Book Plunge: The Story of Reality

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I enjoyed the book and I give it my endorsement.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Loving Things, Using People

Are we a society of users? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

On Facebook yesterday, I saw an old story about a woman in a competition I believe in Poland who apparently had sex with 919 men in a day, and another sad part is she beat her competition by a small number. Ultimately, I see a woman who has cheapened herself and allowed herself to be used just to get a record like this. The story ended with saying that she had sex with her “lucky” boyfriend that evening. Yes. A lucky guy no doubt. He was lucky enough to be #920 in line. Can she truly say she’s saved something special for him?

Isn’t that term interesting? We speak of someone “Getting lucky.” Now I understand what it means. Most any married man especially will tell you that an evening that includes sex is a good evening and naturally, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with wanting that, looking forward to it, and enjoying it. What is often wrong is that this is seen as the goal of relationships. Why does a guy date a girl? Ultimately often just to get into her pants we think. Now don’t understand. Any guy dating a girl should want to have sex with her. He really should. That desire must be controlled until marriage, but the desire is not the problem. Treating it as the greatest good is.

In a married relationship, one of the biggest goals of sexuality in it is to unify closer together. The main theory is that women need to feel intimate to have sex and men need to have sex to feel intimate. A woman should indeed give sex for the sake of intimacy, but a man should always be doing his part. Men. Please never stop dating your wife and being romantic. We often, both men and women, put forward our best foot while dating and strive to be our best, but then when we marry it’s easy to say “Well I’ve got them now” and coast. Don’t coast. Be keeping up the speed you’re going on and gaining more and more.

If there’s something I suspect leads to this usage of men and women, though especially women in our culture, it is that we don’t have a rite of passage in our society. In many parts of the world, there is a rite of passage where a young man or woman undergoes a ritual or completes a task or something of that sort where they are then seen as a fully functioning man or woman by society. We go so far against that that we have a stage called adolescence and call people teenagers. They are not seen as adults, but they are not seen as children, but they strive to be adults. (Why do even small children play games where they are adults?)

For many men, the rite of passage for them as being seen as a man is having sex. It is “conquering” as it were, a woman. After all, you don’t want to be a prude and be a virgin do you? What does that mean to say you cannot be successful in a relationship with a woman? Are you scared or what?

For many women, it can be similar, but the desire for them is to be loved and know that they are beautiful. Girls. Let me put this to you clearly. When a guy wants sex, he will do or say most anything to get it. (Yeah. In case you haven’t noticed, women have this strange power over men. Wives. You need to realize you have this power too to motivate your man to goodness.) They will tell you they love you and that you’re beautiful and everything. Unfortunately, they will often kick you to the curb afterward. They got what they want. Move on to the next one.

For women, I encourage you to realize something. You are the one in charge. You let every man know how much you’re worth. So how much are you worth? Dinner and a movie? Three dates? A month? Six months? Engagement? Women. You can’t put a higher price on yourself than marriage. You let every man know you’re worth a lifelong commitment and if he’s not willing to pay the price, he doesn’t get what he wants.

What I wish women realized is that you are beautiful and you don’t need to treat that beauty cheaply. If a man really wants you, he will do what it takes and if that means marriage, he’ll do it. If he’s not willing, he’s not worthy. Please don’t also accept this garbage about living together. You can’t have a good relationship if you’re treating each other like a test. It won’t work.

The end result overall in our society is that we have treated sex as a god and used one another as a way of getting this god. Now there is something that we actually have right here. Sex is a transcendent experience. I have a book here written by a pastor and his wife and in it, the authors say something along the lines of that if an atheist ever asks you to prove that there is a God, just say one word. Sex. Give him a day to think about it. If he’s not convinced, he’s told you a lot more about his sex life than he realizes.

There is a transcendent experience there. It is something that gets you out of yourself and entering into something totally unique. It was made to be that way. Sex was God’s idea first. He created it, the engine behind it, and the strong desire for it. One of the big mistakes we have made is to treat it as something dirty. It’s not.

