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

Deeper Waters Podcast 12/5/2015: Craig Keener

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

Acts. It forms a connection between the Gospels and the Pauline epistles. It is in this book that we are introduced to the man who is the apostle to the Gentiles and we get to see how the early church spread. It’s a wealth of historical information and it has also been of great apologetic significance. We can track down many of the dates in the book of Acts and many of the places and there are claims that Luke is certainly an excellent historian. So how accurate are these claims? To discuss that, I figured I’d have someone on the show who has recently written a little bit on the book of Acts.

That is, if you consider a little bit to be a 4,000+ page commentary that is so large it fits on four volumes and the bibliography is on CD.

And the author is of course, Craig Keener. (Might I add that I was surprised to get a brief bio.)

C-head-Africa

According to his bio:

Craig S. Keener (PhD, Duke University) is F. M. and Ada Thompson Professor of Biblical Studies at Asbury Theological Seminary. He is author of seventeen books, four of which have won major awards, more than seventy academic articles, several booklets, and more than one hundred fifty popular-level articles. One of his books, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament, now in a second edition, has sold more than half a million copies. His books include commentaries on Matthew, Romans, 1-2 Corinthians, Revelation, a two-volume commentary on John and a four-volume commentary on Acts, plus a two-volume work on miracles, works about the Spirit, ethnic reconciliation, women in ministry, divorce and various other topics. (These include works published by Baker Academic, Cambridge, Eerdmans, InterVarsity and Zondervan.) Craig is also the New Testament editor for the forthcoming NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible. Craig is editor of the Bulletin for Biblical Research and the former program chair for the Institute for Biblical Research; he is coeditor with Michael Bird of the New Covenant Commentary series, and coeditor with Daniel Carroll R. of Global Voices, which includes interpretive contributions from readers from various cultures. Craig is married to Dr. MĂ©dine Moussounga Keener, who was a refugee in her home country of Congo for eighteen months. His blog site is http://www.craigkeener.com/.

Let me also say that normally, I have read the books that are talked about on the show (Yes. I read a lot), but in this case, I just could not pull myself to read through 4,000 pages, especially with my own schoolwork going on.

We’ll be talking then about the book of Acts and the information Keener learned while doing this research. (I also am wondering if Craig Keener is secretly the Flash that Allie and I watch on Tuesday nights because I can think of no other explanation for how he produces so much material.) We’ll be discussing its relevance for apologetic discussion and quite likely discussing some of the classical situations, such as what really happened in the Damascus Road case of Paul since we have three accounts that all seem to differ and what is the relationship to the book of Acts and Paul’s letters.

I hope you’ll be listening!

Book Plunge: The Chosen People

What do I think of Chadwick Thornhill’s book published by IVP? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

As an IVP reviewer who has a passion for the NT and thinks that our modern individualism so often misreads the text, I took notice when I saw a book come out about election in Second Temple Judaism. I try to avoid the Calvinism/Arminianism debate with everything I have and have surprised a lot of friends by not jumping onto the middle ground of molinism. Thornhill’s book then sounded like something right up my alley.

Thornhill writes to help us see what election would mean for Paul and what would it mean to be a Jew and how would you be included within the spectrum of Judaism. It’s often been said that it was not Judaism that existed at the time of Paul but rather Judaisms. We could compare it to many Christian denominations today. There are some who will have an incredibly wide umbrella and accept most anyone in. There are some who will make incredibly small. I’ve heard the joke many times about Saint Peter welcoming someone to heaven and having them go by a room where they’re told to be quiet and when asked why is told “Those are the (Southern Baptists, Presbyterians, Methodists, etc.) and they’re somber because they think they’re the only ones here.

