Book Plunge: Born Divine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Christmas Is Not For The Deserving

Who is Christmas for? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Yesterday, we spent Christmas with my in-laws. We did it then because my brother-in-law is a firefighter who has to work on Christmas Day. While over there, Allie and I started talking about what we got our cat Shiro for Christmas. I joked that he shouldn’t be getting anything because he hasn’t been good enough. Allie said, “Good thing Christmas isn’t for those who deserve it.”

That’s a very simple comment, and I am sure it was said offhand, but it was full of great insight. It’s true. Christmas is not for people that deserve it. Christmas is for those who are very undeserving.

We sometimes miss this. You see, when we give gifts, we usually give gifts to people that we know. We rarely buy gifts for strangers. I think we should consider that more often. Buy a stranger lunch or dinner at a restaurant. Pay someone’s electric bill. Get a jacket for someone who is cold.

When it comes to the first Christmas, the only one who deserved the gifts that were given was the one who was born. Only Jesus deserved the gold, frankincense, and Myrrh. No one else deserved a gift. The shepherds didn’t deserve to hear the message. The wise men didn’t deserve it. Not even Mary and Joseph deserved it.

God gave us all a gift that we didn’t deserve. He gave us the gift of Himself. We should not think that God came because we were worthy. God didn’t look for the best people that He could find. There were none to be found. He didn’t come to the Jews because the Jews were just so awesome and the Romans were just bullies. We know Jesus didn’t care too much for the leaders of the Jews after all.

If Jesus had only come to a people that deserved Him, He would have never come at all. Scripture tells us in Romans that while we were yet enemies, Christ died for us. The point is that if God does good things for us while we are opposed to Him, will He not be that much more willing when we submit to Him?

Why should we give gifts? Because God gave us a gift. We give to show our love just like God gives to show His love.  This is also why we should consider giving gifts to those who don’t deserve it. If you give gifts to those who love you, what benefit is that to you? Even skeptics and pagans are kind to those who are kind to them.

This Christmas, try to love like God, which is what you’re called to do anyway. Show love to those less fortunate than you and even those you do not know. It doesn’t mean be reckless with your money and resources, but it does mean to give generously.

I’ll also be celebrating the gifts that I have been given. We’ve had some people who have been extremely generous with us. Someone gave us a Nintendo Switch, someone else gave us some extra games,  and my in-laws gave me a memory card to download those extra games and a new controller so Allie and I can play together. I will be enjoying these gifts. May I remember those who gave them to me.

And when I celebrate the coming of the Christ, may I remember who gave that gift to me as well.

Merry Christmas.

Even though we don’t deserve it.

Christmas Eve

What’s important about today? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Christmas Eve has always been a special day for me. Growing up, it was the day the extended family all got together. We would often stay up till midnight at my aunt’s house opening gifts with all of the extended family. That no longer goes on and some of the family have died, such as my grandmother and uncle.

Of course, none of this compares to nine years ago. It was on that day on Christmas Eve that I made one of the best decisions of my life. I got down on bended knee to the girl I had been dating and asked her to marry me. As you know, she said yes. The day was spent showing her ring to everyone we met. For some of them, this was the first time they got to meet Allie.

Nowadays, we spend Christmas Eve at different places. One year, we will go to see my family for Christmas. The next year, we will spend it with hers. We alternate Thanksgiving the same way.

Christmas seems like such a happy time. Right? We all get together and celebrate and give out gifts. We celebrate that there is hope in this world.

But Christmas Eve should remind us that Jesus came into this world not because it was full of hope, but because it had no hope. Jesus did not come because the world was such a wonderful place, but because it was such a terrible place. Jesus did not come because men were so wonderful, but because men were so awful.

On Christmas Eve, we should remember that Israel was in a place where there was no light. They were in their land, but under the most powerful empire of all. Rome could have beat Assyria and Babylon multiple times over when both of them were at their prime. How could a tiny nation in the Middle East hope to have any impact?

And yet the hope Israel thought it needed was not the hope it got. This is a mistake that we can often make too. We think that if God wants to come through for us, well, we know the way that He should come through. We know what our true need is. We know what is best. Reality check. We don’t.

Israel thought what was best was a political dynasty set up again. Put a king on the throne here on Earth and have him help defeat the Roman Empire and return Israel to the days of David. That was not what God had in mind. God had something greater in mind and yet, now we see that the Roman Empire is no longer here. It was conquered, but not by the sword, but by the love of Christ. Today, we name our children Peter and Paul and name our dogs Nero and Caesar.

Many of us today are truly in Christmas Eve. We are in a world where there seems to be no hope. We also think that we know what we need and that God will come through or we hope He will come through the way we expect.

Christmas Eve should show us God can blow apart our ideology and theology. No theologian of the time was expecting God to be incarnate as a little baby. He was.

