Book Plunge: Transcending Proof

What do I think of Don McIntosh’s book published by Christian Cadre publishing? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I want to thank Don for sending me this book to see what I thought. As I read through, there were some parts I really did like, and some that I wasn’t so sure about it. I definitely did like seeing a foreword by Stephen Bedard, someone I have a great respect for. Since I said it was a mixed bag, I’ll go with what I did like and then mention ways I think a future edition could be better.

McIntosh makes an interesting beginning by starting with the problem of evil. One would think this is not where you would begin your case for theism, but it is for him. McIntosh I think spends the most time on this part of the book. He looks at evil and all the explanations for it. At times, I found myself thinking an objection from the other side could be easily answered, but then he answered it later on.

I also like that McIntosh is willing to take on popular internet atheists such as Richard Carrier. Again, this part is a case for theism and relies highly on the usages of the problem of evil. McIntosh makes a fine dissection of Carrier’s argument, though it’s quite likely you won’t follow along as well if you don’t know the argument of Carrier.

The same applies to Dan Barker. Of course, Dan Barker is about as fundamentalist as you could get and is a poster child for fundamentalist atheism. McIntosh replies to an argument he has against theism based on God having omniscience and free-will both and how Barker thinks that is contradictory. Again, it’s good to see popular atheists that aren’t as well known being taken on because you do find them often mentioned on the internet and many popular apologists don’t deal with them.

It was also good to see a section on the reliability of Scripture, which is quite important for Christian theism, and a section on Gnosticism. I see Gnosticism often coming back in the church. This includes ideas like the body being secondary and a sort of add-on. (Think about sexual ethics. People who think sex is dirty and a sort of necessary evil and people who think “It’s just sex and no big deal what you do with it” are both making the same mistake.)  I also see Gnosticism with the emphasis on signs and the idea of God speaking to us constantly and personal revelation being individualized.

That having been said, there are some areas that I do think could be improved. One of the biggest ones is it looked like I was jumping all over the place when I went through. It was as if one chapter didn’t seem to have any connection to the next one. I would have liked to have seen a specific plan followed through. If there was one, I could not tell it.

I am also iffy on critiques I often see of evolution. I am not a specialist in the area to be sure, but yet I wonder how well these would do against an actual scientist and I still think this is the wrong battle to fight. I also found it troublesome that the God of the living could not be the same as the one described as the abstract deity that was Aristotle’s prime mover of the universe. I do not see why not. I think Aristotle’s prime mover is truly found in the God of Scripture and that God is more living and active than any other being that is. I am not troubled by God using an evolutionary process to create life than I am by God using a natural process to form my own life in the womb and yet I can still be fearfully and wonderfully made.

I also would have liked to have seen a chapter focusing solely on the resurrection and giving the best arguments for and against it. I think it’s incomplete to have a look at Christian theism without giving the very basis for specific Christian theism. It’s good to have the reliability of Scripture, but there needs to be something specific on the resurrection.

Still, I think McIntosh has given us a good start and there is plenty that could be talked about. I do look forward to a future writing to see what it will lead to. We need more people who are not known willing to step forward and write on apologetics and especially those willing to engage with the other side.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

 

Book Plunge: Good Without God

What do I think of Greg Epstein’s book published by Harper Collins? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Epstein’s book Good Without God is an odd read. It’s written by an atheist no doubt, but it’s not the same shrill angry rant against religion that you encounter. Epstein does strike me as someone I could have a reasonable conversation with, even though at times Epstein does make many of the same mistakes about religion.

Consider how he says that religious people like to say that Hitler was an atheist to avoid talking about the Crusades and the Inquisition. Hitler wasn’t an atheist, but there’s no doubt that Stalin, Mao, and Pol-Pot were. I also think we should talk about the Crusades and Inquisition. He also points out that the Nazi belt buckles had “God with us” written on them.

Which is what they’d had long before. It was a motto that was made and not made specifically for the military. It just carried over to the Nazis. By this standard, all of our wars have to be specifically religious wars because we have “In God We Trust” written on our money. (Wait. Maybe I shouldn’t say that. A lot of atheists might run with that.)

Epstein’s book surprisingly is a lot of self-help for atheists and thinking about many different issues. He does at least think that atheists shouldn’t be seeking to destroy religion. He does think some have been too ardent in their war on religion. Still, as you read the book, you get the impression that a lot of atheists are trying hard on so many issues that don’t make sense. Can you speak of being fortunate in anything for instance? What happens when you want to thank someone and there’s no one to thank?

Epstein also doesn’t really answer the main question. What does it mean to be good? At one point, he says that there is a knockout blow to theism on this. It’s the Euthyphro dilemma from Plato. If you don’t know this, it’s where Socrates questions Euthyphro on goodness and says “Is something good because the gods will it, or do the gods will it because it is good?”

This is supposed to be a killer to the moral argument because how is it known what is good? Just replace gods with God. Now some might say “God’s nature is the good.” I have just as much a problem with that. The problem is the same. It still doesn’t tell us what the good is. “The good is God’s nature.” Okay. How does that fit?

The sad thing is that this question was answered not too long after Plato. Aristotle in his Nicomachean Ethics wrote about what goodness is and said that the good is that at which all things aim. Thus, he answered this by giving a definition of goodness. He spent some time fleshing that out of course, but he did answer the question. Unfortunately, atheists are a little over 2,000 years behind the times.

In fact, Epstein after this seems to take an approach of moral relativism, but if there is no truth to a moral issue, how can you have a debate over which view is true? You’re just discussing preferences. How can anyone even be good without God if good itself has no real meaning?

Now Epstein later on, does try to answer this question more by saying that things are only good in relation to human beings. In other words, if we weren’t here, there wouldn’t be anything good. I dare say this strikes me as a bizarre position. Either we discover goodness in these things and they are good, or goodness is an idea we throw onto them but they don’t essentially possess.

At this, we could just as well throw the Euthyphro dilemma back at Epstein and have him answer it. Is something good because of how it relates to us, or does it relate to us the way it does because it is good? Without a proper foundation for goodness, Epstein will be caught in his own dilemma. He could escape by postulating an objective goodness beyond human beings, but then he has a problem with what this will be ground in.

What this means is that in the long run, Epstein has written a book to address a question and never really addressed it accurately himself. Not only that, we could just as well ask who is asking this question? Who is the theist out there making a claim that you can’t be good without believing in God? Perhaps there are a few laypeople making this claim, but most of the scholars and academics in the field would never make such a claim.

Epstein’s book can be an interesting read to see just how it is a lot of non-religious people think, but it’s still desperately lacking. In fact, if anything, Epstein’s book shows me even more that goodness makes no sense without God. Hopefully Epstein will see that same way soon.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: The Moral Arc

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Atheism and the Case Against Christ: Chapter 9

Would God do miracles? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Keep in mind when we come to something like this and we’re asking if God would do miracles, we’re dealing with a question of theology. If this is theology however, where does McCormick get his information from? He rejects natural revelation as giving us knowledge of the existence of God so how could it tell us the attributes of God? What does he know about God that the rest of us do not?