One of my favorite blogs to read is “To Love, Honor, and Vacuum.” Sheila Wray Gregoire runs it and she said recently she is going to stop telling women they need to stay pure until marriage. I was a bit astounded and read to see what she was saying, then I agreed with her! What kind of message is it to say “Stay pure until you’re married and then when you have sex, you’re no longer pure.” You still are pure! Sex doesn’t make you dirty!

So what’s the danger? We confuse the gift with the giver. There is a saying that a finger is good for pointing at the moon, but woe to the man who mistakes a finger for the moon. Picture having a dog and pointing at his food dish for him to eat. Instead, the dog sniffs your finger. He misses the point. So do we. We see sex as an end in itself when really, it’s a great good to lead to even greater goods.

So what happens when we treat it as the end in itself? We use one another. Lewis once wrote about a man who was trapped with a great lustful desire. People would say he needs a woman. Lewis said that is the last thing he needs. If he came across a real woman, he wouldn’t know what to do with her. What he wants most is not a woman but sex and the female body happens to be the apparatus he wants to use to get that sex. The person doesn’t matter. It is the body that makes the difference.

For the Christian, it’s both. If we say that the body doesn’t matter and taking care of it doesn’t matter, then we are essentially gnostics. The body does matter, but it is not just a body. It is a person with a body. The body is how we perform the acts of love for one another. Do you kiss the person you love? Do you do works of art or fix them dinner or take care of the house or earn a living or anything else? All of these are done with the body.

If you think the body doesn’t matter, then picture this. You are a wife sitting at home and your husband comes in. Normally he comes to where you’re sitting, leans over and kisses you. Today, he leans over and smacks you across the face. Does that matter? You bet it does. The body is the means you use to express the desire of your soul. That is what takes places in marriage. The marriage act itself is the greatest expression of your soul through your body to show how much you love and want and trust and desire the other person.

What’s it going to take to change this? For one thing Christians, please stop thinking that a purity pledge, a single talk from Mom and Dad, and a few verses in Paul is enough to stop raging hormones. It isn’t. Just think back to when you were dating. Instead, your child needs a whole worldview of sex. They need to know what place it plays and why it’s reserved for marriage.

Second, let your boys and girls have ways to know they are men and women apart from sex. Fathers are the most essential at this. Fathers need to treat boys like men and make them into men. Ultimately, only another man can do that. If you’re a single mother, I urge you to find someone who can be a father figure for your sons. It could be a coach, an uncle, or a grandfather.

For those of you with daughters, please always let your daughter know she’s beautiful and loved. Make it so that if she marries a man, he’s going to be a man who treats her in a way easily comparable to how her Daddy treats her. When Valentine’s Day rolls around, order something for your daughter as well. Let her know what a special person she is in your life. Be willing to spend father-daughter time together. Even now that Allie and I are married, her Dad will still come to see her and take her out for some father-daughter time together. I have no problem with that. When we lived in Knoxville, her father-in-law once took her to a church event that was a father-daughter dance. I stayed at home. I had no problem with it.

And when it comes to the marrieds, like my own wife and I, can we still get “lucky.”? Yes. We can. In fact, we are. We are “lucky” because we have one person that gives us that ultimate trust and desire. Sex is the full expression of that love and desire with no fear of holding back. What makes us “lucky” is we have someone who shares that experience with us and only us. I share something unique with Allie and she shares it with me that is not shared with anyone else on the planet. How can I not be lucky? I’m the only person in this world treasured by Allie and who gets to fully treasure her.

Ladies especially, please realize your worth. Many men will want to use you and even good men will be tempted to give in. Be strong. You are worth it. Wait until marriage. You have the rest of your lives then to enjoy that gift together and it is a gift. Be picky. Be finicky. Be exclusive. You don’t need to settle for anything less than a lifetime commitment.

