My Thoughts Are Not Your Thoughts

What’s going on in Isaiah 55? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Many times if you see Christians talking about ideas they have, they will often say that God’s thoughts are not our thoughts. Any mystery can be appealed to by going to this passage. Unfortunately, if we follow it to that conclusion, we can often get into some really contradictory messages.

Let’s look at the passage in question in Isaiah 55:8-9.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

Okay. Seems straightforward enough. God’s thoughts are not our thoughts. His ways are not our ways. Yet how far does that go? I have a thought that Jesus is Lord. Is that not what God thinks? I have a thought that 2 + 2 = 4 and that red is a primary color and that English is the language I speak. Does God not think those things?

You see, if we go this route, we can end up with a bunch of nonsense. It’s the idea that if we think something, then automatically God is not thinking it. Now of course, how God thinks something is radically different from how I think it and there are great differences between us, but when it comes to truth, we can think God’s thoughts after Him. It’s what we’re to strive to do.

It’s been said before that if you misunderstand a verse, not only do you misunderstand it, but you also do not get the true understanding. If this is the case, then the true understanding of this could be something great that we’re missing. Indeed, it really is. This passage is a powerful message of forgiveness and we have missed it.

“Come, all you who are thirsty,
    come to the waters;
and you who have no money,
    come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
    without money and without cost.
Why spend money on what is not bread,
    and your labor on what does not satisfy?
Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good,
    and you will delight in the richest of fare.
Give ear and come to me;
    listen, that you may live.
I will make an everlasting covenant with you,
    my faithful love promised to David.
See, I have made him a witness to the peoples,
    a ruler and commander of the peoples.
Surely you will summon nations you know not,
    and nations you do not know will come running to you,
because of the Lord your God,
    the Holy One of Israel,
    for he has endowed you with splendor.”

The passage starts with God as it were wooing His people. he wants them to come to Him. He’s offering His blessings to them regardless of their income level or what they can bring to Him. Yet there is always some hesitancy, and isn’t that often the case? Many people today can be hesitant to come to God because of fear of being judged.

So the passage goes on.

“Seek the Lord while he may be found;
    call on him while he is near.
Let the wicked forsake their ways
    and the unrighteous their thoughts.
Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them,
    and to our God, for he will freely pardon.”

This immediately precedes the idea of my thoughts are not your thoughts or my ways your ways. The question to ask in exegesis is “What is the passage talking about?” It’s talking about God wanting the people to return to Him. Many of them will be thinking “God will judge us. God will destroy us. God will not have mercy on us.” Why would they think that? Because that’s the way life is for them. God is someone to be scared of. God is a judge. God will destroy them and punish them. In essence, God is a big man.

God then says His ways are not their ways and His thoughts are not theirs. Their thoughts are like that, but God’s ways are to forgive and show love and mercy. It’s not to judge.

Do you see what has happened? We’ve taken a passage about love and mercy and now it has been made that most people do not see the love and mercy in it and the way of forgiveness. If anything, we’ve made God virtually unknowable by using this passage. After all, if His thoughts are not mine, then anything I think about God by definition cannot be true nor can anything you think of Him. That would be absurd and self-contradictory. After all, “None of my thoughts about God are true” is itself a thought about God. If none of them can be true then that thought can’t be true and well, it gets confusing from there if you try to keep following it.

Please be watchful of Biblical texts and how they are used. Try to approach the text and see what is going on in the larger context. You might miss a blessing.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

Thoughts on Jeremiah 29:11

What is Jeremiah really saying? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I’m sure we all know the verse.

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

We’ve all seen it on graduation cards and such. It’s such a wonderful and heartfelt message. A graduate opens it up and hears that God has plans to give them hope and a future and to prosper them. As the Church Lady would say, “Well, isn’t that special?”

The intention is good, but is the intention right? I can mean well giving a toddler a lollipop, but if that toddler has diabetes, I could be hurting them greatly. When we see this verse, we need to ask what is really being said.

Simple questions to ask. Who is the you? Who is God speaking to in this passage? What is the situation going on? Sadly, most Christians don’t ask these questions. They just do what’s known as the Baptist reading method of opening up the Bible and thinking it’s all about them and reading whatever verse they come to as a personal message from God.

