Deeper Waters Podcast 3/25/2017: Michael Chung

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

Kings. We don’t really think about them much today. Here in the West, we live with a president over us and several governing bodies like Congress and the Senate. Washington is a large organization with numerous parties involved. It’s hard for Westerners to think about a king.

Yet if the Bible is true, we do have a king. Even non-Christians have this king. Their not acknowledging Him doesn’t change that He is the king. This king is Jesus. Jesus is the last king of Israel and the current ruling king of the universe.

What can you learn from this person? What did He go through in His life? I decided that it would be good to look at the Passion of Jesus and discuss how it applies to our life and how we can learn about Jesus and His response to suffering and what He saw as worthwhile in life. To do that, I decided to have Michael Chung come on. He is the author of the book Jesus, The Last King of Israel.

So who is he?

Michael Chung

According to his bio:

(BS, The Ohio State University; MDiv, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School; Ph.D. University of Nottingham) has taught at Fuller Theological Seminary-Texas, Houston Baptist University, Calvary Theological Seminary-Indonesia, and Houston Christian High School. He is also the author of Praying with Mom (2012) and has published academic journal articles in North America, Asia, and Europe on Gospels, Paul, Spiritual Formation, New Testament Theology, and Missiology. He has also done missions and pastoral work.

Not only will we be discussing the last week of Jesus, we will spend some time on some issues that are troublesome to Christians and scholars alike. The first will be the anointing of Jesus. Do the accounts contradict? Even the number of days looks to be mentioned. The second is the cursing of the fig tree. Does this really fit in with the character of Christ?

Mainly, we will be looking at what Jesus did during His passion. How did Jesus approach it? What did He do with these moments that would be the last ones of His fully public ministry? How did He handle problems of failure among His disciples? Who was it that He wanted to go and spend His time with? The way a person dies can reveal a lot about them and if Jesus knew that He was going to die, what does the way He spent His time reveal about Him?

Also, briefly if anyone is interested, we didn’t do a show last week due to my being out of state for a funeral, but we hope to make it up this week with this interview. I hope you’ll be looking forward to this one showing up on your podcast feed. Please also go and write a review of the Deeper Waters Podcast and let me know how you like the show. I’m working hard on getting the best for you.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

Book Plunge: The Historical Reliability of The New Testament

What do I think of Craig Blomberg’s book published by B&H Academic? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Craig Blomberg has recently written a rather large tome on the reliability of the New Testament and it is one that is definitely in-depth. There is hardly a major issue of New Testament studies that you won’t find here. Blomberg has extensive footnotes as he wrestles with most issues that are alive today in discussion.

Want to know about the Gospels and who wrote them? It’s there. When were they written? It’s there. What about the epistles? There. What about forgery in the epistles? Blomberg has you covered. There’s even a section on Revelation. Why? Because much of Revelation does fit into a historical setting. (This could also be an area I disagree with Blomberg some on as he prefers what he calls a Preterist-Futurist approach. I prefer just an Orthodox Preterist approach. I’m pleased to see he rightly condemns neohymenaeanism.

Blomberg also writes on issues related to textual criticism and the canon. How do we know that the New Testament has been handed down accurately? Even if it has been, there were a lot of other books that could have gone into the canon. Right? Wasn’t this just a decision made at Nicea? (I would also go against Blomberg here saying that this largely comes from Dan Brown. Brown popularized it, but this claim was going on long before Dan Brown.)

If you want to know about those other accounts, there’s a section on them too. Like I said, Blomberg is thorough. It’s hard to think of a way that he could be more meticulous than this.

The final section is on miracles and the resurrection. Again, this is one area where I would disagree on the use of the term supernatural. I have a hard time with this because it is never clearly defined and I think it in fact gives the atheist a free pass with thinking that the natural doesn’t really need an explanation. While it’s not in his area, Blomberg starts off by pointing to others who have written on the existence of God (And I do wish he’d mentioned the Thomistic arguments, in my opinion, the best.) and then goes on to make the case for miracles largely using the work of Craig Keener.

The positives of this volume are that despite it being large, it is also easy to understand. A layman will get a lot out of this volume. If the reader only wants to know about one area, say the synoptic Gospels, for instance, no problem. Just go there. If you want to know about the formation of the canon, no problem. Just go there.

A work like this is also a good response to people who immediately decide there is no evidence for anything in the New Testament. Sadly, few of them will ever bother to pick up a work like this and will instead run to internet sites that already agree with them. Those who do manage to work their way through Blomberg’s book will be blessed for it.

If you want a go-to book on the reliability of the New Testament as a whole, this is the one to go to. In New Testament courses on apologetics even at a Seminary’s level, Blomberg’s book should be a staple for a long time to come. He has also said he will be having a theology book coming out next. We eagerly look forward to it.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

A Response to John Tors On Inerrancy

What do I think of what John Tors said? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Last week, I was away because my wife and I found out about a little Down’s Syndrome girl who was aged five and died suddenly. We went to Tennessee for the funeral. Shortly after I got back, I found out that I had been mentioned in an article by John Tors that can be found here.

My ministry partner, J.P. Holding, has updated his page on Mark 1:2 in response to some of what Tors says. I will thus not be responding to criticisms of Holding unless they involve me directly. I seriously doubt Dan Wallace will want to spend much time with Tors so I will take them on for him.

Tors starts with a statement that Wallace makes in The Case for the Real Jesus when interviewed by Lee Strobel.

Now, finish this sentence, I said. When Christians say the Bible is inerrant, they mean …
“They mean a number of things. For some, it’s almost a magic-wand approach, where the Bible is treated like a modern scientific and historical textbook that’s letter perfect. Some Christians would say, for example, that the words of Jesus are in red letters because that’s exactly what he said.” (Bold Tors’s)

Tors immediately leaps into attack mode with a response that one wonders if he has really read Wallace at all.

It is typical of this sort of evangelical scholar to mock the view of inerrancy that takes it mean “having no errors,” but whether Wallace likes it or not, that is what inerrancy means. So this is not a “magic-wand approach”; it is the only approach consistent with the actual meaning of inerrancy.

Except Wallace never mocked a view of inerrancy as meaning the Bible is without errors. He went after a view of what that is. I suspect Wallace means more the idea that the Bible is like a modern textbook and every word had to be one directly said by the person involved, be it Jesus or anyone else, and that if we dare question that, then everything goes out the window. That Tors reacts in such a way to something that Wallace never said is quite revealing.

Wallace goes on to say as Tors quotes.

“Well, if you compare the same incident in different Gospels, you’ll notice some differences in wording. That’s fine as long as we’re not thinking in terms of quotations being nailed exactly, like a tape recorder. They didn’t even have quotation marks in Greek. In ancient historiography, they were concerned with correctly getting the gist of what was said.”

Tors responds to this point that is not controversial at all among NT scholars by saying

We have already seen Farnell’s devasting response to this approach. The Bible is not like other works of ancient historiography, because it is “God breathed” (2 Timothy 3:16).

Of course, I have responded to Farnell here and here. However, this is hardly a response. Just say “It’s God-Breathed.” Okay. How does that deal with the writing? Are we to think God just breathed one day and “Poof!”, here is the Gospel of Luke! Anyone can look at the Gospels and notice that there are differences in wording. Are we to think Peter said radically different things when he made his great confession of faith to Jesus? Or, are we to think that he made a statement and the writers recorded the gist of it? (Note Tors. We don’t have the exact words anyway because Jesus was going around speaking in Aramaic and the Gospels are in Greek.)

Tors goes on to quote Wallace saying

“My definition of infallibility is the Bible is true in what it teaches. My definition of inerrancy is that the Bible is true in what it touches. So infallibility is a more foundational doctrine, which says the Bible is true with reference to faith and practice. Inerrancy is built on that doctrine and it says that the Bible is also true when it comes to dealing with historical issues, but we still have to look at it in light of first-century historical practices.”

Tors immediately fires back with

Wallace has it completely backwards; inerrancy is the more foundational doctrine, for, as we’ve said, if the Bible is not trustworthy on historical issues, it cannot be trusted “with reference to faith and practice.” So infallibility is built on inerrancy, not vice versa. Nor should we “look at [the Gospel books] in light of first-century historical practices” that allow for errors, inasmuch as the Bible is God-breathed, which is not a standard “first-century historical practice.”

It’s not a shock that Tors is the one who has it completely backward. Infallibility is the reason one holds to inerrancy. Derek James Brown in his dissertation on Inerrancy and ICBI quoted R.C. Sproul (You know, one of those guys who’s a framer of the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy) who said

Though the words infallible and inerrant have often been used interchangeably and virtually as synonyms in our language, nevertheless there remains a historic, technical distinction between the two words.  Infallibility has to do with the question of ability or potential.  That which is infallible is said to be unable to make mistakes or to err.  The distinction here . . . is between the hypothetical and the real.  That which is inerrant is that which in fact does not err.  Again, theoretically, something may be fallible and at the same time inerrant.  That is, it would be possible for someone to err who in fact does not err.  However, the reverse is not true.  If someone is infallible, that means he cannot err; and if he cannot err, then he does not err.  To assert that something is infallible yet at the same time errant is either to distort the meaning of “infallible” and/or “errant,” or else to be in a state of confusion. (Page 25 of Explaining Inerrancy).

Wallace goes on to say

“I don’t start by saying, ‘If the Bible has a few mistakes, I have to throw it all out.’ That’s not a logical position. We don’t take that attitude toward Livy, Tacitus, Suetonius, or any other ancient historian’s writings. For instance, does the first-century Jewish historian Josephus need to be inerrant before we can affirm that he got anything right?”

To which Tors replies with

Of course not. But Josephus, Livy, Tacitus, Suetonius, and “any other ancient historian” were not divinely enabled by the Holy Spirit. The Bible was, however, so it is in a completely different category from “any other ancient historian’s writings.” In contrast, it seems very clear that Wallace is treating the Bible like simply any other book. Period.

If you want to see what’s wrong with this kind of approach, just consider if Tors was saying the same about the Koran or the Book of Mormon. Is Wallace treating the Bible like any other book? In a sense, yes. That’s the wonderful truth about the Bible. When you treat it like any other book, you see that it is not like any other book. Tors apparently lives in a world where the Bible has to be kept safe from historical research, lest an error be found. It also has to be written in a format that is amenable immediately to 21st century Americans, because, well, aren’t we the most important of all?