Also, the question could have an odd answer. It could be that God can do miracles but has never done one. I don’t hold to this, but it’s possible. Whether God can do miracles is theology and metaphysics. If he has is a question of history.

Perhaps I’m nitpicking, but at one point as I go through this chapter, I notice McCormick talking about Job. Job supposedly lose his wife and his children to death. This makes me wonder if McCormick really has studied the Bible at all. I am to trust him on the extra scholarship when he can’t check to see that Job’s wife never died in the text?

McCormick more has a problem with what kinds of miracles take place. Christine Overall he says wants to know why Jesus was hanging out at a party turning water into wine when He could have been healing lepers. Of course, leave out that Jesus did do plenty of healings, though we can be sure these won’t be accepted anyway. Jesus had not yet really started a ministry and was at a party I think just to be a good guest and not shame the person who invited him and his disciples. Why would he turn water into wine? To keep a party going. More than that. This was a big event in the life of the family and the couple. Running out of wine would bring great shame to them that would last. Jesus ensured their honor.

McCormick tells us that many Christians familiar with the problem of evil point out that there could be some absolving reasons why God doesn’t do a certain miracle. McCormick says this is correct, but there may not be. Unfortunately, as long as there could be, then the problem of evil is not a necessary defeater for theism or Christianity. If all we had was the data on the problem of evil, it would be difficult to say, but fortunately the informed Christian has many more positive arguments for God, like the Thomistic ones I prefer.

McCormick also talks about evils of the kind that William Rowe refers to as intense instances of suffering that someone like God could prevent without losing some greater good or permitting something equally evil. Okay. Rowe wants to say there are instances like this. I have two questions. #1. What are they? #2. Can he demonstrate that he knows this?

This would be a difficult question. How could you demonstrate that if one evil did not occur, no greater good would be lost or some other kind of evil would not occur? Some may think I’m switching the burden of proof. I’m not. I’m just asking if Rowe could back his claim. If he can’t, then it’s a statement of faith and it could be true, but we can’t know it.

McCormick also says it’s a problem for omniscience if God does a miracle because He’s changing something. Of course, it could be God in His omniscience knew all along that He would do a miracle and God in His omniscience knew all along who would be praying about an event and took that into consideration. I’m not about to fully enter into such a discussion, but again, the positive arguments for theism and the resurrection still stand strong. McCormick hasn’t touched those and possible ignorance on one area does not overpower that.

Also of course, McCormick nowhere interacts with Craig Keener. If one miracle has happened in the past, then this chapter is defeated. It’s not a shock McCormick says nothing about that.

There really isn’t much to talk on in this chapter. McCormick does have an argument about God would not do something that would be able to be done by a magician, but we’ve seen how flimsy his resurrection argument is and he has no real counter-explanation of the data accepted by critical scholars. In fact, he has no knowledge that can be seen of that data. Until then, that is the only miracle to explain and if he wants to, he can try to show me a dead man who came back to life by his own power.

There’s also the question of could it have been another power that did a miracle. God doesn’t have to be omnipotent, omniscient, etc. Sure, but this is why I use the Thomistic arguments. They do end in a being that must be omni in everything. Of course, I have no problem with some miracles being by dark powers, but I think giving life to the dead is only in the realm of God. Only He could be behind the resurrection.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

McCormick’s Gaffe

A Tribute To Steve

What difference can a life make? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Some of you might have wondered where Deeper Waters has been. I did not do the podcasts these past two weeks due to emergencies that came up and took a break from the blog. On Monday, we received word that our friend Steve who we knew had terminal cancer was on his last legs. We had planned to go back to Knoxville on Thursday, but we went Monday instead. We got back just last Saturday, the longest we’d been away from our home like that.

Let me tell you a bit about Steve first. I met him and his wife Mickey at our church in Knoxville, The Point. We were part of a couples group and in came this couple I’d never seen. This small blond woman and this big guy who looked like a barroom bouncer covered in tattoos.

Okay. This is new.

Now I grew up in a culture where this didn’t fit with me, but I have learned to unthink some things and so I decided to have an open mind. We slowly got to know this couple. At one point, they said they like politics, but they don’t talk about it because it becomes such a heated subject then. I figured “Well we’re in the South and most of us are conservative, so these must be some liberals.”

And as time went on, I found out I was wrong. These two were just as conservative as I am. They are great Reagan conservatives. We formed a good friendship with them. They even came to our house. Steve told us about his story growing up and when Mickey and Allie did some cooking together, we put our time to more beneficial matters.

That’s right. We watched Smallville together!

Some time later, we learned that Steve had stage 4 esophagus cancer. Now I have to tell you Steve is quite likely the toughest guy I know. I was sure if anyone could beat cancer, it would be Steve. We would see him go to the hospital going in and out of chemo. They would try to bring cats for him as well because this big tough guy had a kitten fetish. Even if it was a stuffed kitten, he loved it.

Steve was also a selfless guy. Allie had been going through a hard time before we knew how bad Steve was this month and she called to talk to Mickey and Steve even with his cancer was just asking “Is Allie okay?” She was amazed that he was still focused on helping her with her by comparison small problems. That’s Steve for you.

When we went back a couple of weeks ago, the big tough guy I knew was unrecognizable. I don’t know if he heard anything that I said to him. It was like there was just a shell there at this point and we spent our time with Mickey offering her our comfort and support. At times I would go out to the car alone such as when I had to deliver some clothes to the church for her and just cry a bit on my own before I drove on.

In fact, Mickey wanted to see if Steve’s shoes he’d got would fit me. They didn’t, but honestly, I was kind of relieved they didn’t. I did not think that I was at all worthy to wear Steve’s shoes. I still do not.

In Knoxville, we waited. We knew the time would be soon, and it put us in an odd situation. You see, you always hope that a miracle will take place, while still knowing that the person is in great pain and maybe the best thing to do is to just let it all come to a close.

On August 12th, it did.

We were some of the first to receive the call early in the morning. I was saddened, but at the same time relieved that the battle was over. Still, there was a sense about it that it was unreal. There was a part of me that was always wanting to say “Surely the story is not supposed to be like this.”

C.S. Lewis has written that in the face of evil, it’s not the case that the great fear is that God does not exist. It is the great fear that God exists and you are about to see what He is really like. Why Steve of all people? Why? As I told my pastor that week, there are times I hate being in ministry. Especially since I have to go out and still defend the goodness of God. Don’t take me wrong. I definitely believe that God is good, but sometimes the emotions can seem to overtake the reason.

At the funeral, I was one who came up to speak in the sharing section sharing briefly some things that I’ve shared here. I sat down and from time to time I’d lose it a bit when I saw a picture and had to pull myself together. I remember at one point during a meal time that I went into the room where the body had been and saw nothing there.

It was then that I practically could imagine in my mind a sort of battle taking place. As if I wanted to take on death itself saying that it had come for the wrong person. Is it ridiculous to think one could fight death like that? Yes, but I think we can all understand where I’m coming from with that.