This is why Thornhill goes to the Jewish writings of the time to look and see how the Jews identified themselves. What were negotiables? What were non-negotiables? What did it mean to be elect and how did one maintain one’s role in the covenant with YHWH? Many times we have in the past thought that the law was this system put on Jews that they slaved under and struggled to follow and were just hoping that they were in the grace of God, but this really isn’t the case. Jews had quite different views and while no one would really say being born a Jew was a free pass, most were not trying to find a new way of salvation. Paul himself definitely wasn’t. After all, in Philippians, he writes that with regards to the Law, he was blameless.

Thornhill’s main thesis in all of this is that election is not about individuals but about rather a group and whether one is in the group or not. Today, we could say that there is only one who is truly elect in Christianity and that is Jesus and those who are elect are those who are in Jesus. For the Jews, it would have been recognizing who is truly in Israel and who isn’t. Our debates on free will and soteriology might in fact be a surprise to Jews if they were here today. Could it be that many of them would say “God is sovereign and man has free will and we just don’t know how that works out but that’s for God to do.”?

Thornhill does not speak on the Calvinism/Arminianism issue directly, but he does give food for thought. Could it be that perhaps we will move past this debate by realizing that our focus on individualism is something that we are reading into the text itself and try to approach it more the way the ancient reader would have read it, or dare I say it, more the way the apostle Paul would have been thinking when he wrote it?

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Jesus and The Remains Of His Day

What do I think of Craig Evans’s latest book published by Hendrickson Publishers? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

At the latest ETS meeting, with a little bit of spending money my in-laws gave me as an early Christian gift, I was quite excited to go to the bookstore and while in that area, where books are sold for discount prices before the rest of the public gets them, I found Craig Evans’s newest book. Naturally, that was one that jumped immediately to the top of my list. Evans is an awesome scholar and anything that he writes is worth reading about. This book in particular is about archaeological discoveries and the impact they have on our understanding of Jesus and like his others, it does not disappoint.

This is a book that could take you about a week to finish, but it will be time well spent. The material is thoroughly researched with a plethora of footnotes. It’s also highly readable. You don’t need to be too familiar with archaeology or the Greek language to understand what’s going on. Right now, if there was one book I would recommend someone read on the topic of Jesus and archaeology, it would be this one.

Evans also starts off saying that archaeology does not prove or disprove. You cannot go to an archaeological finding and say “Therefore, Jesus rose from the dead”, but you can certainly use it as information in your case. It’s simply amazing how much out there exists in the field of Biblical archaeology and how much we can learn about the life of Jesus based on what is being dug up in the Middle East. This is something that really separates the Old and the New Testaments from so many of the other holy books out there. So what all is covered?

The first chapter is about Bethsaida and Magdala and what we can learn from these cities. Helpful in this chapter also will be the critique of the idea that synagogues did not exist in the time of Jesus, which is a growing idea on the internet, but not so much a growing idea among actual scholars in the field. Knowing about Bethsaida will also give us more information about Peter, Andrew, and Philip, which Magdala naturally gives us a little bit of information about Mary Magdalene.

Chapter 2 deals with the Jesus boat and the supposed house of Peter. These provide us information about the base of operations that Jesus likely worked from in His ministry as well as the kind of boat that Jesus would have been on with His disciples in the storm. While it’s doubtful that this is the exact same boat, there’s no reason to think that Jesus was not on a boat much like this one. Finally, there’s an interesting piece in this chapter on the James ossuary which has been debated back and forth and Evans presents the latest evidence on it for the interested reader.

Chapter three looks at the evidence for Caiaphas, Pilate, and Simon. We have in fact found the ossuary for Caiaphas. Meanwhile, Bruno Bauer, the first one to largely present the idea that Jesus never existed was also skeptical that Pilate existed. Now we have found evidence for Pilate in the form of a stone slab. It’s worth noting also (though I don’t think Evans mentions this) that those who are skeptical of Jesus when going to Tacitus might be surprised to learn that the only place Tacitus mentions Pilate is also the only place where he mentions Jesus. Evans also in this chapter looks at what we can find out about Simon, the man who carried the cross of Christ.