Wallace then goes on to say that

You obviously have a high view of scripture, I observed. Why?

“Because Jesus did,” he said matter-of-factly.

How do you know?I asked.

“One criterion that scholars use for determining authenticity is called ‘dissimilarity.’ If Jesus said or did something that’s dissimilar to the Jews of his day or earlier, then it’s considered authentic,” he said. “And he’s constantly ripping on the Pharisees for adding tradition to scripture and not treating it as ultimately and finally authoritative. When he says that scripture cannot be broken, he’s making a statement about the truth and reliability of scripture.”’

Tors quotes multiple parts of this multiple times each time with incredulity, because, you know, incredulity makes a great argument. Wallace is saying that by the methods of historical scholarship, we know that this is Jesus’s view of Scripture. Wallace wants to treat Scripture like Jesus did. Tors seems to have a problem with that. He also imagines that Wallace has said there are historical or scientific errors in the text. It would be nice to know where Wallace said that. I must have missed that part.

We will next quote Wallace saying

“The Gospels contain a summary of what he said. And if it’s a summary, maybe Matthew used some of his own words to condense it.”

To most of us, something like this is not problematic. People write something and they use their own words. Tors however, is always on the hunt for something that goes against his fundamentalism.

See? Just “like any other book.” Period.

We have to wonder what Tors is thinking here. Does he think someone would come up to Matthew and say “Hey Matthew. What are you writing?” “I don’t know. It’s in Greek.” Is it just awful to think that Matthew told a story in his own words? Perish the thought! Wallace goes on to give the reasonable conclusion to what he said with

“That doesn’t trouble me in the slightest. It’s still trustworthy.”

Tors, as expected, hits the panic button.

Actually, if the writers are making stuff up and mixing the historical with the non-historical, then it is not trustworthy, as there’s no way to know what in the Bible is true and what isn’t. As we’ve seen, Gundry’s suggestion that non-historical additions in the Gospel According to Matthew would not be a problem because his readers would know what was historical from the Gospel According to Mark and from Q is patently a non-starter. Furthermore, if Matthew could add non-historical material, so could Mark have done, so that Matthew’s readers (and we) could not assume that everything in the Gospel According to Mark was historical. In fact, how could they assume that any of it was historical?

And, of course, Q is a figment of liberal imagination. But even if it weren’t, how could the readers of Q know whether any of it was historical? If Matthew and Mark could make up non-historical material, why could not the writer of Q? I have not yet found even one evangelical scholar who can answer this question.

It is a mystery how one goes from “Saying something in one’s own words” to “Making stuff up.” Apparently, Tors can make these kinds of leaps. He then says there’s no way to know that something in the Bible is true or isn’t, but this is just ridiculous. We can know this by studying history. If Tors is scared to apply historiography to the Bible, perhaps it is true then that Wallace (And myself) have a high view of Scripture and Tors has a low view of it. After all, Tors apparently seems fearful that if inerrancy goes out the window, that there’s no way of knowing any truth in the Bible.

He also asks how could readers of the Gospel assume any of it was historical? Answer. They wouldn’t. This would also be something that skeptics could look at. Want to know if it’s historical? Just send a servant or two to the area of Judea. Have them ask around. Do an investigation. This is what historians did.

Strobel’s interview continues.

Do you think this idea of inerrancy has been elevated out of proportion to its genuine importance? I asked.
“At times…. Belief in inerrancy shouldn’t be used as an excuse not to engage seriously with history….”

Quick to panic again and make a mountain out of a molehill, Tors says that

Is this meant to imply that “engage[ing] seriously with history” will necessarily lead to the conclusion that there are errors in the Bible? In fact, inerrantists certainly do “engage seriously with history,” but they use already established facts as part of their analysis – much like, once it has been established that the Earth is round, that fact is used in all further geographic analysis. Now, since the Gospel writers were empowered by the Holy Spirit to remember Jesus’ words, and inasmuch as Scripture is God breathed, the historical information in the Bible is superior to that in any other source and stands in judgment of it.

All too often, what passes for “engag[ing] seriously with history” by evangelical scholars is the opposite; whenever a secular source makes a claim that disagrees with a claim in the Bible, it is assumed by default that the Bible is wrong,2 and therefore efforts have to be made to massage the Biblical testimony to fit – or we are simply to accept that the Bible is wrong.

While inerrantists do engage with history, and I speak as one of them, I do not think Tors does. Tors is not engaging with history but still pushing the claim of the Bible being God-breathed. I agree that it is, but Tors never tells what this means or how this plays out. How does he know the text is God-breathed without making a circular argument? Would he accept it if a Muslim said the same about the Koran?

Fortunately, we see that Tors has said that a British scholar has said we treat the Bible like any other book to show it’s not like any other book. Sadly, he says that this has been shown to be inappropriate, but with no clue where or even who this scholar is. At this point, all Tors has is assertions of faith.

He then continues quoting

“That’s better than the opposite position that has become an evangelical mantra: ‘Hands off the Bible — we don’t want people to find any mistakes in it, because we hold to inerrancy.’”

Tors answers with

The implication seems to be that inerrantists do not want to examine the Bible too carefully, because, as these wise evangelical scholars know, there are indeed errors, and so inerrantists want to ignore facts in order to hold to their doctrine of inerrancy. This is a ridiculous implication.

It is a ridiculous implication, and it’s a good thing Wallace doesn’t hold to it. Wallace is instead saying some inerrantists do seem afraid that they will find errors that won’t stand up to scrutiny. If anyone is hesitant to enter history here, it’s Tors.

Now he decides to go after myself and Holding.

Finally, let us consider James Patrick Holding, founder and president of the on-line Tekton Education and Apologetic Ministries.5 He is of interest because he is a frequent “go-to guy” for both Creation Ministries International and Christian Research Institute, which means he is reaching a sizeable audience. Holding has taken it upon himself to challenge Norman Geisler’s defence of inerrancy, and not only online; he and co-author Nick Peters self-published an e-book, Defining Inerrancy: Affirming a Defensible Faith for a New Generation, in which he and Peters attack Geisler’s Defending Inerrancy. In this e-book the authors aver that “the perception of ‘inerrancy’ offered by the old guard isdangerous, misleading, and obscurantist in that it will result in a view of the Bible that is not defensible or respectable.”

Tors responds with

Do note that “the perception of ‘inerrancy’ offered by the old guard is that it means “no errors” i.e. the Bible is completely free of all errors, including historical and scientific errors. This is the “perception” that Holding and Peters consider dangerous, misleading, and obscurantist and not defensible or respectable.”

This is news to me, because I do not think the Bible does have historical or scientific errors. I guess Tors knows my view better than I do. I have no problem with the statement that the Bible is without error. I have a problem with a more wooden inerrancy approach that is bent on literalism and 21st century ideas rather than writing styles of the ancients.

I am going to, as I said, bypass what was said about Holding. Holding can answer on his own. For my part, I will address what is said about me.

Holding’s co-author, Nick Peters, who, interestingly, is married to Mike Licona’s daughter, also piles on, but he, too, clearly stultifies himself. He details Patterson’s qualifications, including the following – “A graduate of Hardin-Simmons University, Patterson also completed Th.M. and Ph.D. degrees in theology at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary” – but then asserts that “While these accomplishments can be all well and good, there is a striking omission from it. There is absolutely nothing here about being trained in NT scholarship and exegesis. Being a competent and even skilled theologian and/or philosopher does not make one an expert on NT scholarship and/or biblical exegesis.”

Why yes, I am married to Mike’s daughter. Apparently, this is being waved around to promote the “Bias” charge. All Tors needs to do is contact Mike and be assured from Mike that we have many disagreements, even on the New Testament, and I do not walk in lockstep with him.

Tors wants to say I stultify myself. How? Because I point out that we have no reason to think that Patterson is an expert on NT scholarship and/or Biblical exegesis.

One wonders whether Peters has any idea about the sort of courses one takes in Master’s and Doctoral programs in seminary; in case he doesn’t, he should find out that it certainly includes courses in “NT scholarship and exegesis.” It seems rather strange that Peters suggests that Patterson’s training is inadequate, when Peters himself holds only a Bachelor of Science in Preaching and Bible from Johnson Bible College, and is currently working on a Master’s degree – in philosophy.

Of course I know, because I have studied at a Master’s level in Seminary. While this is taught, it does not mean it’s a specialty area. Does Patterson publish regularly in journals of New Testament scholarship? Is he cited by New Testament scholars? If not, then he’s stepping out of his field. I would say the same thing about Mike Licona trying to be an authority on philosophy.

Tors wrote this in 2015 by the way and wanted to point out with an ironic sucker punch that I’m working on a Master’s in Philosophy. Ouch. Guess that puts me in my place.

Unless, you know, you actually look at anything since 2009 and realize people can change majors, which I did when Mike Licona told me he thought my stuff on NT was really good. Let’s see. What does my own website say?

Can you tell me a little bit about yourself?

Sure. My birthday is 9/19/1980 and I was born in Corryton, TN just outside of Knoxville. I was raised in a Christian home and found out about apologetics while I was in Bible College and my passion was set from then on. I have a Bachelor’s in preaching and Bible from Johnson University and I’m working on a Master’s in New Testament there. I am especially interested in the historical Jesus and the resurrection. I am also an advocate for traditional marriage having been married to my wife Allie Licona Peters since July of 2010. We are both diagnosed with Aspergers and we have a cat named Shiro. My other interests include reading, video games, and popular TV shows like The Big Bang Theory or The Flash and other shows. I’m also extremely sarcastic so you’ve been warned.

Or since he knows about Defining Inerrancy, maybe he could have just read my description in the book.

Nick Peters is currently working on his Master’s in New Testament at North West University in South Africa via a distance program. He has been in apologetics ministry for nearly fifteen years at the time of this writing. He blogs regularly at Deeperwaters.wordpress.com and runs a podcast called the Deeper Waters Podcast, where he seeks to interview the best in Christian apologetics and scholarship. He and his wife Allie are both diagnosed with Asperger’s and both of them currently live in Corryton, Tennessee, just outside of Knoxville, with their cat Shiro.

Now are there differences there? Yep. I switched where I was working on my major at and my website is now at a different address and I now live just outside of Atlanta. Fortunately, the part about my wonderful wife and about Shiro are still true.

