Book Plunge: Seeing Through Christianity Part 5.

Does Zuersher present a good argument against the Afterdeath? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

In the sixth chapter, Zuersher argues against the afterlife. I prefer to call it the afterdeath because after all, one is still alive in the “afterlife.” At any rate, let’s go and examine what he says to see if any of it is convincing.

At the start, he tells us that the true heart of Christianity, like most religions, is that humans are terrified of death. It would be nice to know how he backs this claim. Does he think some Jews who already had a religion were still terrified of death and decided to make a second one on top of that? These people didn’t live in fear of death if anything. We do. They saw death around them every day.

If Zuersher provides no data, then we have nothing to refute. In fact, we could just as well make our own baseless assertion. “The basis of atheism, as we all know, is to avoid having to serve a holy God.” Do I think that’s a ridiculous argument to use? Yes. This is the kind of argument Zuersher gives us.

He tells us that Christians hold to a two-part existence with the body and a magical soul thing. He also says only humans have this soul. I’m not sure where he gets that because many of us if not most of us with a dualist perspective hold that many of the higher animals that are relational to us have souls as well. Again, no one is cited on this whatsoever.

It also doesn’t work to just say something is magical. It’s like atheists live in this world so often where the word magic is magical and if you use it, you automatically refute the notion of whatever it is you’re talking about. Has Zuersher looked at the philosophical arguments of dualists? Has he examined the evidence of such events as near-death experiences?

He also holds to a rather literalist view of the resurrection saying that if an atom belonged to multiple people in a lifetime, who gets it in the end? This assumes that God has to use the exact same atoms. Why think that? This was something the early church wrestled with, but we don’t so much today. We just figure God is able to recreate the body.

He asks why not issue a new body? He tells us it is because of Jesus. Of course, our resurrection is to be like that of Jesus, but the new refers to quality. There is continuation, and I’d say the soul is the basis of this, but there are similarities as well. 2 Cor. talks about us being a new creation. The newness is in quality. We don’t become a Christian and then God literally kills us and makes us a new creation.

After this, Zuersher does attempt to argue against souls by pointing to consciousness. He says that the problem is that if you damage the brain, then the functions of the mind are damaged. It never occurs to him apparently that dualists do have their response to this. Mainly, it’s that the body is the instrument the soul works through and if the body is damaged, the instrumentality of it by the soul is as well. If a body loses two arms, the soul is not able to magically to reach out and grab something because the tools it would use don’t work as well. Similarly with the mind and the brain.

I leave much more of this to those who have studied in this area. Books like Machuga’s In Defense of the Soul or Habermas and Morleand’s Beyond Death (also called Immortality) are also recommended. As we can expect, Zuersher has just done armchair philosophy without really looking at the issues and yet still thinks he’s knowledgeable enough to write on them.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Deeper Water Podcast 7/15/2017: Hugh Ross

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

This year at Rosh Hashanah, many Jews will be celebrating that a new year has come. There will also this year be many Christians waiting for this event. After all, this is the day that the rapture is being predicted to take place.

What was that?

Yes. A few months ago a friend of mine emailed me about some people at his church talking about Rosh Hashanah and their hope that the rapture will take place. This is supposed to be based on certain astronomical signs. I immediately thought back to the whole blood moons fiasco (Anyone heard that apology from John Hagee yet) and decided I’d talk to a specialist about this.

So I sent an email to get in touch with the person I know who knows astronomy best. I got more than I bargained for. He has agreed to come on the show and talk about the signs that are being said to be shown and we’ll look and see if they are of any real significance. I am of course referring to none other than Hugh Ross from Reasons To Believe.

So who is Hugh Ross?

Astronomer and best-selling author Hugh Ross travels the globe speaking on the compatibility of advancing scientific discoveries with the timeless truths of Christianity. His organization, Reasons to Believe, is dedicated to demonstrating, via a variety of resources and events, that science and biblical faith are allies, not enemies.

