and mischief. Yet, in order that a period might intervene, until the soldiers whom he had ordered [to be furnished] should assemble, he replied to the ambassadors, that he would take time to deliberate; if they wanted anything, they might return on the day before the ides of April [on April 12th].

We are quite amused to learn that Norman thinks it amusing that Josephus wrote The Wars of the Jews. Of course, he’d think that’s a ridiculous idea, but if we follow his standards, then Josephus did not write the book.

Norman also acknowledges that most scholars think the Gospels are late first century works, but considers this unlikely because the epistles don’t refer to them (Why should they?) and they aren’t mentioned until the second century. Of course, we could ask when the first reference to books like Isaiah, Daniel, or the writings of Moses take place and see how well they hold up by Norman’s standards.

Norman misses the point that many ways are used to judge when a work is written beyond “When is it first referenced?” We look for internal evidences and matters such as that. You will not see any interaction with the other side such as Blomberg or Bauckham or anyone else. More information would be damaging to Norman’s case. It’s better to go with the sensational mythicists.

Norman also claims that the Gospels were not by eyewitnesses. He has a quotation from Eusebius about pious frauds which proves nothing of that sort. All it says is several frauds showed up. By this standard, we could say all money is fake because there is plenty of counterfeit money. He then goes on to quote Robert Taylor in the 19th century who was not taken seriously in his own day and just has an assertion. Again, no interaction with Bauckham.

He then quotes Josh McDowell who talks about the differences in manuscripts and says that only 50 variant readings of the Bible at his time were of great significance. Norman in true fundamentalist form jumps to modern times and asks if someone would trust a medical textbook where there were only fifty passages of doubt. Today, textbooks are printed by machine and copied that way so there is no chance of error, but Norman doesn’t know how textual criticism works. We do have differences. They are unavoidable.

Norman tells us that by contrast, after 1948 thousands of Torah scrolls were brought to the public and aside from some in Yemen, there were no differences among the manuscripts. He gives no evidence of this claim. There is no mention of comparing the Masoretic text to the Dead Sea Scrolls. There is no mention of when our earliest manuscript of the Old Testament is or how far the distance is from that manuscript to the time of writing. Without any citation for this claim, I have no reason to take it seriously.

The next chapter is on the birth narratives not agreeing. Norman is hanging his hat on inerrancy. I have no wish to enter into that debate at this point, but I recommend the reader go to his library and look up the commentaries on this issue.

He also then goes to say the Gospels don’t agree on the names of the disciples. (Don’t you love this argument? The names disagree, therefore Jesus didn’t rise from the dead! Or even further, the names disagree, therefore Jesus never existed!) Norman is not aware that the same person could have two different names in antiquity. We also have no need to comment on the accounts of the death of Jesus supposedly being contradictory.

It’s important to state that I say this not because inerrancy doesn’t matter, but because this becomes a game of “Stump-The-Christian.” By conceding to that debate, one agrees that Christianity hinges on inerrancy. I make no statement like that. I only want to go for the main question. Did Jesus rise from the dead?

We’ll also then skip the resurrection accounts being contradictory as the case does not rely on the accounts of the Gospels. It is worthwhile to point out that Norman says the trial of Jesus lacks credibility because it violates so many Jewish customs. Norman is only repeating what Christian scholars have said for years. This was an entirely wrongly done trial just to deal with Jesus.

Norman’s case here largely hangs on inerrancy and pays no attention to leading scholarship. He is fine with 19th century works and works not accepted by the scholarly community today. We hope that one day he will get past this, but it seems unlikely.

But the worst is yet to come….

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

Book Plunge: 26 Reasons Why Jews Don’t Believe In Jesus Part 5

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

If you had thought we were into flights of fancy before with Asher Norman in his book, we have reached new heights with this one. Norman presents some of the worst eisegesis that you will come across. I do realize that there are many Jews who are opposed to Christianity and do want to read anti-missionary material. Please do consider another source. This chapter on Paul will leave a lot of Christian readers stunned at the way Norman twists the New Testament. (Of course, he has nothing but condemnation if he thinks we do that with the old, but it’s okay to do that with the New.)

Let’s start with the idea that Paul believed the ends justifies the means. Norman gives us some Scripture for this. He starts with Romans 3 with verses 5 and 7-8:

But if our unrighteousness brings out God’s righteousness more clearly,what shall we say? That God is unjust in bringing his wrath on us? (I am using a human argument.)

Someone might argue, “If my falsehood enhances God’s truthfulness and so increases his glory, why am I still condemned as a sinner?” Why not say—as some slanderously claim that we say—“Let us do evil that good may result”? Their condemnation is just!

Let’s look at the whole passage. We’ll go with verses 1-8:

What advantage, then, is there in being a Jew, or what value is there in circumcision? Much in every way! First of all, the Jews have been entrusted with the very words of God.

What if some were unfaithful? Will their unfaithfulness nullify God’s faithfulness? Not at all! Let God be true, and every human being a liar.As it is written:

“So that you may be proved right when you speak
    and prevail when you judge.”

But if our unrighteousness brings out God’s righteousness more clearly,what shall we say? That God is unjust in bringing his wrath on us? (I am using a human argument.) Certainly not! If that were so, how could God judge the world? Someone might argue, “If my falsehood enhances God’s truthfulness and so increases his glory, why am I still condemned as a sinner?” Why not say—as some slanderously claim that we say—“Let us do evil that good may result”? Their condemnation is just!

Norman has been outright dishonest by removing the sixth verse which shows that Paul disagrees thoroughly. Romans is often seen as a sort of dialogue epistle with Paul interacting with an interlocutor throughout and quoting what he thinks his opponent will say. These are not the views of Paul. It’s rather funny that Norman accuses Christians of doing to the Old Testament the very thing he does to the New Testament.

Next we go to 2 Corinthians 12:16:

Be that as it may, I have not been a burden to you. Yet, crafty fellow that I am, I caught you by trickery!

Again, the whole passage, 11-21:

11 I have made a fool of myself, but you drove me to it. I ought to have been commended by you, for I am not in the least inferior to the “super-apostles,” even though I am nothing. 12 I persevered in demonstrating among you the marks of a true apostle, including signs, wonders and miracles. 13 How were you inferior to the other churches, except that I was never a burden to you? Forgive me this wrong!

14 Now I am ready to visit you for the third time, and I will not be a burden to you, because what I want is not your possessions but you. After all, children should not have to save up for their parents, but parents for their children. 15 So I will very gladly spend for you everything I have and expend myself as well. If I love you more, will you love me less? 16 Be that as it may, I have not been a burden to you. Yet, crafty fellow that I am, I caught you by trickery! 17 Did I exploit you through any of the men I sent to you? 18 I urged Titus to go to you and I sent our brother with him. Titus did not exploit you, did he? Did we not walk in the same footsteps by the same Spirit?

19 Have you been thinking all along that we have been defending ourselves to you? We have been speaking in the sight of God as those in Christ; and everything we do, dear friends, is for your strengthening.20 For I am afraid that when I come I may not find you as I want you to be, and you may not find me as you want me to be. I fear that there may be discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, slander, gossip,arrogance and disorder. 21 I am afraid that when I come again my God will humble me before you, and I will be grieved over many who have sinned earlier and have not repented of the impurity, sexual sin and debauchery in which they have indulged.

Norman apparently hasn’t learned about something called “sarcasm.” Does he really think Paul is going to confess to openly tricking the Corinthians in a letter trying to regain favor with them in light of the super-apostles? Not at all. In fact, he’s saying just the opposite. He was good to them always and was never a burden to them. Obviously, he had to be up to something!

Finally, Philippians 1:18:

But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.

Again, starting at verse 15 and going through 18 shows a different picture:

15 It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. 16 The latter do so out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. 17 The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. 18 But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.

Paul is acknowledging that some people preach Christ in an attempt to cause trouble for Paul. Paul can’t do anything about this but instead turns it back on them. “What do I care? I’m not doing this for me. I’m doing this for Christ and you all are proclaiming Christ so thank you very much!”

Norman is also convinced Paul lied about being a Pharisee since he worked for the high priest and was never a student of Gamaliel since Paul opposed the Law. (Which he really didn’t, but that thing called the Damascus Road experience did change some views) He also speculates that Paul was a failed convert to Judaism. Will you find any scholarly backing for any of this? Nope. Just Norman’s imagination. In fact, his main source is the Ebionites later on who wrote about Paul wanting to marry the daughter of the high priest. He got turned down and in a rage turned on Judaism.

Evidence for this? None.

We move on to Paul’s Damascus Road experience and here, we are not shocked that Norman thinks that he’s surprised us all by saying there are three different accounts of what happened. Yes. Sometimes the story has some differences in it based on who is telling it and who the audience is. One fact to be sure of is Luke is no fool as he writes this. He knows what has happened. It’s quite likely he’s going for some variety. Of course, there are any number of commentaries Norman could have checked and any number of explanations for this, but no. Norman only saves that research for the Old Testament.

If this wasn’t enough, Norman thinks he’s caught Luke plagiarizing. Why? Because the experience account contains the saying “kick against the goads.” Why that also shows up in The Bacchae of Euripides! Luke is a plagiarizer!

Or maybe Luke is quoting a common idiom which was referring to resisting the will of the deity. Suppose I’m a pastor of a church about to send missionaries to an unreached part of the world. I could get in a pulpit and say “For Jesus, we are about to boldly go where no man has gone before!” No one would accuse me of plagiarizing Star Trek. They would understand the theme that I am pointing to.

Norman goes on to say that Paul was lying about being with Gamaliel because, hey, look at how Paul describes himself in Titus 3:3.

At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another.

First off, since Paul has several Gentiles with him in the writing of the letter, this isn’t a shock. He doesn’t say “I.” He says “We.” Second, Paul is speaking more about spiritual understanding. Christ did indeed add something to Paul.

If you think this is something unbelievable, it gets worse. This next one is so bad that I nearly threw the book up in exasperation when I read it. Let’s give the text first. It’s Galatians 2:19-20:

19 “For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God. 20 I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Followed by 6:17:

17 From now on, let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus.

Norman’s conclusion? Paul sees himself as the alter ego of Jesus.

No. I’m not making that up. Really. I’m not. He really says this.

What Norman misses is that Paul lived in a world where individualism was not the way. Paul would identify himself with his group. In this case, Paul chose to identify with Christ. Paul had his identity wrapped up in Christ and was to live imitating Him. His life was to be for Christ and when he got persecuted, He was just following in the footsteps of Jesus. Despite this, Norman thinks this is better seen as Paul showing mental instability. The instability here is Norman with scholarship about the Greco-Roman world.

Norman then goes on to make the case that Paul didn’t get the Gospel from the apostles. This is hardly a shock to anyone who has read Galatians. Of course, he leaves out that the apostles added nothing to him when he presented himself to them.

Norman goes on to argue that Jesus’s disciples didn’t accept Paul. He goes to Acts 9:26 for this:

26 When he came to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple.

A brief thinking on this will show the problem. Disciples means anyone who followed Jesus in this context. It does not mean one of the twelve. To show this, let’s plug in the definition for the twelve here.

“When he came to Jerusalem, he tried to join the twelve, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was one of the twelve.”

“Hey Peter. Can you remind us again? We’ve been together for at least four years here. Was this guy always one of us? I don’t remember.”

