Book Plunge: Evidence Considered Chapter 36

Were the resurrection appearances hallucinations? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

It’s been awhile since we looked at Glenton Jelbert’s work. Let’s get back into that. This time, we’re looking at his response to Michael Licona’s chapter on the appearances. Thankfully, there is no denial that the appearances happened. The difference is still based on what they are.

Jelbert quotes Licona who quotes Dale Allison saying that the topic of the historicity of the resurrection is the prize puzzle of New Testament scholarship. Jelbert tells us that this sentence succinctly concedes atheism and shows the presuppositional nature of the research. The quote shows that even conservative scholars agree more evidence is needed.

I have looked over this time and time again and wondered how Jelbert has arrived at this conclusion. Jelbert seems to have this tendency to make grand leaps without showing he’s really understood what has been said and is assuming a conclusion thinking everyone else will see how obvious it will. No. We won’t.

All Allison is saying is that the question of Jesus is the great topic of controversy in New Testament Studies. A number of New Testament scholars on both sides don’t even touch it. I still have no idea how Jelbert arrived at the conclusion that he did, but even if he does arrive at that conclusion, he should tell his readers how he arrived at it.

Jelbert quotes Licona speaking about the possibility of one person saying “I see Jesus here” and then another saying something else and hysteria developing. There is a great problem with this. I say this as a man married to a woman who has hallucinations. Normally, these hallucinations are all realized quickly. The only exception would be an extreme case of schizophrenia like that in A Beautiful Mind.

Of course, for this to follow, this must mean that of all the people Jesus chose to be His disciples, all of them had to have this kind of schizophrenia or something similar. After all, normally once a hallucination is done, while there can be some fear associated with it, it is realized to be a hallucination and one moves on. For the disciples, there is no indication that they moved on. They were convinced this was real.

Licona then quotes Gary Sibcy who says that there is no record in the peer-reviewed journal of a documented case of a group hallucination. Jelbert responds that the apparitions of Mary, including the famous example of appearances to six children in 1981 in Medjugorje suggest otherwise.

Yet here, Jelbert is assuming what he needs to prove. Let’s consider some points. First off, it could be the children are playing and that they are the only ones claiming to see something, but if playing, this is not a mass hallucination and if all we have are children seeing this while doing this and adults there claiming to believe them, that is a mass delusion and not a mass hallucination. I am not saying this is what happened. I am saying this is a possibility.

Second possibility, it could be the Catholics are right and this is an appearance of Mary. Again, as a non-Catholic, I am skeptical, but it would explain the data. If so, then this is not a hallucination.

Third, it could be that there was something there, but that this was a demon posing as the Virgin Mary. Again, I am not saying this is what happened but presenting all possibilities. Again, if there really was something there, then this is not a mass hallucination.

What Jelbert needs to do is demonstrate that there was no external referent. Since I doubt he was at the event, I don’t think he can do this. Further, the only way to establish there was no such referent is if he says there was no referent because such appearances by demons or the Virgin Mary do not happen and we know this because these things don’t exist. In this case, he is the one arguing in a circle.

When we get to Paul, Jelbert says Paul watched Stephen get stoned and heard Stephen talking about heaven opening and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God. He says it’s not hard to imagine such an emotional and traumatic experience impressing even an “enemy.” Well, yes, if you want to do psycho-history and assume people in the ancient world thought just like we do. There’s no indication that Saul had any guilt whatsoever in what he was doing and was still going through it. This is just an account given to explain data away without any real support. This seems to be a common ploy in atheist critiques of events.

  1. Take an event hard to explain.
  2. Give a story that you think explains the situation without any hard data to back it.
  3. Assume the problem is dealt with.

He also tells us that the appearances traditions contradict. If we just go with the ones in 1 Cor. 15, which are sufficient, we don’t have a problem. Still, Jelbert’s work is sloppy here. He says that Luke has the ascension at the end of his first book and then forty days later. Let’s start with a basic assumption. Luke is not an idiot. He knows what he’s doing. He is just condensing a large portion of material into a small space.

He also says John 21 is plainly the same story as Luke 5. It’s just moved to the end. Again, why should I think that? Could not Jesus have done this again to remind the disciples of a past event where He showed who He was?

Jelbert also says that Ehrman points out doubt in the appearances. One verse is in Matthew 28:17, but I don’t think this is doubt about Jesus’s resurrection, but doubt about if they should worship Him or not. That Jesus gave many proofs isn’t a problem either. We don’t know for sure what He was doing, but apparently Ehrman is sure He knows why. Could He not be showing them the wonders of the resurrected body that they will have some day?

He also looks at Luke 23:43. He sees a problem in Jesus saying that the robber would be with Him in paradise today. Why? Jesus goes to a waiting intermediate state before His resurrection with the robber. That’s not a problem. Yet Jelbert says that maybe the comma is in the wrong place and it’s Jesus just saying that He’s saying this today.

First off, what’s the point of saying He’s saying it today? When else will He tell it? This explanation doesn’t fit.

Second, most Greek experts think the placement of the comma is just fine. What evidence does Jelbert have otherwise? Let’s see. The United Church of God. The UCG is not considered an orthodox Christian demonination at all. Why not go to a New Testament scholar instead?

Jelbert also says that shifts in doctrine could occur easily at the start where oral tradition was the main way of communicating. There are problems here of course. The first is that the best place for evidence is 1 Cor. 15 and that’s at the start of the oral tradition. Second is that oral tradition is really a great way of communicating information and Jelbert has done no research into how it is done or at least hasn’t shown it.

