Book Plunge: Behind The Scenes of the Old Testament

What do I think of Jonathan S. Greer’s, John Hilber, and John Walton’s book published by Baker Academic? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

It’d be tempting to think that this book is purely nerdy academic stuff and material that no one can understand. Topping in at 514 pages of content, it would make sense. Such a thought would be wrong. While this book is scholarly, it is also very layman-friendly. It is a read that if you want to pick it up and read a chapter, you can walk away informed.

Granted most people will probably not do what I do as a reviewer and that’s read it straight through. If you do, you will be blessed. If you don’t, but you just read the chapters relevant to what you’re studying, you will still be blessed. These chapters are collected from a wide array of scholars.

Something else interesting is very little Biblical interpretation goes on. You won’t find a chapter on what this prophecy means or on the age of the Earth or the scope of the flood. The material is to help you be able to interpret the text better, but the book does not do the job of interpreting the text for you.

There are also over sixty chapters here and all of them touch on different aspects. One I found particularly interesting was on slavery in the Old Testament world. This is a frequent favorite of critics of the Christian faith and if anyone is struggling with this, reading this chapter will be a benefit to them.

Really that is the kind of work this book is. It looks at what was going on in the world of the Old Testament. What was daily life like? What were simple things we take for granted like food production and music like? How are we to understand the role the Law played? What about marriage and family?

The book is also not preachy. You’re not going to get an essayist who is going to go and try to squeeze Jesus into the text. Even with a chapter on God, the book is surprisingly not very theological, and that could be a good thing. The book is not meant to give you the nature of God, but rather to introduce you to how the gods were seen in the world of the Old Testament and then apply that to Israel in its own proper way.

Also, the book points to several other resources which is always a plus. If you want more information on any one topic, you know where to go. You can either see what else the writer of that essay had to say elsewhere or look at the material that he or she cites.

I would have liked to have seen a little bit more on the world of honor and shame in the Old Testament. This would also include the client/patron system. Such a system I think is also behind the suzerainty treaty that I see Deuteronomy as. This way of thinking is common in much of the world, but completely foreign to modern Americans.

This is the kind of book Christians who want to understand the Old Testament need to read. It’s also the kind of book that most critics of Christianity who use the Old Testament will not dare read. In conclusion, it ultimately is the kind of book anyone serious about the Old Testament, and thus the rest of Scripture, needs to read.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Contextualizing Inerrancy

What’s the new resource at Deeper Waters? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

What is inerrancy? It’s a question that normally if you ask ten evangelicals you’ll get eleven opinions. An even more controversial question would be what counts as going against inerrancy? There’s also the problem that today, the inerrancy of Scripture is often equated with the inerrancy of interpretation.

In a new resource available just recently, my ministry partner, J.P. Holding of Tektonics.org, and I look at the question of inerrancy. The book is called Contextualizing Inerrancy and you can find it here. The goal of the book is to go further than our Defining Inerrancy and include some real scholarly interaction.

What we do in this work is not just look at the topic of inerrancy, but see what some scholars say by reviewing their work on the topic. There are many people that don’t just disagree with someone’s interpretation on a particular text, but contend that by taking on that interpretation, that person has denied inerrancy. Most notably is the case of Norman Geisler going after Mike Licona. (And for those who don’t know, possible bias on my part is that Mike is my father-in-law.)

Those of us who are contextualizers do not believe that the text can be fully divorced from the context. This includes not just the Biblical context, but the social context. There are a number of remarks I could say to my wife that would grant her and me instant laughter. Most everyone else would not understand them. Why? Because there is a background knowledge known between the two of us that explains the context.

We hold that the Biblical writers also lived in a culture where they did not have to explain the culture. We do not live in that culture and we have to do the work to find out about it. While this includes studying the original languages, it goes beyond that. It looks at archaeology and other writings of the time to find out what life was like. We use all of this to inform our interpretation. How can study of the Biblical text be damaged by studying the world of the Bible?

With this, we look at evangelical scholars today and the work that they’re doing to see how that helps with the question. Our goal is to help Christians have a more refined look at Scripture and in the end, we hope you’ll walk away with a greater appreciation for the Bible. After all, anyone can pick up a book and find something about it to criticize, and many people are doing just that, but few will sadly bother to take the time to actually really study and see if their criticisms are accurate.

I really hope you’ll go and partake of this resource and share it with a friend as well. Christmas is here and this could be a great gift for someone as well. We appreciate every copy that you buy and we also hope that you’ll leave a positive review.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

 

Book Plunge: Evidence Considered

Was Jesus’s tomb found empty? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

In chapter 34 of Evidence Considered, Jelbert decides to take on Gary Habermas on if there was an empty tomb or not. At the start, Jelbert says that all of Habermas’s material comes from Christian sources. He also says these are diluted by internal disagreements and contradictions.

However, Habermas is just doing what all scholars do. Even Bart Ehrman will grant this point.

If historians want to know what Jesus said and did they are more or less constrained to use the New Testament Gospels as their principal sources. Let me emphasize that this is not for religious or theological reasons–for instance, that these and these alone can be trusted. It is for historical reasons pure and simple. (Ehrman, The New Testament, page 215)

Now if Jelbert thinks he has some sources that are more relevant to the life of Jesus and closer to the time, he’s free to come forward and show them to us. I am sure the scholarly world would love to hear these sources. If not, then there’s no reason to complain because Habermas uses the main sources that we have. Everyone does that.

