Deeper Waters Podcast 1/2/2016: Mark Strauss

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

It’s been awhile since we’ve been able to record, but we’re going to be getting back into that. We’re going to be starting off the New Year right by talking about Jesus. Jesus is that figure everyone loves. He’s the Prince of Peace. He’s the Good Shepherd. He’s the Lamb of God. He’s the one that said He came not to bring peace but a sword. What? Yeah. He said that. Wasn’t he also rude to that Canaanite woman? What about that temper tantrum he threw in the temple? Do I even need to mention the fact that he drowned a whole herd of pigs? What did those pigs ever do to deserve a death like that?

Yes. Some people actually do have a problem with Jesus. That’s why I’m pleased to have on my show Dr. Mark Strauss. Strauss is the author of the book Jesus Behaving Badly. We’ll be talking about these and other incidents in the life of Jesus. So who is Mark Strauss?

Strauss(casual)

According to his bio:

Mark L. Strauss (Ph.D., Aberdeen) is University Professor of New Testament at Bethel Seminary San Diego, where he has served since 1993. He is the author or coauthor of various books, including Jesus Behaving Badly: The Puzzling Paradoxes of the Man from Galilee (InterVarsity, 2015); How to Read the Bible in Changing Times (Baker, 2011); Four Portraits, One Jesus (Zondervan, 2007); commentaries on Mark’s Gospel in the Zondervan Exegetical Commentary Series (2014) and Expositors Bible Commentary (2010); and The Essential Bible Companion (with John Walton; 2006). He is New Testament editor of the Expanded Bible (Thomas Nelson) and the Teach the Text Commentary Series (Baker). He also serves as Vice Chair of the Committee for Bible Translation for the New International Version and as an associate editor for the NIV Study Bible. He is a member of the Society of Biblical Literature, the Institute for Biblical Research and the Evangelical Theological Society.

Mark has a heart for ministry and preaches and teaches regularly at churches, conferences and college campuses. He is the weekly teacher at the Cove Bible study at the Church at Rancho Bernardo.

Mark lives in San Diego with his wonderful wife Roxanne, a marriage and family therapist. He has three children, one in high school, one in college and one in graduate school.

We’ll be talking about these kinds of issues in the life of Jesus and how we should respond to them. We’ll be talking about how it is easy to misunderstand the teachings of Jesus today and seeing how if we put them in a proper light Jesus comes out as an even more remarkable figure than we would have thought. We’ll be asking why people see a figure as loving and kind as Jesus in such a negative light. We’ll also be talking about how best we can use this information to silence critics of the gospel who seek to impugn the message of Jesus be they atheists or people of another religion.

Please join me this Saturday for the next episode of the Deeper Waters Podcast.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Why They Don’t Go To Church

Why are there people¬†identified as Nones? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

My wife and I had a trip this morning and when I turned the car on, it was on talk radio, which I normally prefer to listen to because I really don’t care for most of the music today. We live in Tennessee and we’re still in the Bible Belt so we heard a conversation about nones and most people calling in to this local show were talking about material that would not have any interest to the nones. The nones are people who when asked to give a religion say none. It does not necessarily mean they are atheists. It just means that they do not choose to identify with any religion and the whole discussion on the show was based on a statement that only 18% of people attend church weekly.

Before too long, callers were calling in to argue over when the Sabbath was and verses were being misapplied left and right. Then we had the caller calling in to talk about salvation being only in Jesus. Okay. I agree with that, but that says squat about the nones. In fact, as I listened, I realized that this was the problem. Imagine going to someone who is a none and telling them salvation is found only in Jesus Christ. They might first wonder what you’re talking about with salvation and then if anything you’ll be told that they’re happy you found something that works for you, but it just doesn’t work for them.

Or picture the lady who called in and wanted to talk about sodomy some and how our nation is under judgment. (I use the term sodomy also because that is what she used.) Do I think homosexual activity is a sin. Yes. But here’s the problem. You go up to someone today who is a younger person and you tell them that homosexual behavior is wrong. Why? If all you have is “The Bible says so” then they will just be “So much more reason to not trust the Bible.” You could also get told about eating shrimp or mixed clothing or something of that sort. (In fact, this lady speaking had no problem with speaking about Old Testament Law and covenants as if there was a one-to-one parallel.)

But what about the Bible? Well if you tell them that the Bible is the Word of God, they’ll want to know why. What reason can you give? God says so? That’s entirely circular. If you point to your personal testimony, well many of the nones will be glad to tell you a personal testimony of how they went to church growing up and it just doesn’t work for them. Outside of the nones, I can show you plenty of Mormons who have a personal testimony. Do you accept their testimony that the Book of Mormon is the Word of God?

The problem is we’re not reaching the nones because they don’t really think they have something that we can provide for them and we have made church one of the last places that they want to go to. Many of you might be familiar with the work of Michael Patton from Credo House. He wound up getting addicted to pain killers and went to rehab and found that church would be a lot better if it was like that. People were open and honest and able to admit their failures. No one would bother trying to look good around everyone else because hey, if you’re in rehab, you already have some issues and you know it’s a safe place. Why don’t they do that in church?

Because church is not a safe place and so many Christians seem to think that if they are true Christians, they will show they do not have any major problems in their lives.

Church is also seen as a place that’s really pretty boring, and how many of us can relate. How many times is it that nagging can be called preaching? Why is it that the word “preach” has such a negative connotation to it? Frankly, if we think about something that we would want to do for entertainment, most of us would not go and sit down and listen to somebody speak for about half an hour. It’s just not something that we do. Add in especially that you don’t want to go and hear someone talk about how you’re supposedly doing everything wrong in life. Most sermons you hear at church are things you’ve also heard before if you grew up in the church. Church becomes a habit or a routine and you go mainly because some people are there that you like hanging out with.