For those worried about the deck being stacked, it is also my understanding that Dr. Ross has in the past held to a futurist/dispensationalist understanding of eschatology. I do not know if that is still the case, but his main point here is to come as an astronomer. Are there really some signs that we are supposed to be looking out for, or is this going to be another case like that of the blood moons where there will be embarrassment in the eyes of unbelievers once again?

How ought Christians approach this phenomena anyway? If we don’t understand astronomy well, could we be saying things without knowledge? Even if one does want to defend a futurist/dispensationalist viewpoint, do we need to be extremely careful about setting dates for certain events?

If I am correct about my prediction that this is much ado about nothing, what will it take for Christians to learn? What more do we need to be paying attention to? How should the church handle it when there are claims that get national attention that prove to be wrong, such as the four blood moons or Harold Camping?

Some might think this is an in-house issue for Christians, but I’m not convinced. How we present ourselves to the world matters a great deal and if we can be shown to embrace something wrong so many times so easily, then how is it that we can expect anyone to believe us when we claim Jesus rose from the dead? I hope you’ll be listening for the next episode of the Deeper Waters Podcast and that you’ll leave a positive review on ITunes to let me know what you think of the show.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Proof Of Heaven

What do I think of Eben Alexander’s book published by Simon and Schuster? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I was asked to read this book by someone interested in near-death experiences. I also have an interest in them, but I do prefer the evidential ones. No doubt, many of them provide comfort and meaning to the people who have them and while that is data to be used, I want something that can show that they are really having interactions going on outside of the body. This is a big problem for a materialist worldview.

Eben Alexander’s has been a popular one for some time and was the one I was asked about. He does have the advantage that he is a neurosurgeon so there’s no doubt he knows how the brain works. I think the case does establish that he had some kind of activity likely going on after he died. I do not think he made up his experience or anything like that.

The problem is not much beyond that is evidential. There is very little that he can point to going on in the world when he was in his comatose state and had no higher brain functions. We cannot take what he says about the beyond then in an authoritative way. We have no way of verifying it.

My big problem is it seems to be very much more of a New Age perspective. Nothing is said about Jesus and God is referred to as Om. The message given was love, which is fine, but then a part of “Nothing you can do is wrong.” I think we could all disagree with that part. Plenty of what we do is wrong.

Alexander does talk about going to church and taking communion, but one reads his book and wonders how deep it goes. What does communion mean to him? Does he take his experience as the final authority? As a Christian, I think it is important that we use Scripture to interpret our experience instead of the other way around.

Alexander’s story is indeed a remarkable one and I do think something miraculous happened that allowed him to recover from his illness. The problem is I don’t see how this constitutes proof of heaven. Heaven isn’t even defined in his book. What is this Heaven? How does someone get there?

Alexander doesn’t really spend time answering these questions. There isn’t interacting with many of the world religions to see what is said about them. There is an interesting story about his family history and about problems in scientific circles with NDEs not being taken seriously, but those of us who are more evidential in our thinking want more. As I said, my biggest problem is that the experience is the greatest authority.

In conclusion, the story is interesting, but I cannot recommend it really. I think an experience like Alexander’s does show that there is more to a person than their physical body and it does put materialistic thinking in a problem, but not much beyond that. I would much more recommend works like Steve Miller’s or Michael Sabom’s.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Deeper Waters Podcast 5/27/2017: Brian Godawa

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

Nero. No matter what your stance on end times is, the name evokes strong thoughts right away. We can easily think of Christians being lit on fire to light up the ceremonies that Nero was hosting. If we try to think of a Roman emperor that could be seen as the embodiment of evil, Nero would be right up there on the list.

That’s why many of the orthodox Preterist persuasion also see him as the beast described in Revelation, and even if one is a futurist, they should have no problem granting that Nero was certainly a beast at least. What would it have been like to have been living in the time of Nero? What if you were a Christian in Rome? What if you were a Jew? What if you were a soldier in the military? What about the great fire? What was also going on at the time in Jerusalem while Nero was having his rule?