Academic qualifications, of course, do not determine how well one can understand the Bible or apologetics, but it is Holding and Peters who choose to focus on that, claiming that Geisler and Patterson are not qualified to assess Licona’s teachings. It seems clear, however, that on that basis Geisler and Patterson are individually each better qualified to assess NT scholarship than Holding and Peters put together.

If so, then either of them are free to respond to the criticisms that I have made of their approach. Nothing has been said by them so far. Geisler ignored a challenge that was put on his wall by someone else from Holding and banned the person who put it up. I also am quite sure that the evangelical scholars will go with my work far more than Geisler’s, particularly since I’m the one who interviews them. Tors can make his assertions of faith, but all it is is faith.

Tors’s approach is in the end, one that is embarrassing to apologetics. It will not convince any skeptic and will leave a Christian who holds to it thoroughly defenseless. Perhaps Tors should study some New Testament scholarship before proceeding.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

Deeper Waters Podcast 3/11/2017: Mike Licona

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

“It depends on which Gospel you read!” Many of us have heard Bart Ehrman talk about this in describing Gospel differences. It is a kind of unavoidable problem. Why are there differences in the Gospels? Shouldn’t we expect them to agree, especially on major events like the resurrection?

If you want to know why there are differences in the Gospels, you should talk to someone who has written on this. In fact, the very name of his book is Why Are There Differences In The GospelsThat someone is Mike Licona, a friend, a scholar, a great apologist, and my father-in-law, and he will be my guest. So who is he?

MikeLicona

According to his bio:

Mike Licona has a Ph.D. in New Testament Studies (University of Pretoria), which he completed with distinction. He serves as associate professor in theology at Houston Baptist University. Mike was interviewed by Lee Strobel in his book The Case for the Real Jesus and appeared in Strobel’s video The Case for Christ. He is the author of numerous books including Why Are There Differences in the Gospels? What We Can Learn From Ancient Biography (Oxford University Press, 2017), The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach (IVP Academic, 2010), Paul Meets Muhammad (Baker, 2006), co-author with Gary Habermas of the award-winning book The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus (Kregel, 2004) and co-editor with William Dembski of Evidence for God: 50 Arguments for Faith from the Bible, History, Philosophy, and Science (Baker, 2010). Mike is a member of the Evangelical Theological and Philosophical Societies, the Institute for Biblical Research, and the Society of Biblical Literature. He has spoken on more than 90 university campuses, and has appeared on dozens of radio and television programs.

We’ll be talking about Plutarch in comparison with the Gospels, including not just parallel accounts, but how does the writing of Plutarch compare even with anonymity, dating, and miraculous activity? We’ll then be looking at some scenes in Plutarch that appear in more than one life that he has written, but at the same time are vastly different. We’ll be discussing how these work when carried over to the Gospels and if there are similarities in treatment.

We’ll then go to the Gospels. What are we to make of the idea of Ehrman that “It depends on which Gospel you read?” How does this research affect the doctrine of inerrancy if it does at all? What are we to do when we read the same story in different Gospels and see great differences between them? Do the differences outweigh the similarities?

I hope you’ll be listening. Mike Licona is an excellent scholar and this work is one that has been published by Oxford Press and so one can’t say it’s your regular evangelical press. I also hope you’ll be willing to go to ITunes and leave a positive review of the Deeper Waters Podcast. I always love to see how much you like the show.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

 

Deeper Waters Podcast 3/4/2017: Beth Sheppard

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

History. It’s always an area of controversy, but New Testament history is especially controversial. After all, from the side of conservative Christianity, we have a lot of strong claims. We have a man who claimed to be the divine Messiah of Israel and of one nature with the Father and who did miracles and died and rose again to show it. Skeptics look at these as extraordinary claims and want to see the evidence and usually, evidence that would not be demanded for anything else. At the extreme end here, consider mythicists, some who have even said that we have to have explicit mention of Jesus within three years.

Meanwhile, when we look on the other end, many non-Christians and liberals come up with explanations of the Biblical Jesus that look like extreme stretches. Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias once said that if you ever want to increase your faith in the resurrection, just read the counter-explanations that are dreamed up. There’s a lot of truth to that.

So what do we do in this case? We have two sides to this issue and both of them would want to do history right. How is it that we do this history properly? Is there a craft to the study of the New Testament? How should students of the NT on both sides of the aisle treat the NT?

To answer these questions, I have asked a specialist to come on. This is someone who is quite familiar with the field and has written a book on it. The book is The Craft of History and the Study of the New Testament. The author is Beth Sheppard, and she will be my guest. Who is she?

Dr. Beth Sheppard, Dr. Beth M. Sheppard

Beth M. Sheppard holds a PhD in New Testament studies from the University of Sheffield and serves at the Director of the Duke Divinity School Library and also teaches New Testament courses. Her research interests include not only library administration and practice, but also the Fourth Gospel.  She is particularly intrigued about the ins and outs of everyday life for early Christians.  Her dual research agenda is reflected in the diversity of the journals in which her recent articles have appeared including Theological Librarianship and Sapientia Logos.  She has also written a book entitled The Craft of History for the Study of the New Testament.  Prior to coming to Duke, Sheppard directed the library and taught New Testament courses at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary.

Although a United Methodist layperson, Sheppard has pastored in rural United Methodist congregations and continues to preach and teach in church settings when called upon to do so.  Her orientation toward service is also present in her work in the academy where she is a member of the editorial team for the European Studies on Christian Origins series published by Continuum.

I hope you’ll be here as we discuss how history is done and how we are to approach the text. Sheppard’s book is an excellent work in the field. Please also consider going on ITunes and leaving a positive review of the Deeper Waters Podcast.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: 26 Reasons Why Jews Don’t Believe In Jesus Part 6

Is the Christian Bible credible? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

We’re continuing our look at Asher Norman’s book 26 Reasons Why Jews Don’t Believe In Jesus. Now we look at the Christian Bible. This chapter and the next one I think are going to be my favorites to deal with, and dare I say it but the next one could be even more fun when we look at the historical Jesus.

You know this chapter is going to start out good when it has a quoting of Earl Doherty. Doherty is someone whose theories are not taken seriously by Biblical scholars and are that of Jesus mythicism. That theory is that the epistles were not aware of Jesus’s earthly history.

Of course, this is just false and we can see that looking even at just the ones that are universally accepted as Pauline. What are some of the facts we have?

1 Cor. 15:3-8

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried,that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.

Christ died, was buried, and appeared to several people. Note the James must be a unique individual called James since no clarification is needed. Could it be that this ties in with James, the brother of the Lord in Galatians 1?

Galatians 1:19

I saw none of the other apostles—only James, the Lord’s brother.

If Jesus had never existed, His brother would probably know about it. I don’t buy ideas about this being a spiritual term. If so, why are the other apostles not brothers as well?

Galatians 3:1

You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified.

1 Cor. 5:7

Get rid of the old yeast, so that you may be a new unleavened batch—as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.

This is fully consistent with Christ being crucified on Passover.

1 Cor. 11:23-26

23 For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

Romans 1:3-4

regarding his Son, who as to his earthly life was a descendant of David, and who through the Spirit of holiness was appointed the Son of God in power by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord.

Christ has a human and a divine nature.

Galatians 4:4

But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law,

Jesus lived a life born of a woman and under the Law, which means among His fellow Jews living a Jewish life.

Now I know the objections. Yeah. Not forgetting them. We will get to them as we go along.

All Norman has on the other side is an argument from silence. The maxim with those is that where silence is expected, the argument from silence is weak. We are told that there is no mention of his sayings, his miracles, or Calvary, to which we ask, why should they? These were occasional letters. They were written to deal with specific instruction. The fundamentals of the faith would have been covered. You don’t go to those who already know these and repeat them again and again.

Norman buys into the idea that these messages were received by revelations. If so, these revelations seem awfully constrained. Why not claim a revelation every time for every event? The language is actually that of oral tradition.

“Are you sure?! Look at 1 Cor. 11. What I received from the Lord! Paul is saying he got a message directly from Jesus!”

No. In his book on the historical Jesus, Keener points out that this kind of language was common for rabbis who claimed to receive interpretations from Sinai. They don’t mean the mountain or Moses appeared to them. They mean that is the foundation. So why does 1 Cor. 11 mention the Lord? Because Jesus is the foundation for what was said. He said the works in 1 Cor. 11. He did not say the words in 1 Cor. 15 so Paul did not receive those from the Lord.

Norman also thinks the Gospels are second century. (Of course, we know we can’t trust second century Gospels, but that fourth century Pseudoclementine Recognitions is totally reliable!) Unfortunately, he gives no scholarship for this as he is still just parroting Doherty. The main example he brings up as a problem is the date of the crucifixion of Jesus based on differences between John and the synoptics and says it can’t be reconciled.

I have no interest in debating inerrancy, but let’s suppose it can’t be. Oh well. That doesn’t overturn that there is much that is historical. All-or-nothing thinking is not the way good historians think. It’s the way fundamentalists think. Still, Norman is free to go and look at several commentaries and see what he can find. If he is so sure we have a defeater, I invite him to please go to a site like Skeptics Annotated Bible and see what “contradictions” they see in the Old Testament that cannot be reconciled.

Mark is said by Norman to be the first Gospel written. That is a statement that some scholars would disagree with, but not most, so we won’t make a big deal about that. The humorous idea is his problem with Matthew using Mark if Matthew was an eyewitness. If Matthew had been the one behind it, why use Mark, which I have addressed elsewhere. The most amusing part is when he says that Matthew speaks of himself in third person. Why didn’t he say “Jesus saw me sitting at the table” instead of “He saw Matthew.”

Poor Norman. He doesn’t realize how far behind the times he is. This was addressed by Augustine 1,600 years or so ago. Just go to Contra Faustum 17.

  1. Faustus thinks himself wonderfully clever in proving that Matthew was not the writer of this Gospel, because, when speaking of his own election, he says not, He saw me, and said to me, Follow me; but, He saw him, and said to him, Follow me. This must have been said either in ignorance or from a design to mislead. Faustus can hardly be so ignorant as not to have read or heard that narrators, when speaking of themselves, often use a construction as if speaking of another. It is more probable that Faustus wished to bewilder those more ignorant than himself, in the hope of getting

    hold

    on not a few unacquainted with these things. It is needless to resort to other writings to quote examples of this construction from profane authors for the information of our friends, and for the refutation of Faustus. We find examples in passages quoted above from Moses by Faustus himself, without any denial, or rather with the assertion, that they were written by Moses, only not written of Christ. When Moses, then, writes of himself, does he say, I said this, or I did that, and not rather, Moses said, and Moses did? Or does he say, The Lord called me, The Lord said to me, and not rather, The Lord called Moses, The Lord said to Moses, and so on? So Matthew, too, speaks of himself in the third person.