In the end, I find Jelbert’s case extremely lacking. If he would rather believe in a mass hallucination that we have no data for, then it reminds me that once again, an atheist will often choose to believe anything rather than to believe the resurrection happened. Any port in a storm will do.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

The Tendency To Be A Marcionite

Do we all have a tendency to go that way? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

It was within the past couple of weeks that I came to this conclusion. I was going to sleep at night praying myself to sleep as I usually do and I started thinking about my prayers to God. I started thinking about how the Father seems so unapproachable and things of that sort, and many of us I think do think that way.

Then the realization came to me. If Jesus is the one who showed the Father to us, then if we can approach Jesus, we can approach the Father. The thought hit me then that I had been being a Marcionite and I hadn’t even realized it. Was I not implicitly saying God was a God who was ready to judge?

I thought then of the many passages I have read on prayer. We are told to boldly approach the throne of grace in Hebrews 4. That is quite a serious claim. You don’t just come to the throne. You come with courage and confidence. You have all right to be there. God has granted you that privilege because He has adopted you as a son or a daughter.

And what does that tell us? God is supposed to be one that we approach as Father. The New Testament seems to go to great pains to get us to realize that. Jesus tells us in Luke 12:32 that it is the Father’s good pleasure to give us the kingdom. He before this even tells us to fear not. Could it be we are told to fear not because we fear the opposite from God?

What about Elijah? James tells us that Elijah prayed and it didn’t rain for years. He prayed again and the rain came. Before this, he says Elijah was a human being just like us. The prayer of a righteous man availeth much.

And if this is the case, the other danger of seeing God wrongly is that we don’t see Him truly. We miss who He really is. If we see God in this way, how can we present Him as truly a God of love?

This isn’t to say that He’s not a judge either. There is some of that judgment in Jesus as well. Just see what Jesus did in the temple or read the book of Revelation. Jesus can be quite tough on those who oppose Him. The Father we are told disciplines us because we are sons and He loves us.

If we see God as a father, what kind of father is He? Jesus tells us that if we ask our fathers for fish and eggs, will we get snakes and stones instead? What kind of father would do that? Yet sometimes we treat God as someone we have to beg and beg just to get one good thing from and we live in constant fear begging for mercy over and over.

And maybe you’re reading this and realizing you’ve had the same tendency. I think it shows up in people who come to me and struggle with doubt. They think that if they didn’t say or do the exact right thing, God will abandon them and say they’re not really Christians. He wants to keep them out of eternity on a technicality. Is that not the same sort of problem? The cross should show us God is willing to do what it takes because He does desire to forgive. Heaven is not for God but for us. God doesn’t need Heaven. He needs no place to dwell. We need a place if we are to be with Him.

So now, I am in the mental process of working on rethinking issues relating to prayer and who God is and thinking more and more about the awesome privileges that come to us who are Christians. I hope some reading this who have the same struggle are starting to rethink. If we are to tell the world about the goodness of God, we need to believe it ourselves.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Born Divine

What do I think of Robert Miller’s book published by Polebridge Press? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Miller’s book is a book looking at the birth narratives with an emphasis on the virgin birth (Which I do affirm). It reminds me of what I read in Richard Shenk’s book on the topic that the virgin birth is really a shibboleth. If you want to know someone’s ultimate worldview and how they see Jesus, this is one question to ask. Was Jesus born of a virgin? Larry King was once on David Letterman’s show and asked if he could interview one person past or present who would it be. He immediately answered Jesus Christ. When asked what he would ask he said, “I would ask if He was born of a virgin. For me, the answer would explain all of history.”

So it is in Miller’s book. I certainly agree that most people don’t approach the doctrine of the virgin birth apart from all the others. It is more based on other doctrines. I hold to the resurrection, for instance, and with that, the virgin birth naturally follows. The resurrection shows that Jesus’s claims to be the Son of God and fully God and fully man are true and if so, then the account of the virgin birth fits.

Miller does speak often about how a miracle needs to be public, but I think that misses the point of the virgin birth. The virgin birth was not done as a public sign I think just so much as it was done so that Jesus could not be at all an adopted Son of God. He really is a unique human being with both natures fully in Him. I do not agree either with early church theologians who said it was done this way because sex is something fallen and Jesus didn’t need to come about through that.

Sometimes, Miller gives criticisms of the birth narratives that strike me as weak. Consider that there is often a repeated claim that the angel tells Joseph to return the boy to Israel from Egypt because those who were seeking His life are dead. Miller will tell us there were no those. There was only Herod. I don’t find this convincing at all since when Herod says he wants the child dead, I have no reason to think Herod himself went all around Bethlehem looking for boys and murdering them. Those would refer to soldiers of Herod that were sent to do the job.

Miller also speaks some about how Matthew interpreted prophecy. He gives about a paragraph to how Qumran did the same, but this strikes me as highly insufficient. Why is there no interaction with Jewish exegesis at the time? Why not reference the work of Longenecker that has been done on this topic?

By the way, that brings me to another concern I had. Miller’s bibliography is written on just two pages. I see this as the sound of one hand clapping. Why not look and see what someone like Keener or Witherington has to say in response to some claims? Sure, those two could be wrong, but isn’t it best to interact with them?

Consider as an example his look at the slaughter of the infants. Why should we not consider it? Miller tells us the story can’t stand apart from Matthew’s writing. Since the magi and the star are fictions, so is the slaughter. Also, Jesus would have to be born in Bethlehem, which he was most certainly not. Finally, the story fits perfectly with Jesus being the new Moses.

