Deeper Waters Podcast 4/13/2019: Jonathan Greer

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

Those who do not learn from history are often condemned to repeat it. At the very least, they are condemned to misrepresent it. In our day and age, it’s incredibly easy for internet atheists to proclaim themselves experts on the Old Testament because they can read it.

Sadly, Christians can do the same thing. It’s easy to just lift up a text from somewhere and treat it as a prooftext. It’s easy to confuse law and gospel and the relation between the two. Even worse, it’s easy to make a Gospel presentation where you have the fall of Adam and Eve take place and then jump straight to the story of Jesus because, you know, the history of Israel really has absolutely nothing to do with Christianity. Right?

The Old Testament is a difficult work to understand because it takes place in a time and a culture that is so foreign to what we live in. When they wrote the text, they assumed that the culture was understood by the readers. For us, it isn’t. We don’t know many of the places and many of the terms or the language or the culture.

In order to better understand the culture then, we need the work of those scholars who have invested in the culture. Fortunately, there are several of them who are also committed to Jesus. Even better, many of them have worked together in a volume that has been compiled by three such scholars to help us. The work is Behind The Scenes of the Old Testament and one of those editors is joining us tomorrow and his name is Jonathan Greer.

So who is he?

According to his bio:

Jonathan S. Greer is Associate Professor of Old Testament and Director of the Hesse Memorial Archaeological Laboratory at Grand Rapids Theological Seminary, Cornerstone University. He holds M.A. degrees in Old Testament and Biblical Languages from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and a Ph.D. from The Pennsylvania State University where he focused on Hebrew Bible, ancient Near Eastern studies, and archaeology. He is also the Associate Director of archaeological excavations at Tel Dan, Israel, and has published a number of works on the relationship of the Bible to the ancient world.

We will be discussing the way the Old Testament world was and why it matters to us. We too often understand the Old Testament just through the lens of the New Testament instead of understanding the Old Testament on its own entirely. We need to approach the work on its own. The book covers so many of the minor details of life in the Ancient Near East, far too many to cover in even two hours. This is how massive the world is and hopefully, you will get a better understanding of it.

I hope you’ll be looking forward to the next new episode. We’re working on others. We have had some issues, but they are being worked on. Please also go on iTunes and leave a positive review of the Deeper Waters Podcast.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: The Lost World of the Torah

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

Several years ago, Weird Al came out with a song called “Everything You Know Is Wrong.” One could say that if the Waltons are right, everything you know about the Law is wrong. The Waltons come with a new way of reading the Torah that is not without controversy, but those who disagree will still have something to think about.

The book starts the usual way with the idea that Torah is an ancient document. This seems like something so simple and obvious, but it is easily missed. Too many times, we take the text and then thrust it into our modern context and assume the writers of the Old Testament were writing from the same cultural context that we are.

What is important in understanding any ancient work is not just what is said, but the world in which it is said. The background knowledge of the text makes all the difference. There are some things my wife and I can say to each other that will make each of us laugh that you are not likely to understand as an outsider. The reason is the simple word or words bring out memories that are funny based on our background knowledge.

Getting into the meat of the matter, the first major section is that the law codes are not legislation. If we took just one law in America in all of its fullness, it could very well be longer than the Torah itself. We cover every possible rule and scenario we can think of. Not so in the ancient world. It was more guidelines there. It could be seen as wisdom literature. One scenario I was surprised was not mentioned at this point was Solomon. Solomon wanted to know how to rule over the people. He never figured, “I have the Law so I have everything that I need.” No. He asked for wisdom and in his famous scenario of the two prostitutes and the baby, that wisdom won the day.

The next is that other cultures had rituals serving to meet the needs of the gods. The gods needed food and everything else and man was meant to supply them in exchange for blessings from the gods. Not so with YHWH who needed nothing. Israel was chosen for entirely different reasons.

