Book Plunge: Behind The Scenes of the Old Testament

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Why I Don’t Take Internet Bible Critics Seriously

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

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

The majority are not.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

Book Plunge: Most People Believe in God. Can They All Be Wrong?

What do I think of Jim Hall’s book? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

There was a day and age when atheist books had substance to them. You could read Antony Flew or J.L. Mackie or others and get arguments. Then the new atheists came out and the bar got lowered. Right now, it seems like each atheist is trying to see if they can lower the bar more and more.

Enter Jim Hall’s book. Hall’s work is meant to be a counter-apologetics, but one wonders what apologetics it’s countering. A course in high school apologetics could equip one to thoroughly demolish anything in here. It’s a shame too because at the start, Hall does give some good advice, but there’s no indication in the work that he followed his own advice.

In the foreword, Jon Pierson speaks out against indoctrination, but it is a mystery if he knows what it is. Hint. Parents sharing their beliefs with their children is not indoctrination. By this kind of standard, having kids be taught multiplication tables is indoctrination. To be fair, I do grant fully what he says on p. 6, and that’s that children should be taught how to think and not what to think.

Yet sometimes, you have to teach them what to think before they know how to think properly. You tell a child to look both ways before crossing the street or not to touch a hot stove or to be careful of strangers even if he doesn’t know why. Of course, a child should eventually learn why, but it depends on the child’s age and intellectual capabilities.

When we get to Hall, like I said, he does give some good advice. One such case is on p. 14 where he urges you regardless of your worldview to not accept anything in his book without doing research. Excellent. I say the same thing about my blog. Little difference. I think if you research a lot on this blog, you will find I have done my homework. Even if you don’t agree with my views, I do support them. I cannot say the same for Hall who has numerous problems in his work.

Hall says if you are a Christian and want to see what the other side says, put down the book and go read the Bible first. Hall thinks you have only heard the verses your pastor has cherry-picked for you. Now I do agree that every Christian should read the Bible. Hall is convinced reading the Bible will make you an atheist.

First off, I have read it through numerous times. Nowhere near an atheist. Second, if that makes you an atheist, then you are not a very good thinker to begin with. All it could do is bias you against one brand of theism if that. It doesn’t mean all theism is ipso facto false. The best arguments for theism do not depend on Scripture at all.

On p. 15, Hall says Christians can’t stand a “calm, soft-spoken, confident, articulate, and well-informed atheist.” Not sure which Christians he’s talking about. I’d like to meet one like that sometime, and from my interactions with Hall on Facebook, he’s not one of those atheists. His book definitely shows that he is not well-informed.

On the next page, he says to ask a Christian that if irrefutable proof became available that the God of the Bible did not exist, would you renounce your faith? Hall says he hasn’t met one who can answer honestly and convincingly.

Okay! Here goes!

Yes!

I only want to believe what is true. If I am shown Christianity is not true, I will not believe it. Of course, any such claim I would want to check and verify very well before just believing willy-nilly, but to quote Ravi Zacharias, what I believe in my heart must make sense in my head.

Hall also rightly encourages atheists to not only read atheist books, but read books by apologists. That’s good, but sadly nothing was said about books by scholars. Well half a loaf I suppose. Still, I question how much Hall really read. Looking at this book, I think it’s like he just went through and skimmed some things.

Hall also encourages doing your homework. Be open to new information and allow an opponent to enter into your waters. Be aware of the Biblical history and be willing to look up the original languages. Again, this is good advice. Again, I have no reason to think Hall actually followed it.

Hall also says something about the idea that it’s possible to be a good person without being a Christian. Duh! As an apologist, I think I have to keep refuting this argument that no one on my side I know of is presenting, and I know plenty of people on my side who are in this field, including many scholars.

Hall also says to bring out all the variations in Biblical translations and editing over time. It’s amazing that Hall really thinks this is the case. It’s the idea that the Bible we have is a translation of a translation of a translation, etc. Not at all. The overwhelming majority of translations go back to the oldest and best manuscripts we have.

What? You don’t believe me that we have the Bible handed down accurately? That’s fine. But would you be willing to believe Bart Ehrman?

If the primary purpose of this discipline is to get back to the original text, we may as well admit either defeat or victory, depending on how one chooses to look at it, because we’re not going to get much closer to the original text than we already are.… At this stage, our work on the original amounts to little more than tinkering. There’s something about historical scholarship that refuses to concede that a major task has been accomplished, but there it is. Novum Testamentum Graecum Editio Critica Maior: An Evaluation: TC: A Journal of Biblical Textual Criticism, 1998, a revision of a paper presented at the Textual Criticism section of the 1997 Society of Biblical Literature in San Francisco. http://rosetta.reltech.org/TC/vol03/Ehrman1998.html

In spite of these remarkable [textual] differences, scholars are convinced that we can reconstruct the original words of the New Testament with reasonable (although probably not 100 percent) accuracy. Bart Ehrman, The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings 3rd ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003), 481.

Hall says that if your opponents wants to talk science, remind them that by definition, faith is independent of fact. No evidence is given that this is the definition. Now remember, Hall did say to go back to the original languages. It would be nice to see a Greek source that says that pistis, the word translated as faith, means what Hall says it does. If you do your homework, like Hall encourages, you will find that he’s quite wrong.

For starters, I have an article here on what does faith mean? He could also listen to my interview with Matthew Bates on Salvation By Allegiance Alone. I simply challenge Hall to find one Lexicon of Greek that will say that the way he understands faith is how the word pistis was used in the ancient world. How Christians define faith today (And sadly very ignorantly) has no bearing on how it is used in the text.

