Book Plunge: The Triumph Of Christianity

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

When I first heard about The Triumph of Christianity coming out, I was quite excited. The survival and eventual triumph of Christianity is something I consider to be a great argument for the truth of Christianity, especially since Christianity did not spread through force and was spread in a society that would want to eliminate it and that it was a very shameful faith. I was quite looking forward to seeing if Ehrman would either add to that thesis or challenge it.

This book sadly was disappointing in that regard. As I go through, I don’t find many clear answers. I do thankfully find that Constantine is not the reason the faith succeeded, although he might have made it’s eventual triumph faster. Sadly, Ehrman doesn’t seem to have much of an idea why it did. You get a basic answer of people talked to one another and each time someone became a Christian, paganism lost. Pagans would still be pagans if they worshiped a different god. They wouldn’t be if they worshiped Christ.

Ehrman also has the positive of talking about the things that Christianity has done. The Roman Empire at the time of Jesus was one marked by dominance. Slavery was unquestioned. Men had to be the leaders. War and conquest seemed natural. (p. 5)

Christianity changed that. We all think it’s natural to want to care for the sick and the poor. That’s because of Christianity. Without Christianity, we might never have had the realities of health care that we have today. Ehrman says we have simply assumed that these are human values, but they’re not. (p. 6)

This I can support definitely. So many times when atheists argue today, they point to the claim that the Bible condones slavery supposedly. It is taken for granted that everyone knows that this is wrong because we’re all humans. Go back to the Roman Empire in the time of Jesus and it would more likely be the opposite. You would be the oddball not for approving slavery but for condemning it.

One of the first places Ehrman goes to is talking about Constantine. I find this quite odd seeing as Constantine is about 300 years later. It’s important to get to, but why go there so quickly? I want to know how Christianity even got to that point.

Ehrman does have some interesting points here. He is right that pagans were fine with you worshiping another god provided you were not excluding others with that. The Christians would not have really been a problem had Jesus been presented as one other deity in the pantheon to be worshiped. That is not what the Christians did. The Christians said God had revealed Himself in Jesus and that was the only way to worship Him. All other gods were false gods.

One author who has brought this out well is Larry Hurtado in his book Destroyer of the Gods. One would hope that Ehrman’s not interacting with that book is because it came out after the manuscript was done, but it’s hard to say since Ehrman can be good at giving the sound of one hand clapping and not interacting with the best of his critics.

Hurtado points out that by a gentile becoming a Christian, he was putting himself on the outs socially. It could be compared to someone leaving a cult today, and I mean a bona fide cult. If you have left the Jehovah’s Witnesses or the Mormons, that would be such an example. A Gentile would go into the home of a friend and all of a sudden, he couldn’t honor the household gods. He couldn’t go to the meetings of the gods at work. He was on the outs with his society entirely. He was risking everything.

A Jew could be given a free pass because the Jewish beliefs were ancient and thus, they were seen as something that could have been a valid path to God. For the ancients, those that came before them were even closer to the gods and knew how to get there. A religious idea that was new was viewed with suspicion. Hence, one of the early apologetic works was called “Neither New Nor Strange.”

A great work on this is Robert Louis Wilkens’s The Christians as the Romans Saw Them (Yet another work that Ehrman never interacts with). One who became a Christian was embracing a religion that was shameful. Your entire reputation and even identity was being put on the line in the Roman world by becoming a Christian.

Speaking of being a shameful religion, this is something Ehrman also never interacts with. He never looks at how the ancient world was a world of honor and shame. This permeated everything. Having honor in the ancient world meant more to them than paying our bills means to us. You won’t get this reality one iota from Ehrman’s book. It never enters the equation when it should be central to the equation. This is a glaring problem to me in the book.

To get back to Constantine, Ehrman does admit that Constantine wasn’t a perfect Christian, but he was at least a Christian. He did take his conversion seriously. Much of this material will be troublesome to people who are of the mythicist variety and think that Constantine is the only reason Christianity survived. (Again, I still want to know how the religion survived until Constantine.) Also, speaking of sources never interacted with, there is no mention of Peter Leithart’s Defending Constantine in all of this.

Ehrman then goes back to Paul, who I think would have been a much better start for the book, and in here actually says that in the life of Jesus some people did believe He was the Messiah. I am quite thankful to see this said from Ehrman. It’s also stated that the resurrection is what confirmed that Jesus was the Messiah. (p. 48)

It’s important to note how that works. Jesus isn’t the Messiah because God raised Him from the dead. God raised Him from the dead because He is the Messiah. The resurrection confirmed what Jesus had already demonstrated with His life and teachings.

Ehrman also will irritate the mythicist crowd by pointing out that while Paul never mentions the message he gave to potential Christians in his letters, that’s because he doesn’t need to. That message was given in person. The letters were to deal with other matters.

