Book Plunge: Evidence Considered Chapter 39?

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

In this chapter, Jelbert takes on Mike Licona’s essay on Jesus being the only way. I do agree that this is not evidence for God, per se, but there are still matters to deal with here. So let’s get started and see what we have to say about what Jelbert said.

Jelbert again says that since Licona says the resurrection is the prize puzzle in an earlier chapter, that means that the resurrection is not yet established. If he means established to the satisfaction of everyone, sure, but on those grounds evolution is not yet established and even Intelligent Design is somewhat established. What I take Licona to mean is that this is the topic that is the hardest to tackle in historical Jesus scholarship.

Next, Jelbert says Jesus is saving us from Himself, though considering the horrid understanding he has of the Trinity, I suspect Jelbert really means the Father. Jelbert tells us that if an earthly father locked his daughter up unless she said she wasn’t better than Hitler, we would not regard that as generous salvation. If he went on to say that she needed to pay for her sins, but he was going to smash his hand with a hammer instead, the result would be horrification.

None of this is an accurate picture. For one thing, not all of us are children of God in the sense of part of the family yet. We all come from Him, but some of us are rebels. There’s also the idea on Jelbert’s part that the children are presumed innocent and the only problem is they don’t stroke God’s ego.

Also, forgiveness is really the paying of debts to some extent. In that case, it is entirely fair for someone else to pay the debt for someone else. This happens regularly today still.

Jelbert also says that he found a problem going through Evidence for God in that he would be told he has a conscience which is evidence of God, but when it comes to doctrines like Hell and Christian exclusivism, then we don’t listen to that conscience. Fortunately, I don’t use that argument. I realize we all have a sense of right and wrong, but that has been seared as it were and is not infallible. Our ideas are more impacted by culture than we realize.

Jelbert moves on to saying that if you do believe in hell, you are obliged to try to convert people. Licona says that anyone is free to say “No thanks.” Jelbert says this ignores plenty of times of forced conversion and such in church history. It also ignores Christianity trying to force its way into the public school system. Jelbert is making too much out of one statement. It is ridiculous to think that Licona is supposed to speak on behalf of all of Christian history. As for science education, I do not support ID, but I have no problem with them wanting to get their ideas into the public marketplace. Why not bring them in and discuss them? Are atheists afraid they cannot expose them?

Jelbert also brings up Deuteronomy 13:6-15 where people who try to convert Israelites are to be killed. That’s also because Israel was under a Suzerainty covenant where loyalty to the sovereign was to be expected and anything contrary would be rebellion and in a society where communal thinking was the norm, a little leaven would work through the whole dough. We are the weirdos in this regard. Our individualism is the outlier. To some extent, we still have this. When we have people who promote disorder in the society, we lock them up in prisons away from the general population.

Licona also says those who complain about exclusivism being intolerant are themselves being intolerant. Jelbert says that a person can be tolerated while their beliefs are not. This is true, but I suspect Licona is talking about a much more modern view of ideas where holding a disagreeing opinion is considered intolerant. Jelbert is right on a classical definition of tolerance. Licona is right if he is going with the modern notion, which I think he is.

Jelbert also says the Christian beliefs aren’t much comfort in general in times of pain. Perhaps sometimes they are not. Sometimes they are awful. So what? Sometimes, they are a help. I could just as well ask what help is an atheist belief in time of pain? This is just the way reality is? Get used to it? Life is a pain and then you die and it never mattered anyway? The hope of the resurrection for me, as a Christian, is a very real hope.

Jelbert also tells us a lot about himself in that when he realized he didn’t believe in God, he first thought of hell and what if he was wrong. Then he says that if God wants him to believe, God will convince him. Yes. After all, it’s God’s job to do the work. I have written about this before in God being treated like a trivia question.

In closing, I would like to explain why Jesus is the only way. Jesus is the only way because He is the only one who did anything about the problem, which is sin. He is the only one who comes from the only true God and can represent us. No other religious figure did anything about the problem. Hence, Jesus is the only way.

Some might be wondering about those who never heard. That will be dealt with later on. When it comes up, we will deal with it.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Evidence Considered Chapter 38

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But hey, let’s look at these questions.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Evidence Considered Chapter 37

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

We return to the work of Glenton Jelbert. I do agree with him in Bill Gordon’s chapter that on the face of it, I don’t understand a chapter on the Trinity in evidence for God, unless you’re trying to respond to objections about God. Still, the Trinity is an important topic, so let’s see what Jelbert has to say about this.