He ended up giving us something better for Christmas than what we were asking. God’s greatest gift was not a dynasty being set up. It was Himself. On Christmas Day, God begins the process of giving Himself to the world.

Maybe it’s time we drop our expectations of what God should do. Just let Him do what He will do. He knows best anyway.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Deeper Waters Podcast 12/8/2018: Richard Shenk

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

A little over 2,000 years ago, a young Jewish woman was approached by the angel Gabriel and told that she would give birth to a son who would be named Jesus. She was told some of the great wonders about who this child would be. The woman was named Mary. What made the event so interesting was that Mary was a virgin and she conceived while she was a virgin.

So goes the story of the virgin birth, which I do affirm. This is the story that begins the account of Christmas. The story is meant to be good news for the world, but is it really? What makes the virgin birth such a big deal? Is it even an accurate account? Is the virgin birth just God pulling a neat trick to show what He can do? Was it a way to protect Jesus from unnecessary defilement?

To answer these questions, I’m bringing on someone else who also affirms the virgin birth, which I do affirm. He affirms it so much he wrote the book The Virgin Birth of Christ. He will be my guest to discuss how it is that we believe in this doctrine and then more importantly, what a difference it makes. His name is Richard Shenk.

So who is he?

According to his bio:

Wheaton College (BS – Physics-Bible; 1979)
    Engineering-Physicist at Fermi National Accelerator Lab (1979-1986)
Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (MDiv;1984)
    Pastor with Baptist General Conference; Ogallala, NE, 1986-1991); Mundelein, IL, 1992-2007)
    Pastor with Evangelical Free Church; Maple Plain, MN (2007-2018)
University of Wales, Lampeter (PhD; 2008)
    Adjunct Professor, Theology; Bethlehem College & Seminary (2009-2017)
    Assistant Professor, Theology; Bethlehem College & Seminary (2017-present)
Dr. Shenk and I will be starting with a discussion, since this is an apologetics podcast, about the case for the virgin birth, which I do affirm. Isn’t it a mark of incredulity to believe in such a thing? Is this doctrine really a doctrine that divides the lines of battle as it were? Why is it seen as such a shibboleth in the world today?
Then we’ll be discussing reasons given for what a difference it makes that are not really plausible. Was this done to avoid sexual lust conceiving Jesus? Was it done because sin passes down through the paternal line and therefore Jesus needed to not have a human male father to avoid having a sinful nature? What is wrong with these ideas?
We’ll also discuss ideas such as the prophecy of Jeconiah and how he would be childless and what a difference that makes. We’ll discuss why adoption should matter to Christians. We’ll also be talking about how the virgin birth shows that God is active in the world and we’ll discuss how God is going to bring about a new birth for us. The doctrine is far more multi-faceted than is realized.
I hope you’ll be looking for this next episode of the Deeper Waters Podcast. Please also go on iTunes and leave a positive review. You all know by now that I love to see them!
And of course, I affirm the virgin birth.
In Christ,
Nick Peters

The Gift Of Generosity

Does it matter if you’re generous? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Many of you know that my wife and I are poor. I was recently sharing at a men’s group at my church about this. I had said my wife wanted to get a Nintendo Switch, but it costs too much and even too much as a Christmas gift. It couldn’t be done. This was said because we were talking about coveting and wanting things you can’t have.

We’ve had a surprise from that recently. Someone in the group really was alert when I said that and told my wife they were going to buy us one and asked what games we wanted. It’s in our living room right now. We got it yesterday. This same person also has a wife who teaches dance and is willing to get Allie into the class so she can learn it as she wants to lose weight that way.

We have another friend who upon hearing that we were going to be getting the Switch offered to give us a game of our choice. It has been one we have been spending time enjoying. I have been marveling over this lately. Gifts aren’t my love language, but they do mean something to me.

For the Switch, I saw this person in church yesterday with their wife and kids and I talked to him and his wife about what it meant after the service. Here they have Christmas coming up and kids that will be needing to go to college and so many other things, and they went out and did something like this for our Christmas hardly knowing us at all.

We were told that he grew up in a place (I won’t say where, as I want to keep him anonymous) where there was great poverty and his mother had to walk half a mile from the house and half a mile back regularly just to get water to bathe the children. It told me he had seen that poverty and understood what it meant when someone was in that.

Around here, we have someone on the local radio station who has a drive to help out foster kids at Christmas to make sure that they all get gifts for Christmas. It’s a wonderful cause, but here’s the thing. I understand he’s Jewish. While he could be Messianic, if he’s not even a Christian but providing so kids can have a good Christmas, shouldn’t we who are followers of Jesus do that?

Christians are to be generous people. Scripture tells us that the Lord loves a cheerful giver. Don’t you want to be someone the Lord loves? My wife and I don’t have much, but we try to give what we can because we know there are definitely people worse off than we are.

Now this is concerning money, but there are other gifts you can give. You can give the gift of your time. You can give the gift of service. You can give the gift of listening.