Something else interesting about Ehrman’s thesis, and yet confusing from his perspective, is that Christianity spread because of the belief in real miracles. Ehrman even admits that Paul says at times in his letters, such as in Romans 15, and I would add in 2 Cor., that he did miracles himself before his audience. Something important about this is that it’s easy to make a claim like that to people who already believe you’re the apostle to the Gentiles. Try saying that to the church in 2 Corinthians who is questioning your status because of the super-apostles. Paul is trying to get his opponents to remember what was done. You don’t point to what your opponents will remember unless you’re sure they will remember it and not dispute it.

But Ehrman doesn’t believe in miracles! That’s right, but he does say people did believe they had seen miracles or that the stories were reliable about miracles somehow. He thinks most often it happened because the people heard about miracles.

As a Christian, I do believe miracles happened, but Ehrman never interacts with skeptical ideas at the time. What about Lucian who seemed to make a habit of exposing miracles? Ehrman seems to take it for granted that this was an age that believed in miracles very easily. Maybe it was, but I’m not so sure, and that is something that Ehrman should argue. Still, there’s something odd about someone who doesn’t believe in miracles arguing that belief in miracles was the reason that Christianity gained converts.

Absent is one other possible explanation. Maybe people investigated the claims and decided Jesus rose from the dead. How would this happen? A group of people or one high honor wealthy person would send an investigator or a number of investigators to Jerusalem and the surrounding area. These people would talk to eyewitnesses and gather facts and report them back. Note that someone with high honor would have the most to lose by joining Christianity and so they would want to make sure the facts were right. There had to be such people since 1 Cor. 1 says that not many were in an honorable position, which means some were. Also, the church had to have some financial backing for the extensive letter writing and Gospel writing that went on. Those were not cheap.

Ehrman never seems to consider this idea. For him, word of mouth is sufficient, but that is a lacking idea. People would join a movement without checking where they would put their entire identity on the line by identifying with a crucified man? I don’t think Ehrman really understands the social consequences of becoming a Christian in that world.

On a positive note on the other hand, Ehrman does say that Paul did not invent Christianity nor did he invent the idea that the death and resurrection of Jesus brought salvation. (p. 71) This is not original to Paul as it was part of the package he came to believe. Paul had to have known what he was persecuting and how to recognize a Christian.

Ehrman also will not be a friend to the mythicist crowd when he says Mithraism could not have overtaken the empire. (p. 81) Mithraism was not exclusive like Christianity was. Exclusivism made it risky to become a Christian.

Ehrman is also right that people did not believe in life after death. What is not right about this is that that would have made Christianity a plus. For many, it would be like returning to a prison again. The body was something that you wanted to escape. A spiritual resurrection would have been much easier to accept. Teaching a resurrection to a body of flesh would not have been.

For this, Ehrman often thinks that Heaven and Hell were great motivators, but why should this be? If you don’t believe the person who makes the threat, why take the threat seriously? People speaking about hell would have likely been seen as wild-eyed fanatics.

Ehrman is also right about how the Romans were generally tolerant, but that’s because other religions weren’t stepping on any toes. Saying you shouldn’t worship the gods of the state or worship the emperor was going against that. Another movement Ehrman says was attacked by Rome was the Bacchanalia movement due to licentious practices. Christianity would have been seen as treasonous due to their being no separation of church and state. To deny the Roman gods was to deny Rome itself and a Gentile could not get away with that because we all know Gentiles are not Jews.

Ehrman does have his statement about other Christianities being around, but there is no reason to think any of them were close to dominating. Ehrman regularly does this kind of thing sadly. He will speak of a church that used the Gospel of Peter, but it was only for a short time and it was one particular area. There is nothing about how Egypt was even the most heterodox area and yet when we look at what we find there, orthodox manuscripts of the Bible outweigh the heretical works greatly. This is in Charles Hill’s Who Chose The Gospels? (Another work that there is no interaction with)

On p. 143, Ehrman does say that many people believe in miracles today not because they have seen them, but because they’ve heard about them, and eventually they just believe that they are possible and then true. Why should we think that our society will mirror the ancient one? People would risk everything again just because they hard a story and didn’t bother to check it? It looks like Ehrman hopes his readers are just as gullible as he thinks the ancients were.

On p. 181, in writing about 1 Peter, Ehrman does say they were facing opposition for their faith, but we don’t know what it was. It wasn’t an empire wide persecution. What could it have been? It never enters Ehrman’s mind apparently that it was shaming from their society. This is again the glaring blind spot in the book. Ehrman does not interact with what the culture was truly like.

When we get to the end of the book, we find Ehrman going on a different track, and one that is very mistaken. This is talking about intolerance, and this largely in the context of later Christian emperors opposing paganism. Ehrman says that intolerance is “the principled rejection of other beliefs and practices as wrong, dangerous, or both.” p. 256.

It doesn’t take much thinking to see the problem here. By this definition, anyone who thinks they are right in anything is automatically intolerant because all contrary beliefs have to be false. If Ehrman doesn’t even think that what he is presenting in a book is right, why should I bother listening to him? Apparently, Ehrman thinks it’s intolerant for Christians to think they are right. Is Ehrman intolerant then if he goes out and argues for his case as he does in debates and tells his opponents why he thinks they are not right?