What’s going on in this passage is Jeremiah is talking about the people that will leave Jerusalem for Babylon to be captives when God judges the city and lets the temple be destroyed. For these people, having the temple destroyed was the ultimate game over. God is done with us. There’s no hope. The covenant is broken. This is also why Jeremiah has passages about a new covenant.

Jeremiah is telling the people who are going into Babylon to stand strong there. Be praying for the good of that city. Ask God to protect that city. God is not done with them. They’re going to get to have another go at this. God will watch over them and bring them back.

In the middle of this is when we get this verse. The thing is that the overwhelming majority of people would never leave Babylon since they would be there around 70 years. Jeremiah is not speaking to them on an individualistic basis. He’s speaking on a national basis.

But does that mean that when we read this passage we just gloss over it? There’s no relevance to us? Not at all. Paul tells us that everything written was for us. Note that it was not written to us, but it was written for us.

So if I was a preacher who was preaching on this passage, what kind of thing would I say?

Probably something like this:

“I want you all to know that this passage might look nice on a graduation card, but that’s not what’s going on. You don’t know what will happen in your graduate’s life. They could go through incredibly hard times. They could go through wonderful times. You don’t know. They could get that card and die in a car accident the next day. Who knows?

What you can know is that when Israel went into exile, they would wonder if God was done with them. Had He abandoned His promises? Jeremiah is assuring them that this is not so. Regardless of how things look, God had made a promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and to David, and He would bring it about.

In the same way, God has made promises to us in Christ. Though we will go through hard times, and they are promised to us, we can be assured that Christ will help us through them. He will honor His covenant to us just like He did to Israel. In the future, He will prosper us in the New Heavens and the New Earth and we do have hope in the resurrection of Jesus and the promise that what happened to Him will happen to us.”

By saying this, I have treated the historical context fair, I have not individualized it, and I have brought it to Jesus. We can trust in God that He will do for us what He has said. That doesn’t mean we won’t go through hard times. Let’s also remember to really study our Bibles and treat them with respect. Treat every verse in its proper context.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Why I Don’t Take Internet Bible Critics Seriously

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

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

The majority are not.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

Deeper Waters Podcast 11/10/2018: Kyle Greenwood

What’s coming up? Let’s plunge into the deeper waters and find out.

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the Earth. In due Christian fashion, we have been debating it ever since. I suspect that the two most debated books in the Bible are Genesis and Revelation and when it comes to Genesis, it’s largely the first 11 chapters and especially the first two.

So if we have been debating this for so long, and our Jewish friends before us have been debating it, what have we been saying? It might be too much to ask one man to go all throughout history and see what people are saying about Genesis, but fortunately, our guest this week took the path of editing a volume on it. By doing this, he allowed a number of people to look at the text and how it was interpreted throughout history.

He’ll be here with us today to talk about that book. We will look throughout history. Has it been the case that everywhere people have been talking about this book it was believed that the Earth is young and that only changed when evolution came along? How have people seen Adam and Eve? All these questions and more will be discussed with my guest, Kyle Greenwood.

So who is he?

According to his bio:

Kyle Greenwood earned the Master of Divinity from Hebrew Union College and the PhD from Hebrew Union College—Jewish Institute of Religion. He taught nine years at Colorado Christian University and is now an associated faculty in Old Testament at Denver Seminary and Fuller Theological Seminary. Greenwood is the author of Scripture and Cosmology: Reading the Bible between the Ancient World and Modern Science, is the editor of Since the Beginning: Interpreting Genesis 1–2 Through the Ages and just submitted a manuscript to Zondervan titledDictionary of English Grammar for Students of Biblical Languages. Kyle has been married to his wife Karen for over twenty-five years and they have three teenage children. When he’s not teaching or writing, he enjoys exploring the outdoor playgrounds of Colorado and serving in his local church.

We’ll be discussing the interpretation of these passages throughout the ages. We’ll talk about how the Jews interpreted it, how the Fathers interpreted it, how the medievals interpreted it, how the Reformers interpreted it, and then how it is interpreted in our times. We will discuss the different ways the text can be approached. Some people will like and think are treating the text properly. Some will be thought by a few out there to be a horrible way to approach the text. Some approaches could actually just make us laugh.