My guest this week has written a fictional story set in the time of Nero and focusing on what happened in Rome and in Jerusalem. The writing is lively and engaging. The story will open your eyes to what was going on at the time and includes numerous historical figures as well. The book is called Tyrant: Rise of the Beast and the author is Brian Godawa. So who is he?

Brian Godawa is an award-winning Hollywood screenwriter (To End All Wars), a controversial movie and culture blogger (, an internationally known teacher on faith, worldviews and storytelling (Hollywood Worldviews), an Amazon best-selling author of Biblical fiction (Chronicles of the Nephilim), and provocative theology (God Against the gods). His obsession with God, movies and worldviews, results in theological storytelling that blows your mind while inspiring your soul. And he’s not exaggerating.

So we’ll be talking about life in first century Rome in the time of Nero and what life would have been like in Jerusalem. What did it mean to be a Christian? How much danger was someone really in? Perhaps, as a result, many of us will take our Christianity a lot more seriously here.

We’ll also be discussing the writing process. How does one go about writing a book with historical figures in it? Especially when you have actual figures from the Bible in them, how does one walk that line? There is a desire to remain fully faithful to the text of course, but at the same time one does have to take liberties as well since these events aren’t included in the text.

I hope you’ll be listening to the next episode and really considering what it would have been like to be a Christian in the time of Nero. Many of us don’t really realize what was going on at the time, but there was a time when being a Christian was a dangerous practice. It started around the time of the resurrection. Please also go on ITunes and leave a positive review of the Deeper Waters Podcast.

In Christ,
Nick Peters


Book Plunge: Tyrant: Rise of the Beast

What do I think of Brian Godawa’s book published by Embedded Pictures Publishing? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Brian Godawa has written a series about the end times with the first book being called Tyrant: Rise of the Beast and the beast in this case is Nero. The language is definitely that of the book of Revelation. Godawa switches back and forth between Jerusalem and Rome and at times other locales and tells a story where historical figures show up regularly to illustrate what life would have been like.

The story is quite engaging and revealing. Those who don’t know much about Nero will see this and come to realize why Nero does fit the description of the beast. Many times I would finish a chapter for my nightly reading and be left thinking about what I had read and what the early Christians went through.

The book also displays spiritual warfare going on. Unbeknowest to many people behind the scenes, the devil is at work with his own army and there are the angels of YHWH at work resisting him. This is reminiscent of the style of Peretti with his works on spiritual warfare. Godawa bases this on his idea about the watchers from Genesis 6. I’m not convinced of this theory at this point, but even if one doesn’t accept that, they can still enjoy the story.

In fact, this is something quite good about the series. While Godawa does write from the view of an orthodox Preterist, I think many people who are futurists could still get a lot out of this book and enjoy the history. Godawa does have extensive footnotes in here to show how the events in the book correlate with real historical events.

There are also non-historical characters in it who show up and do make for an interesting story. Unlike much from Christians in fiction I see today, Godawa does actually have something that is engaging. Even though we know in the end that God does win, we’re left wondering just how this victory will come about.

If there were two things I would change about the book, they would be the following.

First, sometime the dialogue can seem a bit forced. That is, when someone quotes a passage from an epistle or something of that sort word for word, I often find myself thinking that seems odd. Ancient people used paraphrase just like we do. I would have preferred to see paraphrase a lot more often than a direct quotation.

Finally, I would have liked to have seen more about honor and shame and the story told from that perspective. There are times I saw incidents that looked to me to be individualistic, such as dealing with evil from an introspective viewpoint. Ancients weren’t introsepctive in the way that we were.

Still, the book is entertaining and informative. I did enjoy the reading of it and I am one who normally doesn’t really get into fiction. If you’re curious about end times thought from a preterist perspective, this could be a good read for you.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: We Shall All Be Changed

What do I think of Joel McDurmon’s book published by American Vision? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I have been an orthodox preterist for years, even before going to a Seminary that is pre-mill and dispensational. A church I attended in Charlotte was largely that way and yet they let me give a presentation on orthodox preterism. It was quite a fun time. There is one title I refuse to accept and that is a partial preterist.