I find this as somewhat circular. If you don’t see the accounts as historical, they are not historical. Miller does look at the accounts of the magi, but I think there is a lot lacking. Who are they? Where did they come from? These are questions that needed more. I find it odd that when the narratives disagree, there is a problem, but when they agree, such as Jesus being born in Bethlehem, there is still a problem. As for Jesus being the new Moses, if you are a believer in God who is working behind the scenes, this really isn’t a problem.

There is something on history and miracles. He quotes N.T. Wright who talks about people who come with a high view of a closed continuum and everything being in the system so there can be no outside interference. Wright rightly says that this is something we cannot know ahead of time and gives the impression of a mouse sitting up on its hind legs and looking down on the elephant.

Miller says that this sounds open-minded, but it is intending to belittle people with the opposite view and make them look foolish. I find this amusing since this is exactly what is often said about those of us who believe in miracles. I also think Wright is correct. This attitude is right there in many scholars who assume that miracles can’t happen.

Miller replies to this saying that if we want to go the route of openmindedness and say Jesus had no human father, you must be open also to Plato, Pythagoras, Augustus, and others. Why yes indeed! As historians, we must be open! Let’s compare the evidence for them to the evidence for Jesus and see who comes out better!

Miller says we don’t believe in those stories because we don’t believe in those gods anymore, but too many Christians will say their God is real so the story is real. The question I have to ask here is why do we not believe in those gods? We don’t believe in them because they were more glorified superhumans. One God is overall a far better explanation and many of us have arguments that lead us to believe that there is one God, such as the Thomistic arguments that I prefer, though we could happily say that demons could take on the guise of any Greek or Roman god.

Miller also says that belief your God is real is religious and not historical. Sure, but my belief is not outside of history as it is my belief that this God acted in history and that cannot be ruled out at the outset. There is an attempt to compare this to the Muslim denial that Jesus died on the cross based on the Qur’an. I would ask in reply to see what non-Muslim scholars will grant is true in the Qur’an and compare that to non-Christian scholars on the New Testament.

One good benefit of Miller’s book that will be fascinating is that he lists several birth narratives in other works about Jesus outside the New Testament, such as infancy Gospels. These were very interesting to read, but at the same time it is quite astounding to realize how many people treated them as historical in church history.

Overall, I am unpersuaded by the counterarguments. I still hold that Jesus was truly born divine based on the evidence of the New Testament. Rest assured all that I still affirm the virgin birth.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Slavery, Abolitionism, and the Ethics of Biblical Scholarship

What do I think of Hector Avalos’s book published by Sheffield Phoenix? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

In scholarship, there are people who have strong positions on both sides. Many of them come with a lot of passion and that can be a good thing. Sometimes, they come with a passion that unfortunately taints what they say too much. Hector Avalos is one such person. When reading this one, it’s pretty clear that he’s practically dripping with venom against Christianity on every page.

This book called have been called a response to Rodney Stark, who seems to be the major villain in the piece. While Avalos questions Stark’s research, which is just fine, I often suspect Avalos has fallen into the same trap. If Stark gives the impression that Christianity brought sunshine and puppies and can do no wrong, Avalos treats it like a universal acid that eats through everything it touches.

At the start, Avalos says his book is the critique of the idea that the Bible should be the basis for modern ethics. I wonder who exactly is saying that. Most Christian apologists I know of argue from the basis of natural law theory on issues of morality. The Bible gives good and true information, but we also realize our secular friends won’t hear it, so we try to establish truths on grounds they do accept. We also realize the natural law is something known to all men even without explicit revelation, which I think even the Bible teaches.

Avalos also admits that even non-Christian scholars have high praise of Jesus. They say that Jesus can do no wrong. This is a good admission I like to see. Avalos doesn’t seem to share it (And in the text actually says he’s agnostic on the historicity of Jesus.), but it shows once again what a unique figure Jesus is.

On p. 7, we are told “slavery is a socioeconomic system centering on the use of forced laborers, who are viewed as property or under the control of their superiors for whatever term was determined by their masters or their society.” This could be fine insofar as it goes, but it still raises questions. What exactly is meant by property? What does it mean to be under control? How does this differ from indentured servitude or even employment today? These are questions unanswered. Avalos does admit that slavery is a hard term to define, but it doesn’t help to just arbitrarily make a definition.

On p. 12, Avalos has a paragraph about literalism and how the anti-slavery position went against the plain sense of the text. Yet at this point, we have to ask what is the plain sense? The plain sense differs from person to person. Part of the problem was thinking there was a plain sense that should have been immediately known by every reader. As Mark Noll says

“On the other front, nuanced biblical attacks on American slavery faced rough going precisely because they were nuanced. This position could not simply be read out of any one biblical text; it could not be lifted directly from the page. Rather, it needed patient reflection on the entirety of the Scriptures; it required expert knowledge of the historical circumstances of ancient Near Eastern and Roman slave systems as well as of the actually existing conditions in the slave states; and it demanded that sophisticated interpretative practice replace a commonsensically literal approach to the sacred text. In short, this was an argument of elites requiring that the populace defer to its intellectual betters. As such, it contradicted democratic and republican intellectual instincts. In the culture of the United States, as that culture had been constructed by three generations of evangelical Bible believers, the nuanced biblical argument was doomed” – Mark Noll, The Civil War As A Theological Crisis.

It’s worth noting that when Avalos talks about the American abolitionists and such, he doesn’t really say anything about Noll’s work. It’s referenced a few times, but serious engagement is lacking. I suspect there’s a reason for this.

On p. 16, he talks about the moral foundations and how they’re best found in secularism. One must base them on verifiable individual and group interests. Absent is any question of how to verify them or even tell that these interests are good and which individual or group? I seriously doubt Avalos wants to take into consideration the will of “religious” people, after all.