He goes on to quote Stephen Hawking who says religion is based on authority and science is based on observation and reason. Science works as well. Well, there’s a few problems here. For one thing, much of science is also authority. Heck. Hall expects us to treat Hawking as an authority, and there’s no problem with that. Most scientists will never be able to repeat the CERN experiments going on. They have to go by the authority of what has been said and trust their work.

As for working, what does it mean? Do science and religion have the same goal? We could ask how literature works. Literature works by seeking to convey information through the written word. Good literature does that well and even better literature conveys true information. Science is meant to tell us how the material world works all things being equal. Science is the best tool for that. Religion is meant to tell us about the ways of God and how He has revealed Himself and how one can please Him. One can say they don’t think there is a god, and that’s fine, but religion does to be fair have the burden of backing their beliefs, one I happily accept. If that is done, the study of religion is the best way to go.

Oh. Not only that, religion is notoriously difficult to define anyway. Does classical Buddhism which is atheistic count as a religion? What exactly constitutes a religion? It’s a difficult question.

I also agree with Hall on definitions. I would never accept his definition of faith for instance. Hall also asks that a person define God. Sure. Every Christian should. Our highest thought should be on God and who He is.

Well, I would say the triune being who has revealed Himself in Jesus Christ and is omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent, omnipresent, omnisapient, simple, eternal, immutable, impassible, infinite, and many other such omni attributes. A good example would be found in the prima pars of the Summa Theologica of Thomas Aquinas. I’m sure this is a shock to Hall who says an intelligible definition cannot be found. Hall has simply not looked hard enough and any good Systematic Theology could have helped him.

Later on, Hall repeats what faith is in defining terms. When he repeats about God, he defines God as a psychological construct invented by man when he became aware of his mortality to give comfort in the face of death. Any evidence of this given? Not a lick. Not a single scholar of the history of religions is mentioned. There’s no interacting with the work of Wilhelm Schmidt which I have reviewed here, and no interacting with a modern scholar like Winfred Corduan, who I interviewed here on his book In The Beginning God.

He also says that none of the authors of the books of the Bible ever met Jesus. Evidence of this claim? Not a bit. There is no interaction with Richard Bauckham’s Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, who I interviewed here, at all. Hall also asks if one should give a literal interpretation or an allegorical. How about a true idea of literal? According to the intent of the author.

Brace yourselves also. While Hall says he is not a mythicist, he says there is no historical evidence at all that supports the historical Jesus. Not even the overwhelming majority of atheist and Jewish New Testament scholars would accept this nonsense. Bart Ehrman and Maurice Casey are both non-Christian scholars (Casey has since died) and both have taken this to task. Also, for Hall’s idea that Nazareth didn’t even exist when Jesus lived. Mr. Hall. Bart Ehrman would like to have a word with you.

Hall also says religious thinking is Dark Ages nonsense. Once again, Hall parades around a myth about Dark Ages, one aptly dealt with by atheist historian Tim O’Neill. As for the commands of Jesus about not planning for the future and such, Hall once again does not go back and look at history. Most of Jesus’s audience would be day-wage earners who had no option of saving up money. Jesus is telling them simply to not panic. God is looking out for them and cares for them. If one has money, there is no problem with saving it, although Jesus would encourage giving to the poor and helping out your fellow neighbor still. One hopes Hall would not argue against that.

When talking about why there is something rather than nothing, Hall says it gets to the problem of the infinite regress. Well, what created God? Hall does not understand that there are two kinds of infinite regresses because he does not understand the cosmological argument. Of course, he could go to a professional philosopher like Edward Feser, but that would be too hard I’m sure. This is followed by the claim that the existence of the universe cannot possibly be used to support the existence of God.

This is easily refuted. Here’s how. The cosmological argument uses the existence of the universe to argue for God. Now you could say that it’s wrong and God is not the proper conclusion, but all Hall says is the existence of the universe cannot possibly be used to support the existence of God, but as long as the argument is being used, then it is possible to use the existence of the universe this way.

Hall also asks why God waited 13.7 billion years to create humans, but this is not a scientific objection, but a theological one. What is Hall’s basis for this? How does He know that if God exists, He would operate on Hall’s timescale? Unless Hall can give that reason and how he came to that knowledge, this is not a refutation. It’s just saying “I don’t understand why God would do this.” Okay. That doesn’t disprove that He did.

The next point I wish to interact with is Hall’s pointing to Pascal’s wager. Hall rightly says that we can assume Pascal was arguing about Roman Catholicism as his option that the person was unsure of. Of course, never let the truth of the matter stand in the way. Hall proceeds to argue about many other gods and such, not paying attention to the fact that Pascal is not speaking to someone like that. He is speaking to someone who is considering Christianity, but is just unsure. Pascal says to just try it. Fake it until you make it if you really want to believe it.

Hall later has a definition of Christianity as the idea that a Jewish lich will grant you immortality if you eat his flesh and drink his blood and telepathically communicate with Him. This will wipe away the sickness of your soul because your great great grandmother was tricked to eat from a magical tree by a talking snake. The lich loves you, but Hell is waiting if you don’t love Him back.

Of course, none of this is any serious representation of Christianity. We will get into different parts of this throughout the review, but I want to share it here. It’s important that we see the low caliber of atheist that we’re dealing with here.

Hall now gets into history and starts with the story of Jesus’s resurrection. He presents a case where some followers of Jesus, but not His disciples, stole the body and removed it to another location. Is this likely? No, but it’s more likely than a resurrection because a miracle is the least likely explanation. Unfortunately, this definition of a miracle falls prey to a problem which is based on a question I asked Bart Ehrman when he did a live debate.