I was also an honorary pallbearer and so I was at the graveside service. Even there, I had to hold things in. I was thankful for the bishop who spoke there in mentioning the resurrection. That is the fact that changes everything. It is a fact also all too often not mentioned at funerals. We talk about Heaven, but we don’t talk about the resurrection. Guess which one Paul talked about the most.

There is an emptiness here always. We still keep in touch with Mickey and plan to do so always. Mickey is still a great encouragement to my wife, but I think the greatest honor we could give Steve would be to live our lives accordingly in honor of the Christ He loves. I’m also often trying to speak of Steve not in past tense but in present tense, because it’s not as if Steve no longer exists. He exists in a different way now. He and Mickey may be separated now, but it is a temporal separation.

If you would like to see Steve and sign his guestbook, for the time being you can go here. On the show, I had meant to do a call for donations if that came up. Since I was not able to do the show, I would ask per request of Mickey that if anyone wanted to send something to help, they would prefer to have something done in Steve’s name for the Disabled Veterans of America.

Steve. We miss you greatly. Even as I write this, there is a great sadness. I hope my life is lived in such a way to honor the Christ you always seek to honor.

(For all interested, my wife Allie’s blog on Steve can be found here.)

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Deeper Waters Podcast 5/7/2016: Justin Peters

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

We live in a world full of hucksters. There are always people trying to trick someone and sadly, faith is one of the ways they do it. We also live in a world of experiences where if someone has an experience, they can use that to lord over others or get their fifteen minutes of fame. The stores are constantly full of stories about people who have had trips to Heaven. While I do not deny the validity of NDEs, I do get suspicious of the guided tours of the after-death. Others have got so suspicious that it has led to this hilarious Babylon Bee satire article and we all know about what children report seeing when they come back.

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Not only that, we have people who teach the Word of Faith doctrine and speak about miracles on demand. Again, I do not doubt that miracles are happening and miracles have happened, but there are sadly a lot of phonies out there. There are too many people that think it’s a virtue to believe something without evidence. There are elderly people sending in their social security checks to frauds expecting to receive a blessing back. Fortunately, there are some people who are giving a call to discernment. There are some who are warning about ideas like fake stories of people dying and going to Heaven. One of the more prominent ones is Justin Peters. (No relation yet as far as we know)

Who is he?

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Justin received a Master of Divinity with Biblical languages from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in 2000. He also received a Master of Theology with minor in New Testament from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, 2002.
Not only this, Justin has a specific interest in the Word of Faith movement due to his life with disability, something I can resonate with. I happen to be one who has a steel rod on my spine due to scoliosis surgery. I also have Aspergers as does my wife Allie. Disability awareness is something important to me and I do get angry about people who are known frauds trying to trick those who are disabled.
Of course, Justin and I both believe that miracles are happening today, but how can we develop discernment? Are we not calling into question God when we don’t “have faith” that he can heal? If we see a claim, are there any signs we can look for that could differentiate a true miracle from someone who is a fake? What can we do to help our brothers and sisters who are falling for the tricks of those in the Word of Faith movement?
I’m looking forward to this talk with someone else who shares not just my last name, but also my care for those who are disabled and a passion for truth. As a former worker at CRI, I have seen the damage of the Word of Faith community. I hope you will be listening in to this episode of the Deeper Waters Podcast.
In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Jesus Before The Gospels

What do I think of Bart Ehrman’s latest published by HarperOne? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Bart Ehrman has a few characteristics that seem to show up in every book that he writes. One is that he will very rarely interact with those who are his best critics in the field. In Forged, he spends no serious time on the work of Randy Richards on the usage of secretaries, for instance. In How Jesus Became God he barely interacts with Hurtado and Hengel and does not even once mention Bauckham. So it is that in this book, he doesn’t deal with many of the best critics out there, such as the work of Walton and Sandy in The Lost World of Scripture or with the work of Robert McIver in Memory, Jesus, and the Synoptic Gospels.

The second consistent aspect you’ll see of Ehrman’s work is at heart, he still has a lot of fundamentalist underpinnings. Oh you’ll see him referring to the gist of a message in oral tradition sometimes, but more often you’ll see him suddenly sneaking in an idea of verbatim agreement or word for word testimony. You’ll see him still using ideas similar to a telephone game going on. These descriptions don’t make sense for oral traditions.

I happen to agree with what Craig Evans has said in that Ehrman is on a flight from fundamentalism. Ehrman still seems to think in categories that are more all-or-nothing and there are times I just do not think he’s really handling the data properly because of this background. Let this be a warning to those of you who want to push a highly Westernized and Americanized form of inerrancy.

To show my first example of the extremes, Ehrman says on loc. 184 in the Kindle version that we have ideas of the ancient world where it is thought they had better memories and that “people always preserved their traditions about their past accurately.” Well that would need some qualifiers. What does it mean to say accurately? Do we mean word for word? Well no. Frankly, that’s nonsense. Do we mean the gist of the story? Yes. Does that mean there could be no variations whatsoever on secondary details? No. Does it mean that this is something that’s foolproof? Well no. Of course any tradition could be in error over time and get changed, but the way to see that is to look at the oral tradition itself and I really don’t think Ehrman does that well.

Ehrman also raises the issue of the ‘telephone game’ when he says starting around location 190 that “This was a mysterious period of oral transmission, when stories were circulating, both among eyewitnesses and, even more, among those who knew someone whose cousin had a neighbor who had once talked with a business associate whose mother had, just fifteen years earlier, spoken with an eyewitness who told her some things about Jesus.” It’s hard to read this without thinking about the movie Spaceballs, (“I am your father’s brother’s nephew’s cousin’s former roommate,”) but I digress. Ehrman lives in a world where it’s like these people in the Biblical times really experienced privacy like we do and stayed isolated from the group. No. These things were talked about in the groups. In an age without IPhones and Skype, people talked face to face and in an age without television and newspapers and internet to spread the news, these people met in groups and talked in groups.

At Loc. 207, Ehrman has said all we have are memories and then immediately says “Memories written by people who were not actually there to observe him.” Perhaps they weren’t, but doesn’t this seem too early to be saying what the supposed conclusion is? It will also in fact be my conclusion that Ehrman just does not back this conclusion well.

At loc. 222 he says “When it comes to knowing about the Gospels, and about the historical Jesus himself, it is all about memory. And about frail memory. and faulty memory. And false memory.” None of this is really glowing about memory. Of course, at times Ehrman will say for the most part our memory is reliable, but here it looks like memory is being seriously called into question. At this point, I wonder if Ehrman does this same methodology for history everywhere. In fact, this will be brought up again later on in my look at this book. A great danger is that we often treat the Bible differently from any other ancient text claiming to be historical and as Tim McGrew warned Ehrman about the practice of changing standards and such in his debate on Unbelievable?, down that path lies mythicism.

One scratches one’s head when they get to loc. 266 where he says “The past is not a fixed entity back there in time. It is always being transformed in our minds, depending on what our minds are occupied with in the here and now.” Now if he wants to mean our perception of the past alters, by all means, but it is quite problematic to say the past is not a fixed entity. Either Jesus rose from the dead or He didn’t, and nothing can change what already happened. We could get new data that changes our view or we could see something different that changes how we experience our view, but the past itself does remain fixed.

