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 (www.Godawa.com), 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

A Look At Death

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

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

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

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

It’s a pretty bleak picture.

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

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

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

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

And this is what makes Christianity so important.

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

No. God made this world to be your home.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Christ,

Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Can Christians Prove The Resurrection?

What do I think of Chris Sandoval’s book published by Trafford Publishing? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Can Christians Prove The Resurrection is a book by a skeptic of Christianity written to show that while a disproof may not be possible of the resurrection, it is very far from proven. To his credit, this is probably the best book I’ve read attacking the resurrection. I suspect that many not familiar with the ins and outs of the Biblical world could find themselves concerned about what they read. For those of us who do know something about the scholarship in the area, it’s still highly lacking.

Also to be fair, Sandoval is not a typical new atheist type. He does at least have a bibliography, although one that I think is lacking at times. Naturally, any mention of Richard Carrier is enough to make me wonder but a few times Wikipedia is also cited which is problematic. Still, he’s not just someone parroting other new atheists and there isn’t a hint of mythicism in the book.

Much of his argumentation relies on what he calls the principle of Judas’s nose. The Bible never says that Judas has a nose, but it’s fair to think that he did because all people we see for the most part have one and we should take the mundane ordinary explanation over something extraordinary. He gives the example that when you hear hoofbeats, you think horses and not zebras.

This principle can work in many ways, but the problem is that too often Sandoval has assumed the physical similarities but has ignored the cultural dissimilarities. Sandoval writes not paying attention to the social world of the New Testament. Thus, arguments I favor relying on the honor and shame context of the New Testament world to defend the resurrection aren’t even touched and when we get to his attacks on the resurrection instead of his defensive position, it gets worse.

There are also times I think Sandoval presses too heavily on biblical inerrancy, all the while knowing that some apologists like C.S. Lewis rejected it. Sandoval goes after fundamentalists, but in many ways it looks like he has some fundamentalism in him himself. This will become even more apparent when we get to this attack on the resurrection. That having been said, he finds it interesting that evangelicals would want to side with people like Lewis who did not hold to inerrancy. Well why not? Lewis believed in the risen Lord like I did. I know a good number of Christians who don’t hold to inerrancy but they are some of the most devout people I know.

Sandoval also starts with the burden of proof and how history is done. He agrees with McCullagh for the most part with ideas like explanatory scope and avoiding ad hoc items and such. Some of you will recognize this from Mike Licona’s work and to be fair, it looks like this book was written before or as that book came out so you won’t see interaction with Licona’s massive tome in here.

He does argue against miracles without any mention of Earman and of course, we now have Keener’s work on miracles and again, we cannot criticize Sandoval here for not having a reply to something that hadn’t come out yet. It would be interesting to see if he might revise his thesis if he read Keener. Still, Sandoval says that saying God exists and miracles are possible is ad hoc and implausible, though not impossible, yet I wonder what is ad hoc about it? Is this not taking not just skepticism of the resurrection but skepticism of theism as the default position, something I have written on elsewhere?

He also uses the problem of evil in saying that if we were God, we would have intervened in XYZ. Well would we? If we were God, we would also know the end from the beginning. Sandoval implies that being God would mean no new knowledge of the situation that would change one’s data. Well if he thinks that’s the case, I’ll leave it to him to demonstrate that.

When we get to eyewitnesses, on page 48 we are told that Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses ignored eyewitness opponents when they started their movements. Christians likewise did the same. Okay. What eyewitnesses? Name them. In fact, if we looked at the earliest opponents of Christianity, we would find that they not only held to basic truths any historian would agree to, such as Jesus being a real person who was crucified, but also that he in fact did miracles.

Now of course, we could say there were people who wrote against Christianity and their writings were lost due to events like the Jewish war in 70 A.D., but that’s not the same as saying that they were there and even if they were there, that they were ignored. If we went by Acts, we could even say Apollos is an example that they weren’t ignored since he engaged the Jews in public debate demonstrating that Jesus is the Christ. (Acts 18:27-28. This would also demonstrate that even far away, the facts of the life of Jesus were being discussed.)

Sandoval also argues that the eyewitness argument would prove more than would like to be admitted, such as the miracles of people like Kathryn Kuhlmann and other Pentecostals. What of it? Let’s suppose that we have eyewitness testimony that they did miracles. Let’s investigate the claims and see what we can find. If there were real miracles, well and good. That’s another point in my favor and one against Sandoval.