He also says there is no evidence that Joseph of Arimathea buried the body of Jesus or that the Romans would have allowed it. No evidence, except, you know, all four of the Gospels repeat that. You can say they’re wrong, but it is evidence. That is the earliest burial tradition. It’s up to Hall to say why this tradition is wrong. Also, in peacetime, Jews were allowed to follow their laws. See my interviews with Craig Evans and Greg Monette on this topic. Btw, Hall is wrong that this would be an honorable burial. Jesus’s burial was shameful.

He also says the empty tomb is not in the earliest account of Paul, which I think is nonsense sense saying that a person is buried and then raised again has a heavy implication of an empty tomb. The word for raised is egeiro which MacGregor argued would mean the body came up again. Don’t expect also to see any interaction here with a work like Gundry’s on the body being physical.

Hall also trots out the idea that the Gospels are all anonymous. Yes. As are many works from the ancient world, such as the biographies of Plutarch, that we don’t dispute authorship on. Are we to say that Hall will say all thirteen epistles claimed to be Pauline are by Paul since they have a name on them? Doubtful. Hall does not interact with any internal or external evidence for authorship of the Gospels. Again, see Bauckham above.

As for dating, he dates John to 115 A.D. No evidence given of this. Most scholars date it to around 95 A.D. I date it earlier though since I think the language in John 5 points to the architecture in that passage being a present reality, which would not be the case after 70 A.D. I realize I am in a minority, but I don’t know of many serious scholars saying second century. As for Mark, even some skeptical scholars like James Crossley date it very early. He dates it to the 40’s. No mention is made also about other works and biographies being written centuries after the person they talked about died and yet we accept them as reliable.

Hall also tells us that Paul admits he never met Jesus. You will look in vain for a reference to this. Hall never explains this. I suspect he means a passage like 2 Corinthians 5, but if so, that is just a bad interpretation of it.

But brace yourselves guys! Hall has his trump card to play! According to the Bible, Jesus is not the only person who was resurrected!

GASP! We had no idea!

Hall goes through a list of people who were raised from the dead. One pictures him gleefully pasting these references into this book with delight, thinking he is stomping Christianity into the ground and showing Jesus is not unique. Yet then someone asks,

“Um. When were any of these people brought back to life in a new eschatological body that was immune to death never to die again?”

Yeah. Hadn’t thought of that. It wasn’t just that Jesus came back from the dead, but He came back in a new and glorified body. Every other resurrected person died again.

Next, Hall says that in Matthew 1:18-25, Joseph wants to divorce Mary at first. Hall asks why would he want to do that if he believed her story? Well, geez. Let me take a shot at it. How about this? He didn’t believe her story. That’s why he did it. He thought Mary had been unfaithful to him. It took a dream message from God to convince him otherwise. Joseph was a logical thinker. He knew what it took to make a baby and he knew he hadn’t done that.

Hall also asks if it would give you pause to know that miraculous or virgin births were not unusual in religion? Well, no. Why would it? If we have an account of a deity coming down and living among humanity, I would think his entrace into the world would be unique. Why is this a problem?

Hall also says that Flavius Josephus is the earliest extra-Biblical source to write about Jesus and the large paragraph about him is commonly believed to be a forgery. I presented Hall on Facebook with this in response. He was not able to refute it. He did ask why would Josephus say Jesus is the Christ and not be a Christian. I simply pointed out that that part was an interpolation, as the article listed above shows.

Hall then goes on to list a number of deities with miraculous conceptions. He also includes Hercules, Horus, and Dionysus all being born on December 25th. No evidence is given of any of these. For all of these births, not a single primary source is given. I asked for them on Facebook and I was never given any.

Hall concludes this part with a homework assignment. Compare the slaughter of the innocents in Matthew 2 to the events around the life of Moses. How are the obvious similarities accounted for? Then he makes a claim about a lack of extrabiblical information on both.

Again, I account for the similarities, by saying Jesus is the new Israel. The slaughter of the infants makes Jesus like Moses in avoiding the evil king and like Israel in escaping through the plague on the firstborn in the Passover. Israel then passes through the waters (Baptism), is tempted in the wilderness, and then Jesus goes up on the mountain and delivers the Law. Matthew is framing His material this way to present Jesus as the new Moses.

As for the census, one could consider the arguments of Ben Witherington as well as Ted Wright of Epic Archaeology. For the Exodus accounts, good luck expecting to see Hall interact with the work of someone like Hoffmeier here and here. Keep in mind, Hall tells you to research and do your homework. If only he had followed his own advice.

On p. 61, we are told a bit about Adam and Eve. One point I’d like to focus on is the idea that the fruit supposedly gave the couple the ability to know good from evil. Well, how were they supposed to know eating the fruit was evil in the first place? Naturally, you won’t find any interaction with John Walton, who I have interviewed on Adam and Eve, or his The Lost World of Adam and Eve.

One point to get is that good and evil are a merism. It is saying two opposite things (Heaven and Earth, North and South, East and West) in order to illustrate everything between them. Good and evil is a statement that refers to moral knowledge, but to wisdom. The gaining of wisdom is not wrong, but it was wanting to be wise on God’s terms and have wisdom apart from Him, a form of treason.

We move on from there to a number of statements about Intelligent Design and evolution. About these, I do not care. I am not a supporter of ID. As for evolution, I really don’t care. I can happily grant evolution as a non-scientist. My interpretation of Scripture is not affected and my theistic and Christian arguments aren’t touched by it. I also encourage Christians that if you are not a scientist, do not debate these issues. If evolution ever does fall as science, let it fall because it is somehow revealed to be bad science. I am not saying it is, but I am giving a hypothetical.

We also have the whole just one God further. It’s easy to picture a defense lawyer in a courtroom. “Ladies and gentlemen of the jury. We all have multiple people in this room we believe didn’t commit the murder. I just ask that you look at my client and go one person further.” Hall says as soon as I understand why I reject all other religions, I’ll understand why he rejects mine. Really? He rejects all others because he has a strong case that there is one God and that Jesus rose from the dead and so that all that contradict that must be false? Fascinating!