Also, let’s not be surprised that the followers of Jesus were surprised that Paul said he was a follower of Jesus. This would be like a Christian church in the Middle East being suspicious of that known ISIS member wanting to join the church saying he’s become a Christian. It’s not a shock that Norman leaves out that Barnabas changed their minds. We know Norman’s game now. Evidence that doesn’t suit his case is thrown out and treated as non-existent.

Norman also says that the apostles had to have appointment letters from James to show they are an apostle. His source for this is a rejected Gospel called the PseduoClementine Recognitions. Norman doesn’t point out that this isn’t a Gospel, that it was written by those the church held were heretics at the time, and that it dates to the fourth century. After all, fourth century documents are far better at judging first century events.

Norman then goes on to quote 2 Corinthians 3:

Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, like some people, letters of recommendation to you or from you? You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everyone.

If you’re going with Norman, you won’t find this verse. He lists it as verse 6. (Honestly, I wonder if Norman has ever read the New Testament or just read about it.) What he doesn’t realize is that letters of recommendation were all about status in those days with a higher honor person giving a recommend for a lower honor one. It’s not about a secret club the apostles had. He gives other verses as well, but none of them show what he wants them to show.

Norman also says Paul did miracles, but since he taught a different God, then this means he was a false apostle. Norman has not shown that this is a diffferent God. Throughout, we’ve shown his understanding of the Trinity is dreadfully lacking.

Norman also says that Paul taught a different Gospel and a different Jesus. We start with 2 Corinthians 11 and verses 4 and 13.

For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the Spirit you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough.

For such people are false apostles,deceitful workers, masquerading as apostles of Christ.

Of course, all of this depends on these apostles being the same as those of the twelve. This has not been shown. Many people were called apostles who were not of the twelve. Norman gives no evidence that what he asserts is the case.

1 Corinthians 4:15-16:

15 Even if you had ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel. 16 Therefore I urge you to imitate me.

Are you wanting to know how this shows Paul taught a different Gospel?

So am I.

Norman gives no explanation.

Galatians 1:6-9:

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse!

As expected, Norman ignores entirely that in this very chapter, Jesus’s own apostles have no problem with the message that Paul is preaching. If anyone wants to check Norman’s claims, just go back and read the verses he gives. It’s easy enough to make any case when you just cherry-pick. I once again shudder to think that this man is a lawyer.

We already looked at Norman’s claim that Paul believed the end justifies the means. There’s one more passage he adds to that. It’s one commonly used and that’s 1 Corinthians 9:19-23:

19 Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.

No doubt, Norman would be outraged at missionaries visiting Japan who take their shoes off in someone’s home even though they never do that at home! How deceptive! How dare you actually live like the people you are trying to reach! This is all Paul is saying. He does say he’s under the law of Christ so he can’t do everything he wants to do, but he does say that if he wants to reach Jews, he abides by the Law. If he’s with Gentiles, he lives more freely.

Many passages Norman quotes also with Paul’s statements about the law also come from Hebrews. While some think Paul was the writer of Hebrews, there’s no hard proof of this. Norman also thinks that Paul was wrong when he said the law can’t make anyone perfect. Apparently, Norman thinks there were sinless people walking around in the past. King Solomon disagreed but hey, Norman knows better.

Norman also says that Paul lied about his opposition to Torah. (His supposed opposition.) For this, he goes to two passages. First, Acts 24:14:

However, I admit that I worship the God of our ancestors as a follower of the Way, which they call a sect. I believe everything that is in accordance with the Law and that is written in the Prophets,

Norman leaves out the first part of this verse, but what’s the problem? I could say this as a Gentile. I have no problem with it. No Christian should. It doesn’t mean we follow the Law, but we realize the purpose of it and agree with it.

Acts 25:8:

Then Paul made his defense: “I have done nothing wrong against the Jewish law or against the temple or against Caesar.”

Again, the problem? It’s not like Paul brought a pig and sacrificed it in front of the temple. Paul abided by the Law in Jerusalem.

Norman also thinks Acts 21 is a clincher. James, after all, has Paul take a purification vow.  This isn’t James giving orders to Paul. It’s James being the middleman. James is in the position of trying to tell Jews they don’t have to be Gentiles to be Christians. Paul is doing the opposite. He’s telling Gentiles they don’t have to be Jews. Now Paul has shown up with a lot of money due to the collection being taken among the churches for Jerusalem and with some Gentiles in tow. Paul is to show his solidarity with his fellow Jews by taking part in this ritual, which he agrees with.

Norman also argues that the Jews thought Paul was a heretic. Again, no major point to make here. Not much of a shock.

Finally, we conclude with the idea that Paul was a Roman agent still in his ministry. Evidence of this? Well in Romans 16, he greets Aristobulus who could have been the grandson of Herod. Naturally, that would mean that he had to walk in lockstep with Herod for Norman. The same with the greeting of Herodian. Paul also greeted all the Christians in the household of Caesar in Philippians. It’s ignored that the city of Philippi was a Roman colony and Christians there could be of the household of Caesar.

Norman also points out that Paul was protected by 470 Roman troops when being transported in Acts. Paul must have been someone important! Norman isn’t aware that the roads back then weren’t known for safety and that with mass riots just having taken place in Jerusalem and forty known men being in a conspiracy to kill Paul with the possibility of even more that is unknown, the Romans didn’t want to take chances.

Paul also taught submission to Roman authority, but this is hardly a shock either. Would Norman have preferred that Paul taught open revolt? What’s so awful about saying to be a good citizen insofar as you can?

Norman’s arguments are woefully lacking and we haven’t even got to the worst in the book. We’ll see more next time when Norman looks at the New Testament itself.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: 26 Reasons Why Jews Don’t Believe In Jesus Part 3

Was Jesus Messiah and deity? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

We’re continuing our look through Asher Norman’s book and in part 3, we look at questions of Jesus as Messiah and deity. Norman lists six requirements for the Messiah. The Messiah would be descended from David and Solomon, be anointed King of Israel, return the Jewish people to Israel, rebuild the temple in Jerusalem, bring peace to the world and end all war, and bring knowledge of God to the world.

He also makes a point about these being empirically verifiable and says that we don’t need faith. Of course, we can be quite certain Norman doesn’t have a clue what faith really is. He offers no definition of the term. It’s also questionable if all of these are empirically verifiable. Of course, the effects are, but can we independently verify that this is how God said the Messiah would be known? We can point to the texts, but can we empirically verify that those texts are from God? If you mean in the way of hard 100% proof? No. If you mean highly likely, then yes.

Looking at the first criteria, Norman makes much of the differences. This ignores any facts on how the ancients did genealogies. Sometimes, you could skip generations and such. If Norman finds this a problem, what does he do with the Old Testament?

Ezra 7:1-5

Now after this, in the reign of Artaxerxes king of Persia, Ezra the son of Seraiah, son of Azariah, son of Hilkiah, son of Shallum, son of Zadok, son of Ahitub, son of Amariah, son of Azariah, son of Meraioth,son of Zerahiah, son of Uzzi, son of Bukki, son of Abishua, son of Phinehas, son of Eleazar, son of Aaron the chief priest— this Ezra went up from Babylonia. He was a scribe skilled in the Law of Moses that the Lord, the God of Israel, had given, and the king granted him all that he asked, for the hand of the Lord his God was on him.

1 Chronicles 6:3-15

The children of Amram: Aaron, Moses, and Miriam. The sons of Aaron: Nadab, Abihu, Eleazar, and Ithamar. Eleazar fathered Phinehas, Phinehas fathered Abishua,Abishua fathered Bukki, Bukki fathered Uzzi, Uzzi fathered Zerahiah, Zerahiah fathered Meraioth, Meraioth fathered Amariah, Amariah fathered Ahitub, Ahitub fathered Zadok, Zadok fathered Ahimaaz,Ahimaaz fathered Azariah, Azariah fathered Johanan, 10 and Johanan fathered Azariah (it was he who served as priest in the house that Solomon built in Jerusalem). 11 Azariah fathered Amariah, Amariah fathered Ahitub, 12 Ahitub fathered Zadok, Zadok fathered Shallum,13 Shallum fathered Hilkiah, Hilkiah fathered Azariah, 14 Azariah fathered Seraiah, Seraiah fathered Jehozadak; 15 and Jehozadak went into exile when the Lord sent Judah and Jerusalem into exile by the hand of Nebuchadnezzar.

Here, the genealogy in Chronicles is longer. This puts Norman in a hard spot since he says about Jesus that:

Luke’s genealogy from David to Jesus is fifteen generations longer than Matthew’s genealogy from David to Jesus. This undermines the Christian claim that the Gospels are the “Word of God” because God certainly knows the genealogy of King David. Some Christians attempt to solve this fatal problem by claiming that Luke’s genealogy is actually that of Mary, although Mary is not mentioned in Luke’s genealogy.

Of course, if this is a fatal problem for the NT being the Word of God, then so it is for the OT. Note that 1 Chronicles no doubt is pointing to Ezra, yet Ezra is not mentioned. To say Mary is not mentioned is not insurmountable. As it stands, there are numerous arguments given to explain the genealogical differences. If just one is possible, then we don’t have a defeater and finally, my case for Jesus doesn’t rely on inerrancy to begin with. However, if Norman wants to make that the standard, then he has hoisted himself on his own petard. Let’s go on and look further.

1 Samuel 6:10-13

10 And Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel. And Samuel said to Jesse, “The Lord has not chosen these.” 11 Then Samuel said to Jesse, “Are all your sons here?” And he said, “There remains yet the youngest, but behold, he is keeping the sheep.” And Samuel said to Jesse, “Send and get him, for we will not sit down till he comes here.” 12 And he sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy and had beautiful eyes and was handsome. And the Lord said, “Arise, anoint him, for this is he.” 13 Then Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the midst of his brothers. And the Spirit of the Lord rushed upon David from that day forward. And Samuel rose up and went to Ramah.

1 Chronicles 2:13-15

13 Jesse fathered Eliab his firstborn, Abinadab the second, Shimea the third, 14 Nethanel the fourth, Raddai the fifth, 15 Ozem the sixth, David the seventh.

Whoa! Samuel says Jesse had eight sons. The Chronicler says he had seven. What’s going on? Surely this isn’t the Word of God!

Or it could be that ancients didn’t do genealogies like we do and differences, skipped generations, etc. were allowable. If Norman wants to hold up the NT to modern standards and say it has to meet these or else it’s not the Word of God, then we get to do the same with the Old Testament. Here we have different genealogies. Is the Old Testament not the Word of God.

Norman, who as we will see later on is known for some truly bizarre Scripture readings, says that Paul spoke about the genealogy of Jesus in Titus 3:9 and 1 Timothy 1:4. (He actually has 3:3 listed for Titus when it’s 3:9) Both of these speak about genealogies so surely it’s about that of Jesus. Right? Let’s look at the text.

Titus 3:9

But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless.

1 Timothy 1:4

nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith.

No. What’s going on is that in the ancient world, your heritage described much of your identity. Christians had a new heritage and identity. That was being in Christ. Why dispute genealogies and such then? This is nothing against genealogies insofar as they are genealogies or against knowing your physical heritage, but it’s saying to not make that central.

The second criterion is the Messiah will be anointed king of Israel. Let’s look at the texts Norman gives.

2 Samuel 7:12-16

12 When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. 14 I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. When he commits iniquity, I will discipline him with the rod of men, with the stripes of the sons of men, 15 but my steadfast love will not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you. 16 And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.’”

