Debate Tomorrow

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

I want to let everyone know that tomorrow, I will be doing a debate on the podcast out of the U.K. called The Mind Renewed. My debate partner will be Ken Humphreys who runs the web site We will be debating the question of if Jesus was a historical figure or not. Obviously, you know that I will be debating the position that he was.

I do not know when the debate will be up though I have heard a possibility is that it will be up by Saturday. When it is, I plan to put a link up so anyone can listen to it. I do consider this an important debate as Christ mythicism is a position that while still ultimately found unpersuasive by scholars in the field, does rise up on the internet and especially in an age where everyone thinks that they’re an expert on historiography.

Still, I am honored to get to take part in this debate. I’m one of a few on the internet I think who has still insisted that these people need to be answered. I also take this as an example of how it is that we have to be doing better education in the church. It’s not enough to come and sing worship songs together, learn how to be good people, and then have a pizza party. We must educate. The data is out there. It can be understood by the layman. We just need to get it out.

We also need to teach some internet savvy. Unfortunately, in this day and age, anyone can set up a blog or a web site or make a YouTube video. Does that include me? Yep. That’s also why I have encouraged my readers to not take my word as gospel. By all means check me out with the best scholarship. If I make a mistake or you think I have made one, point it out. I have been in the business of refining my position.

Our people in the church need to know how to access information that they come across on the internet. Of course, the best way to do this is to go read the works of leading scholars. This is problematic in our day and age for a people who do not like to do such hard work. How can we expect them to. Do you not know what is on television this evening that we just simply have to watch? I am not opposed to having some entertainment as my wife and I watch several shows. I am opposed to living for entertainment without taking the time to study the issues that matter most.

To my fellow Christians, I simply ask that you pray for me. Pray that God will give me recall of the information that I have worked hard to learn and pray that this will be an edifying podcast that will draw people more and more to the true historical Jesus and of course, hopefully make them  be willing to research Him and in turn, come to find that He is the king of this universe and be willing to bend the knee to Him.

Thank you all.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Truth In A Culture of Doubt

What do I think of Kostenberger, Bock, and Chatraw’s book? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Bart Ehrman is described in this book as the rising rock star of the New Testament world. While more and more Christians are learning about him, too many are not, and sadly, the first time they often hear of him, they are unprepared for what he has to say. The tragedy is best described by the way Chatraw sums it up.

Later I was a bit surprised when I had a similar discussion with a couple of well-respected pastors in my community. These conversations helped me see once again that most people, even pastors, don’t know much about what’s going on in the world of biblical scholarship. The other authors of this book have had similar discussions.

In fact, just recently I was sharing some detail concerning the last 12 verses of Mark and a good Christian friend was concerned I might have caused some doubt for some. I understood that concern well and shared some information on textual criticism to help deal with it, but it’s a shame that that which is common knowledge is seen as detrimental to the faith of some simply because the pastors have shielded them from the academy. In fact, pastors are usually the worst culprits.

Thankfully, the lay people do have friends in the authors of this book. These authors have done the service of taking Ehrman’s popular works seriously and addressing the main concerns that are raised in some of the most well-known ones. The reader who goes through this book and learns it well will be much more equipped to survive a class from Ehrman or someone like him.

If you are familiar with the arguments, you won’t find much here that is new, but that’s okay. This is written for those who are not really familiar with Ehrman and his arguments yet. If you are familiar with them, you will find that you still have a good resource where the major arguments can be found listed together.

One important insight that the book has that I agree with and have noticed myself is that Ehrman most often is quite good at giving you one side of the argument. He ignores that which is against his hypothesis. They consider his latest book “How Jesus Became God” as a for instance. In this book, Richard Bauckham is not mentioned once. He mentions Hurtado but does not interact with his main claims. He does not interact seriously with the Shema. I’d also add that in his section on miracles, brief as it may be, there is no mention whatsoever of Keener.

Ehrman has been undermining the Christian faith of many for a long time and unfortunately he’s probably right that too many are just closing their ears and humming so they don’t have to hear what he has to say. This should not be the Christian answer. If you want to get the Christian answer, an excellent gateway to that destination can be found in this book. I highly recommend it.