He also has a section on the death of Hypatia which he says was at the hands of a Christian mob. The reality is despite what he thinks, we are not most fully informed. Every side tries to claim Hypatia and use her as a weapon against the other. A good source on her is here.

Oh. All this intolerance? It started with Jesus Himself. Jesus was not tolerate of the beliefs of the Pharisees. (How dare Jesus disagree! Rabbis never ever did that with each other!) Ehrman plays the card again about the Jews being addressed in John 8, not realizing that doesn’t mean all Jews of all time but would refer to a specific group of people. A good look at that can be found here. It’s interesting that Jesus and Paul are the intolerant ones, when they were the ones being put to death by their opponents.

Ehrman also says Paul was intolerant with issuing a divine curse on anyone who preaches a different Gospel. Yes. Paul does that. The stakes are high for him. Note that he never says though that he is applying the curse himself or to go out and kill the people of a different persuasion.

Ehrman on p. 285 says that tolerance was encouraged and freedom of religion was embraced. This tolerance was lost with the triumph of Christianity. Note that Ehrman says this in a country founded on Christian principles where he’s allowed to freely write as an agnostic and publish books arguing against Christianity. Yes. That is truly an intolerant society.

Note also pagans reveled in diversity to a point. There was no reveling in the new Christian movement at all. The Christians did not have the freedom to worship. Now do I think it is wrong when Christians get the power to use it to force Christianity on the populace. Still, it is quite bizarre to say the pagans were tolerant. It’s easy to be tolerant when those who disagree with you only disagree on what you consider a minor point and aren’t a threat at all. At least Ehrman acknowledges again the positives he stated at the beginning such as caring for the poor and the sick, but this tirade on intolerance is not really fitting and Ehrman always says on the one hand he wants to be neutral as a historian, but when he says something like this, he is hardly neutral.

In the end, I find this book just lacking. It’s almost like Ehrman is writing a book just to write a book and get something out there. You can see him picking out a few favorite source repeatedly and relying on them. I know Christianity triumphed and I have some good ideas why, but I don’t see why Ehrman thinks it did.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Muhammad’s Night Journey

Does this story compare to the resurrection? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Many times when I argue for the resurrection, I get told that the accounts are just like the accounts of Muhammad’s night journey on a horse. Both of them show up in a book. That’s it. One should not be said to be more historical than the other. The evidence for both is equal.

First off, much of our knowledge of the ancient world comes from books. Archaeology provides some data, but if all we had was just archaeology, our knowledge would be far far less than what it is. If people want to say something is questionable because it’s found in a book, then they will throw out much of our knowledge of the ancient world.

Second, one should treat the Gospels better. (Although of course, the main place is still 1 Cor. 15) They are human and historical and if you treat them differently, you misunderstand and misinterpret them. Sure, these books later became documents of faith for Christianity, but that has no bearing on whether they can be used for historical purposes. It is simply unfair and unscholarly to dismiss them from the historical record.

Yeah. I get it. That sounds like the ravings of a fundamentalist seeking to defend the Gospels. If you think that, you have a problem. I have just simply paraphrased Bart Ehrman with statements he made on pages 72 and 73 of Did Jesus Exist?

Third, I offer this challenge when I meet someone who says this. It’s no doubt Christians will argue for the truth of their book. Muslims will do the same for theirs. What if we went outside of that? Let’s take claims that are in the books that skeptics will grant. What will non-Christian scholars grant about the case surrounding the resurrection of Jesus and what will non-Muslim scholars grant about Muhammad’s travel on a horse?

You see, with the Qur’an, this is the passage often discussed.

Exalted is He who took His Servant by night from al-Masjid al-Haram to al-Masjid al- Aqsa, whose surroundings We have blessed, to show him of Our signs. Indeed, He is the Hearing, the Seeing.

Now looking at this, I don’t see anything about a flying horse that’s usually talked about. Of course, the scholars of Islam know better and if they agree that the account is that of the flying horse, then I will not disagree. I also understand that this passage is explained further in the Hadith. Let’s keep in mind the Hadiths come much later, at least a century or so.

There is also the problem that there was no temple and from my understanding, the one that was built that is described in these passages did not come about until 691. Muhammad had been dead for fifty years. I could grant that the passage I see here does not mention a temple, but if the Hadith keeps getting more and more elaborate long after eyewitnesses and has anachronisms, one has to wonder.

What of non-Muslim scholarship? Now I see nothing granting that this story has any validity in any part there. They could grant the story has been handed down, but I have yet to see someone present the scholarship that non-Muslim scholars will grant.

What of the resurrection of Jesus? The first place people go to is 1 Cor. 15. This includes the death, burial, and resurrection. When we go to the Gospels, we find explicit statements of the empty tomb, although I would argue the empty tomb is explicit in 1 Cor. 15.