Jelbert says that Jesus had in the accounts left the tomb. Why on Earth would it be that angels would have left it open? This sounds like a good question unless you actually think about it for a few seconds. The tomb was open so that everyone could see that it was empty. It wasn’t open so that Jesus could get out, but so that others could get in.

He also says Habermas makes two assumptions. The first is that the Gospels are reliable which is what needs to be shown and that anyone would care to disprove the story anyway. Naturally, both of these are weak claims.

For the former, he’s not trying to prove the Gospels are reliable. He’s trying to prove a part of the tradition in the Gospels, the empty tomb, is reliable, That’s a big difference. The way he’s doing it is by examining the sources we have with normal scholarly protocol. Again, everyone in the field does this.

For the second, apparently Paul might have been in such a position. We know that within a year or two he was already out there persecuting Christians and that’s just one person we’re told about. Christians were regularly facing some sort of persecution from Jewish interlocutors.

Jelbert goes on to say that Christian teachings explicitly encouraged belief without sight. Not at all, but we have the usual litany. Let’s go through each of them.

We have Jesus with Thomas saying “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.” This is a strange passage to use because it would imply that we who are later on are in a better position than the apostles who saw Jesus themselves. Thomas’s problem was that he had every reason to trust Jesus and he failed to believe.

1 Cor. 1:19 says God will destroy the wisdom of the wise and the intelligence of the intelligent he will frustrate. This verse has absolutely nothing to do with seeing something. What it is talking about is a masterful rhetorical work where the teaching of Jesus would challenge the sophists of the day by going against their preconceived notions of what a king should be and by revealing them to be frauds. Sophists, after all, could stand up one day and make a powerful argument that the nation ought to go to war against the enemy and receive applause for it, and the next day get up and argue the exact opposite.

No list of verses like this would be complete without Hebrews 11:1. I have written on that one before here. Nothing further needs to be said.

Jelbert says 1 Thess. 5:21 is often brought out, but that it applies to prophecy. I do agree on that one. Still, I think it’s a principle that can easily be applied across the board.

When he talks about the women discovering the tomb, he says that if the Gospel writers wrote that, they probably believed it. Yet this is what strikes me as odd. Jelbert talks about the accounts evolving over time. If they did, why did this part not evolve? Wouldn’t women witnesses be one of the first ones to change? Why not make the disciples into the heroes?

Jelbert says Mark and Luke have the women wanting to anoint the body with spices, but Matthew has them just wanting to look in the tomb. This is because Matthew has a story about guards that is found nowhere else. There’s one reason that I really think the story has credibility and this is something Jelbert never mentions. The text says the story has been told “to this day.”

If this story wasn’t being told in Matthew’s day, any reader would say, “Well not it hasn’t. We’ve never heard that story.” This is a direct acknowledgment of what was being said at the time. Again, Jelbert never mentions this.

Jelbert also says since Matthew changes Mark, that shows he doesn’t think Mark is reliable. That doesn’t follow. It could mean he does some editing to highlight certain points. It could be he wants to refine a detail. It could be he thinks a detail is unneeded. Jelbert just assumes the worst and goes with it.

Jelbert says that Paul never mentions the tomb at all, but what he needs to show is that he needs to. Paul writes about Jesus buried and risen and the word there indicates coming up from a lying down position. As a Pharisee, Paul would believe that what is placed in the tomb naturally comes back up again. Also, one will search in vain for any interaction with a work like Gundry’s Soma In Biblical Greek to see what is meant by a body.

Jelbert also says that when Paul says “Last of all he appeared to me, it implies an exhaustive list.” Why? Your guess is as good as mine. I see nothing here to make me think the list had to be exhaustive.

Getting back to the guard story, Jelbert says the chief priests and Pharisees go on the Sabbath to request a guard from Pilate who gives them one. That’s a problem at the start because there’s debate on if Pilate gives them a guard of if he acknowledges they had their own guards. He says the angels knock the soldiers out with an earthquake, which again I do not see in the text. They come to and run to the leaders who tell them what to say and assure them they will keep them safe. Jelbert says none of this is plausible. I suppose it isn’t when you straw man all of it.

Jelbert also says that if a body was raised from a mass grave, that would not leave an empty tomb. Sure, but no one claims it is a mass grave. If Jelbert thinks he has such a source, let him show it. All four of our early sources here all agree that Jesus was buried in a tomb alone.

Jelbert now goes to 1 Cor. 15 and the passage about the spiritual body. If this means immaterial, we have a problem. Paul speaks of spiritual men in chapters 2 and 3. He speaks of a spiritual rock in chapter 10. In that same chapter he writes about spiritual food and drink. Spiritual does not necessitate immaterial and again, the reader is invited to check the work of Gundry.

Right now I am convinced the tomb was empty, but not only that, so is Jelbert’s critique of it.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

Book Plunge: Always Be Ready

What do I think of Hugh and Kathy Ross’s book published by Reasons To Believe? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I read a lot of apologetics books. I read all levels. Some books are entry level. Some are intermediate. Some are advanced. I have high standards. When Hugh And Kathy Ross sent me an apologetics book they had written, I saw the title and thought it looked like something basic. I looked at the bibliography. It was only three pages.

Great.