First, Jelbert says the doctrine says that three is one and declares this to be a mystery. No Trinitarian worth his weight in salt would ever put forward such a ridiculous notion as that. No one who has a clue about this subject will say there is one God and three gods or that God is one person and three persons. Jelbert can say it’s wrong all he wants, but please, let’s dispense with straw men.

He says that Thomas in John 20 displays healthy skepticism, but this is not really the case. Thomas had traveled with these guys for years and lived with them and knew them well and all of them gave the testimony that they had seen Jesus. Thomas’s skepticism was unreasonable in that sense. Jelbert ends this saying it took hundreds of years for the Trinity doctrine to evolve. We’ll deal with that later when it comes up again.

He goes on to say that Mark doesn’t support the divinity of Jesus.

Oh really?

In Mark 1, we have John the Baptist coming forward to prepare the way of the Lord. If you look in the Old Testament, the Lord is YHWH. Who shows up on the scene then? Jesus. Think Mark is making a connection? Mark also has Jesus being able to declare forgiveness of sins in His own person in Mark 2. In doing this, Jesus is being the temple which represented the presence of God. Jesus is then the new place the presence of God is made manifest.

Later in that chapter, Jesus declares Himself to be the Lord of the Sabbath. What does that say about how Jesus viewed Himself? We could go on and on, but keep in mind that this is in just the first two chapters. Jelbert really needs to look at Mark more.

In Matthew, we are told that no one called Jesus Immanuel. No, but this is irrelevant. Many people would also have many names and the focus is that God is with us, which is exactly what happens in the last few verses of the book. Matthew is writing an inclusio to show that Jesus is God with us.

Jelbert says Matthew 28 was never quoted to show that one must go to the Gentiles. After all, the apostles all had immediate understanding and accepting of Jesus’s words. Old ways of thinking die hard. As for being baptized in Jesus’s name in Acts 2, that is because Jesus was the one that needed to be recognized as Lord. Groups today that make something magical about the names given at baptism are badly misunderstanding both passages.

I do agree that there can be an overemphasis on John, but Jelbert never seems to bother looking up the best scholarship. There is no citing of Bauckham or Hurtado or Bird or Tilling or anyone else in the early high Christology group. His only reference to the Trinity doctrine evolving is Bart Ehrman’s How Jesus Became God. I have already reviewed that book and found it really lacking.

In conclusion, there really isn’t much here. Sadly, even Jehovah’s Witnesses seem to have a bit more substance here. Jelbert should really consider interacting with the best in the field.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Christian Delusion Chapter 12

Is Jesus a false prophet? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

If you have been following the blog for the past couple of weeks, you’ve probably recently noticed that I’m reviewing a book by John…..what was his name again?….Loftus! That’s it! In today’s look, he’s taking on one of my favorite topics! Was Jesus wrong about when He would return?

No.

Glad we got that taken care of. We can move on to……oh? You want more? Okay. We’ll see what John actually said.

Loftus says at the start that he will argue that even if the NT is somewhat reliable, that Jesus was an apocalyptic prophet in the line of other Old Testament prophets. So far, so good. We are completely in agreement. It’s the next portion where he goes wrong where he says Jesus was wrong about the Son of Man not coming within His generation as predicted. On this, we thoroughly disagree as I think that Jesus came exactly when He predicted because I do read Him as an Old Testament prophet whereas Loftus puts on His fundamentalist glasses and reads Jesus that way.

One notable problem in this passage is when we take passages like the Olivet Discourse found in Matthew 24, Loftus never offers any interpretation of the passages. There is no detailed exegesis. It’s more along the lines of “Look at this passage. Seems clear doesn’t it?”

Maybe it does, but maybe what is clear to us is not clear to them. Suppose I said, “In the skirmish that took place last night, the opposing side was massacred entirely by the victorious champions.” I could be writing about a major battle that took place somewhere in the world, or I could be writing about a sporting event.

Jesus did indeed preach the Kingdom of God. The difference was most of His contemporaries would think that Israel was going to be overthrowing Rome and having a literal kingdom like David. Jesus taught something different. He wasn’t interested in overthrowing Rome, but in overthrowing sin.

Loftus also says the disciples would understand that the sign of the coming Son of Man was the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in 70 A.D. This would fit in with Mark 9:1 about some will not see death before they see the Son of Man coming in power. It is not about the Transfiguration as it is not a strong prophecy to say some people will be alive about a week later or so.

Loftus is also correct that generation does not mean race. After all, the Jews were convinced they would never pass away. It most certainly refers to the contemporaries of Jesus. I agree entirely.