  And John does the same; for towards the end of his book he says: “Peter, turning, saw the disciple whom Jesus loved, who also lay on His breast at supper, and who said to the Lord, Who is it that shall betray You?” Does he say, Peter, turning, saw me? Or will you argue from this that John did not write this Gospel? But he adds a little after: “This is the disciple that testifies of Jesus, and has written these things; and we know that his testimony is true.” [John 21:20-24] Does he say, I am the disciple who testify of Jesus, and who have written these things, and we know that my testimony is true? Evidently this style is common in writers of narratives. There are innumerable instances in which the Lord Himself uses it. “When the Son of man,” He says, “comes, shall He find faith on the earth?” [Luke 18:8] Not, When I come, shall I find? Again, “The Son of man came eating and drinking;” [Matthew 11:19] not, I came. Again, “The hour shall come, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God, and they that hear shall live;” [John 5:25] not, My voice. And so in many other places. This may suffice to satisfy inquirers and to refute scoffers.

Consider the Anabasis by Xenophon. Here’s the 1st part of book three with a note at the end by the editor.

After the generals had been seized, and the captains and soldiers who   1
formed their escort had been killed, the Hellenes lay in deep
perplexity--a prey to painful reflections. Here were they at the
king's gates, and on every side environing them were many hostile
cities and tribes of men. Who was there now to furnish them with a
market? Separated from Hellas by more than a thousand miles, they had
not even a guide to point the way. Impassable rivers lay athwart their
homeward route, and hemmed them in. Betrayed even by the Asiatics, at
whose side they had marched with Cyrus to the attack, they were left
in isolation. Without a single mounted trooper to aid them in pursuit:
was it not perfectly plain that if they won a battle, their enemies
would escape to a man, but if they were beaten themselves, not one
soul of them would survive?

Haunted by such thoughts, and with hearts full of despair, but few of
them tasted food that evening; but few of them kindled even a fire,
and many never came into camp at all that night, but took their rest
where each chanced to be. They could not close their eyes for very
pain and yearning after their fatherlands or their parents, the wife
or child whom they never expected to look upon again. Such was the
plight in which each and all tried to seek repose.

Now there was in that host a certain man, an Athenian (1), Xenophon,
who had accompanied Cyrus, neither as a general, nor as an officer,
nor yet as a private soldier, but simply on the invitation of an old
friend, Proxenus. This old friend had sent to fetch him from home,
promising, if he would come, to introduce him to Cyrus, "whom," said
Proxenus, "I consider to be worth my fatherland and more to me."

 (1) The reader should turn to Grote's comments on the first appearance
    of Xenophon. He has been mentioned before, of course, more than
    once before; but he now steps, as the protagonist, upon the scene,
    and as Grote says: "It is in true Homeric vein, and in something
    like Homeric language, that Xenophon (to whom we owe the whole
    narrative of the expedition) describes his dream, or the
    intervention of Oneiros, sent by Zeus, from which this renovating
    impulse took its rise."

 

The Wars of The Jews by Josephus. 2.20.4

4. They also chose other generals for Idumea; Jesus, the son of Sapphias, one of the high priests; and Eleazar, the son of Ananias, the high priest; they also enjoined Niger, the then governor of Idumea, 32 who was of a family that belonged to Perea, beyond Jordan, and was thence called the Peraite, that he should be obedient to those fore-named commanders. Nor did they neglect the care of other parts of the country; but Joseph the son of Simon was sent as general to Jericho, as was Manasseh to Perea, and John, the Esscue, to the toparchy of Thamna; Lydda was also added to his portion, and Joppa, and Emmaus. But John, the son of Matthias, was made governor of the toparchies of Gophnitica and Acrabattene; as was Josephus, the son of Matthias, of both the Galilees. Gamala also, which was the strongest city in those parts, was put under his command.

De Bello Gallico by Caesar

VII.—When it was reported to Caesar that they were attempting to make their route through our Province, he hastens to set out from the city, and, by as great marches as he can, proceeds to Further Gaul, and arrives at Geneva. He orders the whole Province [to furnish] as great a number of soldiers as possible, as there was in all only one legion in Further Gaul: he orders the bridge at Geneva to be broken down. When the Helvetii are apprised of his arrival, they send to him, as ambassadors, the most illustrious men of their state (in which embassy Numeius and Verudoctius held the chief place), to say “that it was their intention to march through the Province without doing any harm, because they had” [according to their own representations] “no other route:—that they requested they might be allowed to do so with his consent.” Caesar, inasmuch as he kept in remembrance that Lucius Cassius, the consul, had been slain, and his army routed and made to pass under the yoke by the Helvetii, did not think that [their request] ought to be granted; nor was he of opinion that men of hostile disposition, if an opportunity of marching through the Province were given them, would abstain from outrage and mischief. Yet, in order that a period might intervene, until the soldiers whom he had ordered [to be furnished] should assemble, he replied to the ambassadors, that he would take time to deliberate; if they wanted anything, they might return on the day before the ides of April [on April 12th].

We are quite amused to learn that Norman thinks it amusing that Josephus wrote The Wars of the Jews. Of course, he’d think that’s a ridiculous idea, but if we follow his standards, then Josephus did not write the book.

Norman also acknowledges that most scholars think the Gospels are late first century works, but considers this unlikely because the epistles don’t refer to them (Why should they?) and they aren’t mentioned until the second century. Of course, we could ask when the first reference to books like Isaiah, Daniel, or the writings of Moses take place and see how well they hold up by Norman’s standards.

Norman misses the point that many ways are used to judge when a work is written beyond “When is it first referenced?” We look for internal evidences and matters such as that. You will not see any interaction with the other side such as Blomberg or Bauckham or anyone else. More information would be damaging to Norman’s case. It’s better to go with the sensational mythicists.

Norman also claims that the Gospels were not by eyewitnesses. He has a quotation from Eusebius about pious frauds which proves nothing of that sort. All it says is several frauds showed up. By this standard, we could say all money is fake because there is plenty of counterfeit money. He then goes on to quote Robert Taylor in the 19th century who was not taken seriously in his own day and just has an assertion. Again, no interaction with Bauckham.

He then quotes Josh McDowell who talks about the differences in manuscripts and says that only 50 variant readings of the Bible at his time were of great significance. Norman in true fundamentalist form jumps to modern times and asks if someone would trust a medical textbook where there were only fifty passages of doubt. Today, textbooks are printed by machine and copied that way so there is no chance of error, but Norman doesn’t know how textual criticism works. We do have differences. They are unavoidable.

Norman tells us that by contrast, after 1948 thousands of Torah scrolls were brought to the public and aside from some in Yemen, there were no differences among the manuscripts. He gives no evidence of this claim. There is no mention of comparing the Masoretic text to the Dead Sea Scrolls. There is no mention of when our earliest manuscript of the Old Testament is or how far the distance is from that manuscript to the time of writing. Without any citation for this claim, I have no reason to take it seriously.

The next chapter is on the birth narratives not agreeing. Norman is hanging his hat on inerrancy. I have no wish to enter into that debate at this point, but I recommend the reader go to his library and look up the commentaries on this issue.

He also then goes to say the Gospels don’t agree on the names of the disciples. (Don’t you love this argument? The names disagree, therefore Jesus didn’t rise from the dead! Or even further, the names disagree, therefore Jesus never existed!) Norman is not aware that the same person could have two different names in antiquity. We also have no need to comment on the accounts of the death of Jesus supposedly being contradictory.

It’s important to state that I say this not because inerrancy doesn’t matter, but because this becomes a game of “Stump-The-Christian.” By conceding to that debate, one agrees that Christianity hinges on inerrancy. I make no statement like that. I only want to go for the main question. Did Jesus rise from the dead?

We’ll also then skip the resurrection accounts being contradictory as the case does not rely on the accounts of the Gospels. It is worthwhile to point out that Norman says the trial of Jesus lacks credibility because it violates so many Jewish customs. Norman is only repeating what Christian scholars have said for years. This was an entirely wrongly done trial just to deal with Jesus.

Norman’s case here largely hangs on inerrancy and pays no attention to leading scholarship. He is fine with 19th century works and works not accepted by the scholarly community today. We hope that one day he will get past this, but it seems unlikely.

But the worst is yet to come….

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

Book Plunge: 26 Reasons Why Jews Don’t Believe In Jesus Part 5

What are we to make of Paul? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

If you had thought we were into flights of fancy before with Asher Norman in his book, we have reached new heights with this one. Norman presents some of the worst eisegesis that you will come across. I do realize that there are many Jews who are opposed to Christianity and do want to read anti-missionary material. Please do consider another source. This chapter on Paul will leave a lot of Christian readers stunned at the way Norman twists the New Testament. (Of course, he has nothing but condemnation if he thinks we do that with the old, but it’s okay to do that with the New.)

Let’s start with the idea that Paul believed the ends justifies the means. Norman gives us some Scripture for this. He starts with Romans 3 with verses 5 and 7-8:

But if our unrighteousness brings out God’s righteousness more clearly,what shall we say? That God is unjust in bringing his wrath on us? (I am using a human argument.)

Someone might argue, “If my falsehood enhances God’s truthfulness and so increases his glory, why am I still condemned as a sinner?” Why not say—as some slanderously claim that we say—“Let us do evil that good may result”? Their condemnation is just!

Let’s look at the whole passage. We’ll go with verses 1-8:

What advantage, then, is there in being a Jew, or what value is there in circumcision? Much in every way! First of all, the Jews have been entrusted with the very words of God.

What if some were unfaithful? Will their unfaithfulness nullify God’s faithfulness? Not at all! Let God be true, and every human being a liar.As it is written:

“So that you may be proved right when you speak
    and prevail when you judge.”

But if our unrighteousness brings out God’s righteousness more clearly,what shall we say? That God is unjust in bringing his wrath on us? (I am using a human argument.) Certainly not! If that were so, how could God judge the world? Someone might argue, “If my falsehood enhances God’s truthfulness and so increases his glory, why am I still condemned as a sinner?” Why not say—as some slanderously claim that we say—“Let us do evil that good may result”? Their condemnation is just!

