Book Plunge: In Defense of the Gospels

What do I think of John Stewart’s book published by Intelligent Faith Press? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

John Stewart is a lawyer who works with Ratio Christi and has written a book on defending the Gospels. Stewart goes through several questions very thoroughly and point by point. He also introduces you to many methodologies and explains why he accepts the answers that he accepts.

He starts off with asking when the Gospels were written. He establishes reasons for His dates but points out that often even on the worst case scenario of a date, the date could still be within the lifetime of the eyewitnesses. He points out that this is important and compares this to other works of history as well.

Stewart goes on to use similar methodologies on other questions such as if the Gospels are anonymous or if they’ve been changed or if they’re biased. Many of the objections dealt with are the ones that most people will encounter when they engage with internet atheists. If you are often involved or know someone who is involved with those debates and wants an extra resource, this would be a good one.

The work is also short and easy to understand without using technical language. It can be read in a short time and would be ideal for college students on campuses. No doubt, this is because of years that Stewart has spent with Ratio Christi.

There’s also a brief section on Jesus Mythicism in one of the chapters. This will be helpful for those who regularly encounter this crazy idea that seems to keep popping up its head. While the material there is basic, it is enough to help you out with the average mythicist.

I also like the argument dealing with the question of if the Gospels are anonymous. This is a common one that shows up on the internet, but it is one I do not see professional scholars dealing with, mainly because most scholars don’t use “The Gospels are anonymous” as a reason to think that they are automatically untrustworthy. Stewart rightly points out that it does help us if we can have good reasons to name an eyewitness behind a Gospel, but it is not a necessity to know if the Gospel is reliable or not.

If there were some criticisms I would give, the first one is that the book does need an editor. There would occasionally be seen typos that were distracting. One in particular was to hear about how to respond to Bark Ehrman. This is a slip of the keyboard of course, but it can damage one’s reputation.

I also would have liked to have seen a lot more specifics on ideas that have been overturned in the past 100 years about the Gospels due to archaeology. Mythicism was addressed, but that has never been a reigning theory among scholars. There have been very few isolated individuals who have held that position, although the number today could be greater due to the rise of the internet and the fast spread of false information.

Still, there is much to commend in Stewart’s book. It is a good opening defense one can have in the case of the Gospels and the author does make sure to focus there. He does have a short section on the Pauline epistles, but that is not what the book is about so he does rightly stick with the Gospels. I recommend this one for your college student, especially one who wants to better defend the Gospels.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

Deeper Waters Podcast 5/12/2018: Matt Delockery

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

Who do you say the Son of Man is? It’s a question that’s still debated today. The number that debate if Jesus even existed in scholarship today is marginal and not worth talking about. The number that debate who He is is much more significant. This is something unique about Jesus.

The Pauline epistles give us a good insight into who Jesus was, at least our earliest source on Him. One interesting one is Colossians. Of course, a lot of scholars doubt Paul wrote that, but if He did, it gives us an interesting look at the view of Jesus.

But doesn’t Colossians have a lower view of Jesus? It refers to Him as the firstborn of all creation. Isn’t that the verse the Jehovah’s Witnesses love to use? Doesn’t this demonstrate that Jesus was a created being?

Is there anything in the letter that can show us that Jesus is in someway equal to YHWH in the divine identity? Does Paul show a high Christology in the letter or not? What do the leading scholars in the field think?

My guest this Saturday is someone who has done his dissertation on the topic of Colossians and the view of Jesus in there. He has wrestled long and hard with this short letter and has come to firm conclusions. I will be talking with him about what his researched discovered. His name is Matt Delockery.

So who is he?

Dr. Matt DeLockery earned his Bachelor’s degree in Business from the Georgia Institute of Technology, his Master’s in Divinity from Luther Rice University, and his Ph.D. in New Testament from Radboud University Nijmegen (pronounced RAD-bowd and NIGH-may-hen). He is the founder and President of the apologetics ministry Why Should I Believe which has chapters at Georgia Tech and Cornell, and you can find his podcast and blog at mattdelockery.com.

A brief update also on the whole Facebook Live and such. We are still working on that. We had some technical difficulties last week and I am still trying to find out how to work out the software and have not had the time to really sit down and do anything. I hope to before too long so you all can get to interact with my guests that way.

But we will be discussing with Matt our questions about Colossians. What is Paul saying about Jesus in this letter? Do the Jehovah’s Witnesses have a point? What does it mean to say Jesus is the firstborn of all creation? Is there anything else in the epistle that would further prove a problem for the Witnesses?

