Is Jesus An Idol?

Do we make an idol out of Jesus? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

My wife shared something that it was thought it would be good for me to respond to and, well, as you all know my wife gets first priority. A lesbian Methodist bishop, something to think about in itself, has said that we make an idol out of Jesus. Now I wanted to see what was said to make sure it was being understood. We don’t need any “Jesus is my boyfriend” type of messages out there. If that was the kind of thing being said, that would be fine, but no. Karen Oliveto has something different in mind.

For her, Jesus was indeed fully human, which we would all embrace as part of orthodoxy, but part of His humanity includes growing in moral character. It would be false to say that Jesus never grew as He walked this Earth. Luke 2:52 tells us that He did. It would be false to say Jesus came out of the womb knowing Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic, how to do quadratic equations, the distance between here and Alpha Centauri, and pontificating the Summa Theologica.

It would also be false to think that Jesus because He was God and man was superhuman in everything that He did. While Jesus could walk on water, if you were to have a swimming race between Jesus and Michael Phelps, your smart money is better spent on Michael Phelps winning. Michael Jordan would beat Jesus in a game of basketball. If you want to talk about physics, someone like Stephen Hawking would know more about that than Jesus would have. Jesus came and played by the rules after all. We dare not think He was God so much that it eclipsed His humanity. His humanity was entirely real.

The difference is with moral behavior. Jesus did not grow morally because He was the only one who never sinned. He was born without a sin nature. He did not become a more holy person throughout His life. He was pure and spotless from the beginning.

Oliveto’s main text to show Jesus growing supposedly is the story of the Canaanite woman who had a demon-possessed daughter. In the interest of fairness, this is a difficult passage to understand. It is easy to see how some people could see the account and think that Jesus is awfully cold. This is a woman with a demon-possessed daughter. Why not help her out? Why speak to her in such a way to refer to her as a dog?

What I think is going on is that Jesus is not just helping the woman, but He is also teaching His disciples. His disciples would have known about Jesus’s willingness to help out Gentiles seeing as he’d helped the Centurion’s servant and He’d delivered the man with the Legion inside of him. Still, old ways of thinking die hard. The Disciples would have grown up with an inherent distaste for the outsiders. Even after the resurrection, it took a vision to get Peter to share the Gospel with a Gentile.

So when this woman comes to Jesus, Jesus I think was playing along with what the disciples were saying who just wanted her sent away. The account starts with the disciples seen as being in the place of favor since they are the chosen ones of Jesus and the woman being a shameful figure seeing as she is an outsider. Jesus tests the woman to reveal her not to Him, for He knew what was in her heart already, but to reveal her to the disciples.

So what happens? This woman turns out to have greater faith than the disciples. The result is a complete turnaround. The woman is honored and the disciples are seen as the shamed ones. Jesus did not honor their request, the MEN who were closest to Him, but honored the request of the woman. This would have been a hard lesson for the disciples to learn that day.

Oliveto is certainly right that Jesus stood against the cultural norms and prejudices of His day. She is wrong in thinking this was a new revelation to Him. Jesus regularly shattered the viewpoint of those around Him. His own ministry was a challenge seeing as He was not one of the educated elite. He regularly interacted with women, would speak to Samaritans, dined with prostitutes and tax collectors, etc.

Oliveto is quite likely reading too much of herself into Jesus. It is true that we can put Jesus into roles He was never meant to be into, such as Jesus being your boyfriend, but it is false to say that we are in danger of making too much of Jesus. In reality, we are likely not seeing Him as He uniquely was and is. Skeptics today are regularly trying to find similarities between Jesus and other figures in ancient history. What is far more interesting is noting how Jesus is different from all other figures. Jesus is in a class by Himself.

It’s not Jesus who is prejudiced and bigoted and needs to be informed by us. It is the opposite. We have our prejudices and bigotry, and the main one many of us have is the assumption that we in our cultural milleu are enlightened and in the right entirely. If our moral stances disagree with Jesus, we really need to look at those moral stances.

Oliveto has certainly opened us up to something though. Jesus is far more different than we realize. In reality, this article reveals nothing new about Jesus. It sure reveals a lot about Oliveto.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, Second Edition

What do I think of Richard Bauckham’s book published by Eerdmans? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I want to think Eerdmans and Bauckham himself for making sure I got a review copy of this book. The first edition was indeed a classic and something all interested in the reliability of the Gospels should read. The second one is no exception and expounds further than the last one did.

Something that is striking to me about this book as I read through it is how different the argument is from most works. Most works will start with dating the Gospels and then argue from there by pointing to events like archaeological findings. Bauckham doesn’t do that, well not in the exact sense. Archaeology I think is only mentioned once that I recall and this concerning the destruction of Jerusalem and Josephus. The closest you get to dating is by looking at the names that show up in the Gospels.

Why would anyone do that? Because when we look at the Gospels, we see the names used in them match the commonly used names at the time and the ones that are exceptions match that same ratio as well. This is not the kind of thing that a later writer would easily produce. We can tell the common names today because we have a whole catalog available to us of all the names being used. Back then, you couldn’t jump on Google and see what popular names were so a writer would not know about that.

Interestingly to me, much of the time Bauckham spends examining Mark and John. Not much is said about Luke or Matthew, though some is of course. I find this surprising since for many of us, the place we’d go to the most for eyewitness testimony is Luke. He specifically mentions eyewitness testimony and there’s much archaeological evidence for Luke and Acts.

Meanwhile, John is usually seen as highly unreliable. Bauckham argues that the Gospel is likely from the perspective of the beloved disciple. He doesn’t believe this to be John, the son of Zebedee, but he does say that this person was part of Jesus’s entourage and was an eyewitness of what he reported. If this is so, then scholars really need to rethink how they see John.