Why? Because I do not consider the other side to consist of full preterists. I call them Neohymenaeans. For reasons that will come out, I consider the movement a heresy. If that is so, why would I want to be called a partial heretic? Preterism means something and I do not define it by the heresy.

In this book, Joel McDurmon takes a look at one of the most prominent figures in the Neohymenaean movement, Don Preston. McDurmon starts with a look at hermeneutics. How we read the text is important. I like that McDurmon starts off with a case that could be convincing to many for the Neohymenaean movement. We must always show that as strange as we think a belief is when we first hear it, there are reasons people hold it. (Indeed, I used to consider preterism this bizarre belief and how could people believe it? The reality was I didn’t know what preterists really believed.)

McDurmon then gives what he thinks is a proper hermeneutic, and I agree with him. One example is that all does not mean all in a literal sense. Consider how we are told all Judea and Jerusalem was baptized by John the Baptist. Really? Every single person in Judea? All those Pharisees and Sadduecees in Jerusalem were going to be baptized? No. This is hyperbole.

The far more damaging part here is the practical outworkings of Neohymenaeanism. If you truly believe this, then you need to do things that are supposed to stop when the fullness of Christ comes in the resurrection and the new age. That includes things like the Lord’s Supper, marriage, and teaching. In other words, if you’re a Neohymenaean, don’t teach it to anyone, don’t have Communion, and don’t marry.

McDurmon also makes an argument for the bodily resurrection. I’m not going to give his key passage here. I think you need to get the book to see that for yourself. He does interact with the problematic reading of passages that attempt to turn the body referred to in passages like 1 Cor. 15 to just that of the body of Christ.

If there was something I would have liked emphasized more, it would be my biggest problem overall with the Neohymenaean movement. That is that if we are to be raised as Christ was raised, and we are instead resurrected spiritually and not physically, then that would mean that Christ was also resurrected spiritually and not physically. We can be told Christ is the exception, but then that leads to a contradiction and is begging the question. That’s why I say the movement is ultimately a Christological heresy. In fact, it’s quite similar to Gnosticism in that the material world doesn’t really matter and it doesn’t deal with the problem of evil ultimately. Evil still gains a victory that claims the material world.

Orthodox preterists out there need to know about the Neohymenaean movement and how to argue against it. Futurists need to realize that orthodox preterists are not neohymenaeans and we stand against this movement just as you do. While Neohymenaeans often try to paint preterists as futurists and dispensationalists, it’s important that on the other end Christians who are futurists don’t paint preterists as Neohymenaeans. Yes. We can have our discussions and disagreements in good Christian fellowship, but let us be clear that we who are orthodox Preterists do indeed hold to an orthodox position.

In Christ,
Nick Peters


God As An Afterthought

Does God really play any role in our Christianity? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I was thinking just now on what to blog on today when I was scrolling through Facebook and saw someone post something about how there is only one way to get to Heaven. I’m not about to deny that Jesus is the only way. I just want to ask, what is Jesus the only way to? Some of you are thinking the obvious answer is Heaven, but is that what Jesus Himself said?

If we go back to John 14:6, Jesus says “No man comes to the Father, but through me.” Jesus didn’t describe Himself as the way to Heaven, but as the way to the Father. You will find very little in the Bible about “Going to Heaven.” You will instead find plenty about resurrection and the Kingdom of God. Oddly enough, much of the focus in eschatology in the Bible is not on Heaven, but is on Earth.

The meek will inherit the Earth, until God just decides He wants to do away with the Earth. Let your will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven, until once again, the Earth is done away with. It will be even harder to come up with something for Revelation 21 where the city of Jerusalem comes down from Heaven to Earth. We have things exactly reversed! We think we go up from Earth to Heaven.

