Book Plunge: Beyond The Quest For The Historical Jesus

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

Thomas Brodie is the rare mythicist who doesn’t refer to Richard Carrier as the Alpha and Omega of Biblical scholarship and doesn’t resort to the dying and rising gods ideology. Still, even by mythicist standards, his work is, well, bizarre. Brodie at times goes to lengths that even Carrier would not go to. I was asked to read this by someone who is at least open to mythicism if not a full-fledged mythicist to get my thoughts on it.

It’s not a shock that Brodie has a really fundamentalist background. Early on page 4, he tells of hearing an older Dominican say that the words in the Gospels are not the exact words of Jesus and how when Brodie heard that, his heart sank. Why? All you’d need to do is compare the exact same story in the Gospels and know we get paraphrases often. It’s moderns who are obsessed with exact terminology. On top of that, Jesus likely spoke in Aramaic so His words are already a translation.

Throughout the book, Brodie gets put in positions by students and others where he has no idea what to say and has to go back and look for some answers. Nothing wrong with looking of course, but it looks like Brodie takes the most simplistic approach he can and there’s not much evidence he really wrestles with both sides of an issue. It could be because he has an exalted view of himself. He writes about how he scores high on intuition on Myers-Briggs and so he intuits these connections in his work that everyone else just misses. It never occurs to Brodie apparently that maybe he intuits nonsense and everyone else can just see it. No. The reason that Brodie’s work gets rejected cannot be him after all.

Brodie’s main idea rests on imitation. He especially clings to the Elijah-Elisha narrative. Brodie says that the stories in the Gospels often look like the Elijah-Elisha narrative or they look like other Old Testament books. So let’s review the chain and we will see it makes perfect sense.

We don’t have the exact words of Jesus.
The stories in the Gospels bear similarities to Old Testament stories, particularly the Elijah-Elisha narrative.
Therefore, Jesus never existed.

Makes perfect sense. Right?

Often times, it’s easy to see that his parallels are contrived and Brodie will do any amount of pushing to force them onto the Gospels. Now someone could say “Well even if he does that with the Gospels, he has to deal with Paul too.” No problem. Paul didn’t exist. Paul is a myth and the opponents he wrote about are also myths and the epistles are all just these letters written for, well, that’s a good question. It’s really unclear in the book why anyone went through with this elaborate scheme.

Dealing with the extra-Biblical references for Jesus doesn’t go much better for Brodie. Early on on page 25, he says that some of these were always recognized as weak. It would be nice to know who always recognized these as weak and why, but Brodie never answers the question for us.

When he gets to why he rejects them, he pretty much only focuses on Josephus and Tacitus and even then, it’s lacking. All he needs to say for Josephus is that Josephus got his information from Scripture somehow and then Tacitus got his from Christians so neither one of these is to be trusted. Even if true, this assumes that Brodie’s prior  hypothesis is true.

What is most odd to me about the whole thing is that instead of admitting the existence of one person, Brodie has to have this school in Judaism that comes together and writes these epistles and Gospels with a story they know is not historically true. The existence of one person is seen as doubtful, but an entire school we have no evidence for is not. Brodie has this school in Judaism that has ideas that are practically New Age about God being in each of us and reaching out to us and somehow, this Jewish school at the time of Jesus embraced all of this.

Note that these Jewish thinkers had to be some of the worst writers in history in pulling this off. After all, it wasn’t until about 1900 years later that someone finally came up with what it was that was really being said. It’s amazing to think that to avoid the historical existence of Jesus, Brodie has to come up with a school we have no evidence for and a plot we have no evidence for and a New Agey school of Judaism that we have no evidence for.

Brodie’s book is really grasping at straws. In Acts 26:24, Festus says to Paul that he’s gone crazy and his learning has driven him out of his mind. After reading this, I think these words would more accurately describe Thomas Brodie.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Deeper Waters Podcast 3/25/2017: Michael Chung

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

Kings. We don’t really think about them much today. Here in the West, we live with a president over us and several governing bodies like Congress and the Senate. Washington is a large organization with numerous parties involved. It’s hard for Westerners to think about a king.

Yet if the Bible is true, we do have a king. Even non-Christians have this king. Their not acknowledging Him doesn’t change that He is the king. This king is Jesus. Jesus is the last king of Israel and the current ruling king of the universe.

What can you learn from this person? What did He go through in His life? I decided that it would be good to look at the Passion of Jesus and discuss how it applies to our life and how we can learn about Jesus and His response to suffering and what He saw as worthwhile in life. To do that, I decided to have Michael Chung come on. He is the author of the book Jesus, The Last King of Israel.

So who is he?

Michael Chung

According to his bio:

(BS, The Ohio State University; MDiv, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School; Ph.D. University of Nottingham) has taught at Fuller Theological Seminary-Texas, Houston Baptist University, Calvary Theological Seminary-Indonesia, and Houston Christian High School. He is also the author of Praying with Mom (2012) and has published academic journal articles in North America, Asia, and Europe on Gospels, Paul, Spiritual Formation, New Testament Theology, and Missiology. He has also done missions and pastoral work.

Not only will we be discussing the last week of Jesus, we will spend some time on some issues that are troublesome to Christians and scholars alike. The first will be the anointing of Jesus. Do the accounts contradict? Even the number of days looks to be mentioned. The second is the cursing of the fig tree. Does this really fit in with the character of Christ?

Mainly, we will be looking at what Jesus did during His passion. How did Jesus approach it? What did He do with these moments that would be the last ones of His fully public ministry? How did He handle problems of failure among His disciples? Who was it that He wanted to go and spend His time with? The way a person dies can reveal a lot about them and if Jesus knew that He was going to die, what does the way He spent His time reveal about Him?