For finding the practice of caring for the poor, Avalos asks why we go to Deuteronomy instead of Job when the term in question is used in Job more times. Probably because Deuteronomy is our command on how we should live. Job while providing good wisdom, is not that kind of work.

On p. 30, Avalos talks about how we often don’t have enough information to know what an author meant. In some cases, this is true, but it’s interesting to me that when it comes to a text that someone else is interpreting, Avalos plays this card. When it comes to text like Jesus saying He came not to bring peace but a sword or that we must hate our parents, all of a sudden, those texts are clear and there’s no hint of authorial intent. This is a huge double-standard on Avalos’s part. I am not exaggerating. Avalos says Martin Luther King Jr. said Jesus had a love ethic, but Avalos contends that Jesus taught us to hate our parents in Luke 14:26 and therefore He was preaching hate. Statements like this really make Avalos lose credibility with me.

More and more of this shows up in the text and while I could list numerous more problems, I don’t wish to do so much of that. I want to hit on some major points. For one thing, Avalos spends a good deal of time talking about slavery in the ancient world in both testaments. One question is never answered. Why did slavery exist to begin with?

Most readers won’t think of this kind of question, but it’s an important one. You couldn’t just walk down to the street and go to Wal-Mart and get a job. If you wanted to pay for your family to have food on the table, you had to work for someone else and slavery was the system. Does that mean slavery was all sunshine and rainbows? Not at all.

Does it mean slavery was endorsed for all time? Of course not. Some things were granted for hardness of hearts, such as divorce. God started with the people where they were. There’s also the important question on the relationship between the two testaments and what applies to just Israel at a specific time and place and what applies to all people for all time. Avalos doesn’t touch these questions.

Any reference that can put God in a negative light is used. If God is portrayed as a king, that’s negative. If someone claims they are a slave of Christ, like Paul did, then Jesus is a wicked imperial ruler. Even in the parable of the owner of the vineyard who chose to give everyone a day’s wages even if they worked an hour, Jesus is still a villain. If evangelicals think Jesus can do no wrong, Avalos thinks he can do no right.

Avalos goes throughout history and I don’t honestly know enough about the accounts to say anything on those. Still, considering how he has acted throughout the book, I take things with a grain of salt. For Avalos, Christianity never did anything good except for fellow Christians. I am not at all claiming that everything Christianity has done throughout history has been wonderful and the church has no innocent blood on its hands, but I am claiming we have done a lot of good still.

Avalos also asks why the New Testament never commanded the release of slaves. There’s a quite good reason. I think such would have led to insurrection and Christianity would have been a movement about freeing the slaves largely and thus shut down so it could do no good. Christianity worked from the bottom up and not the other way around.

In conclusion, I found this book highly lacking. If other historians have gone through and documented errors in other parts, I would be interested. The parts I do know about, I found to be incredibly lacking and Avalos is just as much fundamentalist I suspect as the opponents he critiques. He just has a different loyalty.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: For All God’s Worth: True Worship And The Calling Of The Church

What do I think of N.T. Wright’s book published by Eedrmans? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

What is worship? What does it really mean to worship? This is something I have been wondering about lately. We talk about going to worship services, but worship services are more concerts meant to make us feel good. Is that really the point of worship? Is it possible that worship is meant for more to make us feel good?

N.T. Wright wrote a book on this and when I saw it on sale on Kindle, I swiped it up immediately since, well, it’s N.T. Wright. Wright’s writings to me are always deep and even if I don’t agree with something, it still leaves me thinking. Once again, Wright has not disappointed.

Wright in this one brings his natural blend of theology and history together. This is one of his great gifts. For Wright, there’s no such thing as disinterested history. History is always connected to theology and all of it is meant to draw us into the wonder of God. Wright delivers this as masterfully as He always does.

Wright speaks about the purpose of the church and Christ in the church. The church is meant to be wounded healers. We are to help one another with our lives. We are to be going to bring about the work of the Kingdom. This is to impact all of our lives including politically.

Wright goes into Biblical stories where he will show that the life of certain people in the Bible were touched by Jesus. There’s a wonderful chapter on the calling of Matthew, for example. There is a chapter where the Sermon on the Mount is talked about and even then Wright shows that what Jesus said was exceptionally jarring and challenging to the people of the day.

Wright’s book again challenged me to be a better Christian and to think deeply. One such chapter was a chapter on beauty where Wright asked us to contemplate the most beautiful sight that we could see and then ask what that does to us. Since I could immediately remember what that sight was, it was quite easy for me to think about what it does to me.

There is also a chapter on the God we want. If we had the God we want, I am convinced that this God would not challenge us. If God was the God that I wanted, He would be a god that would worship me instead of a God that I would worship. I would not be His servant. He would be mine. There’s a reason why our experience and feelings aren’t the best areas to go to to determine who He is.

If there’s anything that I would like to see more, it would be really a definition of worship. Wright doesn’t give one that I recall. I ultimately think that worship is really meant to draw us into the wonder and splendor of God and make us into the Christians we are meant to be. I hope Wright’s book will help more of us do that.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

Evidence Considered: Chapter 35

Is there a case for the resurrection appearances? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

In this chapter, Glenton Jelbert decides to take on Gary Habermas on the resurrection appearances. He says that he concedes Jesus died on the cross, but he disagrees with the empty tomb. Our last look at that found his denial of the empty tomb lacking. He says this issue, however, is the one that caused him to lose his faith.