I hope you’ll be listening and we will try to do what we can with Facebook live, but there are no promises. I really want you all to be able to see the guests that I have on the show and be able to ask your questions for me to share. Please also go on iTunes and leave a positive review for the Deeper Waters Podcast.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

Deeper Waters Podcast 5/5/2018: J.P. Holding

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

Today, we live in a world that has largely been Christianized. While there are still many people that have never heard the name of Jesus, there are billions that have. Christianity is the major dominating force in the world today. Jesus Christ has had more impact on the world than anyone else who ever lived.

How did we get to this point? What is it that made Christianity survive? It’s easy to say Constantine and blame him for everything, but how did Christianity even get to Constantine? It was a highly persecuted faith and a very shameful one.

Bart Ehrman has a theory and he recently discussed his theory in the book The Triumph of Christianity. As readers of this blog know, I was not impressed with this one and found it severely lacking. Ehrman never even touched on many significant issues.

However, there are other theories about how Christianity came to survive. One that is anathema to Ehrman would be that Christianity is true. Even still, how did it survive? What made it difficult to survive? Would Christianity have even been seen as appealing by the people at the time?

One of my favorite explanations for the rise of Christianity comes from my ministry partner. He has talked about it in his book The Impossible Faith. This is that if Christianity was false, it should have died out and it should have died out easily. That Christianity survived is in reality a testimony to its truth. He’s J.P. Holding and he’ll be returning to the Deeper Waters Podcast this Saturday.

So who is he?

J. P. Holding has a Masters’ Degree in Library Science and is a contributing writer to the Christian Research Journal. He has also written for the publications of Creation Ministries International.

I also want to give a special update. A kind fan of Deeper Waters has donated to us a webcam and some web editing software. Hopefully, we will be able to make videos soon. We will be doing this episode on Facebook live so you can hear the interview live and if you have questions, you can feel free to ask those. It’s up to my discretion if a question gets on the air or not, but it will be good to see your interactions.

We will be talking about the problems of Bart Ehrman’s book and where he goes wrong and anything he might get right as well. We will be talking about his approach to the Gospels and to ancient evidence. One aspect I definitely hope to touch on is why is it that honor and shame get no real traction in his book? Does Ehrman still not understand how the ancient world worked?

I hope you’ll be watching for this latest episode of the Deeper Waters Podcast. We can be sure of Facebook Live, but we could also try for YouTube Live. It’s a great way of branching out. Please go on iTunes also and leave a positive review of the Deeper Waters Podcast.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Old Testament Theology For Christians

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

Sometimes I have a suspicion that if many Christians were honest about their Bibles, you would find Genesis 1-3 in them and then the very next words would be the opening of the Gospel of Matthew. Many of us treat the Old Testament almost as if its apocryphal literature. We can get some moral precepts from it every now and then and it has some good stories, but if we want to know who God is, we have to go to the New Testament.

There can be no doubt that Christ is the greatest revelation we have of God, but there should also be no doubt that the Old Testament is authoritative revelation. The Old Testament is, as Philip Yancey would say, the Bible Jesus read. We ignore it to our own peril.

Yet while we say we don’t ignore it, when we go there, we are often just looking to see if we can find Jesus in every passage. We’re not often looking to see what the Old Testament says about God. We also take our ideas from the New Testament and while they are true, we assume that they must be what the Old Testament authors had in mind.

I have encouraged Christians for some time that when they read the Old Testament, they cease to be Christians. Instead, try to read it as if you lived at the time that it was written. Be a Jew then and picture how you would hear it. Then you can think of how you would read it as a 1st century Christian in the light of Christ and then how you would read it today.

Fortunately, we now have John Walton’s work with us. Walton is an Old Testament scholar par excellence. He has a devotion to Christ and a passion for the Old Testament. Those do not contradict. All Christians should have a great love for the Old Testament.

Walton’s book takes us through a journey of the culture of the Old Testament. We explore issues that we talk about in Christianity today. How did monotheism play out in ancient Israel and how did Israel relate to its God in a way that was similar to the way the pagans did with their deities? How was it different? What role did a deity play in creation?

What is the theme of the Old Testament? What was the yearning in the heart of the average Israelite? How did this theme play out in the Old Testament and what does it say about the New Testament?

On and on Walton takes us through the world of the cosmos to the meaning of the promise of land to Israel to understanding the Law. He also has a final section dealing with how many Christians and skeptics today read the Old Testament. If there seems to be any overarching message, it’s to really try to wrestle with and understand the Old Testament as a revelation of God meant to reveal who He is and not just details that will be fleshed out in the New Testament.