Also, briefly if anyone is interested, we didn’t do a show last week due to my being out of state for a funeral, but we hope to make it up this week with this interview. I hope you’ll be looking forward to this one showing up on your podcast feed. Please also go and write a review of the Deeper Waters Podcast and let me know how you like the show. I’m working hard on getting the best for you.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

Book Plunge: The Historical Reliability of The New Testament

What do I think of Craig Blomberg’s book published by B&H Academic? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Craig Blomberg has recently written a rather large tome on the reliability of the New Testament and it is one that is definitely in-depth. There is hardly a major issue of New Testament studies that you won’t find here. Blomberg has extensive footnotes as he wrestles with most issues that are alive today in discussion.

Want to know about the Gospels and who wrote them? It’s there. When were they written? It’s there. What about the epistles? There. What about forgery in the epistles? Blomberg has you covered. There’s even a section on Revelation. Why? Because much of Revelation does fit into a historical setting. (This could also be an area I disagree with Blomberg some on as he prefers what he calls a Preterist-Futurist approach. I prefer just an Orthodox Preterist approach. I’m pleased to see he rightly condemns neohymenaeanism.

Blomberg also writes on issues related to textual criticism and the canon. How do we know that the New Testament has been handed down accurately? Even if it has been, there were a lot of other books that could have gone into the canon. Right? Wasn’t this just a decision made at Nicea? (I would also go against Blomberg here saying that this largely comes from Dan Brown. Brown popularized it, but this claim was going on long before Dan Brown.)

If you want to know about those other accounts, there’s a section on them too. Like I said, Blomberg is thorough. It’s hard to think of a way that he could be more meticulous than this.

The final section is on miracles and the resurrection. Again, this is one area where I would disagree on the use of the term supernatural. I have a hard time with this because it is never clearly defined and I think it in fact gives the atheist a free pass with thinking that the natural doesn’t really need an explanation. While it’s not in his area, Blomberg starts off by pointing to others who have written on the existence of God (And I do wish he’d mentioned the Thomistic arguments, in my opinion, the best.) and then goes on to make the case for miracles largely using the work of Craig Keener.

The positives of this volume are that despite it being large, it is also easy to understand. A layman will get a lot out of this volume. If the reader only wants to know about one area, say the synoptic Gospels, for instance, no problem. Just go there. If you want to know about the formation of the canon, no problem. Just go there.

A work like this is also a good response to people who immediately decide there is no evidence for anything in the New Testament. Sadly, few of them will ever bother to pick up a work like this and will instead run to internet sites that already agree with them. Those who do manage to work their way through Blomberg’s book will be blessed for it.

If you want a go-to book on the reliability of the New Testament as a whole, this is the one to go to. In New Testament courses on apologetics even at a Seminary’s level, Blomberg’s book should be a staple for a long time to come. He has also said he will be having a theology book coming out next. We eagerly look forward to it.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

Whatever Happened To The Resurrection?

Have we forgotten the central Christian doctrine? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Last week, I was at a funeral for a small child and whenever I go to funerals, I often think about how much sadly Christianity is missing out on its central doctrine. You don’t hear talk about the resurrection at funerals. You hear plenty of talk about Heaven, but the resurrection is absent. When I got up to speak, I made resurrection absolutely central to what I said.

I gave two contrasts. I said that if Christianity is not true, then we can believe that the death of this child is just something we don’t like in a chaotic and accidental world, that she is dead and that is it. Game over. Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200. We can create a bunch of little joys for ourselves despite this, but they won’t matter because the universe will die itself anyway and all will be for naught.

However, if the resurrection is true, then this is not the end of the story. This girl will rise again. It means that death is in the process of being conquered once and for all and we can all participate in the Kingdom.

Unfortunately, I see the ignoring of the resurrection often at funerals. When my own grandmother died, I was one of three assigned to speak at her funeral. Her pastor went before me and said, “Right now, she is experiencing the power of the resurrection!” I wanted to say “I’m sorry Pastor, but I’m looking and I’m pretty sure I see a dead body right there.” No. She will experience the resurrection, but not right now. The resurrection is not just a spiritual reality, but a physical one.

Go forward a couple of years and I have an aunt who dies. I’m at her funeral and after the pastor speaks about how he came back from his vacation to do this funeral (Who cares Pastor?), he then goes on and on and never once mentions resurrection. After awhile, he then says we have that blessed hope that Paul spoke of in 1 Thess. 4.

I know this passage! I’m getting excited! Say it! Say it! Say it!

“That we will see our loved ones again in Heaven.”

I slumped in my seat defeated yet again. That’s not what 1 Thess. 4 is about. 1 Thess. 4 is about the resurrection. That was the great hope. Why don’t pastors get this?

I wish it was just funerals, but it isn’t. Scroll through Facebook. If you see something about asking if people are saved, it becomes “They won’t go to Heaven when they die!” Go to your average church service. What happens in the sinner’s prayer? “Forgive me of my sins so I can go to Heaven when I die.”

Whatever happened to the resurrection?

Some of you might think it hasn’t gone away. After all, I am in the business of defending the resurrection. My father-in-law is one of the best at it. His mentor is the best at it. Christian apologetics today emphasizes the resurrection. It’s not forgotten.

Yet even then, I wonder if we have let it sink in. You see, we often say that if Jesus rose from the dead, Christianity is true, which I agree with, but then we don’t ask “And what does that mean?” Was the resurrection just one really awesome trick God pulled off to show what He can do?