What about someone like Sabbatai Sevi? The difference is not that stories arose around him, but even in a short time those stories were jettisoned because of Sevi’s apostasy to Islam. The claim is not that legends can grow in a short time, but what does it take to get a legend to come up and totally supplant the truth of what happened in the critical stage of a belief system’s formation? The resurrection was formulated straight out of the gate (And might I add the full deity of Christ) and there wasn’t a competing Christian tradition until around the time of the second century when we have the Gnostics showing up and their denying the bodily resurrection would in fact make Christianity more appealing to Romans and such, but the orthodox would have nothing of it.

Another figure that could come up is the Baal Shem Tov. For that, I can give no better source I think than my friend David Marshall. Marshall also rightfully asks that if we have these accounts that are supposed to be so close to the life of the individual and have eyewitness testimony of miracles, well why not believe it? It looks like the ultimate answer would come down to “Because I don’t believe in miracles.” I often see skeptics saying that they don’t rule out miracles outright, but then when any evidence is presented, it must be denied because a miracle cannot be allowed.

Sandoval writes that miracles proves all these worldviews, or it proves nothing. Well that depends. You see, I have no problem with miracles in other worldviews. I think some of them could be God showing common grace. Some could also be due to dark extramaterial powers. I don’t know without looking but here’s the thing. I won’t say yes or no without looking. Can I be skeptical? Sure, but I should also be open.

What we have to ask is what is being proven in other worldviews? Christianity is the one religion that staked everything on one historical claim. No other world religion has done the same. What does the resurrection mean if true for Sandoval? Is it just “Jesus is Lord and we will go to Heaven when we die if we believe on Him?” If so, then that is lacking. It is really that Jesus made numerous claims about the Kingdom of God that centered around Him and His being the Messiah and the resurrection is God Himself vindicating those claims.

Sandoval also wants to speak about how creative Christians were in handing down their texts and uses Mark 16:9-20 and John 7:53-8:11 and the final chapter of John as his main examples. Well if we were wanting to talk about creative, much of this is mild. The appearances are found elsewhere and after John 20:28, Jesus helping catch fish is not exactly a huge step up. If stories were being created, we would expect the Christians to write something like the Gospel of Peter into the canonical Gospels. They didn’t.

In fact, it’s quite interesting that someone like Matthew while regularly showing throughout his text how prophecy was fulfilled says absolutely nothing when it comes to the resurrection. He never says “This fulfilled the Scriptures.” If you want to know what the resurrection means theologically, you must go to Paul. Had the writers been wanting to historicize prophecy as someone like Crossan would say, the resurrection would be the best place for them to do that, and they never did.

He also argues that the Gospels were not valued equally, such as Luke wanting to drive out his predecessors, though all that is said is that he used sources before him, which was common. Because the writer of 1 Timothy used Luke, it is thought the other Gospels were not valued, but this no more follows than my quoting Matthew in a sermon sometime would mean I didn’t care for the other Gospels. Also, we are told Justin Martyr did not use John, but such a scholar as Michael Kruger has called that into question.

There is often much conjecture, such as saying that the Christians put an end to prophecy due to factions. This is odd since in a letter written to a community with factions, namely 1 Corinthians, Paul speaks highly about the gift of prophecy. Second, he argues that the next step taken was to go with Apostolic succession to stop the rumor mill and then to canonize four Gospels that contained information some Christians probably knew to be false. This is on page 56 and there is no citation given. The scenario is ad hoc indeed.

Sandoval also says many cults and such rely on peer pressure. The reality is that peer pressure would work in the opposite way for the Christians. Christians would experience peer pressure from their society to not be different from everyone else and not to accept new belief systems that conflict with the Roman belief system and have shameful beliefs and practices. Sandoval’s claim then works against him. Were peer pressure to be a strong deterrent in the early church, we would expect it to go the opposite way. Keep in mind Hebrews was written to Jewish Christians considering apostasizing and this without having to have any persecution in a physical sense. They are simply being shamed and that is enough for them to want to return to Judaism.

This is really a major problem for Sandoval. He writes as if he assumes that all cultures are alike and that if individualistic peer pressure is a problem here, then it would have been in the ancient world. This is a radical claim that needs to be established since one of the first rules of understanding a foreign culture is to not presume that it is just like yours. Remove this assumption from Sandoval and much of his case falls flat.

He also tells us that history is written by the winners, but what about Xenophon? What about Thucydides? These were not the winners and yet they wrote the history. This ultimately leads to a subjectivism of history if we follow it to its conclusion.

