Gorilla Warfare

What are my thoughts on the Cincinnati zoo situation? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

My wife likes to watch the Weather Channel during tornado season and when I’m done with what I need to do on the internet, I tend to like to stay off of it. Therefore, I am somewhat surprised to see posts yesterday talking about a gorilla incident. Now I stroll on Facebook after reading more about it and it’s pretty much all that I see.

It really saddens me that on a day like yesterday when we should have spent more time focusing on the fact that our fellow human beings gave their lives for us, we were more concerned about a gorilla who died.

Now of course, none of us delight over what happened. None of us woke up and said “Wow. Today would be a great day to see a gorilla get killed.” Not liking an outcome does not mean that the wrong actions were done. Sometimes you can do the right thing and feel absolutely miserable. If that has never happened to you, then I wonder how often you are really doing the right thing.

I also happen to agree with many who are saying that there is outrage over the death of a gorilla, but how much outrage have you heard over the deaths of children in abortion? In fact, I have a suspicion that a lot of people raising the gorilla outrage really have no problem with abortion. What I see as a great danger is how our society is trying to put everything on an equal level.

Equality can be a great thing, but it only works if we recognize what is truly equal. We are all equally human for instance, but we have a lot of differences after that. We have differences in sex, race, body build, intelligence, athletic ability, artistic talent, emotional differences, genetic differences, etc. You could go on to add many more to this list. We can’t treat all of us as absolutely equal in every way. We’re not. We’re not supposed to be. If we were all exactly alike, this world would likely be a pretty boring place. (Not to mention our species would have died out long ago.)

What happens if you try to treat those distances like they don’t matter? What would happen if you wanted to put someone like myself, a man who just barely weighs 120, out on the football field to play a game because, hey, we’re all equal and those differences don’t matter? Then what would happen if you took the football player who would normally play that position and have them be studying NT Christianity in depth? (Now to be fair, that can be done, but most football players aren’t known for being experts in the NT.) There are ways men are different from women beyond physical characteristics and vice-versa.

The danger with the drive for equality is that we want equality of outcome instead of equality of start. We want in the end everyone to be equal instead of realizing what we all have in common at the start and then going from there. Now we extend it beyond humans and want to say that all animals fall into the same pattern.

For instance, when it comes to debates on homosexuality I get involved in, I often hear “This is natural because we see this happening in the animal world.” The hidden premise there being that if it is natural, then we should accept it. Let’s suppose that this is really what’s going on and there really is homosexual behavior in the animal world. (I have heard dissenting opinions, but I’m not a zoologist so I can’t state either way) Okay. We also see in the animal world that many animals happen to eat their own young. Do we want humans to start cooking their children for dinner? Now if you’re going to say that example doesn’t follow, then neither does the prior unless you have some argument to show that the above is a valid exception.

Yet the point is still that there’s this underlying idea that we are all just animals. Of course, one could say that we are in Aristotelian terms, “rational animals”, but we are different from the animals around us not just by degree but by kind. We are capable of thinking abstractly. Animals are not.

Our effort to make everyone and everything equal isn’t something that lifts humanity up. It more lowers us. We aren’t raising up the animals either. The animals are still being the same. Treat them like gods or treat them like food. On the whole, the animals will behave the same way. What will be lowered will be the worth of the human species instead, and that is what we see happening when people are more concerned about a gorilla being killed than about the possibility of a child being killed.

“Well couldn’t they have just tranquilized?” We all would have loved to have seen that happen, but real life is not like what you see in the movies. A large part of why we think this way is we’ve seen so many Disney cartoons where animals have been turned into humans pretty much who walk and talk and have their own personalities and reason through matters like we do. That’s good fantasy, but bad reality. One other fantasy is that if you shoot a tranquilizer dart at a gorilla, that it will conk out immediately. Well no. It won’t.

Even if it takes just a few minutes, in those few minutes, this gorilla has been shot with something and doesn’t know where it came from and will be much more agitated than before. You know who’s at risk the most then? The child. Are you seriously willing to risk the life of a child for that? (And if you’re one of those who are actually saying yes, and they do exist, you are indeed part of the problem in our society.)

While I can’t speak as a parent, I can speak as a human being. If it had been someone like say my own wife who is more capable of reasoning and could have known more how to get away, I still would not want a chance to be taken. If I had to, I would have taken up arms myself and gone in and taken out a million gorillas to get to her and I would not have remorse about it. I would be in good company. The medievals are said to have said that one human being is worth more than the entire universe. They were right.

It’s a shame so many people spent Memorial Day arguing over something that should have been a no-brainer really. Our soldiers did not die so that animals could be free. They died for us. They died so we could be free and not free to protest about animals, but free to be good citizens and build up a society of virtuous people and pursue that which is good. How many of us are busy doing that? (And yes, I need to do that just as much)

By all means, be sad that this tragedy happened. If you’re wondering my thoughts on the mother involved, we frankly don’t know enough yet. If she left her child alone and went off somewhere else, well yes, that is a problem. Still, we all know stories from good parents who look away for just a second and their child has got caught in chaos. It can happen. Without knowing all about that aspect, I’m not ready to comment on the mother. Still, I would give her some time because right now, she just needs to rejoice that her child is alive and if it was because of neglect on her part, I would hope this experience would be all the lesson she needs.

I look forward to the day when there’s more outrage from people about abortion than about gorillas. Unfortunately, our society has reached a point where we have chosen to tolerate the evil of abortion and said we will not tolerate killing animals to save humans. Again, we have not lifted animals up. We have just lowered ourselves and our fellow human beings. We can only deny reality so much before we pay the price for it.

I hope we wake up soon.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Thoughts On Memorial Day

Is there anything to keep in mind with a cookout? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Today is Memorial Day as I write this. I will be going to spend it with my in-laws at their place for a cookout and my wife is bringing Into The Storm for us to watch together. I have seen the movie several times and I don’t care much for food so aside from fellowship, I’ll probably be spending more time with my Kindle and my books.

Okay. So I’m the odd one out here, but a lot of you are doing something special for Memorial Day, and I’m not knocking that. That’s something to celebrate. It’s a special day, but let’s not lose sight of what this day is all about. This day is not about cookouts. It’s not about time spent on the lake. It’s not about even reading books. (GASP!)