Follow these steps, and it is far less likely that you will use one another. You are not objects. The greatest good is not the sex. The greatest good is the love and joy that is shared mutually. Sex is the way that you get this in a married relationship, but it is not the end in itself.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible

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

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

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

A few brief statements at the start should suffice.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Deeper Waters Podcast 3/4/2017: Beth Sheppard

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

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

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

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

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

Dr. Beth Sheppard, Dr. Beth M. Sheppard

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

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

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

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Jesus, The Last King Of Israel

What do I think of Michael Chung’s book published by Wipf and Stock? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Michael Chung has written a book that is more of a devotional book based on the passion of Christ. I’ll grant that this isn’t the kind of work I normally read, but Chung is a professor at Houston Baptist University. That is a school I hold in high esteem and I find the professors there are all of incredibly high caliber.

Chung in this book goes through selected events in the life of Christ and what we can learn about them. The material is easy to approach and at the same time, scholarly, as he has a profuse use of footnotes. I would have liked to have seen more of an apologetic approach, but this isn’t that kind of book, although he does have two such sections at the end in the appendices. Both of these are quite interesting to look at, including one on the question of the character of Jesus in relation to the cursed fig tree.

Chung’s material will be good also for small groups that are going through the passion week of Scripture. (As I write this, Easter is approaching, which would be quite appropriate for studying this material.) Each section contains basic information along with the application that is to be followed and then, in turn, is followed by questions.

The questions are good and thought-provoking and are meant to make the reader enter into the life of Jesus and apply His message to our lives. It is striking to see what it is like for the perfect human being to live in what was no doubt the most stressful and awful week of His life. Is this not a message that we need to hear in the church today in dealing with many of our own problems?

I would have liked to have seen a little bit more on the title of the book, though to be fair I know that authors don’t always get to pick the titles of their books. Jesus is indeed the last king of Israel (And I would argue the current king), but what does that mean? Chung’s book really didn’t say much on that. It would be good to see what it meant for Jesus to be the King of Israel and what would it mean for us today to see Jesus as our King? Scripture profusely describes Jesus as the Messiah and yet we hardly ever seem to take into consideration what that means.

Still, Chung’s book does have a good balance. It looks at the life of Jesus in the passion, but it doesn’t do so in a dumbed down way. Jesus is engaged with as the serious historical figure that He is, but there is more about how that matters to us. One final suggestion is I would like to have made sure that the way we live our lives is like the way Jesus did. The cultures are quite different coming from a culture more focused on internal feeling to Jesus who lived in a culture focused more on external pressure. There could be gaps here that I think need to be addressed.

Despite that, if you have a small group, this could be a good study for Easter. I recommend it in that regard.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Dear Pastor….

Can I critique your sermon this Sunday? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

(Note: This post is not about my own church or our sermon Sunday. This is a hypothetical that could be used for what I think are the sad majority of pastors in any church on a given Sunday. No reference to any specific person or timeframe is intended.)

Dear Pastor,

I wanted to talk to you about your sermon. I think you did a good job of showing that the Bible tells us that God loves us immensely. I think you were correct in that we need to live our lives accordingly with what is revealed in Scripture. I think your sermon did have some excellent application to it. Unfortunately, while I agree with that, I have a problem with your sermon.

You see, I write in the area of Christian apologetics and defending Christianity. All that you said is true, but I kept wondering, what if someone doesn’t believe the Bible is true? What does it mean to them? What about someone who could be even wondering if the Bible is truly a revelation from God?

If someone wants to believe in the love of God, can they believe in the message of love if they don’t know if they can trust the messenger of that love? Suppose I go see a doctor who is right, but he’s right 90% of the time. He tells me I have cancer and I need to undergo intense chemotherapy to treat it. Would it make sense to sign up immediately? Should I not consider a second opinion just to make sure? His message could be right, but I would want to know if it was right. If I knew he was right 100% of the time, I would sign up, but what if I have that 10% of doubt? What if he’s right and I have that 10% and never go get a second opinion? That doubt could kill me.

Pastor. Your congregation is encountering this doubt. Now of course, many people are firmly in a position where they will not wrestle with these questions. Many are not. Many of them are watching the History Channel and the Discovery Channel and National Geographic and reading the magazines and they see these specials about the Bible. Every time Easter and Christmas roll around, you have these specials coming out undermining something about the Bible. You had a movie like the Da Vinci Code come out and the book itself was quite popular and even a skeptical scholar like Bart Ehrman had a best-selling book on textual criticism calling into question the reliability of the Bible.