What do skeptical scholars of the NT grant about Jesus?

Let’s start with the crucifixion.

“The fact of the death of Jesus as a consequence of crucifixion is indisputable, despite hypotheses of a pseudo-death or a deception which are sometimes put forward. It need not be discussed further here.” (Gerd Ludemann. .”What Really Happened To Jesus?” Page 17.)

Christians who wanted to proclaim Jesus as messiah would not have invented the notion that he was crucified because his crucifixion created such a scandal. Indeed, the apostle Paul calls it the chief “stumbling block” for Jews (1 Cor. 1:23). Where did the tradition come from? It must have actually happened. (Bart Ehrman, The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings. Third Edition. pages 221-222)

 

Jesus was executed by crucifixion, which was a common method of torture and execution used by the Romans. (Dale Martin, New Testament History and Literature. Page 181)

 

That Jesus was executed because he or someone else was claiming that he was the king of the Jews seems to be historically accurate. (ibid. 186)

 

Jesus’ execution is as historically certain as any ancient event can ever be but what about all those very specific details that fill out the story? (John Dominic Crossan http://www.huffingtonpost.com/john-d…_b_847504.html)

What about his burial?

“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)

How about the appearances?

“The only thing that we can certainly say to be historical is that there were resurrection appearances in Galilee (and in Jerusalem) soon after Jesus’s death. These appearances cannot be denied” (Gerd Ludemann. .”What Really Happened To Jesus?” p. 81)

“We can say with complete certainty that some of his disciples at some later time insisted that . . . he soon appeared to them, convincing them that he had been raised from the dead.” (Bart Ehrman, Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium, pg 230).

 

“That Jesus’ followers (and later Paul) had resurrection experiences is, in my judgment, a fact. What the reality was that gave rise to the experiences I do not know.” (E.P. Sanders, The Historical Figure of Jesus, pg 280)

Now does this mean that these scholars believe in the resurrection of Jesus? No. Does it mean that they accept the data that we use? Yes. The only exception would be some are not as sure of the empty tomb. Bart Ehrman doesn’t even think Jesus was buried for instance.

So compare this to the case for Muhammad’s night journey. Do we have the same? No. Does that mean the account of Muhammad is necessarily false? No. It does mean the evidence is not the same. Does it mean the resurrection of Jesus is true? No. It does mean the evidence is not the same.

Of course, anyone can show up here and show scholarship from non-Muslim sources if they think I’m wrong. I would welcome that. The ball is now in their court.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

 

Book Plunge: The Jesus Crisis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

Is The Bible Literally True?

Should we take the Bible literally? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Someone sent me an article from the Huffington Post recently on if the Bible is literally true. The article is by a Steve McSwain who is described as a speaker, author, counselor to congregations, Ambassador to the Councilor on the Parliament for World’s Religions, and Spiritual Teacher. No academic credentials are listed. He does also describe Christianity as his faith so he claims at some level to be a Christian.

He does say at the start that while he values the Bible, he doesn’t believe it to be divinely dictated or a sacred text without error. I don’t know any evangelical today who really holds to the dictation theory. No doubt, there are some in the rank and file who do, but not the majority.

He goes on to say that if you are a Biblical literalist, that this bothers you. You believe that everything must be literal and it must be error-free. At this, I have a problem. What is meant by literal? It’s a term that’s often used and yet few people really define it. Most people do not think Jesus is literally a door or a vine when He uses that language.

Sadly, McSwain is probably accurate when some people think that if they risk undermining the text or questioning it, they could undermine all of it. Everything goes out the window then. This is the all-or-nothing thinking that many Christians do have and amusingly, many skeptics have that as well. I recall one person on Unbelievable? asking a guest on the show that if the Bible doesn’t agree with how Judas died, then how can we trust that Jesus was crucified?

McSwain goes to the flood accounts and says that they obviously contradict. He points to the differences between verses 2 and 15 of chapter 7. Let’s go and look at what they say.

Verse 2: Take with you seven pairs of every kind of clean animal, a male and its mate, and one pair of every kind of unclean animal, a male and its mate

Verse 15: Pairs of all creatures that have the breath of life in them came to Noah and entered the ark.

Look. I know that there are possible claims of contradictions and such, but this is not a good one. All that is said in verse 15 is pairs came. It doesn’t specify how many and how many of each kind came. In that case, give the benefit of the doubt to the author instead.

He goes on to say that,

The real Moses never wielded a staff with supernatural powers, the tip of which, when dipped into the Nile, turned the river into a cesspool of blood. Or, when dipped into the Red Sea, caused it to part so Israelites could pass to the other side on dry, not muddy, ground.

None of these Biblical stories, including the ones where Jesus is depicted as defying the laws of nature and performing miracles… as in, walking on water or giving sight to the blind or, most amazingly, raising dead people back to life were recorded as factual, or literal, eyewitness accounts. And, even if they were, they cannot be depicted as such today, if you want any of it to be believed… to be respected… or, to be read with any seriousness.