Norman has been outright dishonest by removing the sixth verse which shows that Paul disagrees thoroughly. Romans is often seen as a sort of dialogue epistle with Paul interacting with an interlocutor throughout and quoting what he thinks his opponent will say. These are not the views of Paul. It’s rather funny that Norman accuses Christians of doing to the Old Testament the very thing he does to the New Testament.

Next we go to 2 Corinthians 12:16:

Be that as it may, I have not been a burden to you. Yet, crafty fellow that I am, I caught you by trickery!

Again, the whole passage, 11-21:

11 I have made a fool of myself, but you drove me to it. I ought to have been commended by you, for I am not in the least inferior to the “super-apostles,” even though I am nothing. 12 I persevered in demonstrating among you the marks of a true apostle, including signs, wonders and miracles. 13 How were you inferior to the other churches, except that I was never a burden to you? Forgive me this wrong!

14 Now I am ready to visit you for the third time, and I will not be a burden to you, because what I want is not your possessions but you. After all, children should not have to save up for their parents, but parents for their children. 15 So I will very gladly spend for you everything I have and expend myself as well. If I love you more, will you love me less? 16 Be that as it may, I have not been a burden to you. Yet, crafty fellow that I am, I caught you by trickery! 17 Did I exploit you through any of the men I sent to you? 18 I urged Titus to go to you and I sent our brother with him. Titus did not exploit you, did he? Did we not walk in the same footsteps by the same Spirit?

19 Have you been thinking all along that we have been defending ourselves to you? We have been speaking in the sight of God as those in Christ; and everything we do, dear friends, is for your strengthening.20 For I am afraid that when I come I may not find you as I want you to be, and you may not find me as you want me to be. I fear that there may be discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, slander, gossip,arrogance and disorder. 21 I am afraid that when I come again my God will humble me before you, and I will be grieved over many who have sinned earlier and have not repented of the impurity, sexual sin and debauchery in which they have indulged.

Norman apparently hasn’t learned about something called “sarcasm.” Does he really think Paul is going to confess to openly tricking the Corinthians in a letter trying to regain favor with them in light of the super-apostles? Not at all. In fact, he’s saying just the opposite. He was good to them always and was never a burden to them. Obviously, he had to be up to something!

Finally, Philippians 1:18:

But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.

Again, starting at verse 15 and going through 18 shows a different picture:

15 It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. 16 The latter do so out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. 17 The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. 18 But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.

Paul is acknowledging that some people preach Christ in an attempt to cause trouble for Paul. Paul can’t do anything about this but instead turns it back on them. “What do I care? I’m not doing this for me. I’m doing this for Christ and you all are proclaiming Christ so thank you very much!”

Norman is also convinced Paul lied about being a Pharisee since he worked for the high priest and was never a student of Gamaliel since Paul opposed the Law. (Which he really didn’t, but that thing called the Damascus Road experience did change some views) He also speculates that Paul was a failed convert to Judaism. Will you find any scholarly backing for any of this? Nope. Just Norman’s imagination. In fact, his main source is the Ebionites later on who wrote about Paul wanting to marry the daughter of the high priest. He got turned down and in a rage turned on Judaism.

Evidence for this? None.

We move on to Paul’s Damascus Road experience and here, we are not shocked that Norman thinks that he’s surprised us all by saying there are three different accounts of what happened. Yes. Sometimes the story has some differences in it based on who is telling it and who the audience is. One fact to be sure of is Luke is no fool as he writes this. He knows what has happened. It’s quite likely he’s going for some variety. Of course, there are any number of commentaries Norman could have checked and any number of explanations for this, but no. Norman only saves that research for the Old Testament.

If this wasn’t enough, Norman thinks he’s caught Luke plagiarizing. Why? Because the experience account contains the saying “kick against the goads.” Why that also shows up in The Bacchae of Euripides! Luke is a plagiarizer!

Or maybe Luke is quoting a common idiom which was referring to resisting the will of the deity. Suppose I’m a pastor of a church about to send missionaries to an unreached part of the world. I could get in a pulpit and say “For Jesus, we are about to boldly go where no man has gone before!” No one would accuse me of plagiarizing Star Trek. They would understand the theme that I am pointing to.

Norman goes on to say that Paul was lying about being with Gamaliel because, hey, look at how Paul describes himself in Titus 3:3.

At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another.

First off, since Paul has several Gentiles with him in the writing of the letter, this isn’t a shock. He doesn’t say “I.” He says “We.” Second, Paul is speaking more about spiritual understanding. Christ did indeed add something to Paul.

If you think this is something unbelievable, it gets worse. This next one is so bad that I nearly threw the book up in exasperation when I read it. Let’s give the text first. It’s Galatians 2:19-20:

19 “For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God. 20 I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Followed by 6:17:

17 From now on, let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus.

Norman’s conclusion? Paul sees himself as the alter ego of Jesus.

No. I’m not making that up. Really. I’m not. He really says this.

What Norman misses is that Paul lived in a world where individualism was not the way. Paul would identify himself with his group. In this case, Paul chose to identify with Christ. Paul had his identity wrapped up in Christ and was to live imitating Him. His life was to be for Christ and when he got persecuted, He was just following in the footsteps of Jesus. Despite this, Norman thinks this is better seen as Paul showing mental instability. The instability here is Norman with scholarship about the Greco-Roman world.

Norman then goes on to make the case that Paul didn’t get the Gospel from the apostles. This is hardly a shock to anyone who has read Galatians. Of course, he leaves out that the apostles added nothing to him when he presented himself to them.

Norman goes on to argue that Jesus’s disciples didn’t accept Paul. He goes to Acts 9:26 for this:

26 When he came to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple.

A brief thinking on this will show the problem. Disciples means anyone who followed Jesus in this context. It does not mean one of the twelve. To show this, let’s plug in the definition for the twelve here.

“When he came to Jerusalem, he tried to join the twelve, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was one of the twelve.”

“Hey Peter. Can you remind us again? We’ve been together for at least four years here. Was this guy always one of us? I don’t remember.”

Also, let’s not be surprised that the followers of Jesus were surprised that Paul said he was a follower of Jesus. This would be like a Christian church in the Middle East being suspicious of that known ISIS member wanting to join the church saying he’s become a Christian. It’s not a shock that Norman leaves out that Barnabas changed their minds. We know Norman’s game now. Evidence that doesn’t suit his case is thrown out and treated as non-existent.

Norman also says that the apostles had to have appointment letters from James to show they are an apostle. His source for this is a rejected Gospel called the PseduoClementine Recognitions. Norman doesn’t point out that this isn’t a Gospel, that it was written by those the church held were heretics at the time, and that it dates to the fourth century. After all, fourth century documents are far better at judging first century events.

Norman then goes on to quote 2 Corinthians 3:

Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, like some people, letters of recommendation to you or from you? You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everyone.

If you’re going with Norman, you won’t find this verse. He lists it as verse 6. (Honestly, I wonder if Norman has ever read the New Testament or just read about it.) What he doesn’t realize is that letters of recommendation were all about status in those days with a higher honor person giving a recommend for a lower honor one. It’s not about a secret club the apostles had. He gives other verses as well, but none of them show what he wants them to show.

Norman also says Paul did miracles, but since he taught a different God, then this means he was a false apostle. Norman has not shown that this is a diffferent God. Throughout, we’ve shown his understanding of the Trinity is dreadfully lacking.

Norman also says that Paul taught a different Gospel and a different Jesus. We start with 2 Corinthians 11 and verses 4 and 13.

For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the Spirit you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough.

For such people are false apostles,deceitful workers, masquerading as apostles of Christ.

Of course, all of this depends on these apostles being the same as those of the twelve. This has not been shown. Many people were called apostles who were not of the twelve. Norman gives no evidence that what he asserts is the case.

1 Corinthians 4:15-16:

15 Even if you had ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel. 16 Therefore I urge you to imitate me.

Are you wanting to know how this shows Paul taught a different Gospel?

So am I.

Norman gives no explanation.

Galatians 1:6-9:

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse!

As expected, Norman ignores entirely that in this very chapter, Jesus’s own apostles have no problem with the message that Paul is preaching. If anyone wants to check Norman’s claims, just go back and read the verses he gives. It’s easy enough to make any case when you just cherry-pick. I once again shudder to think that this man is a lawyer.

We already looked at Norman’s claim that Paul believed the end justifies the means. There’s one more passage he adds to that. It’s one commonly used and that’s 1 Corinthians 9:19-23:

19 Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.

No doubt, Norman would be outraged at missionaries visiting Japan who take their shoes off in someone’s home even though they never do that at home! How deceptive! How dare you actually live like the people you are trying to reach! This is all Paul is saying. He does say he’s under the law of Christ so he can’t do everything he wants to do, but he does say that if he wants to reach Jews, he abides by the Law. If he’s with Gentiles, he lives more freely.

Many passages Norman quotes also with Paul’s statements about the law also come from Hebrews. While some think Paul was the writer of Hebrews, there’s no hard proof of this. Norman also thinks that Paul was wrong when he said the law can’t make anyone perfect. Apparently, Norman thinks there were sinless people walking around in the past. King Solomon disagreed but hey, Norman knows better.

Norman also says that Paul lied about his opposition to Torah. (His supposed opposition.) For this, he goes to two passages. First, Acts 24:14:

However, I admit that I worship the God of our ancestors as a follower of the Way, which they call a sect. I believe everything that is in accordance with the Law and that is written in the Prophets,

Norman leaves out the first part of this verse, but what’s the problem? I could say this as a Gentile. I have no problem with it. No Christian should. It doesn’t mean we follow the Law, but we realize the purpose of it and agree with it.

Acts 25:8:

Then Paul made his defense: “I have done nothing wrong against the Jewish law or against the temple or against Caesar.”

Again, the problem? It’s not like Paul brought a pig and sacrificed it in front of the temple. Paul abided by the Law in Jerusalem.

Norman also thinks Acts 21 is a clincher. James, after all, has Paul take a purification vow.  This isn’t James giving orders to Paul. It’s James being the middleman. James is in the position of trying to tell Jews they don’t have to be Gentiles to be Christians. Paul is doing the opposite. He’s telling Gentiles they don’t have to be Jews. Now Paul has shown up with a lot of money due to the collection being taken among the churches for Jerusalem and with some Gentiles in tow. Paul is to show his solidarity with his fellow Jews by taking part in this ritual, which he agrees with.