When he writes about people who were outside of the church and wrote about Christianity, he says that clearly these writers knew only what they heard from the Christians themselves. Well no, that’s not clear. It’s not clear to scholars of Tacitus for instance, especially since Tacitus did not speak favorably of Christ or the Christians and wrote against hearsay and even did not take everything Pliny the Younger said at face value, who was his closest friend. Tacitus would have access to records as a senator and priest we would no longer have access to. Sandoval also says this was Celsus’s only source, aside from Jewish Christians who were limited to Christian sources. It’s amazing what Sandoval thinks he can know about a work that we don’t even have a full copy of today.

When it comes to the dating of the Gospels, Sandoval pretty much plants everything on the Olivet Discourse, but this I find quite odd. If Sandoval is so sure that this is a false prophecy, which he has a chapter on, why would Matthew and Luke write about it after the fact? Why not just not mention it?

He also wants us to call into question tradition from people like Irenaeus on the authors of the Gospels because Irenaeus thought Jesus lived to be 50. What is ignored is that Irenaeus does not get 50 from any tradition, but rather from his own unique doctrine of recapitulation. In fact, when Irenaeus speaks of the Gospels, he speaks as if his audience already knows what he is talking about and that there is no debate over. In fact, there never has been debate over this in the early church aside from if the Gospel of John is from John the apostle or John the elder.  You can listen to my interview with Charles Hill for more.

He also wants to use the usual canards about Mark getting the geography of Palestine wrong in Mark 7, as if only direct travel could be mentioned and not an itinerary. Sandoval also mentions the Gospels being anonymous citing page 66 of Sanders’s book. It’s unfortunate that he doesn’t give the quote from that pages. It goes as follows:

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.

We could go on with more at this point, but for now the work is not convincing. At least Sandoval is trying to interact, but it looks like what he does is just try to find a place where he thinks someone is unreliable and then say “Well based on that, why should we trust them elsewhere?” Follow this standard consistently and you will never trust anyone on anything.

Sandoval also writes that if Jesus had performed miracles like these, most Jews would have followed Him. Why? This from someone who cites Deuteronomy 13 later on about following a false prophet who even does miracles is surprising. Jews did not follow Jesus because miracles were not enough in themselves. It was His teaching and shameful lifestyle. Yet Sandoval wants to say then that these stories must be fictitious because of these reasons. He also says the Gospel stories could have been coherent without the nature miracles, so those must be an afterthought. There is no backing for this radical claim.

When it comes to the claims of Jesus being traced back through oral tradition, Sandoval follows a Carrier strategy and says that Paul was receiving revelation from a heavenly Christ. His main place for this is in 1 Cor. 11, but he ignores Keener’s work on the historical Jesus where Keener points out that Jewish rabbis would say they received material from Sinai. They do not mean they heard Sinai speak but that that was the ultimate source. When it comes to 1 Cor. 11, Jesus is the ultimate source since He spoke those words. This would not apply to 1 Cor. 15 where Jesus did not speak about eyewitnesses seeing him.

He also writes about mass hallucinations, namely Catholic appearances and such. First off, let’s try to investigate and see what happened. Second, these were also a lot of power of suggestion and not so much hallucinations as people could well be seeing something and interpreting it wrongly. A hallucination is a case where someone sees something when really there is no external referent to see. If we consider the dancing sun, I have been told that if people stare at the sun for too long, that it will start affecting their eyes so they see weird things. (I have not tried this and have no intention of doing so. I don’t want permanent retinal damage and excuse me, but I happen to enjoy looking at my wife and don’t want that to change.)

Sandoval also writes of bereavement hallucinations. No doubt, these happen, but how many times do we see these happening and the person afterwards says something like “My spouse is alive! Open up the casket!” No. If anything, bereavement hallucinations in fact lead to the opposite conclusion. They lead to the conclusion that the person is certainly dead.

The next chapter is on the idea of persecution. Of course, this was written before Sean McDowell’s Ph.D. on the topic so we can excuse that, but in all this talk about persecution there is not one mention of shaming. It’s as if the only kind of persecution Sandoval can picture is persecution that puts your life on the line. Christians could run from that kind of persecution, but they could not run from shaming and if he wants to say early Mormons lived virtuous lives, I simply want him to explain the Mountain Meadows Massacre.

In fact, in all of this Sandoval never asks one question. “Why were Christians persecuted?” What great crime were they committing? Answer. They were putting society at risk by failing to acknowledge the gods. They were also going further by saying Caesar is not Lord but Jesus was. There was no separation of church and state. Attacking religion is attacking the state and attacking the state is attacking religion.