For the sake of argument, this could be true, but the problem is McSwain gives us no reason to believe any of this. I also have to wonder what kind of Christian he is if he denies any miracles at all. Again, McSwain’s case could hypothetically be right, but he has given us no reason to think so, that is, unless you just come out and agree that miracles don’t happen, but that is the very thing under question.

As for the idea of eyewitness accounts, it would be nice to see some interaction with scholarship, such as Richard Bauckham, but we can suspect that won’t happen. Statements of faith are problematic no matter who says it. Unfortunately, mayn people will read McSwain and believe it because, well he’s in the Huffington Post, and do so without any real reason why they should believe it.

What matters to McSwain is how the stories have shaped the lives of those who hear its message. This can sound good, but while it’s great that people have their lives changed, do we want to enforce the Noble Lie? If Christianity is not true, then there is truly no resurrection, no heaven beyond this world, no hell to shun, no forgiveness of sins, no real love of God.

It’s hard to believe that the early church was really excited about that.

McSwain has a watered down faith. Note I have not said he has to embrace inerrancy, but he seems to have just embraced that Christianity is all about being a good person and the truth of the Bible does not matter. If anything, the truth of the Bible matters abundantly. If it is true that God lived among us and that Jesus died and rose again and there is real forgiveness and a heaven to gain and a hell to avoid and eternal life in resurrected bodies, I should think we would want to know it. If it is not true, then who really cares? But if it is true, it matters greatly. As has been said, if Christianity is not true, it is of no importance. If it is true, it is of the utmost importance.

Yes. Mythicism Is Still A Joke

Should Mythicism be treated as a serious idea? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Over at New Testament scholar Larry Hurtado’s blog, for some reason, Dr. Hurtado began writing about mythicism. I was curious to see what was said because NT scholars rarely say anything about mythicism for the same reason geologists would rarely say anything about Flat Earthers. The idea is simply considered a joke.

There’s good and bad sides to this. The good is that NT scholars do have much more important things to do than to get involved in internet squabbles. One can understand them not wanting to take their time to deal with an idea that they do not think should be taken seriously, and they’re right. The bad is that sadly, people are uninformed and they do take it seriously. This is the kind of idea that spreads on college campuses and on the internet among people who don’t know how to do history.

Naturally, posting like this soon reaches the ears of prominent internet blogger Richard Carrier, the rare person who has a Ph.D. in a relevant field and holds to mythicism. Carrier takes the time to say that he wasn’t going to engage one day because it was his birthday recently and there were orgies to be had. Others had responded, but it was time for him to take on Hurtado.

“Surely you’re joking! You wouldn’t write a serious piece interacting with a highly established NT scholar and talk about having orgies would you?”

Well, Richard Carrier would.

Carrier also showed up on Hurtado’s blog, to which Hurtado didn’t even blink at it, but simply pointed out that his reading was highly off. That was last night and I have seen nothing new today about it and Hurtado has said that he has much more important interests to deal with. Who can blame him?

As I said, the theory of mythicism is popular on the internet, but I think Hurtado could be right in that this is a last hurrah for mythicism, at least for now. While Carrier is the best the mythicist case has, it’s not really saying much. Others in the field, both Christian and non-Christian, are looking and aren’t really impressed. The only people that seem to be impressed are those who are already mythicists and atheists who want to hear what they already think.

Such it is with conspiracy theorists. You can see conservative and liberal Facebook pages that will show claims that are easily shown to be false, but many people on each side want to believe what they already believe. Mythicism is just that. It’s a conspiracy theory for atheists. The evidence can sound convincing and persuasive if you don’t understand history, but once you do, the whole thing falls and we all see that the emperor has no clothes.

An interesting twist is that mythicism can be to history what solipsism is to philosophy. It’s usually thought that when you get to solipsism in your philosophy, you’ve made a mistake somewhere. Mythicism can show us how history should be done by showing us how bad history is done. Perhaps this will further refine our criteria of history which I don’t doubt will put Jesus in an even better light historically. After all, death could not defeat Him 2,000 years ago. There is no reason to think the historical method will today.

There have been stories of soldiers of Japan who were unaware that the war had ended decades earlier. So it is that we have many mythicists fighting a battle today unaware that the war is already over and that the historicity of Jesus is solid bedrock. Hopefully, more will see before too long that the battle is already done, but my concern is that there will still be eternal casualties with those who do not know realize the facade that they’ve been sold.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

What Is The Foundation?

What is the centerpiece of the Gospel? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Not too long ago, I wrote a blog post that was looking at a critique of the New Perspective on Paul. While I don’t sign on the dotted line yet on the NPP, I am certainly open to it and think it makes some cogent points. One reason I wrote it is also because of a claim I hear often that justification is the Gospel.

Of course, some people will immediately get defensive hearing that. Am I saying that justification is not important? Not at all. It is important that we are forgiven and that forgiveness is by grace through faith. What has to be asked though is if that is what our faith is built on?