For those wondering where the show has been the past few weeks, we have had cancelations beyond my control and things like that. We hope to be back on an even schedule before too long. Please do realize I am trying to do all that I can to make this show the best that I can for you. I hope you’ll go on iTunes and leave a positive review of the Deeper Waters Podcast.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Evidence Considered Chapter 32

Did Jesus predict His death and resurrection? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

In this chapter, Glenton Jelbert takes on Craig Evans with the claim that Jesus predicted His death and resurrection. Now I do agree that Jesus knowing the trouble He was causing was not saying much by predicting His own death. Of course, if He predicted how and when, which I think He did, that makes it a little bit different.

One place that Evans goes to is Mark 14:36.

And He was saying, “Abba! Father! All things are possible for You; remove this cup from Me; yet not what I will, but what You will.”

Jelbert says that Evans applies the criterion of embarrassment whereby the early church would not make up a passage that has Jesus being frightened and unwilling to go to His death. Jelbert says that the criterion can be valid in general, but one has to apply it carefully. Did Evans turn every stone looking for other explanations? Let’s see about that.

Jelbert first says this supports the idea that Mark thought Jesus was more man than God. At the start, we have to ask if Jelbert thinks Mark thought Jesus was something like a demigod or what. Christianity has never denied the full humanity of Jesus including the full display of human emotions.

Second, Jelbert says the courage and anguish and sacrifice are beautiful instead of embarrassing and this may be the most moving verse in all of Scripture. Perhaps you might think that if you lived in a modern Western individualistic society. In Jesus’s world, one was to face their death with dignity and a man was to be a man and a king was to be a king. This is not the way a Messiah figure would act. I see no reason why I should really care what Jelbert thinks so far into the future after the event.

Third, Jelbert says embarrassment is resolved by seeing what the story requires. Isaiah 53 would say the Messiah had to suffer, but the question is would Jews and Gentiles really see that, or would they see it as more of a “Jesus was a failed Messiah, but we’re going to come up with this explanation to explain what doesn’t fit for a Messiah.” Jelbert says that applying Isaiah 53 still raises a myriad of problems. How does resurrection work? Was it planned by God? How did Jesus feel about death?

All of these are good questions to ask, but in this case, they’re all irrelevant. If we want to know if Jesus predicted His death and resurrection, none of these questions change the facts. If we want to know if He rose again, none of them change the facts. A police officer can come upon a victim that everyone agrees is murdered. Does he know how it was done? Does he know why? Does he know what the victim was thinking? He could know none of these things and he might want to investigate, and probably will, to see what answers he finds to these questions, but it won’t change that a murder has taken place.

Jelbert also says that if Jesus is God and was sent by God to suffer through the will of God to save us from God’s judgment, was Jesus really suffering? At the start, this is quite a word salad. Let’s be clear on terminology. When we say “Jesus is God” it does not mean that Jesus is the entirety of the Godhead. It’s more theological shorthand rather than quoting and explaining something like the Nicene Creed every time. It simply means that Jesus possesses all the attributes of the divine nature in His person.

Jelbert says God in Jesus has to suffer or there will be no salvation, but no argument is given for this. The early church would have all condemned it. The man Jesus suffered, but God did not suffer. God did not undergo change. God did not die on the cross. (Always be watchful of prayers to the Father that change to “Thank you for dying on the cross.”)

It wouldn’t be an accident that Jesus suffered or else God is not sovereign. Yet surely God cannot victimize His Son, so Jesus did it willingly. Jelbert says that a passage like this tidies it all up. Jesus was hesitant but agreed to go.

And yet, this wouldn’t address the issue at all. How would the outside world see this? Christians could agree that Jesus went and suffered wilingly, but hesitatingly, but why include even the fact that Jesus was in anguish? Wouldn’t it be easier to just ignore that? Why give oneself a difficulty?

Evans also points to the idea of Jesus to carry one’s own cross and points out that Jesus didn’t do that. Someone had to help Him with His cross. This argues strongly for the authenticity of the saying.

Jelbert says that all that happened most likely is that stories were spreading and changing and Mark wrote down the two different accounts. We can applaud his not trying to smooth it out and this shows his sincerity but not his accuracy. Unfortunately, Jelbert provides no data from oral tradition. Nothing is given to back this.

As is pointed out in works like The Lost World of Scripture, stories were told in groups and minor details could be changed, but not the central thrust. There would also be gatekeepers of the story who would make sure that the story was being shared accurately. Jelbert instead just gives a just so story with no data to back it and expects us to think it’s true.