Why doesn’t God heal amputees comes up as well. Naturally, don’t expect Hall to go looking for any work that argues for miraculous healings, including some amputee healings. Looking up Craig Keener, who I have interviewed, and his work Miracles would obviously be too difficult.

He also goes with Hume saying that a miracle is a supernatural act that violates the laws of nature. Well, it sure is nice to define everything in your favor automatically. I question the whole idea of the term supernatural anyway. I also think he should pay attention to Earman’s Hume’s Abject Failure who argues that Hume’s argument against miracles would also stop science. Oh. Earman is also an agnostic.

He also wants an answer to a passage like Mark 11:24. Why don’t we get everything we ask for in prayer? Ask and you shall receive in this case!

There’s a brief statement on marriage and why Christians get divorced at the same rate as everyone else. Sadly, to no one’s surprise, Hall has bought into a marriage myth. A few years ago Shaunti Feldhahn exploded this myth. Well, we can’t blame internet atheists for sharing it. They are the greatest people of faith after all.

I will grant though that I agree with Hall on the next part about God speaking to me personally. If it happens to some people, as I think it does, it is extremely rare. Too many people treat it like a common everyday practice and expect God to be in constant communication with them.

There’s also a section on the Laws applying to the Old Testament and not to us. Hall says that they are said to be everlasting, but doesn’t seem to have bothered to interact with any opposing viewpoints and interpretations. For my part, I can say the Law was never given to Gentiles. It was given to the Jews so we have technically never been subject to it. Why think we suddenly are?

Hall asks then why the Old Testament is part of the Bible? Because this is still the revelation of God and how He used His people Israel to establish the true Israel and reveals God to us. He brings up the crazy idea that without the Old Testament, there is no reason for Jesus’s sacrifice. Um. Geez. How about sin as a good enough reason? I don’t need the Old Testament to know I’ve lived less than a perfect life.

We move on from there to inerrancy. Inerrancy is not a hill I’m willing to die on, but many of the objections of Hall are absurd. We have ideas like the Earth is not 6,000 years old and there was no worldwide flood. On the former, I have interviewed John Walton on his work on The Lost World of Genesis One.

On the latter question, I have interviewed Tremper Longman on the book he co-wrote with Walton, The Lost World of the Flood. Hall is definitely going after a minority position in scholarship. Again, we have to ask if he’s really read anyone like he recommends.

Hall then goes on a piece about how the Trinity wasn’t established until 200 years later. Unfortunately for Hall, this isn’t much of an establishment. We have the deity of Christ from the very beginning. Hall does not avail himself of anyone in the Early High Christology Club like Hurtado, Tilling, Bird, Bauckham, and others. He brings up the point we’ve already discussed about how much copying and editing was done before Nicea. There is no doubt that Hall is thoroughly ignorant of church history. He really should read a book on it.

Hall also says that the Bible was supposed to be written by men moved by God. Muhammad and Joseph Smith and others made the same claim. Well, let’s do something then. Let’s compare the information granted by non-Christian scholars in the Bible to be true and compare it to the same for non-Mormon scholars in the Mormon Scriptures and non-Muslim scholars in the Koran and see how they hold up.

Hall then goes to an objection that you need to have an open mind. He says that atheists have education and intellect and accept facts and reality and while they deny the existence of gods (Really? I thought it was just a lack of belief. This is something different) they can still discuss the subject matter. Some can. Most I see cannot. As for education, I just encourage people to go through a post like this and see how educated Hall is and how much reading he’s done on this topic.

He also asks why Christians are unable to contemplate the non-existence of God. I am willing, but the difficulty is that if you have a theology where God is the ground and basis of existence, non-existence is difficult to think about. It’s kind of impossible. Hall is free to give another ground for being. Good luck with that one as most atheists I meet don’t have a doctrine of existence or understand the concept.

We move on to New Testament history. Hall considers it a defeater that no original documents exist. If so, then Hall has to reject all of ancient history as no originals exist. If there is one out there, it is definitely in the minority. He says all of the manuscripts we have differ. Indeed, as do all other ancient documents, but the differences, for the most part, are minor. Again, refer to my above quotations of Bart Ehrman. Naturally, he repeats the claim about the Gospels being anonymous which I have already addressed. Don’t expect him to be familiar with what E.P. Sanders said as well.

The authors probably wanted to eliminate interest in who wrote the story and to focus the reader on the subject. More important, the claim of an anonymous history was higher than that of a named work. In the ancient world an anonymous book, rather like an encyclopedia article today, implicitly claimed complete knowledge and reliability. It would have reduced the impact of the Gospel of Matthew had the author written ‘this is my version’ instead of ‘this is what Jesus said and did.’  – The Historical Figure of Jesus by E.P. Sanders page 66.

He also says Mark was written 50 years after Yeshua’s death. I eagerly await seeing the scholars who think it was written around 80. In my personal research I did on this topic, I found that most date the work to between 65-70 A.D. He also says the oldest copy we have is from 200 A.D. Imagine how oral tradition changed it. If Hall wants to say that the manuscripts we have of Mark have a vast difference from what the original would have said, that’s his burden to prove.

He also says that the Gospels weren’t by eyewitnesses, which we have addressed above. He also adds in that the Gospel writers were illiterate. Well, not necessarily. When in Acts it says they were uneducated, that does not equal illiterate. It just means that they had no formal education. Even if they were, most writing even by the literate was done by secretaries so the authors would just have to orally share their stories.

Hall also asks what’s so special about Jesus’s teachings anyway? They weren’t unique. If we mean on morality, quite so. Jesus is not the savior though because He was a great moral teacher, but because He rose from the dead.