At Loc. 326 he asks “What happens when stories are circulated orally, from one person to the next, not just day after day, but year after year, and decade after decade, among such people, before being written down.” Once again, it’s statements like this that make me think Ehrman is still plugging in a false view of oral tradition, like the telephone game. It was not just one person sharing a story but rather multiple persons in groups sharing a story with people there who could vouch for it.

Note also the emphasis on having something written down. We in the West make a big deal about that. In fact, it’s a common question often asked to apologists when speaking about Jesus that “If all this really happened, why did they wait so long before they wrote it down?” It’s a good question, but it’s also one that can be quite simple. Oral tradition was free, quick, reliable, and it reached everyone who understood the language. Writing meanwhile was expensive (Writing Galatians by today’s standards could cost about $500 and let’s not forget the delivery of the manuscript so think about how much a whole Gospel would cost), slow, not seen as being as reliable since the person who wrote the work was not there to teach about it often, and it would only reach those who could read or have it read to them. In this world, which one are you going to go with?

Ehrman also makes odd statements about other works of NT scholars. “The more I read, the more surprised I became that so many scholars of the New Testament—-the vast bulk of them, so far as I can tell—have never explored this research, even though it is so fascinating and most immediately relevant.” In fact, when I read about the historical Jesus, I often find these issues addressed. There is nothing new under the sun. Perhaps this is new research to Ehrman, but not to others.

On p. 15 he tells us that “I approach these questions from fields of study that I have never written about before and that many New Testament scholars have simply never explored, including cognitive psychology, cultural anthropology, and sociology.” Again, I wonder how much he’s paying attention and furthermore, if he’s really approaching the text from these areas. For instance, I do not recall seeing Ehrman ever engages with realities like the Mediterranean culture being an honor-shame society. This is an important area of social science for the New Testament.  Ehrman still sees individualism and still often sees literalism.

On page 7, Ehrman tells us that probably the vast majority of modern scholars today hold the view of a Jesus who was an end-times prophet of an apocalyptic nature who predicted the world would end soon and God was going to wrap everything up. Ehrman says he held that view since he was a graduate student in the early 1980’s (I am puzzled that Ehrman wants us to wonder if memory is really reliable but when his memories come up, that’s never questioned). Of course, this wouldn’t be much of a shock since dispensationalism was such a strong view then and filling many of our theological institutions. I have critiqued Ehrman’s book on Jesus as an apocalyptic prophet with my main criticism being again, Ehrman is a literalist with the text and he does not even interact with orthodox Preterism or mention it. As said before, Ehrman still holds a fundamentalist and literalist view.

As we go through, we find on page 11 Ehrman talking about the Acts of Peter, and I don’t mean the book of Acts. I mean an extra-biblical book of that title. Peter does many great feats in there to deal with Simon Magus and Ehrman says no one today thinks these are historical events and no one thinks Peter did these things. Then he adds “But many ancient Christians thought he did. These are the ways Peter was widely remembered, as a great miracle worker who performed spectacular deeds to prove that he was empowered by the heavenly Jesus, the Lord of all.” I can’t help but think we have a bait and switch going on. It is not shown by Ehrman how many people actually treated the Acts of Peter as if it was a historical document and not just Christian fiction. Ehrman cites no source for this claim of his. Does this mean that Peter was not seen as a miracle worker? Of course not. The book of Acts in our New Testament pictures him as such, so one could easily believe Peter had a reputation as a miracle worker and still think the Acts of Peter is just fiction. (In fact, I would suspect most every Christian today does.)

Ehrman does the same thing when he looks at infancy Gospels and stories about Jesus as a child. He says these are not taken seriously today, “But throughout history people often remembered Jesus this way.” (p. 22) They did? Well I would want to see some evidence of this. Do we have any indication that these books were written in some sort of genre meant to be taken historically and not just as something fictional? (It’s worth noting Ehrman nowhere points out the Gospels are written as Greco-Roman biographies and meant to be seen as history as he nowhere interacts with Burridge either.) That a book was written does not mean it was read widely. Even if it was read widely, that does not necessitate that this was something taken as a true historical account.

On p. 31, Ehrman says that it’s a question worth asking about whether any of us has any true memories of Jesus in a technical sense. How would we know? Indeed. How would we know? And this is something that surprises me. Ehrman thinks that these people who were closest to the times could not be reliable in their memories to tell us about the historical Jesus, but Ehrman, writing from nearly 2,000 years later, can tell us about those authors. Sure memories could be faulty, but I think that is something that needs to be demonstrated more. What needs to be shown is not that a memory can be faulty, but that this memory is faulty. Skepticism is not an argument. It is something that must be argued for. If you are a skeptic of a particular memory, feel free to show why.

On p. 49, Ehrman tells us that it is widely known that the authors of the Gospels were writing 40-65 years after Jesus’s death. They weren’t his personal companions. They weren’t even from his same country. Perhaps they weren’t, but again, I think Ehrman is stacking the deck too quickly in advance. I also wonder who it is widely known to. Does Ehrman mean scholars who agree with his approach? If so, then we have Ehrman just saying “It is widely known by scholars who agree with me that the view I have here is the right one.” Not much of a shock. That would be like me saying “It is widely known among evangelical scholars that Jesus rose from the dead.” Of course it is. If one denied this, he would not be an evangelical scholar.

On p. 53, Ehrman says we also have a problem that Jesus’s followers were not passing along Jesus’s teachings and actions as they were memorized verbatim. He later asks “What is the evidence that Jesus’s teachings were preserved word for word the same?” That is a good question from a Western perspective, but it is a false one. Jesus was an itinerant preacher and like other teachers, he no doubt told the same story more than once. It is not a question of the original account but the original accounts. He could change the story depending on the audience. One example we will look at later is the Sermon on the Mount. It is doubtful that this is a word for word teaching of Jesus but likely more of a summary. After all, the whole sermon could be given in about 15 minutes. An example many of us could give is  to have sermons like Peter’s in Acts 2 that can be read in about 2 minutes and get 3,000 converts.

The problem is Ehrman’s hang-up on word for word and verbatim. This shows he is not really dealing with oral tradition. As someone who has spoken at various churches, I have a number of sermons that I can give. I have given the same talk many times but I have never given the exact same talk before because my words are different. There is new research on my part or there are different audience members I want to reach or maybe one is to just a live group and one is to a live group and an online group. It would be just silly to ask for “The original talk” that I gave.

It is interesting that Ehrman shares how he first realized this as he talks about Gerhardsson’ teacher, Riesenfeld coming to Princeton Theological Seminary. (Gerhardsson was a researcher on the oral transmission of the Gospels and memory in Hebrew culture) Ehrman presented a question about discrepancies in the account of the raising of Jairus’s daughter. Ehrman tells us that Riesenfeld thinks that this is describing two separate occasions. Ehrman concludes that this theory of remembering precisely the words and deeds of Jesus did not make sense.