In Chapter four, Evans looks at literacy in the ancient world and gives his case that Jesus was someone who was capable of reading. Jesus being a good rabbi and able to interact with scribes and producing a movement that had people who could read and write well would quite likely himself have been one such individual. He also points out how while literacy might have been lower in the rest of the world, that we could expect matters to be different in the area of Israel since these were people that did bind their religious identity, which was central to them, around written words.

I found chapter five particularly interesting where Evans talks about Psalm 91 and how it was seen by the Jews at the time of Jesus. Many of us are familiar with the idea of the Psalms as a spiritual medicine cabinet and if you’re in some sort of danger, well go to Psalm 91. Apparently, we’re not the only ones. Psalm 91 was seen at the time of Jesus as an exorcism song and it was meant to keep away demonic powers. Jesus Himself is also said to be an exorcist and have exceptional skill at casting out demons and this without using any magic, drugs, or artifacts that existed in His day.

Chapter six concerns the idea of hanging and crucifixion in Second Temple Israel. What did it mean to have someone be crucified? How did that relate to the notion of hanging on a tree? Evans looks at symbols found in catacombs as well as the writings of the DSS to show what the view was on crucifixion at the time. He looks at skeletal remains that we have of crucifixion as well as looking at writings and artwork outside of the Jewish culture to show that this was seen as a curse.

In Chapter seven, Evans looks at burial in the ancient world. This will be an incredibly important chapter nowadays with Bart Ehrman recently taking his strange position on the burial of Jesus. The whole point of this chapter is asking how families handled death together in burial. Could we expect that even those who were buried would be buried in family tombs? Those who are interested in the recent case of Ehrman should read this chapter.

Chapter eight begins with a line that should be written in gold for all the people online who think mythicism is just the latest thing and that scholars aren’t even sure if Jesus existed. On page 147, we read:

“No serious historian, of any religious or nonreligious stripe, doubts that Jesus of Nazareth really lived in the first century and was executed under the authority of Pontius Pilate, the governor of Judea and Samaria.

From there we go to various claims in the Gospels themselves about the burial of Jesus. Would Jesus have been buried? Why should we think that? What about the idea that Pilate would release a prisoner on Passover? Isn’t that just a fiction? He also looks at the question of if Jesus anticipated his own death. The interested reader will also find information on the relationship of Annas and Caiaphas to the high priesthood and how this all played out in history.

Chapter nine looks at the old idea of the Talpoit tomb as the supposed burial place of Jesus. Of course, having someone like Craig Evans going after this is kind of like using a bazooka to kill a fly in your house, but he does of course effectively get the job done.

Chapter ten wraps it up by looking at views in the world at the time of Jesus on the question of the afterlife. Many of us today have the idea that the message of the resurrection would have been welcomed by so many because, hey, who wouldn’t want to live again? Well maybe it’s not that simple. Evans takes us across the spectrum and he looks at how Christians looked at the topic of death seriously.

This book is a tour de force. It is simple to read and I found it one that I did not want to put down. If you want to say anything about archaeology and the life of Jesus, you must get your hands on this book. Pick up a copy today.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Jesus and the Jihadis

What do I think of Craig Evans and Jeremiah Johnston’s book published by Destiny Image? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

ISIS. Go back in time a few years ago and the most any of us would think of would likely be that Isis was the name of that Egyptian deity. Now ISIS is a household name, but we’re not thinking about an Egyptian deity. We’re thinking about an Islamic one. ISIS represents the Islamic State declaring war on the rest of the world with the desire to turn the world over to Islam. They are ready to die for Islam and not only that, but they are ready to see to it that you die for Islam as well. They are a group bent on your destruction and the sad reality is you probably don’t really realize how much of a threat they are.