If that doesn’t leave you concerned, you’re not paying attention.

You see, you talked so much about what the Bible says and how to apply its message, but you said very little about the Bible itself. I’m not suggesting your sermon be apologetics, but wouldn’t it be a good opening to explain a little bit about the book you’re exegeting, when it was written, and some historical facts about it? This would not take long and it would also bring the text more to life. As it stands, if people don’t know the history of the Bible and when it was written and such, it’s essentially a text floating in air and it won’t take much to bring it down.

I understand you want to reach that person who is there for the first time also, but what if that person is an atheist? What if they’re a Jew? A Mormon? A Buddhist? You don’t know who they are. I don’t either. I do know that they won’t just blindly believe the Bible. They need some reason to do so.

Application is good and important, but is that all there is? Is the whole point of Jesus dying and rising again just so that we could be good people? I’m all for marriage enrichment and beating your personal problems and so many other things, and we need them, but you can have many of those things without Christianity. Christianity is not about giving good advice. It certainly will give good advice, but Christianity is about Jesus being the King of this world and how we must submit to Him.

If all we have is good advice, well Pastor, we can turn on Dr. Phil or Oprah or anything else and get advice. We’ve also never really been prone to follow good advice. I daresay that most people will leave the church and forget all that they heard in an hour if all they heard was good advice. If you give them a question that could be a thorn in their side that suggests that the Bible could really be from God and God could really have some authority on their lives, that is something that will not be easy to cast aside.

That’s something I want to hear. I don’t want to just hear moralizing from the pulpit because I can get that from anywhere else and from most any other religion. I want to hear what Christianity alone can tell me. I want to hear about King Jesus dying and rising again from the dead and not just what this means for me, but what it means for the future of humanity and the world that we live in. No other belief system can offer that.

Pastor. Let’s also not forget you have young people in your audience. Let’s even suppose the youth are growing up in good Christian homes, which is more and more becoming questionable since even many Christians are compromising in areas of morality, such as living together before marriage or endorsing homosexual practice. Is this young man or woman growing up in a devout Christian home safe? Not on your life.

Imagine them in their bedroom one day on the computer. No. They’re not watching porn, though you should also be concerned that many in your congregation are, but they’re doing something like listening to a song from their favorite Christian band. What do they see on the related videos on the side? “Ten Questions Every Christian Must Answer.” Pastor. What if that’s a video put out by an atheist? What if they get curious and click it? Have you prepared them for what they will see? If you know the answers to these questions and don’t prepare them, do you not bear some responsibility when they fall away? If you don’t know the answers, how can you get up and tell people the Bible is a revelation from God if you yourself have no reason to think that? Are you not the blind leading the blind?

They also won’t fall away for intellectual difficulties. I’m not sure if you watch any TV or movies pastor, but sex sells. It’s big on the big screen nowadays. We just had Fifty Shades Darker come out and I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of women from your church went to see it. Believe it or not also, young men and women are greatly tempted to have sex. Women want to have that love and acceptance from a man. Many young men just want to have a good time with a woman and think sex makes them a man.

Do they know enough to know why they shouldn’t? Yeah. We can tell them what Paul said. If they can resist what Paul said on lesser things, such as talking back to their parents or overeating or buying things they can’t afford, why think they will be able to overpower the sex drive? Do you know how strong that is? If you don’t, I think you’ve just said a lot more about your marriage than you intended.

So you might say that when they engage, they’ll feel great guilt and will repent. Maybe they will. Maybe they won’t. If they don’t, then they will think the church lied to them. What else did the church lie about? Do you know how many of them are being told the church is trying to restrict them? Do you know how many atheists talk about liberation from the church’s teachings?