So I pick it up. There is one chapter dedicated to science apologetics. I really don’t know much about what to say with that. I have a stance that I stay out of science debates like that. I don’t know enough to recognize nonsense from accuracy. I think science is fascinating, but I can’t argue one side anyway.

But that’s the only kind of chapter like that. The rest of the book starts getting fascinating as Hugh Ross talks so much about how he came to believe in Christianity. It’s a fascinating autobiographical look at things. I count Dr. Ross a dear friend of mine and I knew some of it, but a lot I didn’t know and it was amazing stuff.

Did I agree with all of it? No. Ross makes a lot about Israel being founded in 1948 and that as a fulfillment of Biblical prophecy. As an orthodox Preterist, I don’t agree, but the great thing about Ross is I know he wouldn’t have any problem with that.  If you want to work with Reasons To Believe, you’re actually required to have something that you disagree with Ross on.

Yet the story just gets fascinating to see Ross describe growing up and his life on the autism spectrum, something I relate to as one on the spectrum as well. Ross talks about problems in school and the care that he got from one special teacher. Teachers. Please never underestimate the influence that you could have on one student.

Ross also talks about the influence of Kathy on his life after he met her. At this point, as one who knows Ross’s story with her, I would have liked to have heard more. He talks about her showing up at a Bible Study he was at and then sometime later on, we hear that he’s her bride. Whoa! How did we get to that point so quickly? I would have liked to have read more how the romance developed. This could be especially helpful for people on the spectrum who are waiting to get married.

Ross goes throughout the book then talking about ministry opportunities that have come up in his life in working with the church and the launching of Reasons To Believe. Ross has it apparently that he gets into encounters all the time where he gets to share the gospel. I found this to be exciting reading.

That means that in the end, this could very well be my favorite book that I’ve ever read by Ross. It left me wanting those own opportunities to come and watching the world around me for when they could show up. It’s my sincere prayer that they will.

If you’re wanting to get a book that will equip you to go out there and have the best answers to deal with those who contradict the faith, this isn’t the book for you. If you want a book that can help discuss how to approach people better and give the Gospel, especially in a church setting, and examples of ways you can use apologetics in evangelism, this is the book for you. Veteran apologists will not likely learn much in the area of apologetics knowledge, but hopefully, they will gain a desire to interact more.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Since The Beginning

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

We all know that from the very beginning, Genesis 1 and 2 were thought to be totally scientific accounts to know about the origins of the cosmos. Everyone believed that the Earth was 6,000 years old or so. Then along came modern times and people began to reject that idea with the teaching of evolution.

We all know that.

But sometimes we don’t know what we think we really know.

People who think this really need to pick up this latest book by Kyle Greenwood. Greenwood is the editor as he has many writers write about the interpretation of these two chapters throughout history. Since it’s 1-2, it covers more than just the age of the Earth, but the age of the Earth is what comes to mind immediately for most people.

If you were like me, you would think that the first part would be to look at the Ante-Nicene Fathers and see what they had to say about the text. If you were like me, you would also be wrong. Greenwood takes the bizarre stance of looking at an Old Testament text by actually beginning with the Old Testament text. From there, he goes on to list ways themes from this portion of Scripture show up in the rest of the Old Testament.

From there, we get to Second Temple Judaism. These are the ideas from what is known as more of the Intertestamental period. What was being said about the text then? What do we find in the Dead Sea Scrolls?

This is followed by the New Testament. When we look at the writers and speakers of the New Testament, they will often refer to the Old Testament. How did they see the text? What can we learn? This is especially important for those of us who are Christians since most of us would see this text as inspired in some way.

After that, we get to see what rabbis at the time of Jesus were saying about the passages. Here we get to see some of the creativity of them. One rabbi asked another why it was that Adam was with Eve when the serpent came and yet he said nothing. The other responded that Adam and Eve had just got done having sexual intercourse so Adam fell asleep and when Eve woke him up with the fruit he took it not knowing what it was.

They were certainly creative.

From there we get to the Ante-Nicene Fathers. The point being that if you think we’re just going to jump into Christian interpretations immediately, you’ll be mistaken. As you go through, you realize people had many different views. You discuss the length of the days, the role of Sabbath, the location of the Garden of Eden, the role of men and women, etc.

And as you go through, you come to see that things aren’t as cut and dry as you would think. There have been many interpretations of the passage throughout history. Some you will think have something to them. Some you will wonder how anyone could have ever thought such a thing about them.

Sometimes I do wish more would have been said about the creation and role of humanity. For example, I remember wanting to see more about how the Fathers viewed men and women. It’s my understanding that sexuality was seen by them as a necessary evil and it should only be for the purpose of procreation.

Of course, we do eventually get to our own time and to post-Darwinian interpretations of the text. Yet once you get there, you’re not really surprised. In some ways, the interpretation is different, but in many ways, it’s the same. It’s the language to describe it I think that differs.

A valuable contribution to this will be to realize that interpretation has been multi-faceted from the beginning. Greenwood I am sure holds to an interpretation of the text, but he does not push for any of them here. He simply presents what is founded in history.

Anyone wanting to seriously study the text needs to interact with this book. It will be a valuable compendium for quite some time on thought throughout history on these texts. Hopefully, by reading from the past, we can learn more for today on how to understand what has happened since the beginning.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Sex. It’s Worth Waiting For

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

If I’m not reading on apologetics, I’m often reading on sex and marriage. One topic that’s interesting in this is encouraging young people to wait for marriage, like my wife and I both did. The importance in this topic is to find the balance.