I cannot say for sure when this happened in church history. Perhaps someone who has studied all of church history better could give an answer to that. At this point, we can hear many an altar call where someone gives their lives to Jesus. Why? Because they want to go to Heaven someday. In this case, God is an afterthought. You believe in God not because He’s there and you trust Him not because of Jesus per se, but because you just want to go to Heaven when you die. God becomes many times a means to get to Heaven.

Think of how you would hear Heaven being described anyway. How often does it really include something about God? It could include something about Jesus, and don’t think I’m denying the Trinity or full deity of Christ or anything like that, but there is nothing really said about the Father. Jesus emphasized the way to the Father. We don’t do that.

Heaven is often just one example. God is often an afterthought in anything that we do. God is there to fill in the gaps when we have a need. There is a real problem with the God-of-the-Gaps argumentation. The problem is when you put God in a gap, what happens when that gap starts getting filled by something else?

What about suffering? In the past, the things that we consider hard suffering could often be commonplace to people. Diseases that are far and away from us were everyday realities to them. We cry when a small child dies, which we should, but for them, that was a real risk taken every time you had a child as the chances of a child dying were far greater.

It’s fascinating that the problem of evil is much more often a problem to people who are in well-off societies instead of people who actually have suffering around them all their lives. Many of these people are far more grateful and appreciative for what they have. We today have a lot in the West and we don’t really appreciate it. Many of them in these societies have very little and appreciate everything that they have.

Why is evil such a problem to us? Because we think if God was there, He wouldn’t allow XYZ to happen to us. Everyone seems to think that they’re special. (Isn’t it fascinating that the self-esteem movement produced a generation that has immense ideas of entitlement and yet low self-esteem?) When suffering comes in our lives, we don’t have a way to explain it because reality isn’t supposed to be like this. God isn’t doing His job, because, you know, His job is obviously to make sure life is good for us.

We talk very little about what we are supposed to do for God. That’s one reason we’ve probably lost so much the idea of the Kingdom of God. We don’t talk about the resurrection save as a means of showing that Christianity is true. What difference does it make? That’s a deeper question and one that the surface is hardly scratched on. (It’s also like how we stand up for the Trinity, but normally as a tool to answer Jehovah’s Witnesses on a point we don’t really understand the point of.)

Ultimately, this all leads into our once again “me-centered” Christianity. You should become a Christian not because it’s true that Jesus rose from the dead, but because you want to go to Heaven and/or you want God to do something special in your life. You can hear an altar call after a sermon where the resurrection of Jesus isn’t even mentioned. Sadly, many of these people who come forward will never be discipled. They will never be taught about the basics even of Christianity and what a shock when they apostasize and become angry atheists because Christianity failed them, a Christianity that they hardly understood to begin with. (Some of the most uninformed people you can meet on Christianity are apostates.)

What’s it going to take? Let’s start with the pastors. Give your congregation something more. If you think some people will walk away because they don’t like firm teaching, oh well. Better to have a few extremely dedicated than to have a multitude that is wishy-washy. Let your church know about the resurrection. Let them know the Christian life is a sacrifice. It’s not sunshine and rainbows. Jesus told us to take up our cross and follow Him. We are promised in fact suffering and trials and tribulations. Of course, give them the good news that God is with them in everything, but let it be known that not everything that happens is something that they will like.

To the layman, if your pastor won’t educate you, one thing you might want to consider is finding a new church. If you can’t find one in your area, then educate yourself. You’re not dependent on your pastor. Read blogs like this one and read good books and listen to good podcasts. (I do recommend mine, but I could be biased.) Study to show yourself approved. If you think Christianity is the most important thing in your life, live like it is. We often say Christianity is the most important reality in our lives, and then spend more time studying our favorite sports team than learning about Christianity.

To those of us out here in the field, we need to find a way to engage others around us. We need to engage unbelievers and give them a real challenge. Don’t give them the light Christianity, but give them the hard evidential Christianity and let them try to tell you why it’s not true. For our fellow believers, equip them. Train them. Teach them about the cross and the resurrection. Show them that they are supposed to be all about God and not the other way around.