Let’s also hit the big one. The question of truth is no longer discussed. Christianity has been reduced to an ethical system, as if Jesus just came to show us how to love one another and that was it, which entirely misses the point of the cross. Oh wait. The cross was just so we could go to Heaven when we die, which entirely bypasses any idea of “What am I supposed to do in the meantime?” We act as if the Christian life is just being a good person. You don’t need Christianity for that. The Greek and Roman teachers of the time of Jesus could have taught you how to live a life of virtue. Was Jesus highly advanced in His teaching? Absolutely, but most Romans, Greeks, and Jews were not going around in the first century struggling with an internal sin problem. They knew they weren’t perfect, but they had systems set in place already.

Absent from the church is any notion that Christianity is, you know, true. It’s completely foreign to our thinking to consider that we believe that a man came who was fully God in nature, lived among us and taught the Kingdom of God, died on a cross, and then rose again in a new and glorified body. We somehow forget that this is not just Star Wars happening long long ago in a galaxy far far away. We claim that these are events of history, and yet we have no reason normally for why we say that they are history beyond “The Bible says so” and when we got to why the Bible should be taken seriously, there is nothing. In fact, we seem to treat it like a virtue if we believe for no reason. After all, that is what faith really is.

Well no, that’s not what faith is. Faith is more trust in that which has been shown to be reliable. Believing for the sake of believing is not a virtue. It would not be a virtue to marry someone without having any reason for thinking they’re marriage material. It would not be a virtue to hire someone to watch your kids without any reason to think that they’re competent. It would not be virtue to send your child to a college without any reason to think that it’s a good college for them. Yet here we take an even more important decision, such as our eternal reality and say “But in this case, it is a virtue.”

Believe it or not, the nones don’t want to check their brains at the door and they think they have to. They think that if you are going to be a Christian, it means you have to have a prudish attitude towards sexual matters just because the Bible says so. It means that you have to be someone who opposes science because the Bible says so. It means you are a closed-minded bigot because the Bible says you have to be right. Most of them already believe it makes perfect sense to remove the gender requirement for marriage and since many supports the transgender movement, they really don’t even place much stock in gender anyway. Why should they take you seriously?

And this is where the church has failed. We have not kept up our intellectual standards. We have in fact fallen into the individualism of our culture and we are doing evangelism in the 21st century as if we were living in the 1950’s where all you had to do was go and say what the Bible said and speak about the love of God and give your personal testimony and that was enough. It’s not. I’d say they treat the Bible about as seriously as a newspaper, but most of them would trust a newspaper more. Why should they believe the Bible? Haven’t you read the Wikipedia entry on the Bible?

When we forsook our intellectual convictions, we ultimately turned the church into a self-help therapy session. In fact, listen to a lot of Contemporary Christian music today. A lot of it is therapy. It’s meant to build us up and help us feel better about ourselves instead of inviting us into the grandeur of God. This is just as much our individualism. Now of course the Bible itself says radical things about who we are in Christ, but the focus is the in Christ. The focus is not us. If I want to feel better about myself, I can just go to a therapist today. I don’t need to go to church.

This is also why the Sabbath debate was so concerning to hear. The nones do not care about when we observe the Sabbath. They do not care about it any more than we care about finer points of Muslim doctrine. If we want to look at how salvation is found in Christ, the nones don’t care about that either. They don’t see any need for salvation because hey, what kind of God would judge you so much? Isn’t God love? Most people really have no idea what to do with these people because they have not studied the issues and have no idea how they can reach people on these kinds of issues.

Most of us also are not doing the work. I have written about how we have an escapist mentality with my main example being a woman in a small group who said “I’m saved and my children are saved so let’s just wait for Jesus to come.” Yes. That is entirely what the Great Commission is all about. Get yourself and those you love taken care of and who cares about the rest of the world? Note also the emphasis on getting saved. The emphasis is on God forgiving you. The emphasis is not on spreading the message of the Kingdom of God and proclaiming that Jesus is Lord.

We all realize that if we want to witness to people in another culture, we need to learn the language and customs and such of that culture so we can speak to them. What we have not realized is our neighbor is often that other culture. You have totally different worldviews residing here in America. How are you going to do that evangelism? You might actually have to learn what your neighbor believes and why they do. Believe it or not, you could also bear to learn what you believe and why you do. Have you ever thought about why you believe what you believe? If you haven’t taken the time to think about why you believe what you believe, why should anyone else take such time?

The nones are a sign that we have failed in our intellectual mission in the West. We have abandoned the rich heritage of the church before us and come up with a church that is all about me and does not provide anything the nones think that they need. They have better things to do on a Sunday morning and throughout the week than waste time in their eyes on religion. They are good people in their eyes and need nothing more. If the church wants to reach the nones, the church will have to learn to be the church. We must return to our intellectual heritage. This does not mean we forsake our ethical principles, but we don’t have them floating in air. We back them with why we believe this and make our stand.

The Kingdom of God requires it.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Does The Bible Condemn Gay People?

What do I think of Van Der Walt and Andrews’s book published by Inspired Living? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

To be fair, this is a very short book. So short you could read it in an hour in fact. While it’s not meant to be exhaustive and I understand that, the work is highly insufficient for its claims and does not show much research on the part of its writers. You get the impression they came to the text wanting to find what they wanted to find and chose sources to make sure that that happened.

With a look at the title, even a strong conservative can say no, it doesn’t. What we can say is that it condemns homosexual activity. Once again, for the sake of argument, the Bible could be wrong in its condemnation of homosexual activity, but let us not be wrong in the fact that it does condemn it. At the start, you find the emotional heartstrings pulled with a quote like “We believe that a loving God would want a loving interpretation of His words which does not exclude anyone from any His message simply based on one aspect of their identity.”