Sandoval also says Paul’s conversion is not miraculous. After all, Reagan went from being a liberal to being a conservative. He gives other examples but all of this miss who Paul really was. Sandoval wants to say Paul had to understand the wrestling with sin since he wrote in Romans 7 which he says is not likely autobiographical but surely Paul knew the wrestling. Well no. Paul’s testimony in Philippians 3 gives no hint whatsoever of any wrestling and Sandoval is reading a modern guilt conscience into this, something Krister Stendahl wrote about this long ago in his work on Paul and the introspective conscience of the West.

Paul’s move was in fact suicide on his part. If we want to think about benefits Paul got from being a Christian, we need to look at 2 Cor. 11. Those are not exactly glowing job benefits we would want. Paul was moving up and up in a prestigious position. Why would he switch to a shameful position? Unfortunately, since Sandoval does not know about honor and shame, he does not understand what was really going on in the case of Paul.

When we come to Sandoval’s explanation of what happened, he first goes after the claim that Joseph of Arimathea saying that it’s odd he does not show up in Acts. Well what’s odd about that? For instance, Mary Magdalene will fit into Sandoval’s scheme, but the only place she could be mentioned is Acts is a reference to “The women” in Acts 1. Many people just drop out of the narrative so why expect Joseph to be mentioned?

Sandoval’s explanation for all the data relies on Mary Magdalene having a bereavement hallucination and then Peter exploiting her financially for it. For the tomb being found empty, he goes more with the idea of grave robbers, though grave robbers would not likely steal the whole body but only the parts that were needed for their incantations. Again, I find it all lacking. He does want to compare the appearances also to what happened with the claims of Mormonism, though I think Rob Bowman has given an excellent reply to that in my interview with him.

So now we get more into Sandoval’s scenario. Sandoval sees the idea of Mary having an exorcism as a sign that she was emotionally fragile. Also, she was secretly in love with Jesus and had a nervous breakdown after the crucifixion. She panicked when a young man at the tomb said the body was missing and fled and later thought that it meant an angel had appeared to explain the supernatural disappearance of the body. She told this to her lady friends who had also had exorcisms and they had powerful feelings of Jesus’s invisible presence.

Peter after hearing about this started to experience the same and saw a career opportunity. He could rely on Mary Magdalene and the others in the Christian movement and not have to do any work and become the leader of a Messianic movement. Peter would then speak to crowds and was such a dynamic speaker that others would feel the presence of Jesus and if they didn’t, well they were the doubters who weren’t worthy. This is also why the appearance to the 500 isn’t mentioned because it was known to be subjective.

At this, let me give an aside. Paul relates this 20+ years later to the Corinthians not as new revelation to them, but something that they already know. This was accepted material. Why was it not mentioned in the Gospels? Why should it be? The Gospels were not written to prove the resurrection but to share the life and teachings of Jesus. Had they been written to prove the resurrection, they would have just focused on that and in fact answered objections. They didn’t.

To go back to the story, when we get to James, Sandoval continues his flights of fancy as he says that after Joseph died, Jesus abandoned his mother and brothers and ran away to join John the Baptist embarrassing his family financially. Evidence of this? None whatsoever. When the family approached Jesus in Mark 3, it was because he had shirked his financial responsibilities.

Sandoval also says a lot of this creativeness comes through the oral tradition, but as expected, he cites no scholars whatsoever of oral tradition. It is all just presumed to be unreliable. Maybe it was, but Sandoval needs to make a case instead of just an assumption.

When we get to other objections, Sandoval brings forward the idea that some first century Jews believed that Elijah and John the Baptist would be raised from the dead before the general resurrection. They do? When was this? I especially wonder with John the Baptist. Did Elijah have an important role to play in end times events? Yes, but Jews would not say Elijah had been raised from the dead due to the simple reason that in their tradition, Elijah never died! The common people did think Jesus could be someone come back from the dead, but there is no hint that they thought this meant the final eschatological resurrection.

We are also told that novelty is not impossible and Mormonism is the example of that, but Mormonism arose in a modern individualistic society with a more live and let live attitude and where the Mormons had wide open spaces they could flee to. Their tradition also changed quite rapidly and we do have independent evidence that Joseph Smith was a highly questionable character. If someone wanted to say Islam, one thing differentiates Islam. Islam had a sword. Remove the warring aspect from Islam and see what happens.

Sandoval also writes about how the Christians destroyed the library of Alexandria. Unfortunately, it looks like Sandoval has followed an atheist myth, perhaps in the footsteps of Richard Carrier. An atheist like Tim O’Neill takes it to task here. He also says that Justinian passed a law against pagan teachers which meant shutting down the academy of Plato. Nonsense. There were plenty of neo-Platonic schools.  Justinian did close a school but not because it taught Platonic teachings, but because it was founded by anti-Christians and including anti-Christian teachings.