You can also give to those who are close to you. Don’t take for granted they know how much you mean to them. They might not. Sometimes someone might be helped if you just pick up the phone and call them and ask how they’re doing. Take them out to lunch or something of that sort. It doesn’t even have to be a fancy place. Some people would be fine just being taken out to fast food just so they could talk to someone.

Gifts like this can give hope. As I thought about this gift this friend had given us, it really made me think there could be more hope than I realized. The church has already been generous to us and maybe there was something more we could do then. Just yesterday I got to teach a class on apologetics and it was such a thrill. Someone said afterward they would like to see a small group started.

Christians are to be giving people because we have been given so much. Hugh Ross has been on my show a number of times and he has said at one point that it has been said that Christians have enough resources to fulfill the Great Commission in five years. I can believe it. Why isn’t it fulfilled? It’s not a priority to us.

Christmas time is here and it is the season of giving. When you’re giving, please also consider with end of the year giving a donation to Deeper Waters. Make your donation through Risen Jesus and let me or my wife know or my in-laws so that we can make sure we will get the donation. It is tax-deductible that way.

Please pause today to consider how you could give to someone. To you, it might be a small thing. To them, it might be everything.

And oh yes, to the two I’ve mentioned about who have been so generous to us….

Thanks. We are blessed to have friends like you.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Ordinary

What can be said? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Every blogger wants to have a successful blog. Every blogger wants to be able to say something that will stick in the minds of his readers. As I drove back this Christmas, I was trying to think of something I could say. Driving for awhile can be quite stressful, and I didn’t really have anything.

You see, I’d like to say that in my life I come across amazing new Biblical insights every day. I don’t. I’d like to say that constant wonders and joys are happening. They’re not. Things can be pretty ordinary, and perhaps that is my misreading things. Chesterton did say that an inconvenience is an adventure wrongly understood.

We were running behind on getting home tonight so we went ahead to the Celebrate Recovery meeting. There, I was with a group of guys sharing their stories. It occurred to me that they’re the same way, especially since we were talking about comparisons tonight. These are ordinary guys living their lives.

And as I thought about it, this is also what happened at Christmas. God did not come to the extraordinary. Look at Luke’s Gospel. He starts off his second chapter talking about government officials and naming them as having a census. Then what is the action all about? This little ordinary guy named Joseph who has a pregnant girl he’s going to marry. Now of course, there is the miracle that this is the case of a virgin birth (Which I do affirm), but looking at them, they weren’t stand-outs. There’s no reason God should have picked them.

Then consider chapter 3. Numerous political figures are described and yet at that time, what stands out? The Word of the Lord came to John the Baptist in the wilderness. God bypassed all of them. Look at his parents in chapter 1. They lived with shame all their lives and then in the end, God reversed that. They were the parents of John the Baptist. We don’t know who their mockers were today, but we know who they were.

Skeptics often ask where God is with this strange idea that if God acts, it must always be a miracle. Why? Does God really care about showing off? Consider Elijah on the run from Jezebel. A lot of people look at the story as if it’s supposed to tell us how to hear God’s voice today. It’s not. That’s a horrid misreading of the text. The point is all these amazing things happen, and God appears in something calm and simple.

And you know, maybe, just maybe, the modus operandi hasn’t changed. Yesterday, I wrote about revolution. No doubt, there will be people who stand up and get recognized in this revolution, but maybe a lot of people will take part in it by being good husbands and wives, or being good parents, or good employees, or something like that, and sharing Christ with the people that they meet. In our day and age, it can be counter-cultural just to live a moral life. Maybe those people will make the difference the most.

Maybe I’m mistaken, but until then, that’s what we’re all told to do. Love our neighbors as ourselves and love God. Those two commandments are enough to keep us busy for the rest of our lives.

Maybe Christmas also is a good time to do that. Maybe Christmas is a time to make sure we let those around us know we love them. We never know if they’ll be there for the next Christmas after all. Love them today.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Christmas Is War

What happens at Christmas? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

We’re visiting my family in Knoxville which means going to our old church here to hear a sermon and see people we know. We heard a sermon about how some people don’t have joy at Christmas and Christmas is really for them. I thought about that more last night. We often celebrate Christmas as a time of joy and gladness, and we should, but let us never lose sight of the fact that this is not the way Christmas was originally.

I don’t mean by the original usage what the later church did. I mean the real birth of Christ. Let’s go to see what the Bible says was going on. My favorite account of this is not in Matthew or Luke. It’s in Revelation.

Then I witnessed in heaven an event of great significance. I saw a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon beneath her feet, and a crown of twelve stars on her head. She was pregnant, and she cried out because of her labor pains and the agony of giving birth.

Then I witnessed in heaven another significant event. I saw a large red dragon with seven heads and ten horns, with seven crowns on his heads. His tail swept away one-third of the stars in the sky, and he threw them to the earth. He stood in front of the woman as she was about to give birth, ready to devour her baby as soon as it was born.