That sounds good, but how far does it go? The use of simply there implies that sexual activity is a small thing. Should we say the same if someone considered adultery part of their identity? Would we say “A loving God would not want to exclude me based on one aspect of my identity. What if we found the same for sexual attraction to children, or relatives, or animals? Could I say it’s part of my sexual identity to be attracted to multiple women so I should be allowed? Why would a loving God want to exclude this?

Also, the writers say that they are not experts on religion, but have read widely and are presenting the work of experts. If you’re not an expert though, then don’t present an opinion on it in that way. A non-expert can have a hard time even knowing how to evaluate the material at times and their material is hardly representative. What do they use?

They use the documentary “For The Bible Tells Me So.” The description of this goes as follows:

Winner of the Audience Award for Best Documentary at the Seattle Interntional Film Festival, Dan Karslake’s provocative, entertaining documentary brilliantly reconciles homosexuality and Biblical scripture, and in the process reveals that Church-sanctioned anti-gay bias is based solely upon a significant (and often malicious) misinterpretation of the Bible. As the film notes, most Christians live their lives today without feeling obliged to kill anyone who works on the Sabbath or eats shrimp.
Through the experience of five very normal, very Christian , very American families – including those of former House Majority Leader Richard Gephardt and Episcopalian Bishop Gene Robinson – we discover how insightful people of faith handle the realization of having a gay child. With commentary by such respected voices as Bishop Desmond Tutu, Harvard’s Peter Gomes, Orthodox Rabbi Steve Greenberg and Reverend Jimmy Creech, For The Bible Tells Me So offers healing, clarity and understanding to anyone caught in the crosshairs of scripture and sexual identity.

Next we have God and the Gay Christian written by Matthew Vines which is a leading popular work arguing that homosexuality and Christianity are perfectly compatible. The video is also included. The next work is “What The Bible Really Says About Homosexuality. It’s description is

Helminiak, a Roman Catholic priest, has done careful reading in current biblical scholarship about homosexuality. While cautioning against viewing biblical teaching as “the last word on sexual ethics,” he stresses the need for accurate understanding of what the biblical “facts” are and concludes that “the Bible supplies no real basis for the condemnation of homosexuality.” Using the studies of Yale historian John Boswell (Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe, LJ 7/94), New Testament seminary professor L. William Countryman, and others, Helminiak examines the story of Sodom (where the sin was inhospitality), Jude’s decrying sex with angels, and five texts-Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13, Romans 1:27, I Corinthians 6:9, and I Timothy 1:10-all of which, he concludes, “are concerned with something other than homogenital activity itself.” Highly recommended for all libraries.

We have next “The Bible’s Yes to Same-Sex marriage: An Evangelical’s Change of Heart, followed by The Bible and Homosexuality article on Wikipedia. Yes. Wikipedia. The obvious place we all go to for excellent research. Following that is the GayChristian 101 web site and Religious Tolerance.

Now am I saying exclude these sources because they all argue for homosexuality? No, but let’s consider this.

Let’s suppose you wanted to write and say you were not an expert on the age of the Earth, but you were reading the experts, and the only books and videos and such you cited were young-earth creationists. What if you were going to write a critique of evolution and you included only people who argued against evolution in your source? What if you were going to do a look at the question of theism and the only people you cited were Christian apologists specializing in theism vs. atheism? Not only that, not one person in this list is really a scholar in the field. There are in fact pro-homosexual NT scholars that could have been cited, but these authors do not do so and yet they expect us to think they have interviewed the experts.

The authors also want us to keep in mind that the Bible was written thousands of years ago without the understanding that homosexuality was a legitimate widespread sexuality. Unfortunately, they do not demonstrate this. Is there any interaction with the Symposium of Plato where it is said some people’s missing halves were of the same sex? Is there any interaction with Hubbard’s work on homosexuality in ancient Greece and Rome? Not a peep of it. It had its defenders and detractors back then and even theories as to what causes homosexuality.

When looking at Bible passages, completely ignored are passages like the creation narrative in Genesis 1 and 2 and the main thrust of Jesus’s teachings in Matthew 19 is ignored. In fact, other passages are gone to, such as Jonathan and David supposedly having a gay relationship. Another one suggested is that Ruth and Naomi had one. (Apparently, incest isn’t really a problem.) In fact, in looking at Matthew 19:9-12, we’re told that the passage speaking about eunuchs is widely considered to refer to homosexuality. Who widely considers this? We’re not told.

Looking at the Levitical passages, we’re told that most were only applicable to Jewish priests or Levites. We would be quite interested to find out that commands against bestiality and child sacrifice only applied to the Levites but were okay for everyone else. This also does not explain why the text specifically says the nations before were being driven out because they engaged in these practices, which were apparently only wrong for Levites. The writers then say there are many other aspects we don’t follow. True enough, because these are not seen as part of the moral law, but that these other nations got excluded from the land for these practices tells us that these are different, as well as the fact that these passages prescribe the death penalty.

For the Sodom and Gomorrah narrative, I could actually agree that the sin of Sodom is an inhospitality, but at the same time, their homosexual behavior is condemned and shown as a sign of how far they have fallen. When this is cited in Ezekiel 16, one can see that Ezekiel is citing the holiness code which includes the prohibitions of Leviticus and would include same-sex behavior.

For 1 Cor. 6:9-11, we’re told the words do not refer to homosexuals, but if they did not, then Paul had much better words to use. In fact, the latter word Arsenokoitai, comes from the Levitical passage on homosexuality and is combination of two words found there. One struggles to find a way that Paul could have been clearer.