This day is about people who have died serving our country. These are people who paid the ultimate sacrifice. They are not here to celebrate today. They can’t spend the day kissing their wives or hugging their children. There are mothers and fathers who won’t see their children, children who won’t see their parents, and spouses who won’t see their significant others. In fact, for them, this day could be very depressing.

Let’s not forget them. In fact, if you know someone like that, try to go and see them if you can. Bring them a homecooked meal. Center the day around them. These people have also made a sacrifice. They live without the person or persons that they love. They want to know that someone appreciated the sacrifice that that person made. They need to know that the person who sacrificed was a hero.

How many of us today are willing to face death? The reality is we all are facing it every day. There’s a commercial that I see on TV now and I think it’s about heart disease. It says that for people with heart disease, tomorrow is not a guarantee and in the background you hear the song “Tomorrow” from “Little Orphan Annie.” You know who tomorrow is also not a guarantee for? You and I. It is not a guarantee. If we want to live, the time to live is not tomorrow. It is today.

Today, hug your children. Today, honor your parents. Today, make love to your spouse. Take the time to celebrate those people who are in your life. Do not wait to live life. People died so that today, you could live. Not just exist, but live. Are you living? Do you want their sacrifice to be in vain?

People did not die just so we could have fun. They died because they thought that what they were dying for was indeed worth dying for. The question we have to ask of ourselves is do we think what they died for is worth living for? Our freedom as Americans? Our ability to love those around us? Our ability to enjoy our lives? Our freedom to worship as we see fit? Are these all goods worth celebrating?

Let today be a day you start living. They died so you could live. Don’t let it be in vain. If you’re Christian especially, remember the original hero who died so you could live. Don’t let His sacrifice be in vain either.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Critical Conversations

What do I think of Tom Gilson’s book published by Kregel? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Parents have always tended to dread “the talk” and asked one another which one of them will be the ones to tell their children about the birds and the bees. As awkward as it has been in the past, today for Christian parents, it can be even more awkward. What was thought unthinkable in the past is now seen as the new normal. Christians for the most part know what the Bible says about homosexual practice and today, that leads to them being called bigots, haters, intolerant, etc.

What are Christian parents to do? It’s no longer enough in our day and age to just say “Well this is what the Bible says.” Something more is needed. That’s why I’m proud to support Tom Gilson’s book on the topic. Gilson writes a book that is intellectually rich but also with a pastoral heart. As you read it, it’s like Gilson is taking your hand and guiding you through the minefield and helping you see step by step how best to handle these conversations with your children.

Note I said conversations. The birds and the bees talk might be a one-time deal, but this is a prevalent issue that will likely involve more than one talk, especially as your teenager receives more challenges from classmates. Gilson is set to walk you through with a history of how we got here, what marriage means and why it matters, and how to handle challenges everywhere, even from a professor in a college classroom.

All that is well and good and you can find that information in many books, but if all you had was the final section, it would be worth the price of the book. In the final section Gilson takes a lot of the soundbite slogans that your child will encounter and works through how to answer them. He has an idea of a kind of conversation you can have all the while wanting you to make sure that it is not a script.

Most every slogan you can think of is addressed here. It’s as if Gilson sat at his computer writing every sound bite that came along and then decided to respond to all of them. It is a shame that we live in a soundbite culture where these kinds of statements have to be addressed, but unfortunately they do. Gilson does the job though. Your children will encounter taunts. They will be able to reply with substantial arguments.

If there’s something I would like to see in a future edition, I would like to see more of the positives of what we are defending. We as Christians have largely been seen as taking a negative side in the marriage debate. We need to make sure we present equally a very positive case. I would like to see more writing encouraging teenagers on the goodness of the male-female relationship and how it works in marriage, which would certainly include the grandeur and wonder of a sexual relationship, but also the way male and female can build themselves up to holiness in a life of joy. There is some of this when Gilson says every kiss with his wife is something big, but I would like to see more.

Still, this is a book I wish every Christian parent of teenagers would buy. Actually, change that. Every Christian who wants to know how to address homosexuality period whether you have teenagers or not should read this. You are coming across the soundbites just as much as they are. You too need this. Don’t avoid buying this book just because you don’t have teenagers. Buy it because you are a Christian in a world that needs the answers.

In Christ,
Nick Peters


Book Plunge: The Fate of the Apostles

What do I think of Sean McDowell’s book published by Routledge? Let’s dive into the Deeper Waters and find out.

“No one would die for a lie!”

So begins an apologetic for the resurrection. The apostles were all willing to die. (Most leave out John, the son of Zebedee, thinking he died in exile) Why would they all die for what they knew to be false? Now let’s state something at the start. The apostles would die for what they had firsthand knowledge of. Martyrdoms today would not make the same statement, even all Christian matryrdoms. All we can conclude is that they really think that their belief is true.

Still, could we be using this claim too flippantly? There is a great danger that when we make this claim someone could say “Okay. Prove it.” Then, we are caught in a bind. After all, what are our sources? Is this a legend that we have heard and just repeated without studying it? For too many of us, the latter part is definitely true.

This book is McDowell’s Ph.D. dissertation on the topic. In it, he looks at the accounts that come after the apostles to see what we can demonstrate. I find it interesting that McDowell doesn’t just go with the party line. There are some cases that frankly, we don’t really have the evidence for that we’d like. Some are incredibly strong and we could say easily that the persons were martyred for their faith. Others are not so clear.

McDowell also seeks to get the sources closes to what he calls living memory of the events. This is a time frame of about 200 years or so. After that, matters get less reliable. He also looks at each in terms of historical probability indicating many times where a belief in something is possible.

This is also a fascinating look at church history as you get to see wondrous stories and how they were told. You’ll probably read about writings that you had no idea even existed. Some aspects will leave a lot to wonder about, such as the idea of Thomas making it all the way to India. You can get historical tidbits from that about the relationship of the Roman Empire to India.

In the end, McDowell states that for all of the apostles, we don’t have clear accounts of martyrdom. They are still possible, but we just don’t have the evidence that we would like to have. I find this to be a wonderful statement to make seeing as no one can look at this and say McDowell just got the conclusions he wanted to get. No doubt, he would have loved to have found clear martyrdom accounts of all the apostles, but they just weren’t there.