I look forward to a day when I scroll my Facebook page and I find more about the resurrection and the Kingdom of God than I do about going to Heaven. It might be a long time coming, but it will be worth it. Are you and I going to do anything to change that?

In Christ,
Nick Peters



Book Plunge: End Times Bible Prophecy. It’s Not What They Told You.

What do I think of Brian Godawa’s book published by Embedded Pictures Publishing? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Brian Godawa writes as someone who is a reluctant Orthodox Preterist. He writes about growing up in a futurist mindset and then when he first encountered the view that he’s currently defending of Orthodox Preterism, he was shocked. That has to be heresy! It has to be liberals not taking the Bible literally! It’s undermining the faith delivered once and for all to the saints!

His experience is not unusual. I remember being stunned the first time I heard about the Preterist viewpoint. How could anyone think this? I remember reading in an old study Bible about different views of Revelation and how some think it depicts events that happened in the first century and thinking “Wow. Some people really believed that all this stuff happened?” Of course, it was my mindset that was in the reading of “All this stuff must be fulfilled in a wooden literalistic sense.” It never occurred to me that the problem could be my viewpoint.

Like Brian, I had cracks show up in my thinking that were hard to answer. What about the statement of “This generation will not pass away?” I also started seeing that some ideas behind the view of the rapture were extremely difficult to hold. These were paths I did not want to take, but the evidence was too strong to avoid not taking those paths.

Abandoning the idea of the rapture was extremely hard, and yet I wasn’t done. As I met preterists, I started realizing that I was wrong about what they believed. It wasn’t the case that everything had happened in 70 A.D. I had just never really taken the time to look like I should have. It was a group discussion led by two preterists that got me to see what my problem was.

Brian’s book begins with his own story and then goes to hermeneutics. I think this is an excellent way to begin as Brian shows a different way to read Scripture that still strives to be faithful to the test and is not “liberal” or “denying Inerrancy.” Hermeneutics is one of the first areas of questions I have for futurists nowadays. It is asking them that even if their conclusion differs, and I’m thankful it does, how is their hermeneutic any different from the one that produced the four blood moons of John Hagee?

He then goes step by step through the Olivet Discourse. Brian is gentle and understands regularly how his readers could balk at this thinking. He takes a few diversions to look at questions like the antichrist and such. All the while, Brian wants to take someone’s hand and slowly walk them through this territory that could be unfamiliar to them.

Still, he has produced a convincing work. A few times I was reading and thinking “Brian. You could have a much better argument if you would include XYZ.” I would find a few paragraphs later that Brian does indeed know about XYZ and says something about it. Brian is also not at all dogmatic in what he says.

It’s also helpful that he has a part in here about the idea of Neohymenaeanism, whereby everything was said to take place in 70 A.D. No doubt, more could be said here, but he does refer to another work on this topic. He wants people to still know that Jesus will return and there will be a bodily resurrection.

Brian’s book is an excellent guide for someone wanting the ins and outs of this whole area. He also has a novel that can go with it called Tyrant: Rise of the Beast. I have not read it yet, but it is supposed to be a novel form of what he is talking about in his book if you prefer that way instead.

I recommend that anyone interested in the truth about “Bible prophecy” check out Brian’s book.

In Christ,
Nick Peters


End Times Evangelism Messages

What is our focus in evangelism? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Last night, Allie and I were looking for a Christian movie to watch. (To which when she asked why we don’t have a lot, I replied that most of them are just awful.) We had been watching The Gospel of Matthew put up on YouTube by The Two Preachers and so after looking for another movie there, we went to their channel to see what they had. One video was about Christmas, to which they gave the right answer. The overwhelming majority were all about end times.

The ones that we saw began with usually reading a verse. Of course, no context was given to this verse. It was just assumed that this verse had to be fully literal and had to be about our times which would have to be the end times and could have no prior fulfillment. (The prophets obviously weren’t interested in the present needs of the people. They just wanted to tell them about events over 2,000 years later.)

Then there would be some sensational story which was meant to back the event. The last video we saw talked about how important this was because so many people are converting because of these end-times warnings. In fact, many of the skeptics have to be believing it somewhere because they keep watching the videos.