In Christ,

Nick Peters

Deeper Waters Podcast 9/27/2014: Truth In A Culture of Doubt

What’s coming up on this week’s episode of the Deeper Waters Podcast? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Bart Ehrman is becoming a much more common name around the world and this includes even in Christian households. Unfortunately, there are still several in the church who don’t know about who he is and the reality is that if they do not know now, they will surely be knowing in the future, most likely when their children come home from college and announce that they’re no longer Christians because they don’t believe in the Bible.

To those who haven’t read the other side, Ehrman’s case can seem to be a strong presentation, but is it really? The authors of “Truth In A Culture Of Doubt” say it isn’t, and one of them will be my guest to talk about it. He’s been on here before and it’s a pleasure to welcome back to the Deeper Waters Podcast, Dr. Darrell Bock.


“Darrell L. Bock is Senior Research Professor of New Testament Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary in Dallas, Texas. He also serves as Executive Director of Cultural Engagement for the Seminary’s Center for Christian Leadership. His special fields of study involve hermeneutics, the use of the Old Testament in the New, Luke-Acts, the historical Jesus, gospel studies and the integration of theology and culture. He has served on the board of Chosen People Ministries for over a decade and also serves on the board at Wheaton College. He is a graduate of the University of Texas (B.A.), Dallas Theological Seminary (Th.M.), and the University of Aberdeen (Ph.D.). He has had four annual stints of post–doctoral study at the University of Tübingen, the second through fourth as an Alexander von Humboldt scholar (1989-90, 1995-96, 2004-05, 2010-2011). He also serves as elder emeritus at Trinity Fellowship Church in Richardson, Texas, is editor at large for Christianity Today, served as President of the Evangelical Theological Society for the year 2000-2001, and has authored over thirty books, including a New York Times Best Seller in non-fiction and the most recent release, Truth Matters, a response to many issues skeptics raise about Christianity in the public square. He is married to Sally and has two daughters (both married), a son, two grandsons and a granddaughter.”

We’ll be discussing many of the works of Ehrman and the problems in them. This will include works such as “God’s Problem”, “Misquoting Jesus”, “How Jesus Became God”, “Lost Christianities”, “Jesus Interrupted”, and “Forged.” We’ll be talking about how Ehrman is quite a skilled communicator but he unfortunately only gives one side of the argument on a regular basis and does not interact with the best opposition against his viewpoint.

If you have a child you plan to send to college one day, you owe it to yourself to listen to this program to learn about the work of Ehrman and how best you can answer it. Ehrman will only give one side of the argument. Make sure you know the other side of the argument just as well. Please be looking for the next episode of the Deeper Waters Podcast to show up in your ITunes feed.

In Christ,

Nick Peters

A Response To Islam Answers

Is the Crucifixion A Historical Reality? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

I was asked by a friend to look at the “work” from “Islam Answers” on the historicity of the crucifixion. Some of you think I save my worst condemnation in research methodology for the new atheists. That is false. When I read Muslim argumentation, it is worse. Going through the first part that I went through was a labor of love for my friend.

I do wish to note that I am staying with my area here as well. Seeing as I am not an authority on Islam, I will not be commenting on how well Muslim works pass the standard of historical criticism. That is for those who do study Islam. I will instead comment on their criticisms of the NT. Naturally, it won’t be exhaustive, but it will be sufficient.

The work that I am critiquing at this point is part 1 that can be found here. What I find repeatedly is the same argument ad nauseum and the same failed argument. I find a lack of interaction with the latest scholarly research and the so-called research that I find is extremely poor. This will be pointed out as we go along, especially since a number of times, Wikipedia is cited as their source.

For instance, it is repeatedly stated that the Gospels are anonymous. The writers of this work (Who strangely enough I do not know who they are since they happen to be anonymous) repeatedly state that if they were eyewitnesses, surely they would want to put who they were. It is a shame they did not pick up a work like E.P. Sanders’s “The Historical Figure of Jesus.” On page 66, they would have read:

The authors probably wanted to eliminate interest in who wrote the story and to focus the reader on the subject. More important, the claim of an anonymous history was higher than that of a named work. In the ancient world an anonymous book, rather like an encyclopedia article today, implicitly claimed complete knowledge and reliability. It would have reduced the impact of the Gospel of Matthew had the author written ‘this is my version’ instead of ‘this is what Jesus said and did.’