Is this just a radical offshoot of Islam out of step with historical Islam? According to Evans and Johnston, no. In fact, if Muhammad were alive today, he would not only join ISIS, but he would in fact lead it. To show this, the authors go back in time and give a brief history of the origins of Judaism and Christianity and then compare that to Islam. On this journey, you will learn a good deal about the historical Jesus and especially the way that archaeology has impacted our understanding of the New Testament. This is important because the constant contrast in the book will be the person of Jesus with that of Muhammad and then the contrast of YHWH and Allah, the Bible and the Koran, etc.

The writers also give plenty of frightening statistics about the way that ISIS is growing. These people have a lot of money and they know how to use social media well. You no longer have to leave the comfort of your own home for ISIS to train you. Nope. You can live a normal life here in America and be training secretly in the comfort of your own home to be a Jihadist. This makes it extremely difficult to find out who is and who isn’t a threat to our security in America. Jihadists show no signs of stopping and indeed, they won’t stop until all the world is converted to Islam and as many of us have seen on the news, they don’t have any hesitation to kill you if they think you stand in their way.

This book has a fitting section also about Luther’s Koran at the end. Martin Luther in fact supported the man who wanted to print a copy of the Koran in the Latin of the people because Luther thought that every Christian needed to learn the Koran so they could know how to answer Islam. Luther said this even though he himself had never encountered a Muslim. If it was needed then, it is needed all the more today. One of the reasons Islam is spreading so much is that Muslims are more than willing to die for their faith. If only the day will come when Christians are as willing to live for Jesus as Muslims are willing to die for Allah.

I found this book to be extremely eye-opening and I hesitate to say more because you quite frankly need to read it yourself. We live in a culture where Christians are at war and most of us are walking around like it’s 9/10/2001.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Addendum: I was given a free copy of this book by Jeremiah Johnston for the purposes of review.

Book Plunge: Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus.

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

Imagine growing up a Muslim all your life and being taught Muslim beliefs all your life and having that thoroughly interwoven with your family life. Your family wants you to grow up to be a good Muslim and one who will share the perceived truth of Islam. This was Nabeel Qureshi’s life until he went on a trip once and met a friend who happened to be reading the Bible and for the first time, he encountered someone who actually could give some pushback to what he said. Nabeel began a quest to show his friend the truth of Islam. Instead, as the book title shows, he ended up bowing his knee to Jesus Christ.

I wish to give a disclaimer at the start. While I do seek to avoid bias in a work, I know many of the people involved in this book. I consider Nabeel a friend of mine. I know David Wood as well and consider him a friend and I know his wife too. (I know Nabeel’s wife too, but she isn’t mentioned much in the book as his wedding is more part of an epilogue, but she is a wonderful woman.) Nabeel also shares about his time that he spent with Mike Licona and Gary Habermas. Licona I am related to by marriage and Habermas is a friend of ours as well having introduced me to Mike’s daughter and then having married us. I ask the reader to know I am striving to go by content.

Nabeel’s book is just a fascinating book to read as it is full of good information, but it is also written in an exciting story fashion. Nabeel draws you into his family life and how he grew up and he explains Muslim terminology along the way. Nabeel grew up in a family that had great respect for religion and at the same time, they were a family that many of us would not mind having as neighbors. They were grieved by the actions of 9/11 and often were just trying to raise up their children in the Islamic faith out of their great devotion to it, including Nabeel’s Dad going with him to a church play when a friend invited him and joining him for a dialogue with Licona and Habermas. The family was one with great love for Nabeel.

Nabeel then goes on a trip and meets a friend there who his mother can tell is a good young man Nabeel should spend time with. That friend turns out to be David Wood and that is where the story really kicks off. When the two friends got to their hotel room, Nabeel saw David reading the Bible. Nabeel was quite stunned seeing as he’d never seen someone read the Bible as it were, for fun. (How many of our lives could be different if some people saw us reading the Bible?) This led to Nabeel going to his evangelism to try to convince David that the Bible had been changed. The problem for Nabeel was that this time, it didn’t work. David had his answers ready asking Nabeel where he heard that claim before and if he could give examples.