At the start, Jelbert disagrees that the resurrection is the foundation of Christianity. There are plenty of Christians apparently that deny it and maintain their Christianity. It’s hard to know what kind of Christianity they maintain. If they just like the moral teachings of Jesus, then an atheist could be a Christian by that standard. Historical Christianity has always agreed on the bodily resurrection of Jesus.

Habermas says that naturalistic explanations fail to account for the appearances of Jesus. Jelbert refers to this as an appeal to ignorance, but how it is is difficult to see. If naturalistic explanations fail, then one is justified in thinking that an extra-materialistic explanation works. Jelbert does say that if someone told you they saw someone risen from the dead, you would think there was a misunderstanding. No one is denying that. What is being denied is that if more evidence piles up in favor of resurrection and naturalistic explanations fail, one should seek more than those at that point. If Jelbert wants to say that evidence will not change his mind on this point, then evidence isn’t what changed his mind to begin with.

Jelbert also says that this was a time when miracles were readily accepted. He has provided no evidence for this claim. It could be true, but shouldn’t Jelbert make some sort of argument for that? He also says they are in a document written to persuade, much like any historical account was written to persuade. This is a reason to deny all of history. Does Jelbert think there would be people impartial about the resurrection? Isn’t Jelbert’s account written to persuade? If accounts written to persuade cannot ipso facto be trusted, then I cannot trust Jelbert.

He also says these stories were written down in an account that passed through communities orally. We could go on about the reliability of oral tradition, but at this point, there is no need to do so. The account that Habermas bases it on does not have this problem since it is the 1 Corinthians 15 passage.

Jelbert says he is surprised that Habermas did not use the Gospel accounts. He says they are irreconcilable and maybe Habermas is tacitly acknowledging that. Nothing of the sort. Habermas uses Paul because the critics love Paul and the testimony is accepted across the board and it is earlier than the Gospels.

Jelbert also uses 1 Cor. 15:44 to say that the body was a spiritual body and not a physical body. Unfortunately, Jelbert does not interact with any of the contrary scholarship on this point. There is no looking at a work like Gundry’s Soma in Biblical Greek. There is no looking at the word for raised in 1 Cor. 15 indicating rising from a position of sitting or laying down.

From here, Jelbert thinks that the argument is Paul had a vision. Yet if Jelbert’s interpretation of spiritual body is wrong, and it is, then that is not the case. After all, Paul speaks of spiritual men and rocks in the book of 1 Corinthians and none of these refer to something immaterial.

Further along on this, Jelbert says in verse 50 that flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God. It is ignored that this is not a statement of ontology, but rather a statement of the sinful nature of man. A man in his mortal and sinful state cannot inherit the kingdom. That is why a resurrection is needed to begin with.

In Philippians 2:8-9, Jelbert says Jesus is exalted with no mention of an empty tomb or a resurrection, but why should there be? We have songs about Jesus reigning today that don’t explicitly mention a resurrection. This is another modern idea that unless something is explicitly mentioned, it is not the case. Philippians 3 also has our bodies being transformed to be like Christ’s glorious body.

What this means is that for Jelbert, Jesus’s appearances were direct from Heaven, but if that is the case then why do we have an idea of bodily resurrection even in the Gospels so much so that it totally supplants the original tradition? How did this belief totally replace apostolic teaching of just divine exaltation? Jelbert does not explain this at all.

Jelbert also says Romans 1:4 says that Jesus was appointed the Son of God in power by His resurrection from the dead. Jelbert sees this as adoptionist. That is not the best reading of the text. The term better means that the resurrection revealed who it was that Jesus was. Another example of this is in Acts 2:36 which Jelbert says that this Jesus, God has made Lord and Christ. Yet this is from Luke and even in Luke 2, Jesus is referred to as Christ the Lord. This is about vindication and not declaration.

Jelbert really shows his bad exegetical skills when he says that in 1 Cor. 1:18, that Paul believed the Gospel message he taught to be foolish. Paul says it is foolish to those that are perishing. Paul is making a comparative statement about the philosophy of his day and how the philosophical minds saw the Gospel as foolishness for following a crucified Messiah. He is saying this that the world sees as foolish is what God was using to confound their so-called wisdom. Jelbert reads it to say that Paul thinks the evidence is unconvincing even to him. There is something foolish here, but it is not the Gospel.

Next he goes to the creed. Jelbert says the creed does not state time or place. This is not surprising since creeds are meant to be short and abbreviated by nature. He also says that it would not refer to the twelve, but this is an acceptable practice. Sports fans can speak of the Big Ten conference knowing there are more than ten teams involved. The twelve came to be a name for the apostles, which did have a replacement at that point if the account in Acts is accurate of Matthias being elected.  It’s interesting that he says the Gospels are clear that there were only 11 witnesses. This is not clear since we have the two on the road to Emmaus and many in Matthew 28. It’s also interesting that this is a time Jelbert wants us to trust the Gospels.

The women are also not mentioned and Jelbert says this is to be an exhaustive list since it says that last of all, Jesus appeared to Paul. Yet why should that imply the list is exhaustive? It is just saying that Paul received the final appearance.

Jelbert sees theological evolution taking place, but this is quite strange. The texts evolved from Paul having over 500 witnesses to Mark which has, well, none. This is hardly the case of evolution.

Jelbert also says about James that we cannot be sure this is the brother of Jesus since the term “brothers” is used as a familiar term and James is called “The Lord’s brother” and not “Jesus’s brother. Yet why would James be specified then? Would Peter and John and not be brothers of the Lord in that sense?