We will now move to the offensive case of Sandoval starting first with how the New Testament supposedly ripped the Old Testament out of context. If you’re wanting to see if Richard Longenecker’s Biblical Exegesis in the Apostolic Period is cited, well you already know the answer. Of course not. In this, Sandoval is being the fundamentalist that he condemns.

My view is of prophecy not so much as fulfillment but as reenactment. Now were there fulfillments? Yes. These were the case where specific timeframes were mentioned such as Daniel 2 and Daniel 9. (In fact, these would not be altered even if the late date for Daniel was accepted) In this case, it is that Jesus redoes as it was what was done back then and a this for that context is applied where the writer sees a parallel. It could even just be one verse in the passage instead of the whole passage. This was an acceptable method of exegesis in the time of Jesus and in fact done by the Dead Sea Scrolls community. We would not use it today, but the Christians were playing by the rules.

One key example of this would be Matthew 15:8 where Jesus says to the Pharisees that Isaiah prophesied of them saying “These people follow me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.” Of course Isaiah was not speaking about the Pharisees, but Jesus saw a parallel that as the Jews were in the time of Isaiah, so the Pharisees were in the time of Jesus. This was entirely acceptable in the time.  This would apply to many of these events, but let’s look at some places Sandoval brings up anyway.

One is that Matthew cites an unknown prophet in Matthew 2 saying Jesus would grow up in Nazareth. My reply to this is that this is a time where Matthew says prophets instead of prophet. I interpret it as saying Jesus would grow up a shameful figure and what could be more shameful than Nazareth?

We naturally have the idea that Jesus supposedly rode two animals at once when he came in on the triumphant entry. What is noted is that there is the reference also to the garments being sat on the animal and Jesus sat on them. The them is not to the animals but to the garments. Matthew may have been wrong, but he is not an idiot. He does not presume to think Jesus can ride two animals at once.

We next move to contradictions. Much of this I want to leave for Mike Licona’s work likely coming out in the fall looking at contradictions in light of the study of Greco-Roman biographies. Still, Sandoval starts by saying that some Gospels plagiarized the others which would be a violation of American copyright law today. No. Copyright law did not apply naturally in the ancient world and secondly, what was said by one Gospel writer would be the property of the church and the church could do with it what it wanted. There is nothing more in this chapter that cannot be found talked about in good commentaries, so let’s move to my favorite chapter, the last.

I love this one so much because it brings one of my favorite objections to eliminate. Jesus was a failed prophet. Sandoval has already expected that Christians will spiritualize a text rather than take it literally, which of course begs the question that it’s to be taken “literally” to begin with.

Sandoval goes by two tests. The first is that a teacher would show up leading people away from God to follow a contrary system and Jesus did this by abolishing the Law and then of course there are ideas like the Trinity. Sandoval makes no mention of passages in the Old Testament that speak about a new covenant and about God doing something new in the midst of the people. He does in fact rightly show that the word translated as “forever” can refer to an indefinite time, but unconvincingly says that this cannot apply to the Law itself. While the term everlasting is used of God, it is followed with superlatives such as “From everlasting to everlasting.”

Yet let’s go to my favorite. Jesus was wrong about the end of the world. The problem is Jesus is not saying a thing about the end of the world and you’d think that someone who cites N.T. Wright would know about this. Perhaps Sandoval did not really read Wright but just looked up a reference. Jesus is speaking in the manner of an Old Testament prophet and uses cosmic language to describe political events. What he is prophesying is in fact the great war of 70 A.D. and the destruction of the temple. In that case, Jesus’s prophecy was right on the money.

In fact, it’s really sad he does this because he rightfully gets that the whole world in the discourse can just as easily refer to the Roman Empire and that Paul said he preached to every creature under Heaven which would be seen as a fulfillment of that prophecy. Sandoval just has a hang-up on literalism in this passage. Unfortunately, he will see my explanation as an explaining away and spiritualizing instead of realizing that there is a good exegetical basis for this.

I prefer to point to 2 Samuel 22. If we take that literally, we should expect to find a case in the life of David where God hitched up Gabriel and Michael and came out flying Green Arrow style shooting his enemies with arrows. Search high and low and you will not find that. What it is is David is using the kind of terminology that was used in his day. We could point to similar passages like Isaiah 13.

The irony then is that rather than this being a sign that Jesus was a false prophet, it is a great sign that He was a true prophet. Of course, Sandoval could punt to a late date, but if he does that due to it being a prophecy, then he is letting his worldview interpret the data where he says it must be late because prophecy cannot happen. I still find it odd that if this is such a blatant false prophecy that it would be written after the fact. (It’s interesting that if it was also, Matthew nowhere says “This prophecy of Jesus was fulfilled in the destruction of the temple.” Perhaps Matthew didn’t say that because it hadn’t happened yet?)