Instead, Israel was chosen and rituals were done to maintain covenant order, which is the next major point. We should read the Law as a covenant. In this, the recipients of the covenant would swear loyalty to the sovereign and in exchange, the sovereign would give them blessings. Covenant is so huge in understanding the Law that we will go wrong if we do not see it that way. If we see it as just a random set of rules to be followed, we miss the point.

From there, we get to the ongoing usage. For one thing, the New Testament quotations of the Law do not show how it was necessarily understood by its first recipients. The purpose of the Law was also not to provide salvation. It also should not be divided into different kinds of law such as ceremonial and cultic. Most challenging today perhaps is that we should not go and get prooftexts to settle moral disputes today. We should read it as it was written.

There is also a very helpful section at the end dealing with the Ten Commandments. It’s a quite thorough look that can actually deal with many atheistic statements about the Ten Commandments one encounters today. The Waltons show how the Ten Commandments fit into a covenant system.

I thought it would have been helpful to have more examples of how the Torah should be read. Perhaps take a section and show how we read it today and then give an explanation from there on how they would have understood it. There is much in the book that will be debated and I can’t say I’m entirely sold on it yet, but there is certainly a lot of food for thought to consider.

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

Deeper Waters Podcast 12/22/2018: Richard Averbeck

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

If there’s any dark spot in the history of America, it’s slavery. When we think about the Civil War, we think about slavery. While it was defended and sadly, even an organization like the SBC was founded to defend it, today, you will have a hard time finding anyone who supports the practice.

Yet we find so many people talking about it today for one reason. It’s in the Bible! When we read the Bible, it looks to many people like God approved slavery. Does that mean what went on in the Civil War had his stamp of approval? How are we to understand texts in the Bible about slavery?

After all, the text says at times that you can beat your slave if he is disobedient. It says that a person who leaves his master will not be able to take his wife and kids with him. It says that slaves can be bought from the surrounding nations and they are slaves for life.

Can we defend any of this? Is this what we can expect from the supposed loving God revealed in Jesus Christ? Surely God could have given us a better system than this couldn’t He?

To discuss these matters, I’m bringing on a specialist in slavery in the Bible with an emphasis on the Old Testament. We’ll be talking about the Bible and slavery. Did what happen in the Bible match the New World scenario? What was life like in the Ancient Near East? Does that make a difference when it comes to slavery? To discuss these questions, I’m bringing on Richard Averbeck to discuss them.

So who is he?

According to his bio:

Richard (Dick) grew up on a dairy farm in Wisconsin and came to know the Lord when he was 18 years old at the University of Wisconsin, River Falls. About two years later (January, 1972) he transferred to Calvary Bible College in Kansas City where he began his academic study of the Bible, theology, and the biblical languages (Greek and Hebrew). It was there that he met his wife, Melinda.  

 

After his graduation from College in 1974 Richard and Melinda were married and moved to Grace Theological Seminary in Winona Lake, Indiana. In 1977 Richard completed the Master of Divinity program at the Seminary and they moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to pursue the Doctor of Philosophy program in ancient Near Eastern Studies and biblical Hebrew at the Dropsie College for Hebrew and Cognate Learning (now known as the Annenberg Research Institute of the University of Pennsylvania).

 

In 1980 Richard completed his class work for the Ph.D. degree and they moved back to Grace Theological Seminary where he took a position as a professor of Old Testament Studies and taught until 1990. During that time Richard and Melinda became the parents of two boys, Nathan and Micah. They now have two grandsons: Jaycob 17 and Levi 4 ½. He finished his dissertation on the Gudea Cylinders, a long Sumerian temple building hymn (from about 2100 BC), and received the Ph.D. degree from Dropsie in 1987.