One clear memory I have is being at a church I attended when they had a Silver Ring Thing, which is like True Love Waits. The pastor speaking was saying if you have sex for marriage, it will be for selfish reasons. Okay. I can agree with that. Then he encouraged thinking about the consequences. What if you get pregnant? Get an STD? What will you have to tell your future spouse one day? What about shame? What about guilt?

And I’m thinking, “Those sound like selfish reasons to me also.”

This guy went on and on. He gave about a sentence about the joy of sex in marriage and kept going on about not having it beforehand. I started zoning out. Pastors. If you are teaching about sex in church and a college-age guy is in the audience and getting bored, you are doing it wrong.

Greg Speck’s book is written to teenagers so it is a bit odd for someone in his late-thirties to be reading it, but I want to see what is said. I liked a lot of what I said. Speck’s style is easy to follow. He writes in a way that teenagers will understand. (Okay. To be fair, I didn’t read the whole section on STDs. That was a bit gross.) He also writes with a pastoral heart.

There are many chapters. Speck wants the readers to first off know, sex is more than just intercourse. It can start off small, and then go on from there. Many times, we want to know how close we can get to the line without crossing. It’s a quite foolish stance, though understandable. It’s like we want to put ourselves in unnecessary risk. I personally recommend couples go no further past step eight in their relationship in The Twelve Steps of Intimacy until they marry.

Speck goes into Biblical reasons also for waiting until marriage, but then he also has testimonials from teenagers who didn’t. I think the last part is particularly worthwhile. Sadly for many young people, a few Bible verses will not be enough. If you’re sitting with your girlfriend on a couch, a random verse from Paul won’t likely stop anything. Now if you have a thoroughly thought out position of sex and know how it fits into a Christian worldview, that’s a different matter, but many young people do not. (And honestly, many adults don’t either.)

From there, Speck goes on to various other situations involving sexuality. These are ones that often aren’t talked about with teenagers, but they need to be. These include incest, rape, and the fear that you could be homosexual. There is also a section on pornography and masturbation and with the former, Speck does admit he had to struggle with that.

This is followed with sections for guys only and girls only. I found these a bit interesting, but I was curious. An unmarried guy wrote for the girls and an unmarried woman for the boys. I suppose that you could always look at different ways this could be done. Perhaps in a future edition there could be testimonials from married couples who waited.

While there is a section on God’s design for marriage, I would have liked to have seen something more at the end. I think too often we can give the negatives, but we definitely need to emphasize those positives. Yes. This is something great worth waiting for. This would be the benefit of testimonials of people who waited until marriage. There’s a saying that the devil will do anything he can to get you to have sex before you’re married, and afterward he will do anything he can to keep you from having sex.

Which brings me to one small criticism. As an Orthodox Preterist, I already think the devil is bound. This does not mean there are not demons running around still, but I think we give the devil far too much power. Speck does point to the devil being a cause of temptation many times. I am of the persuasion that often we don’t need the devil to be tempted, especially when it comes to the opposite sex. As the saying goes, “Lead me not into temptation. I will find it myself.”

Still, I think this would be a very helpful book for youth groups to go through together. Naturally, I think guys and girls would need to go through it separately. Having guys and girls together and talking about an issue like this in close quarters could have the opposite effect desired after all!

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Evidence Considered: Chapter 33

Did Jesus die on a cross? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

In Chapter 33, Jelbert looks to see if Jesus died on a cross or not. Now I will again state possible bias so that everyone can know I am being upfront. Mike is my father-in-law. That being said, even when it comes to the New Testament, we don’t agree on everything and when I watch his debates, I give an honest critique and he would tell you that if you asked him.

One would think this chapter would be a slam dunk. Of course, Jesus was crucified. Why would anyone think otherwise? While Jelbert is not a mythicist, which is a relief, he does still rely on G.A. Wells. Don’t ask me why. If you think a position isn’t really credible, why state your case on the New Testament from people of that persuasion?

Jelbert quotes Wells in saying it is unsatisfactory to trace the resurrection narratives in the Gospels to deliberate lies from eyewitnesses who concocted stories they knew to be false. Jelbert agrees. He points to Mormonism and Scientology as examples.

These are not convincing. Joseph Smith had a known reputation as a con man and he did gain a lot from his movement, such as a couple dozen wives, and even a revelation given to his wife Emma to let Joseph have all these wives. As we have pointed out also, Mormonism grew in a culture that was much more live and let live and had a Christian background and run to the West out of easy government reach if need be.

Scientology meanwhile is incredible profitable with people paying fortunes to deal with their problems there and a number of celebrities in the movement. The religion is seen as a strange one by many, but we don’t see mass persecution going on for Scientology. Compare this to the disciples who gained nothing from their religion and a number of them faced persecution for it.

Jelbert goes on to talk about the crucifixion and says while a swoon is unlikely, in that Jesus only appeared to die, it is more likely than that Jesus was God made man and was killed so that people could be saved from God/Himself (Will these guys ever get the Trinity right?), but only if they believed the above was factually accurate based on meager evidence. You gotta love the straw men that take place. Let’s consider some problems right here before we continue.