In the next section, Hall tells a story about his work to impress a girl. As it turns out, he says they’re coming up on their 17th wedding anniversary. I always see this as something worth celebrating and I did tell that to him in our dialogue. I was told to not give false platitudes. Apparently, atheists engage in mind reading. It’s a wonder why Hall gets a compliment like this and assumes a Christian must be insincere in saying it.

He then gets to an objection saying that if you have no moral compass, what stops you from preventing crimes. Hall considers it a big objection that morality predates the Bible. Well of course it does! This is like saying you can show the Declaration of Independence to be silly since human equality predates that.

I have no wish to get into long debates on moral issues. These have been addressed plentiful elsewhere by others like Copan. I will put this up on slavery and I don’t expect Hall to interact with it.

Hall shoots himself in the foot when he says that morality is subjective. If so, then there can be no complaining about the Old Testament Laws. After all, this was the morality for that time and place. There can be no complaining about evil either. Why should our morality be superior if it’s just subjective?

From there we move on to fine-tuning and science and such. Again, I have no interest in refuting evolution or anything like that. Hall does say that critics of evolution won’t crack open books or read web sites against their position. I have given Hall several books in this post. I wonder if he’ll read them.

Hall later on gives a testimony of going to Vacation Bible School and asking questions. He was asked that he not return next time. This is indeed a great failing on the part of the church. No child should ever be scolded for asking questions. EVER!

That’s all I really want to comment on. To correct every error would require a book in itself. I have no real interest in doing that, but I was recommended I read this one for some humor. We will see what interaction comes from a response like this.

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

Book Plunge: Why Christianity Is Not True Chapter 5

Can we trust the Bible? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

We’re continuing through David Pye’s book. This chapter is on the Bible and I was really looking forward to dealing with something more meaty. Much of what I have seen so far seems to be much more experience oriented. I came here hoping to get a lot more.

I hate to say that I did not get that.

So let’s go through and see what I did get.

Pye starts with the canon. In this, he asks some good questions Christians should ask. The problem is, that’s all he does. He asks the questions. The only scholarship he goes with is Elaine Pagels. There is no hint of interacting with Michael Kruger or Lee McDonald. Both of these scholars have written well on canonicity and the forming of the canon, but their works are absent. A good basic look can be found here.

Generally, a book had to be by an apostle or an associate of an apostle, it had to be received by the majority of the church as a whole, and it had to be in line with the tradition known to everyone that went back to the historical Jesus. Pye instead quotes Pagels who says

Contemporary Christianity, diverse and complex as we find
it, actually may show more unanimity than the Christian
churches of the first and second centuries….Before that
time, [the end of the second century] as Irenaeus and
others attest, numerous gospels circulated among various
Christian groups, ranging from those of the New
Testament, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, to such
writings as the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Philip,
and the Gospel of Truth, as well as many other secret
teachings, myths, and poems attributed to Jesus or his
disciples.

She goes on to say that

We now begin to see that what we call Christianity – and
what we identify as Christian tradition – actually
represents only a small selection of specific sources,
chosen from among dozens of others. Who made that
selection, and for what reasons?

For the latter, as said, these are good questions. Unfortunately, no answers are apparently sought for them. For the former, I challenge Pye to find me one time where these other Gospels were accepted on a major basis by the early church. You can find an isolated church that used something, such as the Gospel of Peter, but these are the exception. There was never any doubt about the four Gospels we have today.

In response to all that Pagels says, Pye answers that

I shall not here be pursuing answers to this question. I’m simply flagging up that there were many writings about Jesus, but only some of them were included into the New Testament. Christians may assert that it was the hand of God that determined this – that is, it was God Himself who ensured that only those writings that He had inspired were included in the New Testament. But we may reasonably speculate that in fact it was “power struggles” in  the early Church and/or historical accident that determined what was included and what
excluded.

Yes. Answers will not be pursued, but let us speculate sans history and make the judgment. I wonder if I would be allowed to do the same thing with the sciences. Perhaps sans evidence, I should say people who embrace atheism are just wanting to live sinful lives without having to face a judge one day. It is a reasonable speculation on my part, so why not?

Pye then goes on to say picking and choosing is a problem. Some people choose what they want to accept and what they want to reject. Absent is any consideration on looking at hermeneutics and how to examine a case and apply it properly or the relationship between the two testaments or even examining the cases historically and choosing to use that which holds up historically. Pye goes even further saying that even if you go with 100% in the Bible, you’ve still trusted your own fallible judgment.

Heads he wins, tails you lose. So apparently if you don’t believe everything, you’re picking and choosing. If you do, you’re also picking and choosing. Absent is any notion that someone could choose to believe the Bible because they have studied it and seen that it holds up.

From there, Pye goes on to talk about moral problems. He treats the Bible as if it was an instruction book on how to live the good life. It contains instructions on that, but that is not the purpose. The ultimate purpose is how to know about Christ and His Kingdom. Living a good life is tied into that, but the Bible is much more than that.

Pye then gives us Deuteronomy 21:18-21

When a man has a son who is rebellious and out of
control, who does not obey his father and mother, or take
heed when they punish him, then his father and mother are
to lay hold of him and bring him out to the elders of the
town at the town gate, and say ‘This son of ours is
rebellious and out of control; he will not obey us, he is
a wastrel and a drunkard.’ Then all the men of the town
must stone him to death, and you will thereby rid
yourselves of this wickedness.