Paul does write some about the day of the Lord, but I don’t think he’s writing about the Olivet Discourse. He wrote mainly about the return of Christ. One clue to this is Paul mentions in 1 Thess. 4 and 1 Cor. 15 a resurrection. You can look high and low throughout the Olivet Discourse and you will not find the resurrection in there. Seems like a detail Jesus would have mentioned.

Not only that, but in Matthew, Jesus refers to Daniel. Daniel spoke about the coming of the Son of Man. What direction was the Son of Man going? He was going to the throne of YHWH. He’s going up. He’s not coming down.

Did Paul think the resurrection would happen in his time? Not necessarily. He says, we, but what else could he say? If he says they, he means that he knows the return won’t happen in his time, but he doesn’t know that. We is a nice editorial word to use. Any of us who are alive who are in Christ will meet the Lord when He returns.

Some statements Loftus sees as eschatological I don’t. Jesus says to not worry about the future. That’s good advice anyway, but it makes sense in an age without safety-deposit boxes. Jesus says to not bury your own father but follow now. Quite likely, the father was still alive and kingdom duties have to come first. Jesus was not going to talk about fulfilling careers and working for a living. That wasn’t his emphasis. Those are also ideas that work in an individualistic society, but not in the one Jesus was in.

I am puzzled though that if Loftus thinks this is a failed prophecy and Matthew was written “decades after Mark” why would Matthew include what was a failed prophecy? Would that be an encouraging example to skeptics? Would Christians proudly share that Gospel?

In all fairness, Loftus does mention Preterist views. At least he’s ahead of Bart Ehrman here who in his book, which I have reviewed, nowhere mentions Preterism. Still, just a mention is not that big of a difference. It could be worse because Loftus knows about this reply and yet he never interacts with it. He never responds to the detailed exegesis of Christians like Demar or Gentry or others who hold to this interpretation.

He does say Wright is a full preterist who denies a future resurrection. I would certainly like to see a source for this claim. Loftus names people like Demar in speaking about theocracy, but he doesn’t interact with their interpretation of the Olivet Discourse.

In conclusion, I advise readers to look up material on Preterism, some of which is on this blog. Loftus didn’t leave me concerned at all in his writing. He’s just grasping for anything he can to avoid Christianity.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

Book Plunge: The Christian Delusion Chapter 11

What do I think of Richard Carrier’s case against the resurrection? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Richard Carrier’s chapter is here. Remember readers that when you read Richard Carrier, it’s appropriate to have fitting music playing. I recommend this little tune.

Carrier starts by appealing to Herodotus and some miracles contained in his accounts. The problem is he never states where in Herodotus these miracles occur. I had to do some of my own looking and such to see where he was talking about.

Anyway, he talks about the Temple of Delphi defending itself with animated armaments. If you read this, you would probably think of these glowing weapons rising up as if held by ghosts and swinging at the opponents who were approaching. Not really. Let’s see what book eight has to say.

The other division took guides, and proceeded towards the temple of Delphi, keeping Mount Parnassus on their right hand. They too laid waste such parts of Phocis as they passed through, burning the city of the Panopeans, together with those of the Daulians and of the Aeolidae. This body had been detached from the rest of the army, and made to march in this direction, for the purpose of plundering the Delphian temple and conveying to King Xerxes the riches which were there laid up. For Xerxes, as I am informed, was better acquainted with what there was worthy of note at Delphi, than even with what he had left in his own house; so many of those about him were continually describing the treasures- more especially the offerings made by Croesus the son of Alyattes.

Now when the Delphians heard what danger they were in, great fear fell on them. In their terror they consulted the oracle concerning the holy treasures, and inquired if they should bury them in the ground, or carry them away to some other country. The god, in reply, bade them leave the treasures untouched- “He was able,” he said, “without help to protect his own.” So the Delphians, when they received this answer, began to think about saving themselves. And first of all they sent their women and children across the gulf into Achaea; after which the greater number of them climbed up into the tops of Parnassus, and placed their goods for safety in the Corycian cave; while some effected their escape to Amphissa in Locris. In this way all the Delphians quitted the city, except sixty men, and the Prophet.