1 Chronicles 17:11-12

11 When your days are fulfilled to walk with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, one of your own sons, and I will establish his kingdom. 12 He shall build a house for me, and I will establish his throne forever.

The text has been looked through and nowhere does this anointing seem to be mentioned. Of course, there is the talk of building a house forever. Perhaps that relates to the Temple. We’ll deal with that next.

The third is bringing the people back to Israel.

Isaiah 11:12

He will raise a signal for the nations
    and will assemble the banished of Israel,
and gather the dispersed of Judah
    from the four corners of the earth.

Isaiah 27:12-13

12 In that day from the river Euphrates to the Brook of Egypt the Lord will thresh out the grain, and you will be gleaned one by one, O people of Israel. 13 And in that day a great trumpet will be blown, and those who were lost in the land of Assyria and those who were driven out to the land of Egypt will come and worship the Lord on the holy mountain at Jerusalem.

Jeremiah 33:7

I will restore the fortunes of Judah and the fortunes of Israel, and rebuild them as they were at first.

Since the nation of Israel has been around for 69 years now, it has to be wondered what this means then. Is the nation to be dispersed yet again and then the Messiah will bring them back? It is amazing that Norman reads these passages like a modern futurist instead of thinking about the return of Israel from the captivity in Babylon.

It also has to be asked, how is it that the Messiah will bring them back if they do not repent? This was the criteria that Solomon laid out in 1 Kings 8 and Daniel followed in his prayer in Daniel 9. Does God change His mind on this? It looks like that if a Messiah is coming, and Norman thinks he is, then Israel will have to be dispersed yet again and then brought back yet again, yet what was the basis of the first bringing back in 1948 if not national repentance? (We could ask what was the reason for the dispersion in 70 A.D. if Israel was keeping the covenant faithfully…)

The fourth is that the Messiah will rebuild a Temple.

26 I will make a covenant of peace with them. It shall be an everlasting covenant with them. And I will set them in their land and multiply them, and will set my sanctuary in their midst forevermore.27 My dwelling place shall be with them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 28 Then the nations will know that I am the Lord who sanctifies Israel, when my sanctuary is in their midst forevermore.”

Let’s just point out that the word sanctuary can refer to that of the Temple, but many times, it does not. Nothing here definitely then about a Temple.

Micah 4:1

It shall come to pass in the latter days
    that the mountain of the house of the Lord
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
    and it shall be lifted up above the hills;
and peoples shall flow to it,

Isaiah 2:2-23

It shall come to pass in the latter days
    that the mountain of the house of the Lord
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
    and shall be lifted up above the hills;
and all the nations shall flow to it,
    and many peoples shall come, and say:
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
    to the house of the God of Jacob,
that he may teach us his ways
    and that we may walk in his paths.”
For out of Zion shall go forth the law,
    and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.

I still stand by my contention that this is being read like a modern futurist. Meanwhile, I also think it’s great to see that Norman is sure the Dome of the Rock will be undone for the Jewish Temple. Good luck with that.

The fifth is the Messiah will bring world peace and end war.

Ezekiel 37:26

I will make a covenant of peace with them. It shall be an everlasting covenant with them. And I will set them in their land and multiply them, and will set my sanctuary in their midst forevermore.

Micah 4:3

He shall judge between many peoples,
    and shall decide disputes for strong nations far away;
and they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
    and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
    neither shall they learn war any more;

Isaiah 2:4

He shall judge between the nations,
    and shall decide disputes for many peoples;
and they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
    and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
    neither shall they learn war any more.

btw, it’s worth pointing out that later on, Norman is ready to accuse Luke and Matthew of plagiarizing when what they say is so similar to what someone else said be it Mark or a Greek poet. By those standards, since Micah is the later prophet, is he plagiarizing Isaiah?  Still, I look at this and wonder since first off, these passages are about YHWH. They’re not about the Messiah. Does Norman actually think the Messiah will be YHWH? I think there’s another group of people that thinks YHWH is the Messiah of Israel, though centered around a person named Jesus….

Second, I see again a modern futurist reading of the text. Norman complains about the way Christians treat the Bible and yet he treats it the exact same way!

The sixth criterion is bringing knowledge of God to the world.

Isaiah 11:9

They shall not hurt or destroy
    in all my holy mountain;
for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord
    as the waters cover the sea.

Isaiah 40:5

And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
    and all flesh shall see it together,
    for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

Zephaniah 3:9

“For at that time I will change the speech of the peoples
    to a pure speech,
that all of them may call upon the name of the Lord
    and serve him with one accord.

Jeremiah 31:33

For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.

The reply is still the same. Norman rules out a second coming, but let’s consider this. Moses nowhere talks about a temple. The word doesn’t show up. The term for Messiah only shows up in Leviticus and here it talks about the priests. Norman still considers these essential. Why is it that YHWH can give progressive revelation and yet it stops with the OT? Still, we have looked at the negative test. Let’s look and see if Jesus meets these criteria.

Jesus is of the seed of David and Solomon. He is a descendant of them both through Mary and Joseph. Those interested in the differences in the genealogies are invited to see the best commentaries and works on these issues.

Jesus is indeed the King of Israel. Norman’s texts don’t mention an anointing so we don’t need to either. Jesus is King of Israel as demonstrated by God raising Him from the dead.

The third is that Jesus will bring the Jews back to Israel. In this case, yes. Israel is the people of God and now that people has been expanded to include Jews and Gentiles. All Jews who come to Jesus are being part of Israel, the remnant.

Jesus will reign with the final temple. He does indeed. This time, the church is His temple. God doesn’t dwell in places built with human hands. His rule is not restricted to one building.

He will bring peace to the world. No one is doing more to bring peace than Jesus. No one has shaped ethics more than Jesus. No one has had more of an effect like this than Jesus and all great moral reformers today take cues from Him somehow.

Finally, He will bring knowledge of God to the world. The reason people all over the world today read and study and love the Old Testament is because of Jesus. Atheists don’t debate polytheism much any more. They debate monotheism. Jesus established one God so much in our minds we don’t consider polytheism at all.

Next we move to Jesus not being the Son of God. Norman does provide amusement with a list of people who were half-man and half-god and born of virgin mothers such as Adonis, Attis, Dionysus, Mithras, and Isis. (It is a wonder how a mother like Isis can be half-man. It is suspected he means Horus or Osiris, but this is Norman we’re talking about.) There is a later chapter specifically on those figures so we will deal with that then. Rest assured, I’m very much looking forward to it.

Norman gives a list of verses about God not being a man. These were addressed in earlier posts and there is no need to reinvent the wheel. Just go back and read here.

Norman gives us many texts to show that God was alone when He created.

Deuteronomy 4:39

know therefore today, and lay it to your heart, that the Lord is God in heaven above and on the earth beneath; there is no other.

Deuteronomy 32:39

“‘See now that I, even I, am he,
    and there is no god beside me;
I kill and I make alive;
    I wound and I heal;
    and there is none that can deliver out of my hand.

2 Kings 19:19

So now, O Lord our God, save us, please, from his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you, O Lord, are God alone.”

1 Chronicles 17:20

There is none like you, O Lord, and there is no God besides you, according to all that we have heard with our ears.

Isaiah 44:6

Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel
    and his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts:
“I am the first and I am the last;
    besides me there is no god.

Isaiah 45:5-6

I am the Lord, and there is no other,
    besides me there is no God;
    I equip you, though you do not know me,
that people may know, from the rising of the sun
    and from the west, that there is none besides me;
    I am the Lord, and there is no other.

Unfortunately, Norman doesn’t realize that I can happily agree with all of these as a Trinitarian. In fact, these kinds of passages and many more are used by us to deal with Jehovah’s Witnesses. Still, I am amazed at one passage that seems to have escaped Norman’s notice since he places a big emphasis on God being alone.

Proverbs 8:22-31

22 “The Lord possessed me at the beginning of his work,
    the first of his acts of old.
23 Ages ago I was set up,
    at the first, before the beginning of the earth.
24 When there were no depths I was brought forth,
    when there were no springs abounding with water.
25 Before the mountains had been shaped,
    before the hills, I was brought forth,
26 before he had made the earth with its fields,
    or the first of the dust of the world.
27 When he established the heavens, I was there;
    when he drew a circle on the face of the deep,
28 when he made firm the skies above,
    when he established the fountains of the deep,
29 when he assigned to the sea its limit,
    so that the waters might not transgress his command,
when he marked out the foundations of the earth,
30     then I was beside him, like a master workman,
and I was daily his delight,
    rejoicing before him always,
31 rejoicing in his inhabited world
    and delighting in the children of man.

This is Wisdom speaking and it’s definitely a creation passage. How does Norman explain this? We Christians explain it easily enough. If you’re like me, you hold that Wisdom is actually Jesus. (Spoken of in feminine terms due to Wisdom being subservient.) Wisdom was a highly described figure in Second Temple Judaism and in passages in the apocrypha, is spoken of in language reminscient of YHWH in the Old Testament.

Why does Norman leave this out?

Norman also states that the Messiah will fear God, but God cannot fear himself. This is the old canard of unipersonalism whereby God must be one person. All that needs to be said is that the Son walks in the incarnation in the fear of the Father.

Norman thinks there is a lot to the idea that the term “Son of God” can refer to Israel in the Old Testament and followers of Jesus in the New Testament as well as the King of Israel and the Messiah. Indeed it can. Norman takes a flat fundamentalist reading assuming it must mean the same thing and cannot mean deity. That it can also mean, especially in a Greco-Roman usage. It’s noteworthy that Norman nowhere looks at the term “Son of Man.”

The next section is about how Jesus was elected God in 325 A.D.

Okay. You can stop laughing and we’ll get back to the blog.

You see, For Norman, it’s supposed to be news to many of us about the existence of the Arians. No. Not news at all. The deity of Christ had been firmly held as doctrine. There can be plenty of lists one can go to to find these references. One such can be found here.

Next Norman wants to say that Judaism has no concept of a Trinity. Naturally, he ignores literature of Second Temple Judaism that tried to establish what made God God and has other figures that share in divine status, such as Wisdom, and even later figures like Metatron who is said to bear the name of YHWH. For this, he goes to some statements of the church today.

His first stop is The Concise Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. In it, he finds the statemen that the Trinity can neither be known by reason apart from revelation, nor demonstrated by reason after it has been revealed. Norman takes this to mean that the Trinity cannot mean understood. Of course, in a sense, that is true, no more than even a unipersonal God in monotheism can be understood, but that is not what the work is saying. It is saying that if you sat down in your armchair with just reason, you could not get to the Trinity. Once you get the information and know the Trinity, you still can’t make an argument with reason alone to get to it.

At times, I wonder how this man is an attorney since he reads texts so badly.

Next we go to the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Here, Norman questions Jesus being the same essence as God. After all, Jesus changed and grew and was finite. Norman is unaware that the Trinity explains this by saying the Son has a divine and a human nature and happens to the human nature does not happen to the divine and vice-versa. Norman even asks what it means if God is one and appears as Jesus in another mode of being. Does that mean Jesus wouldn’t be a distinct person? Yes. It would. That’s because that’s not the Trinity. That’s modalism.