To begin with, all that’s being asked to believe in this chapter is that Jesus was crucified and died from that, which is a no-brainer. Of course on both. The next step to follow from that is resurrection itself. The claims of deity follow the resurrection. Was this on meager evidence? Well, let’s see. The disciples were convinced that this person had died. They knew he had been buried. They knew that tomb was empty. They saw Him alive again. These appearances lasted for some time. The body itself never materialized in any other way. If the accounts of the New Testament are their testimony, that evidence wasn’t meager for them.

Jelbert says though that most anything is more plausible than the above. In other words, Jelbert has said that no matter the evidence, anything that avoids something miraculous will be more probable. If this is the case, then we have simply the question that I asked to Bart Ehrman in a public debate in the Q&A to ask to Jelbert. This is that if a miracle is the least likely explanation by definition, is this said beforehand or after? If we want to say beforehand we are skeptical, I understand that, but if we say it afterwards, then are we not in danger of saying that no amount of evidence can bend the dial to make it that a miracle is more likely than not? If evidence will not change your position on a subject, your position is not based on evidence.

That being said, Jelbert does accept that Jesus died by crucifixion, but then he goes on to look at Tacitus and Josephus. He quotes Wells who quotes John P. Meier. Unfortunately, Wells does not tell us where this quote is found. He tells us that Meier says that Tacitus and Josephus both reflect what they heard Christians of their own day say and are not independent extracanonical sources. Tacitus is said to be repeating uncritically what was said.

Let’s start with Tacitus then. Tacitus was quite critical and an excellent researcher. As a senator and priest both, he would have access to records we would not have today and he would know how to examine them. It would be a simple matter for him to go and check and records that Rome had at the time and see that Pilate did crucify Jesus.

Was it hearsay? No. Tacitus was clear on his stance on the matter.

“My object in mentioning and refuting this story is, by a conspicuous example, to put down hearsay, and to request that all those into whose hands my work shall come not to catch eagerly at wild and improbable rumours in preference to genuine history.”
(Tacitus, Annals, IV.11)

Those who want to say Tacitus was uncritical and just repeating hearsay have a huge hurdle to climb over. It is one that the best Tacitus scholars have not accepted. Maybe, just maybe, they know more about Tacitus than these people do.

As for Josephus, very few would say that the Testimonium of Josephus is entirely from Josephus, but very few would also say the entirety is an interpolation, and that’s just one reference to Jesus. Most would agree that some part of it is authentic. This part does show that Jesus was a real person who was crucified.

On top of that, having something at eighty years after the event being too late would eliminate a lot of ancient history. Are Wells and Jelbert willing to do that to avoid Jesus? One fears they just might be.

Next we return to Jesus being an apocalyptist, which we have dealt with in the chapter looking at Darrell Bock and the Son of Man sayings. 1 Thess. 4:16-17 is given as an example of Paul thinking the parousia would happen in his lifetime. Is it really?

Let’s try an exercise. Let’s suppose Paul believes some things to be true.

#1. Jesus will bodily return someday.
#2. Paul does not know when this is.
#3. Paul knows he could die before Jesus returns.
#4. Paul does not know when he will die.

So let’s suppose Paul wants to let people know that this could happen, but he doesn’t know when. If he says, “Those who remain” then he is saying it won’t happen in his lifetime, but he knows no such thing. What does he say then? We. Why? It’s an editorial use to say that any of us who are alive at His coming will see Him and meet Him in the air.

Let’s consider how it works today. On some anniversaries of 9/11, it is not implausible for the U.S. government to say to be on the watch for a terrorist attack. Do they know it will happen? No. Is there a possibility it still could? Yes. Is our government lying or mistaken? No. They just want us to be prepared.

Jelbert also says Mark 13:2 is a failed prophecy when it claims all the stones of the Temple will be thrown down. Jelbert says they’re left on top of each other on the Western Wall. Technically, they are still thrown down even if that’s accurate since they are no longer connected to the temple. Not only that, the wall is not part of the temple but the temple mount. You can see here about that.

He also thinks it’s unlikely that Jesus by Himself could shut down the temple since it was so big. That’s not what is said. It refers to the temple courts and most likely this refers to one part of the Temple complex. It does not mean everything ceased to function.

He goes on to present Ehrman’s case for Jesus being arrested in that Judas shared information Jesus shared with them privately about His rule as messiah. Interestingly, Jelbert quotes Matt. 19:28 about this. This is our passage that we brought up with his chapter on Darrell Bock about Jesus saying that the twelve will sit on twelve thrones. Jesus says the Son of Man will rule on a throne. Where is Jesus going to be? It makes the most sense if Jesus is the Son of Man. Jelbert says it is plausible that Jesus is ruling them as the King Himself, but that would mean that Jesus is on a throne and the only other figure on a throne in there is the Son of Man. Do the math then.

It would have been better for Jelbert to have just said Jesus died by crucifixion and move on. When Ludemann begins his book asking what really happened to Jesus, he simply says the following:

“The fact of the death of Jesus as a consequence of crucifixion is indisputable, despite hypotheses of a pseudo-death or a deception which are sometimes put forward. It need not be discussed further here.” (Gerd Ludemann. .”What Really Happened To Jesus?” Page 17.)