Still despite their religious disagreements, the two managed to maintain a strong friendship. Nabeel saw this as absolutely essential for his conversion. It was the kindness that David showed him in powerfully, yet gently, answering his questions and asking good ones of his own that got him thinking. David eventually invited Nabeel to join him to meet Mike Licona and Gary Habermas for a dream team meeting to discuss the historical Jesus. Nabeel brought his dad for the first one he went to and his dad presented the swoon theory. Nabeel saw his Dad as one of the most powerful debaters he knew.

And his star fell that night.

This started Nabeel looking at the data for Christianity and he had to admit it was convincing. The evidence for the resurrection is especially powerful, but Nabeel is not convinced as he tells David. Islam has much better evidence. David’s up for the challenge and says there’s another meeting of minds at Mike’s house before too long and it’s not just Christians, but seekers of all paths that are there. Why not come? In fact, Nabeel can come and give a case for Islam. Nabeel is thrilled with this and goes to give his presentation only to find out that his case doesn’t really stand up with Mike asking Nabeel how he knows the stories about Muhammad are accurate.

So Nabeel goes back to his studies again and this time decides to study Muhammad. He does not like what he sees and this from Muslim sources! When he looks at modern sources, they ignore these problematic passages and looking online doesn’t provide him much comfort either. Maybe the Koran can stand up better. Turns out for Nabeel, it didn’t. This left him in a tailspin wondering what exactly he should do.

That’s when he prays for God to show him what to do and as commonly happens in the Muslim world, Nabeel gets dreams. These dreams are incredibly convincing and end up with Nabeel finally converting.

You might think I’ve told you everything. I really haven’t. The content of the book and watching how the dialogues take place are everything. This is a book that is one that you do not want to put down. The chapters are brief enough that you could read one in a small sitting and then save another one for later. You will also not get bogged down by a lot of complex terminology. There is also a lot of good humor thrown in. I read some of the book in a very public place and as it turns out, started laughing out loud at a number of parts.

Most importantly, Nabeel ends with a real look at grace and what it means for evangelism and this is something I know he lives out. He also shows the pain that this had on his family to which we should all seek to pray for Nabeel’s family that they might come to see that God has revealed Himself in Jesus. Knowing Nabeel personally, I know that he prays for those who are outside the fold, including people in ISIS, and there can be no doubt that his family is on that list. Reading the book in the end will give you a greater wonder and appreciation of the grace of God, which I’m sure would please Nabeel.

In the end, there are also several smaller chapters written by people like Mike, David, Gary, and others. These give the reader a little bit more information and insight into Nabeel.

I cannot recommend this book enough. It is an excellent, enjoyable, and informative read. Why not pick it up from our Estore today?

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: The Living Paul

What do I think of Anthony Thiselton’s book published by IVP? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Paul is always an interesting figure to discuss and opinions can be very divided on him. Still, if you are going to talk about the New Testament and the rise of early Christianity, it is essential that you talk about Paul. Thiselton’s book is an aim to bring an easily readable work to the layman audience to better understand Paul. He takes a number of issues and looks to see what Paul says about them.

The book starts with simply looking at the life of Paul. What is the relationship with Paul and Jesus? For instance, a number of people think that Jesus could have very well had this great idea and then Paul came along and messed everything up. Was this true? What did it mean for Paul to be an apostle to the Gentiles? Who was the man Paul and what was his methodology for going through the Mediterranean world and spreading Christianity? There are many of us that like to look at the teachings of Paul without considering Paul the man. We could perhaps better realize how seriously he took the teachings of Jesus if we realize how much he went through to share them.

But of course, doctrine has to be there. We in the West do tend to like that. Thiselton takes a number of issues. Some of them are ones that we would expect to see regularly, such as the Holy Spirit and the person of Jesus and looking to see if there’s Trinitarianism in the writings of Paul. Others are definitely worth mention but sometimes ones we don’t emphasize enough, though there are no doubt groups out there in Christianity that do. These would be his views on baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Thiselton also writes on the ethics of Christianity especially including our sexual ethics and Paul was well ahead of his time with those.