Pastor. Would it really hurt your church to know the historical reasons for believing that Christianity is true? Again, you don’t have to do a whole sermon on this. In fact, I don’t think you should, but you should at least touch on it. Now if you want to have a class separate from the sermon on this, by all means go ahead. That would be wonderful.

You still have an obligation to prevent your flock from falling away. Please also don’t tell them to just have faith. I cringe most every time when a pastor says that we need to have faith. Faith is a badly misunderstood term and one that an atheist will pounce on in a second.

Pastor. You might want your congregation to be safe and not put in danger from contrary thought. First off, they aren’t safe. Second, they will encounter contrary thought be it in the classroom or on TV or on YouTube or at the water cooler in conversation. Third, we are not called to be safe. We are called to do the Great Commission and the historic Christian church was not safe. They still aren’t. I just saw a highly reliable friend post a study showing that 90,000 Christians were martyred for their faith in 2016. 90,000 are martyred and you’re thinking your church needs to be shielded from contrary thought? These weren’t. They had to live in it regularly and they were incredibly faithful. In fact, they were probably more faithful than even you or I are. When your life could depend on if the Jesus question is true or not, you probably take it a lot more serious and you know, you probably live out that application a whole lot better.

Your congregation is not meant to live in a bubble. They’re meant to do the Great Commission. How can they do it unless they are equipped to do it? It’s not enough to get them to tell their personal testimony. Everyone has a testimony. Even atheists in debate will often open with their personal anti-testimony. We don’t live in a time where testimonies have the same effectiveness. Consider instead combining them with a good apologetic, and you could be on to something.

Pastor. Please take these words to heart. I encounter atheists most every day that used to be Christians and they are often extremely evangelistic and antagonistic. If you’ve ever heard of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, they were established by someone who used to be in ministry as well. The sad thing is many of these questions are easily answered if you just have a congregation that is at least semi-informed. You’re the only one who can determine that. Think about your own standing before God one day. Do you want to be responsible for people falling away and the damage they do? Do you want to risk that you could be?

I’m at your service if need be, but the ball is in your court. Please consider giving us something different. Give us a reason to believe and then to live differently.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

Has The Bible Been Changed A Lot?

Is the text vastly different than it was? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

It was recently brought to my attention that Business Insider decided to celebrate Christmas with a video on why the Bible isn’t trustworthy. Normally, I prefer to celebrate with presents and time with friends and family, but to each his own I suppose. So do we really have anything new here?

Of course not.

That doesn’t mean it doesn’t need to be addressed. After all, a lot of people will never bother to study what it is they believe and why. (You know how it is, we live in a society where people will learn about their favorite sports team, TV show, video game, etc. but won’t dare to really consider maybe they should think about the belief that they base their entire life on.) Sadly, this will also apply to many skeptics who will take a faith that makes strong claims and decides ipso facto that since those claims involve miracles they must be nonsense and never examine the claims seriously.

So let’s dive into this video. The speaker starts with talking about the Bible being the most sold book of all and that many think it contains the actual words of God. What many people don’t realize according to him is that the Bible has been changed, A LOT. So what are these evidences?

To begin with, no first edition exists. All we have are copies of copies.

This sounds scary if you’re someone who doesn’t know about manuscripts in the ancient world, until you realize that we don’t have the first writing of ANY ancient work that I know of. If there is one, I will be quite surprised. We have copies in every case. How much we can trust the account depends on a number of factors.

How soon is the earliest copy to the date of the original writing?
How many copies do we have?
Can we check these copies back and forth?

So how does the New Testament measure up?

manuscript copies

As you can see, Homer comes closest and it’s not even a contest really. Now if the speaker wants to make a big deal out of this, we ask that he be consistent. Please be extremely skeptical of all the other books on the list as well.

The speaker then says that this all took place many years after the events supposedly took place. It would be good to know how much skepticism he has. Would he go all the way to being a mythicist? Inquiring minds want to know! He also points out that many of these copies weren’t made by professionals but were made by laymen.