Furthermore, it is not as if we have no idea whatsoever who wrote the documents that we have as the Gospels. There is no interaction with Martin Hengel’s suggestion that the original works would have included the authors names somewhere. Hengel could be wrong of course, but it would be good to see the anonymous writers of this piece interacting with it.

Is there any mention of the church traditions that state who the authors are? None whatsoever. Again, the church traditions could be wrong for the sake of argument. Sure. Yet shouldn’t the idea be at least interacted with? We could consider what Tim McGrew says in my interview with him at the start about Gospel authorship or my interview with Andrew Pitts on NT Forgeries.

In fact, for all their concern about anonymity, as I said, it doesn’t bother them that the authors of their work itself is unnamed and even on their web page about the music in the video, one sees this:

Theme Nasheed (by unnamed group from Morocco)
Enjoy, and make some “duaa” for us.

Apparently, the problem isn’t anonymous works. It’s which ones they will accept.

Are we to think anyway that if there was a name on the Gospels, that they would instantly be seen as credible? We have six epistles in the NT that are said to be by Paul that most scholars do not think are Pauline. Why should we think the Gospels would be treated any differently?

And what about other works that are anonymous? How do we know Plutarch wrote his works? One of his grandsons later on says he did. A large number of works in the ancient world were anonymous. Do the authors of this piece want to say that if any of them are anonymous, then we must view them all with suspicion.

In fact, let’s take a look at some points about the authorship of the Gospels. Let’s start with Matthew. The early church speaks with one voice. Matthew wrote the book. The writers of the piece being responded to today make note that the authors don’t use the term “I” but instead, if they speak of themselves, speak in the third person. Traditionally, this would only work with Matthew and John because Mark and Luke not even in tradition would be seen really as major eyewitnesses. (Mark is thought by some to be the young man who runs off naked in the Garden, but that’s only one scene.) Matthew does write about himself in the third person. Is this a problem? The writers of this piece should have known this question was addressed around sixteen centuries ago by Augustine. Excuse a long quote please:

Contra Faustum 17.1

  1. Faustus said: You ask why we do not receive the law and the prophets, when Christ said that he came not to destroy them, but to fulfill them. Where do we learn that Jesus said this? From Matthew, who declares that he said it on the mount. In whose presence was it said? In the presence of Peter, Andrew, James, and John—only these four; for the rest, including Matthew himself, were not yet chosen. Is it not the case that one of these four—John, namely—wrote a Gospel? It is. Does he mention this saying of Jesus? No. How, then, does it happen that what is not recorded by John, who was on the mount, is recorded by Matthew, who became a follower of Christ long after He came down from the mount? In the first place, then, we must doubt whether Jesus ever said these words, since the proper witness is silent on the matter, and we have only the authority of a less trustworthy witness. But, besides this, we shall find that it is not Matthew that has imposed upon us, but some one else under his name, as is evident from the indirect style of the narrative. Thus we read: “As Jesus passed by, He saw a man, named Matthew, sitting at the receipt of custom, and called him; and he immediately rose up, and followed Him.” [Matthew 9:9] No one writing of himself would say, He saw a man, and called him; and he followed Him; but, He saw me, and called me, and I followed Him. Evidently this was written not by Matthew himself, but by some one else under his name. Since, then, the passage already quoted would not be true even if it had been written by Matthew, since he was not present when Jesus spoke on the mount; much more is its falsehood evident from the fact that the writer was not Matthew himself, but some one borrowing the names both of Jesus and of Matthew.