Jelbert also says that for Paul, the term Lord referred to the risen Lord and not the historical Jesus. He quotes Romans 10:9 which tells us that if you declare with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. If you can figure out how this backs Jelbert’s argument, please let me know. I have no idea.

Jelbert then returns to 1 Cor. 1 and says that Paul tells Christians to expect to be called fools.  This in conjunction with ideas like blessed are those who have not seen and believed indicate that Christians didn’t care about evidence, much like today. If they didn’t care, then why even bother writing about the creed? Why even bother having one? Jelbert does such eisegesis here that the Mormons and JWs would be amazed.

When asking about natural explanations, Jelbert also says that Christians persecuted those who disagreed. No evidence is given of this. We see nothing indicating that Strauss or Hume or others went through persecution. It also doesn’t explain why there is a lack of natural explanations today.

Jelbert also says the church has not remained the same. On the foundational issues, it has. Are there some secondary issues that have changed? Yes. The resurrection hasn’t.

In the end, it’s a shame Jelbert lost his faith over this because his explanations are just weak. He has some of the worst interpretations out there of the text and has not done proper research. We’ll see next time what he has to say about the claim that the appearances were hallucinations.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: The Virgin Birth of Christ

What do I think of Richard Shenk’s book on the virgin birth (Which I do affirm) published by Paternoster books? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Readers of my work and friends of mine know that one of my favorite subjects to refer to is the virgin birth and about my constant statement about affirming the virgin birth, which I do affirm. I figured it was about time I did a podcast on the topic and that I called in someone who would do that. A quick search on Amazon led me to this book by Richard Shenk.

The virgin birth, as Shenk points out, is often a shibboleth of sorts. It’s a test. It’s where the battle lines are drawn. For Christians, the virgin birth is a sort of test of orthodoxy. Once that one falls, so many other pillars will just start falling. For atheists and non-Christian skeptics, it’s a test of incredulity. The virgin birth is obviously something stupid to believe.

That last part is, of course, ridiculous. I often like to ask skeptics about this who claim we know so much better in the age of science, at what point in history did men and women realize there was a connection between sex and babies? Believe it or not, we knew it pretty early on in our history. Joseph was not a biologist and we know a whole lot more about pregnancy than they did back then, but he knew enough to know what it took to make a baby and he knew he hadn’t done that.

Shenk says that this is one of the first great gifts of the virgin birth. It blows right through naturalism if true. It shows that God has acted in the world in a unique miracle.

Yet there’s more. We want to know why a virgin birth took place. For many of the church fathers, there were two reasons. One is to avoid Jesus being born of concupiscence. Many of you might not be familiar with that word. Fortunately, he tells us what it is. On p. 33, he refers to an evil concupiscence as the fulfilling of evil desires. For some in the early church, sex was purely for procreation. To use sex for other reasons was to give heed to evil desires.

We can’t have Jesus come that way, but such a view does not find a home in the Scriptures. How can you have such a view when Paul says in 1 Cor. 7 that married couples ought not to abstain from sex for a time except for prayer and by mutual consent and even then for a short time only. Nothing at all says, “Come together and have sex only when you want children.” Sex is presented as a great good throughout the Bible to be enjoyed by husband and wife.

Well, maybe it’s to avoid original sin. Still, there’s nothing in the Scriptures that really demonstrates that sin passes down through a paternal line. It’s an interesting theory, but Shenk doesn’t think it holds up.

Yet there’s also another problem with Jesus’s birth. What about the sin of Jeconiah? He was said that he would be childless and his descendants would not rule? I personally think this applied to only his immediate descendants and that we see a reversal in Haggai 2 when Zerubbabel is given the signet ring to show ruling again, but Shenk works with this to argue a virgin birth helps bypass that. It’s a long theory and best explained by reading the book. There’s also a theory that God chose this route to hide from the devil who the seed would be in Genesis 3:15. I’m not convinced, but it is interesting.

Shenk says one real purpose of the virgin birth is to show that Jesus is fully God and fully man. If Mary had not known a man and gave birth, then this is showing that this is no ordinary child. This child can truly be said to be conceived of the Holy Spirit.

Shenk also compares old creation and new creation at this point. In Genesis 1, the Holy Spirit hovered over the waters preparing for God to act in the world. In the birth of Jesus, the Holy Spirit overshadows Mary preparing for the new birth of the Messiah in her.

Many church fathers and Catholics see the relation between Eve and Mary as well. This is a reversal in that Mary succeeds where Eve fails. The information on 2 Timothy 2:11-15 is quite fascinating at this point and worth considering for those who read it. Basically, Shenk thinks that Paul is seeing Mary as redeeming the mistake of Eve and thus restoring honor to the women.

There’s also the honor of adoption. Joseph is an adopted father of Jesus in the text and this is the method used by God to get Jesus into the royal lineage. Adoption is something that we should be concerned about in an age of abortion.

And finally, there is also our virgin birth. Oh not that we will be physically conceived without the help of a man and a woman together, but that we will be conceived spiritually not that way, but by a new birth in Christ. Christ gives us a new birth without the aid of our parents at all, though of course parents can help, but they are not essential to a child becoming a Christian. The virgin birth reminds us that a birth from above is given to all of us in Christ.

This book will give you a newfound appreciation of the virgin birth. It is also a relatively short book. There is a slight section on perpetual virginity, but aside from that even most Catholics and Orthodox I think could appreciate it.

And of course, I affirm the virgin birth.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Evidence Considered

Was Jesus’s tomb found empty? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

In chapter 34 of Evidence Considered, Jelbert decides to take on Gary Habermas on if there was an empty tomb or not. At the start, Jelbert says that all of Habermas’s material comes from Christian sources. He also says these are diluted by internal disagreements and contradictions.