Romans 1 is of course the key passage and here we’re told that unnatural could mean uncustomary, but the text does not permit that interpretation. Paul uses several terms such as creation, creator, male and female, etc. These are referring to the Genesis 1 and 2 narrative. If Paul wants to say idolatry is a horribly wrong twisting of reality on the vertical level to think that God can be reduced to animals and idols, then homosexuality is such an event on the horizontal level to take the natural usages of the male and female body and use them in ways they were not designed to be used. The writers tell us that Paul was not referring to loving gay relationships, but Paul would have known about such and we could just as well ask what Paul would say about loving incestual relationships or loving bestial relationships or loving polygamous relationships.

In the end, this is a hideously weak look at an important topic and the sound of one hand clapping by ignoring the best scholarship on both sides in the field. Don’t waste your time and while the book has been free on Kindle and could still be now, don’t waste your storage space.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Homosexuality and the Bible — Two Views

What do I think of this book published by Augsburg Books? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Dan Via and Robert Gagnon come together in this book to discuss the view of the Bible on homosexuality. Via I have not known of prior to this, but I did know of Gagnon and I have to say that in this area, Gagnon is a force to be reckoned with. There is a reason people like Matthew Vines do not want to debate Robert Gagnon. Thus, when I saw that he was involved in a book debate on the topic of homosexuality and since I’m doing a research project on that in Romans 1 now, I thought this would be an excellent one to go through.

Unfortunately, if there’s a criticism I have of this, it’s that it is way too short. The book could be read in a few hours which I found troublesome. This is a serious topic and it deserves more time in the press than something this short. In fact, Gagnon had to restrict a lot of what he wrote because it was too long and so throughout his essay, he links to notes on his web site where readers can go to find a fuller treatment. I would have recommended that while Gagnon could have written something too long that Via would be asked to give a more engaging essay of greater length rather than just have Gagnon cut his. There are plenty of things that could have been said.

Much of Via’s arguments are exactly what you would expect along the lines of what was going on in Sodom and matters of that sort. Gagnon’s responses thoroughly show the weaknesses, though not at times as much as one would like in the book format and again, this is because Gagnon has a fuller treatment on the issue on his web site. Perhaps it would have also helped to have had other readers who were commentators on this debate. It might have even been better to have Via and Gagnon discuss separately the major Biblical passages on the topic in separate chapters.

This is also an issue the church needs to pay attention to as it has become the shibboleth of the day. Increasingly for Christians, it will become a major issue as many of our young people who are deciding what truth is more based on their feelings and experience than reason and Scripture are being thoroughly confused on all matters relating to sexuality. Sadly, few of them will pick up a massive tome like Gagnon’s and go through it and unfortunately, few of them will probably go to his web site to look at the in-depth research that he has done. It’s sad to think that we live in the information age but people today want all the information catered to them and are not interested in doing any work.

While short, I must say that it is good to see Gagnon demolish the opposition in this one. Those who are wanting to see a debate on the topic in book form can start here and hopefully more will follow and as this increasingly becomes more of an issue, I am sure that more will follow. I am also thankful that we have as astute a scholar as Gagnon on our side in this.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Christmas Thoughts

What are my thoughts on Christmas Day? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

This blog is late in the day, but hey. I just got done awhile ago watching Pixels in my own house here. (Yeah. My folks did come through there.) Now that that is done, I figure I’ll write some about what Christmas means. I would like to really tell you that I’m a pious and holy guy and I just think about Jesus constantly on this day. I would like to tell you that, but there’s a commandment against lying so I really can’t.

And as I thought about it some today, I wonder if I treat Christmas like any other day, and if that’s really a bad thing if I do or not. As one in ministry, I do think about Jesus many times throughout the day and theology and history are favorite areas of mine. I wonder how many out there do say they spend Christmas thinking about Jesus, but aside from Easter, that’s the only time they really think about Him. Perhaps Christmas is a time where many of us can put out the lights on the lawn to show how much we are celebrating the birth of Christ while throughout the rest of the year we’re treating Him like He’s no big deal.

Of course, I’m not opposed to people lighting up their lawns on Christmas. My family happens to make it a point to go out looking at Christmas lights every year and sadly, it’s harder and harder to find really good displays of Christmas lights. As I ponder it, I wonder how many people are saying they are celebrating the birth of Christ, but inside, there’s a husband who isn’t repenting of an addiction to internet pornography, or there’s a couple who has forgotten the meaning of marriage and is on the brink of divorce, or there is someone in the house who hates His fellow man. Now to an extent, we’re all hypocrites of course, but I wonder how much that could be going on. How many of us are putting our best foot forward, like we are prone to do every Sunday, while hiding everything that’s wrong.

Yesterday I had written about Christmas as a declaration of war. It’s a contrast to think about putting your best foot forward when here on Earth we had the Prince of Peace roaming around, but look at His life and try to find where He had some peace. What He wouldn’t have given for some! From his very birth He had people who were trying to kill Him. His disciples who should have been His most trusted companions were often embarrassments to Him who spent their time arguing among themselves over who was the greatest and when these men who wanted to be the greatest had trouble show up, they turned tail and ran. The life of the Prince of Peace eventually led to a violent death on a cross.

And victory was won a few days later at an empty tomb.

In fact, Jesus came to people who did not put their best foot forward. Jesus came and spent most of His time with the rejects and the nobodies of society. He spent His time with the people no one wanted to spend time with. He could have been a respectable rabbi and spent time with the other rabbis, but He did not. He hung out with the riffraff, the ones that were rejected by those rabbis.

Maybe I’m not really alone in saying that Christmas can often be like other days. About the only main difference is on this day you exchange gifts and spend more time with family. Frankly, I’m also at the age where the gifts are nice, but they don’t really matter as much any more. Now sometimes I do miss the wonder I had as a child and the big Christmas Eve gatherings that used to take place where we would exchange gifts and be up till around midnight, but that was not meant to last forever and maybe someday Allie and I will have a family of our own that we can start new traditions with, but until then, I do hope to treasure the time, especially with my own wife, which is in a remarkable way when I consider it the new family unit that is the joining of two families that would have been totally separate but bound by the love of the two children.