Norman also argues that the Jews thought Paul was a heretic. Again, no major point to make here. Not much of a shock.

Finally, we conclude with the idea that Paul was a Roman agent still in his ministry. Evidence of this? Well in Romans 16, he greets Aristobulus who could have been the grandson of Herod. Naturally, that would mean that he had to walk in lockstep with Herod for Norman. The same with the greeting of Herodian. Paul also greeted all the Christians in the household of Caesar in Philippians. It’s ignored that the city of Philippi was a Roman colony and Christians there could be of the household of Caesar.

Norman also points out that Paul was protected by 470 Roman troops when being transported in Acts. Paul must have been someone important! Norman isn’t aware that the roads back then weren’t known for safety and that with mass riots just having taken place in Jerusalem and forty known men being in a conspiracy to kill Paul with the possibility of even more that is unknown, the Romans didn’t want to take chances.

Paul also taught submission to Roman authority, but this is hardly a shock either. Would Norman have preferred that Paul taught open revolt? What’s so awful about saying to be a good citizen insofar as you can?

Norman’s arguments are woefully lacking and we haven’t even got to the worst in the book. We’ll see more next time when Norman looks at the New Testament itself.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: 26 Reasons Why Jews Don’t Believe In Jesus Part 2

Is there a bad relationship between Jesus and the Torah? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

We’re continuing the book 26 Reasons Why Jews Don’t Believe In Jesus today. I have to tell you as I am nearing the end of the book, that this is a horrible book. There are people who can critique Christianity who I naturally disagree with, but they know how to do research and do present arguments worthy of consideration. Asher Norman is not one of them. If I was to give a demonstration to a class in apologetics on how NOT to go after Christianity, Norman’s book would be an excellent example.

At the start of this section, on page 28 in describing how Jesus answered the rich young ruler with “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone”, Norman says this directly undermines the doctrine of the trinity because it implies Jesus did not believe He was God. Actually, no. In Jesus’s culture, to accept a compliment in public was to put oneself in debt to the person who gave the compliment. The compliment would be redirected.

For instance, in Luke 11:27-28, we read this after Jesus has refuted the Pharisees.

27 As Jesus was saying these things, a woman in the crowd called out, “Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you.”

28 He replied, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.”

Or look at this in Philippians 4.

10 I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it.11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

14 Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles. 15 Moreover, as you Philippians know, in the early days of your acquaintance with the gospel, when I set out from Macedonia, not one church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you only; 16 for even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me aid more than once when I was in need.17 Not that I desire your gifts; what I desire is that more be credited to your account. 18 I have received full payment and have more than enough. I am amply supplied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent. They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God. 19 And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.

20 To our God and Father be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

Wow. Paul has just received a gift and he didn’t thank them? Instead, he turned it over to God? What’s going on?

In both cases, receiving a compliment or a gift and just taking it puts you in a reciprocal relationship where you’re in debt to the person who said it. Everything came with strings attached. Had Paul accepted the gift, he would have been bound to help the Philippians in anything. (Hey guys. We’re having a convention and Paul’s in town. You know he’ll be a guest speaker for us.) Had he accepted the compliment from the woman, it would have been seen as grabbing honor and thus shameful.

So what about the rich young ruler? Jesus deflects the compliment and sends it back to God, but at the same time, he is testing the ruler. He is saying “If you think I am good, you are putting me on the level of God. Are you ready for that compliment?” Jesus never denies that He is God and He never even denies that He is good.

Now I have no desire to get into issues of Jesus and Torah. I plan to save that for those who are more learned in that area, but I have to say something on Jesus being a false prophet. This is one of my favorite issues to deal with and entirely predictable.

The first prophecy Jesus gets wrong according to Norman is that Jesus would be in the Earth three days and three nights. Jesus was buried on Friday and raised on Sunday. How is that three days and three nights?

It’s at times like this I know that Norman is not a good researcher. This is even shown regularly in the Old Testament.

Genesis 42:16-18.

16 Send one of you, and let him bring your brother, while you remain confined, that your words may be tested, whether there is truth in you. Or else, by the life of Pharaoh, surely you are spies.” 17 And he put them all together in custody for three days.

18 On the third day Joseph said to them, “Do this and you will live, for I fear God:

1 Sam. 30:12-13.

12 and they gave him a piece of a cake of figs and two clusters of raisins. And when he had eaten, his spirit revived, for he had not eaten bread or drunk water for three days and three nights. 13 And David said to him, “To whom do you belong? And where are you from?” He said, “I am a young man of Egypt, servant to an Amalekite, and my master left me behind because I fell sick three days ago.

Esther 4:16-5:1

16 “Go, gather all the Jews to be found in Susa, and hold a fast on my behalf, and do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my young women will also fast as you do. Then I will go to the king, though it is against the law, and if I perish, I perish.” 17 Mordecai then went away and did everything as Esther had ordered him.

On the third day Esther put on her royal robes and stood in the inner court of the king’s palace, in front of the king’s quarters, while the king was sitting on his royal throne inside the throne room opposite the entrance to the palace.

In all of these cases, something is done for three days and yet takes place on the third day. What is going on? In Jewish thought, part of a day would count as a whole day. This is a consistent reading of even these passages. Had Norman just done some basic looking he would have found this. Most any commentary on the passage in question could have included some statement on this.

Of course, Norman goes on to give his great understanding of the Trinity by asking “How can the prophet be the messenger of God and God Himself?” Of course, no reference to a passage like Genesis 18, but Norman misses a simple answer. The Son can be a messenger on behalf of the Father. Whew! That was difficult!

Still, my favorite is the one that is always gone to. Jesus was wrong about the time of His return. We wish to ask Norman where it is in the text that Jesus says anything about a return. Keep in mind, Jesus was alive and with His apostles who were not expecting a death much less a death, resurrection, and then absence. They were expecting Jesus to take His throne and the destruction of the temple would be a good sign that God was active. What did they ask for? The sign of His coming. Coming where?

Has Norman never read Daniel 7?

13 “In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. 14 He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.

Take a look. Where is it that the Son of Man is coming to? The Ancient of Days is not on Earth. He’s in Heaven. The Son of Man is not coming to Earth in the Olivet Discource. He’s coming to the Father. This is about Jesus’s vindication. The great sign of this was the destruction of the temple which happened in 70 A.D. The language of the account is written in Jewish apocalyptic language such as Isaiah 13 where earthly political events were described in cosmic terminology.

All of this happened within one generation.

Norman also asks why Mark refers to Zechariah 13 which he says is about a false shepherd being struck and identifying Jesus as that shepherd. Unfortunately, Norman is not familiar with Jewish methods of Biblical interpretation in the time of the apostles. (I find it incredible that I, a Gentile, have to point this out to someone described as an expert in Jewish-Christian polemics.) This would have been acceptable to take one part, even a part that didn’t seem to fit the context, and find a parallel in one’s own time. Still, it’s important to note that Zechariah 13 ends in restoration. The shepherd is struck now, yes, but in the end, the people of God will be restored.

Finally, we’ll look at the section on Jesus not being a good person. The first one is that Jesus misquoted the Torah and got his facts wrong. In Matthew 23, he refers to Zechariah, son of Barchiah. Norman replies that he was the son of Jehoida. The problem is that there are a number of solutions. If any of these could work, then the problem is resolved and one gives the benefit of the doubt to the writer with the principle of charity.

Is this the Zechariah in the Old Testament? Maybe not. Perhaps there was another Zechariah killed. Is this Matthew skipping generations? That could be. That was acceptable in his time. Could Jehoida be another name for Barchiah? That’s also possible. There are even more solutions than this.

There’s also the error of Mark supposedly in referring to high priest Abiathar. Unfortunately, neither Abiathar or Ahimelech are described as high priests. Jesus is instead speaking about the great priest Abiathar, who is a much better known figure than Ahimelech.

Norman also says John 7 is in error since no Scripture mentions living water. This is true, and irrelevant. Jesus is not necessarily giving a chapter and verse like we do. He is instead making a paraphrase of a general theme He finds in Scripture.

Norman also looks at passages where God is said to not be a man or a Son of Man. These include Numbers 23:19 and 1 Samuel 15:29.

Numbers 23:19: God is not human, that he should lie,
    not a human being, that he should change his mind.
Does he speak and then not act?
    Does he promise and not fulfill?

1 Samuel 15:29: 29 He who is the Glory of Israel does not lie or changehis mind; for he is not a human being, that he should change his mind.”

These are statements about the moral character of God in that God is trustworthy and reliable. It’s not saying anything about the incarnation. I find it odd that God is infinite to Norman, but incapable of taking on human nature at all. It’s also important to note that the divine nature never became a human nature. The Son took on another nature in addition to His divine one.

In John 18:20, Jesus said He spoke openly and said nothing in secret when questioned by the high priest, but in Mark 5:43, He says that no one should know about what happened with Jairus’s daughter. First off, the latter isn’t an example of teaching. It’s Jesus again avoiding honor-grabbing. Second, the whole point is about the style of teaching. Jesus was a teacher who spoke openly in the synagogues and the Temple. You didn’t have to do something like pay to be a part of a secret class.

Norman also brings up the account of the Syro-Phoenician woman who was begging for her daughter to be healed of a demon. His reply is the story is not “godlike.” (One wonders what he has to think about what God has to say about the pagans in the OT. Perhaps YHWH isn’t very godlike.)

My suspicion is that Jesus is testing the prejudice of His own disciples and then seeing how far the lady is willing to go. How much does she want this healing? A much fuller look at this can be found here.

Norman then goes on to say that much of Jesus’s Wisdom and teachings, isn’t original with Him. It can be found elsewhere.

And?

Wow. Jesus, who was a Jew, spoke teachings from the Jewish Bible. Details at 11 everyone!

Norman also points to morally problematic statements about Jesus. Noteworthy is Luke 19:27 with the instruction to bring those who didn’t want Him to be king and kill them before Him. Is that really what Jesus said? I don’t think any better answer can be given than the one that David Wood gave to Sam Harris.

A couple of these statements He finds problematic are the ones about “He who is not for me is against me” and such. These I will just say that as the initiator of the covenant of God, Jesus is the breaking point. If you do not accept God’s covenant, then you are against Jesus. It’s really an incredible statement from Jesus showing how He viewed Himself but only a problem if He was wrong.