When the barbarian assailants drew near and were in sight of the place, the Prophet, who was named Aceratus, beheld, in front of the temple, a portion of the sacred armour, which it was not lawful for any mortal hand to touch, lying upon the ground, removed from the inner shrine where it was wont to hang. Then went he and told the prodigy to the Delphians who had remained behind. Meanwhile the enemy pressed forward briskly, and had reached the shrine of Minerva Pronaia, when they were overtaken by other prodigies still more wonderful than the first. Truly it was marvel enough, when warlike harness was seen lying outside the temple, removed there by no power but its own; what followed, however, exceeded in strangeness all prodigies that had ever before been seen. The barbarians had just reached in their advance the chapel of Minerva Pronaia, when a storm of thunder burst suddenly over their heads- at the same time two crags split off from Mount Parnassus, and rolled down upon them with a loud noise, crushing vast numbers beneath their weight- while from the temple of Minerva there went up the war-cry and the shout of victory.

All these things together struck terror into the barbarians, who forthwith turned and fled. The Delphians, seeing this, came down from their hiding-places, and smote them with a great slaughter, from which such as escaped fled straight into Boeotia. These men, on their return, declared (as I am told) that besides the marvels mentioned above, they witnessed also other supernatural sights. Two armed warriors, they said, of a stature more than human, pursued after their flying ranks, pressing them close and slaying them.

Feel free to read it for yourself here.

It’s not inconceivable also to think of lightning bolts and powerful waves coming at this time as well. This could be interpreted as the temple defending itself. It doesn’t mean that’s what was happening. One could agree with the phenomena without agreeing with the explanation.

What about an olive tree that grew a new shoot?

I will now explain why I have made mention of this circumstance: there is a temple of Erechtheus the Earth-born, as he is called, in this citadel, containing within it an olive-tree and a sea. The tale goes among the Athenians, that they were placed there as witnesses by Neptune and Minerva, when they had their contention about the country. Now this olive-tree had been burnt with the rest of the temple when the barbarians took the place. But when the Athenians, whom the king had commanded to offer sacrifice, went up into the temple for the purpose, they found a fresh shoot, as much as a cubit in length, thrown out from the old trunk. Such at least was the account which these persons gave.

And that’s it. How exactly is one to fact check this kind of thing? Beats me.

I could not find the story of the mare giving birth to a hare in Herodotus, but it is there. Others have referred to it. Apparently, it took place in the Persian camp and was received as a bad omen.

Finally, a whole town saw a resurrection of cooked fish, it took awhile, but I found it.

Then, it is said by the men of the Chersonese, as one of those who guarded them was frying dried fish, a portent occurred as follows,–the dried fish when laid upon the fire began to leap and struggle just as if they were fish newly caught: and the others gathered round and were marvelling at the portent, but Artayctes seeing it called to the man who was frying the fish and said: “Stranger of Athens, be not at all afraid of this portent, seeing that it has not appeared for thee but for me. Protesilaos who dwells at Elaius signifies thereby that though he is dead and his body is dried like those fish, yet he has power given him by the gods to exact vengeance from the man who does him wrong. Now therefore I desire to impose this penalty for him,–that in place of the things which I took from the temple I should pay down a hundred talents to the god, and moreover as ransom for myself and my son I will pay two hundred talents to the Athenians, if my life be spared.” Thus he engaged to do, but he did not prevail upon the commander Xanthippos; for the people of Elaius desiring to take vengeance for Protesilaos asked that he might be put to death, and the inclination of the commander himself tended to the same conclusion. They brought him therefore to that headland to which Xerxes made the passage across, or as some say to the hill which is over the town of Madytos, and there they nailed him to boards and hung him up; and they stoned his son to death before the eyes of Artayctes himself.

So we have some fish placed on a fire and they leap a bit. Nothing indicates that they came back to life. Nothing indicates they were not cooked like normal. This is hardly a resurrection. It’s interesting that Carrier didn’t say where all of these can be found or state what they originally said himself.

Carrier says that if someone was asked about them, they would say these things don’t happen because they don’t happen today. No. I wouldn’t. You don’t need to be a scientist or have modern science to know that horses give birth to horses for instance. It’s amusing to hear him say tree limbs don’t grow back entirely after a single day.

Let us all rejoice people that we have centuries of scientific research. That’s all it took to realize that. Those stupid people back in the time of Herodotus obviously believed that they could.

Or they didn’t and they recorded it because they knew this isn’t what normally happens and would count as a miracle of some sort. It’s really sad that Carrier thinks you need modern science to know this kind of thing. It’s as if you would expect a scientist to run out of a lab in the 1800’s and say, “I have made a brilliant discovery! It takes sex to make babies! The virgin birth (Which I do affirm) must be false!”