But isn’t eyewitness testimony unreliable? You can see stories about how people got facts wrong about 9/11 when interviewed later about it. How can this be? These people were eyewitnesses. Bauckham does make a case for eyewitness testimony being reliable in many many cases.

Still, as I thought about this, I thought that many of these “eyewitnesses” were really “TV witnesses.” If we really wanted eyewitness testimony about an event like 9/11, what would be best would be to interview people like survivors who worked in the building, people who lost loved ones on that day, and firefighters and police officers who went in and got people out. These are all people who had skin in the game.

This would be the closest parallel perhaps to Jesus. If you want to know who to talk to about the life of Jesus, talk to the people who were active participants in it and not just bystanders. Sure, bystanders can get some things right, but they won’t remember long-term details. A college student watching 9/11 on TV won’t know as much about it as someone who had a loved one in the towers wondering if they would get out.

Speaking of this, many people like Carrier and others often talk about how the Gospels didn’t cite their sources like other writers did. One thing to say about this is there weren’t exactly many written materials to cite. A second thing to say is that ancient writers didn’t use footnotes and endnotes like we do and did not cite all their sources. A third thing is that if Bauckham is right, they did. When they named someone in the Gospels who was not a famous figure, this was a method of citation. Names could drop out then because that person had died and was no longer available.

One example I can think of immediately with this is the resurrection of Jesus in John. In his Gospel, only Mary Magdalene is named, but in the story she uses the word “we” to describe going to the tomb. Could it be that there were other women there, but only Mary is named because only she was still alive?

One other point worth mentioning is that according to Bauckham, form criticism is dead. One can certainly hope so. We have learned so much since the time of Bultmann and others that we should discard an ideology if it is no longer being used. Unfortunately, we do live in the day and age of the internet where an idea being dead doesn’t mean it can’t be used. (Those of you who argue Jesus never existed and is a copy of pagan gods? I’m talking to you especially.)

This book is full of many in-depth arguments, many of which are too in-depth to go into here. Anyone wanting to discuss the reliability of the Gospels owes it to themselves to check out this work. Bauckham is no slouch in the field and his reputation should not be taken lightly. I hope this study will be the start of many many more such studies.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Deeper Waters Podcast 7/29/2017: Tony Costa

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

The resurrection is the central claim of Christianity. All the theistic arguments in the world can work, but if Jesus did not rise, then all is for naught. Christianity is bogus at that point. This is what everything hangs on. It’s important then that Christians understand and have a good defense of this doctrine.

Can a modern man really believe that a man came back from the dead? How can we trust accounts that are 2,000 years old when it comes to these monumental claims? Don’t extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence? Weren’t the people who believed this living in a pre-scientific culture and today we all know better?

We have had shows on this before, but to discuss it this time, I decided to bring on someone I haven’t brought on before. This person got in touch with me originally after seeing the replies that I had made to a certain John Tors. I had heard this person on Unbelievable before and knew that I wanted them on so I decided to take advantage of the email and they agreed to come on. That person is Tony Costa. So who is he?

So who is he?

Tony Costa has earned a B.A. and an M.A. in the study of religion, biblical studies, and philosophy from the University of Toronto. Tony received his Ph.D. in the area of theology and New Testament studies from Radboud University in the Netherlands. His area of expertise is biblical and systematic theology, cults, the New Age Movement, and comparative world religions with a specialization in Islam. Tony is also an ordained minister of the Gospel. As a Christian apologist Dr. Costa gives reasons for the valid belief in Christianity and also advocates the unique claims of Jesus Christ. He also lectures and debates at various universities and colleges on the existence of God, Muslim-Christian relations, as well as the credibility of the Christian faith. Tony is a professor of apologetics with the Toronto Baptist Seminary. He also teaches as an Instructor with the School of Continuing Studies at the University of Toronto in the area of New Testament studies and Second Temple Judaism. He serves as an adjunct professor with Heritage College and Seminary in Cambridge, Ontario and Providence Theological Seminary in Franklin, Tennessee. Tony is also a member of the Network of Christian Scholars in Canada. He has lectured throughout Canada, the United States, and overseas. He is the author of Worship and the Risen Jesus in the Pauline Letters (New York: Peter Lang Publishers, 2013), as well as a contributor of scholarly essays in Christian Origins and Greco-Roman Culture, and Christian Origins and Hellenistic Judaism and various journals. Tony is happily married to a wonderful wife, has 3 children, and a grandson, and resides in Toronto, Canada.

This is the central doctrine. We’ve had Gary Habermas and Mike Licona both come on to talk about it. This time, Tony Costa will be in the hot seat and I plan to ask him the most difficult questions I can and see if the resurrection can stand up. I hope you’ll be looking forward to this one and leave a positive review of the Deeper Waters Podcast on ITunes.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

A Response to Schrodinger’s Christian on the Empty Tomb

Did Jesus leave behind an empty tomb? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I was alerted recently to a blog by someone known as Schrodinger’s Christian (SC from now on) who claims to be a doubting Christian and in this post is arguing against the empty tomb. I looked through and saw more of the same and decided since it was late in the evening that I would write a response to it. Now that that time has come, what can be said to a post like this?

First off, I think it’s noteworthy that such an emphasis is placed on an error-free text. I’ve said before that inerrancy is a secondary issue and while it is no doubt an important one, it is too easy to marry one’s Christianity to inerrancy. We see at the start Defending Inerrnacy cited and I’m not surprised it did not have much effect. SC is right in that we must look when doing history to what is probable, but there will be no need to defend inerrancy here to make the case for the empty tomb. Of course, the writings of the Gospels must be taken into consideration, but we don’t need to treat them as inerrant or inspired to make the case.