And maybe tonight when I go to bed, I will remember that I can celebrate peacefully because of the good that came about from the Prince of Peace. How different would my world be today if there had never been a Christmas to begin with? Did Jesus come for more than Christmas lights and for exchanging gifts and for even spending time with family? If I didn’t have all of those, would I still be able to have what Jesus came for?

Yes, and so could you.

Merry Christmas.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Christmas Eve Thoughts

What do we do the day before Christmas? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Christmas Eve is here and looking back, Christmas has radically changed over the years. In the past, I know it was about looking forward to what I was getting the next day. To be sure, there’s still some of that there. Allie and I have asked for various items and I look forward to getting some of them. (I highly anticipate that by this time tomorrow I’ll be watching my own copy of Pixels for instance.) I don’t know when it is, but you reach an age or a point in life where the gifts don’t really mean as much to you.

It could also be because now I know much more about what the season means. When you grow up, unfortunately, you’re not often told today all about the Christmas story. It’s not because parents don’t often care. It’s because many of them frankly don’t know about the Christmas story due to our lack of discipleship in the churches. My parents didn’t know what apologetics was until I started studying it and frankly, I didn’t even know what it was until I started studying it. I had never heard the word before.

One thing I like to think about this day though is to look at Christmas as really a declaration of war on the part of God. Christmas is God entering enemy territory and declaring war on the works of the devil. If that is the case, then we can see Christmas Eve as if it was preparation for D-Day. We are getting ready to celebrate the infiltration of our master into the enemy camp. We are celebrating that because we know the plan was successful and the battle was won.

It seems odd to think of Christmas as a war, but that is indeed what it was. We must remember that when Jesus was born, it was not the case that Jesus is born and the first thing we hear about is all the world coming together in peace and love. No. If we go with Matthew’s account, we know that Herod immediately ordered the slaughter of infants where Jesus was born. Evil was already on the move. When Joseph returns, he hears about Herod Archelaus and decides to go to Nazareth. Now why did he do that? Because Archelaus had ordered the murder of thousands of Jews on the temple grounds. Passover was canceled that year. Joseph and Mary lived a hectic life right at the start beyond what most of us would expect.

And yet, somehow the plan worked. All the evil that was devised against Jesus did not work, until it was the proper time, and then what was really meant to be the killing blow was in fact just that, but it was not the end. It was figured by the Jewish leaders that death would surely be the end and not just death, but a shameful death. God had other plans. God had the plan to overcome even a shameful death and bring the greatest honor to Jesus ever.

Tonight, I’ll be celebrating Christmas Eve with my church family and then with my blood family, but I hope I don’t forget that Christmas Eve is a day where we celebrate that we know the victory is coming.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Paul’s Divine Christology

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

For some time, names like Bauckham and Hurtado and others have been dominant in discussions of Christology as we have seen more and more movement to what is called an early High Christology. In fact, this Christology is so early and high that it has been said that the earliest Christology is the highest Christology. Jesus from the resurrection is said to be seen as within the divine identity and is fully God and fully man. This alone is a powerful argument for the reality of the resurrection as it would take something quite remarkable to convince devout Jews that a crucified Messiah figure was not only really the Messiah, but God incarnate.

Chris Tilling is also a voice in this debate. Tilling was one of the people who contributed to Michael Bird’s project of How God Became Jesus. Tilling is an enjoyable scholar to read who I think is serious in everything he does. Why? Because when you see his Facebook page and his own blog, he is often quite humorous and there is no contradiction between being humorous and being serious. Yet when it comes to the New Testament, Tilling is a force to be reckoned with and knows the material very well. In fact, a look at his argument for an early high Christology is a way of saying that we have missed the forest for the trees.

One of my favorite shows that unfortunately has not only gone off the air now but has had the book series come to an end was the series Monk about the obsessive-compulsive homicide detective. My parents always wanted me to see if I could solve the case before Adrian Monk. The episodes can be enjoyable to watch again and when you do, you can look back at the cases that are solved and see all the clues you missed the first time through and think “Why didn’t I see that the first time?” Reading Tilling’s book can be like that. It can make you think about passages in the NT and say “Why didn’t I think of that the first time?”

Tilling relies not on a philosophical idea such as the God of the philosophers, but notes that the identity of God in Jewish thought was based on His covenant relationship with Israel. Only God was said to be in that covenant. If that is the case, then what about seeing if someone else suddenly shows up in this relationship and has a similar relationship to Israel? What if they have a similar relationship to the church, which is pictured as in the covenant of Israel as well. What if we find analogies from the OT that are used of YHWH and Israel and yet when we find their counterparts in the NT, it’s Christ and the church?

It really is a simple idea, and yet it’s a remarkable one as the Christ-relation shows up all throughout the NT. Just look and see how Paul, who Tilling is focusing on, speaks so highly of Christ and never even really a hint of holding back. You never see Paul giving a warning about saying to not go too far in your adoration of Christ. Instead, Paul speaks as if it was his natural language of his devotion of Christ and His role in salvation history. We have phrases like “To live is Christ”, “I sought to know nothing other than Christ crucified”, and “Live to the Lord” with Christ as the Lord. This is not even counting the references that seem to explicitly make reference to the deity of Christ like Romans 9:5 or the maranatha in 1 Cor. 16.

In fact, thinking along these lines, just recently I was pondering marriage as it’s a topic I read up on a lot more now that I have my own Mrs. and was pondering the idea of how Christ loved the church and then thought along the lines of Tilling about why Paul says that. Paul could have easily said “As God loved Israel”, but he didn’t. He chose to use Christ and the church and in effect is saying that Christ is the supreme example of love and it’s not the love of God, but just the love of Christ. The Christ-relation is indeed a huge impact and it should be one that the scholarly world is looking at for some time.