She gave birth to a son who was to rule all nations with an iron rod. And her child was snatched away from the dragon and was caught up to God and to his throne. And the woman fled into the wilderness, where God had prepared a place to care for her for 1,260 days.

Then there was war in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon and his angels. And the dragon lost the battle, and he and his angels were forced out of heaven. This great dragon—the ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, the one deceiving the whole world—was thrown down to the earth with all his angels.

Then I heard a loud voice shouting across the heavens,

“It has come at last—
    salvation and power
and the Kingdom of our God,
    and the authority of his Christ.
For the accuser of our brothers and sisters
    has been thrown down to earth—
the one who accuses them
    before our God day and night.
And they have defeated him by the blood of the Lamb
    and by their testimony.
And they did not love their lives so much
    that they were afraid to die.
Therefore, rejoice, O heavens!
    And you who live in the heavens, rejoice!
But terror will come on the earth and the sea,
    for the devil has come down to you in great anger,
    knowing that he has little time.”

When the dragon realized that he had been thrown down to the earth, he pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child. But she was given two wings like those of a great eagle so she could fly to the place prepared for her in the wilderness. There she would be cared for and protected from the dragon for a time, times, and half a time.

Then the dragon tried to drown the woman with a flood of water that flowed from his mouth. But the earth helped her by opening its mouth and swallowing the river that gushed out from the mouth of the dragon.And the dragon was angry at the woman and declared war against the rest of her children—all who keep God’s commandments and maintain their testimony for Jesus.

Then the dragon took his stand on the shore beside the sea.

This is the world Jesus was born in. The world of Rome was not a friendly place. It was a sexually loose culture where women were seen purely as objects and children could be put to death for most any reason a father wanted. Slavery was seen as normal and it would have been revolutionary to suggest that it should not be. What we consider to be obvious answers to moral questions were not obvious to them. Those of us who are Christians believe also the works of the evil one were there. We can say John was exaggerating in 1 John 5:19, but that exaggeration surely had a point to it.

We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one.

We could even ask where would the evil one be wanting to be the most active? It’s not in the areas that have already conquered. It would be going after the areas you still want to control. That would be the land of Israel, the very land Jesus was born in. We know in His ministry He encountered several demon-possessed people.

Jesus came into a world where things were hopeless. The Jews were looking for a promised Messiah and faced against the greatest empire the world had ever seen. Just a couple of centuries earlier, the empire of Carthage had not been able to defeat this force and militarily, Israel could not produce a stronger force. An act of YHWH could overcome, but YHWH had been silent for centuries.

Jesus came into this world. Jesus came into enemy territory as a baby and grew up fighting the enemy head on. This is the story of Christmas. We often think that there are people who are in hopeless situations, but these are the ones that Christmas is for the most. Christmas is not for people who have hope. They do not need hope. It is the hopeless that need hope. It is the hopeless that Christmas is meant to give hope to.

Earlier, I said the moral questions we consider to have obvious answers were not obvious to them. The Christians were the most counter-cultural people back then. They believed that every human being is in the image of God and deserves to be treated like that. They believed that sexual intercourse should be reserved for a husband and a wife only. They believed that the poor should be cared for and provided for.

Today, we Christians still uphold these beliefs and if we do so today, we are still the counter-cultural ones. It is in these times that we still observe Christmas. Every time we celebrate Christmas, we should remember that we are not just having fun and exchanging gifts. We are taking place still in a counter-cultural revolutionary movement. Those who want to be really different and stand against the culture should not be the secularists, but should seek to be Christians. Christians are holding the most radical idea of transformation. We actually believe that Heaven will one day be united to Earth in a sacred marriage.

Today, have fun celebrating Christmas and remember those who cannot. Christmas is for them too. Seek to give hope to someone who has none, for that is the very person that needs hope.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

The Redemption Of The Pagan

Should we be concerned if something has a pagan origin? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

It’s that time of year again. Halloween is going to be here in a few weeks and what’s being said about that? Pagan. Just yesterday a friend shared with me that a well-known Christian apologist is sharing a bogus meme from Anton Lavey that I wrote about last year. Unfortunately, there’s no evidence we’ve seen that the quote comes from LaVey, but oh well.

Before too long, it will be Christmas. What will people be saying about that in Christian circles? That’s right. Pagan.

You know, for people who seem to want to be wary of anything that has to do with magic, pagan is thrown around like it’s a magic word to get people to have nothing to do with whatever is in question.

A lot of people do this with the devil as well. Feeling tempted? There’s one reason. Satan! The devil is going after you! The problem with this is that it assumes unknowingly that if the devil was removed from the picture, that you would not have a sinful human nature that would be tempted. You would live your life sin-free if only the devil wasn’t constantly on your shoulder. It’s also interesting that it’s always the devil. It’s never a low-ranking demon or something like that. We practically treat the devil as omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent when we do this.