Augustine replied: What amazing folly, to disbelieve what Matthew records of Christ, while you believe Manichæus! If Matthew is not to be believed because he was not present when Christ said, “I came not to destroy the law and the prophets, but to fulfill,” was Manichæus present, was he even born, when Christ appeared among men? According, then, to your rule, you should not believe anything that Manichæus says of Christ. On the other hand, we refuse to believe what Manichæus says of Christ; not because he was not present as a witness of Christ’s words and actions, but because he contradicts Christ’s disciples, and the Gospel which rests on their authority. The apostle, speaking in the Holy Spirit, tells us that such teachers would arise. With reference to such, he says to believers: “If any man preaches to you another gospel than that you have received, let him be accursed.” [Galatians 1:9] If no one can say what is true of Christ unless he has himself seen and heard Him, no one now can be trusted. But if believers can now say what is true of Christ because the truth has been handed down in word or writing by those who saw and heard, why might not Matthew have heard the truth from his fellow disciple John, if John was present and he himself was not, as from the writings of John both we who are born so long after and those who shall be born after us can learn the truth about Christ? In this way, the Gospels of Luke and Mark, who were companions of the disciples, as well as the Gospel of Matthew, have the same authority as that of John. Besides, the Lord Himself might have told Matthew what those called before him had already been witnesses of.

Your idea is, that John should have recorded this saying of the Lord, as he was present on the occasion. As if it might not happen that, since it was impossible to write all that be heard from the Lord, he set himself to write some, omitting this among others. Does he not say at the close of his Gospel: “And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written”? [John 21:25] This proves that he omitted many things intentionally. But if you choose John as an authority regarding the law and the prophets, I ask you only to believe his testimony to them. It is John who writes that Isaiah saw the glory of Christ. [John 12:41] It is in his Gospel we find the text already treated of: “If you believed Moses, you would also believe me; for he wrote of me.” [John 5:46] Your evasions are met on every side. You ought to say plainly that you do not believe the gospel of Christ. For to believe what you please, and not to believe what you please, is to believe yourselves, and not the gospel.

  1. Faustus thinks himself wonderfully clever in proving that Matthew was not the writer of this Gospel, because, when speaking of his own election, he says not, He saw me, and said to me, Follow me; but, He saw him, and said to him, Follow me. This must have been said either in ignorance or from a design to mislead. Faustus can hardly be so ignorant as not to have read or heard that narrators, when speaking of themselves, often use a construction as if speaking of another. It is more probable that Faustus wished to bewilder those more ignorant than himself, in the hope of getting hold on not a few unacquainted with these things. It is needless to resort to other writings to quote examples of this construction from profane authors for the information of our friends, and for the refutation of Faustus. We find examples in passages quoted above from Moses by Faustus himself, without any denial, or rather with the assertion, that they were written by Moses, only not written of Christ. When Moses, then, writes of himself, does he say, I said this, or I did that, and not rather, Moses said, and Moses did? Or does he say, The Lord called me, The Lord said to me, and not rather, The Lord called Moses, The Lord said to Moses, and so on? So Matthew, too, speaks of himself in the third person.

And John does the same; for towards the end of his book he says: “Peter, turning, saw the disciple whom Jesus loved, who also lay on His breast at supper, and who said to the Lord, Who is it that shall betray You?” Does he say, Peter, turning, saw me? Or will you argue from this that John did not write this Gospel? But he adds a little after: “This is the disciple that testifies of Jesus, and has written these things; and we know that his testimony is true.” [John 21:20-24] Does he say, I am the disciple who testify of Jesus, and who have written these things, and we know that my testimony is true? Evidently this style is common in writers of narratives. There are innumerable instances in which the Lord Himself uses it. “When the Son of man,” He says, “comes, shall He find faith on the earth?” [Luke 18:8] Not, When I come, shall I find? Again, “The Son of man came eating and drinking;” [Matthew 11:19] not, I came. Again, “The hour shall come, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God, and they that hear shall live;” [John 5:25] not, My voice. And so in many other places. This may suffice to satisfy inquirers and to refute scoffers.

This happens in other places. Consider Xenophon’s Anabasis in Book 1, chapter 8.