SC goes on to say that he thought that it was unanimous among historians that there was an empty tomb. I would very much like to know where he got this idea. As someone who knows extremely well both of the main people behind the minimal facts approach, I have never once heard any of them utter such a thing. Is it a majority view? Yes. Is it a unanimous view? Not at all.

He goes on to list a number of points such as Mark is the first mention of an empty tomb, Paul doesn’t hold to it, Mark’s ending isn’t original, no other sources talk about the empty tomb, etc. All of these are of course disputed to some degree, but let’s look and see what he does with them. Does he also interact with the scholars in the field on this?

SC starts with Paul asking why Paul doesn’t ask where the body went and why he doesn’t ask his detractors to explain what happened? The reason is because no one there was doubting that Jesus rose from the dead. Paul is making a classical argument and the start of it is stating what we all agree on. Here’s where we agree. Jesus was raised from the dead. The argument in 1 Cor. 15 is on the general resurrection. Gentiles would be able to say Jesus was an exception because of who He was. Paul starts off by giving the agreed statement on Jesus’s resurrection, an early Christian creed.

In fact, SC shows no knowledge that this is a creed in this post. (Noteworthy that by that standard that he has given, it is probable that he does not know this since surely he would have mentioned it since saying an early creed doesn’t mention an empty tomb would help his case.) This is the earliest account we have of the resurrection, but it is not meant to be a Gospel account. It is meant to give the bare facts and does it include an empty tomb? I contend that it does.

Where? It says Jesus was dead, then he was buried, then he was raised. That means the place where he was buried was empty which would mean an empty tomb. I also contend based on the arguments of Licona and Martin and Gundry and Wright and others that Paul believed fully in a bodily resurrection in the passage. SC lives in a world where explicit mention needs to be made. (Yet keep in mind by that standard, SC doesn’t have the basic knowledge about this being a creed since he does not explicitly mention it.)

Well what about veneration? Here, I wish for the reader to keep in mind that first off, since Christianity was a shameful cult at the time, it’s doubtful the Jewish leaders would allow any homage to be paid to the tomb of Jesus. They would have wanted to silence the cult and they were not above persecution. Thus, one reason for this non-veneration was because of the Jewish leaders.

Second, veneration took place to honor the dead. Jesus’s tomb would not be venerated because Jesus was not dead. He was live. You don’t go and lay wreaths or such on a tomb when there’s no one in it.

Finally, http://enoch2112.tripod.com/ByronBurial.htmByron McCane’s article on the shamefulness of Jesus’s burial is most helpful. McCane contends that the burial of jesus was a shameful burial and one that the followers of Jesus would not want to draw any more attention to than necessary. As McCane says

The shame of Jesus’ burial is not only consistent with the best evidence, but can also help to account for an historical fact which has long been puzzling to historians of early Christianity: why did the primitive church not venerate the tomb of Jesus? Joachim Jeremias, for one, thought it inconceivable (undenkbar) that the primitive community would have let the grave of Jesus sink into oblivion. Yet the earliest hints of Christian veneration of Jesus’ tomb do not surface until the early fourth century CE. It is a striking fact–and not at all unthinkable–that the tomb of Jesus was not venerated until it was no longer remembered as a place of shame.

SC then goes on to say that Romans did not do decent burials. He is correct, if he was talking about anywhere else in the Roman Empire. Not in Palestine. In Palestine, for the most part, Jews were granted tolerance with their religious observances. Part of that included burying the dead. It didn’t matter if the person was a saint or a criminal. Burial was mandatory. In peacetime then, the Romans let the Jews observe burial practices.

Why was this? Because if you bury a body in a shallow grave, the land could be polluted by the dead body. Consider also that a dog or a bird could get a part of the body and bring it into the temple and rendering the place unclean. This could not happen. For the purity of the land, all bodies had to be dealt with properly and while Jesus was seen as a wicked blasphemer, He still had a body.

SC says we have no record of a criminal being allowed burial after death. For one thing, not many Jews would write about the burial practices of criminals so why is this a shock? Second, we do in fact have evidence of someone who was crucified being in a tomb. This alone would be enough to render the objection moot.

He also says it would make no sense for Joseph of Arimathea to be involved in the process, but why? Are we to suppose that just everyone in the Sanhedrin automatically agreed with the verdict? Considering this was a kangaroo court, perhaps also not even everyone was there but just the ones available. This wasn’t a court interested in truth after all.

So why would Joseph do the job? Because since the Sanhedrin ordered the death of Jesus, they were responsible for what happened to the body. Joseph took advantage of this along with Nicodemus. Note that the family did not do this. The family would not be allowed to approach a criminal and mourn for him. This was to shame. Joseph and Nicodemus both do try to do what they can with spices and such to give some honor to Jesus, but it is like having someone with a gushing wound and thinking a child’s band-aid will heal it up.

It’s also worth nothing what a Jewish scholar of Jewish burial practices at the time of Jesus has to say about this.