Naturally, we can’t expect someone busy enough to make a video for Business Insider to go out and read some of the scholarship on this issue and actually inform himself. While he cites a couple of scholars, there’s no in-depth looking at what they say and providing context for the issue. He could do what I did and interview Charles Hill on the Early Text of the New Testament and issues of canonicity or interview Daniel Wallace. (And if he can’t interview at least listen to what they have to say.)

The speaker goes on to talk about how this lead to many errors and omissions.

No. It’s not a typo on my part. He’s the one who said “This lead to many,” Who knows? Maybe he differed from the original script at one point.

If he wants to talk about these kinds of omissions and errors, he’s free to examine the texts. We will have a little bit more on this, but we have so many texts in so many languages that it’s easy to cross-check. When we do, we find that in fact the Bible does hold up, but again, a little bit more on this later.

We go to the three biggest changes. The first is the woman caught in adultery. It’s a shame that this is news to so many Christians, but such it is. We live in a time of great Biblical ignorance.

The next is the Gospel of Mark. (It’s amazing how predictable these are.) This change is the ending of the Gospel and how it has no narrative of Jesus rising and appearing. The speaker then tells us that in original manuscripts, this story is nowhere to be found.

Wait a second.

What original manuscripts?

Our speaker has gone on and on about how there are no original manuscripts and now is saying this is not to be found in the original? In what way does he know? Could it be that we can tell because we can actually check the texts back and forth and see what they say and compare them? Has our speaker undermined his own case?

The third is that in Luke, Jesus makes a dying plea to forgive the executioners, but it was not intended to refer to the Romans but to the Jews. This was taken out and then added centuries later to appear to be about the Romans. This is one many haven’t heard of, but notice something.

Apparently, we don’t have a clue what the text said, but we can tell what the originals somehow said, that a change was made, and that said change was later corrected. We can discuss why it happened and how, but that doesn’t change what the original said. Even his source on this, Bart Ehrman, says it is likely to be found in the originals.

While we’re at it, what else does Bart Ehrman, this non-Christian New Testament scholar say about the New Testament?

If the primary purpose of this discipline is to get back to the original text, we may as well admit either defeat or victory, depending on how one chooses to look at it, because we’re not going to get much closer to the original text than we already are.… At this stage, our work on the original amounts to little more than tinkering. There’s something about historical scholarship that refuses to concede that a major task has been accomplished, but there it is. Novum Testamentum Graecum Editio Critica Maior: An Evaluation: TC: A Journal of Biblical Textual Criticism, 1998, a revision of a paper presented at the Textual Criticism section of the 1997 Society of Biblical Literature in San Francisco. http://rosetta.reltech.org/TC/vol03/Ehrman1998.html

 

In spite of these remarkable [textual] differences, scholars are convinced that we can reconstruct the original words of the New Testament with reasonable (although probably not 100 percent) accuracy. Bart Ehrman, The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings 3rd ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003), 481.

Sadly, too many Christians won’t be prepared for something like this because, well, all those sermons on how to be a good person and how much God loves you won’t really matter when the text that all that is based on is called into question. Even worse, these kinds of objections are not the crisis that many people think that they are. With some serious study, instead of focusing only on one’s personal hobbies, it’s amazing what one can learn.

Hopefully Business Insider from now on will stick to business instead of going to Biblical studies.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: The Syrian Christ

What do I think of Abraham Rihbany’s book published by Bridges Publishing? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Today, we have the context group of scholars. These are scholars looking into the culture of Christ and seeing how someone from a more honor-shame society would see Jesus? This is an area I have had a strong interest in and one that greatly impacts how you read the Biblical text.

Before our modern look, there was Ribhany. Ribhany wrote to tell us about how he looked at the life of Christ growing up in Syria. The book is over 100 years old now and yet many of the insights are still right there. Ribhany writes with the utmost passion and love of Christ and seeks to explain Him to our culture today.

Along the way, it’s not just Jesus that is explained, but many other aspects of Syrian culture. Of course, the culture has changed since the time of Ribhany no doubt in many ways, but many ideas would still apply and we can be thankful for the scholars doing the work today. Our great danger in the world of Biblical studies today is that we will be tempted to read our own culture into the Bible and fill in the “gaps” that we see with our own cultural ideas.