It gets worse. At this point, I think Norman is just dishonest. He then quotes A History of Christianity by Paul Johnson saying “As Christ’s human body was phantasm, his suffering and death were mere appearance. If he suffered, he was not God. If he was God, he did not suffer.” Norman leaves out that Johnson says that this was the theory of the Docetist school and Johnson even calls it a “weird theory.” Those who doubt this can look at Johnson’s work itself and just look up the word “phantasm.” See if you think Norman is quoting it fairly.

Norman also goes on to quote Augustine in Book 5 and Chapter 9 of On The Trinity which he said the statement there was popularized by John Wesley who said “Tis mystery all; the immortal dies.” I wanted very much to see what Augustine really said, so I went to my library and pulled out my copy of Augustine’s work. I went to Book 5, Chapter 9.

At least, I wanted to.

There is no book 5, Chapter 9. There was a ninth secton in a different chapter, but I did not find any statement like that in it. It would be nice if Norman had done his research properly. Of course, one could expect him to actually read Augustine’s work and understand it, but that would be asking too much.

Next time, we’ll be looking at the next area, Messianic prophecies.

It’s not going to get much better.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

 

 

Book Plunge: 26 Reasons Why Jews Don’t Believe In Jesus Part 2

Is there a bad relationship between Jesus and the Torah? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

We’re continuing the book 26 Reasons Why Jews Don’t Believe In Jesus today. I have to tell you as I am nearing the end of the book, that this is a horrible book. There are people who can critique Christianity who I naturally disagree with, but they know how to do research and do present arguments worthy of consideration. Asher Norman is not one of them. If I was to give a demonstration to a class in apologetics on how NOT to go after Christianity, Norman’s book would be an excellent example.

At the start of this section, on page 28 in describing how Jesus answered the rich young ruler with “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone”, Norman says this directly undermines the doctrine of the trinity because it implies Jesus did not believe He was God. Actually, no. In Jesus’s culture, to accept a compliment in public was to put oneself in debt to the person who gave the compliment. The compliment would be redirected.

For instance, in Luke 11:27-28, we read this after Jesus has refuted the Pharisees.

27 As Jesus was saying these things, a woman in the crowd called out, “Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you.”

28 He replied, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.”

Or look at this in Philippians 4.

10 I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it.11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

14 Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles. 15 Moreover, as you Philippians know, in the early days of your acquaintance with the gospel, when I set out from Macedonia, not one church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you only; 16 for even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me aid more than once when I was in need.17 Not that I desire your gifts; what I desire is that more be credited to your account. 18 I have received full payment and have more than enough. I am amply supplied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent. They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God. 19 And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.

20 To our God and Father be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

Wow. Paul has just received a gift and he didn’t thank them? Instead, he turned it over to God? What’s going on?

In both cases, receiving a compliment or a gift and just taking it puts you in a reciprocal relationship where you’re in debt to the person who said it. Everything came with strings attached. Had Paul accepted the gift, he would have been bound to help the Philippians in anything. (Hey guys. We’re having a convention and Paul’s in town. You know he’ll be a guest speaker for us.) Had he accepted the compliment from the woman, it would have been seen as grabbing honor and thus shameful.

So what about the rich young ruler? Jesus deflects the compliment and sends it back to God, but at the same time, he is testing the ruler. He is saying “If you think I am good, you are putting me on the level of God. Are you ready for that compliment?” Jesus never denies that He is God and He never even denies that He is good.

Now I have no desire to get into issues of Jesus and Torah. I plan to save that for those who are more learned in that area, but I have to say something on Jesus being a false prophet. This is one of my favorite issues to deal with and entirely predictable.

The first prophecy Jesus gets wrong according to Norman is that Jesus would be in the Earth three days and three nights. Jesus was buried on Friday and raised on Sunday. How is that three days and three nights?

It’s at times like this I know that Norman is not a good researcher. This is even shown regularly in the Old Testament.

Genesis 42:16-18.

16 Send one of you, and let him bring your brother, while you remain confined, that your words may be tested, whether there is truth in you. Or else, by the life of Pharaoh, surely you are spies.” 17 And he put them all together in custody for three days.

18 On the third day Joseph said to them, “Do this and you will live, for I fear God:

1 Sam. 30:12-13.

12 and they gave him a piece of a cake of figs and two clusters of raisins. And when he had eaten, his spirit revived, for he had not eaten bread or drunk water for three days and three nights. 13 And David said to him, “To whom do you belong? And where are you from?” He said, “I am a young man of Egypt, servant to an Amalekite, and my master left me behind because I fell sick three days ago.

Esther 4:16-5:1

16 “Go, gather all the Jews to be found in Susa, and hold a fast on my behalf, and do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my young women will also fast as you do. Then I will go to the king, though it is against the law, and if I perish, I perish.” 17 Mordecai then went away and did everything as Esther had ordered him.

On the third day Esther put on her royal robes and stood in the inner court of the king’s palace, in front of the king’s quarters, while the king was sitting on his royal throne inside the throne room opposite the entrance to the palace.

In all of these cases, something is done for three days and yet takes place on the third day. What is going on? In Jewish thought, part of a day would count as a whole day. This is a consistent reading of even these passages. Had Norman just done some basic looking he would have found this. Most any commentary on the passage in question could have included some statement on this.

Of course, Norman goes on to give his great understanding of the Trinity by asking “How can the prophet be the messenger of God and God Himself?” Of course, no reference to a passage like Genesis 18, but Norman misses a simple answer. The Son can be a messenger on behalf of the Father. Whew! That was difficult!

Still, my favorite is the one that is always gone to. Jesus was wrong about the time of His return. We wish to ask Norman where it is in the text that Jesus says anything about a return. Keep in mind, Jesus was alive and with His apostles who were not expecting a death much less a death, resurrection, and then absence. They were expecting Jesus to take His throne and the destruction of the temple would be a good sign that God was active. What did they ask for? The sign of His coming. Coming where?

Has Norman never read Daniel 7?

13 “In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. 14 He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.

Take a look. Where is it that the Son of Man is coming to? The Ancient of Days is not on Earth. He’s in Heaven. The Son of Man is not coming to Earth in the Olivet Discource. He’s coming to the Father. This is about Jesus’s vindication. The great sign of this was the destruction of the temple which happened in 70 A.D. The language of the account is written in Jewish apocalyptic language such as Isaiah 13 where earthly political events were described in cosmic terminology.

All of this happened within one generation.

Norman also asks why Mark refers to Zechariah 13 which he says is about a false shepherd being struck and identifying Jesus as that shepherd. Unfortunately, Norman is not familiar with Jewish methods of Biblical interpretation in the time of the apostles. (I find it incredible that I, a Gentile, have to point this out to someone described as an expert in Jewish-Christian polemics.) This would have been acceptable to take one part, even a part that didn’t seem to fit the context, and find a parallel in one’s own time. Still, it’s important to note that Zechariah 13 ends in restoration. The shepherd is struck now, yes, but in the end, the people of God will be restored.

Finally, we’ll look at the section on Jesus not being a good person. The first one is that Jesus misquoted the Torah and got his facts wrong. In Matthew 23, he refers to Zechariah, son of Barchiah. Norman replies that he was the son of Jehoida. The problem is that there are a number of solutions. If any of these could work, then the problem is resolved and one gives the benefit of the doubt to the writer with the principle of charity.

Is this the Zechariah in the Old Testament? Maybe not. Perhaps there was another Zechariah killed. Is this Matthew skipping generations? That could be. That was acceptable in his time. Could Jehoida be another name for Barchiah? That’s also possible. There are even more solutions than this.

There’s also the error of Mark supposedly in referring to high priest Abiathar. Unfortunately, neither Abiathar or Ahimelech are described as high priests. Jesus is instead speaking about the great priest Abiathar, who is a much better known figure than Ahimelech.

Norman also says John 7 is in error since no Scripture mentions living water. This is true, and irrelevant. Jesus is not necessarily giving a chapter and verse like we do. He is instead making a paraphrase of a general theme He finds in Scripture.

Norman also looks at passages where God is said to not be a man or a Son of Man. These include Numbers 23:19 and 1 Samuel 15:29.

Numbers 23:19: God is not human, that he should lie,
    not a human being, that he should change his mind.
Does he speak and then not act?
    Does he promise and not fulfill?

1 Samuel 15:29: 29 He who is the Glory of Israel does not lie or changehis mind; for he is not a human being, that he should change his mind.”

These are statements about the moral character of God in that God is trustworthy and reliable. It’s not saying anything about the incarnation. I find it odd that God is infinite to Norman, but incapable of taking on human nature at all. It’s also important to note that the divine nature never became a human nature. The Son took on another nature in addition to His divine one.

In John 18:20, Jesus said He spoke openly and said nothing in secret when questioned by the high priest, but in Mark 5:43, He says that no one should know about what happened with Jairus’s daughter. First off, the latter isn’t an example of teaching. It’s Jesus again avoiding honor-grabbing. Second, the whole point is about the style of teaching. Jesus was a teacher who spoke openly in the synagogues and the Temple. You didn’t have to do something like pay to be a part of a secret class.

Norman also brings up the account of the Syro-Phoenician woman who was begging for her daughter to be healed of a demon. His reply is the story is not “godlike.” (One wonders what he has to think about what God has to say about the pagans in the OT. Perhaps YHWH isn’t very godlike.)

My suspicion is that Jesus is testing the prejudice of His own disciples and then seeing how far the lady is willing to go. How much does she want this healing? A much fuller look at this can be found here.

Norman then goes on to say that much of Jesus’s Wisdom and teachings, isn’t original with Him. It can be found elsewhere.

And?

Wow. Jesus, who was a Jew, spoke teachings from the Jewish Bible. Details at 11 everyone!

Norman also points to morally problematic statements about Jesus. Noteworthy is Luke 19:27 with the instruction to bring those who didn’t want Him to be king and kill them before Him. Is that really what Jesus said? I don’t think any better answer can be given than the one that David Wood gave to Sam Harris.

A couple of these statements He finds problematic are the ones about “He who is not for me is against me” and such. These I will just say that as the initiator of the covenant of God, Jesus is the breaking point. If you do not accept God’s covenant, then you are against Jesus. It’s really an incredible statement from Jesus showing how He viewed Himself but only a problem if He was wrong.

Norman goes to Luke 22:36 where Jesus instructed his disciples to sell their garments and buy swords. One would think if this was literal, when presented with two swords Jesus would not say “It is enough” but would say “What?! Are you crazy?! Every single one of you needs one!” I have looked at this passage here.

What about Matthew 10:34 where Jesus says He came not to bring peace but a sword? Norman says this is not allegorical since one of Jesus’s disciples did have a sword. Yep. One of Jesus’s disciples acting in a way Jesus immediately condemned shows that this has to be a literal message.

You can’t make this kind of stuff up.

Finally, let’s look at a great favorite. Luke 14. We are to hate our father and mother. Norman acknowledges that some see this as a comparative statement saying that everything else must be secondary to Jesus, but just dismisses it without an explanation. It is said to be a dubious claim. I find the claim dubious that Norman knows what he’s talking about.

Norman also says that Jesus taught others to turn the other cheek, but He didn’t do that in John 18. The difference is Jesus is talking about a personal insult and saying end the cycle of retaliation. He’s not saying to literally turn immediately and ask for another slap. He’s saying to reply peacefully.