“Jesus came from a modest family that presumably could not afford a rock- cut tomb. Had Joseph not offered to accommodate Jesus’ body his tomb (according to the Gospel accounts) Jesus likely would have been disposed in the manner of the lower classes: in a pit grave or trench grave dug into the ground. When the Gospels tell us that Joseph of Arimathea offered Jesus a spot in his tomb, it is because Jesus’ family did not own a rock- cut tomb and there was no time to prepare a grave- that is there was no time to dig a grave, not hew a rock cut tomb(!)—before the Sabbath. It is not surprising that Joseph, who is described as a wealthy and perhaps even a member of the Sanhedrin, had a rock-cut family tomb. The Gospel accounts seem to describe Joseph placing Jesus’ body in one of the loculi in his family’s tomb. (Jodi Magness, Stone and Dung, Oil and Spit: Jewish Daily Life in the Time of Jesus, pg 170)

“There is no need to assume that the Gospel accounts of Joseph of Arimathea offering Jesus a place in this family tomb are legendary or apologetic. The Gospel accounts of Jesus’s burial appear to be largely consistent with the archeological evidence” ( Magness, pg 171)

Also, if more is needed, I did do some interviews on this. I interviewed Greg Monette who is doing his Ph.D. on the burial of Jesus. I also interviewed Craig Evans on his book Jesus and the Remains of His Day and we talked about the burial of Jesus in that. It also hasn’t escaped my notice that SC did not cite any scholars in his case.

So let’s conclude by looking at the questions SC thinks we need to answer.

  1. Why did Mark need to say that the women told nobody about the tomb?
  2. Why did Paul not mention an empty tomb in his argument for the resurrection?
  3. Why do the resurrection accounts diverge so wildly after Mark’s account?
  4. Why do we not have any external sources for an empty tomb?
  5. Why was Jesus’ tomb, the location of the resurrection of God Incarnate, not venerated by early Christians when it was otherwise customary to do so?
  6. Why did the Romans allow Jesus to be buried when it would have been historically unprecedented, hurting the Roman legal system and undermining the purpose of the crucifixion as a whole?
  7. Why would a member of the Sanhedrin, who just voted to have Jesus killed as a blasphemer, request Jesus’ body?
  8. For that matter, how was there a unanimous vote if there were at least two known Jesus-followers on the council?

1.  Because Mark is a writer who prefers shock and awe. It’s possible the original ending was lost and it’s also possible Mark left it this way because it was the job of the audience to tell the message.

2. Because he didn’t need to. If he has a death and a burial and a resurrection, then that means the tomb was empty. The tomb was also shameful and thus not mentioned.

3. Probably because you have different eyewitnesses giving their accounts. This objection relies more on inerrancy.

4. Because it was a shameful event. We also don’t have any dispute that Jesus was buried for at least the first 300 years.

5. Because the burial was shameful and Jesus wasn’t there anyway.

6. Because toleration was granted to Jewish purity practices in the holy land.

7.Because he was a secret sympathizer and was trying to give some honor to Jesus.

8. Because it doesn’t mean everyone was there. It was a kangaroo court after all.

We conclude that SC really doesn’t have much of a case. Hopefully, he’ll spend more time interacting with scholarship and less time with concerns about inerrancy. He would also be benefitted by learning about the honor-shame culture of the New Testament.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Seeing Through Christianity Part 4

What do we do with the atonement? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

As we continue through Zuersher’s work, we come to a chapter on atonement. Now I’ll state this upright. I have not spent much time looking at a lot of theories of the atonement. I have read Wright’s recent work on the cross. I think it’s an excellent work. Still, I cannot speak as an authority on the atonement, but that could be in some ways an advantage here.

You see, the reason I don’t see this as a defeater here is this is my situation. I have enough evidence to convince me that God exists. I have enough evidence to convince me of the full deity of Jesus. I have enough evidence to convince me that Jesus rose from the dead physically. I have enough evidence to convince me that Scripture is reliable. Does it make any sense to anyone to say “I’m not fully clear on how atonement works, so therefore I should doubt that Christianity is true.”?

Of course not. Any area of study will always have some unanswered questions. Consider for instance in science, when we see creatures that seem incredibly advanced. Does this mean every evolutionist will just throw in the towel and abandon the theory wholesale? Not at all, nor would I expect them to. One looks at the primary data they have for a position even if secondary details aren’t exactly clear.

Zuersher says first that there is disagreement means that this is being made up as we go along. He says that this means we do not have some privileged path to the divine. If by that He means that God is not obligated to answer all of our questions for us, that is entirely correct. If He means that we do not have the way to God in Christ, that would be wrong, but believing we do doesn’t mean we have perfect atonement knowledge.

The next part is one that Zuersher gets so close to the truth of matters, but then He rejects it for theological reasons. Zuersher says that satisfaction says that God’s honor must be restored, but if that’s true, then God has personality traits unworthy of a morally perfect being. It’s truly tragic how close Zuersher gets to good theology but then allows his cultural prejudices and lack of understanding of honor to get in the way.

To begin with, I don’t think it’s right to speak of God as a morally perfect being. A morally perfect being is one that does that which they ought to do always. God has no ought. He does not owe anyone anything. God is instead a good being. He is perfect and lacking nothing in Himself.

So how could God be lacking honor? It’s not a lack in Himself. It’s rather how God is perceived. There were two kinds of honor in the ancient world. One was one had based on who they were and their lineage and such. God’s honor is untouched here. The other is their reputation. How are they perceived in the eyes of others? Here, God’s reputation is tied to how He is seen in the eyes of humanity and how we treat Him. We can live lives that honor God or not. Zuersher rejects this without bothering to understand the culture or the theology.

Third, he says that God could just forgive. After all, we do it. Sure, but we are not the ones that are perfectly good and holy. If God just lets it go, He is saying that our well-being is of greater importance than His goodness. In other words, the good of man outranks the good of God. God is treating sin as no big deal, when every sin is really an act of divine treason.

He next says that if Jesus had a fully human nature, then what happened on the cross was murder since it was a human sacrifice. Well, he is right that it is murder. Jesus submitted to the ruling authorities. This is also not the same as suicide. The authorities did not realize what they were doing, but many holy men in Judaism dying would see themselves as dying for the sins of the people.