At this time the barbarian army was evenly advancing, and the Hellenic division was still riveted to the spot, completing its formation as the various contingents came up. Cyrus, riding past at some distance from the lines, glanced his eye first in one direction and then in the other, so as to take a complete survey of friends and foes; when Xenophon the Athenian, seeing him, rode up from the Hellenic quarter to meet him, asking him whether he had any orders to give. Cyrus, pulling up his horse, begged him to make the announcement generally known that the omens from the victims, internal and external alike, were good (3). While he was still speaking, he heard a confused murmur passing through the ranks, and asked what it meant. The other replied that it was the watchword being passed down for the second time. Cyrus wondered who had given the order, and asked what the watchword was. On being told it was “Zeus our Saviour and Victory,” he replied, “I accept it; so let it be,” and with that remark rode away to his own position. And now the two battle lines were no more than three or four furlongs apart, when the Hellenes began chanting the paean, and at the same time advanced against the enemy. (Emphasis mine)

Or consider Book 2, chapter 20, section 4 of Josephus’s War of the Jews.

4. They also chose other generals for Idumea; Jesus, the son of Sapphias, one of the high priests; and Eleazar, the son of Ananias, the high priest; they also enjoined Niger, the then governor of Idumea, who was of a family that belonged to Perea, beyond Jordan, and was thence called the Peraite, that he should be obedient to those fore-named commanders. Nor did they neglect the care of other parts of the country; but Joseph the son of Simon was sent as general to Jericho, as was Manasseh to Perea, and John, the Esscue, to the toparchy of Thamna; Lydda was also added to his portion, and Joppa, and Emmaus. But John, the son of Matthias, was made governor of the toparchies of Gophnitica and Acrabattene; as was Josephus, the son of Matthias, of both the Galilees. Gamala also, which was the strongest city in those parts, was put under his command. (Emphasis mine)

Such is sufficient to make our case.

What about Mark? Mark is said to be the testimony of Peter. Note that if the early church wanted to secure Mark as a Gospel, they could have just said it was the Gospel According to Peter since it was essentially Peter’s testimony. They didn’t. They kept the middleman in there, the middle man who would have been a shameful figure seeing as he was a Mama’s Boy who ran back home and led to a division between Barnabas and Paul.

Luke? Luke never claims to be an eyewitness himself, but he interviews those who are eyewitnesses and records what they say. Again, why would the church make up Luke? He’s an unnamed barely mentioned in the epistles.

John is the one who makes the most sense really and guess which one is the only one with some dispute in the early church? It’s John. Is it John the Elder or John the Apostle who wrote it?

Interestingly, in all this talk about eyewitnesses, nowhere is cited the work of Richard Bauckham with “Jesus and the Eyewitnesses.” I suppose the great research of Islam Answers never included reading the best and latest scholarly material.

What about bias? Everyone who wrote anything back then wrote with a bias. I suppose Islam Answers has a bias as well. They want to show Islam is right and Christianity is wrong. Should I discount them entirely because of that? Not at all. The best holocaust museums are ran by Jews. Do you think they have a little bit of bias. In fact, as stated in my interview with Jonathan Pennington, unbiased history would be viewed with suspicion. You had to have a motivation for writing what you wrote. Mostly, it was to say “This person was a good and virtuous man and you should seek to emulate him!”

Of course, there is an ample amount said about contradictions and one of the main ones they point to is the sign above Jesus’s head at the cross as if to have different renderings of what it says is problematic. To begin with, the message was written in more than one language. Which language was translated in which way? Second, even if it said one thing, a paraphrase is entirely acceptable. What do they say the sign says?

Matthew: This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.

Mark: The King of the Jews.

Luke: This is the King of the Jews.

John: Jesus of Nazareth the King of the Jews.

Does anyone notice a recurring theme here?

We are also told that the Gospels claim Jesus will die and be raised three days later. Why were the Gospels surprised? Chances are, they did not think raised from the dead by Jesus then meant literal bodily resurrection. They probably were thinking along the lines of divine exaltation somehow, such as Jesus being vindicated. Or, they were wondering if He was speaking in parables again since this is the Messiah and the Messiah is not supposed to die.

The writer also asks about the claim that Jesus died (Noteworthy that in this piece he only deals with the Gospels and not Paul or even secular sources like Tacitus) and wants to know if the author could verify Jesus was dead. After all, Pilate seemed surprised.

It is true most victims lasted longer on the cross, but Jesus had also been up all night long, undergone a trial, and been severely flogged. (Many people died in just the flogging alone.) This would only hasten the death of Jesus. If there is still doubt, let us consider that those who would know well, like the American Medical Association, agree that Jesus was dead.