No. Jesus’s life was based around a series of claims, mainly to be the Messiah of the people of Israel. This is why understanding the Old Testament is so important. We can often give a Gospel presentation where we start with Adam and Eve, good, and then skip straight from the fall to Jesus, as if the flood, the calling of Abraham, Moses, and the formation of the Kingdom of Israel is this superfluous part in the middle that we can just dispense with.

So what does it mean when the Messiah has come? It means the Kingdom of God has come. God is going to rule His Kingdom. What does that mean? Do we think God is building up a Kingdom here made of those who bow the knee to Him only to just do away with everything in the end and zipline us to Heaven?

No. This place is not a mistake. I do hold that one day the Earth will be reborn as it were undergoing its own resurrection, but I don’t think we will ever truly abandon it. Look at Revelation 21. Do you see the New Jerusalem going up to Heaven? No. You see it coming to Earth. It’s the marriage of Heaven and Earth.

What are some implications? For one thing, your body matters. One of the great heresies that first came to Christianity was Gnosticism which held that matter was some wicked evil thing. Christianity disagreed with this profusely because Jesus, who was and is fully God, lived in a human body, and I would contend still does.

Sometimes skeptics will look at our rules about sex and say “God sure seems to have a strange interest in what I do with my body.” Yes, and so do you. It’s no big deal supposedly where one puts their genitalia, until someone gets raped. Then it is a big deal. We all know it. A complete stranger grabs a random girl and kisses her? Okay. Sexual harrassment. The girl could be shaken for a bit, but she will be fine ultimately. If he rapes her, it’s something entirely different.

Christianity had to deal with this too. Some people said that sex should be avoided because it imprisons innocent souls in evil matter. Others said, sex makes no big deal because the body isn’t a big deal period. Christianity said both were wrong. There was nothing evil in being in matter, and that what you do with the body does matter. Sex was not an evil, but it was a good to be controlled and used in the right time and place, namely between a man and a woman in the covenant of marriage.

This also has something to say to ecology. This world is meant to be our home and a place for future generations. We should take care of it. This is the world God created. It’s not readily disposable. It’s to be stewarded. Now that doesn’t mean I embrace the environmentalist movement. Not at all. If one wants to help the environment, I recommend working with the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation.

This also means that indeed Israel matters. When Paul writes in 1 Cor. 10, he tells the people that our ancestors went through the Red Sea. For the new Christians, Israel’s history was also their history. What happened to the Jews then mattered and we Christians should know about it. If all you understand is the New Testament, you essentially have the end of the story without seeing how it begins.

Of course, we can’t deny that this means that death is not the end, but it’s not that we float off to a disembodied existence and stay that way forevermore. Let’s also not say anything like that we become angels or something of that sort. We don’t. Angels are not your fallen relatives that have gone on. Humans and angels are different creatures.

What happens is we get raised to a newness of life. We overcome all forms of death, spiritual and physical. God does not grant the devil a victory. He does not give up on this creation. He made it to dwell with us in it forever and that is what He is going to do. If someone doesn’t want to participate in that, that is their choice.

Please people. I urge you to not lose sight of the resurrection. It is our central doctrine and it means a lot more than that Christianity is true. It means a lot more than even this short blog post can say. A whole book could be written on this kind of topic. The resurrection is not just joy for the future. It’s joy for right now.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

 

A Response to John Tors On Inerrancy

What do I think of what John Tors said? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Last week, I was away because my wife and I found out about a little Down’s Syndrome girl who was aged five and died suddenly. We went to Tennessee for the funeral. Shortly after I got back, I found out that I had been mentioned in an article by John Tors that can be found here.

My ministry partner, J.P. Holding, has updated his page on Mark 1:2 in response to some of what Tors says. I will thus not be responding to criticisms of Holding unless they involve me directly. I seriously doubt Dan Wallace will want to spend much time with Tors so I will take them on for him.

Tors starts with a statement that Wallace makes in The Case for the Real Jesus when interviewed by Lee Strobel.

Now, finish this sentence, I said. When Christians say the Bible is inerrant, they mean …
“They mean a number of things. For some, it’s almost a magic-wand approach, where the Bible is treated like a modern scientific and historical textbook that’s letter perfect. Some Christians would say, for example, that the words of Jesus are in red letters because that’s exactly what he said.” (Bold Tors’s)

Tors immediately leaps into attack mode with a response that one wonders if he has really read Wallace at all.

It is typical of this sort of evangelical scholar to mock the view of inerrancy that takes it mean “having no errors,” but whether Wallace likes it or not, that is what inerrancy means. So this is not a “magic-wand approach”; it is the only approach consistent with the actual meaning of inerrancy.

Except Wallace never mocked a view of inerrancy as meaning the Bible is without errors. He went after a view of what that is. I suspect Wallace means more the idea that the Bible is like a modern textbook and every word had to be one directly said by the person involved, be it Jesus or anyone else, and that if we dare question that, then everything goes out the window. That Tors reacts in such a way to something that Wallace never said is quite revealing.

Wallace goes on to say as Tors quotes.

“Well, if you compare the same incident in different Gospels, you’ll notice some differences in wording. That’s fine as long as we’re not thinking in terms of quotations being nailed exactly, like a tape recorder. They didn’t even have quotation marks in Greek. In ancient historiography, they were concerned with correctly getting the gist of what was said.”

Tors responds to this point that is not controversial at all among NT scholars by saying

We have already seen Farnell’s devasting response to this approach. The Bible is not like other works of ancient historiography, because it is “God breathed” (2 Timothy 3:16).