Would that Jelbert have simply done the same. He would not have provided even more reason for us to not consider him knowledgeable on the subject matter.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: The Case For Miracles

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

Lee Strobel holds a special place in my heart. It was his books that really lit my fire in the area of apologetics. Not only does Strobel present great information, he also does it while introducing you to the best scholars in the field so you know where to go to next for more information. It was through him that I came across scholars like Craig Blomberg, Ravi Zacharias, Peter Kreeft, J.P. Moreland, Gary Habermas, William Lane Craig, Ben Witherington III, etc.

This book is no exception, though in some ways it is quite different. One obvious way is that it does start off with interviewing a skeptic. The interview is with Michael Shermer. While Shermer is a lot nicer and more real than many other skeptics, many of his arguments are really just as weak. As I read through the chapter, I kept thinking that if this is one of the leading faces of skepticism, then we’re in good hands.

Still, I think it’s a good change to have taken place. I would like to see in his books Strobel interviewing both sides. It’s also quite impressive to realize Strobel resisted the urge to be a debater with Shermer and just let him speak.

From there, Strobel goes on to interview other scholars. Big shock that on this topic, the first person on the list is Craig Keener. Keener wrote an epic two-volume work on miracles called Miracles. Anyone skeptical of the reality of miracles should read it. The good news is if you have read it, you will find still new stories in this one. Craig Keener has more miracles and I understand from my interactions with him that he collects them regularly now.

The next interview is with Candy Gunther Brown on prayer studies. Now I will say that these kinds of studies have never really convinced me. There are too many variables that can’t be tested and you’re dealing with a free-will agent. What is much more convincing with prayer are testimonials like the ones Brown talks about where she goes to third world countries and sees people being healed after they are prayed for in the name of Jesus.

Other interviews on topics related are J. Warner Wallace on the resurrection and Michael Strauss on the origins of the universe. Both of these are interesting and to be expected. Both are also highly enjoyable chapters.

Roger Olson was a chapter that was really convicting. The chapter was on being ashamed of the supernatural and while I don’t care for the term supernatural, the point is still there. We often pray for wisdom for doctors in operations instead of for healing. It’s as if we expect God to not do miracles. This really caused me to look at how I approach prayer.

Then there’s the chapter that could be the hardest one to read in the book. This is the chapter about what about when miracles don’t occur. Douglas Groothuis is the person interviewed for that one. His wife Becky had a disease that was killing her memory and brain function bit by bit. Sadly, Becky has since the time of publishing passed away. Groothuis is there to remind us that miracles don’t always occur and how to handle it.

If there was one chapter I would have liked, it would have been one on the philosophy of Hume. Keener touched on that some, but he’s not a philosopher. Perhaps it would have been good to have had someone like John Earman as an interview to talk about it.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Evidence Considered Chapter 32

Did Jesus predict His death and resurrection? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

In this chapter, Glenton Jelbert takes on Craig Evans with the claim that Jesus predicted His death and resurrection. Now I do agree that Jesus knowing the trouble He was causing was not saying much by predicting His own death. Of course, if He predicted how and when, which I think He did, that makes it a little bit different.

One place that Evans goes to is Mark 14:36.

And He was saying, “Abba! Father! All things are possible for You; remove this cup from Me; yet not what I will, but what You will.”

Jelbert says that Evans applies the criterion of embarrassment whereby the early church would not make up a passage that has Jesus being frightened and unwilling to go to His death. Jelbert says that the criterion can be valid in general, but one has to apply it carefully. Did Evans turn every stone looking for other explanations? Let’s see about that.

Jelbert first says this supports the idea that Mark thought Jesus was more man than God. At the start, we have to ask if Jelbert thinks Mark thought Jesus was something like a demigod or what. Christianity has never denied the full humanity of Jesus including the full display of human emotions.

Second, Jelbert says the courage and anguish and sacrifice are beautiful instead of embarrassing and this may be the most moving verse in all of Scripture. Perhaps you might think that if you lived in a modern Western individualistic society. In Jesus’s world, one was to face their death with dignity and a man was to be a man and a king was to be a king. This is not the way a Messiah figure would act. I see no reason why I should really care what Jelbert thinks so far into the future after the event.

Third, Jelbert says embarrassment is resolved by seeing what the story requires. Isaiah 53 would say the Messiah had to suffer, but the question is would Jews and Gentiles really see that, or would they see it as more of a “Jesus was a failed Messiah, but we’re going to come up with this explanation to explain what doesn’t fit for a Messiah.” Jelbert says that applying Isaiah 53 still raises a myriad of problems. How does resurrection work? Was it planned by God? How did Jesus feel about death?

All of these are good questions to ask, but in this case, they’re all irrelevant. If we want to know if Jesus predicted His death and resurrection, none of these questions change the facts. If we want to know if He rose again, none of them change the facts. A police officer can come upon a victim that everyone agrees is murdered. Does he know how it was done? Does he know why? Does he know what the victim was thinking? He could know none of these things and he might want to investigate, and probably will, to see what answers he finds to these questions, but it won’t change that a murder has taken place.

Jelbert also says that if Jesus is God and was sent by God to suffer through the will of God to save us from God’s judgment, was Jesus really suffering? At the start, this is quite a word salad. Let’s be clear on terminology. When we say “Jesus is God” it does not mean that Jesus is the entirety of the Godhead. It’s more theological shorthand rather than quoting and explaining something like the Nicene Creed every time. It simply means that Jesus possesses all the attributes of the divine nature in His person.