When I go to bed at night, normally I read a short section of Scripture if I’m reading a narrative, like a Gospel, but if not, just a couple of verses to think about. Last night I did three to finish off Romans 4.  So what did I read?

The words “it was credited to him” were written not for him alone, but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness—for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.

Please note what is necessary for our justification. It was the resurrection of Jesus. Just dying on the cross was not enough. As Paul says, if Christ is not raised, you are still in your sins.

Part of the problem I have with the idea that justification is the Gospel is that justification is a result of something else happening. That something else is the primary thing. That is the message that changed the world. If that did not happen, we would not be able to talk about justification. That primary thing is the resurrection.

A secondary problem is that justification is important, but it also doesn’t go far enough. We can celebrate that we are forgiven, but God did much more than just forgive us. He could have forgiven us without offering us eternal life for instance, but He did do that. With every step, He could stop, but He doesn’t. As Luke 12:32 tells us, it is the Father’s good pleasure to give us the kingdom.

The kingdom is sadly lacking in our Gospel messages today. Jesus did not say as much about justification as He did about the Kingdom of God, but guess which one we spend the most time talking about today? Very few people have any idea of a doctrine of the kingdom. It’s sadly true that we often treat the Gospels as appetizers and the main course are the epistles of Paul. This is why it can often be asked if Jesus taught Paul’s Gospel. The more important question we should ask is if Paul taught Jesus’s Gospel, which he did of course.

If we want to see what’s further ahead, let’s see what Paul does say in 2 Cor. 5:19.

For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation.

Sure. The forgiveness of sins is in there, but the reconciliation is with the world. The world is not as it should be and that is to be corrected. We can be forgiven, but even forgiven people will still die. Death is still the enemy to overcome. Is God going to let the world be a casualty? Did the evil one ruin the world so much that it cannot be redeemed and it will fall from the purposes God created for it?

Absolutely not. The resurrection is as it were uncreation working backwards. The path of destruction is stopped and the path of restoration begins. Let us celebrate justification, but we are not the end of it all. Everything is to be reconciled. This does not mean universalism as some people will not be reconciled due to their own will nor will demons or the devil, but all that submit to God will be.

Yet always remember, whatever your stance on justification, it’s not possible without the resurrection. The resurrection message is the Gospel. The king has come and He is taking His throne. That is the cause of everything else. Let’s not confuse the effect with the cause.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Deeper Waters Podcast 11/11/2017: Richard Bauckham.

 

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

Can we trust the Gospels? One of the questions that this comes down to often is the question of who their sources are. Were they written by eyewitnesses? Did they use eyewitnesses? Can we really trust anonymous sources like the Gospels? Did the Gospels even cite their sources?

Even if the Gospels are eyewitness testimonies, can we still trust them? Can’t eyewitnesses get things wrong? Why should we treat the Gospels as if they are serious historical works and their information is something that we can base our lives on?

In order to discuss this, I decided to have come on a second time a scholar who has done in-depth research on this. He has done so much that he has updated his great work on this topic. The work is Jesus and the Eyewitnesses and the author and scholar is none other than Richard Bauckham. So who is he?

I am a biblical scholar and theologian. My academic work and publications have ranged over many areas of these subjects, including the theology of Jürgen Moltmann, Christology (both New Testament and systematic), eschatology, the New Testament books of Revelation, James, 2 Peter and Jude, Jewish and Christian apocalyptic literature, the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, the New Testament Apocrypha, the relatives of Jesus, the early Jerusalem church, the Bible and contemporary issues, and biblical and theological approaches to environmental issues. In recent years much of my work has focused on Jesus and the Gospels. Probably my best known books are Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony (2006), God Crucified: Monotheism and Christology in the New Testament (1998), The Theology of the Book of Revelation (1993) and Bible and Ecology (2010). As well as technical scholarship and writing aimed at students and those with some theological background, I have also written accessible books for a wider readership, of which the best known is At the Cross: Meditations on People Who Were There (1999), which I wrote with Trevor Hart. A recent book is Jesus: A Very Short Introduction (2011), published in Oxford University Press’s Very Short Introduction series, and providing a historical account of Jesus for the general reader. Various of my books have appeared in translation in Italian, Japanese, Chinese, Russian, Korean, Spanish, Portuguese, French and Farsi.

Until 2007 I was Professor of New Testament Studies at the University of St Andrews, Scotland. I retired early in order to concentrate on research and writing, and moved to Cambridge. For more information about me, see my Short CV. On this site, you will find complete lists of my publications. You can find out about my forthcoming books. You can read unpublished papers, lectures and sermons. You can find out about the More Old Testament Pseudepigrapha project (directed by myself and James Davila).

You can also read some of my poetry, and two story books written for children (adults also enjoy them) about the MacBears of Bearloch.