 

From 1987 to 1989, while continuing to teach full-time in Old Testament Studies at Grace Theological Seminary, Richard engaged in the study of biblical counseling under his colleague at the Seminary, Dr. Lawrence J. Crabb, Jr. He received the Master of Arts in Biblical Counseling (MABC) degree in 1989, and is presently a “Licensed Professional Counselor” in the State of Wisconsin. From 1990 to 1994 Richard taught full-time at Dallas Theological Seminary in the fields of Old Testament Studies and Biblical Counseling, and carried on a part-time private counseling practice. In 1994 the Averbecks moved to Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin for Richard to take-up his present ministry as a full-time professor in the Old Testament and Semitic Languages Department at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (TEDS), Deerfield, Illinois. In 2010 he also took on the Directorship of the PhD program in Theology Studies at TEDS.  

 

Richard was the Director of the Spiritual Formation Forum for about ten years from 1997 to 2007. The major concern of the Forum was to assist in the development of spirituality and spiritual formation ministries in Evangelical Christian institutions such as Seminaries and Graduate Schools, Colleges, International Ministries, Campus Ministry Groups (on secular campuses), and Church Denominations as well as individual local churches. Richard continues to preach, teach, and publish in the field of Spiritual Formation.

 

Richard has published numerous articles in the fields of ancient Near Eastern Studies, especially Sumer and Sumerian literature, the relationship between ancient Near Eastern Studies and the Old Testament, the Old Testament Law, especially the ritual law and priestly theology of the Old Testament (Leviticus, the tabernacle, the sacrificial system, etc.), the latter in Walter Elwell’s Dictionary of Biblical Theology (Baker, 1996); Willem VanGemeren’s New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology and Exegesis (Zondervan, 1997); and David W. Baker’s and T. Desmond’s Dictionary of the Old Testament: Pentateuch (InterVarsity Press, 2003). He was Chair of the Biblical Law Section of the Society of Biblical Literature from 2004 to 2010, and serves on several other professional society committees. Richard also co-edited and contributed to Crossing Boundaries and Linking Horizons: Studies in Honor of Michael C. Astour on His 80th Birthday (Bethesda, Maryland: CDL Press, 1997), he was the main editor and a contributor to Life and Culture in the Ancient Near East (Bethesda, Maryland: CDL Press, 2003), has published on the Gudea Cylinders and Sumerian Creation Texts in The Context of Scripture volumes 2 and 4 (the latter forthcoming), and has published numerous other articles in these fields.

 

In recent years, Richard has become engaged in the renewed scholarly discussion about the early chapters of Genesis. He was one of the five main speakers at the Bryan Institute symposium on reading Genesis 1-2, September 29-October 1, 2011, Chattanooga, Tennessee, along with Todd Beale, C. John Collins, Tremper Longman III, and John Walton. Richard’s chapter is entitled: “A Literary Day, Inter-Textual, and Contextual Reading of Genesis 1 and 2,” in Five Views on Genesis 1 and 2, ed. Daryl Charles (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, forthcoming 2013). He is also the author of “The Three ‘Daughters’ of Baal and Transformations of Chaoskampf in the Early Chapters of Genesis,” in Chaoskampf in the Bible and the Ancient Near East, ed. JoAnn Scurlock (Winona Lake, Indiana: Eisenbrauns, forthcoming 2013). Most recently he has been appointed a co-director of the “Evangelical Theology and the Doctrine of Creation Project” funded by the Templeton Religion Trust through the Henry Center for Theological Understanding at TEDS.

 

Richard is currently committed to several book writing projects including: A Priestly Theology of the Old Testament; The Old Testament Law and the Christian; A Rest for the People of God: Reading the Old Testament for the Christian Life; and commentaries on the books of Leviticus (in the Evangelical Exegetical Commentary forthcoming from Logos Research Systems) and Numbers (in the Biblical Theology for Christian Proclamation Commentary Series forthcoming from Broadman & Holman).

I hope you’ll be looking forward to this episode. If you’ve done any internet discussions on Christianity, you’ve probably come across this topic. May this episode equip you to better understand the Bible and slavery. Please also go on iTunes and leave a positive review of the Deeper Waters Podcast.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Behind The Scenes of the Old Testament

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Christ,
Nick Peters

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