So how many people have applied this to their lives? Pye says this thinking that the rules of a political nation in a covenant relationship with YHWH as their king and set apart from the rest of the world as a political institution and as an old covenant must surely apply to us the exact same way. It doesn’t. Today, there are great works to read on this like William Webb’s Slaves, Women, and Homosexuals or John Walton’s Old Testament Theology For Christians here. It’s understandable Pye did not read these if they were not yet written. It is not understandable that it appears that nothing was read. My own response to this can be found .

Sadly, Pye continues with listing some other passages. All he gives is the references. It strikes me more as “This offends me and therefore it’s wrong.” There’s no attempt to understand the culture. There’s no attempt to show that Israel was supposed to be a utopia on Earth for all time. Nothing.

I can happily say Israel was not the perfect society. It was not meant to be. It’s a stepping stone. Slavery, for instance, was a reality for everyone in the ancient world. If you go to someone today and tell them you support slavery, much of the world will look at you aghast. If you go to the ancient world and say that, they will do the same.

One wonders what people like Pye expect. Was God supposed to create a Wal-Mart immediately for everyone to work at? The reality was that in the ancient world, if you didn’t have money or resources, you had to serve someone who did. Actually, if we thought about it, that’s still the way the world is.

Still, let’s humor him. First, Exodus 21:7-11.

If a man sells his daughter as a servant, she is not to go free as male servants do. If she does not please the master who has selected her for himself, he must let her be redeemed. He has no right to sell her to foreigners, because he has broken faith with her. If he selects her for his son, he must grant her the rights of a daughter. If he marries another woman, he must not deprive the first one of her food, clothing and marital rights. If he does not provide her with these three things, she is to go free, without any payment of money.

Today, a woman can often work for herself and doesn’t have to marry. Not so in the ancient world. A woman would be provided for by a man and one of the best ways also was making sure she had descendants. A man who sold his daughter was not getting rid of her. He was trying to assure a better life for her by giving her to someone who could provide for her and to unite two families together. In this case, the man must provide for her. He is not to deprive her even of marital rights, a good way to make sure she can still have children. This is a system to protect the woman in that society.

Exodus 21:20-21

Anyone who beats their male or female slave with a rod must be punished if the slave dies as a direct result, but they are not to be punished if the slave recovers after a day or two, since the slave is their property.

This is again a society that out in the wilderness does not have a jail and also since slaves were day-wage earners, depriving them of financial income would mean starvation of some kind. Physical discipline was what was done. Why is the slave owner given the benefit of the doubt? Because the slave is his property. The slave represents his income. The owner wants to keep his income. Note also as we see later that if even a tooth is knocked loose, the slave goes through. This is set up to put limitations on things and protect the slave.

Deuteronomy 7:1-2

When the Lord your God brings you into the land you are entering to possess and drives out before you many nations—the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites,seven nations larger and stronger than you— and when the Lord your God has delivered them over to you and you have defeated them, then you must destroy them totally. Make no treaty with them, and show them no mercy.

Again, this is common in acts of war and also hyperbolic. One only needs to go through Joshua and find out that the land is described as having the inhabitants driven out and lo and behold, there they are. Pye could see this as a contradiction. It’s not. It’s hyperbole. Ancients spoke this way. Keep in mind also these people knew Israel was coming. If they wanted to escape, just pack up and move. Again, Pye could bear to read people like Copan, Flanagan, and Walton.

Joshua 6:20-21

When the trumpets sounded, the army shouted, and at the sound of the trumpet, when the men gave a loud shout, the wall collapsed; so everyone charged straight in, and they took the city. They devoted the city to the Lord and destroyed with the sword every living thing in it—men and women, young and old, cattle, sheep and donkeys.

This is more of the same and we need not say more. We could say that these acts of war are not mandated for all people in all times and all places. They are for a specific people in a specific place at a specific time in a specific situation.

Pye goes on to list contradictions. He gives two. How did Judas die and what about the genealogies of Jesus? I will happily grant the genealogies of Jesus is one that has had much wrestling done with it. The early church itself had a number of solutions to the problem. For Judas, many say that Judas hung himself and later the rope broke and his body fell and burst open. Even if this is not what happened, it is still something possible and plausible. Finally, none of this shows Jesus did not rise from the dead. Christianity does not depend on inerrancy.

Pye also brings up the whole “Dear Dr. Laura” letter. My ministry partner has a great video on that. By the way, just on the side here, I think the lady who does the voice work for the main female character in the video sounds totally hot!

But now, Pye comes to what he thinks is the most important section of the chapter and one of the most important ones of the book. This is where he is going ot show the Trinity is unbiblical. As one who has interacted with cults in the past, I came here hoping for a great metaphysical argument.

Instead, I got a question.

Where does the Bible say to worship the Holy Spirit?

That’s it.

No. Really. That’s it.

So because this command is not there, then it doesn’t matter if the Holy Spirit is called God, speaks as God, is personal, and does everything else. The Bible has to explicitly say that you are to worship the Holy Spirit. Without that, every other piece of data can be there, but it’s somehow incomplete.

The only reference he makes here is to Billy Graham. Billy Graham was indeed America’s pastor, but he would have been one of the first to tell you he wasn’t an academic. There are a number of scholarly works on the Trinity that are available to be read and these by academics. Why weren’t they sought out?

Pye goes on then to say that

The absence of authority in the Bible for worship of the Holy Spirit should be a cause of disquiet for all Christians. And for those Christians who are adamant that the Bible alone is their authority the problem is enormous. Such a Christian faces the following choice:-

1. He must find a passage in Scripture in which the Holy Spirit is worshipped (ideally several – to avoid reliance on a single “proof text”)

or

2. He must stop worshipping the Holy Spirit given that there’s no authority for this in the Bible

or

3. He continues worshipping the Holy Spirit – but thereby accepts that the Bible is not his sole authority for what he believes.