Naturally, there are issues related to salvation, the nature of the church, and eschatology. These are all big debates today and Thiselton does present some of the latest work and speaks about it, such as looking at the idea of justification that is presented by N.T. Wright. He also deals with some objections such as the idea that Paul uses the term “we” in 1 Thess. 4 to describe what happens when Jesus returns and asks if Paul was off on his timing.

Some might be surprised that the last section in the book is a look at Paul and postmodernism. There were ideas back in the time of Paul that could be considered postmodern or at least pre-postmodern (There’s an odd concept to think about) just like there was a proto form of Gnosticism going around in Paul’s day. Thiselton looks at some of the postmoderns today and sees what Paul would have to say in relation to their claims about reality.

Thiselton’s read is one that will help inform the layman on the life of Paul. There were times I would have liked a little bit more and the pace seemed to move a bit slowly for me, but much of the information is quite good and would be helpful to any student wanting to study Paul.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Elements of Biblical Exegesis

What do I think of Michael Gorman’s book published by Baker Academic? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Elements of Biblical Exegesis is meant to be a guide for students who are writing exegetical papers, and indeed it will be a helpful one. Gorman works with writers on all levels, including those who know the Biblical languages well and those who have no real knowledge of them. The rules listed in this book can help you if you’re writing an exegetical paper, but they can just as much help you out if you are sitting in a Sunday School class or small group meeting and you’re discussing a passage of Scripture and people are sitting together all talking about what the passage “means to them.”

Of interest from an apologetic nature is the discussion on textual criticism as well as the listing of Bible translations and dealing with the hermeneutic of suspicion where the text is seen as guilty until proven innocent. In fact, Gorman rightly says we should read from all perspectives, not just our own. After all, it is the critics of our position that can often open our eyes the most to the problems that we need to answer for our position. Gorman regularly says that all such reading is going to be beneficial. (Even reading mythicist material as that shows you just how crazy you can go when you don’t really know how to do history.)

Of course, internet atheists I regularly encounter will want nothing to do with a work like this, and sadly too many Christians won’t either who just have this idea that the text should be plain and clear to them. One of the great problems we have in the church is that people no longer work at the text. We go to seminars to learn how to improve our marriage and work at that, and we should! We go to seminars to learn how to be better parents and work on that, and we should! We go to seminars to learn how to better manage our money and work on that, and we should! We go to all of these and while we think we should work at every other area of our life, when it comes to understanding what we say is the greatest facet of our lives (Or we should say it is), we think all the answers should be handed to us.

Also, towards the end of the book, Gorman gives a long list of recommended resources. I am sure that the list is helpful, but if you go straight through a book like I do, then it can be a bit tedious in reading. Still, if you just pop open the book and want to know if a resource is a good one, then that is a helpful tool to have.

Finally, the book concludes with three exegetical papers, two on a NT passage and one on an OT passage. These are helpful examples to have nearby and the reader of the book will be pleased with how simple the final product looks and even without thorough knowledge of the original languages.

This will be a helpful guide to those who really do want to study the text for all that it’s worth.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

What is Hermeneutics?

Is hermeneutics a way to avoid accepting what the text says? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

There is often a rabid fundamentalism that takes place in America and other Western societies. Because we are so individualistic, we think everything is about us and so when it comes to a text, such as the text of Scripture, well that is about us. Since this is also God’s Word to us supposedly, God would obviously write it in a way that is easy for us to understand. I mean, if we were God, we would do that. Right? Surely we wouldn’t deliver a message that is essential for our eternal salvation and then have it be hard to understand? No. The text must be understood easily and we absolutely then must read it literally. By literally, I do not mean according to the intent of the author, but in a more wooden sense of “The text says what it means and it means what it says.”