Many of us know enough of our own nature. If we were absolutely convinced the devil or demons were not tempting us, we would still be tempted. If we want to know why we’re tempted to sin, the devil isn’t the problem. We are the problem. We have a sinful nature.

Let’s start talking though about this problem with paganism. One aspect of Christianity is that God did not come into this world to save sinners, although He certainly did that. He came into this world to save the world. He wanted to redeem everything. The world is His creation. He wants to save it and rule it all.

That includes every day of the calendar. That includes every culture. There is nothing in this world that God does not intend to rule. When we go into a pagan culture, we seek to redeem everything then. As the hymn says, this is our Father’s world.

In fact, if you think that you should avoid anything that has the taint of evil on it supposedly, then look in the mirror. Your origins Biblically aren’t the best. We were once slaves to sin and death reigned over us. Think you can get much better than that? We are now a new creation in Christ.

Redeeming a culture is child’s play to what it took to redeem us. It took the death of the Son of God. When we act like something is irredeemable because of its origins, then we have a hard time with ourselves. Ultimately, I don’t care what a pagan intended to do with XYZ. I care about why I do it.

Christians. Please stop living in fear. Just stop it. Christ came so that you could be victorious. There’s no need to be cowering. Don’t give the devil more power than he has. Christ defeated Him 2,000 years ago. Start living in victory today.

And once again, if you must share something, please check up on it. In fact, just now, my friend Jeff Harshbarger commented on this story. What he did was something odd. He actually sought out the source material himself. (Yeah. Bizarre thought. Who knew?) Here’s the result.

Re: Contact Form Submission from the Church of Satan Website

Administration <administration@churchofsatan.com>
To
far468@bellsouth.net
Today at 1:43 PM
No. Since Satanism is not devil worship, LaVey would not say such a thing.

On 10/8/17, 12:21 PM, “Church of Satan” <administration@churchofsatan.com> wrote:

Name: Jeff Harshbarger

Email: far468@bellsouth.net

Comments: Did Dr. LaVey actually make this statement? I’m glad that
Christian parents let their children worship the devil at least one
night out of the year.

Please be living in truth people. Do that, and you have no need to fear. Yes. It’s something we all still have to work on. Check your history when making a historical claim and remember, if God can redeem you, who knows what else He can redeem.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Christmas Revolution

What takes place on Christmas? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

If you’re new to this blog, you might not know about my favorite Biblical rendition of the Christmas story. You might be wondering if I prefer Matthew or Luke’s account. Neither. I prefer John’s.

“But the Gospel of John doesn’t have a story of the birth of Jesus.”

Who said the Gospel of John? I prefer John’s work in the book of Revelation. There, you find an account of the Christmas story that I think really brings home what is going on. Let’s go to Revelation 12.

And a great sign was seen in heaven: a woman arrayed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars; and she was with child; and she crieth out, travailing in birth, and in pain to be delivered. And there was seen another sign in heaven: and behold, a great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns, and upon his heads seven diadems. And his tail draweth the third part of the stars of heaven, and did cast them to the earth: and the dragon standeth before the woman that is about to be delivered, that when she is delivered he may devour her child. And she was delivered of a son, a man child, who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron: and her child was caught up unto God, and unto his throne. And the woman fled into the wilderness, where she hath a place prepared of God, that there they may nourish her a thousand two hundred and threescore days.

And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels going forth to war with the dragon; and the dragon warred and his angels; and they prevailed not, neither was their place found any more in heaven. And the great dragon was cast down, the old serpent, he that is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world; he was cast down to the earth, and his angels were cast down with him. 10 And I heard a great voice in heaven, saying,

Now is come the salvation, and the power, and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Christ: for the accuser of our brethren is cast down, who accuseth them before our God day and night. 11 And they overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb, and because of the word of their testimony; and they loved not their life even unto death. 12 Therefore rejoice, O heavens, and ye that dwell in them. Woe for the earth and for the sea: because the devil is gone down unto you, having great wrath, knowing that he hath but a short time.

13 And when the dragon saw that he was cast down to the earth, he persecuted the woman that brought forth the man child. 14 And there were given to the woman the two wings of the great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness unto her place, where she is nourished for a time, and times, and half a time, from the face of the serpent. 15 And the serpent cast out of his mouth after the woman water as a river, that he might cause her to be carried away by the stream. 16 And the earth helped the woman, and the earth opened her mouth and swallowed up the river which the dragon cast out of his mouth. 17 And the dragon waxed wroth with the woman, and went away to make war with the rest of her seed, that keep the commandments of God, and hold the testimony of Jesus:

This is the Christmas story. This is the birth of Jesus and it’s not the pretty and nice story we usually hear. It’s the story of a revolution taking place. It’s not totally absent in the Gospels. It’s in Matthew that we hear about Herod wanting to kill all the boys in Bethlehem in order to eradicate the new Messiah threat.