When we read Psalms that call for death and destruction on the enemy, we can be aghast. For the Syrian, this makes sense. Ribhany says that the people over there will say a lot and do a little. After some time of trash talking and such, the combatants have often released their emotions so much that there is no need to take them out on each other physically. Over here, we tend to think it’s best to control one’s emotions and not share them out in public. This certainly is not an idea we get from Jesus, who could clean out the temple, curse a fig tree, and weep openly when his friend Lazarus died.

The relationship of women is something else as well. In that culture, women are put in arranged marriages and women do tend to stay at home and take care of the house, but there is for Ribhany no idea that Syrian women envy American women. They can be just as happy in their marriages as we are here. The idea of women being silent in churches is also not something hurtful to them. It has an idea that the woman does not have to look ignorant out in public and can honor her spouse that way. What many of us read with disgust could be just throwing our own culture onto the text and assuming that our culture is superior. It’s odd that in accusing others of bigotry, we cold be the real bigots.

The book is an old book, but like I said, much of it can seem new today. It would be worth going and picking up a copy of this classic just to see how matters are different for the Syrian mind and even if some matters have changed, there can be no doubt that Jesus lived in a vastly different culture than we do. Perhaps we should start trying to understand that culture and how Jesus fits into it before finding out how to fit the life of Jesus into our culture.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Are There Easy Answers?

How do you determine if an answer is true? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

In this field, you often get emailed questions. Many times, people want an answer and often, they want an answer and they don’t want the books to read or the talks to listen to to get the answer. They just want the answer. Is this really possible to do?

Here’s a simple answer.

No.

Often times, I have seen this kind of event happen where someone asks me questions and before too long, I realize I’m doing the argument for them. If you want to succeed in apologetics, this is not going to do any service for you. In the end, you will know what the conclusion is but you will not know how you got to that conclusion or why the conclusion is the true conclusion.

People also often want to know how they can be absolutely certain that their answers are true. If I’ve looked up something as an answer to a question, how do I know it’s true? Is there a way to be absolutely certain?

Again, a simple answer.

No.

Now some might be asking how you can believe in Christianity and hold this, but the real question to ask is how can you believe in anything and hold this? The only areas we often have absolute proof in are math and logic. That doesn’t stop us from holding beliefs and holding them incredibly strongly. Some beliefs are much more backable than others. This isn’t even saying something like scientific beliefs are much more capable of having known answers than religious beliefs. In every area, there are degrees of assurance.

The truth is that you will just have to work. This is something many people do not like to hear today and by the way, you have to work on both sides. If you’re a Christian, you should not go around and say “The Word of God says XYZ” and expect audiences to take you seriously. If you’re an atheist, you don’t need to do an atheistic presuppositionalism where you say “Dead people don’t come back to life!” and think that you’ve made a killer argument that no one in Christianity has ever thought of.

If you are a Christian doing a debate, you need to read and study what you are debating. When I talk with Muslims for instance, for the time being, I don’t discuss Islam as Islam. I will discuss what it has to say about Christianity or the claims Muslims make about the New Testament, but I won’t present myself as an authority on the Koran, because I am not. I will not present myself as an authority on science, because I am not. If I speak without study, as soon as I encounter someone who actually is studied, I am prone to embarrass not only myself, but the Gospel.

If you are an atheist, what I call a presuppositional atheism will not help you. You will actually need to study the religion you’re going after, which is usually Christianity. Some people think reading the Bible is enough, but you need to see what learned Christians have said about the Bible. I often ask many atheists I debate when the last time was they read an academic work on religion that disagreed with them. I can’t remember the last time I got an answer. It won’t work to presume you are smarter because you’re an atheist or automatically rational or that all Christians are automatically gullible. It might surprise you, but I kow many Christians who I consider more skeptical than atheists.