Norman goes to Luke 22:36 where Jesus instructed his disciples to sell their garments and buy swords. One would think if this was literal, when presented with two swords Jesus would not say “It is enough” but would say “What?! Are you crazy?! Every single one of you needs one!” I have looked at this passage here.

What about Matthew 10:34 where Jesus says He came not to bring peace but a sword? Norman says this is not allegorical since one of Jesus’s disciples did have a sword. Yep. One of Jesus’s disciples acting in a way Jesus immediately condemned shows that this has to be a literal message.

You can’t make this kind of stuff up.

Finally, let’s look at a great favorite. Luke 14. We are to hate our father and mother. Norman acknowledges that some see this as a comparative statement saying that everything else must be secondary to Jesus, but just dismisses it without an explanation. It is said to be a dubious claim. I find the claim dubious that Norman knows what he’s talking about.

Norman also says that Jesus taught others to turn the other cheek, but He didn’t do that in John 18. The difference is Jesus is talking about a personal insult and saying end the cycle of retaliation. He’s not saying to literally turn immediately and ask for another slap. He’s saying to reply peacefully.

Jesus also apparently did not bless His enemies, as in the cursings on Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum. Jesus’s listeners would have understood Him not as speaking personally, but as pronouncing the judgment of God as a prophet. If Norman wants to condemn this, then He needs to explain since Jesus’s teachings came from the Torah why most prophets who did the same would be including in the Old Testament since they violated Torah.

When we get to the issue of the fig tree, I have to say I find a new one here entirely. Norman says Jesus sinned by destroying the fig tree. Why? Deuteronomy 20 condemns it. Let’s look at verse 19 that Norman points to of the passage.

When you lay siege to a city for a long time, fighting against it to capture it, do not destroy its trees by putting an ax to them, because you can eat their fruit. Do not cut them down. Are the trees people, that you should besiege them?

So unless Jesus was participating in a siege, there is no condemnation in the passage against Him killing a fig tree. How is it that Norman, who should be more familiar with the OT, can misinterpret His own Bible so badly?

Jesus also sinned against the Pharisees by making publicly true negative statements about them. Again, one would have to wonder what Norman would do with much of the OT that makes publicly true negative statements about the Jews, many of them coming from God Himself. Perhaps God is not very godlike.

Jesus also sinned by ordering disciples to not bury their father and mother. The problem is that in this case, the father was still very much alive most likely. The would-be disciple was saying “Once I take care of my family duties, I’ll serve the Kingdom of God.” Jesus is saying God’s Kingdom has to come first.

It’s a shame Norman disagrees with the Kingdom of God coming first.

Norman also has Jesus being baptized as an example that He was a sinner. This is supposed to be a problem for the Trinity since God would have to be sinless, but Norman says the Gospel engaged in damage control by having John say Jesus should baptize him. (One would think the best way of damage control would be to not even mention the story altogether.) This is really simple. Jesus got baptized as a public statement of His devotion to serving God.

Jesus also said that if you call your brother a fool, you are in danger of hellfire, but Jesus called the Pharisees that in Matthew 23. Again, does Norman not read? The Pharisees are not the brothers of Jesus. He is starting His own in-group with Israel centered around Him. The Pharisees are outsiders.

Our next look will be the claim that Jesus was not the Messiah or deity.

But please, if you want to be an anti-missionary, be one. I disagree, but that’s your choice. Just please don’t be as bad a researcher as Asher Norman.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

 

Dear Freethinkers

What do I have to say to those espousing freethinking? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Dear Freethinkers,

I want to write to you today because I’m frankly confused by what I see of you. You see, you claim to hold to no statements of faith. You claim that by being a skeptic, the only position you have to have is to not affirm the existence of God. You claim that there are no doctrines to your position. Despite all of this, most all of you seem to think remarkably exactly alike.

You all come right out of the gates often with one of your favorite mantras. “No evidence.” Are you really thinking this? Are you thinking that every theist and Christian in history has just never considered that they have no evidence for what they believe? Sure, you might meet a layman like that, but do you really think everyone is like that?

When it comes to talking about God, we are told there is no evidence. Is that really supposed to convince us? You see, some of us read these things called “books.” We don’t rely on Google, YouTube, and Wikipedia. We also read books that disagree with us. When we say we believe in God, we do so because we are convinced that that is where the arguments lead. In fact, while we agree on the conclusion, we can disagree on the arguments. Some people like the ontological argument. I don’t. I like the Thomistic arguments. Some don’t. Some people think scientific apologetics works well. I disagree. That’s okay.

In fact, this is what real thinking is all about. Real thinking is not just seeing if you find a conclusion that agrees with you. Real thinking is asking if the argument really does have evidence for it that leads to the conclusion. Just because I agree with the conclusion that God exists, it doesn’t mean I agree with the argument given for it. In fact, I daresay I have gone after more Christian apologists using bad arguments than many of you have.

Another favorite one of mine is when you say that there’s no evidence Jesus ever existed. Now perhaps in some cases, atheism could be understandable, such as with the problem of evil, though I do not see that as a defeater at all, but this one really takes the cake. You know what makes this even funnier? So many of you naturally agree among yourselves that creationism is nonsense and we need to listen to the consensus of modern science. Fair enough, but you do the exact opposite with history. You don’t listen to the consensus of modern historians and mock Christians for not listening to the consensus of modern scientists.

You see, your position is even more of a joke because I can find you a list of scientists who dissent from Darwin. Are they right? Beats me. I don’t argue that issue. If you want to find historians who dissent from the base existence of Jesus, you can count the number on two hands at the most. Note that by historians, I mean people with Ph.D.s in a field relevant to NT studies. I don’t mean just any Joe Blow you can find on the internet.

You may not like it, but as soon as you start espousing mythicism, I immediately have no reason to take you seriously anymore.  I know I’m dealing with someone who doesn’t read the best material. I know this will be a shock, but outside his internet fanbase, Richard Carrier just isn’t taken seriously. You can guarantee you won’t be by hanging on his every word. In fact, as a Christian apologist, I thank God for Richard Carrier. He’s doing a great service by dumbing down his fellow atheists to accept the conspiracy theory of mythicism, and yes. That’s all it is. It ranks right up there with saying the moon landing is a hoax or that 9/11 was an inside job.

Since we briefly spoke about science, let’s go on with that topic. You all seem to think that if something cannot be demonstrated by science, then it is nonsense. It’s as if mankind had no knowledge whatsoever and never knew anything until science came along. This gets even funnier when you talk about miracles. “We know today that virgins don’t give birth, that people don’t walk on water, and that people don’t rise from the dead.” You really think people didn’t know that stuff back then? You think they were just ignorant? Sure, they weren’t doing experiments and such, but they knew basic facts that we wouldn’t disagree with. You don’t have to be a world-class scientist to know that when someone dies, you bury them, or that it takes sex to make a baby. They all knew this.

The fact is that we don’t really have a beef with science. We might disagree on what is scientific and what isn’t. There are Christians who have no problem with evolution. There are Christians who do. There are Christians who think the world is billions of years old. There are Christians who don’t. We debate this amongst ourselves. None of us though say that science is bunk and should be disregarded. Perhaps we are misinformed on what is and isn’t science, but we are not opposed to science.

In fact, you never seem to think about what you say about the scientific method. You never pause to ask if the claim that all truth must be shown by the scientific method is itself shown by the scientific method. You don’t even consider that science is an inductive field. Sure, some claims might have more certainty than others, but none of them are absolute claims proven.

I also find it so amusing when you talk about the Bible. You all have the hang-ups that fundamentalist Christians that you condemn do. You think that the Bible absolutely has to be inerrant. Many of us hold to inerrancy, but some of us actually do not, and we debate that. Still, even many of us who hold to inerrancy do not see it as an essential and think Christianity can be true and inerrancy false. For you, the Bible is an all-or-nothing game. Either everything in it is true or none of it is. This is remarkably similar to your position on Jesus where either He was the miracle-working God-man Messiah who rose from the dead or He never existed. Your positions are entirely black and white. There is no shade of gray.

You then throw out 101 Bible contradictions and expect us to keel over immediately. We don’t. Many of these, you’ve never even studied yourself. You’ve just gone to a web site, got a list, and then suddenly thought you were an authority. It never seems to occur to you that in thousands of years of studying the Bible no one has ever seen these before.

When it comes to interpretation, you have a big hang-up on literacy. You think that everything in the Bible has to be “literal” although you have not given any idea of what that means nor have you even bothered to tell us why that must be so. The Bible is a work of literature like many other books and it uses all manner of ways of speaking. It uses metaphor, simile, hyperbole, allegory, etc.

You also seem to think that the Bible has to be immediately understandable to 21st century Western English speakers. God should be clear. Well, why should He? It’s as if you think you are part of the only people who ever lived and God should have made things clear to you immediately without having to do any work whatsoever.

In all of this, you’re just like the fundamentalists you condemn. The difference isn’t your mindset. It’s only your loyalties. You think everything in the book is wrong. They think everything in it is right. None of you really give arguments. It’s just a personal testimony and faith.

And yes, you do have personal testimonies. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve heard “I used to be a Christian, but”. I mean, do you want me to break out a chorus of “Just As I Am” at that point? It’s like all you used in your Christian days was a personal testimony and today, that’s still all you have. All I normally see is you went from an uninformed Christian to an uninformed skeptic.

As for faith, you never seem to understand it. You’ve bought into all the new atheist gunk that says that faith is believing without evidence. You never bother to consult scholars of the Greek and Hebrew languages to see what the Bible means by the term. What we mean is a trust that is based on that which has shown itself to be reliable.

You would be greatly benefited by going to a library sometime. You see, if all you read are the new atheists, you’re not going to make a dent. You might get some of what is called low-hanging fruit, in that people as uninformed as you are will be convinced, but not people who actually do study this kind of stuff seriously. You think that Google is enough to show you know everything. It isn’t. You don’t know how to sift through information and evaluate it. All you do is look and see if it agrees with you. If it makes Christians or Christianity look stupid, it has to be 100% true.

You should also know this doesn’t describe all atheists and skeptics out there. There are atheists and skeptics that do actually read scholarly works that disagree with them. I can have discussions with them. We can talk about the issues. They can agree easily that Jesus existed without thinking they have to commit ritual suicide at that point. They can have no problem discussing scholarly works. Many of these would even say that while they disagree with Christians, that a Christian can have justification for his belief and is not necessarily an idiot for being a Christian. You could learn a lot from them. Be like them. Don’ live in the bubble of just reading what agrees with you and buying everything you read on the internet. Study and learn.