To begin with, a Catholic or Orthodox Christian would say the Bible is not the sole authority and have no problem. Do Protestants have one? Not at all. Pye has confused Sola Scriptura with Solo Scriptura. No Reformer ever said the Bible was the only authority. None of them said the church fathers or tradition were irrelevant.

What Pye is doing is taking the position of the Bible as the ONLY authority. Anyone who has ever attended a church service and heard what the pastor said would have already violated that rule. The Reformers said that nothing could be accepted as Biblical if it contradicted Scripture.

Does worshiping the Holy Spirit do that? No. The Holy Spirit is shown to be God and it is proper to worship God. That would not even be saying the Bible does not say that. Look at it this way.

We are to worship God.
The Holy Spirit is a person of the Trinity with the full nature of God.
Therefore, it’s okay to worship the Holy Spirit.

Pye goes on to say that anyone then who believes in the Trinity is doing something unbiblical because we are never explicitly told to worship the Holy Spirit. Again, this is not a big problem. It is also a false understanding to say that any Christian says the Bible is the sole authority. Even from the beginning of the church, some were given to be teachers.

The next chapter is on narrative formation, but I find this one still extremely weak and wish Pye would have interacted with more real scholarship.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Thoughts On Living Biblically

What did I think of this new series? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

My wife and I DVRed the new series, Living Biblically, wanting to see what it would be like. We came in skeptical. We were thinking we would see a series making fun of Christians and any mention of religion. So what did we see?

The series involves a man named Chip Curry who suddenly has a best friend die on him and his mother is convinced her son is not in a better place because he stopped going to church. When Chip says he doesn’t go, then the mother says that he’ll see his friend again. This sends Chip into a depression. He goes to a workplace where he’s just your average guy and one of his other friends, who is married, likes to talk about his extra-marital exploits. To top it all off, Chip’s wife announces she’s pregnant, so how is Chip going to be ready to be a good father?

At the bookstore looking for a book to turn his life around, he comes across the Bible, but when about to put it up, a light just shines on him. It is one of the lights in the store, but he takes it as a sign. He tells a priest in a confessional then that he plans to live his life strictly according to the Bible.

This is one low point where the priest laughs and says that that can’t be done. Of course, there is no mention of hermeneutics or the relationship of the law and the Gospel together and how they work out. The next thing said is that Chip is wearing mixed fabrics, which is a violation of Leviticus.

Chip’s wife is concerned about this major change. She says she’s not particularly religious and asks if they will have any fun anymore. Sadly, her concern is understandable. A lot of times people who present themselves as very Christian or religious happen to be some of the most boring people you will ever meet. Lee Strobel in his book The Case for Christ wrote about how when his wife converted, he was worried she’d spend all her time in Bible studies and become a sexual prude.

Chip’s first crisis in his new life concerns his cheating co-worker. The priest tells him an adulterer should be stoned. That won’t happen because it’s 2018. Later, Chip is with his wife at a restaurant where he meets the priest and a rabbi. Chip’s friend comes in with another woman. Chip goes over to confront him and ends up throwing a rock in the guy’s face and runs out with his wife saying they will indeed still have fun.

The next day at work Chip’s co-worker confronts him and in a refreshing scene actually thanks him. He says that he and his wife are going to go to get counseling. He told her everything and they’re going to work on their relationship. Allie and I found this pleasantly surprising. You don’t often find on a TV show that one shouldn’t cheat on their spouse and that a marriage is worth working on.

There was some humor. It’s not the funniest show, but it wasn’t the worst thing that I had seen and I was pleasantly surprised. I told Allie I could see myself using this in a Sunday School class some to explain how hermeneutics really works. We should all strive to live Biblically after all, but what does that mean? Why do Americans particularly have a big hang-up over literalism?

We plan to keep watching just to see how it is. It’s important after all to keep up with the culture and see what’s going on. Hopefully we’ll keep being surprised.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Old Testament Law For Christians

What do I think of Roy Gane’s book published by Baker Academic? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

The Old Testament Law can be very challenging for Christians. Many of us skip over those sections thinking that they have no relevance to our lives. That was the old covenant. We are in the new covenant. Why should we go back there? Let’s skip to all the stuff about Jesus!

However, the Old Testament is just as much a part of our Bible as is the New and the law is just as much a part of our Bible as are the epistles. We need to understand this part of our Bibles to see what God has to say for us today. Unfortunately, many of us are so caught up in our own culture that we can’t imagine stepping outside and seeing what life in another culture could be like, let alone another time or place.

The past is a strange place. They do things differently there. So do they also with the world of the Old Testament. Many of us pick it up and read it like it’s a modern law code. Many of us pick it up and read it like it’s supposed to be the best of the best laws and that if we followed these, we would have a utopia on Earth. Many of us read these as if they have zero relevance to us today. All of these approaches are wrong.

All of these kinds of approaches Gane takes on looking at the way many Christians view the relationship between the two covenants. As someone who criticizes dispensationalism often as a system, I found myself wishing many of them that I interact with online would read something like this. On the other end, people who hold to a more theonomist perspective are also interacted with.

Gane points out in addition that the laws are not to be read in a sort of sense where the same penalty had to be applied. They were more of a guideline for the judges and the judges could use their own discretion if evidence came forward that they thought required it. The judge had a lot more power than was thought and did not have to punish to the full extent of the law, but the law did set a limit.

Gane also deals with many of our more controversial issues today. One of these no doubt today is homosexuality. Gane does indeed say that the restrictions on homosexuality are still applicable for today. The way we handle it is different since we’re not a theocracy, but this is still something God forbids.

The laws are also not meant to lead us to Utopia, but they are meant to make us think about loving our neighbor more. If you are to care for your enemy’s animal, should you not also care for your enemy? This was supposed to instill in the Israelites a new ethic that would better prepare them for the new covenant.