One key example of this I see is Jesus mythicism. Atheists who hold to mythicism have no basis going after Christians who question evolution or who hold to a young Earth. (I have no problem with evolution and with an old Earth.) The view of mythicism is in fact held by fewer authorities in the field than the view of Young-Earth Creationism. Too many I think believe in mythicism because it seems like you possess the secret knowledge no one else knows, you’ve seen through the miasma that the scholars have been hiding, and you know a secret truth. It’s really a way of thinking like a conspiracy theorist.

In all honesty, it looks like too many atheists will believe anything because it argues against Christianity. On the other hand, too many Christians will believe anything because it agrees with Christianity. Neither are willing to investigate the claims. (The exception is April 1st, the one day of the year people actually check claims before sharing them on Facebook.)

The bottom line is that in any case, if you want to debate, you will need to study. Many Christians tell me they don’t have the money to buy books or go to Seminary. Fine. There’s a place you can go and get books for free. You can’t keep them, but you can hold on to them long enough to read them. That place is called a library. Use it well. Learn to use Interlibrary loan. I use it constantly to get books.

Listen to podcasts. Of course, I’m biased, but I happen to think my podcast, the Deeper Waters Podcast, is a great source of information. Other shows include Unbelievable? where you can actually hear a debate between a Christian and a non-Christian. If money is an excuse, don’t let it be one.

Then finally, I’m all for time for play and relaxation. I have a wife. I can’t read all the time. We often want to watch a show together or go out on a date. Still, take some private time to read and learn that which you need to learn.

Also, if you’re just starting in this field, try not to be intimidated. Everyone who got where they are started where they were. It will take time. It will take practice. You will get beat a number of times. It’s okay. It’s not the end of the world. Just spend more time preparing yourself.

It will be worth it.

Christ is worth it.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

Deeper Waters Podcast 2/25/2017: Matthew Bates

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

The Trinity is seen as one of the great unique qualities of the Christian faith. Some see it as a great theological weakness. Some see it as a truth that shows the truth of Christianity due to its power to answer questions. Where did the idea come from? Groups like Jehovah’s Witnesses will try to tell us that the idea is from paganism. What if a different reading of Scripture can show otherwise? What if we saw the Trinity coming right from the Scripture where we saw passages where the throne room was essentially opened up and we saw conversation going on between the Trinity?

You could be saying “I don’t know many passages like that” but my guest thinks he does. He’s one who says we can read Scripture with this kind of theological reading where we see at various points one of the persons of the Trinity speaking. When we do that, then we get some insights into the throne room of God, and that this was an entirely acceptable kind of reading in the time of Jesus. Who is this guest? His name is Matthew Bates and we’ll be discussing his book The Birth of the Trinity.

IMG_4240 (cropped, face)

Matthew W. Bates is Assistant Professor of Theology at Quincy University in Quincy, Illinois. Bates holds a Ph.D. from The University of Notre Dame in theology. His area of specialization is New Testament and early Christianity. His books include Salvation by Allegiance Alone (Baker Academic, forthcoming), The Birth of the Trinity (Oxford University Press, 2015), and The Hermeneutics of the Apostolic Proclamation (Baylor University Press, 2012). He also hosts a popular biblical studies podcast called OnScript.

Bates’s book is published by Oxford, which is no small feat, and a look at reading the text in a way that he calls theodramatic. Bates not only looks at the text itself, but he looks at the culture and the history of the text and interacts with many great scholars of the text. It will be a shock to many that Bates says that the seeds of the Trinity were even present before the time of Jesus. Scholars like Hurtado and others have claimed that the earliest Christology is the highest Christology. Could it be because they already had a reading of Scripture that allowed for Jesus the Christ to fit in and be represented as the Son of God par excellence?

The Trinity is always a great topic of conversation. Muslims, atheists, and Jehovah’s Witnesses often stumble over it and many Christians are in fact thoroughly confused by it, but for we Christians, it is the very nature of God we are discussing and we ought to give our best to understand this, even if we will never do so entirely. I’m looking forward to hosting Matthew Bates on this topic and I hope that you will be looking forward to listening. Please also go on ITunes and leave a review of the Deeper Waters Podcast.

In Christ,
Nick Peters