Of course, I have responded to Farnell here and here. However, this is hardly a response. Just say “It’s God-Breathed.” Okay. How does that deal with the writing? Are we to think God just breathed one day and “Poof!”, here is the Gospel of Luke! Anyone can look at the Gospels and notice that there are differences in wording. Are we to think Peter said radically different things when he made his great confession of faith to Jesus? Or, are we to think that he made a statement and the writers recorded the gist of it? (Note Tors. We don’t have the exact words anyway because Jesus was going around speaking in Aramaic and the Gospels are in Greek.)

Tors goes on to quote Wallace saying

“My definition of infallibility is the Bible is true in what it teaches. My definition of inerrancy is that the Bible is true in what it touches. So infallibility is a more foundational doctrine, which says the Bible is true with reference to faith and practice. Inerrancy is built on that doctrine and it says that the Bible is also true when it comes to dealing with historical issues, but we still have to look at it in light of first-century historical practices.”

Tors immediately fires back with

Wallace has it completely backwards; inerrancy is the more foundational doctrine, for, as we’ve said, if the Bible is not trustworthy on historical issues, it cannot be trusted “with reference to faith and practice.” So infallibility is built on inerrancy, not vice versa. Nor should we “look at [the Gospel books] in light of first-century historical practices” that allow for errors, inasmuch as the Bible is God-breathed, which is not a standard “first-century historical practice.”

It’s not a shock that Tors is the one who has it completely backward. Infallibility is the reason one holds to inerrancy. Derek James Brown in his dissertation on Inerrancy and ICBI quoted R.C. Sproul (You know, one of those guys who’s a framer of the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy) who said

Though the words infallible and inerrant have often been used interchangeably and virtually as synonyms in our language, nevertheless there remains a historic, technical distinction between the two words.  Infallibility has to do with the question of ability or potential.  That which is infallible is said to be unable to make mistakes or to err.  The distinction here . . . is between the hypothetical and the real.  That which is inerrant is that which in fact does not err.  Again, theoretically, something may be fallible and at the same time inerrant.  That is, it would be possible for someone to err who in fact does not err.  However, the reverse is not true.  If someone is infallible, that means he cannot err; and if he cannot err, then he does not err.  To assert that something is infallible yet at the same time errant is either to distort the meaning of “infallible” and/or “errant,” or else to be in a state of confusion. (Page 25 of Explaining Inerrancy).

Wallace goes on to say

“I don’t start by saying, ‘If the Bible has a few mistakes, I have to throw it all out.’ That’s not a logical position. We don’t take that attitude toward Livy, Tacitus, Suetonius, or any other ancient historian’s writings. For instance, does the first-century Jewish historian Josephus need to be inerrant before we can affirm that he got anything right?”

To which Tors replies with

Of course not. But Josephus, Livy, Tacitus, Suetonius, and “any other ancient historian” were not divinely enabled by the Holy Spirit. The Bible was, however, so it is in a completely different category from “any other ancient historian’s writings.” In contrast, it seems very clear that Wallace is treating the Bible like simply any other book. Period.

If you want to see what’s wrong with this kind of approach, just consider if Tors was saying the same about the Koran or the Book of Mormon. Is Wallace treating the Bible like any other book? In a sense, yes. That’s the wonderful truth about the Bible. When you treat it like any other book, you see that it is not like any other book. Tors apparently lives in a world where the Bible has to be kept safe from historical research, lest an error be found. It also has to be written in a format that is amenable immediately to 21st century Americans, because, well, aren’t we the most important of all?

Wallace then goes on to say that

You obviously have a high view of scripture, I observed. Why?

“Because Jesus did,” he said matter-of-factly.

How do you know?I asked.

“One criterion that scholars use for determining authenticity is called ‘dissimilarity.’ If Jesus said or did something that’s dissimilar to the Jews of his day or earlier, then it’s considered authentic,” he said. “And he’s constantly ripping on the Pharisees for adding tradition to scripture and not treating it as ultimately and finally authoritative. When he says that scripture cannot be broken, he’s making a statement about the truth and reliability of scripture.”’

Tors quotes multiple parts of this multiple times each time with incredulity, because, you know, incredulity makes a great argument. Wallace is saying that by the methods of historical scholarship, we know that this is Jesus’s view of Scripture. Wallace wants to treat Scripture like Jesus did. Tors seems to have a problem with that. He also imagines that Wallace has said there are historical or scientific errors in the text. It would be nice to know where Wallace said that. I must have missed that part.

We will next quote Wallace saying

“The Gospels contain a summary of what he said. And if it’s a summary, maybe Matthew used some of his own words to condense it.”

To most of us, something like this is not problematic. People write something and they use their own words. Tors however, is always on the hunt for something that goes against his fundamentalism.

See? Just “like any other book.” Period.

We have to wonder what Tors is thinking here. Does he think someone would come up to Matthew and say “Hey Matthew. What are you writing?” “I don’t know. It’s in Greek.” Is it just awful to think that Matthew told a story in his own words? Perish the thought! Wallace goes on to give the reasonable conclusion to what he said with

“That doesn’t trouble me in the slightest. It’s still trustworthy.”

Tors, as expected, hits the panic button.

Actually, if the writers are making stuff up and mixing the historical with the non-historical, then it is not trustworthy, as there’s no way to know what in the Bible is true and what isn’t. As we’ve seen, Gundry’s suggestion that non-historical additions in the Gospel According to Matthew would not be a problem because his readers would know what was historical from the Gospel According to Mark and from Q is patently a non-starter. Furthermore, if Matthew could add non-historical material, so could Mark have done, so that Matthew’s readers (and we) could not assume that everything in the Gospel According to Mark was historical. In fact, how could they assume that any of it was historical?