Jelbert says God in Jesus has to suffer or there will be no salvation, but no argument is given for this. The early church would have all condemned it. The man Jesus suffered, but God did not suffer. God did not undergo change. God did not die on the cross. (Always be watchful of prayers to the Father that change to “Thank you for dying on the cross.”)

It wouldn’t be an accident that Jesus suffered or else God is not sovereign. Yet surely God cannot victimize His Son, so Jesus did it willingly. Jelbert says that a passage like this tidies it all up. Jesus was hesitant but agreed to go.

And yet, this wouldn’t address the issue at all. How would the outside world see this? Christians could agree that Jesus went and suffered wilingly, but hesitatingly, but why include even the fact that Jesus was in anguish? Wouldn’t it be easier to just ignore that? Why give oneself a difficulty?

Evans also points to the idea of Jesus to carry one’s own cross and points out that Jesus didn’t do that. Someone had to help Him with His cross. This argues strongly for the authenticity of the saying.

Jelbert says that all that happened most likely is that stories were spreading and changing and Mark wrote down the two different accounts. We can applaud his not trying to smooth it out and this shows his sincerity but not his accuracy. Unfortunately, Jelbert provides no data from oral tradition. Nothing is given to back this.

As is pointed out in works like The Lost World of Scripture, stories were told in groups and minor details could be changed, but not the central thrust. There would also be gatekeepers of the story who would make sure that the story was being shared accurately. Jelbert instead just gives a just so story with no data to back it and expects us to think it’s true.

Jelbert also says resurrections apparently happened all the time in the ancient world. He then goes to Matthew 27:52-53 on this passage. It is a wonder why a passage like this should lead one to the conclusion that resurrections happened all the time.

One point Jelbert brings up is that these stories of resurrection lack corroboration outside of the Scripture. He ignores that even in Q, which if accurate is the most basic account of the life of Jesus, miracles are included. Scholars now do not really hesitate to agree that Jesus had a reputation as a healer and/or exorcist. This does not mean that they think He actually did these things, but He had that reputation.

Today, you can read the accounts of Craig Keener about miracles where resurrections are said to take place. These do not receive worldwide coverage. Why? Skepticism. It was just the same back then. The most well-to-do writing histories were normally outside of Judaism. How many of them are going to seriously investigate a crucified Jewish rabbi from Nazareth to see if He did miracles or not?

Second, Jelbert says that if everyone was claiming resurrection, it’s not a big deal if Jesus did. Note how far we have gone. Jelbert has taken one passage, and a passage that is often highly debated as to what it means at that, then said based on this passage we know that resurrections happened all the time, and then based on that bizarre idea says that everyone was predicting resurrection. Even if they were, that resurrection would be at the end and not in the middle of the space-time continuum.

Next, Jelbert returns to Matthew 16:28. This is the one that has Jesus saying some standing there would not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom. Jelbert says this is just false, but many theologians have spilled much ink to explain it. We have to ask if Jelbert did what he asked of Evans. Did he turn over every other stone to find another explanation other than what he thought the text meant? Obviously not, because most any orthodox Preterist could have explained it easily enough.

So what is it? Note that no one there was thinking about Jesus leaving let alone returning. Jesus in talking about His coming would be giving a message of judgment. Jesus would come in judgment before some there would die. The transfiguration would show the disciples He had this authority, but it would not prove to be that event.

Around 2000 I had to get a set of Tyndale commentaries for Bible College. R.T. France did the one on Matthew and said the coming is one of judgment and kingly authority. It is not a coming to Earth but a coming to God to receive His kingdom. Jelbert assumes this must mean the return of Jesus. He gives no argument for that.

This would happen in 70 A.D. when Jesus was publicly vindicated with the destruction of the Temple. Jelbert says Christians must admit Jesus’s prediction is false. Not at all. I must admit it is true based on years of studying eschatology. Perhaps Jelbert should do what he advised Evans to do. Once again, when something comes up in science that seems like a puzzle, well we must investigate and study and if it seems to go against evolution, we must wait and study more. When it comes to Christianity, we must throw in the towel immediately. Keep in mind I have no problem with studying and I have no problem with that even when it seems to counter evolution. I have a problem with a double standard.

Next time we look at this book we’ll study if Jesus died on the cross.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

Book Plunge: Eastern Orthodox Christianity – A Western Perspective

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

I’d like to thank Dr. Clendenin for sending me the two books he has on this topic. I hope before too long to get to the second one. This one is the perspective and the other is the reader.

Clendenin states his case first by explaining Eastern Orthodoxy. He does this from the perspective of a Western Protestant who had to do some long-term work in Russia. Here in America, normally, most Christians are Protestants. In Russia, the situation appears to be that most are Orthodox.

The first chapter is actually a defense of Orthodoxy. This is most likely written to help explain people like Franky Schaeffer and Peter Gillquist. For those concerned by those names together, Clendenin does not put them on the same level. In the last chapter, for instance, he says we need to listen more to the Timothy Wares and Thomas Odens than to the Frank Schaeffers.

Many of us from the Protestant perspective put Orthodox on the same level as Catholics. The paradox is that they often do the same with us. I believe Clendenin is wanting us to see that we’re all Christians.

There are some problematic statements. We can include the idea on p. 30 that Orthodoxy makes the strongest claim to unbroken apostolic succession and that the idea of salvation outside of its church is a questionable assumption. It’s only natural that many outside the church will look with suspicion on a claim like this, especially since Orthodoxy is really a minority position in the world and if Clendenin is right, is dwindling.