Jelbert also says resurrections apparently happened all the time in the ancient world. He then goes to Matthew 27:52-53 on this passage. It is a wonder why a passage like this should lead one to the conclusion that resurrections happened all the time.

One point Jelbert brings up is that these stories of resurrection lack corroboration outside of the Scripture. He ignores that even in Q, which if accurate is the most basic account of the life of Jesus, miracles are included. Scholars now do not really hesitate to agree that Jesus had a reputation as a healer and/or exorcist. This does not mean that they think He actually did these things, but He had that reputation.

Today, you can read the accounts of Craig Keener about miracles where resurrections are said to take place. These do not receive worldwide coverage. Why? Skepticism. It was just the same back then. The most well-to-do writing histories were normally outside of Judaism. How many of them are going to seriously investigate a crucified Jewish rabbi from Nazareth to see if He did miracles or not?

Second, Jelbert says that if everyone was claiming resurrection, it’s not a big deal if Jesus did. Note how far we have gone. Jelbert has taken one passage, and a passage that is often highly debated as to what it means at that, then said based on this passage we know that resurrections happened all the time, and then based on that bizarre idea says that everyone was predicting resurrection. Even if they were, that resurrection would be at the end and not in the middle of the space-time continuum.

Next, Jelbert returns to Matthew 16:28. This is the one that has Jesus saying some standing there would not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom. Jelbert says this is just false, but many theologians have spilled much ink to explain it. We have to ask if Jelbert did what he asked of Evans. Did he turn over every other stone to find another explanation other than what he thought the text meant? Obviously not, because most any orthodox Preterist could have explained it easily enough.

So what is it? Note that no one there was thinking about Jesus leaving let alone returning. Jesus in talking about His coming would be giving a message of judgment. Jesus would come in judgment before some there would die. The transfiguration would show the disciples He had this authority, but it would not prove to be that event.

Around 2000 I had to get a set of Tyndale commentaries for Bible College. R.T. France did the one on Matthew and said the coming is one of judgment and kingly authority. It is not a coming to Earth but a coming to God to receive His kingdom. Jelbert assumes this must mean the return of Jesus. He gives no argument for that.

This would happen in 70 A.D. when Jesus was publicly vindicated with the destruction of the Temple. Jelbert says Christians must admit Jesus’s prediction is false. Not at all. I must admit it is true based on years of studying eschatology. Perhaps Jelbert should do what he advised Evans to do. Once again, when something comes up in science that seems like a puzzle, well we must investigate and study and if it seems to go against evolution, we must wait and study more. When it comes to Christianity, we must throw in the towel immediately. Keep in mind I have no problem with studying and I have no problem with that even when it seems to counter evolution. I have a problem with a double standard.

Next time we look at this book we’ll study if Jesus died on the cross.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

Book Plunge: Evidence Considered Chapter 27

Did Jesus exist? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

We return to the work of Glenton Jelbert with his book Evidence Considered. We are done with the science section, but he still has some more things to say about science. I choose to forego commenting on those. I have said enough and again, science is not my main area. We’re getting into the stuff I do enjoy, the history.

Let’s start with the really good news. This chapter is on if Jesus existed and looks at the work of Paul Maier. Good news here is also that Jelbert is not a mythicist. He does agree that Jesus existed.

So that’s the end of the review of this chapter. Right? We can all go home. Jelbert and I agree. Let’s move on to 28.

Not quite. There are a few arguments on the way I find problematic. There are also ways of doing the research I question.

Maier argues that the real debate is not did Jesus exist, but who was He? Jelbert says to say He was God is an extraordinary claim and requires unassailable evidence. If that is not given, it is rational to assume it is not true until otherwise shown. The problems are many with this.

For one thing, extraordinary claims are subjective. I consider atheism an extraordinary claim. Could I go to Jelbert and then say, “Unless you present unassailable evidence of atheism, then theism is true?” I could, but that would not be a valid argument at all.

Keep in mind I am not saying that Jesus is the Son of God in the Christian sense is a mundane claim. It is not. It is a serious claim that needs evidence, but it needs sufficient evidence to be believed. Without a standard as to what counts as extraordinary, then too often it becomes “That which is extraordinary to an atheist.” Many a creationist would say life from non-life is an extraordinary claim and until it can be shown how that happened we are all justified in believing in creationism.