What really happened on the day Jesus was born? This is when God began His infiltration of enemy territory to reclaim it as His own. This is when He stepped into the kingdom of the devil and said now He was going to reclaim it as the Kingdom of God. This was a revolution.

That revolution is still going on today. We don’t have to wait until Christmas to celebrate it. Anytime that the Kingdom of God claims another soul, then that is Christmas for them as God claims them for His own. Anytime we defeat temptation and hand another part of our lives over to the Kingdom, that is Christmas. Wherever the Kingdom of God grows, the message of Christmas spreads.

I have said before that if we dressed accurately, we wouldn’t wear our Sunday best for church. We would wear camouflage and combat helmets. We are not stopping in to get a fill-up really so we can function throughout the week. We are stopping to get our marching orders to spread the revolution. (This is also why we need more than just “How to be a good person.” We need “How to show the Kingdom of God is a reality.”)

We too, following in the footsteps of Jesus, are constantly entering enemy territory. Like Jesus, we can expect opposition every step of the way. This is true whether we’re bringing the Gospel to a new land, bringing it to our lost neighbor just down the street, or trying to conquer sin in our own lives. We will have opposition. It is not a matter of if but of what kind. Like our Lord,  we can overcome, and like our Lord, even death ultimately will not stop the spread of the Gospel.

The question we all have to ask ourselves is if we’re going to be a part of the revolution or not. If we’re not, sadly, we’ll be more likely to just slow down other soldiers. If we are, then anything we can do will make a difference. God will take any act no matter how small it seems to us and turn it into something great. Someone who gives a cup of cold water in the name of Jesus will not lose their reward.

There are many positions. Not all of us do out and out evangelism, though we should all learn to evangelize some. I happen to do apologetics 24/7. Not everyone will do that, though we should all learn basic apologetics. Not all will be professional counselors, though all should learn some things they can say to lift a brother or sister up.

Some will be more skilled at going into the front lines and confronting the enemy head on. Some will be more skilled at staying behind at the camp guarding what we have and being an encouragement. Some will serve behind the scenes and their names will never be famous this side of eternity, but they will be I am sure, heavenly celebrities.

All we have in common is that we are all to serve somehow. We are told to seek the Kingdom of God. Some of us also need to seek with all our hearts how we can serve the Kingdom, for all of us can.

Merry Christmas.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Big Think On The Historical Jesus

Are scholars coming to doubt Jesus existed? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Ah yes. We’ve been down this road before. Another website claiming that there’s an increasing number of “scholars” who doubt the existence of a historical Jesus. Of course, as we’ll see, when they use the word scholars, there’s really only one reply to that.

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This time the website is Big Think, which is apparently inappropriately named. The article can be found here. I went through it when someone pointed it out to me just groaning at the massive ignorance of the author named Philip Perry. So what are his major errors? (Other than writing the whole thing?)

To begin with, we have the whole idea that Christmas was copied from the pagans, which is something sadly that many Christians fall for. The author claims that the traditions we celebrate came from Norse mythology and from Saturnalia. His source? Just another website. Most of the material if not all is answerable in my ministry partner’s book, Christmas is Pagan And Other MythsI want to focus more on the main article.

When we start talking about Jesus, we then see what the writer means by scholars. As he says “Today more and more, historians and bloggers alike are questioning whether the actual man called Jesus existed.” Yes. There are bloggers questioning this. There are bloggers also saying 9-11 was an inside job and the moon landing was a hoax. We could say there is a growing number. Will the author start treating them seriously?

The writer of course tells us which sources we shouldn’t accept. We should not accept religious scholars or atheists with an axe to grind. Interestingly, the atheist he cites can be found here and lo and behold, his source is Richard Carrier! (That is, Richard Carrier who is teaching at the prestigious university of…..ummmm…..well….okay. He’s not teaching anywhere for a scholar who is supposed to be world-renowned in philosophy and history, but oh well.)  Of course, Carrier is someone many of us don’t take seriously at all and when I hear his name, I just think of his theme song going through my head.

Let’s look at the question about religious scholars. John Dickson addressed this point in the past when he responded to Raphael Lataster, someone I have responded to as well here and here. John Dickson said about Lataster’s idea that Christians shouldn’t get involved in the study of the historical Jesus said that

Secondly, no student – let alone an aspiring scholar – could get away with suggesting that Christians “ought not to get involved” in the study of the historical Jesus. This is intellectual bigotry and has no place in academia, or journalism. I would likewise fail any Christian student who suggested that atheists should not research Jesus because they have an agenda. Nobody in the vast field of historical Jesus scholarship operates with such an us-and-them mentality. This is why the methods of history are so important. They are how we assess each other’s work. We don’t fret about other scholars’ private beliefs and doubts. We judge their handling of the acknowledged evidence according to the rules of historical inquiry. Anything else would be zealotry.