In conclusion, while Sandoval’s work is the best I’ve read attacking the resurrection, it is still drastically weak. I am reminded of the adage that one of the best ways to increase your confidence in the resurrection is to read those who oppose it. At the same time, we need more work on the social context being brought to light in the church because those who hold to a modern concept of how societies work will struggle with this work.

In Christ,

Nick Peters

Does Jesus’s Prayer Show Christianity is false?

Is disunity a disproof of Christianity? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

It’s always interesting to me the arguments skeptics of Christianity will present. I prefer to always go back to the case of the resurrection to show Christianity is true, but too many skeptics go everywhere else. It could be something such as “Well geez, in the OT it looks like slavery was allowed and I don’t like that so Christianity is false”, though this doesn’t show how Jesus rose from the dead. Some think that if they can show an error in the Bible, then this means all of the Bible is thrown out and Christianity is false. Some think that if we can’t explain starving children in Africa, then Christianity is false, though this does not show Jesus did not rise from the dead.

Now I’m not saying that those are unimportant questions and objections. They are and we should be ready to answer them, but if you want to prove that Christianity is false, you have to go for the main point. You have to demonstrate Jesus did not rise from the dead. Unfortunately, Neil Carter did not get that memo.

Carter starts off his argument by saying that Christians love to move matters of faith from objective matters to subjective ones. For too many Christians, I sadly agree this is true. There are too many Christians that look at their lives and their emotions and experiences as proof that Christianity is true. Unfortunately, Mormons are also very good at saying the exact same things and Mormonism and Christianity are directly opposed to one another. Christians must move their arguments to objective matters. After that, it is fine to show what a difference Christianity has made in your life, but Christianity is not true because it produces good results for you. It produces good results because it is true. It’s quite revealing also that Carter says he himself was one of these people. (Think you see the problem showing up already?)

Carter then goes on to say that

These folks always seem to want to attribute our skepticism to ulterior motives because that fits what they were taught from the pulpit. This interpretation also reassures them that our reasons for disbelieving cannot be truly rational ones. If they are rational, then they themselves might have to do a major overhaul of how they see the world, and let me tell you that’s no cake walk. I guess I can’t say I blame them. The social repercussions alone can be devastating, depending on where you live.

I find this quite amusing. Carter wants to accuse other people of knowing other peoples’ motives for disbelieving. He could be right or wrong, but the point is in the very next sentence, Carter does this himself! He says that Christians do this because they want to believe they are the truly rational ones. What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. As far as I’m concerned, I don’t bring up a motive unless someone paints a very vested interest in something. Are there improper motives for being an atheist? Yes. Are there improper motives for being a Christian? Yes. What matters is the data.

Let’s go on.

Christian apologists insist that, strictly speaking, one cannot prove that God does not exist. But that depends on which God we’re discussing, doesn’t it? They rarely seem to understand why that detail matters so much. See, if we’re arguing whether or not a generic Supreme Being exists, devoid of any attributes whatsoever (is it a person? is it male? does it want things? does it tell us what they are?), then there’s not really much to debate. Generic Supreme Beings don’t make any testable claims.

At the start of his article, Carter had spoken of a claim as being unfalsifiable and here he is speaking of it not being testable. In this, Carter is likely turning the question into a scientific question when it is not. It is a metaphysical question. Could we do any scientific testing to demonstrate that the square root of 4,096 is 64? Could we do scientific testing to determine if a husband and wife love each other? Could we do it to determine that it is wrong to torture babies for fun? Could we even do scientific testing to demonstrate that the material world exists? None of these are questions answerable by science, but all of them are answerable.

I also find it odd that Carter says we insist that God’s existence cannot be disproven. I know many apologists who would disagree, including myself. What Carter would need to do is to show a disproof of all of the arguments, including the classical ones, and then a disproof, such as in showing a necessary contradiction in the nature of God. Thus, this is something that could hypothetically be doable. It just hasn’t been done yet.

As Carter goes on, he is right to say that the God of Christianity does make claims, but unfortunately, it looks like he uses the same kind of fundamentalist reading as the Christians he critiques. We will see this more as we go on, but he speaks about messages shared on Facebook walls. Now I have no problem with someone sharing inspirational messages and such, but there are many of these that Carter should also realize we think are just horribly ripped out of context or misunderstood. You can see examples of that with Jeremiah 29:11 both here and here. That’s just a start.

So we go on.