Going through the book will give you several insights. One such one that comes to mind for me is why is it Israel was seen as wrong in 1 Samuel for wanting a king when God had already made allowances for a king in the Law and was planning on making David king as well. Walton points out the problem was not wanting a king but wanting a king to be like the other nations and to do so thinking that would mean the favor of God.

I really recommend getting this book if you want to study the Old Testament and know it better. If you don’t want to, then you already have a major problem you need to deal with. The Old Testament is a revelation of God and we need it to understand God. It also does indeed provide us greater understanding of the New Testament to know what came before it.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

No. It’s Not The End of The World.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  2. the worlds, universe

  3. period of time, age

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

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

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

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

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

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Thoughts on Jesus Christ Superstar

What can we learn by watching a popular production about the life of Jesus? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Last night for Easter, my wife heard about Jesus Christ Superstar coming on and wanted to watch it. She never had and I never had either. It also didn’t hurt that Alice Cooper was playing a role and she likes his music. (My taste in music tends to be video games, Weird Al, TV shows, and lately, The Greatest Showman.) So we sat down to watch together.

Now I have heard some about the history of the production. It is not made by Christians. It is made in the time of the Jesus People and it is the time that people were trying to rethink about the life of Jesus and if He was worth following then. I don’t have much more to say about the history.

Yet at this point, it still remains the case that Jesus seems to have a great way of confronting every generation. Everyone wants to reshape Jesus and most everyone wants to reshape Him for their position and side. If you have a movement, you want to say that Jesus is on the side of your movement. Nowadays most every religion that comes around has to say something about Jesus.

The production has Mary Magdalene also showing a love interest in Jesus. I do suspect that this is one-sided, but I find it interesting that in our day and age, we read the Gospels and we sexualize them. It’s not just in our day. Some of the Gnostic Gospels had a romantic relationship between Jesus and Mary.

This also shows us something astounding about Jesus. Jesus is not seen as a major romantic figure wooing the ladies despite His company including prostitutes regularly. We don’t know if that means Jesus was asexual or not. What we do see is that He treated women with great dignity and respect. Women today are far better off because Jesus came.

Judas is seen in the work as a tragic figure. In a sense, he is. He was so close to the person of Christ and yet he fell so far. Judas should be a warning to us all. We could even say that there’s no reason to doubt that Judas was part of the entourage that went out performing miracles for Jesus and yes, Judas was there when Jesus washed the feet of the disciples. Despite all this, Judas fell. Let’s always be watching ourselves to make sure that we do not fall.

There’s no indication either that Jesus rose from the dead in Jesus Christ Superstar. My wife watching said, “If He didn’t rise from the dead, what’s the point?” Indeed. What is the point? Yet as we say this, let’s remember that if we say it’s all utterly pointless if He didn’t rise, then we should think the exact opposite if He did. If you think Jesus has nothing to say to us if He just stayed dead, then what difference does it make that He rose again?

Something I told Allie after all of this was it got me thinking about how I have read various religious texts in the past. Let’s take the Book of Mormon. I have read all of the Mormon Scriptures. Something I walked away with from that experience was a greater appreciation of the real deal. When I see Scriptures that aren’t authentic, it’s always great to return to the ones that are. Something about the Bible is unique. Other books are trying to be like Scripture. Scripture is just being itself.

In the same way, let’s look at other peoples’ attempts to portray Jesus and just see how far short they fall. When we do, let’s appreciate more the Jesus that is there. At some times, the Jesus I saw looked rather pitiful, yet I never could think that about the Jesus of the Bible. The Jesus of the Bible is just so radically different. We should appreciate Him all the more.

At the same time, I don’t really condemn others for trying to understand Jesus. He is a unique figure like that. This shows just how incredible Jesus is. It has been said that if Jesus never had existed, we couldn’t have invented Him. Those who think Jesus is nothing special really haven’t spent much time looking at the figure in His time and context.

Jesus Christ really is a superstar, though not for the reasons given last night. Jesus Christ is a superstar not because of how He is in a production. Jesus is a superstar for being not like He was in it. If you want to see the real Jesus Christ Superstar, it’s best to read the Gospels. You’ll find Him there.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Do We Take Christianity Seriously?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Review of Paul: The Apostle

What are my thoughts on this movie? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Warning! Possible spoilers ahead!

So last night, my in-laws took Allie and I with them to see this movie. As far as Biblical movies go, I actually thought this one was very well done. I cannot really comment on the acting and such because I really just don’t normally notice that kind of thing. I pay more attention to the story.