Jesus also apparently did not bless His enemies, as in the cursings on Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum. Jesus’s listeners would have understood Him not as speaking personally, but as pronouncing the judgment of God as a prophet. If Norman wants to condemn this, then He needs to explain since Jesus’s teachings came from the Torah why most prophets who did the same would be including in the Old Testament since they violated Torah.

When we get to the issue of the fig tree, I have to say I find a new one here entirely. Norman says Jesus sinned by destroying the fig tree. Why? Deuteronomy 20 condemns it. Let’s look at verse 19 that Norman points to of the passage.

When you lay siege to a city for a long time, fighting against it to capture it, do not destroy its trees by putting an ax to them, because you can eat their fruit. Do not cut them down. Are the trees people, that you should besiege them?

So unless Jesus was participating in a siege, there is no condemnation in the passage against Him killing a fig tree. How is it that Norman, who should be more familiar with the OT, can misinterpret His own Bible so badly?

Jesus also sinned against the Pharisees by making publicly true negative statements about them. Again, one would have to wonder what Norman would do with much of the OT that makes publicly true negative statements about the Jews, many of them coming from God Himself. Perhaps God is not very godlike.

Jesus also sinned by ordering disciples to not bury their father and mother. The problem is that in this case, the father was still very much alive most likely. The would-be disciple was saying “Once I take care of my family duties, I’ll serve the Kingdom of God.” Jesus is saying God’s Kingdom has to come first.

It’s a shame Norman disagrees with the Kingdom of God coming first.

Norman also has Jesus being baptized as an example that He was a sinner. This is supposed to be a problem for the Trinity since God would have to be sinless, but Norman says the Gospel engaged in damage control by having John say Jesus should baptize him. (One would think the best way of damage control would be to not even mention the story altogether.) This is really simple. Jesus got baptized as a public statement of His devotion to serving God.

Jesus also said that if you call your brother a fool, you are in danger of hellfire, but Jesus called the Pharisees that in Matthew 23. Again, does Norman not read? The Pharisees are not the brothers of Jesus. He is starting His own in-group with Israel centered around Him. The Pharisees are outsiders.

Our next look will be the claim that Jesus was not the Messiah or deity.

But please, if you want to be an anti-missionary, be one. I disagree, but that’s your choice. Just please don’t be as bad a researcher as Asher Norman.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

 

Book Plunge: Why Are There Differences In The Gospels?

What do I think of Mike Licona’s book published by Oxford University Press? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Go to any debate online about the New Testament and one idea you’ll see pop up regularly will be “It contradicts itself over and over.” Go listen to Bart Ehrman and hear him speak about these and what will he say? “Depends on which Gospel you read?” Gospel differences are something that is a cause of concern to many a skeptic and of course, many a Christian as well. Especially if you hold a high view of inerrancy, you want to know why there are so many differences in the Gospel accounts.

This question isn’t anything new. It goes back to the church fathers. This is in fact why there was even an attempt to turn the four Gospels into one Gospel, but the church didn’t really go for it. As it stands, we have four today and they do contain obvious differences, so do we just have sloppy historians or what? Should we call into question the reliability of the Gospels because of this?

Mike Licona has chosen to answer this question and has done so by doing something that many in our world could consider cheating, but hey, he did it. He actually went back and compared differences in accounts of the same event by an author close to the time of Jesus. His choice was Plutarch and he looked at some of his lives that described figures who lived at about the same time and were quite likely written close to each other chronologically.

Of course, everyone should be warned of possible bias on my part. As many know, Mike Licona is my father-in-law, but at the same time when we have our discussions, if I think he is wrong on something, I do not hesitate to tell him. He got a blunt son-in-law when I married Allie.

Mike’s approach is unique and something that had not been done before. If there is any difficulty I encounter when I am engaging with skeptics of the faith is that they assume the way we do things today is superior simply because that is the way we do them. If we do history this way, well that is the right way to do history. If we want this kind of precision in an account, well that has to be superior and that is what the ancients would want. The greatest error we often make is we impose our own time and culture and society on the ancient world and then misread them.

This is why I say Mike cheated, though in a loose sense of course. He actually went back and saw how they did history and what do you see? You see that the differences that you see in the Gospels that are so problematic are the same kinds of differences you see in Plutarch. Some will no doubt complain and say that surely the Gospel writers would not write Holy Scripture in a style that was known to the pagan world. (Yeah. The second person of the Trinity can condescend to become a human being and die on a cross, but using a certain literary style? God forbid!) Such an opinion is going against the overwhelming majority of Biblical scholarship and ignores how God has often met people where they were and if the writers wanted to write a biography of Jesus to tell about His life and teachings, there weren’t many other options.

Mike goes through the accounts and shows that Plutarch used many different techniques when writing and that the Gospel writers did the same. He has a number of pericopes in Plutarch and a number in the Gospels that give a cross comparison. If one wants to throw out the Gospels as unreliable then, one will have to do the same with Plutarch. This indeed raises the debate to a whole new level. Is the modern skeptic willing to throw out one of the most prolific writers in ancient history just to avoid the Gospels?

What does this say for we moderns as well? It tells us what I said at the beginning. We can too often assume our own standards of accuracy and throw those onto the text not bothering to ask if the ancients followed them. If they did not, then we are being anachronistic with the writers and in fact, being unfair with them. They were not moderns and we should not treat them like moderns.

This should also be taken into account when considering our modern idea of inerrancy. For instance, many of us might think inerrancy means we have to have the exact words of Jesus. What if the Gospel writers did not think that but wanted the exact voice instead? In other words, they wanted the gist of what Jesus said even if it wasn’t exact wordage? That’s okay. We just have to accept that. The ancient works were not modern works and if we impose on them what they aren’t, we will get the wrong message and also miss the true message of them.

Mike’s work has really raised the bar of debate and pushed it beyond just simple harmonization. It is harmonization based on how the ancients did it and not how we moderns do it. I fully hope that other scholars will come alongside and critique the work, both positively and negatively and that we can, in turn, come to a greater understanding of the Gospel texts.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: The Craft of History and the Study of the New Testament

What do I think of Beth Sheppard’s book published by the Society of Biblical Literature? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

History is a fascinating field to study. How do you do it? How do you study history seriously? What about when it comes to the NT? After all, many people view these documents as sacred documents. Does that not change the way that we view these documents and treat them historically?

Beth Sheppard has written a book for students who are planning to study the New Testament so they can better learn how to study it. She deals with information that should be basic, but we all need to learn. It’s usually thought about why there are so many differences in the Bible on the same issue. Sheppard points out that all writers will approach the issue differently due to all of them having different mindsets and matters they want to put out there more and other such issues.

Many historians will approach the same evidence very differently. Some might see item A for a case and think it means very little. The next historian could look at that and make it the centerpiece. There’s also no doubt the biases of the historian that approaches the text. Let’s be realistic and admit that a historian that holds to a worldview that denies miracles, for instance, is just as much biased as a Christian approaching the text. All historians have to learn to work past their biases and really look at the evidence. People have biases, but arguments do not.

Sheppard also looks at the philosophy of history and the mistakes that historians sometimes make. Sometimes a historian can think way too broadly for instance and sometimes a historian can rely way too much on those who have gone before him and still keep their same errors in his thinking. All of this information will be helpful for those who seek to do history and handle the NT.

The reader will also get an education on how history was done in the ancient world and up to the modern era. What was the role of eyewitnesses? How were hearsay accounts treated? How did other historians handle differences in accounts? All of these are important questions and questions like them have been debated for as long as we have been doing history.

Sheppard also looks at other movements in history lately. Sure, postmodernist history has been a big flop, but did it do anything for us? Sometimes having a great error come forward can show you a greater truth that had been overlooked. What about psycho-history? Again, Young Man Luther was a disaster to many, but does that mean the whole is a problem? Some could be surprised that even imaginative history and speculative history can be helpful. How would the world be different if Charles Lindbergh had been elected president? What if Jerusalem hadn’t been destroyed in 70 A.D.? What if Arius had won at the Council of Nicea?

In fact, those of us who defend the resurrection can use this. If Jesus did rise, we can expect some effects to take place. If not, then we would need a better explanation that can fit the data but explains the effects. While not much has been done in this area, some work would be welcome.

She ends the book with some case studies. What can we learn about studying clothing in the ancient world that applies to the New Testament? Is the woman in John 4 really a loose woman? Is Paul using medical terminology when he talks about the Holy Spirit in 1 Corinthians?

Sheppard’s book is eye-opening and she keeps her own biases well-hidden. Skeptic and saint alike could benefit from reading this book. You won’t study much of the historical claims themselves, but you will learn about those claims come about.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Dear Freethinkers

What do I have to say to those espousing freethinking? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Dear Freethinkers,

I want to write to you today because I’m frankly confused by what I see of you. You see, you claim to hold to no statements of faith. You claim that by being a skeptic, the only position you have to have is to not affirm the existence of God. You claim that there are no doctrines to your position. Despite all of this, most all of you seem to think remarkably exactly alike.

You all come right out of the gates often with one of your favorite mantras. “No evidence.” Are you really thinking this? Are you thinking that every theist and Christian in history has just never considered that they have no evidence for what they believe? Sure, you might meet a layman like that, but do you really think everyone is like that?

When it comes to talking about God, we are told there is no evidence. Is that really supposed to convince us? You see, some of us read these things called “books.” We don’t rely on Google, YouTube, and Wikipedia. We also read books that disagree with us. When we say we believe in God, we do so because we are convinced that that is where the arguments lead. In fact, while we agree on the conclusion, we can disagree on the arguments. Some people like the ontological argument. I don’t. I like the Thomistic arguments. Some don’t. Some people think scientific apologetics works well. I disagree. That’s okay.

In fact, this is what real thinking is all about. Real thinking is not just seeing if you find a conclusion that agrees with you. Real thinking is asking if the argument really does have evidence for it that leads to the conclusion. Just because I agree with the conclusion that God exists, it doesn’t mean I agree with the argument given for it. In fact, I daresay I have gone after more Christian apologists using bad arguments than many of you have.

Another favorite one of mine is when you say that there’s no evidence Jesus ever existed. Now perhaps in some cases, atheism could be understandable, such as with the problem of evil, though I do not see that as a defeater at all, but this one really takes the cake. You know what makes this even funnier? So many of you naturally agree among yourselves that creationism is nonsense and we need to listen to the consensus of modern science. Fair enough, but you do the exact opposite with history. You don’t listen to the consensus of modern historians and mock Christians for not listening to the consensus of modern scientists.

You see, your position is even more of a joke because I can find you a list of scientists who dissent from Darwin. Are they right? Beats me. I don’t argue that issue. If you want to find historians who dissent from the base existence of Jesus, you can count the number on two hands at the most. Note that by historians, I mean people with Ph.D.s in a field relevant to NT studies. I don’t mean just any Joe Blow you can find on the internet.

You may not like it, but as soon as you start espousing mythicism, I immediately have no reason to take you seriously anymore.  I know I’m dealing with someone who doesn’t read the best material. I know this will be a shock, but outside his internet fanbase, Richard Carrier just isn’t taken seriously. You can guarantee you won’t be by hanging on his every word. In fact, as a Christian apologist, I thank God for Richard Carrier. He’s doing a great service by dumbing down his fellow atheists to accept the conspiracy theory of mythicism, and yes. That’s all it is. It ranks right up there with saying the moon landing is a hoax or that 9/11 was an inside job.