If the Christian faith were true, we shouldn’t have to endlessly debate the historical reliability of religious texts written centuries ago. If the Christian faith were true, there would be evidence of it everywhere, here and now, not just buried under thousands of years of sediment, or between the pages of an onion skin book.

Okay…..

Why?

Is it because it would be easier to deal with instead of doing things like, you know, actual historical research. (Which would get us into that objective stuff instead of subjective material.) Despite this, I do think there is plenty of evidence of it everywhere. As Chesterton would say, if Christianity is true, everything is relevant to it. If it is not true, then it is of no relevance whatsoever. As I said though, Carter uses a fundamentalist reading of the text and we see that coming up now.

Hospitals and prisons should have fewer Christians in them than they have people of any other faith. Why? Because both Jesus and James said that if the church prays for its sick, they will be healed, and the apostle Paul claimed that the indwelling Holy Spirit would not let any temptation befall you without providing “a way out so that you can endure it.” If either of these things were true, there would be a statistically significant difference between the outcomes of one religion versus another. The cold, hard fact is: There isn’t.

I would like to know where Jesus said this. I suspect he is referring to the discourse in John 14-16, but even there we do not really see a blank check. This is a common misunderstanding of people who live in a modern individualistic society instead of interacting with the culture Jesus lived in. In Jesus’s time, if you wanted to get a blessing, it was up to the generosity of the patron and if it furthered his honor overall, he would be likely to give. To ask in His name would mean in accordance with the will of Jesus. Sometimes what we want is not really along those lines. I suspect one such passage he has in mind is this one from John 14:

13 And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.

If this was to be a blank check, how do we explain these?

John 16:33“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

John 16:2 They will put you out of the synagogue; in fact, the time is coming when anyone who kills you will think they are offering a service to God.

John 15:20 Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also.

Unfortunately, many lazy skeptics will look and just say “Contradiction!” and then conclude Jesus did not rise from the dead. The researcher though tries to understand what is being said. Could it be Jesus is using terminology that is understandable in His day and not as much in ours? Indeed. Removed from the system of Jesus, the message makes far less sense to us. (Unfortunately at this point, the same lazy skeptics will say Jesus should have been clearer and spoken in Ancient Israel with a modern 21st century American audience in mind.)

The James quote no doubt refers to this:

14 Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. 16 Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.

This prayer however is more connected with sickness. After all, the same James who said that also said in James 1:2 to

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds.

Forgiveness and sin are however tied together in this passage which refers to a sickness due to sin in the life of the believer. Why go to the church? One good reason is doctors were expensive. You might as well go to a church. Oil was a medicine that was more available and nothing wrong with prayer.

Naturally of course, we have repeated the myth about more Christians being in prison. Carter also says that when we are tempted, there will be a way out. Indeed, there will be. Does that mean we will always take it? It’s as if in Carter’s world if everyone is not living a perfect Christian life, then Jesus did not rise. Maybe it’s just me, but it looks like this is a subjective disproof. I say the same about his main disproof in John 17:20-23.

I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you…that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me… (emphasis his)

Now this raises a number of questions, but first can we establish that this wish has most certainly not been granted? The church has done many things down through the centuries, but maintaining unity has not been one them. Jesus here likens the unity he wishes for the church to the unity of the triune God (a concept you won’t see so clearly in any other gospel, which is a problem in itself). But to date the Christian church has splintered into thousands (some would say tens of thousands) of non-cooperating traditions. Oh sure, they still read the same Bible (mostly), but they have proven incapable of worshiping under the same roof with anyone who believes or practices the Christian faith “the wrong way.”

We’ll ignore the thing about the Trinity for now since that will take us off course, though we could say Carter has not done any of the reading necessary in NT scholarship to realize that there are other ways to state something other than explicitly and Jesus’s actions would be definitely showing who He was in the other Gospels. As for the splintering into tens of thousands, this also is an internet myth. I would contend there is in fact more unity than Carter realizes. I happen to attend a Lutheran church and do the writing of the curriculum for them. Do I identify as a Lutheran? Nope. I don’t identify with any denomination honestly. I do ministry quite often alongside Catholics and people in the Orthodox traditions. I have zero problem whatsoever with this. I am happily married to a woman who I disagree with on some doctrinal issues. Are there always going to be people who major on the minors? Sadly yes, and such people need to look at Jesus’s prayer more.