I do have one contention about how this could be used. At times, McDowell points to Biblical statements about what the apostles saw and what they were told. These work fine for a person who accepts Biblical authority. For someone who doesn’t, appeals to these passages could be seen as spurious. (Skeptics would not accept the Great Commission account for instance.) Apologists wanting to use such an argument will need to be careful about how much they rely on the Bible for these points.

Still, McDowell’s book is an enjoyable read. Most sections on an apostle are brief and can be read in a one-time sitting. If you want to read about a particular apostle, it is not necessary that you read the other chapters. If all you care about is Matthew, just go to the Matthew chapter. Hopefully further research will come along to expand McDowell’s findings.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Messages With A Meaning

What do I think about this book published by Bookstand Publishing? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I was given a copy of this book on Kindle by the author wanting me to give an honest review. The book is supposed to consist of several condensed sermons so that a person can have a regular reading. I opened it the first night hoping to find some good exposition on Biblical doctrine that would lead to holy living.

Well the first night was a disappointment. I see a typo here and there and I don’t really see any exposition or wrestling with doctrinal issues. Maybe the next night will be better.

Or it won’t….

I started coming each night with the hopes that this night would be different, but no. Reading seemed more like a task I had to pull myself through than a joyous event and I would happily finish and skip over to my C.S. Lewis and G.K. Chesterton devotionals. I did not find things that would make me think or drive me to holiness more. I instead more often found just simple platitudes that may or may not be helpful but could have been found on a fortune cookie.

Many times in fact, the messages seemed self-serving. You would have a message given about what the congregation should do for a pastor such as taking him out for a meal regularly. It gave me the impression that the writer wanted to make sure the congregation knew what a hard life he was living and wanted everyone to donate to him. I would hope he’s not like that, but it’s an impression one can easily get.

Many sermons would say nothing about Jesus and would not have the Bible in them and would not have any doctrine. In fact, I can’t think of doctrine in any of the sermons as I look back really. It was a lot of the spiritual pablum that I think has been guilty for killing the church and making us be looking at what Christianity does for us on the level of application instead of drawing us into the wonder of God.

In fact, a problematic aspect is a few times I read the passage about “Touch not my anointed” as applied to the pastor. Well sorry pastor, but unless God specifically called you out for a specific purpose and this by more than just a feeling and experience you or someone else had, you’re not as anointed as you think you are. Now sure, in 2 John 2, we all have an anointing, but too many pastors think they have a “call to preach” and should be exempt from criticism. (Sadly, they also think they should be exempt from study and doing hard things like going to Seminary) This produces shoddy pastors who don’t know how to preach and unfortunately the innocents out in the pews are victims of these people who really just have a big ego for the most part.

The whole idea of “Touch Not My Anointed” comes from the Old Testament and the first one mentioned as anointed in that way is King Saul. Wait. You mean the King Saul that was jealous of David and spent his country’s resources trying to kill him? That very one. David once told Saul he would not touch him because he was the Lord’s anointed and if you see the passage, that is when David had the chance each time to kill Saul and refused. After saying that, he would roundly criticize Saul.

So friends, if you’re not trying to kill your pastor (Or physically harm him in any way) you’re good. You are allowed to criticize your pastor. If your pastor can’t take any criticism whatsoever, then he needs to step down and give the office to someone who is more worthy.

I have to say then I was tremendously disappointed by what I read here. I saw pablum filled with typos all throughout. I did not see anything that challenged me or made me want to grow in my faith all the more. These are the kinds of sermons that would leave me wondering more what I was going to have for lunch after church or what I might watch on TV when I got home instead of thinking about the things of God.

Save your money and go for the Lewis or Chesterton devotionals. They work far better.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: The Homeric Epics and the Gospel of Mark

What do I think of Dennis MacDonald’s book by Yale University Press? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

It’s hard to really know how to describe a book like this. Reading MacDonald’s book is like reading a prime example of parallelomania. Of course, we can’t doubt that mimesis was used in ancient literature. This is the process of imitating another work in your own writing. We still use this today when we do imitation as well to an extent.

MacDonald’s thesis is that in reading the Gospel of Mark, one can see traces of the Homeric classics being copied. Unfortunately, this is done with a lot of hopscotch as you will take this one part here and then jump over to this other part way over here and then jump back to this other part long long before that. My thinking is if someone did this consistently, they could show that this happens with any ancient work. In fact, I would be quite interested in knowing if anyone has done this.

Something that should give us pause about this is that for nearly two thousand years, no one noticed this but MacDonald. Now that doesn’t mean it’s false of course, but it does mean view with suspicion. After all, these people were even more seeped in the ancient classics than we are. Some of them wrote commentaries on these classics and yet none of them saw any mimesis taking place.

We could also ask what difference it would make. Suppose Mark told his story in the style of Homer. Okay. And? Does that make it false? Could not Mark have taken a true story and used language that he thought was reminiscent of the Homeric Epics? This kind of idea never seems to occur to MacDonald.

Unfortunately, MacDonald often forgets that if there was any place where imitation would take place, Mark already had a ready one. It was the Old Testament. In fact, not only did it happen, we should expect that. If Jesus is showing that He is the fulfillment of the Old Testament covenant YHWH made with His people, then we should expect He will not only imitate the older prophets, but He will essentially one-up them. This He does repeatedly.

Moses gave the Law in the Old Testament. Jesus gives it in the Sermon on the Mount. Elisha feeds 100 with a small amount of food. Jesus feeds 4,000 and 5,000 with a small amount of food. Jonah calms the storm by having himself thrown into it. Jesus calms it by word alone. This is why Jesus can make statements like “One greater than David is here.”

Still, as I said earlier, we could grant MacDonald his thesis and say this is no problem. It’s not as if imitation demonstrates that there is falsity. That needs to take place on other grounds. Those who are too quick to jump to MacDonald don’t seem to realize this.

Despite that, the similarities are often very much strained. Some of them are so commonplace (Jesus getting into a boat with His disciples) that they are really nothing. Others are such a stretch you wonder how MacDonald got to them. Jesus cleaning out the temple in the Gospels is to mirror Odysseus clearing the suitors out of his house?