And, of course, Q is a figment of liberal imagination. But even if it weren’t, how could the readers of Q know whether any of it was historical? If Matthew and Mark could make up non-historical material, why could not the writer of Q? I have not yet found even one evangelical scholar who can answer this question.

It is a mystery how one goes from “Saying something in one’s own words” to “Making stuff up.” Apparently, Tors can make these kinds of leaps. He then says there’s no way to know that something in the Bible is true or isn’t, but this is just ridiculous. We can know this by studying history. If Tors is scared to apply historiography to the Bible, perhaps it is true then that Wallace (And myself) have a high view of Scripture and Tors has a low view of it. After all, Tors apparently seems fearful that if inerrancy goes out the window, that there’s no way of knowing any truth in the Bible.

He also asks how could readers of the Gospel assume any of it was historical? Answer. They wouldn’t. This would also be something that skeptics could look at. Want to know if it’s historical? Just send a servant or two to the area of Judea. Have them ask around. Do an investigation. This is what historians did.

Strobel’s interview continues.

Do you think this idea of inerrancy has been elevated out of proportion to its genuine importance? I asked.
“At times…. Belief in inerrancy shouldn’t be used as an excuse not to engage seriously with history….”

Quick to panic again and make a mountain out of a molehill, Tors says that

Is this meant to imply that “engage[ing] seriously with history” will necessarily lead to the conclusion that there are errors in the Bible? In fact, inerrantists certainly do “engage seriously with history,” but they use already established facts as part of their analysis – much like, once it has been established that the Earth is round, that fact is used in all further geographic analysis. Now, since the Gospel writers were empowered by the Holy Spirit to remember Jesus’ words, and inasmuch as Scripture is God breathed, the historical information in the Bible is superior to that in any other source and stands in judgment of it.

All too often, what passes for “engag[ing] seriously with history” by evangelical scholars is the opposite; whenever a secular source makes a claim that disagrees with a claim in the Bible, it is assumed by default that the Bible is wrong,2 and therefore efforts have to be made to massage the Biblical testimony to fit – or we are simply to accept that the Bible is wrong.

While inerrantists do engage with history, and I speak as one of them, I do not think Tors does. Tors is not engaging with history but still pushing the claim of the Bible being God-breathed. I agree that it is, but Tors never tells what this means or how this plays out. How does he know the text is God-breathed without making a circular argument? Would he accept it if a Muslim said the same about the Koran?

Fortunately, we see that Tors has said that a British scholar has said we treat the Bible like any other book to show it’s not like any other book. Sadly, he says that this has been shown to be inappropriate, but with no clue where or even who this scholar is. At this point, all Tors has is assertions of faith.

He then continues quoting

“That’s better than the opposite position that has become an evangelical mantra: ‘Hands off the Bible — we don’t want people to find any mistakes in it, because we hold to inerrancy.’”

Tors answers with

The implication seems to be that inerrantists do not want to examine the Bible too carefully, because, as these wise evangelical scholars know, there are indeed errors, and so inerrantists want to ignore facts in order to hold to their doctrine of inerrancy. This is a ridiculous implication.

It is a ridiculous implication, and it’s a good thing Wallace doesn’t hold to it. Wallace is instead saying some inerrantists do seem afraid that they will find errors that won’t stand up to scrutiny. If anyone is hesitant to enter history here, it’s Tors.

Now he decides to go after myself and Holding.

Finally, let us consider James Patrick Holding, founder and president of the on-line Tekton Education and Apologetic Ministries.5 He is of interest because he is a frequent “go-to guy” for both Creation Ministries International and Christian Research Institute, which means he is reaching a sizeable audience. Holding has taken it upon himself to challenge Norman Geisler’s defence of inerrancy, and not only online; he and co-author Nick Peters self-published an e-book, Defining Inerrancy: Affirming a Defensible Faith for a New Generation, in which he and Peters attack Geisler’s Defending Inerrancy. In this e-book the authors aver that “the perception of ‘inerrancy’ offered by the old guard isdangerous, misleading, and obscurantist in that it will result in a view of the Bible that is not defensible or respectable.”

Tors responds with

Do note that “the perception of ‘inerrancy’ offered by the old guard is that it means “no errors” i.e. the Bible is completely free of all errors, including historical and scientific errors. This is the “perception” that Holding and Peters consider dangerous, misleading, and obscurantist and not defensible or respectable.”

This is news to me, because I do not think the Bible does have historical or scientific errors. I guess Tors knows my view better than I do. I have no problem with the statement that the Bible is without error. I have a problem with a more wooden inerrancy approach that is bent on literalism and 21st century ideas rather than writing styles of the ancients.

I am going to, as I said, bypass what was said about Holding. Holding can answer on his own. For my part, I will address what is said about me.

Holding’s co-author, Nick Peters, who, interestingly, is married to Mike Licona’s daughter, also piles on, but he, too, clearly stultifies himself. He details Patterson’s qualifications, including the following – “A graduate of Hardin-Simmons University, Patterson also completed Th.M. and Ph.D. degrees in theology at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary” – but then asserts that “While these accomplishments can be all well and good, there is a striking omission from it. There is absolutely nothing here about being trained in NT scholarship and exegesis. Being a competent and even skilled theologian and/or philosopher does not make one an expert on NT scholarship and/or biblical exegesis.”

Why yes, I am married to Mike’s daughter. Apparently, this is being waved around to promote the “Bias” charge. All Tors needs to do is contact Mike and be assured from Mike that we have many disagreements, even on the New Testament, and I do not walk in lockstep with him.

Tors wants to say I stultify myself. How? Because I point out that we have no reason to think that Patterson is an expert on NT scholarship and/or Biblical exegesis.