Of course, this unity would be a way of showing the world that Jesus came from the Father, but that does not mean that if the unity is not reached that Jesus did not come from the Father. The ultimate establishment of that was in the resurrection of Jesus. What Carter would need to show is Jesus saying “If they are not in unity, then I am not the one you sent.” That is not what was said. (Let’s also not forget that Jesus had hoped for any way also to avoid the cross and yet He didn’t.) Carter goes on to say

That was a really, really bad move. Maybe even worse than the time when he promised that the people standing there in front of him would witness the Second Coming and the Judgment Day before the end of their lifetimes (see Matt. 16:27-28 and 24:34). Whoops. Lots of theologians have worked hard to explain that one away, and they can manage to cover some of it by referencing stuff that happened around the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. But some of the events Jesus foretold there most certainly did not happen within the lifetimes of his original listeners. It doesn’t matter how much you try to chalk up to apocalyptic language and metaphor.

It’s worth pointing out that neither of those passages are about the return of Christ. One is about seeing the Son of Man coming in His Kingdom. That does not say return. It is a fundamentalist reading Carter has thrown onto the text. The same with Matthew 24:34. Jesus hadn’t even left and His disciples would have thought He was becoming king. They had no concept of Him leaving so why would they ask about a return? No. This is also talking about the same thing and I would contend that both of those happened in 70 A.D. Carter says it doesn’t matter how much you try to chalk it up to apocalyptic language or metaphor. Yes. Because obviously Jesus should have spoken for modern 21st century Americans and if He didn’t, then we can just throw it out. Sounds again like a subjective criteria….

Now we get to what Carter says the excuses are. (None of them speak of reading good scholarship on the material of course.)

One could perhaps argue that this prayer of Jesus shouldn’t count as a “testable promise” in the same vein as the other things I mentioned above. But then why was it recorded for us in the first place, if not to be communicated to the world along with the rest of their message? Clearly we were meant to know of this request, so recalling it here is completely appropriate. Often the Bible says that Jesus went off alone to pray, and presumably we shouldn’t know the content of those prayers since no one would have been around to record them (and yet we still are privy to some of them even though Jesus didn’t write any of this stuff himself). But in this case we are told what he prayed because he did it out loud in front of his followers.

Again, I question the testable claim, but how about saying this is shown because we are to know how Jesus handled the most important week of His life, the passion week. We are also to know Jesus’s prayer so we as good followers of His can do what we can to fulfill His desires. Carter assumes a modern scientific understanding of testing the claim, which again puts us in a bizarre world. It could be that there is sufficient evidence that God raised Jesus from the dead vindicating His claims and yet somehow Christianity is false? Huh?

What about the second one?

One could also argue that there’s still time for God to answer this prayer in the affirmative. After all, doesn’t the Good Book say that “with him a thousand years is like a day?” Isn’t that the very rationalization used by Peter after decades had gone by with none of the apocalyptic predictions coming to pass (see 2 Peter 3:3-9)? He argues there that God is holding off on incinerating the earth out of a patient desire to allow as many to change their minds as possible. Isn’t that gracious of him?

Never mind that Carter’s literalism is coming in again, but I also don’t take this passage in that way. Do some things take time? Yes. No need to jump to 2 Peter 3 for that. Carter will contend as he does that that means that people for 20 centuries had no reason to not buy into Christianity, but this assumes that Carter’s idea is true that this is the clinching proof of Christianity, and it is not. The clinching proof is the resurrection. (Again, Carter seems to like to use subjective criteria. Looks like not much has changed in his thinking. It’s only his loyalty that’s different.)

Perhaps the saddest part of all to me is how the more self-aware Christians will take a post like this and just use it as yet another tool for beating themselves up. If the Christian message teaches people anything, it’s to be responsive to guilting. But beating up the church for its inability to maintain unity down through the centuries doesn’t make sense, either, because aren’t prayers supposed to be asking God to make things happen that only he can do? If this is something miraculous, something which requires divine provision, then why are you guilting yourselves for the failure of this prayer? Which one of you is God, now?

No. This is not said to be something miraculous. If anything, for the time of Jesus, everything was thought to come from God or the gods. You were to give thanks in all things and there was no divide between the natural and the supernatural for them, which is another reason I don’t accept the distinction. The divine was involved in everything. The same would go with obedience. You were to pray to be faithful, to not be led into temptation, etc. This does not involve God shooting you with a magic power to make you do His will. This is just your prayers become a way of actively subjugating yourself to God and thus changing your will to work with His.

Does this mean there is no grounds by which the church should speak to itself? Of course not. We are to motivate one another to good works and this prayer should raise a desire for all of us to try to come together. Will we agree on everything? No. Can we agree on the essentials? Yes.

Now let’s hope internet skeptics up their game and try to go after the resurrection instead of, you know, this subjective stuff.

In Christ,
Nick Peters