However, Habermas is just doing what all scholars do. Even Bart Ehrman will grant this point.

If historians want to know what Jesus said and did they are more or less constrained to use the New Testament Gospels as their principal sources. Let me emphasize that this is not for religious or theological reasons–for instance, that these and these alone can be trusted. It is for historical reasons pure and simple. (Ehrman, The New Testament, page 215)

Now if Jelbert thinks he has some sources that are more relevant to the life of Jesus and closer to the time, he’s free to come forward and show them to us. I am sure the scholarly world would love to hear these sources. If not, then there’s no reason to complain because Habermas uses the main sources that we have. Everyone does that.

Jelbert says that Jesus had in the accounts left the tomb. Why on Earth would it be that angels would have left it open? This sounds like a good question unless you actually think about it for a few seconds. The tomb was open so that everyone could see that it was empty. It wasn’t open so that Jesus could get out, but so that others could get in.

He also says Habermas makes two assumptions. The first is that the Gospels are reliable which is what needs to be shown and that anyone would care to disprove the story anyway. Naturally, both of these are weak claims.

For the former, he’s not trying to prove the Gospels are reliable. He’s trying to prove a part of the tradition in the Gospels, the empty tomb, is reliable, That’s a big difference. The way he’s doing it is by examining the sources we have with normal scholarly protocol. Again, everyone in the field does this.

For the second, apparently Paul might have been in such a position. We know that within a year or two he was already out there persecuting Christians and that’s just one person we’re told about. Christians were regularly facing some sort of persecution from Jewish interlocutors.

Jelbert goes on to say that Christian teachings explicitly encouraged belief without sight. Not at all, but we have the usual litany. Let’s go through each of them.

We have Jesus with Thomas saying “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.” This is a strange passage to use because it would imply that we who are later on are in a better position than the apostles who saw Jesus themselves. Thomas’s problem was that he had every reason to trust Jesus and he failed to believe.

1 Cor. 1:19 says God will destroy the wisdom of the wise and the intelligence of the intelligent he will frustrate. This verse has absolutely nothing to do with seeing something. What it is talking about is a masterful rhetorical work where the teaching of Jesus would challenge the sophists of the day by going against their preconceived notions of what a king should be and by revealing them to be frauds. Sophists, after all, could stand up one day and make a powerful argument that the nation ought to go to war against the enemy and receive applause for it, and the next day get up and argue the exact opposite.

No list of verses like this would be complete without Hebrews 11:1. I have written on that one before here. Nothing further needs to be said.

Jelbert says 1 Thess. 5:21 is often brought out, but that it applies to prophecy. I do agree on that one. Still, I think it’s a principle that can easily be applied across the board.

When he talks about the women discovering the tomb, he says that if the Gospel writers wrote that, they probably believed it. Yet this is what strikes me as odd. Jelbert talks about the accounts evolving over time. If they did, why did this part not evolve? Wouldn’t women witnesses be one of the first ones to change? Why not make the disciples into the heroes?

Jelbert says Mark and Luke have the women wanting to anoint the body with spices, but Matthew has them just wanting to look in the tomb. This is because Matthew has a story about guards that is found nowhere else. There’s one reason that I really think the story has credibility and this is something Jelbert never mentions. The text says the story has been told “to this day.”

If this story wasn’t being told in Matthew’s day, any reader would say, “Well not it hasn’t. We’ve never heard that story.” This is a direct acknowledgment of what was being said at the time. Again, Jelbert never mentions this.

Jelbert also says since Matthew changes Mark, that shows he doesn’t think Mark is reliable. That doesn’t follow. It could mean he does some editing to highlight certain points. It could be he wants to refine a detail. It could be he thinks a detail is unneeded. Jelbert just assumes the worst and goes with it.

Jelbert says that Paul never mentions the tomb at all, but what he needs to show is that he needs to. Paul writes about Jesus buried and risen and the word there indicates coming up from a lying down position. As a Pharisee, Paul would believe that what is placed in the tomb naturally comes back up again. Also, one will search in vain for any interaction with a work like Gundry’s Soma In Biblical Greek to see what is meant by a body.

Jelbert also says that when Paul says “Last of all he appeared to me, it implies an exhaustive list.” Why? Your guess is as good as mine. I see nothing here to make me think the list had to be exhaustive.

Getting back to the guard story, Jelbert says the chief priests and Pharisees go on the Sabbath to request a guard from Pilate who gives them one. That’s a problem at the start because there’s debate on if Pilate gives them a guard of if he acknowledges they had their own guards. He says the angels knock the soldiers out with an earthquake, which again I do not see in the text. They come to and run to the leaders who tell them what to say and assure them they will keep them safe. Jelbert says none of this is plausible. I suppose it isn’t when you straw man all of it.

Jelbert also says that if a body was raised from a mass grave, that would not leave an empty tomb. Sure, but no one claims it is a mass grave. If Jelbert thinks he has such a source, let him show it. All four of our early sources here all agree that Jesus was buried in a tomb alone.

Jelbert now goes to 1 Cor. 15 and the passage about the spiritual body. If this means immaterial, we have a problem. Paul speaks of spiritual men in chapters 2 and 3. He speaks of a spiritual rock in chapter 10. In that same chapter he writes about spiritual food and drink. Spiritual does not necessitate immaterial and again, the reader is invited to check the work of Gundry.

Right now I am convinced the tomb was empty, but not only that, so is Jelbert’s critique of it.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

Does It Matter If The Resurrection Is A Metaphor?