When it comes to peer-review, no one gets a pass for being a Christian or an atheist. The methodology is the same. Can you show you handle the scholarship and handle it properly? Would Perry be fine with my saying that no Christian should listen to an atheist on evolutionary biology since they come with a bias?

Perry also finds it interesting that we have Jesus go straight from 12 to 30 with nothing about what happened in-between. This is pretty simple. I challenge Perry to go and read other Greco-Roman biographies of the time and see how much time they devoted to someone’s childhood. Jesus’s biographies are nothing unusual in this regard. They are par for the course.

Perry then goes on to say:

Historians have measures in terms of a burden of proof. If an author for instance is writing about a subject more than 100 years after it occurred, it isn’t considered valid. Another important metric is the validity of authorship. If the author cannot be clearly established, it makes the record far less reliable.

Really? This is a rule? I have never heard about this 100 year rule. This rule would rule out most of ancient history. The huge majority of the lives of Plutarch would be thrown out. Our biographies of Alexander the Great would be out the door. Today, no one could write a book about the Civil War. Only people who have no clue about how to do history would say nonsense like this.

As for the rule about an author being clearly established, it can be helpful to know who the author is, but many times, we don’t know. We hold to Plutarch authorship because his grandson said it later on. I find this whole thing a red herring anyway. Do we really think skeptics of Christianity would keel over and accept it if the opening line of Matthew’s Gospel said “The Gospel according to Matthew?” Not a bit. After all, we have letters claiming to be from Paul and that is not accepted as a good enough reason for granting six of them authorship by Paul to them. Of course, Perry could have looked at what E.P. Sanders said about this.

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.

Perry then tells us we have sources written several decades after the fact. First off, his source is Raphael Lataster for this information, which isn’t a big shock. Apparently, sound mythicist argumentation is just quoting other people who agree with your views. Second, again, could he show us some history that’s not like that in the ancient world? The overwhelming majority was written several decades after the fact.

Keep all this in mind about decades and the 100 year rule as it will hurt Perry in the end, but Perry says nothing about the Pauline creed in 1 Cor. 15. What do scholars say about it?

Michael Goulder (Atheist NT Prof. at Birmingham) “…it goes back at least to what Paul was taught when he was converted, a couple of years after the crucifixion.” [“The Baseless Fabric of a Vision,” in Gavin D’Costa, editor, Resurrection Reconsidered (Oxford, 1996), 48.]

Gerd Lüdemann (Atheist Prof of NT at Göttingen): “…the elements in the tradition are to be dated to the first two years after the crucifixion of Jesus…not later than three years… the formation of the appearance traditions mentioned in I Cor.15.3-8 falls into the time between 30 and 33 CE.” [The Resurrection of Jesus, trans. by Bowden (Fortress, 1994), 171-72.]

Robert Funk (Non-Christian scholar, founder of the Jesus Seminar): “…The conviction that Jesus had risen from the dead had already taken root by the time Paul was converted about 33 C.E. On the assumption that Jesus died about 30 C.E., the time for development was thus two or three years at most.” [Roy W. Hoover, and the Jesus Seminar, The Acts of Jesus, 466.]

Perry also says they were written by people who wanted to promote the faith. Yes. Of course. And? This somehow shows they are unreliable? Should we say that Jewish holocaust museums should be viewed with suspicion? Do we not accept the account of a soldier who was at Pearl Harbor when it was attacked because he could have a bias? In the ancient world, everyone had a bias, just like today. History was to be written with passion after all.

He also says the Gospels contradict on events like the Easter story. Of course, many of us have seen these lists of contradictions, but Perry never tells us what they are. Does he throw out the accounts of Polybius and Livy on Hannibal crossing the Alps because those hopelessly contradict? Perry has created a standard that if there is any disagreement, then we throw it out. Unfortunately for him, Mike Licona has recently shown that this kind of disagreement is common even in the writings of Plutarch. For the part about being anonymous, see E.P. Sanders’s quote above. He then tells us that there’s evidence that the Gospels were heavily edited over the years.

There’s also evidence that Philip Perry climbs on top of his car at night and howls at the moon.

Oh, wait? I need to provide actual evidence and not just make a claim? I just figured I would do exactly what Perry has done. Still, let’s look at the claim. What would someone like Bart Ehrman say about it?

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.

If Perry wants to back his claims that the Gospels are heavily edited, let him. By the way, pointing to Mark 16:9-20 and the pericope of the woman caught in adultery does not show heavily edited. We’ve known about these passages since the time of the early church. If anything, showing that these weren’t in the original manuscripts shows we have a good idea of what was in the original manuscripts.