If there was any major disagreement I have with Gane, it comes with the food laws and such. Gane thinks that these are in place and still apply to Christians. I really cannot see any basis for that in the New Testament and Gentiles were never placed under the Law of Moses so I don’t see how we ever could be.

Despite that, the rest of it would be something interesting especially for many of the skeptics we encounter in our journeys on the world of the internet. Those who complain about the Old Testament Law will never likely pick up a tome like this. It is at their loss that they do not learn about this world. It is a loss that we Christians often don’t learn about it either and miss some of God’s message for us today.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: The Lost World of the Israelite Conquest

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

Anytime I receive a book by John Walton from IVP, there is cause for much rejoicing. Ever since I read The Lost World of Genesis One I have been a major fan of Walton. That book answered so many questions I had had about Genesis 1 as it explored it from a perspective of the Ancient Near East. My rejoicing was apparent when I got this latest book.

There have been many books written on this topic and many of them I have enjoyed, but now I have to rethink them. The Waltons bring up problems with hypotheses that we have traditionally used. What if the conquest is not about punishment for sin? What if the wrong approach is to try to look at it from the perspective of if we would call it good or not? What if we’ve been wrong about all of this?

The Waltons want to start by saying that we don’t need to bring in our ideas of goodness to the text. For the ancients, much of what was good was that which was orderly. Something could be said to be good if it helped to establish order to the world. The conquest can be seen as a way of establishing order as YHWH prepares to take the land for the use that he had intended it for.

They also look at the texts that we use to say that God was doing this for the sins of the people. Sometimes, it is for sins, but these are sins usually committed against Israel, such as 1 Sam. 15. In these cases, it is specifically said that this is what it is for.

In all of this, this doesn’t mean that we should accept the Canaanites as just fine people that weren’t doing anything wrong. We cannot justify idolatry and child sacrifice for instance, but those aren’t the main focus of YHWH. It’s different in the NT where in Acts, Paul tells the people of Lystra that God overlooked such things in the past and tells the Greeks that God is now calling everyone to repent.

The problem with many of our approaches is that we act like the Canaanites were under the covenant when they were not. God was indeed calling the Israelites to right behavior, but he was not calling the Canaanites to. There was no conversion effort going on. Of course, had the Israelites managed to convince all the Canaanites to join YHWH, there would be no need of the conquest per se, but that is not what was going on. Israel welcomed people who wanted to convert, but they did not aim for that.

One area that there would be agreement on is that the term for utterly destroy does not mean in a literalistic sense. Instead, it often refers to an object set aside for a specific usage. This also gets into the concept of holiness. Holiness was not something that people earned. It was something that was conferred on to the people and it could be given to inanimate objects as well.

Also, there is relevance for us today with this. No. It doesn’t mean we go grab a sword and kill our unbelieving neighbor. Instead, it shows us how we are to really put something to death, our sinful natures. We are to be holy to the Lord and cut off all that keeps us from being holy. We are to be what God has set apart for His use. We are to identify with the new community.

I’m really still chewing on a lot of what the Waltons say, but it is a great read and one that really does leave you questioning. I would find the Waltons anticipated my questions many many times. Though some will no doubt disagree with what is found here, all wishing to speak on the conquest period should interact with it.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: The Moral Arc

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Deeper Waters Podcast 5/16/2015: Matthew Flannagan

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

Sorry for the delay in the blog. I’ve had some circumstances come up beyond my control so today, I’m giving the entry for the show that I will be recording in a few hours and this week, my guest is Matthew Flannagan.

How could a good God kill innocent children? This is one of the thorniest objections that comes up against God today. To some extent, some could perhaps understand God sending a grown human being to Hell who has lived a wicked life, but what about the children? What have the little children done to deserve a death? What kind of God tells people to go into a city and destroy men, women, and children? What kind of being do Christians worship? Matthew Flannagan is here to help us answer those questions. Who is he? According to his bio:

Matthew Flannagan Cropped for 6x4 and 8x12 inch prints Different background colours are avilable by request January 2014
Matthew Flannagan
Cropped for 6×4 and 8×12 inch prints
Different background colours are avilable by request
January 2014

Dr Matthew Flannagan is a theologian and ethicist. He holds a PhD in Theology from the University of Otago and a Master’s degree with honours in Philosophy from the University of Waikato. Matthew currently works as a teaching elder at Takanini Community Church and regularly participates in local and international conferences, panel discussions and public lectures. Matthew is the author of numerous articles on ethics and philosophy and contributor to several books on apologetics, he recently co-authored Did God Really Command Genocide? Coming to Terms with the Justice of God (BakerBook: 2014) with Paul Copan. He and his wife Madeleine also run the popular blog MandM at mandm.org.nz.

The book Did God Really Command Genocide? can be purchased here and based on my review it is a book I highly recommend. In fact, it is one of those books that the further you get into it, the better it gets, which for a non-fiction book is quite a rarity. The book is highly exhaustive and will cover the major issues in the debate very well.

Dr. Flannagan, a father himself, will be answering the hardest questions I can give to him on the topic since your friends and opponents will be asking you similar questions. Couldn’t God have found a better way to do things than this? Why is God so bloodthirsty? Doesn’t He kill people for minor offenses? If people can kill back then because they’re so convinced that God is telling them to do something, then what is to stop a government official today in office from doing the same thing? Is it true that something is good because God says it is good, or does God say that it is good because it is good?

I hope this show will equip you to answer questions that you get on this topic, which is a favorite among skeptics on the internet. I also hope it will give you a greater understanding of the Old Testament texts and how to read them as well as deal with issues in relation to Inerrancy. Be watching for the next episode of the Deeper Waters Podcast.

In Christ,
Nick Peters