MacDonald also writes about the Sons of Thunder and how James and John are pictures of the divine twins. Why not call them the Sons of the Thunderer then instead of Thunder? MacDonald sees this even in Acts when a ship is said to have the sign of Castor and Pollux and that this is the only time such a thing is mentioned of a ship. This sounds interesting until you realize that ships aren’t mentioned that much in the account. Are we to think Luke was trying to make a far distant tie to this pagan theme?

MacDonald also has themes in there like clothes that are incredibly white are meant to be a mirror to the Transfiguration or that the healing of Legion is meant to be a mirror to the defeat of a Cyclops. One of the best ways to see how bad the arguments are overall is simply to read the book for yourself. Many times you’ll be left scratching your head wondering what on Earth MacDonald is seeing that is such a clear parallel. If Jesus does something that Odysseus did that’s really similar, it’s a parallel. If Jesus does the exact opposite, it’s a parallel. What doesn’t count then?

It’s a wonder to me that people like Carrier and others place so much stock in this. Where there are parallels, they are not really remarkable but are commonplace and don’t require borrowing from Homer. Where there aren’t, MacDonald will strain and strain at anything to get this to work. Overall, it’s entirely unconvincing because of this.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

What Will You Give?

How much will you give for what you want? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

My wife is trying to diet and get in shape right now. She’s on Weight Watchers and frankly, she’s doing pretty awesome right now and learning to control herself. We also go to support groups for her. I am one who is underweight and I can’t relate to being obsessed with food, but I do go anyway to be her mutual support.

Last night, I was thinking about the concept of how these programs work if you do them. It’s all about how much you’re willing to give. It’s a simple concept and it’s one we know from our every day experience, but it hits at something true. How much you succeed in your life will depend on how much you are willing to give and you will get better at whatever you wind up giving the most to.

Let’s suppose you want to be a good baseball player. You have a dream of playing in the major leagues someday. What do you do? Well you sit and watch your favorite team play all day and you read a lot of books about baseball, but you never go out and practice. You never go and work out and build up your body so that you yourself can play baseball. You will wind up knowing a lot about baseball, but you’ve never given yourself to playing the sport. You will not make it to the majors.

When I was in Bible College, I was a commuter. Now I’ve always been good at video games, but when I went to visit some guys on campus, I got pretty good competition at the original Super Smash Bros. (That’s how long ago it was) Why is it that that was working out that way that I wasn’t doing as good as I thought I would? Because these guys all lived together and no doubt got together regularly and played and so they had got better at it.

If you want to do anything in life, you will have to give and you will only get out what you give. This post started talking about dieting. If you say you are trying to lose weight, but you never want to exercise and you want to eat whatever you want without limits, you will never lose it. You might really want to, but without effort, nothing will happen. Ultimately, someone has to decide that they want health more than they want food.

If you want to learn another language, you are going to have to sit down and spend some time studying the language. Most of us are not going to be savants that learn by osmosis. Even if you do have a natural capacity for learning, you still have to do some work.

I have had my father-in-law Mike Licona be on my show three times at this point. At the start of one show, I wanted to point out something about us. Mike was not an academic in school and he would struggle just to make passing grades. I was the kind of student who went to school, came home and played video games all day long, and got A’s. Yet you know what? When it comes to apologetics, both of us have to give and both of us have to study. Right now, Mike can easily run circles around me. If I ever want to get to the point where he is, I have to work.

This will also apply in your marriage as well or any other relationship. Too often in marriage we ask about what our spouse will give us. We rarely ask about what we will give them. How many men are saying “I don’t get enough sex in marriage!” Well how about asking what you’re giving? Frankly guys, a lot of times you might not be getting sex because I hate to say it, you’re an insensitive jerk to your wife. Have you considered doing things like, I don’t know, helping out around the house, taking care of the kids, investing time in your relationship with your wife?

Now you women, don’t think you’re getting off of the hook. Some of you are asking the opposite question. “When is that lazy bum going to help me with this housework?” You see, too often in marriage, men and women really have the same attitude. “If they don’t do what I want, I won’t do what they want.” Well that’s just petty. There are a number of women who will advise you even that if you want to have your husband do more around the house, seduce him. Really seduce him. Let your husband know that you want him and watch and see how he changes.

Here’s a possibility the wife and husband might be dreading. “What if I give to them and they still don’t treat me right?” That’s hard, but you know what? You’ve done the right thing. There’s no guarantee someone will respond favorably even if you do the right thing. Jesus’s audience sure didn’t respond favorably to His message and He never did anything wrong. You do the right thing anyway and you pray to God for the well-being of your spouse. When you stand before God, you can do so knowing you did the right thing. Besides, if you’re doing the right thing just to get what you want out of the deal, are you really doing the right thing? Husbands shouldn’t give time and help to their wives to get sex. Wives should not give sex to get something they want from their husbands. Of course, if your motives aren’t pure, I recommend you still do the right thing anyway and ask God to help you with your motives.

What about children? You will have a better relationship with your children the more you give. Note also please that this giving does not mean you buy everything in the world that they want. Of course, there’s a time and place for material gifts in any relationship, but when you’re gone one day, your kids won’t be saying “I really wish they’d had bought me that X-Box I wanted.” They will want that time. They will want to know you were interested in what they were interested in. Maybe not to the same extent, but you can talk to them about it.

If you want to be good at apologetics, you will have to give. If you want a good relationship and understanding of God, you will have to give. You will have to do the work yourself. The more you do it, the better you will get.

Also, keep in mind there is no need to fear if God will give or not to you. God is the greatest and most generous giver. He may not give you what you want, but He will give you that which is for your good if you are one who loves Him. Give your all to God and watch and see what happens.

So today, I ask, what are you willing to give? If you are not willing to give, do you really want something? There are no shortcuts in this. Just do the right thing. Give.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Once Again, Does Jerry Coyne Have A Clue?

Is mythicism at all viable? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Wednesday, I wrote some on Jerry Coyne, an evolutionary biologist, which means he’s naturally capable of being an authority on the historical Jesus. Today, I’d like to look at more of his *cough* arguments *cough* for their not being a historical Jesus. Naturally, I expect to find the same kind of rank nonsense that I find any time I engage with mythicists. As I have said before, mythicism is a conspiracy theory for atheists.