I hope you’ll be watching for this episode. We’re going to get a good in-depth look at this important book that every student of the New Testament needs to know about. Please be watching for this one and go on iTunes and leave a positive review of the Deeper Waters Podcast.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

NYC Terrorism And Gospel Reliability

Can we really know what happened? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

On Halloween afternoon and early evening, there was a news story broke about a radical Islamic terrorist that killed multiple people in New York. My wife and I go to Celebrate Recovery on Tuesday nights at our church, so we only got to hear bits and pieces, yet as it turns out, I did hear different things. That evening on the news, I had heard that he got shot in the abdomen. Another report said he got shot in the stomach. Still, another said he got shot in the buttocks.

Yesterday, my wife and I had the news on and heard even more different stories. This time, we heard that he had been shot in the leg and then it was more specifically, the thigh. We could say that this is a later story that is more clear, but as an outsider, I can’t really know. I could hypothetically go to the hospital and see for myself, but that’s not really an option right now.

So what do I gather from all of this? If we were in the area of New Testament studies, there are some things that some people would conclude. For instance, there are some who would be consistent and conclude that there never was a shooting or even that there never was a terrorist. After all, shouldn’t there be agreement?

Some will point to the idea of eyewitness testimony being unreliable. To an extent, it can be, but there are cases where it isn’t. In a time of chaos when people are dying around you and you could be looking out to save your own life, you might not remember everything that happens well. There will be some things you would not be at all mistaken about. You would not be mistaken about being at the scene or seeing a terrorist mowing down people in a vehicle and you would likely remember the peace that came when he was taken down.

I also often think that if we want to see how reliable testimony is over time, we need to check with people whose lives were significantly impacted by the event in question. Consider 9/11. Who is more likely to remember and relive the events in their mind over and over? Is it someone who was a passerby on the street and knew no one who worked in the towers, or is it someone who lost a spouse on that day? I don’t know of any such study like this, but it would be good to see it done.

When we compare this to the Gospels, there can be times that there are supposed contradictions that do differ on minor details. I am not saying all differences are like this, but many are. These are differences much like the shooting of the terrorist. It might be unclear to those of us on the outside without direct proof to know where the terrorist was shot, but we all know that he was. (Well, aside from perhaps some fringe conspiracy theorists who are no doubt convinced this was all staged, but then that is an apt comparison with the mythicist community.)

Minor differences do not do anything to change the fact of the major events. Someone might be tempted to say that it’s different when we talk about the New Testament. It’s supposed to be the Word of God isn’t it? At this point then, one is treating the New Testament with an entirely different standard. You’re not doing history so much as you’re doing religion. There is no reason to have a position where either all of it is true or none of it is true.

Instead, one can approach it much like any other document. Sure, there might be a few differences, but does that detract from the major points? Note I am not saying you have to sacrifice Inerrancy at all. I am saying you do not have to make it everything.

So what happened in NYC? A radical Muslim terrorist killed several people and was stopped when he was shot. Do I know the minor details beyond that? No. Do I have any reason to believe the major ones are false? No. Do I have justification to believe they are true? Yes.

When we come to the New Testament, we need to do the same. Let’s first see what the major outline of the story is. Then we can work on the minor details. Maybe we won’t even resolve them all, but we can still trust the major points.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Evidence That Demands A Verdict

What do I think of Josh and Sean McDowell’s latest book published by Thomas Nelson? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

The Evidence books have been classic staples of apologetics for some time. When I found out the latest one was coming out and there was an advance launch team, I decided I would try to be a part of it. Since I have a good relationship with Sean McDowell, it wasn’t too difficult to get that done and spent the next month or so reading on my Kindle the copy I had.

So I figured this time I would put my thoughts down in the form of pros and cons.

Pros — This one is definitely thorough. While it focuses on historical objections, there are other sections, such as asking if miracles are possible and questions related to a postmodern climate such as the nature of truth. Questions like theism itself or creation-evolution questions for the most part are left untouched, but that’s fine because an apologetics book is not meant to cover everything.

Also, the writers do admit any problems in the field. For instance, in a chapter on Old Testament archeaology, they rightly say that some claims from the past are being questioned today and we need to do more research. The goal in these cases is not to establish certainty but plausibility. I consider this quite helpful.

There’s also sections on popular internet fads today, such as if Jesus existed and if He was copied from pagan gods. Of course, scholars don’t take this seriously, but we all know that internet atheists don’t really pay attention to the world of scholarship. Those who do care will get information from this to give them the upper hand.

Another positive is that each chapter can be read on its own. Want to read about the Exodus but don’t really care about establishing that Jesus wasn’t copied from pagan gods right now? Fine. Go to the chapter on the Exodus. Prior knowledge of earlier chapters isn’t necessary.

Finally, there’s also the fact that there is interaction with real scholars in the field and often on both sides. Evidence can be seen as a gateway book. The person who gets this book should not think it’s the be-all and end-all. Instead, they should find the sections they like the most and be willing to read the scholars that are cited to learn even more.