Before we get to the problem with that last sentence, let’s note something. This was when Ehrman was a graduate student at a seminary so let’s put this in his 80’s since he received an M.Div. in 1981 and a Ph.D. in 1985. Thus, we have a memory that is at least 30 years old. We have no other eyewitnesses to this and we could say Ehrman even has a bias in it. Ehrman could say he clearly remembers, but in the book Ehrman will present arguments that we can have clear memories that are simply wrong even if we’re convinced they’re clear.

Yet somehow, we are to believe that Ehrman accurately remembers an event from 30 years ago in a book where Ehrman is arguing about memory not being as reliable as we think it is. I find it problematic for Ehrman to argue in a book regularly that memory is not reliable and yet use his memory as if it is ipso facto reliable. It could be, but it’s just an odd contrast.

But to get to the last sentence, I find it puzzling. I think it’s simple enough to say that there is some compression going on in one of the accounts and the gist of the story is still the same. Ehrman has this idea that if there are any discrepancies in secondary details, then we have a problem with remembering precisely the words and deeds of Jesus. Not at all. This is expected for oral cultures.

Perhaps Ken Bailey has the idea with what he has spoken of in his own observance. He has seen tradition being spread in the Middle East and how it is told in groups and suggests that this is a parallel to what happened in the time of Jesus. Ehrman disagrees, based on the work of Theodore Weeden looking at Bailey and seeing discrepancies.

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

On page 64, Ehrman makes a claim about literacy in the time of Jesus and how many people were literate. He points to the work of Catherine Hezser on this. He has done this before and he has been called into question about it before. It looks like Ehrman prefers the same resource again and again. There is no interaction with Evans’s Jesus and the Remains of His Day. Of course, we could be fair and consider that Ehrman might have just finished this as Evans’s book came out. Evans points out the tremendous amount of graffiti and inscriptions and such found all over the world which would indicate higher literacy and how difficult it is to explain Jesus being a teacher if he was illiterate.

What about Acts 4 where it says the apostles were uneducated? The word does not necessitate that they were illiterate. It just means they did not have any formal schooling of any sort. However, Ehrman will write later about the apostles would not have been capable of the kind of writing done in the Gospels so I will go the harder route for this. I will assume for the sake of argument the apostles of Jesus were illiterate. How do you explain the Gospels being from them then? (Although a tax collector who had to do writing would be literate)

Simple. Scribes. They were used by everyone. Even people who were literate used scribes. Scribes would take the ideas and put them together and probably do so with more writing skill and artistic flair than the original mind behind the writing could, but the writing would still be considered that of the apostle.

When we get to memory, Ehrman gives an example of what he thinks are false memories, alien abductions. Now I have done an interview with someone on this topic so yes, I share his skepticism, but at the same time I would wish to be open. Ehrman points to a researcher named Clancy who concludes that these memories of abductions are socially constructed. We live in a culture where this is more acceptable and that this didn’t start happening until alien abductions showed up on television. It is worth pointing out the experience of the early church was the exact opposite. Christianity was entirely socially unacceptable, including the same of a crucified criminal being the Messiah, and that’s just one such detail.

Ehrman uses an example of a teacher said to do miracles from more recent times, the Baal Shem Tov. Ehrman says these stories are close to the time and said to be by eyewitnesses and attested to. At this point, we want to ask “Why do you not believe them then?” and if the answer is “Because they have miracles” or something of that sort, then it is clear it is not the evidence that is driving the position but the worldview. I think a great reply to Ehrman on the point of the Baal Shem Tov is to look to the work of David Marshall.

Ehrman also does not seriously interact with Bauckham saying on page 85 about his book Jesus and the Eyewitnesses that “Outside the ranks of conservative evangelical scholars, very few if any biblical scholars have found Bauckham’s case persuasive.” It’s really stunning to see this said of a Cambridge educated scholar. Ehrman simply points to some people who have critiqued Bauckham’s book. Fair enough, but what Biblical scholar has written a book that has NOT been critiqued? To say it has been critiqued is not to say the critique is valid or that it has not even been responded to, or that it refutes the book as well as is desired. It would also be false to say Bauckham does not say anything about the reliability of eyewitnesses. He has a chapter on it in fact.

Ehrman also asks about the supposed silence of Paul on the earthly life of Jesus. Did Paul not mention it because he found it unimportant? Not at all. He found it unnecessary. How could that be? Paul was writing to Christians who had established churches and who would have already been well familiar with the life of Jesus. It’s a high-context society. Again, Ehrman, who tells us he has done the sociological studies, seems oblivious to this fact and might we add that again, down this path lies mythicism.

For Gospel authorship, Ehrman reminds us that all four Gospels are anonymous. That depends. Does he mean that in the body of the work they never identify themselves? True enough. In fact, aside from my closing in this blog, I never identify myself. Would that mean that since the body of my work has no identification within it that my blog is anonymous? No. You could look to surrounding data, such as if you read this on my blog itself, my picture and information are right there. We could even ask if Ehrman’s book is anonymous.

It’s also important to note if there was a reason for being anonymous. Indeed there is. As E.P. Sanders says

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.

It’s a shame to see this thing trotted out regularly about the Gospels being anonymous as if this is some defeater and a major problem. If you’re wondering about the question, the answer is yes. There is no interaction with Martin Hengel at this point. Meanwhile, from the Fathers we have pretty much universal testimony on who wrote the Gospels. Again, if I am to trust Ehrman or those closest to the facts, I choose those closest.

In fact, Ehrman thinks he has a powerful argument on p. 90 when he says that even the Gospel of Matthew has Matthew in there in the third person with no indication that he is talking about himself. Yes. He is in the third person. At this point, we wonder how much Ehrman read Jesus and the Eyewitnesses. As Bauckham says in there in writing about John 21:24:

The narrative has previously spoken of this disciple in the third person and this was a standard practice for authors portraying themselves as a character in their narrative. p. 369

All of these passages refer to him, of course, in third-person language. This is in accordance with the best and regular historiographic practice. When ancient historians referred to themselves within their narratives as participating in or observing the events they recount, they commonly referred to themselves in the third person by name, as Thucydides, Xenophon, Polybius, Julius Caesar, or Josephus. p. 393

So again, this does not count as an argument against Matthew being the author. To be sure, it’s not a clincher for Matthew being the author, but it’s hardly a strong argument against. Moreover, if Matthew is the author, it would be entirely consistent with the best historiographical practices which would show us how seriously Matthew is taking the writing of the account. Of course, too many of Ehrman’s readers will see this as a firm defeater.

Yet Ehrman on the very same page turns and while Matthew cannot be Matthew because he is in the third person, he then looks at Luke and John and says “The way they use the first-person pronoun clearly shows that, whoever they were, they were not eyewitnesses to what they narrate.” Looks like the Gospels can’t win for losing.

Now looking at Luke, to be fair, it is not an eyewitness account, but it claims to get its information from eyewitnesses. Of course, this does change when we get to the “We” passages in Acts. Ehrman asks that if Luke wanted to show his principal sources of information were the actual disciples of Jesus, why not just say so? Again, Ehrman lives in a world where he thinks everything needs to be spelled out to be true. Luke’s intro is in fact one showing that he is doing thorough research and it would be standard practice of the day to talk to eyewitnesses and in many cases, ancient historians did not in fact cite their sources. Ehrman is treating ancient historians like they should be modern ones.