Now for some criticisms. There were times in the book that I thought it looked like Tilling was going more for quantity than for quality. You’d have a shotgun approach I thought of several different passages but they weren’t engaged with as much depth as I would like. There were times I would have liked to have seen a few passages explored in greater depth and then you could find several analogous passages that are like that one.

Also, there are times a layman could get lost at a few passages. It would be good to see something like this reproduced on a more popular level especially for those laymen in the field who will be meeting groups like the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Christadelphians. An argument like Tilling’s would be an invaluable reference for the furtherance of the Gospel and answering those who wish to challenge the deity of Christ and the fact that the argument is simple and powerful and has loads of verses in support of it is extremely helpful.

Overall, this is a book well worth your time to read and I suggest you do so.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Merry Christmas Huffington Post

Is Christmas based on paganism? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Ah yes. Christmastime. A time for love and joy and celebration and for people to come out and suddenly start taking an interest in history by declaring that everything is pagan once again. Yeah. The pagan copycat thesis died a long time ago for Jesus, and that doesn’t stop many from writing about that on the internet, but many still like to say it for Christmas. Many Christians in fact like to say that Christmas is based on pagan traditions that we just happened to steal and use for ourselves. It’s understandable. It’s also in much of pop culture. My wife and I enjoy watching The Big Bang Theory (A show about four ordinary normal guys), yet as much as I can delight in the antics of Sheldon Cooper, he’s just wrong on this count.

The article today I plan to respond to is written by Philip Greywolf Shallcrass. Let’s see what he has to say.

Pagans have deeper links with the season though. Virtually every part of Christmas has its origin in Pagan celebrations of Midwinter. Christmas Day is on December 25th because that’s when pre-Christian folk throughout the Roman Empire celebrated the birth of Sol Invictus, the Unconquered Sun. In 274 CE, Emperor Aurelian promoted Sol Invictus as a god that all citizens of the Empire could worship alongside their own deities. He combines aspects of other pagan gods, including Mithras, a Middle Eastern deity born to a virgin mother on December 25th. The birth of Christ was first celebrated on this day in 336 CE.

Okay. Sol Invictus. Lets’s start it out. Is any primary source given that says Sol Invictus was celebrated on this day? Nope. Not a one. There’s a reason for that. You won’t find one. In fact, this kind of thing is so ludicrous even Cracked has an article on this. Last I checked, they’re not hardline defenders of evangelical Christianity. They refer to this article in fact. The point is rightly made that Saturnalia lasted from December 17th to the 23rd and that there would not be another holiday celebrated since most people would still be hungover and then preparing for the New Year. In fact, they contend that Aurelian, who was not a fan of Christianity, set up the date to challenge the birth of Christ.

Now does this mean that Jesus was born on December 25th? Not really, though we can be open to the date and I would say there is more evidence for that than for the other figures in history. At least with the case of Jesus you have people from the past actually making such claims.

Also, Shallcrass claims Mithras was a Middle Eastern deity born to a virgin mother. Again, what is the source of this claim? Good luck finding one. We have no Mithraic writings out there and most of what we know of Mithras comes from artwork and in fact from the early church fathers. The viewpoint now is that in fact Mithras was born out of a rock carrying a dagger and wearing a cap. I suppose you could try to make a case that the rock was female and I’m pretty sure that rocks don’t have sex so the rock would be a virgin, but other than that, there really isn’t a case there. Shallcrass may be an authority on modern pagan rituals, but that does not equate to ancient pagan rituals.

The original significance of the date is that, in the Northern Hemisphere, it’s the first day on which the sun’s rising position on the horizon begins to move northward following the winter solstice. Our ancestors took the sun’s renewed movement as a welcome sign that there would be an end to winter and a return of warmth and growth. Hence they celebrated the rebirth of light, personified as a divine child.

Did they? Well it would be nice to see some evidence of that. It’s also important to note that if that was the case, it should be known that December 25th does not fall in the winter solstice. Now surely if the Christians were co-opting a date to show the birth of their divine child, they would know enough to put it on the right date back then. To put it on the wrong date would just be more embarrassing for the Christians. (And no Shallcrass, a link to wikipedia does not convince me you’ve done real historical research.)

Midwinter celebrations represented a metaphorical shaft of light in the depths of winter, when sources of food were limited and when cold, snow and frost ended many lives, particularly those of the frail, elderly and very young. Celebration lifted the spirits, and feasting was a reminder of good times promised by the sun’s return, as were the exchange of gifts and the decorating of homes and temples with evergreen foliage.

Okay. Any primary sources for this? No. Again, I’ll gladly state that Shallcrass would know more about modern pagan rituals than I do, but why should I think he has a clue on ancient pagan rituals? That would be like claiming your average churchgoer must know more about the church fathers than Bart Ehrman simply by the fact of the churchgoer being a Christian. Unfortunately today, most Christians don’t have a clue about the early church fathers. You’d frankly be lucky to find many who know history past the Reformation. Many of our ideas of church history would go more like this:

Sally Church History

Let’s consider something however. What about evergreen foliage being used? Well there’s a simple reason for that. If you want to decorate your home in the winter and you want to use something that’s a plant, you pretty much have one choice. You have to go with an evergreen because nothing else is really alive at that time of year. This kind of idea did not really catch on until around the time of the Reformation so if the church was copying something, it’s ludicrous to think they would go back 1,000+ years and get an idea. While we do not know for sure the origins of the Christmas tree, it’s a stretch to think people reach back 1,000 years for a tradition.

From here, Shallcrass has some writings on how pagans celebrated the solstice that really have as much to do with Christmas as the price of tea in China. Even still, it looks like Shallcrass did all of his research online entirely. Where are the books on the topic?