Jelbert also says the atheist position says that other religions present equally unconvincing evidence would be agreed by Christians, but it isn’t. We think Christianity does have the unique evidence of history. We would give a religion like Judaism much more credibility since it’s essential to us. This also doesn’t answer the evidence for Christianity, which I am sure we will get into in these chapters.

Jelbert does say that Paul is silent on many biographical events in the life of Jesus. Of course, he is. He’s not writing a biography. He’s writing to deal with situational events that knowledge of the life of Jesus, which would be background knowledge for his audience, would not help. The Corinthian church has to deal with meat offered to idols. How does saying Jesus performed miracles help answer the questions?

Jelbert is also willing to concede the Gospels may be attempts to historically write the life of Jesus. He presents us with a version of the telephone game. There is no looking at how stories are told in ancient societies. Such could be found in a work like The Lost World of Scripture. The stories would be told in groups. A few would be gatekeepers of knowledge as it were to make sure the story was told accurately. There could be variation on minor details, but the whole thrust of the message had to get through.

Two events in Matthew are worth mentioning. The first is the slaughter of the infants. There is no outside mention of this in Josephus or anywhere else. Josephus would likely be the only one to record this, but we have no reason to think Josephus is exhaustive in everything that Herod did. Second, this would be a minor event. At most, about a dozen children would die. This would be par for the course for Herod. It’s also strange that the Bible seems to be the only work I know of that if something doesn’t show up outside of it, it must be seen as suspect.

The second is the prophecy that Jesus would be called a Nazarene. Jelbert says no such prophecy exist. My answer is that this is the only time Matthew speaks about a fulfillment of the prophets, plural. I think he’s saying the general message of prophecy is that the Messiah would grow up in a humble and shameful state.

There’s also nothing he says about a census as in Luke. Jelbert presents nothing on the other side that acts as positive evidence. I point the reader to the interview I did with Ben Witherington especially.

Jelbert also asks if both birth narratives could be cobbled together to form a unit. He doesn’t see how with any integrity. Let’s stop there. The problem is this is the same kind of thinking he accuses IDists of. “Could this organism come about through purely naturalistic processes? I don’t see how.”

Second, he says the only reason you would do this is because you think the Bible is the Word of God which presupposes God exists. Not necessarily. Now suppose I do think Jesus rose from the dead on other grounds and I think the Bible is the Word of God and I have good arguments for God’s existence. Is it reasonable to think there’s an explanation even if I don’t know one? Yes. Just like it’s reasonable for the atheist to think there’s a way life came from non-life even if it is not known now.

But besides that, couldn’t some people want to resolve these accounts because they want to try to figure out what happened and if a way exists, go with it? That is the nature of historical investigation. We can look at differing accounts and try to reconcile them.

I could just as easily turn this on Jelbert too. Why doesn’t he want to investigate to see if the accounts can be reconciled? Because he is an atheist and he doesn’t want the Bible to be the Word of God and for Jesus to have risen from the dead. Is that true? I can’t say. Could it be plausible to some? Yep. This is why pointing to motives is really kind of pointless.

In the end, Jelbert and I agree on the conclusion, which is refreshing. He does say this doesn’t give evidence for God, which is true, but this is also a cumulative case. It’s hard to have Christianity if Jesus never existed after all.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Deeper Waters Podcast 9/29/2018: Ross Hickling

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

Evidence. We all say we want it, but do we really? If we get evidence, do we know how to evaluate it? What are the standards of legal investigation that are to be used for a claim? Can we use these on historical claims?

And what of the skeptics of the faith? On the internet, Richard Carrier is one of the big ones that comes up. While he is indeed well-known on the internet, outside of the internet he’s not having the impact he would like to have. His big book on doubting the existence of the historical Jesus really didn’t get much notice.

That’s most scholars. Not all are like that. There is one who decided to look at this internet blogger and see what he was saying. He took the work of Carrier and subjected it to tests based on his life in law enforcement and evaluating evidence. He focused mainly on the resurrection of Jesus. Does Carrier’s case against it hold up? He concludes no. His name is Ross Hickling, but who is he?