Perry goes on to say that:

St. Paul is the only one to write about events chronologically. Even then, few facts about Jesus are divulged. Paul’s Epistles rest on the “Heavenly Jesus,” but never mention the living man. For such an important revolutionary and religious figure, there are surprisingly no eyewitness counts. And the writings we do have are biased. Roman historians Josephus and Tacitus do make a few, scant remarks about his life. But that was a century after Jesus’s time. So they may have garnered their information from early Christians. And those threadbare accounts are controversial too, since the manuscripts had been altered over time by Christian scribes whose job it was to preserve them.

As soon as you hear this talk about “Heavenly Jesus” you know where exactly this is coming from. There are a number of things we know about Jesus from Paul, such as His being crucified, having a Passover meal, being descended from David, dying on Passover, being seen after His resurrection, and being born of woman under the law in Galatians 4, which would definitely refer to an earthly existence. Scholars across the board have not taken the heavenly Jesus idea seriously. (By the way Perry, these are real scholars who actually have Ph.Ds and teach at accredited universities and not bloggers.)

Perry also finds it shocking that such an important religious figure wasn’t talked about. Unfortunately, what is really shocking is that Jesus was talked about. Perry is following an anachronism here. It is assuming that because Jesus is all the rage today and everyone talks about Him, that meant everyone was talking about Him in His time. Not at all. As I have in fact argued, in Jesus’s time, He wasn’t worth talking about. He discounts Josephus and Tacitus who wrote a century later. This isn’t accurate anyway. Jesus would have been crucified around 30 A.D. Josephus wrote before the end of the century and Tacitus wrote at the start of the second.

He also claims that their sources are Christian. Unfortunately, this is not demonstrated. Perry can talk all he wants about these accounts being controversial, but this is not according to the scholars of Josephus and Tacitus. The overwhelming majority have no problem with a witness to the historical Jesus being found here.

Next, Perry gives a list of authors who back his thesis supposedly. Let’s look at them.

Reza Aslan in Zealot? Nope. Aslan holds that there is a historical Jesus and that he was a zealot. His claim is wrong, of course, but he is not a mythicist.

Nailed by David Fitzgerald? Fitzgerald has no credentials in the scholarly community. One needs to look at atheist Tim O’Neill taking down Fitzgerald here.

Bart Ehrman with How Jesus Became God? Bart Ehrman has even written the book Did Jesus Exist? taking down the Jesus mythicist movement. He has no patience for these people. Finally of course, we have Richard Carrier with On The Historicity of Jesus. (Carrier to most of scholarship is just someone who happens to have a degree but to most skeptics on the internet, he’s the alpha and omega of scholarship.)

Perry has the quote from Bart Ehrman, but what of it? Ehrman himself doesn’t think that Jesus never existed and if Perry had done just a brief look on Amazon and found Ehrman’s book and read what it’s about, he would have known this. Unfortunately, Perry did not do any real research.

Perry also uses Carrier’s argument of the Rank-Raglan figure to show that Jesus is a mythical figure. Unfortunately, he doesn’t answer the questions like “Why does Carrier use Matthew instead of Mark when Mark is thought to be earlier?” He also doesn’t address the critiques of this position like here and here.

In the first article, I would like to highlight one quote of Ronnblom.

Unfortunately, Carrier subtly changes the criteria to better fit Jesus, and reorders them. Worse still, Carrier does not inform his readers that he has done this. This is amounts to academic dishonesty, since he is clearly misrepresenting his sources

And as McGrath says at the start of his article:

The scale was not designed to determine historicity. Its folklorist users show little or no interest in the attempt to do what historians do, namely peeling back layers of myth in search of underlying history, if there is any. The Rank-Raglan scale does not seem, contrary to Carrier’s claim, to consistently fit figures who were definitely not historical better than ones who certainly were. And so Carrier’s attempt to use the scale to slant his calculations of probability in the direction of the non-historicity of Jesus are at best unpersuasive, and at worst deliberately misleading.

Keep in mind, this is said to be the centerpiece of Carrier’s argument.

It’s also worth pointing out that Carrier has given a talk on the crossing of the Rubicon by Caesar and says that all the great historians of the age mention it. Unfortunately, the great historians of the age wrote much later. What happened to that 100-year rule?

Finally, we conclude with Perry bringing up Joseph Atwill. Unfortunately, the media does us a disservice of calling most anyone a Biblical Scholar. This would be like me calling any blogger who critiques evolution a scientist. Atwill’s crazy theory is that the Romans invented the figure of Jesus to control the Jews. Larry Hurtado has taken his own shot at Atwill. Even Carrier said Atwill’s theory was nonsense, but hey, who cares? He made the claim.

We can hope that someday, BigThink will actually follow its own advice and think. Right now, this growing number so far consists of just a small handful of writers. Next story no doubt will be “A number of scientists are seriously questioning evolution”. I will be told that that is inaccurate I am sure, but when it comes to Jesus, you’re allowed to break the rules.

There’s a reason mythicism is rightly seen as nonsense.

In Christ,
Nick Peters