You won’t find any.

While the ending might be interesting, this is not at all a true historical investigation. Shallcrass has just made some assertions and then linked to wikipedia and then said he should be considered an authority on the topic. Well he’s not.

Does this mean Jesus was born on December 25th? No. Could a case be made, yes. It’s inconsequential however. Just celebrate the birth of Jesus. Don’t let the ones who oppose it steal your joy. If you know you are not worshiping pagan deities and not honoring pagan deities at all, you have nothing to worry about.

Merry Christmas everyone.

Including you Mr. Shallcrass.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: If You Call Yourself A Jew

What do I think of Rafael Rodriguez’s book published by Cascade books? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

First off, some of you are wondering where the blog has been. We had some web site difficulties, but it looks like things are working now and hopefully they will stay working. We have been unable to record the last two episodes of the Deeper Waters Podcast, but we will be putting up soon the wonderful interview I had with Craig Keener on December 5th. For now, let’s look into the book we’re reviewing today.

I must admit my possible bias upfront and how I am entering dangerous territory in some ways. I am studying a Romans course next semester and the book that I am writing a review for here is actually not only on the reading list, but is in fact a book written by my teaching professor himself. Still, I will try to be as impartial as I can. Where there is something to praise, I plan to praise, and where there is something to critique, I hope to critique.

The idea Rodriguez starts with is that too often we have assumed that there were Jews of a sizable portion in Rome who had returned after the ban of Claudius was lifted. We know from Seutonius that the Jews had been expelled around 49 A.D. and this matches with what happens in Acts when Priscilla and Aquila show up and Paul starts working with them. They did get to come back and many commentators on Romans think that there was a sizable portion in the Roman church and Paul wrote to deal with a situation that was involving relations between Jews and Gentiles. This is something common, but Rodriguez calls it into question.

At the start, I do wish there had been some clarification here. It would be good for it to be said that there was no sizable population because sometimes I got the impression that it was believed that there weren’t any Jews in the Roman church. I would doubt this on simply historical grounds and on purely historical grounds, I do not think there is any way we could know this since we don’t exactly have the demographics of the Roman church. There is unfortunately no doubt going to be a lot of speculation on history whichever way we go since the specifics are not spelled out for us. We know Paul wrote Romans. We have a good idea of when he wrote it. We know he wrote it to the Romans church. We know what he wrote to them. It’s the why that’s often so difficult.

Rodriguez is not so sure on this point. Some of us will look at passages like Romans 2 which seem to be talking to a Jewish audience and saying “Well this sure looks like someone Jewish to me?” Rodriguez suggests that instead of seeing it as a Jew that Paul has in mind for who he’s interacting with, imagine Paul has in mind an interlocutor who is in fact a Gentile that has chosen to live under Jewish Law. What would such a person have to say about the righteousness found in Christ? After all, Paul makes the statement of “If you call yourself a Jew.” Could it be this is someone who sees themselves as a Jew not by nationality, but rather by an adoption of sorts?

It’s not really a far-fetched idea. I have heard some people theorize for instance that the Judaizers who went to the churches in Galatia might not have been Jews themselves but Gentiles who had chosen to live under Jewish Law. Rodriguez theorizes that if you take the position that he does, it changes the way the whole letter is read including when you get to chapters 9-11 which are often a hotspot of controversy in the book. I cannot say that I am fully persuaded by his hypothesis at this point, but I can definitely say that it does make sense and is no doubt worthy of further investigation.

From then on, the book becomes a commentary as well on the passages and often this can be a commentary that will be theologically motivating. The reader will be greatly blessed by reading this even if one does not agree with the hypothesis overall as there are some excellent writings on Christian living. This is not a book just meant to argue a case for a position on Romans after all, but to leave the reader with a greater understanding of Romans.

I do also agree with Rodriguez that the passage in Romans 7 is not autobiographical. Although many Christians can relate to it, Paul is not describing his own life before becoming a Christian. I don’t think Rodriguez’s interpretation of the Gentile interlocutor is as convincing as Ben Witherington’s idea that Paul is speaking as Adam and I do not think going back to Romans 5 is going back too far in the letter. Despite that, I am thankful that Rodriguez definitely recognizes that this is not Paul speaking of himself.

I did often wish that there would have been more on some difficult passages. For instance, what about in Romans 8 where it talks about he who put creation in bondage. Who is the he? There was not much if anything said on this and I would have liked to have seen that. I wouldn’t have minded also seeing some more expounding on a passage such as Romans 9:5 where it speaks about Jesus and describes Him as God.

I also was not convinced by his handling of Romans 16. I found that too brief and with the suggestion that the people there were not part of the Roman church. It could be, but I’m just not sold yet and that passage does indeed show that there were a number of people in the congregation then who would have been of Jewish descent. A most interesting case would have been Junia who Witherington thinks could have been Joanna from Luke 8:3 with a Greco-Roman name and possibly a new husband as well.

Also, I think Rodriguez does play too little with the extra-biblical data. While it can be that too many commentators have looked outside the text for information instead of focusing on the text, there is in fact a danger of missing the context the letter was written in and if we want to know who the audience was, any information from outside of the text should be taken seriously. Rodriguez does interact with this, but not as much as I would like.

Despite this, Rodriguez’s book is an easy read and in fact one the layman with some background knowledge could read. If you want to be a student of Romans, this is an idea worth considering. I hope more scholars will consider the idea of Rodriguez since it is an intriguing one and I must say I am certainly open to it.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Paul Was Not A Christian. The Original Message Of A Misunderstood Apostle

What do I think of Pamela Eisenbaum’s book published by HarperCollins? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I often read mythicist material so when I see a book titled “Paul was not a Christian” I immediately start to suspect that this is the kind of material I’m going to be looking at. I must say I was pleasantly surprised. She is actually a rarity in that she is a Jewish New Testament scholar and she does have a Ph.D. in the field. If someone comes here thinking they will find something along the lines of a mythicist argument or conspiracy theory nonsense, they will not find it. Instead, one will find interaction with other leading scholars in the field and a scholarly argument from Eisenbaum’s side.