Since we briefly spoke about science, let’s go on with that topic. You all seem to think that if something cannot be demonstrated by science, then it is nonsense. It’s as if mankind had no knowledge whatsoever and never knew anything until science came along. This gets even funnier when you talk about miracles. “We know today that virgins don’t give birth, that people don’t walk on water, and that people don’t rise from the dead.” You really think people didn’t know that stuff back then? You think they were just ignorant? Sure, they weren’t doing experiments and such, but they knew basic facts that we wouldn’t disagree with. You don’t have to be a world-class scientist to know that when someone dies, you bury them, or that it takes sex to make a baby. They all knew this.

The fact is that we don’t really have a beef with science. We might disagree on what is scientific and what isn’t. There are Christians who have no problem with evolution. There are Christians who do. There are Christians who think the world is billions of years old. There are Christians who don’t. We debate this amongst ourselves. None of us though say that science is bunk and should be disregarded. Perhaps we are misinformed on what is and isn’t science, but we are not opposed to science.

In fact, you never seem to think about what you say about the scientific method. You never pause to ask if the claim that all truth must be shown by the scientific method is itself shown by the scientific method. You don’t even consider that science is an inductive field. Sure, some claims might have more certainty than others, but none of them are absolute claims proven.

I also find it so amusing when you talk about the Bible. You all have the hang-ups that fundamentalist Christians that you condemn do. You think that the Bible absolutely has to be inerrant. Many of us hold to inerrancy, but some of us actually do not, and we debate that. Still, even many of us who hold to inerrancy do not see it as an essential and think Christianity can be true and inerrancy false. For you, the Bible is an all-or-nothing game. Either everything in it is true or none of it is. This is remarkably similar to your position on Jesus where either He was the miracle-working God-man Messiah who rose from the dead or He never existed. Your positions are entirely black and white. There is no shade of gray.

You then throw out 101 Bible contradictions and expect us to keel over immediately. We don’t. Many of these, you’ve never even studied yourself. You’ve just gone to a web site, got a list, and then suddenly thought you were an authority. It never seems to occur to you that in thousands of years of studying the Bible no one has ever seen these before.

When it comes to interpretation, you have a big hang-up on literacy. You think that everything in the Bible has to be “literal” although you have not given any idea of what that means nor have you even bothered to tell us why that must be so. The Bible is a work of literature like many other books and it uses all manner of ways of speaking. It uses metaphor, simile, hyperbole, allegory, etc.

You also seem to think that the Bible has to be immediately understandable to 21st century Western English speakers. God should be clear. Well, why should He? It’s as if you think you are part of the only people who ever lived and God should have made things clear to you immediately without having to do any work whatsoever.

In all of this, you’re just like the fundamentalists you condemn. The difference isn’t your mindset. It’s only your loyalties. You think everything in the book is wrong. They think everything in it is right. None of you really give arguments. It’s just a personal testimony and faith.

And yes, you do have personal testimonies. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve heard “I used to be a Christian, but”. I mean, do you want me to break out a chorus of “Just As I Am” at that point? It’s like all you used in your Christian days was a personal testimony and today, that’s still all you have. All I normally see is you went from an uninformed Christian to an uninformed skeptic.

As for faith, you never seem to understand it. You’ve bought into all the new atheist gunk that says that faith is believing without evidence. You never bother to consult scholars of the Greek and Hebrew languages to see what the Bible means by the term. What we mean is a trust that is based on that which has shown itself to be reliable.

You would be greatly benefited by going to a library sometime. You see, if all you read are the new atheists, you’re not going to make a dent. You might get some of what is called low-hanging fruit, in that people as uninformed as you are will be convinced, but not people who actually do study this kind of stuff seriously. You think that Google is enough to show you know everything. It isn’t. You don’t know how to sift through information and evaluate it. All you do is look and see if it agrees with you. If it makes Christians or Christianity look stupid, it has to be 100% true.

You should also know this doesn’t describe all atheists and skeptics out there. There are atheists and skeptics that do actually read scholarly works that disagree with them. I can have discussions with them. We can talk about the issues. They can agree easily that Jesus existed without thinking they have to commit ritual suicide at that point. They can have no problem discussing scholarly works. Many of these would even say that while they disagree with Christians, that a Christian can have justification for his belief and is not necessarily an idiot for being a Christian. You could learn a lot from them. Be like them. Don’ live in the bubble of just reading what agrees with you and buying everything you read on the internet. Study and learn.

Until you do this, freethinkers remind me of a slogan someone used years ago that I have taken. It’s not original to me, but I like it. With freethinking, you get what you pay for. Why not pay the price of being an informed thinker by reading and studying. You’re not hurting us by your actions. You’re only hurting yourself and your fellow skeptics.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Why There Is No God. Part 1

What do I think of Armin Navabi’s self-published book? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Someone in an apologetics group I belong to asked if anyone had read this book. Myself, being the type who wants to be there to help my fellow apologists out, decided to get it at the library. Who knows? Maybe I have some masochist streak in me. The book goes through twenty arguments for God’s existence from an atheist who used to be a Muslim.

It describes itself as a thorough examination, yet the book is just about 125 pages long and looks at, as I said, twenty arguments. I have no idea how you can give a thorough treatment with that. In fact, it’s so short that you could easily read it in a day’s time.

Of course, don’t be expecting to find anything of real substance in here. Much of it is the modern fundamentalism relying on today’s atheist heroes who are just as much fundamentalist. If you’re also expecting to have him interact with the best arguments, like those of Aquinas, well you know without my saying it the answer to that.

I have decided to investigate five arguments a day. Keep in mind a lot of these arguments are arguments that I would not use. Still, even when critiquing a bad argument, we can learn much about Navabi’s approach. Let’s go ahead and dive in.

Argument #1: Science can’t explain the complexity and order of life; God must have designed it this way.

Many of you know I’m not one up for Intelligent Design arguments. If I go with design, it’s the teleological design in the fifth way of Aquinas. (btw, Navabi shows his ignorance here by saying Paley introduced the design argument in 1802 when really, arguments of design go all the way back to even the time of Christ.) Navabi starts with a claim that it used to be that many natural forces were attributed to deities. While this is so, I think many atheists make a false assumption here. Since these were explained by deities, the deities were invented to explain these. That doesn’t follow. Why not that the deities were already thought to be there and that they were assigned these by their worshipers in order to explain how they take place?

Many of you also know that as a Christian apologist, I have no problem with evolution. If you just say evolution explains it, I’m not going to bat an eye. That’s because a question is being answered that I think doesn’t answer the main question for Christianity in any way. Before we go to the next question, we have to address the main argument that Navabi puts forward that we were all expecting.

“If complexity requires a creator, who created God?”

This is Richard Dawkins’s main argument and so many atheists bounce around this Sunday School question as if no one in Christian history ever thought about it. When we talk about something needing a cause, what we really mean is potential being made actual.

What?

Okay. As I write this now, I am sitting at my computer. Suppose my wife calls me and wants something from me. If I agree, I will stand up and go to her. I can do that because while sitting, I have the potential to stand. Once I stand, I have the potential to sit, or lie down, or jump, or do any number of things. Actuality is what is. Potentiality can be seen as a capacity for change.

When any change takes place in anything, that means a potentiality has been turned into an actuality. As I write this, my wife is in the living room watching Stranger Things for the third time. The change is happening on the screen because of signals that are being received from somewhere else through Netflix. (Don’t ask me to explain how it works.)

Now many of us could see this cause and effect going on and say it makes sense. (In fact, it’s essential for science.) Still, we might ask about our own actions. Aren’t we the cause? Do we need anything beyond us? A Thomistic response is to say yes. What we do we do because of something external to us driving us towards it and that is the good. We either want the good and pursue it or refuse it and rebel against it.

What does this have to do with God? For us to say God has a cause, we would have to show that there was some change that took place in the nature of God. If there wasn’t, then there is nothing in Him needing a cause. The universe we know undergoes change so something has to be the cause of the change in the universe.

But isn’t God complex? Actually, no. Note that I am talking about complexity in His being. I am not talking about God being simple to understand. In Thomistic thought, God is the only being whose very essence is to be. There is no distinction between being and essence. You and I are all human. There is a human nature that is given existence and then that for us is combined with matter that separates us from one another. Angels, meanwhile, are each all their own nature and that nature is granted existence. There is no matter that separates them so they differ by their nature. God alone is no combination. Because of this, He doesn’t need a cause.

That’s pretty complex. If you want to read more about this, I really recommend the writings of Edward Feser. He’s quite good at explaining Thomistic concepts for the layman, and I’d say much better than I am at it.

Argument #2: God’s existence is proven by Scripture.

Navabi gives many of the same fundamentalist arguments here that we’ve come to expect. Naturally, it begins with talking about inconsistencies in Scripture. After all, many times the way that a Christian approaches inerrancy can be the same way that a fundamentalist atheist does.

A favorite one to start with is creation. After all, no one ever noticed that the sun comes after plants in the creation account. You don’t really need to ask if Navabi will interact with any arguments. Young-Earthers and Old-Earthers both have said something, but for people like Navabi, just raise the objection. That’s enough. For what it’s worth, I prefer John Walton’s stance.

Let’s also look at some supposed controversies on the resurrection accounts. Here is the first one.

Matthew 27:57-60.

57 When the even was come, there came a rich man of Arimathaea, named Joseph, who also himself was Jesus’ disciple:

58 He went to Pilate and begged the body of Jesus. Then Pilate commanded the body to be delivered.

59 And when Joseph had taken the body, he wrapped it in a clean linen cloth,

60 And laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn out in the rock: and he rolled a great stone to the door of the sepulcher, and departed.

Acts 13:27-29.

27 For they that dwell at Jerusalem and their rulers, because they knew him not, nor yet the voices of the prophets which are read every sabbath day, they have fulfilled them in condemning him.

28 And though they found no cause of death in him, yet desired they Pilate that he should be slain.

29 And when they had fulfilled all that was written of him, they took him down from the tree and laid him in a sepulcher.

Did you see the contradiction?

Navabi wants us to say that in one account, Joseph buries Jesus. In another, the people do. It’s amazing that this one is put forward as anything serious. Joseph was among the people who did crucify Jesus, though he was a secret sympathizer. His action of burying Jesus would be seen as the Sanhedrin providing for his burial. How is this a contradiction?

There’s also how many figures were seen at the tomb and how many women there were. The basic replies work well enough here that some writers chose to focus on one man or angel instead of pointing out two. I think the women mentioned were the ones alive at the time who could be eyewitnesses.

To be fair, the dating of the crucifixion between John and the Synoptics is a live one. I have no firm conclusion on this, but also it doesn’t affect me either way. The basic facts about the historical Jesus do not hang on this. Scholars do not doubt that Jesus was crucified at the time of Passover.

I will have no comment on what Navabi says on the Quran. I will leave that to the experts in Islam.

When we go back to the Bible, Navabi throws out that the writings were based on oral tradition and written decades or centuries later. Well with the New Testament, I don’t know any scholar who says centuries later. Navabi also doesn’t bother to investigate oral tradition and how well it works or how much later other ancient works were then the events they describe. Neither will many of his atheist readers, you know, the people who talk about loving evidence so much. (Except for claims that agree with them of course.)