One wonders whether Peters has any idea about the sort of courses one takes in Master’s and Doctoral programs in seminary; in case he doesn’t, he should find out that it certainly includes courses in “NT scholarship and exegesis.” It seems rather strange that Peters suggests that Patterson’s training is inadequate, when Peters himself holds only a Bachelor of Science in Preaching and Bible from Johnson Bible College, and is currently working on a Master’s degree – in philosophy.

Of course I know, because I have studied at a Master’s level in Seminary. While this is taught, it does not mean it’s a specialty area. Does Patterson publish regularly in journals of New Testament scholarship? Is he cited by New Testament scholars? If not, then he’s stepping out of his field. I would say the same thing about Mike Licona trying to be an authority on philosophy.

Tors wrote this in 2015 by the way and wanted to point out with an ironic sucker punch that I’m working on a Master’s in Philosophy. Ouch. Guess that puts me in my place.

Unless, you know, you actually look at anything since 2009 and realize people can change majors, which I did when Mike Licona told me he thought my stuff on NT was really good. Let’s see. What does my own website say?

Can you tell me a little bit about yourself?

Sure. My birthday is 9/19/1980 and I was born in Corryton, TN just outside of Knoxville. I was raised in a Christian home and found out about apologetics while I was in Bible College and my passion was set from then on. I have a Bachelor’s in preaching and Bible from Johnson University and I’m working on a Master’s in New Testament there. I am especially interested in the historical Jesus and the resurrection. I am also an advocate for traditional marriage having been married to my wife Allie Licona Peters since July of 2010. We are both diagnosed with Aspergers and we have a cat named Shiro. My other interests include reading, video games, and popular TV shows like The Big Bang Theory or The Flash and other shows. I’m also extremely sarcastic so you’ve been warned.

Or since he knows about Defining Inerrancy, maybe he could have just read my description in the book.

Nick Peters is currently working on his Master’s in New Testament at North West University in South Africa via a distance program. He has been in apologetics ministry for nearly fifteen years at the time of this writing. He blogs regularly at Deeperwaters.wordpress.com and runs a podcast called the Deeper Waters Podcast, where he seeks to interview the best in Christian apologetics and scholarship. He and his wife Allie are both diagnosed with Asperger’s and both of them currently live in Corryton, Tennessee, just outside of Knoxville, with their cat Shiro.

Now are there differences there? Yep. I switched where I was working on my major at and my website is now at a different address and I now live just outside of Atlanta. Fortunately, the part about my wonderful wife and about Shiro are still true.

Academic qualifications, of course, do not determine how well one can understand the Bible or apologetics, but it is Holding and Peters who choose to focus on that, claiming that Geisler and Patterson are not qualified to assess Licona’s teachings. It seems clear, however, that on that basis Geisler and Patterson are individually each better qualified to assess NT scholarship than Holding and Peters put together.

If so, then either of them are free to respond to the criticisms that I have made of their approach. Nothing has been said by them so far. Geisler ignored a challenge that was put on his wall by someone else from Holding and banned the person who put it up. I also am quite sure that the evangelical scholars will go with my work far more than Geisler’s, particularly since I’m the one who interviews them. Tors can make his assertions of faith, but all it is is faith.

Tors’s approach is in the end, one that is embarrassing to apologetics. It will not convince any skeptic and will leave a Christian who holds to it thoroughly defenseless. Perhaps Tors should study some New Testament scholarship before proceeding.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

Use Your Library

How does one go about doing research? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I’d like to give a tip to my fellow apologists and those starting out in the field. If you’re in this field, you’re not in it for the money. I live on a budget like many of you do and I have to make every penny count. It’s not a secret really that many of the books I get for my podcast are review copies sent to me for that purpose, but that’s not everything. What’s a guy to do?

If you have a Kindle, one thing you can do is subscribe to groups and newsletters that let you know about free and discount books. This can be a great gift to help you out. A Kindle or a Kindle App is a wonderful tool. My wife likes to go to bed early so I will stay there with her so she can feel safe and read my Kindle usually for a couple of hours before I’m ready to go to sleep. Many Kindles have an option that you can check out a book for a short time.

One other great suggestion is for you to learn to use your local library. Too many people forget this. You might not have the money to read that book, but your library has the book for free. You just have to read it in time and be able to return it in good condition.

If you use the library, it’s tempting to look on the catalog there and see if the book is there and if it isn’t, to just give up. Don’t. Many libraries have a way that you can search through interlibrary loan. When you do this, you access all libraries in the network, including ones at universities, and you can order books that will come. Normally, these books cannot be renewed, but that’s okay if you’re an avid student. You can read it in time.

Many times if I’m in a Facebook discussion and a skeptic recommends a book for me to read, I go to the library immediately and look and see if I can find it. There are some of you that don’t want to give money to atheists and others by buying their books. For my part, I consider the amount I give them worth it in exchange for what I’m able to do with the information. (I have in fact known some Christians who have donated to Richard Carrier because he’s doing so much damage to atheism and doesn’t even realize it!)

If you don’t want to buy it permanently, interlibrary loan is the way to go. This way you can read the book for a short time. I do recommend that you write up something about the book afterward so that you should never have to reinvent the wheel and get it again.

Also, if you can find a college or university library near you, this is even better. It can work great if this is a Seminary or Bible College. In our field, they will often have the books that you are wanting. This is also a far better option than the one many internet atheists are taking and that’s just to Google.

Of course, you will need to learn how to pick out good books in research. I have written some on this and it’s relation to being a thinking Christian, and I could consider writing more in the future, but get books by publishing houses that have a good record for the most part. They have a reputation to uphold and don’t want to publish books that will damage that reputation.