The story is set in Rome with Paul being held as a prisoner and Luke coming to see him and staying with the Christians in the area. They are often hiding because Rome wants to kill them, especially since this is set at the time of the fire of Rome which Nero was more than happy to blame on the Christians. Christians were regularly lit on fire to provide light for Nero’s games and for any other events he had going on.

Luke meets up with Paul and encourages him to tell his story in an account, which will be the book of Acts. My question at this point is why is it that if this was meant to be Paul’s story that Luke would include so much information at the start that is not about Paul? This is a question that scholars will be debating on why Luke wrote what he wrote. Still, that is a bit nit-picky, but it’s just something I wonder.

Paul will regularly then recount events that happened prior to his coming to Rome and being a prisoner. You can see events like the stoning of Stephen and the road to Damascus. Sadly, there wasn’t much beyond that. It would be fascinating to see Paul at Mars Hill or in Ephesus casting out demons opposite the failed exorcists there or in the Philippian jail cell or in the raging ocean of Acts 27. Perhaps a fuller movie will come out sometime.

Luke also deals with the Christians in Rome who often have different attitudes with what to do. Some Christians want to take up arms and fight against Rome themselves. Some want to flee the city thinking there’s more good to be done outside. Some want to stay in the city thinking that they can still stay inside.

At this point, I find another problem I have as each person decides to do what they think God is revealing to them to do. This is common terminology in modern Christian circles today, but I don’t think it’s the way the ancients thought. It’s more of our individualism seeping through.  I always get bothered when I see something like this in a Biblical film.

The other major character is a Roman soldier who has a sick daughter and the struggles he and his wife have as the gods seem to be silent and each blames the other. This is the same soldier who also has to regularly deal with Paul. It is quite interesting how it all turns out. I leave it to you to go and see it for yourself.

Many times, Paul and Luke and others do quote Scriptural passages in the film. If you have a good Biblical knowledge, you’ll be able to recognize a number of them. Paul is seen as someone who is willing to suffer for Christ greatly. A great theme in the movie is that suffering is temporary. Eternal joy awaits instead.

Biblical movies have normally been a miss for me, but I think after Risen and now with this one, we’re getting more of a step in the right direction. I’m also thankful that a lot of the sappiness of Christian films was left out of this one. There is much suffering in the film and it should be clear to all that the Christian walk never promises freedom from it.

So yeah, I recommend going to see this one. It is an enjoyable film.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Deeper Waters Podcast 3/24/2018: Edward Wright

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

The Gospels are the greatest source we have on the life and teachings of Jesus. These four books have changed the world since the time they have been written and they have been tremendously debated. Christians and non-Christians for a long time have not known exactly how to classify them.

For the most part, the verdict is in. The Gospels are Greco-Roman Biographies. We owe a great deal to Richard Burridge for his excellent work in this area. It would be nice to say that answers a lot of questions. As a fan of the show Monk I can’t help but think of when the captain met Adrian’s brother and said it was nice to meet him and “It answers a whole lot of questions. Raises about a 100 more.”

So we do have a lot of questions now about the Gospels and what it means for them to be Greco-Roman biographies. How does this impact our study of the Gospels as Christians? What does it mean to have the Gospels be of the same style of literature as the pagan writers of the day? Does this do any damage to the doctrine of inerrancy?

Fortunately, a volume has been presented looking at many of these questions. Dr. Keener is one of the main editors of this volume, which alone is enough to tell you it’s excellent, but we are having the other editor on our show today. He will be telling us about the research behind the book and what we can get from it. His name is Edward T. Wright.

So who is he?

According to his bio:

I grew up in Austin, TX and attended Baylor University for my undergraduate work. I majored in Business Administration w/ a specialization in Management. I worked in the private sector for a few years in the steel industry before deciding to attend seminary. I did my M-Div at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. Upon completion of that I was accepted into Asbury where I am currently a candidate in the dissertation phase of the PhD in Biblical Studies w/ a specialization in New Testament. I am studying/working under Dr. Craig Keener as his TA/mentoree. My dissertation is on the historical reliability of ancient biographies and I hope to complete this work by the fall of this year.

We’ll be talking about the Gospels as Greco-Roman biographies. Does this change the way that Christians approach the text? How should we study them? Does it really make a difference to say that the Gospels fall into this genre and why should anyone really think they’re in this genre beyond “scholars think so” to begin with?

I hope you’ll be watching for this episode of the Deeper Waters Podcast. The nature of the Gospels is an important one for study. Also, if you have not done so, I urge you to please go on iTunes and leave a positive review of the Deeper Waters Podcast. I look forward to your feedback!

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Zealot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Christ,
Nick Peters