Note if I am presented with stories like this, I am skeptical, but I am also open. I do not rule stories out before examining the claims because they disagree with my worldview. I leave that to atheists. Some stories would be harder to check than others. Suppose the story of a hare giving birth to a mare. How do I verify that? Do you show me the mare and the hare? How am I to know that one came from the other? This is hardly on par with the resurrection.

Carrier goes on to tell us that the Gospel of Peter was widely accepted in the second century. Hardly. It was popular largely among one community and that was it. It didn’t last long. Again, no source is given on this.

Carrier looks at Matthew 27:51-54 and asks why no one reported the earthquake or the walking dead. With the earthquake, why should everyone have reported it? We don’t know how big the earthquake was and how far it would have been felt. With the walking dead, we don’t know what really happened. The text is really vague at this point. Were these just spirits? Were these bodies? What happened to them? This would be a small group in Jerusalem most likely and if they disappeared, skeptics would not be able to come and check and would not take the original story any more seriously than Carrier does.

Carrier later talks about hearing all of these claims and wanting to put an end to the pompous rhetoric. (Yes. The irony is dreadfully funny.) Now with all of this research he says and a PhD in ancient history, no one can say he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Well, don’t be too sure of that. For my purposes, I have learned to pretty much fact check Carrier on everything he says.

Carrier tells us that Paul reveals early Christians were hallucinating on a regular basis and outsiders thought they were lunatics. The reference is 1 Cor. 14, but the whole context is about speaking in tongues and saying that if people hear a language they don’t know, they will say they are mad. He leaves out that if they hear the secrets of their own heart poured out in their own language, they will say that God is really among the Christians. Details. Who needs them? He also says the book of Revelation is an acid trip. Real professional scholarship here.

He goes to the 1 Cor. 15 passage about learning the Gospel and says Paul received it from no man but it came through a vision. Strangely, the world of scholarship has not been convinced and more are inclined to think this is the language of oral tradition. When we hear about the vision Paul had, I don’t think it’s the content that was revealed, but that the truth of it was confirmed. It’s up to Carrier to show this is a hallucination if that’s his claim.

When we get to the Gospels, we hear about added parts like the woman caught in adultery and the long ending of Mark. Carrier tells us these were snuck in by dishonest Christians. How is this known? That they are later additions is not really questioned. That the people who did it were dishonest and snuck it in is beyond what we can really establish. It’s possible, but Carrier needs to show it. Perhaps this is just a comment made by dishonest atheists.

Carrier also says we know masses of people hallucinating can believe they’re seeing the same thing. No examples are given. Perhaps he means Marian apparitions. I am suspicious, but Carrier needs to show these are hallucinations. It’s awfully easy to say that if multiple people have a religious experience of some sort then it must be a hallucination. It’s a great way to make sure your position is never challenged.

Carrier also talks about their expectation that the world was about to end soon. Perhaps some did, but as an orthodox Preterist, and there’s plenty on this blog about that, I don’t think this is what’s going on. Again, Carrier gives no references.

Carrier also says that for people being willing to die, if you stood by your story even in death you would gain honor. Perhaps, but why would one want the honor of this group anyway? This is not explained.

Carrier then says he has known enough ‘Liars for Christ’ to make this possible. This is quite amusing. Read any criticism of Richard Carrier by any professional scholar and you will see how Carrier responds. “Liar, didn’t read, didn’t understand.” These are par for the course for Carrier and is why many of us just don’t take him seriously any more. (That whole going polyamorous and embracing mythicism deal didn’t help either.)

About Paul, Carrier appeals to Paul having guilt and said that Paul had grown to despite the Jewish elite he was serving as a nobody under played a part. Evidence of this? None given. It’s just a story made out of thin air, but as we can expect, his atheist audience will believe it entirely.

Carrier then says if Jesus really was a God and wanted to save everyone, He would have appeared to the whole world? Why? He wanted to answer a trivia question? Are we to think Carrier would believe such a story 2,000 years later anyway? Carrier gives a remarkable defense though of how he knows this is true.

“If I were God, I would appear to everyone and prevent any meddling with my book, and since I can’t be cleverer or more concerned for the salvation of the world than God, this must be what he would do, too.” Yes. Remember what Carrier said earlier about people being pompous? Obviously, Carrier is the peak of being clever and knows this is the very best idea and God couldn’t have a better one. If you looked up narcissist in the dictionary, Carrier’s picture should be next to it. It’s hard to imagine someone with more of an ego. Even more than the editor of this volume, John what’s-his-name.