And yet, if the title is an indication of the message she wants us to get, I ultimately think she fails. Before I say why that is, let’s look at what she does say.

Eisenbaum is rightly concerned about a negative view of Judaism that too many Christians have. In this, she is correct. We often have this idea that Jews were suffering under the weight of the Law and wondering how they could be holy before a God who was just demanding so much of them and would have loved any chance of grace. This in spite of the fact that the OT regularly speaks about forgiveness and grace. This despite the fact that in Philippians 3 Paul describes himself as blameless with regard to the Law. Sure, there were disputes in Judaism over who was and wasn’t a Jew and what got one to be considered a Jew, but it was not really the legalistic system that some Christians make it out to be. More power to Eisenbaum in critiquing this view.

I also agree with Eisenbaum that too often we make the central message of Paul to be justification by faith. Is this a message of Paul? Yes. Is it the main message? No. His message would have also been that of Jesus and justification by faith was an outworking of that message. Paul’s message would have centered around Jesus being crucified and resurrected. The emphasis on justification by faith assumes the point above being contested, that Paul lived in a world where Jews were struggling under the Law and that they just wanted a way to be righteous before God. Most of them already saw themselves as righteous before God. The Law was not followed so they would be righteous, but to show that they were righteous.

Eisenbaum is certainly also right that we should take Paul’s identity as a Jew seriously, especially since he himself said he was one. Paul should be seen as a Jew who was well-learned in the Hellenistic culture of the time. One of the great realities that has had to be learned in the quest for the historical Jesus is that Jesus was a Jew. The same needs to be said about Paul as well. Paul was a Jew. It’s important also to note that while Eisenbaum wants to make sure Paul is not seen as anti-Jewish, and he is not, Eisenbaum herself is not anti-Paul. Nothing in the book is meant to put Paul in a negative light. In fact, Paul is highly respected throughout Eisenbaum’s work and she seriously wrestles with what he says.

Eisenbaum does say that the social context Paul wrote in was not monolithic or homogeneous due to multiple writings going around and the canon was a fourth-century development, but this could be a kind of all-or-nothing thinking. Were there disputes and factions and such? Yes. Were there however unifying beliefs that we find? Yes. We could be sure Paul would not include anyone in the body who did not believe in the resurrection of Jesus in a bodily sense. After all, in 1 Cor. 15 if Jesus has not been raised then our faith is in vain, which has the assumption that the faith of all of us is that Jesus has been bodily raised.

Eisenbaum is also right that Paul does not use the language of conversion. Does he speak of a call of Jesus and the appearance of Jesus to Him? Yes. Eisenbaum is certainly right that this does not mean that Paul ever ceased to be a Jew and too often we have used the language of conversion. In fact, Richards, Reeves, and Capes in their book Rediscovering Paul also agree and say we should speak more of the call of Paul than we should speak of the conversion.

I also agree with Eisenbaum that Romans 7 is not an autobiographical account of Paul’s personal struggles. I see it more at this point as a description of Adam who was the last named character. Paul would not have described himself as alive apart from the Law for instance and when we read his account in Philippians 3, we see no such idea of a struggle with Paul. This is something in fact that Westerners have read into the text.

Throughout the book then, the reader will find relevant material on the new perspective on Paul, what makes a Jew a Jew, and the early Christian view of Jesus. Now there were some points I did disagree with. I disagree with her view on Christology and I think the work of scholars like Bauckham, Tilling, Hurtado, and others have definitely shown that the earliest Christology is the highest Christology. I also disagree with her that the crucifixion would not necessarily have been seen as falling under the Deuteronomic condemnation of those who were hung on a tree. I think Evans has made an excellent case in his latest book, though to be fair this definitely came out after Eisenbaum’s writing.

So in all of this, why is it then that I disagree with Eisenbaum’s claim that Paul was not a Christian? There’s a very simple reason.

Nowhere did I see Eisenbaum state what a Christian is.

It could be tempting to say that of course we all know what a Christian is, but that still needs to be addressed. For instance, if being a Christian means citing the Nicene Creed and affirming a formulaic view of Trinitarian theology, then would we say that it could be there were no Christians and no Christianity until later in church history? This sounds like an absurd position to take. If we say that a Christian for Paul would be someone who saw Jesus as the resurrected Messiah and Lord of all, then we could definitely say that Paul was a Christian. The problem is that Eisenbaum argues throughout that Paul never ceased to be a Jew so he would not have been a Christian, but this makes it be that if one is a Jew, one cannot be a Christian, and vice-versa. Ironically, Eisenbaum who is arguing that Christianity does not mean opposition to Judaism has herself created an opposition to Christianity in her work. That one cannot be a Jew and a Christian both would certainly be news to many Messianic Jews today.

This is the main problem then I find. Eisenbaum has written that Christians have imposed a split and she herself has that exact same split the other way. This should not detract from the excellent material in her work and we should take the views of Judaism from such a scholar seriously and we should learn to read Paul as a Jew, but we should still also read Paul as a Christian and in fact, because he was a Christian, he was exceptionally Jewish. After all, if Jesus is the Jewish Messiah, and He is, what could be more in line with being a Jew than believing in the Messiah of the Jews?

So by all means go out and read this work for the scholarly insights within, but the main point is still not established. Much of what Paul said has been misunderstood due to what our culture has imposed onto the text, but the dichotomy is not really there and we as Christians should embrace the Jewishness of our Christian brother Paul.

In Christ,
Nick Peters