The next point the authors bring up is that in about 50 years according to the historical method, the eyewitnesses would have been dead. This is flawed terminology anyway. The historical method does not speak. Historians speak using the historical method. Nevertheless, what is the great source that the authors use for their information on the historical method?


I’m not kidding. They really use Wikipedia.

At least they’re nice enough to tell you what to search for. They recommend looking for R.J. Shafer, although Shafer wrote forty years ago and we have learned some matters since then. Is there any interaction with much more recent work? How about James Dunn’s “Jesus Remembered”? or Walton and Sandy’s “The Lost World of Scripture.” You can also hear my interview with Brent Sandy on the topic.

The writers tell us that the Gospels were written 40-50 years later. Source on this?

None given.

Argument for it?

None given.

Now again, they could be right, but they need to argue that. Also, the testimony of the eyewitnesses would have been told in the context of a community. (Yes. They later on refer to the telephone game not noting that ancient communication was completely unlike that.) In the community, those with the best memories would be the gatekeepers as it were of the information as the stories were told. Now minor details could be altered as long as the thrust of the story was the same. This did not constitute an error in the story to the ancient mindset. For more on the liberties that could be used in Greco-Roman biography, hear my interview with Mike Licona.

The writers also make a claim about the authors having an air of omniscience asking questions that are meant to be stumpers.

“Who shadowed Jesus to report him being carried by Satan from mountain to mountain. Who was with him?”

Strange idea. I’m just going to throw this one out there. Maybe Jesus Himself told them what happened in the wilderness?

“Who shadowed Judas to report him make the agreement about money?”

Simple. Joseph of Arimathea or Nicodemus could have both had knowledge of the event.

“Who shadowed Judas when he hung himself? and when he died AGAIN (!!!) by spilling his guts?”

Now there are different ways to deal with the discrepancy. Some say the terminology in Matthew is not literal but meant to say Jesus died like a traitor like Athithophel. I’m going to for the sake of argument go for the more common idea that Judas hung himself over a precipice and then after time, the rope broke and he fell and died.

No one needed to shadow him for that. Simple observation after the fact would tell everyone what happened?


“Who shadowed Jesus when he prayed remove this cup from me”?

When Matthew says that Jesus went a little farther, the Greek word used is Mikron. That should show how short the distance was. Jesus prayed for a long time. When He returns each time, He finds the disciples sleeping. What’s so hard about thinking they hear him praying out loud just as they doze off? What would also be impossible about if the resurrection is true, Jesus telling them about the prayer afterwards? Either one works.

Later on, we find this excellent piece of logic. We are told the NT was written in Greek, but the language of Jesus and the disciples was Aramaic, therefore, whoever the NT authors were, they never met Jesus.

Yeah. I don’t see the logic either.

Would it have been ridiculous to consider that in the early church, the authors could tell their stories to people who could write and speak Greek and communicate it to them? It would also not be unheard of for them to know some Greek, especially if they were traveling in the Roman world anyway where Greek was the universal language.

WIth this, they bring in 1 Peter which they say is in Greek and too sophisticated to be by a fisherman. (Because we all know fishermen just had to be stupid.) Even if that was so, did they bother to read 1 Peter? What does 1 Peter 5:12 say?

12 By Silvanus, a faithful brother as I regard him, I have written briefly to you, exhorting and declaring that this is the true grace of God. Stand firm in it.

It says Peter had a secretary, namely Silvanus, who wrote for him. Peter would have had the final approval to be sure, but it would be just fine to say “This is what I want to say. Phrase it in the best way.” Peter would still be considered the source of the letter.

Amusingly, the writers consider the idea of secretaries as an incredible response. Any interaction with E. Randolph Richards’s work on secretaries? Nope. Well if this level counts as an argument, then I have a response.

Muslim apologists often use the ridiculous argument that the idea that the Gospel writers used secretaries is ridiculous!

If their assertion counts as a refutation, so would mine.