Looking at John 1:14 and 16-18, Ehrman says that with the we language, it might seem that the author is saying that he himself personally saw Jesus’s glory. Ehrman assures us a closer reading shows this is not the case. Not really. While it is true the us is the people who were the followers of Jesus, that is no reason to think John would not have identified himself. It’s not a clincher to show John wrote it, but it’s not the disproof Ehrman would think it is.

In John 21:24, Ehrman says the author cannot be the beloved disciple because he differentiates between himself and the beloved disciple with the “we” and “his testimony.” I find this to is just not really honest on Ehrman’s part. It’s normally thought that this is something put in by perhaps the elders at the church of the beloved disciple making a statement about the reliability of the testimony. It’s like the argument that Moses could not have written Deuteronomy because it describes his death, without thinking that someone, perhaps Joshua, wrapped it up for Moses after he died..

When he gets to the apostolic Fathers, Ehrman says it’s odd that if they cite the gospels, which they surely did with Matthew and Luke, my not name the authors? Perhaps for the same reason that if I quote a well-known quote from Shakespeare I don’t have to say who said it. If a quote is particularly well-known, an author is not needed. Why did Paul often quote Scriptural passages and not say who wrote them? Does he not want to give them authority? It’s like Ehrman is getting into conspiracy theory thinking.

Ehrman also looks at Justin Martyr’s quoting of the Gospels and says that the quotes are so jumbled that some scholars think that Justin isn’t quoting the Gospels but a kind of harmony, a mega-Gospel if you will. Ehrman takes this as evidence the Gospels were not seen as authoritative. Really?

Now to be fair, I’m skeptical that there was a mega-Gospel at that point, like came later with Tatian, but why would one make a mega collection trying to put together these four Gospels? Could it be that it was because these were the Gospels accepted? In fact, I would think this theory gives more evidence that the Gospels were in fact accepted as authoritative. (And no, there is no interaction with someone like Charles Hill and Who Chose The Gospels?) Ehrman’s entire argument relies on “Well surely if X wrote this, someone would have mentioned it.” No. That doesn’t follow.

He argues that Mark would have been called Mark because there was a Gospel of Peter in circulation already. Does Ehrman have a firm date in comparison to Mark? Does he have any indication that the Gospel of Peter was in wide circulation? (There’s also nothing said about the possibility of a 1st century copy of Mark being found.)

Around p. 122 we start getting into memory. He points to some experiments done on people today and says that these people were highly educated under grads at Cambridge (that little school Bauckham studied at) and says surely the ancients had worse memories. After all, the ancients you know, just couldn’t have been as intelligent and well, we all know that having intelligence means having a good memory. How else do we get the joke of the absent-minded professor? (It’s interesting that when Ehrman talks about the memories of the ancients, he never quotes the ancients themselves on memorization.)

In fact, on page 127, Ehrman says we tend to remember the gist of a story even if the details get messed up. Well that’s the way ancient societies were. The gist was remembered. You were allowed variation on the secondary details. It was expected.

On p. 145, Ehrman brings out the idea of how Matthew saw the prophecies and how he gave a weird fulfillment not knowing about Hebrew parallelism and the idea of the king riding on a colt and then the parallel of riding on a donkey. Matthew supposedly took this and thought Jesus rode on both animals at once. I always find this a silly objection. We can say Matthew might be wrong about the triumphant entry, but he is not foolish. He, like everyone else, knows you can’t ride two animals at once like that. What’s going on, when the animals come, the cloaks of the disciples are sat on one of the animals and when it says Jesus sat on them, it means the cloaks. This is a fair and sympathetic reading of the text. It’s a wonder to see Ehrman talk about Matthew being a literalist while his reading is guilty of what he condemns.

Ehrman thinks it’s a distorted memory since Jesus was not arrested on the spot, but why should he have been? Jesus had done nothing at that time and frankly, until someone led a rebellion, the Romans might not have wanted to bother interfering with Passover. (And besides, if one started, they could easily squelch it.)  Had they done that then, that could have been the activity that resulted in a rebellion. We could say the same for the cleaning of the temple. Jesus is just seen in that case as a nuisance by the Romans, though a greater threat by the Jews.

With the account of his arrest, Ehrman has problems since Jesus is said to be a teacher of submissive non-violence. Doesn’t that hurt the idea his followers were armed? Well first, we all know students don’t always follow the message of their teachers. (And in fact, I would question Jesus being a pacifist) Second, all the more for the criterion of embarrassment then!

How about the release of a prisoner in the case of Barrabas? What evidence is there that Pilate ever did that? Well for starters, we could look at the Evans book cited above. Evans points out that if it was so obviously false, it is unlikely that all four Gospels would include it since it could be so readily exposed. He then on page 159 of his book cites several examples of Romans releasing prisoners on special days. (Livy’s History of Rome 5.13.8 or Josephus’s Antiquities 17.204 for instance)

Later in Ehrman’s book on p. 169 he says that in oral performance, there is no such thing as an original version. All performances and accounts are different. The idea of an original is one that comes from written cultures. Ehrman is certainly right here, yet it’s a mystery why he says this here, and then in so many other places speaks of discrepancies in the account or of lack of word for word memorization.

We earlier spoke of the Sermon on the Mount. Ehrman wants to know how everyone could hear him if he really spoke this sermon on the Mount. Well for one thing, many of these places were natural amphitheaters and great places for speaking. Second, we have cases such as when Ezra spoke when the Israelites came back from exile, where there was teaching and then other authorities explained what was being said to the people further passing it on. In fact, this could fit in well with Ken Bailey’s model. Jesus would speak and then others in the crowd would pass it on so that all would get the message.

On p. 187 Ehrman thinks the ending of the parable of the wedding feast is strange since someone is thrown out for not wearing wedding clothes. Well not really. The host would have provided clothing. After all, there are several poor there and all of them apparently somehow have wedding clothes. This man has spurned the offer of the king.

Interestingly, Ehrman thinks this passage and other passages like the parable of the ten virgins makes sense in a post 70-A.D. climate. I find this quite odd. Ehrman would want us to think that Jesus got the time of His return wrong, yet if this was written after 70 A.D. and after a generation had passed, one would think a promise of all being fulfilled before this generation passes would not be in there. Yet there it is, and yet the readers are to think that something Ehrman says did not happen would have already happened by then. Again, the problem is Ehrman takes the Olivet Discourse literally. Ehrman says that Jesus was expected to return right away, but He had been delayed so the people were being exhorted to remain faithful. Well first off, the passage isn’t about the return of Jesus but the coming to His throne, and again, Jesus had been delayed? Why would the Gospel writers have Jesus making a timing prediction and then suddenly saying “But He was delayed.” It’s a false prophecy either way if taken in the sense Ehrman takes it. (We Orthodox Preterists have no problem with it.)