He also says that a willing death does not excuse the executioners. Of course not. Whoever said that it did? They were fully convinced they were doing right. My statement about this has been that either Jesus was the wickedest man who ever lived and the crucifixion was the most just and righteous act of all to stop Him, or He was the most righteous man who ever lived and the crucifixion was the most wicked act of all time.

He then goes into the claims of how Jesus was an invalid sacrifice. I recommend the works of Michael Brown here on answering Jewish objections to Jesus. Brown has looked at this a lot more than I have.

Next, he argues that this was not a real sacrifice since Jesus did not stay dead. One wonders how this is so. Once the offering is given to God, God can do with it what He wants. If He wants to resurrect Jesus, then He can resurrect Jesus. This would be God’s vindication on the life and claims of Jesus.

He also argues that the theory is immoral since it undermines individual responsibility by having someone accept Jesus’s sacrifice. On the contrary, it upholds it. When presented with the claims of Christ, one must accept their responsibility for the sins that got Him there.

Finally, Zuersher ends with saying that educated men and women hold to atonement thinking today should require no further comment. I instead think that someone can bother to write a book responding to a view without interacting with the best scholarship on it should require no further comment. Sadly, Zuersher does this consistently.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Leading Lawyers’ Case For The Resurrection

What do I think of Ross Clifford’s book published by 1517 Legacy? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Lawyers are people who specialize in evidence and making the best case they can. They’re meant to examine their side and the other side and be prepared for the best objections. They stake their reputation on presenting the best argument and being able to best their opponents with evidence and argumentation.

So what about a case like the resurrection? Could legal argumentation be used to back that case? Would any lawyer really take on the case that Jesus rose from the dead and argue in a court of law that that is what happened and expect that a rational jury would conclude that they were correct?

Apparently, Clifford has found seven who would. The eighth, Morrison, with his book Who Moved The Stone? is not a lawyer, but used many of the same techniques. He used them so well he is often thought of as being a lawyer. Clifford takes each of these lawyers on a cumulative case step by step to establish the verdict that Jesus rose from the dead.

Clifford is a lawyer as well and so he knows how to examine the case and see that there’s no funny business being pulled. He has brought together a quick resource that can be read easily and doesn’t use a lot of legal terminology that would confuse the layman. It’s also a short work. You can read it in a day or two, quite possibly a date if you really work at it.

He also has not found slouches in the field. All of the men here were recognized in their own time including if that time is our present. Clifford includes an introduction to their life and their legal practice. He then goes through each one and gives a brief summary of the case that they especially argued for.

Also useful will be the appendices in the back. One particular one involved a claim that is often heard today and that was dealing with the charge that the Gospels would be seen as hearsay evidence. Clifford shows that this is not the case and then points to a resource that can be used to show other cases that were solved on similar grounds. One difference he gives is that the cases that do not allow hearsay are more about a particular individual and not a particular truth claim. An individual would get to face his accuser in court after all.

Clifford’s book left me impressed with the legal case and thinking that legal apologetics is something I need to take a lot more seriously. If anything, I would have liked Clifford to have added in his own case. A brief chapter would be good on how Clifford would have gone forward in making a case that Jesus rose from the dead. Perhaps sometime in the future Clifford could write out a dialogue of sorts where he would describe a court case and the case for the resurrection being made to show how this would be done.

Those interested in defending the resurrection owe it to themselves to get this book. It is a good and small introduction and will point you to other leading lawyers who can make a case. The defense of Christ is helped by having the best from all fields after all.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

A Reply To Moe On The Gnostic God

Does Gnosticism explain Jesus? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

A friend messaged me Wednesday about a game he was playing with a final boss named Yaldabaoth and how he looked him up and found some material on Gnosticism. This isn’t a shock. Many video games have gone to mythological references a number of times. (I remember my shock to find out that Gen-Bu, Sei-Ryu, Byak-ko, and Su-Zaku from Final Fantasy Legend were actually mythological figures.) He wanted my thoughts on a site that had information about Yaldabaoth.

This site is The Gnostic Warrior and I have seen him before. That was when he wrote a post asking if Jesus was the son of Julius Caesar. Of course, that tells a little bit about what we’re getting into, but at any rate let’s see what we have. The article can be found here.

We have a reference to Diodorus saying the Hebrews call their God IAO. I did some searching for this. The first major thing I found was several Gnostic web sites all saying the same things. No source was given. Fortunately, the Christian-thinktank has something on it.

“Having analysed the varied reception which Moses received from pagan Greek authors, I shall now focus on the question of whether these sources show any awareness of the name of Moses’ God. We have already come across three relevant instances. (1) First, in first-century bc Rome Alexander Polyhistor included information from Artapanus in his encyclopaedic ethnography, regarded Moses as iden­tical with Musaeus, and narrated at some length the story of God’s revelation to Moses. The account describes the powerful impact of the name of the Lord of the universe on the Egyptian king and his entourage as soon as this name was uttered or read from a tablet. (2) Secondly, Diodorus Siculus, a near-contemporary of Alexander Polyhistor, designates the name of Moses’ God as Iao, and consid­ers Moses to have ascribed his self-made laws to his God, in accor­dance with the general custom among ancient peoples. (3) Thirdly, Strabo interprets the Jewish God as ‘the nature of all that exists’, thereby probably alluding to the ontological meaning of his name. (4) Fourthly, like Diodorus Siculus, Philo of Byblos also mentions the name ‘lao’, this time in the form of Ieuo, whose priest Hierombolus is named as the source of Sanchuniathon’s history of the Jews, allegedly written before the Trojan War. (5) And fifthly, Numenius shows himself aware of the ontological meaning of Yahweh’s name.