I have to say that I’m coming down on the “mythicist” side, simply because I don’t see any convincing historical records for a Jesus person. Everything written about him was decades after his death, and, as far as I can see, there is no contemporaneous record of a Jesus-person’s existence (what “records” exist have been debunked as forgeries). Yet there should have been some evidence, especially if Jesus had done what the Bible said. But even if he was simply an apocalyptic preacher, as Ehrman insists, there should have been at least a few contemporaneous records. Based on their complete absence, I am for the time being simply a Jesus agnostic. But I don’t pretend to be a scholar in this area, or even to have read a lot of the relevant literature. I haven’t even read Richard Carrier’s new book promoting the mythicist interpretation, though I will.

So let’s see what we have here. We have a claim such as that contemporary records have been debunked as forgeries. This is quite problematic since first off, let’s suppose he’s talking about the Pauline epistles. Seven of those are accepted universally as Pauline. If he’s talking about the Gospels, then how can they be forgeries since the body of the work doesn’t say who wrote the work itself? If he means Tacitus and Josephus and others, this would be news to the scholarly community. So what is he talking about? We don’t know, but Coyne’s followers who are just as historically illiterate as he is will eat this up.

Coyne also says there should be some record. Well why? Jesus was a guy who would have been born in a low ranking town like Nazareth who never went to battle, never wrote a book, never ran for office, etc. and died by crucifixion, the most shameful way to die. As I have said earlier, by these standards, Jesus is not worth talking about. What amazes me is not how few people mentioned Jesus. What amazes me is that anyone at all did.

Normally, we compare like with like, but let’s compare Jesus with someone else. How about Hannibal? Here’s a guy who was the leader of the greatest enemy Rome had who nearly conquered the empire by trouncing over every argument sent his way. This is a man worth talking about! Everyone would have been talking about him. So what do we have with contemporary records?

Zip. Nadda. Not a thing. In fact, let’s take Coyne’s statement and turn it around.

Everything written about him was decades after his death, and, as far as I can see, there is no contemporaneous record of a Hannibal-person’s existence.

This is exactly the same and yet there is no great debate that Hannibal existed. We could say likewise of other figures like Queen Boudica and Arminius who both greatly resisted the Roman empire. These people weren’t mentioned by contemporaries and were written about decades later, but they were definitely real. Yet this little preacher who never traveled the Roman Empire and died by crucifixion? Everyone should have mentioned Him!

Coyne can talk about how he doesn’t pretend to be a scholar, but of course he is. He’s the one who has written a book about Faith vs. Fact. (Which is simply awful. That’s not just me saying that. Look at what Edward Feser had to say.) Coyne also says he hasn’t read Carrier’s book. Well I can assure him that I have, and I find it also just as lacking but hey, at least I do read the scholarship that disagrees with me.

Because of the paucity of evidence, we can expect this question to keep coming up. And so it’s surfaced once again, in a PuffHo piece by Nigel Barber.

We can see it coming up the same way we see debates on evolution taking place. At least there are more Ph.D.s in the field who question evolution than there are those in the field who question Jesus’s existence, yet Coyne would not for a moment think there is a serious debate as to if evolution is true or not. I’m also not saying evolution is true or not true. I really don’t care. I just know that Coyne is not talking about a debate that is taking place in the academy. It’s only taking place on the internet where sadly most anyone can show up and be taken seriously because they have an opinion.

Barber, who has a Ph.D. in biopsychology and a website at Psychology Today (“The Human Beast”), has also written six books.  And in the Sept. 25 edition (is that the right word?) of PuffHo, he takes up the question of the historicity of Jesus. His piece, “If Jesus never existed, religion may be fiction,” briefly lays out the mythicist case. Of course religion itself is nota fiction, but what Barber means is that Christianity’s empirical support, like that of Scientology or Mormonism, may well rest on a person or events that simply didn’t exist.

Ah yes. A Ph.D. in biopsychology and has written six books. Well that means he’s obviously qualified to write on the topic. I suppose then that Coyne would have no problem with N.T. Wright being seen as an authority on evolution. Again, don’t expect Coyne to go with the scholars here. There’s a good reason for that. He’s not really going to find them.

Of course, Barber has a “devastating” argument from Paulkovich. Actually, the argument is about as devastating as Ken Ham would be to Coyne, but oh well. He’s written an article so surely he’s an authority.

Various historical scholars attempted to authenticate Jesus in the historical record, particularly in the work of Jesus-era writers. Michael Paulkovich revived this project as summarized in the current issue of Free Inquiry.

Paulkovich found an astonishing absence of evidence for the existence of Jesus in history. “Historian Flavius Josephus published his Jewish Wars circa 95 CE. He had lived in Japhia, one mile from Nazareth – yet Josephus seems unaware of both Nazareth and Jesus.” He is at pains to discredit interpolations in this work that “made him appear to write of Jesus when he did not.” Most religious historians take a more nuanced view agreeing that Christian scholars added their own pieces much later but maintaining that the historical reference to Jesus was present in the original. Yet, a fudged text is not compelling evidence for anything.

Paulkovich consulted no fewer than 126 historians (including Josephus) who lived in the period and ought to have been aware of Jesus if he had existed and performed the miracles that supposedly drew a great deal of popular attention. Of the 126 writers who should have written about Jesus, not a single one did so (if one accepts Paulkovich’s view that the Jesus references in Josephus are interpolated).

Paulkovich concludes:

“When I consider those 126 writers, all of whom should have heard of Jesus but did not – and Paul and Marcion and Athenagoras and Matthew with a tetralogy of opposing Christs, the silence from Qumram and Nazareth and Bethlehem, conflicting Bible stories, and so many other mysteries and omissions – I must conclude that Christ is a mythical character.”

He also considers striking similarities of Jesus to other God-sons such as Mithra, Sandan, Attis, and Horus. Christianity has its own imitator. Mormonism was heavily influenced by the Bible from which founder Joseph Smith borrowed liberally.

On the surface, this looks convincing to a lot of people, but again, it ignores the relevant factors that this is common for people of the time and that Jesus was not worth talking about. But then, to do a Billy Mays impersonation, but wait, there’s more. Paulkovich has had his own number of critics out there.