Does it matter if the resurrection was literal? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Wednesday night, I was at the debate between my father-in-law, Mike Licona, and John Dominic Crossan about who the historical Jesus was and how he saw himself. I hate to say it, but it really wasn’t much of a debate because I don’t think anyone really understood what Crossan was arguing. Crossan was putting practically everything into the world of metaphor and saying that the message was a metaphor and that he would die for a metaphor and if the resurrection is literal, what difference would it make? The real question is are we living resurrected lives.

When I got up to ask a question, I said my wife and I enjoy being married. Still, we wonder what will happen when our time comes. Will we be together forever? I replied that a literal resurrection can assure us that we will be. What hope can a metaphor give us?

The reply was something along the lines of how the message was not the resurrection of individuals but that the human race would overcome. The violence of Rome would be overthrown by non-violence. This is supposedly the good news of Jesus.

There are a number of things I wonder about this, such as how this Jesus got crucified. Despite that, there is one thing I want to focus on. The resurrection. Does it make a difference if it’s a metaphor or literal?

I’m not going to go into making a whole case for the resurrection. That has been done plenty of times elsewhere. I am going to be emphasizing the difference it makes and to be fair, it is easy to miss this many times.

One big difference is that we live in a world where death is a reality. We see it all around us. We know that when the game over comes for someone, it really is game over barring a miracle. It’s a sad reality. When we bury a loved one, they are dead, and the relationship is not the same.

Will it ever be? Is that it?

We live in a world of injustice. Recently here in Atlanta, we had a police officer shot who died from that and his killer was found within 48 hours and also died when he pulled out a weapon on police officers. There are many crimes that take place and sadly, the culprit is never found. Some people seem to go free.

Will there ever be justice?

Sometimes people die from disease. Our friend, Nabeel Qureshi, died from stomach cancer at an extremely young age. Just today in my Facebook memories I saw something about a friend who passed away last year. She was an older lady, but it’s still hard to see.

Will this ever be righted?

What about our universe itself? Some of you out there I am sure believe we are responsible for some climate change. We live in a world there does seem to be a lot of destruction. We want to colonize other planets, but even if we do, the universe is destined to die a cold death and take us with it.

Is there any point?

What about our bodies themselves? Do they matter? Are human beings just objects. Does it matter what I do with my body? Does it matter how I behave sexually or how my diet is?

What difference does it make?

This is why the resurrection matters? Will we live again and see each other again? Yes. Will evil be judged and good rewarded? Yes. Will lives be redeemed that died from tragic disease? Yes. Will the Earth and the universe be renewed and made eternal paradises? Yes. Do our bodies matter and how we treat them? Yes.

The resurrection matters.

It matters that it’s literal.

I think I’ll stick with the literal resurrection. That’s the good news that overcame the Earth. Christianity isn’t just a nice story. It’s a reality about the world and everything in it.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Those interested in the debate can listen to it here.

Book Plunge: The Case For Miracles

What do I think of Lee Strobel’s book published by Zondervan? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Lee Strobel holds a special place in my heart. It was his books that really lit my fire in the area of apologetics. Not only does Strobel present great information, he also does it while introducing you to the best scholars in the field so you know where to go to next for more information. It was through him that I came across scholars like Craig Blomberg, Ravi Zacharias, Peter Kreeft, J.P. Moreland, Gary Habermas, William Lane Craig, Ben Witherington III, etc.

This book is no exception, though in some ways it is quite different. One obvious way is that it does start off with interviewing a skeptic. The interview is with Michael Shermer. While Shermer is a lot nicer and more real than many other skeptics, many of his arguments are really just as weak. As I read through the chapter, I kept thinking that if this is one of the leading faces of skepticism, then we’re in good hands.

Still, I think it’s a good change to have taken place. I would like to see in his books Strobel interviewing both sides. It’s also quite impressive to realize Strobel resisted the urge to be a debater with Shermer and just let him speak.

From there, Strobel goes on to interview other scholars. Big shock that on this topic, the first person on the list is Craig Keener. Keener wrote an epic two-volume work on miracles called Miracles. Anyone skeptical of the reality of miracles should read it. The good news is if you have read it, you will find still new stories in this one. Craig Keener has more miracles and I understand from my interactions with him that he collects them regularly now.

The next interview is with Candy Gunther Brown on prayer studies. Now I will say that these kinds of studies have never really convinced me. There are too many variables that can’t be tested and you’re dealing with a free-will agent. What is much more convincing with prayer are testimonials like the ones Brown talks about where she goes to third world countries and sees people being healed after they are prayed for in the name of Jesus.

Other interviews on topics related are J. Warner Wallace on the resurrection and Michael Strauss on the origins of the universe. Both of these are interesting and to be expected. Both are also highly enjoyable chapters.

Roger Olson was a chapter that was really convicting. The chapter was on being ashamed of the supernatural and while I don’t care for the term supernatural, the point is still there. We often pray for wisdom for doctors in operations instead of for healing. It’s as if we expect God to not do miracles. This really caused me to look at how I approach prayer.

Then there’s the chapter that could be the hardest one to read in the book. This is the chapter about what about when miracles don’t occur. Douglas Groothuis is the person interviewed for that one. His wife Becky had a disease that was killing her memory and brain function bit by bit. Sadly, Becky has since the time of publishing passed away. Groothuis is there to remind us that miracles don’t always occur and how to handle it.

If there was one chapter I would have liked, it would have been one on the philosophy of Hume. Keener touched on that some, but he’s not a philosopher. Perhaps it would have been good to have had someone like John Earman as an interview to talk about it.

In Christ,
Nick Peters