Apparently, IAO was somehow a transliteration of the name YHWH. How that works, I do not know. Perhaps a Hebrew and/or Greek scholar could answer that question. Still, this part could be not totally off base.

From there, we get to the passage about the fiery serpent and here we take a leap. It is said that if this is the name of the serpent, then we see the name show up all over the world, then we can say Moses is the source. There are claims made here that are unsubstantiated, such as that the Phoenicians adopted this imagery and it became the Phoenix. It also became the harp and the lion of the tribe of Judah, though it’s not explained how this happened or even what is meant by the harp. I would take it to mean a musical instrument since it’s not capitalized, but I’m not certain.

We also have an attempt to tie this to Bacchus based on the names sounding similar. Of course, if this is all he has, then he needs a lot more to make his case. That “a lot more” would include some scholars of the ancient world who would back this.

Much of what is said next we have no need to argue against. Whether it is true or false does not matter. It could be a true account of the story. Yet he has a real howler later on. He speaks of this god as the archon and says

The word archon is composed of the words Ark and On. Ark meaning a conduit of energy that is the Hu-Man sacred ark, or ark of the testimony, represents the original spark of divinity and knowledge that gave us Sophia or wisdom. Yaldabaoth would be akin to an arc welder that is the power supply to create an electric arc between an electrode and the base material to melt the metals.

Or it could be this comes from the Greek word arche which refers to a ruler or first or a source. Moe is taking the term and going to English and then saying that is our reference for it. It’s statements like this that just make me roll my eyes.

He later says

Yaldabaoth and his creations are referred to as the serpent which I have discussed before was once written as worm before the Latin Church Doctors had doctored the original Greek texts that simply read worm. Therefore we know Yaldabaoth is a type of human parasite or worm who seeks to rule and or be the Chief Archon over humankind which is further discussed in the The Apocryphon of John where he is called ignorant darkness;

We would very much like to know how something like this happened. Were all the Greek texts changed? Are there any scholars of Latin or Greek that can verify this? If there are, Moe gives none. Moe goes on to say that.

Yaldabaoth now forbade the man to eat of the tree of knowledge, which could enable him to understand the Gnostic mysteries and receive the graces from above. But man had to be eventually be redeemed from the wrath of Yaldabaoth . Accordingly Christ descended from above on the one perfect man Jesus, who had been prepared by Sophia. Ialdabaoth seeing in Jesus Christ a power superior to himself, stirred up the Jews to crucify Jesus. Of course Christ could not suffer; and he withdrew himself from Jesus in whom he had worked on earth. Christ did not, however, forget Jesus utterly, but raised from the dead the spiritual body of Jesus, which remained on earth eighteen months. At first Jesus did not fully understand the truth, but Christ enlightened him and he taught his disciples the true doctrine.”

His source on this is Frederick John-Foakes Jackson. Why he goes with a source that’s early 20th century is a good question to ask. Is he just looking for anyone that will agree with him? Did he go to a library and research this, or did he just do a web search and pick the first thing that went with him? We can all be sure what the answer to that is.

The Christian Scritpre would equate the Goddess Sophia, with the consort of Adam in the Garden of Eden whose name is Eve. The word Eve is derived from the Hebrew Hevia of Evia which is interpreted as “female serpent” in Latin translations of the Bible. In earlier Greek versions, the word serpent would have simply read “worm.” This is where the Church Doctors come in at doctoring these ancient texts in order to hide the truth of man’s creation.

However, we don’t have to search far and or in difficulty to see that this worm God who is both the creator and destroyer had given birth to several God men over the course of human history. In the Scripture it is said, “And from these worms God made angels. We find this passage more correctly rendered in the Hebrew Bible: “Man that is a worm (rimmah), and the son of man which is a maggot” (tole’ah). “But I am a worm and no man. How much more is man rottenness, and the son of man a worm ? “First he said, ” Man is rottenness;” and afterwards, “The son of man a worm:” because a worm springs from rottenness, therefore “man is rottenness,” and ”the son of man a worm.”

It’s a wonder that someone should be taken seriously on literature who reads it like this. The language of Job is obviously metaphorical language and not meant to give an account of origins. It would be like saying because Jesus said the Pharisees were a brood of vipers that he thought their parents were actual snakes. As for the first part, we eagerly await some backing on this claim. Until we see it, there is no reason to accept it.

Madam Blavatsky had written in Isis Unveiled: “In this plurality of heavens the Christians believed from the first, for we find Paul teaching of their existence, and speaking of a man “caught up to the third heaven” {2 Cor., xii, 2). “From these seven angels Ilda-Baoth shut up all that was above him, lest they should know of anything superior to himself.

We wonder why Blavatsky should be someone we can rely on here. Her claims have not been backed by scholars of our day or her own day. The Jews did hold to a plurality of Heavens, but it would hardly match the Gnostic idea. The third one was after all the highest one where God dwelt. The first would be the sky you see every day and the second would be the regions of what we call outer space beyond.

Moe goes on to say about the Sabbath that

The Roman emperor Constantine, a sun-worshiper, professed his conversion to Christianity, although his subsequent actions suggest that the “conversion” was more of a political move than a genuine change of heart. Constantine proclaimed himself Bishop of the Catholic Church and then enacted the first civil law regarding Sunday observance in A.D. 321.The Catholics state; “The Church substituted Sunday for Saturday by the plenitude of that divine power which Jesus Christ bestowed upon her!”