Until you do this, freethinkers remind me of a slogan someone used years ago that I have taken. It’s not original to me, but I like it. With freethinking, you get what you pay for. Why not pay the price of being an informed thinker by reading and studying. You’re not hurting us by your actions. You’re only hurting yourself and your fellow skeptics.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Why There Is No God. Part 1

What do I think of Armin Navabi’s self-published book? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Someone in an apologetics group I belong to asked if anyone had read this book. Myself, being the type who wants to be there to help my fellow apologists out, decided to get it at the library. Who knows? Maybe I have some masochist streak in me. The book goes through twenty arguments for God’s existence from an atheist who used to be a Muslim.

It describes itself as a thorough examination, yet the book is just about 125 pages long and looks at, as I said, twenty arguments. I have no idea how you can give a thorough treatment with that. In fact, it’s so short that you could easily read it in a day’s time.

Of course, don’t be expecting to find anything of real substance in here. Much of it is the modern fundamentalism relying on today’s atheist heroes who are just as much fundamentalist. If you’re also expecting to have him interact with the best arguments, like those of Aquinas, well you know without my saying it the answer to that.

I have decided to investigate five arguments a day. Keep in mind a lot of these arguments are arguments that I would not use. Still, even when critiquing a bad argument, we can learn much about Navabi’s approach. Let’s go ahead and dive in.

Argument #1: Science can’t explain the complexity and order of life; God must have designed it this way.

Many of you know I’m not one up for Intelligent Design arguments. If I go with design, it’s the teleological design in the fifth way of Aquinas. (btw, Navabi shows his ignorance here by saying Paley introduced the design argument in 1802 when really, arguments of design go all the way back to even the time of Christ.) Navabi starts with a claim that it used to be that many natural forces were attributed to deities. While this is so, I think many atheists make a false assumption here. Since these were explained by deities, the deities were invented to explain these. That doesn’t follow. Why not that the deities were already thought to be there and that they were assigned these by their worshipers in order to explain how they take place?

Many of you also know that as a Christian apologist, I have no problem with evolution. If you just say evolution explains it, I’m not going to bat an eye. That’s because a question is being answered that I think doesn’t answer the main question for Christianity in any way. Before we go to the next question, we have to address the main argument that Navabi puts forward that we were all expecting.

“If complexity requires a creator, who created God?”

This is Richard Dawkins’s main argument and so many atheists bounce around this Sunday School question as if no one in Christian history ever thought about it. When we talk about something needing a cause, what we really mean is potential being made actual.

What?

Okay. As I write this now, I am sitting at my computer. Suppose my wife calls me and wants something from me. If I agree, I will stand up and go to her. I can do that because while sitting, I have the potential to stand. Once I stand, I have the potential to sit, or lie down, or jump, or do any number of things. Actuality is what is. Potentiality can be seen as a capacity for change.

When any change takes place in anything, that means a potentiality has been turned into an actuality. As I write this, my wife is in the living room watching Stranger Things for the third time. The change is happening on the screen because of signals that are being received from somewhere else through Netflix. (Don’t ask me to explain how it works.)

Now many of us could see this cause and effect going on and say it makes sense. (In fact, it’s essential for science.) Still, we might ask about our own actions. Aren’t we the cause? Do we need anything beyond us? A Thomistic response is to say yes. What we do we do because of something external to us driving us towards it and that is the good. We either want the good and pursue it or refuse it and rebel against it.

What does this have to do with God? For us to say God has a cause, we would have to show that there was some change that took place in the nature of God. If there wasn’t, then there is nothing in Him needing a cause. The universe we know undergoes change so something has to be the cause of the change in the universe.

But isn’t God complex? Actually, no. Note that I am talking about complexity in His being. I am not talking about God being simple to understand. In Thomistic thought, God is the only being whose very essence is to be. There is no distinction between being and essence. You and I are all human. There is a human nature that is given existence and then that for us is combined with matter that separates us from one another. Angels, meanwhile, are each all their own nature and that nature is granted existence. There is no matter that separates them so they differ by their nature. God alone is no combination. Because of this, He doesn’t need a cause.

That’s pretty complex. If you want to read more about this, I really recommend the writings of Edward Feser. He’s quite good at explaining Thomistic concepts for the layman, and I’d say much better than I am at it.

Argument #2: God’s existence is proven by Scripture.

Navabi gives many of the same fundamentalist arguments here that we’ve come to expect. Naturally, it begins with talking about inconsistencies in Scripture. After all, many times the way that a Christian approaches inerrancy can be the same way that a fundamentalist atheist does.

A favorite one to start with is creation. After all, no one ever noticed that the sun comes after plants in the creation account. You don’t really need to ask if Navabi will interact with any arguments. Young-Earthers and Old-Earthers both have said something, but for people like Navabi, just raise the objection. That’s enough. For what it’s worth, I prefer John Walton’s stance.

Let’s also look at some supposed controversies on the resurrection accounts. Here is the first one.

Matthew 27:57-60.

57 When the even was come, there came a rich man of Arimathaea, named Joseph, who also himself was Jesus’ disciple:

58 He went to Pilate and begged the body of Jesus. Then Pilate commanded the body to be delivered.

59 And when Joseph had taken the body, he wrapped it in a clean linen cloth,

60 And laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn out in the rock: and he rolled a great stone to the door of the sepulcher, and departed.

Acts 13:27-29.

27 For they that dwell at Jerusalem and their rulers, because they knew him not, nor yet the voices of the prophets which are read every sabbath day, they have fulfilled them in condemning him.

28 And though they found no cause of death in him, yet desired they Pilate that he should be slain.

29 And when they had fulfilled all that was written of him, they took him down from the tree and laid him in a sepulcher.

Did you see the contradiction?

Navabi wants us to say that in one account, Joseph buries Jesus. In another, the people do. It’s amazing that this one is put forward as anything serious. Joseph was among the people who did crucify Jesus, though he was a secret sympathizer. His action of burying Jesus would be seen as the Sanhedrin providing for his burial. How is this a contradiction?

There’s also how many figures were seen at the tomb and how many women there were. The basic replies work well enough here that some writers chose to focus on one man or angel instead of pointing out two. I think the women mentioned were the ones alive at the time who could be eyewitnesses.

To be fair, the dating of the crucifixion between John and the Synoptics is a live one. I have no firm conclusion on this, but also it doesn’t affect me either way. The basic facts about the historical Jesus do not hang on this. Scholars do not doubt that Jesus was crucified at the time of Passover.

I will have no comment on what Navabi says on the Quran. I will leave that to the experts in Islam.

When we go back to the Bible, Navabi throws out that the writings were based on oral tradition and written decades or centuries later. Well with the New Testament, I don’t know any scholar who says centuries later. Navabi also doesn’t bother to investigate oral tradition and how well it works or how much later other ancient works were then the events they describe. Neither will many of his atheist readers, you know, the people who talk about loving evidence so much. (Except for claims that agree with them of course.)

And then there’s the claim that the books are anonymous and we don’t know who wrote them. His source for this is Ehrman’s Jesus Interrupted. I have written a reply to that here. It would be good for Navabi to explain how he knows how other anonymous works in the ancient world were written by the people they’re ascribed to and to actually investigate the arguments for traditional authorship, but don’t be expecting that.

Argument #3. Some unexplained events are miraculous, and these miracles prove the existence of God.

This chapter is quite poor, which is saying a lot for a work like this. A miracle is described as an improbable event. You won’t find any interaction with Craig Keener’s Miracles even though this came out after that did. We’re told that a problem with miracles is that they’re unfalsifiable, which is quite odd since so many skeptics make it a habit of disproving miracle claims.

Suppose someone walks into your church service who has been blind all their life. A member of your church comes forward and says to them “God told me to come and pray for you” and ends a prayer saying “In the name of Jesus, open your eyes” and the person has their eyes open. Are you justified in believing a miracle has taken place? I think you definitely are.

These are the events that we want to be explained. If Navabi wants to say miracles cannot happen, then he needs to make a real argument for that. If he wants to say they have never happened, then he needs to be able to show his exhaustive knowledge of all history. Can he do that? After all, his claim is quite grand and could be hard to “falsify” since we don’t have access to all knowledge of all history.

Argument #4. Morality stems from God, and without God, we could not be good people.

While the moral argument is a valid one, never underestimate the ability of atheistic writers to fail to understand an argument. Navabi’s first point is that morals change. However, if morals change, can we really speak of objective truths? Those are unchanging things. If morality just becomes doing whatever people of the time say is good, then congratulations. We do what we think is good and congratulate ourselves on doing what we already agree with.

As expected, Navabi trots out Euthyphro. This is the question of if something is good because God wills it, or does God will it because it’s good. Again, atheists bring up this argument found in Plato completely ignoring that it was answered by Aristotle, his student, in defining what the good itself is. When atheists bring this forward, I never see them define what goodness itself is. We could just as well ask “Is something good because we think it is, or do we think it is because it is good?” Everyone has to answer Euthyphro unless they define goodness separately.

This is followed by the problem of evil. There are more than enough good resources out there for someone wanting more. I am including some interviews I have hosted on my show about the topic that can be found here, here, and here.

Navabi concludes with a natural explanation of morality to the tune that it evolved. Unfortunately, this doesn’t explain things because there has to be a standard of good we have in mind by which we recognize a good action. Goodness is not a material property that comes about through evolution. It is something we discover much like laws of nature or logic.

Argument #5 Belief in God would not be so widespread if God didn’t exist.

This is not an argument I would make, but there are some examples of bad thinking here. Navabi says that if God was revealing the world religions, wouldn’t we expect them to have more in common? Unfortunately, why should I think God is revealing all of them. Could man not believe and make up his own easily enough?

Navabi also says that if these religions are describing the physical world, they can’t all be right, but they could all be wrong. Of course, this isn’t really an argument. One needs to show that all of them are wrong.

Finally, while I don’t use the argument, it does have to be acknowledged that theism is widespread. Given this is the case, why is it that the theistic claims are treated by the atheists as extraordinary claims? Wouldn’t it be the opinion outside of the ordinary, namely that God does not exist, that should be considered as extraordinary?

We’ll go through the next five next time.

In Christ,
Nick Peters