According to his bio:

Ross retired as a Senior Inspector with the U.S. Marshals Service in 2014 after serving in federal and local law enforcement for 26 years.  During his career in law enforcement, Ross functioned in various investigative roles to include a narcotics detective, SWAT team operative, threat investigator, seized assets investigator, fugitive investigator, and sex offender investigations coordinator. Midway through his career with the U.S. Marshals Service, Ross began to prepare for a career in ministry after retirement when he began his seminary education.  Since that time, Ross has earned a BS in Religion (Liberty University), an MA in Religion (Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary), an MA in Christian apologetics (Biola University), and a PhD in Missiology/Christian apologetics from North-West University, Potchefstroom Campus, South Africa. Ross worked under the supervision of prof. dr. Henk Stoker while completing his thesis at NWU Potch critiquing a skeptic’s challenge to the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  During his time with the U.S. Marshals Service and while completing his studies, Ross realized the need to bring evidentiary principles to the study of Christian apologetics. Since retiring, Ross founded “Shield Your Faith,” an organization dedicated to sharing the great reasons for faith in Jesus Christ from an evidentiary perspective, took part in an international apologetics campaign in the Philippines (2016)/South Africa (2017, 2018), currently teaches apologetics on the seminary level (Charlotte Christian College and Theological Seminary), and is currently the chapter director at a Ratio Christi club at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.  Ross is married to Andrea, his lovely wife of 29 years, has two adult children, and resides in Kernersville, NC.
As one who has spent a lot of time arguing with mythicists, which gets more and more pointless, I have always been interested in excellent critiques of those proponents of it and while Hickling doesn’t really take those on, his insights are still great to have. We will be talking about such things as evidence for the resurrection, the appearances of Jesus the disciples claimed to experience, and pagan copycats. I hope you’ll be listening and please go on iTunes and leave a positive review of the Deeper Waters Podcast!
In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

Book Plunge: Why Christianity Is Not True Chapter 5

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

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

I hate to say that I did not get that.

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

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

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

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

She goes on to say that

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

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

In response to all that Pagels says, Pye answers that

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

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

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

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

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

Pye then gives us Deuteronomy 21:18-21

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Exodus 21:20-21

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

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

Deuteronomy 7:1-2

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

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

Joshua 6:20-21

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

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

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

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

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

Instead, I got a question.

Where does the Bible say to worship the Holy Spirit?

That’s it.

No. Really. That’s it.

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

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

Pye goes on then to say that

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

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

or

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

or

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: The Jesus Crisis

What do I think of David Farnell and Robert Thomas’s book published by Kregel Academic? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

In The Jesus Crisis, we have a look at a book oft-cited in the Inerrancy debates. I had heard a lot of negative statements about this book, but I decided to go in with an open mind. Some things starting off aren’t so bad. There is some serious questioning of the two-source hypothesis and since I’m skeptical of Q as a source, I have no problem with this. I do agree with the authors that when we look at the authorship and writing of the Gospels, we do need to take the church fathers seriously. Certainly, they’re not infallible, but we don’t need to ignore them.

I was also surprised to see David Farnell’s style of arguing in this. In many of his writings, he has often looked as one in a hysterical panic. This was a side that was much more reasonable and measured and the kind that I would have preferred to have seen more often.

Ultimately, insofar as we’re talking about the origins of the Gospels and looking at various forms of criticism, I could agree with some matters. I wonder what the editors would think of Richard Bauckham talking about the death of form criticism. That being said, the further one gets in the book, the more there are areas of concern.

The problem often is that Inerrancy is taken as the starting presupposition and while the writers make an effort to knock down historical methodologies of today, which is fine if they want to do that, they give nothing in the place of how history should be done. The only way seems to be with starting off with the idea that the Bible is the Word of God. Of course, while from a confessional statement I would agree with that, I do not start that way. After all, why start with that book instead of the Qur’an or the Book of Mormon?

There is also a fixation on what Michael Bird would call the American Inerrancy Tradition. (AIT) This goes with the perspicuity of Scripture in that everything should be plain. The question is why should we think this? Peter wrote in 2 Peter (If you think he wrote it) that there were many things in Paul’s letters which were hard to understand. This shouldn’t surprise us. Not everything in Scripture is clear.

Also, the writers insist that we have to have the exact words of Jesus. Why should we? It’s possible that Jesus spoke Greek, but it could be less likely that the common populace spoke Greek and if they did, then one wonders why Matthew would write out a form of Matthew in Aramaic. If he wrote a Gospel in Aramaic and one in Greek, he obviously had to translate some words. One could say some things could have been said on multiple occasions. It is doubtful that Jesus only gave a great parable one time.