This is interesting since Justin Martyr spoke of gathering on the first day of the week and 1 Cor. 16 has a gathering on the first day of the week. Moe could also look at the Canons of the Council of Nicea and see if he can find anything about the Sabbath. As for Constantine’s conversion, he could do what I did and talk to a scholar like Peter Leithart on this.

From there, we get into several claims about Abraham and such, but there is no backing for the claims and I seriously doubt any Hebrew scholar would agree with them. Unfortunately, I seriously doubt this will be considered. Moe apparently prefers to use hack resources.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Greek Resurrection Beliefs and the Success of Early Christianity

What do I think of Dag Endsjo’s book published by Palgrave Macmillan? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I was challenged to read this book which leads to my going to the library as soon as I can and getting a hold on such a book. The author’s name here is not entirely accurate since it has a slash through the o, but I am not sure how to do that on the computer so no disrespect is intended and keep that in mind when you do a search for it at the library or on Amazon. At any rate, what are my thoughts?

Endsjo wants to challenge the idea that the body would have been seen in a negative light by early Christians. He starts with describing the Trojan War in the works of Homer and how it was horrific to have the dead left on the battlefield. For here, Endsjo says that it is because the flesh is identical with the warriors themselves. In the same paragraph, he says the souls go off to Hades. Already, I’m puzzled. If the flesh is the warriors themselves, then what are these soul things? Also, does it really follow that the horror was because the flesh was seen as the warriors themselves? Could it not be because there was no honorable burial for them?

This is something I found confusing in the book. What is his view of how the Greeks viewed a man? It’s hard to say. Sometimes it seems like the soul is dominant. Sometimes it seems like the body is dominant.

Endsjo contends that we normally think of the flesh as something shameful to the Greeks, but he wants to say that is not the case. If the flesh is shameful to anyone, it’s Paul. He rarely has anything if ever good to say about the flesh and even in 1 Cor. 15 argues that the resurrection is spiritual. I think this is one of the great weaknesses of the book. There’s plenty of great material arguing that the body must be physical. One such piece available at the time would have been Gundry’s Soma in Biblical Greek.

We go into a large number of listings of Greek gods and heroes and how many of them were seen as living in immortal flesh. This could have been very appealing, but what is ignored is all the people who die and go to Hades and even still don’t want to return to the land of the living. What of people like Socrates who die and when they do want a sacrifice to be done to the god of healing to show their true healing in leaving the body?

I have often said before that it is easy to make a case when you have the sound of one hand clapping, and I was looking for the other case. To be fair, many on the other side have not sufficiently argued with the examples that Endsjo brings forward, but that does not mean that Endsjo should do the same. Both sides need to be looked at. I look forward to seeing someone like N. T. Wright respond in the future to the work.

I said earlier that the great weakness I think is 1 Cor. 15. Endsjo contends that Paul is speaking of a spiritual resurrection. While that is a common interpretation, that does not equal a true one nor does it equal one that should be assumed. Endsjo has a church that goes to Paul and gets a spiritual resurrection and then suddenly does a 180 and goes material. It’s understandable that some people would think this, but I don’t think Endsjo makes the case.

The stories are interesting and even still the view would be a problem for the Greeks. The Greeks apparently believed that the body of a person could not be recreated. That would have been essential for the Christians. Thus, the Christians would still have a hard case to make.

Endsjo also uses the argument that the Christians were persuading the people that they believed nothing different from the Romans in some aspects. Sure, but he misses why. That’s because Christianity was seen as shameful. The Christians were trying to point out similarities to show inconsistencies to the Romans in how they were treating the Christians. Many times people will look at the text and think that there was one-to-one parallels going on. Since the persecution didn’t stop, we can think it likely that the Romans did not see those parallels.

We can also say that the Greeks might have thought immortality to be desirable, but that in itself would not be enough since some figures got immortality as a punishment, say Prometheus who was forced to have his liver regrow every day for a wild bird to eat. Many Greeks in Paul’s audience would have thought that that was reserved for the gods and their children, but not for them. Jesus was the exception.

I think more work should be done on Endsjo’s book and I’d like to see a Wright take it on. Again, there was the sound of one hand clapping. Hopefully, we’ll have the other hand join in more and see what comes of the discussion.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Bernie Sanders and Religious Exclusivity

Is it wrong that Christianity is an exclusivist religion? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

In a hearing for Russell Vought recently for office, Senator Bernie Sanders expressed some hostility towards Vought for his position on Christianity. Apparently, Vought holds this really bizarre position. He thinks Christianity is actually true and not only is it true, it’s the only true religion and thus all other religions are wrong and will not get you into the grace of God.

Now to Sanders, this might be news. It’s not like this is a new development in Christianity. Christians have held to this belief since the very beginning, even when it led to them being outed by the Roman government and put under all manner of persecution and had them branded as atheists. We have to wonder if this is the first time Sanders had heard about this.

He’s right that while Christianity would be the majority religious belief in America (Or at least claimed) that there are numerous other believers in other religions and no religions here in America. Does this mean that Christians are automatically meant to treat them as lesser citizens. Sanders seems to think this, but on what grounds?

Let’s start with establishing something. Every religious belief is exclusive on some areas. Even a universalist would say that a person who thinks only one way to God is true will still make it to God, they are wrong in holding an exclusivist position. A pluralist will have to essentially change every other religion out there in order to make his pluralist religion true.

This includes Judaism and Islam as well. Try going to a regular synagogue and saying you’re a Jew who accepts Jesus as the Jewish Messiah. See if you’re treated as a Jew like everyone else. While there might be some exceptions, many Jews who embrace Jesus as the Messiah are excluded. Islam is often violently exclusive as is seen by many of the terrorist attacks we have going on today.