Cons — There are of course some things I would like to see improved. For instance, sometimes reading can seem like one is reading encyclopedia articles. As I thought about this, it occurred to me that an interesting format would be for them to do something like Strobel has done and that’s to go and do the research and then go and interview scholars on the matter and ask about what was come across in the research to create a much more conversational feel, which is what I think so well contributed to the success of Strobel’s books.

Second, sometimes the interaction with the other side was not the best. For instance, on the resurrection of Jesus, there is examination of the counterclaims of Richard Carrier. I would much rather have seen Gerd Ludemann or Bart Ehrman or even Jeffrey Jay Lowder here. Save Carrier for the chapter on the existence of Jesus.

Third, sometimes I did tire of seeing regularly the language of “noted scholar” or “prominent scholar.” This was often used too abundantly and many times, I have seen the language used in the sense of “A great man has spoken. The case is closed.” I am not saying the McDowells necessarily used it that way, but the language does put me on my guard. I find it a good practice after all to be as skeptical of books by my own side as I am the other side.

Still, there is a lot of information here that can be helpful, and the price for the most part is reasonable from what I’ve seen on Amazon. I am also pleased to see both Josh and Sean working together. Sean is certainly working to be a great apologist in his own right and I am eager to see what the future holds.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

5,000+ Gods

How do you know you have the right deity? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

It’s understandable that when it comes to major issues, many of us have strong opinions. It’s understandable that many of us seek to be informed on those opinions. It’s understandable that many times we will want to talk to others about those opinions who agree and disagree with us and want to either share encouragement or change minds respectively.

It’s not understandable though that people share nonsense all the while thinking that they are sharing a powerful argument. One such case recently happened on the Unbelievable? Facebook page. An atheist, no doubt convinced he had a brilliant argument, shared the following meme and asked what the way is Christians find out of this particular dilemma.

People who post this stuff really don’t bother to understand world religions at all. For instance, consider the Buddha. Many Buddhists in the classical system would be seen as atheistic and not think the Buddha is a deity. The Hindu pantheon has several lesser gods, some more prominent than others, but nothing seen as a sort of ultimate deity. Many would have no problem saying that of course there are 5,000 gods, but could say that all of them are real.

Let’s start with something simple though. All truth claims are exclusive. If I say 2 + 2 = 4, then any person who says an answer that is contrary to 4 is wrong. We could say to people who think I am the husband of Allie Licona Peters that “There are billions of men on this planet who could be her husband, but don’t worry, the claim that Nick Peters is the only right answer.” Of course, it is.

How could this work with atheism? Just replace gods with worldviews. There are almost 5,000 worldviews being believed by humanity. Don’t worry. Yours is right. After all, atheism is just a strong a claim. It’s a strong claim if the meme is true to say that you worship the right God out of 5,000 or so. It’s a strong claim to say that you are right and everyone else is entirely wrong because none of those deities are real.

The meme when looking at the question also assumes that all deities have the same amount of evidence for their existence and all religions do as well. Are we really to think that, for instance, archaeologically, the Book of Mormon can begin to compare with the New Testament, or even the Old Testament for that matter? You could if perhaps you right at the start assume that all of the systems are nonsense, which would just be begging the question.

This is something Matthew McCormick did in his book The Case Against Christ. He made a list of 500 deities that were thought to be ominpotent, omniscient, eternal, etc. He then said that these gods are no longer worshiped this way. Well, I did something rather odd there. I actually went and looked up all of these gods. Any that were seen that way could be counted on one hand. You can see some of my doing this here including his big gaffe.

What needs to happen then is something that should be obvious to the atheists who say they care so much about evidence, but they often forget. That is to look at the evidence. That means when the theist pulls up the evidence for whatever deity they believe in, you actually look at it and consider it.

If you asked me why I believe in the deity I hold to, I would say that it is the most logically consistent for me. It is very similar to the one Aristotle arrived at in his philosophy. I go with the Aristotelian-Thomistic arguments. It would be quite long to go into here so that will be for another day.

Then when I look at Christianity, I say the evidence for Jesus is overwhelming. To deny His existence is ridiculous. Other theories I see trying to explain the data surrounding the resurrection I find completely lacking. I say this also by the way as one who has read much on the other side. (I often ask an atheist when the last time they read an academic work that disagreed with them was and I very often get crickets in response.)

There are other points. For instance, the number of other deities is actually much more than 5,000. Also, saying one religion is right does not mean that all religions are entirely wrong in everything that they believe. There are great truths in many of the other world religions.

I am of the firm stance that a meme is not an argument. If you have made your argument, you can illustrate it with a meme, but the meme itself is not the argument. People who think it is I find to generally be shallow thinkers. That includes Christians and non-Christians both. Stupidity can be found among the proponents of any belief system just as intelligence can.

Looking at the thread, I do not see any theist that is concerned about the argument. I’m certainly not, but I figured it would be a good example to post here and one question I’m not sure if I’ve ever tackled on the blog. We can hope that the poster will start citing some academic sources in making his whole argument, but I am skeptical that that will ever happen.

In Christ,
Nick Peters