The ironic thing is there are Christians and atheists who both agree on this and they are both fundamentalists. The fundamentalist Christian believes everything in the Bible is absolutely true and usually does so on just “faith.” If it says six days, it means six days and keep that science stuff away from me. We’re going to go with what the Word of God says. The atheist meanwhile looks at the text and says “If the text says slavery, it means slavery. I don’t need to hear anything about historical context.” The atheist will tend to disbelieve everything in the Bible. Both approach the text with the same mindset in many ways.

And both of them resist any notion of hermeneutics.

So what is hermeneutics?

In ancient Greece, the gods were way up there and we humans were down here below. Who would be the go-between? Quite often, Hermes was the messenger of the gods. His name is behind the word. Hermes was the one who interpreted the message of the gods for us. The word Hermeneutics comes from that and it means the art of interpretation. Some of you might be tempted to say that that applies only to the Bible. It doesn’t. It applies everywhere. You’re using hermeneutics right now to interpret what I say. You use it to interpret body language or oral communication as well. Let’s go with the example of a newspaper.

When you open the newspaper, you expect most stories you read in there will be at least attempts to write out truthful accounts. Yet even in these accounts, you could expect to read some metaphorical language. For instance, if you go to the Sports team and you read about a game that was played where one team massacred another, you don’t expect that you’ll find that on a page talking about crime. You know it’s metaphorical language. If you turn over to the comics, you’ll suddenly find you’re reading the language differently. If you go to the advice column, you find still something different. If you go to the letters to the editor, you will find different language and perhaps even opinions that disagree with the perspective of the newspaper as a whole.

All of this is hermeneutics.

Keep in mind in all of this, I am assuming the text has a meaning. The words on the page really mean something and some interpretations are right and some are wrong. It’s important to realize also that just because you think a text means something, that does not mean that what it says is true. You could be a Muslim for instance, and interpret the NT to teach that Jesus died by crucifixion. You’d agree that the text is teaching this, but you would just say the text is wrong. You could be a pluralist and say that the text teaches that Jesus is the only way to salvation. You’d disagree with this, but you’d say the text teaches this. You could be an atheist and say the text teaches Jesus did actual miracles. You’d disagree, but this would be what the text is saying.

When saying that the Bible needs to be interpreted, this is because it is from a different time, culture, place, and language. In fact, if you want to go with what the text says, unless you read the original languages, you’re not reading what the text says. You’re already reading an interpretation. Even in the same language, there can be difficulties. Many of us could not read Shakespeare as he wrote it. For an illustration of this, just consider the KJV. It was just fine for the time it was written in, but many words have changed meaning since then and there are figures of speech that we no longer use. It is for this reason that translations have to keep being updated. Languages do not stay static like that.

Now is this an exact science? Can you reach a point where you say it is absolutely definitive that this is what the text means? No, but if we follow those standards then science itself is not an exact science. Any interpretation of the scientific data could be overturned. It is not written in stone. The more we study it, the more likely it looks that a certain viewpoint is correct. For instance, the huge majority of biologists today agree evolution best explains our origins. That means that if this is overturned, there must be some powerful evidence otherwise that evolution did not occur. That does not mean that such is impossible theoretically.

In the same way, there are many interpretations we can be quite sure of. There are also many Biblical passages that will leave us scratching our heads and wondering what the heck is going on in them. It would be a mistake to hang your Christianity on every single issue in the Bible and on every one of your interpretations being correct. It requires work. If you want to say your interpretation is correct, you need to give a reason why you think so and then leave it to others to respond. Unfortunately, with the fundamentalist mindset, we’ve grown lazy and prefer that the text should do all the work for us.

But in interpretation, there is no excuse for laziness.

Hermeneutics is not a dirty word. We all do it everyday without realizing it. The question is not are you going to interpret the text. You will. The question is if you are going to do a good job or not.

And if you take the fundamentalist attitude, you’re already saying you’re not going to do a good job.

And if you’re not willing to study a text, don’t bother debating it. There’s no reason to take anyone seriously who has not studied the issue.

In Christ,
Nick Peters