You can stop listening to Yakety Sax now.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Christian Delusion Chapter 10

What do I think of Robert Price’s chapter? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

This chapter in John What’s-his-name’s book is by Robert Price. I find it interesting to know that Loftus has no problem tying himself in with Jesus mythicists. At any rate, this is largely a chapter written in reply to Boyd and Eddy’s The Jesus Legend.

That is a wonderful book, but I find a problem with a chapter like this. I am not going to go and read the book again, which I read at the library, just to know about Price’s response. Those who have not read the book will find themselves disappointed. It’s much the same with Avalos responding to Copan and Carrier to Stark. Why not present your argument on its own?

So a few points to touch on. Price asks “If someone says he saw Uncle Mel alive again after his cremation, will you believe him?” Well if you mean just seen, why not? Many people do experience individual grief hallucinations of their loved ones. I have a great aunt who has seen her dead husband at least one time. If the only claim we had with Jesus was one or two people saw him alive after He had died, it would be nothing. That is not what we have.

Now Price goes on to say what if you were introduced to Uncle Mel. You would be skeptical. Of course, Price leaves out that you could do some fact checking. You could take a picture and ask people if this is really him. You could ask Mel some things that only he would know. Can you be skeptical? Yes. I am saying that my worldview does not require me to rule it out.

Even if it was true, how is that a problem for a Christian? We believe God can raise someone from the dead. If you’re a naturalist of some sort, then this is not an option so of course, it is presented as a ridiculous option. This is what I call presuppositional atheism. “No one would believe this claim and we know this claim is nonsense because of atheism, therefore no one should believe this other claim like it in Christianity.”

He also says Boyd and Eddy will not go further beyond miracle claims to read Christian theology into a claim. If it happened, to say it was a revelation of God in say, raising Jesus from the dead, that would require faith. Price says this mockingly, but it’s absolutely right. History could show you Jesus died on a cross. It cannot demonstrate alone Jesus did it to die for the sins of the world and that grants forgiveness.

In the same way, being convinced Jesus rose from the dead is not the same as being convinced one must trust Him as savior and Lord. Look at someone like Pinchas Lapides, a Jewish scholar who was convinced Jesus was resurrected, but He did not become a Christian. The trust in what that act means does require faith.

Price also has something about how modern academia tends to discount third world experiences since those people are superstitious, while Boyd and Eddy go on to argue that they weren’t all as credulous as we make them out to be. They are exactly right in this. When people say we know that dead people don’t rise or that virgins don’t give birth (And I do affirm the virgin birth), we are not saying anything they did not know.

It is ridiculous to say we know better because of modern science. Ancient people buried their dead and they had laws about adultery and paternity because they knew dead people stay dead and it takes sex to make a baby. These aren’t exactly grand discoveries of modern science. It’s not as if people were having sex for thousands of years and then modern science came along and said, “Whoa! This is actually where babies come from!”

Price also asks about 2nd-3rd century synagogues with zodiac signs. Not knowing for sure when these were occupied, we could just as easily say that these were after the attack on Jerusalem and were desecrated by the Romans. Price doesn’t supply any information about these synagogues so it’s hard to tell.

Price also asks if the followers of Lubavitcher Rebbe who was a Jew who was said to have risen from the dead and was the Messiah would have really borrowed from the Christians. Why not? If they want to say their figure is the Messiah, they need to top the reigning Messiah figure.

Price also says the crown jewel of oral tradition, Kenneth Bailey, was trumped by Theodore Weeden. Unfortunately for Price, I dealt with this in my review of Ehrman’s Jesus Before the Gospels.

Well yes, Weeden did critique Bailey. In turn, James Dunn critiqued Weeden. Dunn is no slouch in the area. He has a Ph.D. and D.D. from Cambridge and wrote the book Jesus Remembered. (A book cited only once in the bibliography) Dunn’s critique is awfully biting showing the numerous flaws in Weeden’s critique even saying on page 60 that “So, when he sets up a KB story in contrast to or even opposition to the ‘uncorrupted original account’ of the event being narrated, TW is operating in cloud cuckoo land at considerable remove from the realities which KB narrates.” It’s a shame Ehrman did not avail himself of this. For this reason, I think Bailey’s model still suffices and is an excellent example.

I conclude that I still hold Boyd and Eddy in great regard. There are a number of things that I actually do like about Price. His approach to the historical Jesus is not one of them.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: The Christian Delusion Chapter 6

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Evidence Considered Chapter 36

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Born Divine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Christ,
Nick Peters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Christ,
Nick Peters