Let’s start with a look by Candida Moss and Joel Baden who last I checked are not in the tank for evangelical Christianity. They point out numerous problems with the list. By the way Coyne, if you see this, you should know about this:

Let’s get one thing straight: There is nigh universal consensus among biblical scholars—the authentic ones, anyway—that Jesus was, in fact, a real guy. They argue over the details, of course, as scholars are wont to do, but they’re pretty much all on the same page that Jesus walked the earth (if not the Sea of Galilee) in the 1st century CE.

So as I said, the debate going on is not in the academy any more than young-earth creationism and geocentrism are seriously debated in the academy. Moss and Baden go through the list after saying this and note that some figures lived and wrote before Jesus was even born so big shock that they didn’t mention him. Some were philosophers and writers in other areas like Epictetus and Martial who didn’t write much about current events. Some were doctors who would not likely write about Jesus either.

In fact, some people in the list aren’t even writers, but Paulkovich includes them. When the writers are done showing the weaknesses of the list, they go a step further. They show that by his own argument, Paulkovich doesn’t exist since no historians of our age have ever mentioned him before in their writings. He also hasn’t written anything biographical about himself and apparently doesn’t even have a Twitter. (At least at the time of writing that piece) Maybe we should be skeptical that Paulkovich exists.

There are atheists who have critiqued this and even those sympathetic to mythicism. The linked to article here ends with

As an atheist, I long for a much better class of atheists, atheists writing about history who are not historically illiterate.

There is no doubt Jerry Coyne would be included in that. In fact, the above author wrote an open letter that looks at this even further. Jerry Coyne no doubt avoided any serious investigation and just saw that it argued against Christianity and, well, it must be true! It’s as if atheists on the internet have a flowchart they look at and when they see a claim they ask “Does it argue against Christianity?” If so, it is true. If not, it could be true or false, but if it makes Christianity look good, it’s obviously bogus.

Of course, we doubt that Coyne has done any real research beyond reading something on the internet, but hey, if he wants to lower the intellectual standards of his own followers, let him. If he wants people to accept evolution as true, he’s not doing any favors by accepting something that is seen as crank nonsense by scholars in the field. Those of us who read the scholarly literature can only look at Coyne and think he is someone who is entirely gullible with what he will believe. Of course, that doesn’t mean evolution is false, but it sure means we have to question Coyne’s ability to evaluate evidence.

Barber goes on to talk about how the origin of Mormonism was a sham promulgated by a con man (an interpretation I accept). Yet even in that case there’s better evidence than we have for Jesus, for the Book of Mormon opens with two statements from eleven witnesses—people who were contemporaries of Joseph Smith—who swore that they saw the golden plates that became the Book of Mormon. Those people are historical figures who can be tracked down, and so the evidence for the existence of the plates is stronger than for the existence of a historical Jesus.

Ah Jerry. You’re so funny. Like I said last time, all you needed to do was talk to some experts on Mormonism about this. I asked Rob Bowman about this on my own podcast. Coyne will not mention facts such as the supposed plates were kept under wraps at Smith’s own home and his own wife wasn’t allowed to look underneath the covers to see them or move them or that Smith would only show the plates to someone if they said they had the “eyes of faith” and even then it’s questionable if they physically saw them. But hey, details. Who needs them?

Barber finishes by describing how credulous people have started sects based on phony gurus and leaders, and, indeed, how an Indian film director decided to create his own religion by pretending he was a guru.  And of course we all know how L. Ron Hubbard started Scientology based on a bunch of science-fiction writings and a phony theology involving Xenu, volcanoes, and thetans. How people can buy that stuff—and there’s a lot of them—is beyond me. But of course you don’t get to learn the theology of Scientology until you’ve spent thousands of dollars, and so are inclined to accept it (bogus as it is) because of the “sunk-costs fallacy.”

The irony here is incredibly thick. Yes. Credulous people have bought into a lot of goofy ideas. They’ve also bought into the goofy idea that Jesus never even existed. Hint. If you’re going to talk about people being credulous for buying into stupid ideas, don’t be endorsing Jesus mythicism on your own blog while admitting you haven’t read the scholarly evidence. Coyne should have no basis now for going after young-earth creationists.

At any rate, if there is no contemporaneous record of Jesus, there should have been, how seriously should we take his historical existence? I am not inclined to accept the Bible as convincing evidence for a historical Jesus.

And if there is no contemporaneous record of Hannibal? Of Queen Boudica? Of Arminius? Be consistent. Many of the lives of Plutarch are considered reliable even centuries later. Richard Carrier mentioned earlier says all the historians of the time mention Caesar crossing the Rubicon, not stating that these historians of the time wrote at least a century later.

Is there anyone in history with so little contemporaneous attestation who is nevertheless seen by millions as having really existed? There is of course Socrates, but of course we have a historical figure, Plato, who attests to his existence. Yet even that is overlain with a patina of mythicism, and I don’t think most scholars would say that Socrates existed with the certainty that Christians (or even atheists like Bart Ehrman) would say that Jesus existed. And there’s no religion based on the historical existence of Socrates. As for Shakespeare, well, we have his signature and a fair amount of contemporaneous evidence that he really did exist; we just don’t know for sure that he wrote those plays (absence of evidence).

Yes. Boudica. Hannibal. Arminius. The list could go on. All Coyne needed to do was just send an email to a professor of ancient history. It would be nice if someone at the University of Chicago where Coyne teaches who teaches ancient history could go and set Coyne straight. He’s not doing any favors to your university right now.

At the end, I do not have any questions about Jesus’s existence. I stand in agreement with the scholars in the field today that he definitely walked. I have a lot of questions about the evidence that Jerry Coyne is a serious thinker in any sense of the word.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Deeper Waters Podcast 5/21/2016: Chadwick Thornhill

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

There is an old saying that says “How odd of God to choose the Jews.” The response was “But odder still are those who reject whom God chose.” The Jews are often said to be the chosen people, but what does it mean to be the chosen people? When the Bible talks about the elect of God, what exactly is it talking about? Are we who are Christians today part of the chosen people and if so, does that mean that we have replaced Jews?

These are questions that can be debated and are debated and that have a history behind them. In Second Temple Judaism, there was often debate about who the chosen people were and what it takes to be recognized as one of them. In order to discuss a question like this, I figured it would be good to bring on a scholar who has written on this topic well. I figured the author of the book The Chosen People would suffice.