And then there’s the claim that the books are anonymous and we don’t know who wrote them. His source for this is Ehrman’s Jesus Interrupted. I have written a reply to that here. It would be good for Navabi to explain how he knows how other anonymous works in the ancient world were written by the people they’re ascribed to and to actually investigate the arguments for traditional authorship, but don’t be expecting that.

Argument #3. Some unexplained events are miraculous, and these miracles prove the existence of God.

This chapter is quite poor, which is saying a lot for a work like this. A miracle is described as an improbable event. You won’t find any interaction with Craig Keener’s Miracles even though this came out after that did. We’re told that a problem with miracles is that they’re unfalsifiable, which is quite odd since so many skeptics make it a habit of disproving miracle claims.

Suppose someone walks into your church service who has been blind all their life. A member of your church comes forward and says to them “God told me to come and pray for you” and ends a prayer saying “In the name of Jesus, open your eyes” and the person has their eyes open. Are you justified in believing a miracle has taken place? I think you definitely are.

These are the events that we want to be explained. If Navabi wants to say miracles cannot happen, then he needs to make a real argument for that. If he wants to say they have never happened, then he needs to be able to show his exhaustive knowledge of all history. Can he do that? After all, his claim is quite grand and could be hard to “falsify” since we don’t have access to all knowledge of all history.

Argument #4. Morality stems from God, and without God, we could not be good people.

While the moral argument is a valid one, never underestimate the ability of atheistic writers to fail to understand an argument. Navabi’s first point is that morals change. However, if morals change, can we really speak of objective truths? Those are unchanging things. If morality just becomes doing whatever people of the time say is good, then congratulations. We do what we think is good and congratulate ourselves on doing what we already agree with.

As expected, Navabi trots out Euthyphro. This is the question of if something is good because God wills it, or does God will it because it’s good. Again, atheists bring up this argument found in Plato completely ignoring that it was answered by Aristotle, his student, in defining what the good itself is. When atheists bring this forward, I never see them define what goodness itself is. We could just as well ask “Is something good because we think it is, or do we think it is because it is good?” Everyone has to answer Euthyphro unless they define goodness separately.

This is followed by the problem of evil. There are more than enough good resources out there for someone wanting more. I am including some interviews I have hosted on my show about the topic that can be found here, here, and here.

Navabi concludes with a natural explanation of morality to the tune that it evolved. Unfortunately, this doesn’t explain things because there has to be a standard of good we have in mind by which we recognize a good action. Goodness is not a material property that comes about through evolution. It is something we discover much like laws of nature or logic.

Argument #5 Belief in God would not be so widespread if God didn’t exist.

This is not an argument I would make, but there are some examples of bad thinking here. Navabi says that if God was revealing the world religions, wouldn’t we expect them to have more in common? Unfortunately, why should I think God is revealing all of them. Could man not believe and make up his own easily enough?

Navabi also says that if these religions are describing the physical world, they can’t all be right, but they could all be wrong. Of course, this isn’t really an argument. One needs to show that all of them are wrong.

Finally, while I don’t use the argument, it does have to be acknowledged that theism is widespread. Given this is the case, why is it that the theistic claims are treated by the atheists as extraordinary claims? Wouldn’t it be the opinion outside of the ordinary, namely that God does not exist, that should be considered as extraordinary?

We’ll go through the next five next time.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Reaching Roger

What’s it like reaching someone with questions? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

My friend Roger Maxson has written about his experiences of almost losing his faith and then coming back to it. Part one is here and part two is here. You can also hear the story in my interview with him here and watch it on YouTube here. I figure prominently in the story so I figured, and he liked the idea, that I would write about what it was like on the other end. It might be interesting to some of you to see what this process is like from the end of the apologist.

When I was in Bible College, I found out about apologetics and it quickly became a passion of mine. Most people who knew me knew about it. It’s not a shock that when I go to a workplace I’m told one of my co-workers is also a ministry student and goes to another Bible college. I won’t mention it’s name, but this college was fundamentalist to the core. This ministry student was Roger Maxson.

Roger and I had our share of disagreements and kidding, but we had a good friendship. With our third friend Jeremy, we would often go out into town and visit bookstores or things of that sort. Roger would have probably considered me quite a liberal back then. I mean, I read Harry Potter books! How much more liberal can you get?

Roger and I did have other similar interests. We talked about video games quite often, particularly the Legend of Zelda. We also played Smash Brothers regularly together. (REMATCH AVAILABLE FOR YOU ANYTIME!) Our differences didn’t change our friendship and we would talk about faith matters, but he just wasn’t interested in apologetics like I was (And am).

Eventually, I moved to Charlotte to study at Seminary. We kind of lost touch. I don’t know how. I figured wherever Roger was, he was doing fine. He was a strong Christian after all.

So my shock was strong when I got an email from him and he had a lot of questions and was doubting his faith big time. Many of his questions to me looked like they came straight out of Richard Dawkins. Now on my end, these were simple questions, but I knew Roger well and I knew he wasn’t trying to poke holes in Christianity. He was asking honest questions and no doubt, was hurting.

So I answered them. As he says, I didn’t give one-liners, but I also didn’t give complete answers always. Why would I do that? Because I want to see Roger doing some of the work too. I want to guide him in the right direction. I want him to learn what it means to study. People who really want answers will study. People who don’t, won’t. It’s a simple principle.

Sometimes also, it can be tiring. You open up your email in the morning and see that email from someone and think “Here we go again.” Sometimes you can see that message show up on Facebook and think “Okay. Guess I gotta answer a question again.” Still, it’s what you do and you do it because it’s the right thing to do and if you’re going to work on restoring someone, it requires a serious time investment.

I spent my time then pointing Roger to the great scholars that I had read and he could learn from. I chose to avoid pop apologetics books. I pointed him to the writings of Thomas Aquinas. Like many, Roger did not understand the arguments well and had misconceptions. I was gentle with him on that end. I also never condemned the questions. We should never condemn someone for questioning Christianity. We can condemn how they do it and their motives if we know them to be bad ones, but questions should be welcomed.

This was not a week long effort or something either. I don’t remember how long, but I am sure it was a few months. Sometimes we’d even talk on the phone. Roger could call me if he needed help and I’d answer. If there ever was something I had to take care of, I’d tell him that I’d get back to him or another time he could call.

I still remember one day very well that I went to my email and I opened it up and I saw an email from him with the subject line “Jesus of Nazareth.” I was getting set to answer a bunch of questions. I opened it up and I only found one that wasn’t a question so much as a statement.

He really did walk out of that grave didn’t He?

When you see something like that, it is one of the happiest moments you can ever have. It was also a good reminder for me. Yes. Yes He did walk right out of that grave.

Today, Roger is highly involved in the apologetics community. He is a strong Christian and he is raising his children to be a strong Christian. We communicate regularly still to this day. There are times I’m struggling with something and I turn to Roger and we just talk together. Like Paul with Onesimus, I was separated for awhile but now we have each other in our lives together better than ever before.

Roger ends his post with some matters of application. I’d like to do the same.

First off, I think it’s important to note that Roger and I lived in different states and yet he chose to contact me. Why? Could it be no one in his area could help him? He had to reach into his distant past to find someone? Surely Roger was surrounded by churches everywhere. Why was it so hard to find help? Could it be because the church has neglected this?

Second, we all can rejoice that this story has a happy ending, but what if someone like me hadn’t been in Roger’s life? The thing is, I can’t be everywhere. No apologist can. All Christians should know someone like this that they can turn to. What happens if someone like me isn’t around when a Christian is in need? Would Roger be a fundamentalist atheist today leading your children away from the faith?

Third, don’t give pat answers please. Don’t give one liners. Don’t post a meme as if that’s an answer to an argument. Really work through. At the same time, help the other person think through it. If you want to teach a child math, you don’t tell them the answers. You help them work through the answers so they can get them on their own. Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach him how and you feed him for a lifetime. Give a man an answer and you save his faith today. Teach him how to find them and you save them for a lifetime.

Fourth, it will require personal investment. If you have the time to address crowds and speak to them, but you don’t have the time for one-on-one questions, then you need to rearrange your time. That one person is immensely important. Sometimes it will wear you out, but it needs to be done.

Fifth, keep in mind Roger was in a Bible College and Seminary program and he had his doubts. If someone like this can have their doubts, how much more your children growing up in Sunday School? Apologetics is not optional today. It is essential. Don’t think good moral teaching and knowing how to exegete Scripture will be enough (Never mind most people after years of Sunday School won’t even know what exegesis is). Young people will need to know why. It’s far better to reach them before they have objections than reach them after they get them.

Sixth, you have to be doing the work beforehand. Roger was able to benefit because I’d been reading all this material for years. Roger knowing that I knew this material well and could answer would show him confidence that I had faced the questions he’d asked and in fact was able to question his doubts a lot more.

Seventh, be patient. Sometimes like I said it is exhausting. We all know times we’ve been talking to people and they can’t seem to see something and we wish we could just grab a sledgehammer or something and beat it into them somehow. It’s not going to happen. Give them time to get there.

Eighth, focus on the essentials. So many of us spend time wanting to defend inerrancy or a young Earth or a global flood or something like that. No. Just start with what is essential. The resurrection. Let anything else be secondary. I worked to keep Roger on topic and not going off on these side issues. They are important, but not essential.

Finally, friendship is a wonderful thing. If you have it, use it. I am sure Roger and I would be friends regardless, but it’s even better being friends in Christ. Do we still have our disagreements and such? Yes. Absolutely, but they don’t matter in the end.

You have Roger Maxson’s all around you. Are you going to be the apologist to reach them?

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: The Moral Arc

What do I think of Michael Shermer’s book published by Henry Holt and Company? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Michael Shermer’s book is a massive work on the topic of morality. Unlike many atheistic writings today, this one isn’t a total rant on the topic. It also actually has a serious bibliography. There are several interesting points in fact that theists could agree with. Some stories in the chapters on forgiveness can be incredibly moving and remind those of us who are Christians of what we need to be doing.

While there is plenty of food for thought, there are some major areas of concern. I do not plan on touching on all of them. I do find it interesting that Shermer will say infanticide isn’t the worst evil and will state there are some cases where it could be understandable and spends a couple of pages doing this. When he comes to the holocaust though, he talks about how the Germans and others convinced themselves that the Jews had been effectively dehumanized and killing them wasn’t that big a deal. For all Shermer’s talk about how we can fool ourselves, you think he would speak more on this.

Shermer also thinks that having more science (And by fiat he throws reason in there as being under the rubric of science without an argument) will lead to more morality. All these nations that were engaging in evil had pseudo-science, under which he includes creationism. That would be fascinating to see in a country like Russia, that were our competitors and with their pseudo-science managed to launch a satellite and send a man into space before us. Sure, we landed on the moon first, but it was a tight race. Russia was also highly atheistic with that. Germany also was a highly intellectual society. It’s not just a matter of reason that leads to morality.

Still, there is one chapter I want to focus on. It’s noteworthy that when he does a chapter asking if religion is responsible for morality, that this is the one that does not have interaction hardly with the best authorities. Shermer will meticulously document everything in other chapters, In this one, it is just pretty much throwing out everything that has been thrown out in other atheist books.

Shermer rightly points out the good that has been done in the name of Christianity. Not only has the good been done, but Jesus has been the greatest exemplar for living a moral life. No one else has had such an impact on the morality of mankind as Jesus has. One thinks Shermer is too quick to discount this.