Make sure the Ph.D., if you read a book by someone with one, is relevant in the field as well. Dawkins does have a Ph.D. in an area related to evolution, but that doesn’t carry over to writing about theology or philosophy or Biblical interpretation. A New Testament scholar like Mike Licona or N.T. Wright has a Ph.D. in New Testament, but that doesn’t make them an authority on evolution.

If all of this still seems difficult or intimidating, just go and ask your librarian for help. Many of them know just what you need and are equipped to help you. Librarians many times, especially at theological libraries, are often very well-read individuals and can point you in the right direction.

And of course, enjoy the journey!

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Deeper Waters Podcast 3/11/2017: Mike Licona

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

“It depends on which Gospel you read!” Many of us have heard Bart Ehrman talk about this in describing Gospel differences. It is a kind of unavoidable problem. Why are there differences in the Gospels? Shouldn’t we expect them to agree, especially on major events like the resurrection?

If you want to know why there are differences in the Gospels, you should talk to someone who has written on this. In fact, the very name of his book is Why Are There Differences In The GospelsThat someone is Mike Licona, a friend, a scholar, a great apologist, and my father-in-law, and he will be my guest. So who is he?

MikeLicona

According to his bio:

Mike Licona has a Ph.D. in New Testament Studies (University of Pretoria), which he completed with distinction. He serves as associate professor in theology at Houston Baptist University. Mike was interviewed by Lee Strobel in his book The Case for the Real Jesus and appeared in Strobel’s video The Case for Christ. He is the author of numerous books including Why Are There Differences in the Gospels? What We Can Learn From Ancient Biography (Oxford University Press, 2017), The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach (IVP Academic, 2010), Paul Meets Muhammad (Baker, 2006), co-author with Gary Habermas of the award-winning book The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus (Kregel, 2004) and co-editor with William Dembski of Evidence for God: 50 Arguments for Faith from the Bible, History, Philosophy, and Science (Baker, 2010). Mike is a member of the Evangelical Theological and Philosophical Societies, the Institute for Biblical Research, and the Society of Biblical Literature. He has spoken on more than 90 university campuses, and has appeared on dozens of radio and television programs.

We’ll be talking about Plutarch in comparison with the Gospels, including not just parallel accounts, but how does the writing of Plutarch compare even with anonymity, dating, and miraculous activity? We’ll then be looking at some scenes in Plutarch that appear in more than one life that he has written, but at the same time are vastly different. We’ll be discussing how these work when carried over to the Gospels and if there are similarities in treatment.

We’ll then go to the Gospels. What are we to make of the idea of Ehrman that “It depends on which Gospel you read?” How does this research affect the doctrine of inerrancy if it does at all? What are we to do when we read the same story in different Gospels and see great differences between them? Do the differences outweigh the similarities?

I hope you’ll be listening. Mike Licona is an excellent scholar and this work is one that has been published by Oxford Press and so one can’t say it’s your regular evangelical press. I also hope you’ll be willing to go to ITunes and leave a positive review of the Deeper Waters Podcast. I always love to see how much you like the show.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

 

Book Plunge: The Story of Reality

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

A story is the highest mark
For the world is a story and every part of it.
And there is nothing that can touch the world,
Or any part of it,
That is not a story. — G.K. Chesterton.

I want to thank Greg Koukl for having Zondervan get in touch with me and send me a copy of his book. Greg is a fine apologist to have on our side and I enjoy his writing. I have heard him speak enough that he’s one of those writers that I can easily picture him reading the book as it were and hear his voice with it.

His writing is very persuasive and this is the big draw I think. Koukl writes in layman terminology and he is someone who you can tell he’s being as honest with you as he can be. When he talks for instance about the language of Heaven not being appealing to him, he means it. He admits this isn’t the fault of Scripture but of his sensitivities.

Koukl is trying to tell a story. It’s the story of reality. He wants you to know that this is not just a story. This isn’t some fairy tale dream. This is an accurate retelling of what the world is really like. It’s also not just the Christian’s story. This is really everyone’s story, no matter what their worldview, because reality belongs to everyone.

He goes through the parts of God, man, Jesus, cross, resurrection. This is a step by step guide, but you won’t find it filled down with hard to understand terminology. The book is entirely friendly to the layman. It would be an ideal book for small groups to use.

Koukl’s way of telling the story is as I have indicated, down to Earth. When you read a work by Koukl, it’s like you’re really there having a conversation with the author. You could easily picture that the book was written just for you. I think even if you were a non-Christian, you would not find this book threatening. Koukl doesn’t hold back and doesn’t disguise his motives. When he talks about Hell for instance, he says that some readers might think he’s trying to scare them. They’re right. He is. He doesn’t deny that.

While I liked all of this, it’s time to get to some points that I would like to see changed for future additions.

The first is that the God section was way too short. Not only that, there wasn’t really much about God in it. I agree that the atheist objection of “Who created God?” doesn’t understand God, but nowadays, people will say “If you can believe in an eternal God, why can’t I go with an eternal universe? At least we know it’s there.” I think we need to show why God is not something like this.

I also don’t think Israel was mentioned once and if it was, there was nothing in-depth about Israel. Too often in our story of the Bible, we go straight from the fall to Jesus and yet, I think all that stuff in the middle about Israel is important. I would like to see how they fit into Koukl’s telling of the story.

Finally, Koukl is right that in approaching the Bible, we need to think like a Middle Eastern Jew, and I think much of the book needs to also be able to have an Eastern audience in mind. When we write about the Bible, we tell the story in guilt and innocence. Jesus’s original audience and Eastern audiences today would understand it in honor and shame. I wonder if Koukl would tell the story for that people in that way also. I think it would only deepen the story.