However, some things were only said one time. What did Jesus say when He was on trial and when He was on the cross? How many times did Jesus give the Great Commission? If Matthew wrote a Gospel with both of these, one text at best would have the exact words. The other would have a translation. Also, paraphrase would not be a problem since even in the Old Testament, Deuteronomy 5 gives a paraphrase of the Ten Commandments which were said to be written by the finger of God.

The writers may think it puts us in a panic state to not have Jesus’s exact words, but it really doesn’t. I also don’t think historical scholarship is in fact destroying the testimony of Scripture. I would contend the more we are doing good historiography, the more we are affirming Scripture. If one is scared to put sound historical methodology to use for Scripture, could it be one is scared of the outcome?

The saying has been that you treat Scripture like every other book to show that it is like no other book. I am not scared of applying the methodology of history to Scripture. If one wants to show a method is invalid, they need to show it and do so without question begging.

Ultimately, had we just had something like say the first half, this book could have been fine, but the more one gets into the text, the more one sees the panic button being pushed. What if? What if? What if? If one is worried that research of some kind could disprove Scripture, it says little about the Scriptures. It says a lot about them.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

Understanding The Bible

What does it take to really understand the Bible? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

We live in a day and age where most everyone thinks they can pick up a Bible, read it, and be an expert in it. You have the “prophecy experts” who think they can ignore the genre of a text and the historical setting and successfully pontificate on what is going to happen today. You have the fundamentalist atheists who think likewise that they just read the Bible and the “face value” of the text is what the author meant.

Of course, there is some level where the basic message of a text can be understood, but there is a level where it cannot. There are aspects that do require specialized knowledge. When you’re growing up, for some basic illnesses and such, your parents could pick up something over-the-counter and you could trust them with it. For a specialty condition, they would take you to a doctor.

So what are some things you should try to understand in a passage?

For one, what is the genre of the passage itself? If Jesus is telling a parable, you do not want to interpret it as a historical account. It is historical that Jesus told the parable, but the parable itself is not historical. If you were ever told that the story of the Good Samaritan never happened, that should not cause you to panic about the reliability of Scripture.

But then, what is the grander genre of the book itself? The Gospels, for instance, are Greco-Roman biographies and when you realize this, your reading of them will change. The book of Revelation is apocalyptic and so one of the last things you want to do is read it at face-value. The Law in the Old Testament is written not as iron-clad but more of a teaching tool showing the limits of what could be done in a situation, but giving judges freedom to decide. Of course, there are also cases like the first eleven chapters of Genesis that are real hotbeds of debate.

You also need the original languages. It’s better if you know them yourself, but if you do not, then you can use a site like BlueLetterBible and look them up. Even still, there is a limitation here. You can only look in the Bible itself. My wife asked me today about the verse where Paul uses the word Skubalon. If you want to know what that word means, just the New Testament will not help you. It’s only used once. You will need to look at usages outside the NT, if there are any, and then if you can’t do that, look up the work of scholars who know the language and see what they say.

And yet, there’s still more. You will want to know the historical context. What was going on in a book of prophecy? So many people badly misunderstand the prophets because they think everything is about our time instead of about the time of the prophet or his relatively near future. When Jesus does something in the Gospels, is there any particular historical situation that explains His actions more? When Paul wrote about marriage in 1 Corinthians 7, was there anything going on at the time that explains what he said better?

And still there’s even more! What about the social context? We often think the people in the world of the Bible were much like ourselves. In some ways they were, but not in all. We are a guilt-based culture. Were they? We value individualism. Did they? What was marriage like for them? What was the economic status of the people involved? How did they all relate to one another?

It is not being said that you have to understand all of these or you’re completely in the dark, but if you are struggling with a passage, try to understand some of these even more. What definitely needs to be moved past is a simplistic approach that practically assumes that God will make everything easy for us to understand if He wants to. He is under no obligation to do that and those who are seeking truth will not care if it takes work. If you do care, then you are not really seeking.

When someone is reading a passage and you think they could be misunderstanding it or if you think you are misunderstanding it, consider these steps. Look at them and see what all can be learned. Go and check the best scholars in the field and see what they have to say. To understand any ancient text, one must have the humility to be willing to let it speak for itself as it were and work to understand it.

In Christ,
Nick Peters