Clendenin then goes into the doctrine of God. In the West, we often have our theology laid out in a systematic way. Not so in the East where it looks like personal experience is much more relevant and that God is known in mystery. The main idea is actually that we know more what God is not. There is some of this in the West, but the idea is quite different to our ears.

The section on icons is quite interesting. There’s a brief look at the debate on icons. I was surprised to hear that for the first 300 years or so, icons weren’t supported in the church. Naturally, one cannot read all through the church fathers immediately and see, but I did get out my Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs and look up icons, which pointed me to art and images. Looking up images, I found that that does seem to be the case.

Still, I think those in support of icons had the best arguments Biblically. I just think that going with history and tradition, the iconoclasts had the better argument. Naturally, I go with Scripture the most. That being said, I understand the concerns about the possibility of idolatry. It is a danger those in Eastern traditions need to be concerned about. I have been in services that were arranged to celebrate the coming of an icon and it does concern me to see that happening.

There’s also an interesting juxtaposition. When the iconoclasts were in charge, they tried to destroy icons. When the other side was, they tried to destroy the writings of the iconoclasts. If only we could go back and tell Christians to not destroy their material or even the material of their pagan opponents. We could learn so much that way.

Next comes Scripture and tradition, which is always a touchy issue. Clendenin argues that it’s not an either/or. It’s more which conception of tradition do we go with. A Protestant like myself wants to know how a tradition can be shown to A) come from the apostles and B) be shown to be true. We don’t reject all of them. I think there’s good basis for thinking Mark is the testimony of Peter. That’s not on the same level as, say, the nature of the Eucharist. One is a historical claim. One is a metaphysical claim.

At the same time, we in the West need to be mindful of tradition. The Reformers would agree with this saying that all must be interpreted according to the rule of faith and they were quite eager to go to the Patristics. We can’t consider the church fathers infallible, especially since they disagreed on some issues, but we don’t need to disregard them entirely.

There’s a section on theosis, but I think I’d really like to get to the part on the hermeneutic of love. In this, Clendenin wants to look at how we can all get along. Still, he has some critiques of the system as a whole.

Protestants need to be open to the idea as many of us still use artwork. When I used to get pastoral counseling at a church, sometimes I would get there early and I would go to a room for private prayer. Honestly, artwork rarely moves me. I’m just not that type of person, but there was a stained glass portrait of Jesus with a shepherd’s staff knocking gently on a door. I always liked that painting.

Yet on the other side, Orthodoxy has a hurdle to say that icons are mandatory. The use of icons enjoyed less than universal acceptance in the early church. Does it really help the cause of unity to have statements about those who reject icons being heretics?

It’s also worth pointing out that when God gave us a communication of Himself for future generations, it was in a book. The Old Testament has them and the New Testament as well. It was not in icons. While icons can help us think about events in the Gospels, they can’t fully pass on the Gospel message.

When it comes to Scripture and tradition, it is pointed out that Scripture was canonized and not a tradition. Tradition is good to have, but some traditions could detract from Scripture. A tradition being old does not equal true nor does a tradition having wide support from the Patristics equal that.

Clendenin points out the church fathers were not monolithic and Orthodoxy could benefit from a critical eye looking at them and weighing them out. On the other hand, if the Orthodox depend too heavily on the fathers, Protestants depend too little. We could bear to go back and see the history of the doctrines we believe.

Where do we go from here? Clendenin does present some concerns. When there is a call for dialogue between Orthodox and Protestants, it has been the Protestants mainly who have been initiating. Protestants tend to get an idea that they are less than welcome at the table as it were.

He also quotes Weber who says “Successionists must be highly selective and ignore all evidence to the contrary. They must also maintain an idealized and naive view of the past. In the end, successionism is based on one’s theology or ideology, not on any critical historical analysis.” Clendenin follows with, “I believe that Orthodoxy’s historical claim to unbroken apostolic succession is just that; it is a theological claim that is, ironically, uncritically unhistorical.”

He also argues that when you look at worship talked about in the New Testament, it’s often descriptive and not prescriptive. How many of us have services like in 1 Corinthians where one person stands up to speak and then another stands up to speak? The Lord’s Supper I think was done extremely differently. One would think if the main issue was over the meaning of the words Jesus said, Paul would clarify that. Instead, Paul asks us to examine ourselves. I don’t think it’s so much getting a theology right as making sure our hearts are right.

The liturgy is no doubt moving and beautiful to some, but to others, it is not. Some will be helped on the path of discipleship. Some will not. Clendenin gives two examples. Ed Rommen was a Protestant turned Orthodox because of the beauty of the liturgy. James Stamoolis was an Orthodox who became an evangelical Protestant because the liturgy was deeply unsatisfying. Perhaps it’s not a question of one being right and one being wrong, although that could be there, but a point more of different styles of worship connecting with different people. My wife is drawn in more by aesthetics and music, for example. I am more drawn in by ideas. To each their own.

Clendenin’s book is a great work. I think many Orthodox could read it and not have a problem with it and hopefully at the end with the criticisms and concerns say, “Thanks. We’ll keep that in mind.” It would be good also to see more Orthodox willing to study Protestantism and why we believe what we believe.

In Christ,
Nick Peters