By this logic, I must be believing atheist books since I read them so often.

We were also given the challenge that if these aren’t signs of the end times, then give what the signs are, using passages like Matthew 24. Of course, I would ask why Matthew 24 couldn’t have already been fulfilled. You know, the whole “This generation will not pass away” thing. The futurist paradigm should not be assumed. It should be argued for, much as I would gladly argue for my orthodox Preterism viewpoint.

Something that did catch me (Allie caught something else that she can write about if she chooses) was the claim that they are seeing many people convert to Jesus through end-times warnings. That could very well be true, yet I wonder is that truly the goal? I have my own problems with the idea of conversion. Making getting conversion to be the goal is like getting people to be married is the goal. Getting married is easy. Having a marriage is work. Getting converted can be easy. Being a disciple is difficult.

First off, I have this big concern about so many end times predictions being made because they can so easily be found to be false. Anybody remember 88 reasons Jesus will return in 1988? Yep. That took the world by storm and now, it’s an embarrassment to Christianity. What about people like Harold Camping and John Hagee and others? The response could normally be “Well yeah, all those people got it wrong, but we’re the ones who have it right!”

After all, you know, our generation is just so awesome that surely Jesus has to return for us!

Second, let’s look at an authoritative list of sermons that we have. How about the book of Acts?

“Are you sure you want to do that? Don’t you know that Peter’s first sermon in the book is about the last days?”

Yes. And those days were his own times right there. It wasn’t some time off in the future. The same is found in Hebrews 1 as well. What does Peter go on to say? What is the sign of the last days? God has raised up His Son Jesus. The resurrection was the focus of the message. Because Jesus was resurrected, He is Lord and Christ. Peter didn’t stay on the experience. He used the experience to get to Jesus.

You can find a list of Acts sermons here. Go through. See how many times Paul spoke about the end times or anyone else. No. They spoke about the resurrection. One heading here even is “Paul proclaims his righteousness and judgment to come.” That has to be it!” Well, no. You go there and Paul talks about the resurrection.

Paul was a guy for whom the resurrection of Jesus was central. He built his faith on that. He built it on it so much that in 1 Cor. 15 he said that if Jesus was not raised, we above all men should be pitied. It was the resurrection that established the end times doctrines and what was that end times doctrine? Oh yes. Resurrection.

When we make the focus be on something other than the resurrection, we are treating that as the foundation of our faith. You should believe in Jesus because of this end times doctrine. No. You should believe in Jesus because He rose from the dead. All the strange phenomena in the world doesn’t matter if Jesus is not raised. It’s just strange phenomena then.

My challenge to the Two Preachers then is to focus on the resurrection. Go through the videos and see how many are about the end times and how many are about the resurrection. See if that seems to be a problem or not. It’s also what I would recommend to other Christians. Some Christians major so much on end times that they have their charts and graphs all filled out, but they know nothing about how to show Jesus rose from the dead.  I’m not saying the Two Preachers couldn’t make a case. I hope they could. I’m saying we have a problem in our church when more people know about the end times than they do about the resurrection.

Some of you will disagree with me on my view of the end times. God bless you. I have no problem with futurists as people. Why would I? I’m married to one. I have a problem with futurism being the focus. (I would have a problem with Preterism being the focus instead of Jesus in fact.) I would say the same with YEC or OEC or inerrancy or any other doctrine.

Focus on the resurrection. That’s your foundation.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Jesus Before The Gospels

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The authors probably wanted to eliminate interest in who wrote the story and to focus the reader on the subject. More important, the claim of an anonymous history was higher than that of a named work. In the ancient world an anonymous book, rather like an encyclopedia article today, implicitly claimed complete knowledge and reliability. It would have reduced the impact of the Gospel of Matthew had the author written ‘this is my version’ instead of ‘this is what Jesus said and did.’  – The Historical Figure of Jesus by E.P. Sanders page 66.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Christ,
Nick Peters