Chadwick Thornhill

Dr. A. Chadwick Thornhill is the Chair of Theological Studies and an Assistant Professor of Apologetics and Biblical Studies for the Liberty University School of Divinity. He completed his BS from Liberty University, and his MAR, MDiv, and PhD from Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary. He is the author of “The Chosen People: Election, Paul and Second Temple Judaism” (IVP, 2015) and “Greek for Everyone: Introductory Greek for Bible Study and Application” (Baker, September 2016), as well as a number of articles and essays.

Dr. Thornhill and I will be discussing the data from the time period of Second Temple Judaism that talk about the chosen people. We will look at how Jews saw themselves and how some groups of Jews saw other groups of Jews. We will also see how this relates to various views on salvation and covenant today. How did Jews view being in the covenant? How did they know that they were part of the covenant? Does this have any impact on ideas like the New Perspective on Paul?

What does it mean then when Jesus shows up on the scene? How did Jesus interact with ideas of the chosen people? We know that in the Olivet Discourse he did speak about days being shortened for the days of the elect. What would this mean when we get to the Apostle Paul? Can this shed any light on what he was talking about when we get to Romans 11? How does the life of Jesus and the writing of Paul fit into the idea of a covenant in the thought of Second Temple Judaism?

I’m looking forward to this show. I’ve had some interactions with Thornhill and he’s a very interesting fellow and I think you’re going to enjoy hearing him speak on this topic. It will also be good to see how this understanding of this topic deepens our Biblical understand and improves our apologetic witness. Be listening to the show when it comes and do consider going to ITunes and writing a positive review.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

It’s Time To Ponder Whether Jerry Coyne Knows What He’s Talking About

Can a biologist really give us the answers on questions of ancient history? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

We’ve had some fun on here before reviewing the “work” of Jerry Coyne and yet, he has provided even more fodder for us. In a recent writing, he has come down on the side of the idea that Jesus never even existed. Of course, if he holds to that, there’s no longer really any basis for his making fun of young-earth creationists (Of which I am not one) for holding a position that goes so much against the scientific consensus. Still, let’s look at what he says:

I’m also surprised at how certain many biblical scholars are that Jesus existed (Bart Ehrman, to give a prominent example).

Why be surprised? Historians who know how to do history look at the data and conclude that the best explanation for what we have is that a historical Jesus once walked this Earth. The debate is not over if He existed, but the debate is over what He did and said in His life. Of course, it’s not a shock to hear Bart Ehrman is the first mentioned. I find that if you ask most atheists, the only scholars they seem to know of in the area of Biblical studies are Bart Ehrman, Robert Price, and Richard Carrier. (The last one is the be all and end all in historical studies to most internet atheists. Carrier has spoken. The case is closed.)

Yet although I am the first to admit that I have no formal training in Jesusology, I think I’ve read enough to know that there is no credible extra-Biblical evidence for Jesus’s existence, and that arguments can be made that Jesus was a purely mythological figure, perhaps derived from earlier such figures, who gradually attained “facthood.” As a scientist, I’ll say that I don’t regard the evidence that Jesus was a real person as particularly strong—certainly not strong enough to draw nearly all biblical scholars to that view. It’s almost as if adopting mythicism brands you as an overly strident atheist, one lacking “respect” for religion. There’s an onus against mythicism that can’t be explained by the strength of evidence against that view.

Jesusology. That’s cute. We can suspect that when Coyne says he’s read enough that means “I read a book by Richard Carrier and his blog posts and that settled it for me.” We would very much like to see him try to make a historical argument some time and see if he can make one that can garner the attention of even liberal and atheistic New Testament scholars. His claim that there is no extra-biblical evidence is in fact, entirely bogus, but we will get to that more as we go through.

Towards the end, you could deal with this simply by replacing the word mythicism with young-earth creationism and religion with science. Coyne should see that his position is seen as ridiculous to scholars for a reason. It is ridiculous. It is a conspiracy theory for atheists.

Probably nobody reading this post thinks that Jesus was the miracle-working son of God, and that pretty much disposes of his importance for Christianity. In the end, I’m most surprised at how much rancor is involved in these arguments, especially by the pro-Jesus side, even when that side readily admits that Jesus was not the son of God. (I can understand, of course, why Christians want to argue that Jesus was a real person.)

Well no. Some people reading this post do hold that Jesus is that, but that’s because many of us regularly read what disagrees with us. Most of us who are making the arguments against mythicism have read many books by the mythicists themselves. Furthermore, to say that if Jesus is not the miracle working Son of God then His importance to Christianity is disposed is quite amusing. Christianity is here regardless and it was there regardless and we should seek to know what role Jesus played in it even if the Biblical one is not accurate.

At this Coyne recommends we read the following article. The writer, Brian Bethune, relies heavily on Bart Ehrman and his latest work on memory, which I have responded to already here. Unfortunately, I find Ehrman’s case incredibly lacking as have scholars in the field. Bethune also too quickly dispatches group memory not realizing how it works, especially when he keeps making analogies of a telephone type game.

The article goes on to say that:

Yet Pilate is in Mark as the agent of Jesus’s crucifixion, from which he spread to the other Gospels, and also in the annals of the Roman historian Tacitus and writings by his Jewish counterpart, Josephus. Those objective, non-Christian references make Pilate as sure a thing as ancient historical evidence has to offer, unless—as has been persuasively argued by numerous scholars, including historian Richard Carrier in his recent On the Historicity of Jesus: Why We Might Have Reason For Doubt—both brief passages are interpolations, later forgeries made by zealous Christians.

Yes. Numerous scholars have argued this. Numerous ones like….

Well, there’s Carrier…

And there’s….

Well we’d really like to know!

Now to be sure, most scholars do agree that there is SOME interpolation in Josephus by Christians, but they do not say that the whole is an interpolation. There is a historical core. The second passage mentioning Jesus is even more attested and is not what a Christian would interpolate. A Christian would not write “the so-called Christ.”

As for Tacitus, we’re on even firmer grounds. I do not know of any other scholar who says this is an interpolation. Also, this is not the kind of statement a Christian would interpolate. A Christian would have Jesus spoken of in far more glowing terms than this and would not risk it being considered a mischievous superstition.

But hey, Carrier has spoken. The case is closed.