Immediately Shermer shifts to moral problems of the church. No doubt, the church has not been perfect, but Shermer would have you think these issues are cut and dry. The Crusades are first brought up, although Shermer says nothing about them being wars to liberate people who had been held captive by Muslims for hundreds of years prior. The Inquisitions are brought up, although nothing is said about them being supported by the state and even by people who weren’t Christians as a way of providing law and order. Not a single scholar of the Crusades or the Inquisition is cited. Again, the silence of references is deafening.

After that, there are a list of wars that are supposed to be all about religion. (Because we know that the English Civil War was fought over the proper method of baptism.) The American Civil War is also included although that was fought over far more than just slavery. World War One is also somehow turned into a religious war. How? Beats me.

Naturally, Shermer says that German soldiers even had God With Us on their belt buckles. By this logic, Americans having “In God We Trust” means that every war we’ve engaged in has automatically been a religious war. Apparently, Shermer is unaware of the effects of political slogans.

Shermer also talks about the idea of loving your neighbor meaning to only love someone of your own tribe. He cites the exact same person that Dawkins cites in The God Delusion. He also makes the exact same mistake that Dawkins makes. He never brings up how Jesus interpreted this passage and how that’s mandatory for Christians today.

Shermer of course brings up Numbers 31. He says that at one point one can imagine the virgins who were spared saying “God told you to do that? Yeah right.” Of course, a specific order from God is not mentioned in the text. Furthermore, Shermer will complain if God kills everyone. Then if God spares the innocent, well He’s still responsible. Shermer also assumes the only reason they would spare a virgin is for sexual reasons. Hardly. Sex-crazed Israelite soldiers would not be cutting themselves off from the community for fighting in war before engaging in any intercourse.

Shermer also argues that the Bible is one of the most immoral works in all of literature. Shermer claims the Bible mistreats women, yet in the Bible, men and women are said to be equally in the image of God. You have women making an impact like Ruth, Deborah, Rahab, and Esther. Women increasingly gain more and more favor in the Bible. Perhaps Shermer could familiarize himself with a book like Slaves, Women, and Homosexuals.

Shermer then says that God banished Adam and Eve for choosing knowledge over ignorance. Not really. What the crime was was trying to claim the wisdom of God outside of God. To say one would have knowledge of good and evil, was a way of saying you would in fact be like God in knowledge. You could practically usurp Him. God was holding out on them supposedly. Again, Shermer does not bother looking at any commentaries or Old Testament scholars.

Of course, you have the usual rant about the flood, but after that Shermer says YHWH gave his favorite warlords multiple wives. It would be good to see where this happened. If we look at the patriarchs, Abraham had a concubine but after that, he was a one-woman man. Isaac we are told only had Rebekkah. Jacob had the most with four different partners in his lifetime. Joseph we are told of only one lover.

In fact, when polygamy shows up in the Bible, it usually does not end well. It leads to more chaos and is thoroughly done with by the time we get to Jesus. Shermer also says the women are never asked how they feel about the arrangement. Probably because the question would be nonsensical to them. “How do we feel about it?” The women were not internalists who spent their lives analyzing their inner being. They were more focused on survival.

Shermer says believers have to cherry pick what we will do from the Bible. Not really. We just have to know how to interpret it. Shermer doesn’t and he doesn’t show any interaction with Biblical scholars on this. This would be like me writing a chapter in a book critiquing evolution and not citing a single evolutionary biologist. You can make any position look ridiculous if you only give one side of the story.

Shermer also has statements about crimes for which YHWH ordered the death penalty. What is forgotten is that Israel had these laws and Israel was to be a nation sold out to YHWH and living to honor Him, just like any nation would honor its gods and its rulers. A little bit of leaven works through the whole dough as it were and ignoring the covenant was treated severely.

Let’s look at a favorite passage of Shermer’s. That’s Deuteronomy 22:28-29.

“If a man meets a virgin who is not betrothed, and seizes her and lies with her, and they are found, 29 then the man who lay with her shall give to the father of the young woman fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife, because he has violated her. He may not divorce her all his days.”

Shermer asks if anyone would want to do this today. Nope. I wouldn’t. So what? Shermer would have you think that the purpose of the OT Law was to bring Utopia and that things could never get better. No. The Law was great for the time and a step forward, but there was still work to do. What is happening here is that a woman had been violated and because of that, few would want to take her. Being with the person who violated her could be something that she’d want to maintain some honor. (See Tamar when she was raped for instance.) The father would be paid because he would have lost a dowry. The man meanwhile would have to provide for this woman forever. In other words, if you really want this woman, you’d better be prepared to have her for all time.

Shermer then goes to the great Biblical scholar, comedienne Julia Sweeney. For her, the story of Abraham offering up Isaac was a truly wicked story. Of course, Sweeney talked about reacting like this in childhood and seems to have not moved past a childhood understanding at all. Abraham’s test was asking “Do you believe I’m able to complete my promise to you if you offer up Isaac?” The result of God stopping Abraham is also a way of saying to all the other people “I am not like the pagan gods. I will stop you from offering up your children.”

Sweeney goes on to list other preposterous commandments. One is that if two men are in a fight and the wife of one grabs the genitals of the other, cut off her hand. Of course, Sweeney doesn’t realize that cutting off ones ability to reproduce was cutting off their livelihood in being able to produce for their family and provide and destroying their honor. It’s enough to say “I find this offensive!” and not bother to understand it.

Shermer says some will say some laws have been revoked, but Jesus said He came to fulfill the Law and not destroy it. In fact, He did do just that. That’s why it’s basic NT to understand the Old Testament Law doesn’t apply to us today and we were never under it. Shermer incredibly says Jesus’s morality is even worse than the OT.

For instance, Jesus says that if you hate your brother in your heart, you deserve the death penalty. Shermer misses why Jesus is so hard on such hatred. He is because it really means that if you thought you could get away with it, you would murder someone. That’s where hatred gets you. You don’t do it often because the costs outweigh the benefits. Turn that around and you are quite likely to do it. Shermer says similar about Jesus’s commandment on lust and says Jesus has a practical solution about plucking out your eye. Is Shermer so blinded by his anti-religious stance that he can’t understand that Jews spoke in hyperbole? This is an extreme measure and Jesus is not recommending one literally do this.

Shermer also says Jesus never married and had a family but turned away his own mother, such as in John 2. Of course, he ignores that Jesus did do what His mother asked. He just latches on Jesus referring to her as woman, which in Josephus is a term used to refer to a beloved wife and the way Jesus typically addressed women. It can be a term of disrespect sometimes, but the context tells you whether it is or not.

Shermer also tells of a story where Mary and his family wants to see him and Jesus says to His disciples “Send them away. You are my family now.” I must have missed that part. I don’t remember Him ever saying to send her away. Naturally, we also have the same misunderstanding about Luke 14 and hating your mother and father. It always amazes me when atheists lambaste literalism and then engage in it themselves.

Shermer of course buys into the Dark Ages myth and acts like Christianity had nothing to do with the advancements of that time since Homer and the seven wonders of the world knew nothing about Christianity. Of course, these achievements of theirs weren’t done in an effort to better understand the world. Christians were interested in that. Since the world was made by a rational God, we could expect it to be rational. Shermer will also ignore how during this time slavery was abolished for the first time and not just by Galatians 3:28, but because men and women were in the image of God.

Shermer also finds capitalism to be opposed to the Bible. Why? Well Jesus sent away the rich young ruler. Jesus never though condemned the owning of wealth. He condemned being owned by wealth. Jesus Himself was supported by some wealthy patrons, such as in Luke 8. Jesus spoke warnings to the rich often because the rich were assumed to have the blessing of God, but Jesus said this was not necessarily so. You can have money, but you should not have the love of money.

Finally, let’s look at Shermer’s look at the Ten Commandments.

The first one is to have no other gods before Him. Now in all of these, Shermer ignores that this was part of the society of the time and not meant to be applied everywhere. He starts by saying this one violates the first amendment and restricts freedom of religion. It’s unbelievable to see someone say something like this. Sorry Shermer, but this isn’t the way ancient societies wrote and God started where His chosen people were. If you are under His patronage, you are to be loyal to Him.

The second is about idols and again Shermer, says this violates freedom of religious expression, but also what about Christians who have crosses on their necklaces? What about it? Last I saw we aren’t worshiping them. Shermer then says if Jews had little golden gas chambers the reaction would be shocking. Indeed. That’s the point. Christians took an emblem of shame and turned it into one of victory.

He then looks at God as a jealous God saying this explains all the bloodbaths that took place. Actually, jealousy could be an honorable trait. It meant that one was to be recognized as having exclusive rights to what they were jealous for. This is what a husband is supposed to be for his wife. He alone has exclusive rights to her. Would Shermer consider me to be noble if I wanted to share my wife with my neighbor?

The third is about not taking God’s name in vain. Of course, Shermer sees this as the same violation and probably relates it to profanity. Instead, it means to treat YHWH honorably. It wasn’t about cussing, but about taking the name of God lightly and dishonoring His reputation.

The fourth is the Sabbath. Shermer says this has nothing to say about morality. Assuming that is correct, what of it? The Sabbath was a great way Israel was to set themselves apart from others. They would be saying that they were trusting that YHWH would provide on that one day they didn’t work, quite a big deal for a day-laborer society.

The fifth is about honoring your father and mother, and yet Shermer finds this one problematic. Why? Because one is commanded to honor. Shouldn’t that come about naturally? Well let’s see if Shermer would want to live this way. Don’t tell your children right from wrong and tell them what to do and not to do. Let it come about naturally. See how well that works.

The sixth one is not to kill for Shermer and here he finds a problem. Isn’t it arbitrary about when killing is allowed and not. Actually, the word is murder and it refers to an attitude and way of killing specifically. The Hebrews had several words for different actions that constituted killing. That doesn’t mean that each counted as murder. Shermer speaks about several biblical scholars and theologians here. Unfortunately, he never cites one.

The seventh is adultery. Shermer says this is rich coming from a deity who knocked up someone else’s fiance, but it doesn’t take into account the lifestyles people find themselves in. Should we limit what two adults want to do together? Perhaps we should because sex is something sacred and to be honored. This is one problem of Shermer’s Moral Arc. He assumes where he is is good and it’s good entirely by focusing on saying “We are more tolerant” to the disregard of other virtues, like honoring one another sexually.

The eighth is to not steal and Shermer says “Do we need a deity to tell us this?” No. Who said we did? This is just an example of something that is to be followed. We can say these are defining characteristics of Israel.

Finally with the commandment to not lie, at least here Shermer agrees with this one. Of course, his reason is about how it is for us to be lied to or gossiped about. Perhaps it should have been something about the love of truth.

We conclude with coveting. Shermer says this goes against capitalism. Not really. Coveting is saying you want the specific good your neighbor has and not just one of your own. Of course, he says a man’s wife is thrown in with everything else. This is like saying that when you go to the store if you have a list that says “Eggs, bread, soap, butter, fish, and bananas” that that means that soap is included as something edible. The list in the Bible is a list of things that are coveted and yes, it is possible to covet the wife or husband of your neighbor.

Shermer’s book is better than some, but still lacking overall. I do not think he makes a case and one of the big problems is no major foundation ontologically or metaphysically is given for goodness at all. Still, I have chosen to focus on this one chapter. One would hope Shermer would interact with biblical scholars here and Natural Law theorists elsewhere, but he does not.

In Christ,
Nick Peters