Yet Ehrman insists that the earliest Christians expected the end of the world and so did the disciples of Jesus. What evidence is there? Perhaps he could point to 2 Peter (though of course he doesn’t think that authentic), but how would that even be evidence that all of them thought that? Ehrman’s eschatology is just puzzling. Yet what is also puzzling is what Ehrman says on p. 204.

“My strong conviction is that whether one is a believer or not, if one wants to discuss what probably happened in the past, it is never appropriate or even possible to say that miracles have happened. That is absolutely not because of a secular, antisupernaturalist bias (as some apologists gleefully love to claim). I had the same view even when I was a committed Christian. Instead, it has entirely to do with what it means to establish historical probabilities. Supernatural miracles can never be established as probable occurrences. By definition they are utterly improbable. But again, I will not go into that in this context.”

Wait. Ehrman even as a committed Christian could never say it was appropriate to say a miracle had happened? Then exactly what kind of Christian was he? Did he think the resurrection was a naturalistic event? Of course, his argument is Humean and of course, yes, he does not interact with Keener whatsoever, but this whole section is just puzzling. If he is saying that a miracle can never be established, how is that not an antisupernaturalist bias?

Finally, I want to wrap this up by looking at the end of the book. I agree with Ehrman that the idea is unsettling that if we find errors in the Gospels we should throw them out and move on to other things. This is indeed all-or-nothing thinking. Even if I was convinced of errors in the Gospels, I would not throw out everything as being non-historical. Sadly, Ehrman asks if the historicity really matters.

Does it matter if Jesus really healed the sick, cast out demons, and raised the dead? Does it matter if he himself was raised from the dead? To me as a historian it does. But if these stories are not historically accurate, does that rob them of their literary power? Not in my books. They are terrifically moving accounts. Understanding what they are trying to say means understanding some of the most uplifting and influential literature the world has ever seen. p. 278.

I think it would matter to Ehrman. After all, it mattered according to God’s Problem. On p. 127 there he says

“What if I was right then but wrong now? Will I burn in hell forever? The fear of death gripped me for years, and there are still moments when I wake up at night in a cold sweat.”

Maybe it all just depends on which Ehrman you read….

But yes, it does matter. If I told you a story and you thought it was true of how a kind philanthropist had recently died and left you a billion in your bank account, would you be happy? Sure. Then I tell you it’s just a story and say “But hey, the story is still a good one isn’t it?” Well no. It’s not any more.

As a Christian, the truth of the story matters. A story does not provide salvation. A story does not give eternal life. A story does not solve the problem of evil. A story does not give me hope in the face of suffering. If all we have are stories, then we are just fooling ourselves and trying to deny a bleak reality that the world really is just a pointless meaningless place.

If Christianity is just a story, then as Paul says, pity me. It is a situation in which you should feel sorry for me. However, I am convinced this is not the case. I agree with Peter. We are not following cleverly invented tales. If Jesus’s resurrection is true, it really does change everything. It is the case as Lewis would say of hearing the most wonderful story of all and then realizing that that story is in fact true.

In conclusion, I really think Ehrman’s books are slipping more and more. On the other hand, he is conceding more and more that Christians can agree. I wish Ehrman had availed himself of far better resources and I do still see him on a flight from fundamentalism. Hopefully he will one day realize that the question of it being a story or not does in fact matter.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Listening and Evil

Sometimes there’s nothing you can say, and that’s a good thing. Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and talk about it.

Yesterday I had a situation happen that was very disturbing to me and very hurtful. I won’t go into it, but I will tell you I experienced angst because of it. I did not sleep as well as I could have. I remember messaging a friend about it because I wanted someone to talk to. At one point, my friend told me that they wished they had some platitude that they could tell me, but they were coming up empty.

But you know what?

I’m glad they didn’t.

Now don’t get me wrong. I know we mean well when we say things, but I think we often think our lives are like some TV show where the perfect thing to be said is said right then and there. Well sorry. Your lives are not written out on a cue card in situations determined in advance by you. It’s easy to know what the perfect thing to say is when the situation is pre-scripted.

In fact, how many of us have heard something like some sort of platitude that suddenly caused the heavens to open up and we felt the sunshine of God’s love falling on us? Hardly ever. I am sure sometimes someone can say just the right thing, but I am sure it is the rarity.

My friend last night was not able to provide a platitude, but you know what they were able to do? They were able to listen, and that’s what I really needed. They were able to hear me vent. I needed to vent. I had a lot of pent-up emotion and I had to share it with someone who would be able to hear it and bear it.

Now if you’re a man like me, this is something we really struggle with. Women don’t struggle as much as we do because they are so much better at empathy. When we men hear about a problem or suffering, it is our goal to fix the problem. If the women in our lives are hurting, if we fix the problem, then we can fix the suffering. That makes sense doesn’t it?

It makes sense, but it’s wrong. You can fix the problem and the emotional aftershock of it is still there. Imagine a scenario where a woman was raped in her own home. What is done? Well a security system that is state-of-the-art is put into the house so the woman and local police can be alerted of any intruders. The woman is safe, but she will still feel the hurt and pain of the horrible victimization she has received even in her own house.

Your lady will want her problem fixed eventually, but for awhile, she just wants to be heard, and frankly, sometimes that’s all any of us want. We just want to be heard. We just want to know that our pain is something real and to acknowledge it instead of having it tossed aside. We can too often treat the pain as an annoyance. Sometimes other people’s pain will mess with your schedule. So what? Their suffering is more important than your schedule.

Too often we treat people as the interruptions to what we want to do instead of treating people as the reason why we do what we do. After all, if you are in ministry, who are you here to minister to? It’s not to God. God doesn’t need you. It’s not to angels. They don’t need you either. It’s people.

By the way, for those wondering, no. This is not a lesson I have mastered. This is not something I have perfected. I am still regularly screwing up at this one. Add in my being an Aspie and you can see how much I struggle at being the person that I need to be. Like you, I am growing in sanctification.

This is directly relevant to the problem of evil. When evil first strikes, the best thing you can do is listen. If you have someone who will not listen at all but only speak, you are dealing with someone who is a fool.

As someone who has helped others on the path of apologetics, I have the same rule for people. I often tell them that if you are the pastor of a church someday, and a woman comes to you and is crying asking why God allowed her teenage son to die in a car accident, if you turn into an apologist or philosopher or theologian at that moment, I will come over and smack you.

Is there a place for such answers? Yes. Eventually. Give some time and you can discuss the problem of evil with such a person, but for the time being, they do not need that. They need more than anything else a listening ear. They need someone who will come alongside them and hear what they have to say so that they will not feel like they are all alone, because most suffering convinces us that we are all alone.

Are people often being rational then? Well, no. Not really. That’s also to be expected. It would be a mistake to think people will always be rational. We all have pockets of areas where our emotions take us over. We are emotional beings as well and grief is something to work through.

The Bible tells us to mourn with those who mourn. That’s good wisdom. We should take their sorrow as well and help them carry it. That involves listening. When we meet someone who is suffering from the problem of evil, sometimes the best thing that we can say is absolutely nothing. We can just listen. Perhaps we can offer a hug or something like that.