Now we could talk about the apostle Paul in Bethune’s article. What does he say?

That the Gospels provide only debatable evidence for historians has long obscured the fact that the bulk of the New Testament, its epistles, provide none at all. The seven genuine letters of St. Paul, older than the oldest Gospel and written by the single most important missionary in Christian history, add up to about 20,000 words. The letters mention Jesus, by name or title, over 300 times, but none of them say anything about his life; nothing about his ministry, his trial, his miracles, his sufferings. Paul never uses an example from Jesus’s sayings or deeds to illustrate a point or add gravitas to his advice—and the epistles are all about how to establish, govern and adjudicate disputes within Christianity’s nascent churches. And, despite knowing the apostles Peter, James and John, he never settles a dispute by saying, “Peter, who was there at the time, told me Jesus said this . . . ” Nor, by the evidence of his correspondence, did any faraway Christian ever ask Paul about Jesus’s life. Everything the Apostle claims to know about Jesus comes from his reading of the hidden messages in Old Testament passages and by direct revelation, the latter being the very thing that proves its worth, as he told the Galatians.

Carrier’s book on the case for Christ as a mythical construct rather than an actual human being is something of a breakthrough on the mythicist front. He gives credit to earlier writers, especially Canadian Earl Doherty, but Carrier’s rigorously argued discussion—made all the more compelling for the way it bends over backwards to give the historicist case an even chance—is the first peer-reviewed historical work on mythicism. He’s relatively restrained in his summation of the absences in Paul’s letters. “That’s all simply bizarre. And bizarre means unexpected, which means infrequent, which means improbable.” Historicists have no real response to it. Ehrman simply says, “It’s hard to know what to make of Paul’s non-interest; perhaps he just doesn’t care about Jesus before his resurrection.” Other historians extend that lack-of-curiosity explanation to early Christians in general, which is not only contrary to the usual pattern of human nature, but seems to condemn the Gospels as fiction: if Christians couldn’t have cared less about the details of Jesus’s life and ministry, they wouldn’t have preserved them, and the evangelists would have been forced to make up everything.

No. Historicists do have a response to it. The response is there was no need to mention these events. What benefit would they do? If you’re writing about how to handle meat offered to idols, how does it help to know that Jesus worked miracles? In a high-context society, the background knowledge was assumed and communication was meant to fill in the details that weren’t known. In fact, myself and some of my friends have made a whole joke of this kind of claim with the idea that if Paul believed in the virgin birth, surely he would have mentioned it. Well no. I have only heard a few sermons that taught about the virgin birth and I am convinced the preachers I heard all believed in it. Their not mentioning it does no mean they don’t affirm it. To show the humor of this, we regularly interjected in random conversations (And still do) that we affirm the virgin birth. (Which by the way, I do affirm.)

In fact, one aspect that is amusing is this whole article is meant to show us that memory is not reliable and what is one point they have in there? They have Ehrman’s memory of what happened when he was in school talking to a professor. This is supposed to be accepted at face value even though by Ehrman’s criteria, it should be rife with suspicion. The author himself accepts it and then goes on to tell us that memory can’t be trusted.

Coyne goes on to say that

What that further means is that over the four or five decades spanning the reported date of Jesus’s death and the first written scriptural account of his deeds (the Gospel of Mark) the Story of Jesus could involve not just severe distortion, but even fabrication.

Certainly it could have, but that does not mean that it did. Both sides have a burden to prove, but let’s suppose it did. Are we to think that within the timeframe when there could be eyewitnesses and people who knew eyewitnesses that the entire story would be overturned immediately and people would suddenly hold to a historical Jesus even though there was no memory of him anywhere by anyone? This was all tied in to a particular place and time with particular people. It is one thing to say a legend rises up quickly. It is another to say the legend totally supplants the real historical truth that quickly.

Bethune then argues that the one “solid” fact buttressing Jesus’s existence—his execution under Pontius Pilate, a historical figure—is likely based on post-Biblical fabrication, since many early Christians didn’t accept Pilate as executioner or even that Jesus died around the time of his reign. As Bethune notes, “Snap that slender reed and the scaffolding that supports the Jesus of history—the man who preached the Sermon on the Mount and is an inspiration to millions who do not accept the divine Christ—is wobbling badly.”

Many early Christians? Who were these many early Christians? It would be nice if we knew that. Unfortunately, we don’t. If he wants to say Paul never explicitly mentions that, well why should he? Silence does not equal ignorance. If all we had was the writing of Tacitus on this, we would in fact have enough to believe a man named Jesus was crucified under Pontius Pilate.

Bethune draws heavily from the work of Richard Carrier, a prominent mythicist. I’ve read quite a bit of that and find it heavy weather, but in the end agree with Carrier that mythicism appears to be rejected by Biblical scholars for mere psychological reasons. Christianity is a bedrock of Western society, so even if we doubt the divinity of Jesus, can’t we just make everyone happy by agreeing that the New Testament is based on a real person? What do we have to lose?

Because when you don’t have an argument against your opponent, psychoanalysis works well. Scholars have pored over every word of the New Testament with great detail and yet we’re supposed to believe they just gave in on this one to Christians? Seriously? There’s a reason Carrier and other mythicists are not taken seriously in scholarship. It’s because their case is weak.

But I’m not willing to do that—not until there’s harder evidence. And I’m still puzzled why Bart Ehrman, who goes even farther in demolishing the mythology of Jesus in his new book, remains obdurate about the fact that such a man existed. Remember that eleven historical Americans signed statements at the beginning of the Book of Mormon testifying that they either saw the Angel Moroni point out the golden plates that became the Book, or saw the plates themselves. Yet nearly all of us reject that signed, dated, eyewitness testimony as total fabrication. Why are we so unwilling to take a similar stand about Jesus?

Oooh look. Mormonism! Okay. Once again Coyne, many of us know about this story. In fact, what I did was I talked with someone who seriously has investigated Mormonism on this question. Maybe you should have done the same. There’s more to good research than doing what you did, just citing Wikipedia. Last I saw, good scientists are supposed to ask questions.

In the end, I once again conclude that there’s a reason mythicism is laughed at. We can give thanks that people like Jerry Coyne are doing all they can to lower the intellectual standards of atheists everywhere.

In Christ,
Nick Peters