Still, this is a great book for evangelism. Give it to a non-Christian friend and let them discuss it. Perhaps Koukl should consider a study guide for small groups to use, maybe even something downloadable from STR.

I enjoyed the book and I give it my endorsement.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible

What do I think of Emanuel Tov’s book published by Fortress Press? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

When I was recently reading through Asher Norman’s book Twenty-Six Reasons Why Jews Don’t Believe In Jesus, I came across a claim of his about the Old Testament with no backing. In critiquing the textual criticism of the New Testament, he says that after Israel was established in 1948, several scrolls from all over were brought and aside from some in Yemen, they were all accurate. I knew enough about textual criticism to know a statement like this had to be bogus, but I wanted to find a good source.

My thanks then goes to Daniel Wallace first off for answering my question by referring me to Rick Taylor. Taylor told me to get Emanuel Tov’s book on the topic. I went and ordered it and it certainly is the resource to use. While I do think the Old Testament is reliable, had Norman read a book like this, he might not have been so ready to compare the New and the Old Testament like this.

A few brief statements at the start should suffice.

The Biblical text has been transmitted in many ancient and medieval sources which are known to us from modern editions in different languages: We now have manuscripts (MSS) in Hebrew and other languages from the Middle Ages and ancient times as well as fragments of leather and papyrus scrolls two thousand years old or more. These sources shed light on and witness to the biblical text, hence their name “textual witnesses.” All of these textual witnesses differ from each other to a greater or lesser extent. p. 2 Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible. Fortress Press, Minneapolis 2nd edition 1992, 2001.

More importantly, the Masoretes, and before them the soferim, acted in a relatively late stage of the development of the biblical text, and before they had put their meticulous principles into practice, the text already contained corruptions and had been tampered with during that earlier period when scribes did not yet treat the text with such reverence. Therefore, paradoxo, the soferim and Masoretes carefully preserved a text that was already corrupted. ibid. p. 9

The term Masoretic Text is imprecise for another reason too, for m is not attested in any one single source. Rather, m is an abstract unit reflected in various sources which differ from each other in many details. Moreover, it is difficult to know whether there ever existed a single text which served as the archetype of m. ibid. p. 22-23.

All these differences within the m group point to a certain amount of textual variation at an early stage of the development of m, in contrast with its later unity. ibid. p. 27.

Tov in this work goes into great detail on the history of the text and the many resources we have on the text such as the Masoretic text, the Septuagint, and the Samaritan Pentateuch. He points out that there have been some changes that have taken place and I would think a lot of these are for innocent reasons. The exception might be the Samaritan Pentateuch which was designed to displace mainstream Jewish ideas.

Our manuscript tradition also only goes back so far, but we can be sure that when it was taken seriously, it was quite serious. The Masoretes were indeed very skilled at passing on the text. I should point out however that if you know Hebrew, which I do not, you are quite likely to get more out of this text than otherwise.

Tov’s work is quite thorough yet even as a non-specialist in Old Testament textual criticism, it was amazing how much of the material in there is still quite reliable. There weren’t any massive areas of doubt presented. I think we have better for the New Testament, but the Old is still quite good.

If you want to learn about the textual criticism of the Old Testament and the manuscripts we have, this is the one to read. It is a massive tour de force. We can be thankful for Tov for providing it for us.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Deeper Waters Podcast 3/4/2017: Beth Sheppard

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

History. It’s always an area of controversy, but New Testament history is especially controversial. After all, from the side of conservative Christianity, we have a lot of strong claims. We have a man who claimed to be the divine Messiah of Israel and of one nature with the Father and who did miracles and died and rose again to show it. Skeptics look at these as extraordinary claims and want to see the evidence and usually, evidence that would not be demanded for anything else. At the extreme end here, consider mythicists, some who have even said that we have to have explicit mention of Jesus within three years.

Meanwhile, when we look on the other end, many non-Christians and liberals come up with explanations of the Biblical Jesus that look like extreme stretches. Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias once said that if you ever want to increase your faith in the resurrection, just read the counter-explanations that are dreamed up. There’s a lot of truth to that.

So what do we do in this case? We have two sides to this issue and both of them would want to do history right. How is it that we do this history properly? Is there a craft to the study of the New Testament? How should students of the NT on both sides of the aisle treat the NT?

To answer these questions, I have asked a specialist to come on. This is someone who is quite familiar with the field and has written a book on it. The book is The Craft of History and the Study of the New Testament. The author is Beth Sheppard, and she will be my guest. Who is she?

Dr. Beth Sheppard, Dr. Beth M. Sheppard

Beth M. Sheppard holds a PhD in New Testament studies from the University of Sheffield and serves at the Director of the Duke Divinity School Library and also teaches New Testament courses. Her research interests include not only library administration and practice, but also the Fourth Gospel.  She is particularly intrigued about the ins and outs of everyday life for early Christians.  Her dual research agenda is reflected in the diversity of the journals in which her recent articles have appeared including Theological Librarianship and Sapientia Logos.  She has also written a book entitled The Craft of History for the Study of the New Testament.  Prior to coming to Duke, Sheppard directed the library and taught New Testament courses at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary.

Although a United Methodist layperson, Sheppard has pastored in rural United Methodist congregations and continues to preach and teach in church settings when called upon to do so.  Her orientation toward service is also present in her work in the academy where she is a member of the editorial team for the European Studies on Christian Origins series published by Continuum.

I hope you’ll be here as we discuss how history is done and how we are to approach the text. Sheppard’s book is an excellent work in the field. Please also consider going on ITunes and leaving a positive review of the Deeper Waters Podcast.

In Christ,
Nick Peters