Oh, by the way, with that last one guys, and this is something else we struggle with, this is not a time to be trying to get romantic. If you have a wife struggling, sex might be a great way of comfort for you, but not necessarily for her. (Though you sure won’t complain if it is!) This is a time to put your own desires aside and just listen. (You can also be sure that she will appreciate it later on.)

We live in a fallen world. As Christians, we are called to be Jesus for one another. The question is how good are we going to do? We must remember that thoroughly profound truth in the Gospel of John. Jesus wept. Yes. Yes He did and there is no shame in people weeping today (Yes men. It’s okay to cry) and to come alongside and weep with those who weep. After all, Jesus was the manliest man that ever was, and he did not hesitate to weep.

Sometime soon, you will be called to say something about the problem of evil when you encounter suffering in someone else’s life. Perhaps you won’t know what to say. That could be a good thing. Don’t say anything. Just be there.

In Christ,

Nick Peters

A Look At Death

What happens when someone crosses over? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Yesterday, my wife received word that an older friend of hers had died of cancer after a long battle. This was a friend I had never got to meet and a friend who also valued Allie and if there was something of Allie this friend wanted, it would have been to have a husband. This friend will not get to have that dream realized as she passed away at 2 P.M. yesterday.

Now frankly, I’m not the best comforter in those times of need. For someone like myself, it can be difficult to have that emotional connection. Were things the other way around, this is the area my wife would excel at. She is quite good at connecting with people emotionally. I am not. I much more excel at connecting with people intellectually and rationally.

So let’s look at the topic of death. Too often, I think we forget what death really means. Death means that this side of eternity, there will be no interaction. You will not get to hear their voice again (Save recordings and such). You will not get to talk to them. You will not see their face. (Save pictures.) You will not share a laugh or a joke. Nothing ever again.

It’s a pretty bleak picture.

A lot of times, we say things that are meant to console. They don’t. In fact, if we were being honest, nothing we say could console. Perhaps we do it also to relieve our own stress at not being able to help a loved one. No doubt, we mean well, but everything we say is empty, and frankly, it should be. It shouldn’t be that we hear something and think “Why oh yes! Thank you! I’m no longer grieving over this loved one!”

In some ways, you will spend the rest of your life grieving. It depends on how much the person meant to you. There are many people that I’m not consciously thinking about every day. Still, when I see something about them, I remember and I have some sadness. I think right now of my friend Gretchen Coburn and Jonathan Dileo. (Jonathan’s charity can be found here.)

The closer the person was to you, the more you will grieve. Lose a friend? You’re going to grieve. Lose a best friend? You’re going to grieve even more. Lose a spouse? That will be intense grieving. I will not dare to speak yet of how intense it is to bury a child, though I have known people who have done that. It is said that burying a parent is losing the past, a spouse the present, and a child the future.

Death is something we’d all like to do without.

And this is what makes Christianity so important.

Often when Christians talk about death, we often make the mistake. The whole idea is “I wanna go to Heaven when I die.” For that kind of thinking, it’s like the Earth is an afterthought. It’s not really needed here. The whole idea of “This world is not my home. I’m just passing through.”

No. God made this world to be your home.

Now does that mean something doesn’t happen when a person dies? Not at all. If I am hearing about a Christian, all I will say is that they are in the presence of Jesus. They are not there in their bodies, which means there is something missing still, but they are in the presence of Jesus. The body though is not the accident. God made us bodied creatures.

Gnosticism was one of the first great heresies of the early church and it was a highly dominant view and one benefit it had was it dispensed with the body. Matter was wicked and evil. No need of it. Christianity said no. Why? Because Jesus really lived in a body. He wasn’t acting. Jesus really rose from the dead in a body. It’s the real deal.

This was the harder route, but it was the route they took because they had to be true to the facts. This changes our view of everything. If the body is good and matter is good, it should work with how we handle issues relating to the environment, issues related to sex, issues related to life, and issues related to death.

For the Christian then, we can mourn when someone dies. In fact, Paul tells us in 1 Thess. 4 that we do mourn. Indeed. We do. We do not mourn like those who have no hope. If our mourning is exactly like those who are non-Christians, then we have not treated our Christianity seriously.

The resurrection changes everything. The resurrection shows that death is not the final outcome of us all. It shows that even death can be defeated and reversed and in fact, so can all of the evil in our lives. If history was a symphony, the resurrection of Jesus would be the moment where everything starts to come alive with a grand crescendo waiting the final moment of the return of Christ when all is made right again.

This is also why you need to know the reality of the resurrection. The resurrection does change everything. It was the belief that changed the world and overtook the Roman Empire.

I wonder if it could do that today if we gave it the same attention and made it as central as the early church did?

In Christ,

Nick Peters

Christmas Eve Thoughts

What do we do the day before Christmas? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Christmas Eve is here and looking back, Christmas has radically changed over the years. In the past, I know it was about looking forward to what I was getting the next day. To be sure, there’s still some of that there. Allie and I have asked for various items and I look forward to getting some of them. (I highly anticipate that by this time tomorrow I’ll be watching my own copy of Pixels for instance.) I don’t know when it is, but you reach an age or a point in life where the gifts don’t really mean as much to you.

It could also be because now I know much more about what the season means. When you grow up, unfortunately, you’re not often told today all about the Christmas story. It’s not because parents don’t often care. It’s because many of them frankly don’t know about the Christmas story due to our lack of discipleship in the churches. My parents didn’t know what apologetics was until I started studying it and frankly, I didn’t even know what it was until I started studying it. I had never heard the word before.

One thing I like to think about this day though is to look at Christmas as really a declaration of war on the part of God. Christmas is God entering enemy territory and declaring war on the works of the devil. If that is the case, then we can see Christmas Eve as if it was preparation for D-Day. We are getting ready to celebrate the infiltration of our master into the enemy camp. We are celebrating that because we know the plan was successful and the battle was won.

It seems odd to think of Christmas as a war, but that is indeed what it was. We must remember that when Jesus was born, it was not the case that Jesus is born and the first thing we hear about is all the world coming together in peace and love. No. If we go with Matthew’s account, we know that Herod immediately ordered the slaughter of infants where Jesus was born. Evil was already on the move. When Joseph returns, he hears about Herod Archelaus and decides to go to Nazareth. Now why did he do that? Because Archelaus had ordered the murder of thousands of Jews on the temple grounds. Passover was canceled that year. Joseph and Mary lived a hectic life right at the start beyond what most of us would expect.

And yet, somehow the plan worked. All the evil that was devised against Jesus did not work, until it was the proper time, and then what was really meant to be the killing blow was in fact just that, but it was not the end. It was figured by the Jewish leaders that death would surely be the end and not just death, but a shameful death. God had other plans. God had the plan to overcome even a shameful death and bring the greatest honor to Jesus ever.

Tonight, I’ll be celebrating Christmas Eve with my church family and then with my blood family, but I hope I don’t forget that Christmas Eve is a day where we celebrate that we know the victory is coming.

In Christ,
Nick Peters