This is simply because of logic. All Christians give claims that are truth claims and those claims by nature exclude anything that contradicts them. This is no different from every other field out there. All truth claims do this. If Christianity has it essential that Jesus is the Messiah, then if the claim is true, all religions that disagree are wrong. If Islam were right in that God is a monad and only one in person, then all religions that disagree, like Christianity, are wrong.

One of the great freedoms we have in this country is the freedom to come together and worship as we see fit and to discuss our religious differences. In the practice of true tolerance, we have it that you can disagree very strongly ideologically, and yet still leave in a spirit of peace and even friendship. These are the discussions we should be having. I have no desire for us to try to establish a theocracy here because it would not be God ruling. It would be some men claiming to rule in the name of God.

The problem for Sanders is that he’s doing the exact thing he condemns. He is saying that if you hold X religious belief, you are not fit for public office. This is a rather exclusionary position and is saying that someone is wrong to hold the religious belief that they do, yet all the while complaining that it’s wrong to say another religious belief is wrong. It can’t be had both ways.

Naturally, a Christian who holds public office should care about the freedom and well-being of all of his constituents. This is part of our religion as well. We are not to show favoritism. If a Muslim and a Christian come to trial and the Muslim is in the right, the Christian should back the Muslim. He can disagree with his religion all day long and should, but in this area, the Muslim is in the right.

Sanders is, unfortunately, being an example of someone who doesn’t really understand religions and doesn’t see them as truth claims but more as personal preferences. Sadly, a lot of Christians might take the same attitude, but it’s not one Christianity has had historically. Part of this is also an example of the great problem we have of religious illiteracy here in the West where many people talk about religion and religions, but they don’t really understand them.

What are we as Christians to do then? We are to teach our people that Christianity is not just a flavor of ice cream that you happen to really like, but making really serious divine claims about everything in reality, and that we are to go and live out those claims. We are to uphold the Kingdom of God in all things, but also to uphold the great love of our neighbor that we are commanded as well. Who knows? Sanders might find that living in a society like that isn’t as bad as he thought.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Jesus, The Eternal Son

What do I think about Michael Bird’s book published by Eerdman’s? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I should point out at the start that the copy I am reviewing is an unproofed and unedited review copy sent to me courtesy of Eerdman’s. I thank them for their generosity. This was done in advance so I could interview Dr. Bird as soon as possible on this book.

There are some ideas that are tossed around so often that most of us accept them without going back to check the evidence. Did Christopher Columbus believe that the Earth was round in contrast to people who thought it was flat? Obviously. Did the Spanish Inquisition kill millions of people? Definitely. Many of us heard these ideas growing up so much that it never occurred to us to question them.

It’s not just the man on the street that has this. Scholars can have this as well. There’s often no need to reinvent the wheel after all. There have been landmark works written to argue that the early Christology of Christianity was adoptionist in Jesus, that Jesus was chosen to be the Son of God at His baptism. So the scholars are referred to, it’s an idea set in stone, and we move on.

Fortunately, there are scholars like Michael Bird who think that even old ideas need to be examined and perhaps it could be that the emperor of adoptionism really has no clothes. Dr. Bird has made it his goal to show this in a book that is relatively short, but don’t let the size fool you. What is said in a smaller number of pages should have enormous impact.

Bird looks at the classic texts used and raises powerful questions about them. For the start, these includes Romans 1:3-4 and Acts 2:36. I know the latter is one I have also seen unitarians and Jehovah’s Witnesses use to argue their viewpoint. It looks sadly like many scholars have the same kind of misunderstanding that these people do.

From there, we go to the book of Mark. How does Mark present Jesus? If one looked at the baptism in isolation, perhaps one could get an adoptionist viewpoint, but then one needs to consider the introduction, the conclusion, everything in between, the Jewishness of the author, the culture it was written in, you know, the little things like that.

Bird takes a look at the way YHWH was seen in Israel along the lines of the creator/creature divide. Then the question has to be how does Jesus fit in. There’s much more than just the pre-existence of Jesus as Mark regularly shows Jesus in a unique position in relation to YHWH. One other such example is the forgiveness of sins in Mark 2. Bird realized that too often he was looking at that and thinking in a post-Christian sense where for instance, in many traditions, including Protestant, a priest can pronounce forgiveness. I attended a Lutheran church in Knoxville. The pronouncement of forgiveness was common.

This might be common for us, but it was not for Jews of the time. Jesus did something incredibly unique in that. Bird goes on to look at other instances like Jesus walking on the water and what the Olivet Discourse means for Jesus and the introduction of Mark. I could go on, but you get the idea.

He then looks at how adoptionism arose looking at key suspects in the second century like the Shepherd of Hermas and the Ebionites. He’s still not convinced either of these is the key. Somehow though, the belief obviously did arise.

Bird’s work is excellent and I must quote the very last paragraph in full.

A Christology that presents us with a mere man who bids us to earn our salvation is an impoverished alternative to the God of grace and mercy who took on our flesh and “became sin” so that we might become the “righteousness of God.” I prefer a Christology where the Son was crucified on the cross for us, was glorified in the resurrection for us, and was exalted to heaven for us—so that on the appointed day, we all would attain adoption as children of God and the redemption of our bodies in the new creation.

If I had one criticism, it would be this, and I do have an unedited and unproofed version so that could change, but I missed something in this book. Bird usually writes with a lot of his Australian humor thrown in that makes me laugh regularly and I was looking forward to more of that. I do hope a final release will have all of that. It’s become iconic for Bird’s writings and makes his much more of a joy to read than others.

In Christ,
Nick Peters