When we get to textual criticism, there is complaining that one early fragment cited is the size of a credit card. What’s their source of their contention with this? It’s Wikipedia. Perhaps they could have considered a work such as The Early Text of the New Testament. If the NT cannot be trusted textually, there’s no basis for trusting any ancient document textually. I’d also like to point to the words of a leading textual scholar on the transmission of the NT. This scholar first says:

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.

Elsewhere, this scholar also says:

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.

I strongly suspect our anonymous writers would tell me to stop reading the conservatives and pick up some Bart Ehrman instead.

Which would be amusing if they did because the scholar who said both of these statements is in fact, Bart Ehrman.

The first one is here: 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.

The second one is here:

Bart Ehrman, The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings 3rd ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003), 481.

The writers also deal with supposed contradictions between the OT and the NT. Now I don’t hang my hat on inerrancy. Scholars do not play all-or-nothing games with ancient texts. Yet one supposed discrepancy needs to be mentioned. The writers say in the NT God is a spirit and doesn’t have a body. What about the OT?

The writers refer to Habakkuk 3:3-4. I find most translations speak of rays coming from God’s hand, but the KJV has the reading these writers quote.

God came from Teman, and the Holy One from mount Paran. Selah. His glory covered the heavens, and the earth was full of his praise.

And his brightness was as the light; he had horns coming out of his hand: and there was the hiding of his power.

Yes. They really think the Jews thought God was a being like this who had horns coming out of His hand. The same with God walking in the garden in Genesis 3. Apparently, they do not know how to recognize allegorical language or as is also the interpretation I give for appearances of God in the OT, that the pre-incarnate Christ was the one who appeared.

One other one worth dealing with is if Jesus’s name was Immanuel as in Matthew 1, or if it was Jesus, as He was known throughout His life?

The writers are unaware of double names in the OT apparently. Consider that Jacob was also called Israel and many times after his name was changed, he’s still called Jacob. Moses’s father-in-law was known as Reuel and Jethro both. My favorite example of this is in 2 Samuel 12:24-25.

24 And David comforted Bathsheba his wife, and went in unto her, and lay with her: and she bare a son, and he called his name Solomon: and theLord loved him.

25 And he sent by the hand of Nathan the prophet; and he called his name Jedidiah, because of the Lord.

Now why would the writer say Jesus was known as Immanuel? In the original prophecy, the boy who was born was a sign that God was with the people. Jesus is a far greater indicator of that. This Gospel has early on “God is with us” in Jesus and ends with “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” This is known as an Inclusio. This means that the whole of the Gospel is to be seen as “God with us” in Jesus.

The writers also say that the passages that speak about Israel don’t work for Jesus since Israel went and lived in rebellion. The point is that Jesus is a type of Israel, not a one-to-one parallel. Jesus is in fact the true Israel and He succeeds as Israel where national Israel failed.

The writers also say that if John was near the cross, the disciples would have known to not be afraid. John was also known to the high priest so he could have been given some extra leeway anyway. That could explain his being near. (Also, there was a crowd there. Are we to think that every person was patrolled?) Are we to think the other disciples would not want to take precautions seeing as their Messiah in their eyes at the time did not survive the cross?

When it comes back to eyewitness testimony and memory, they refer to the writings of Garraghan, who wrote in 1946. Again, we’ve learned more since then, but where is this information found? What a shock. It can be found here.

It’s as if the only work the writers read on how to do history was that Wikipedia page.

In fact, later on when they quote Wikipedia again they say

The reader must be warned that our following discussion assumes that our above mentioned Wikipedia source, is correct and does not have grave omissions.

It’s hard to imagine how these people think this passes for research….

Their next claim?

Bernheim (1889) and Langlois & Seignobos (1898) proposed a seven-step procedure for source criticism in history:[3]

  1. If the sources all agree about an event, historians can consider the event proved.
  2. However, majority does not rule; even if most sources relate events in one way, that version will not prevail unless it passes the test of critical textual analysis.
  3. The source whose account can be confirmed by reference to outside authorities in some of its parts can be trusted in its entirety if it is impossible similarly to confirm the entire text.
  4. When two sources disagree on a particular point, the historian will prefer the source with most “authority”—that is the source created by the expert or by the eyewitness.
  5. Eyewitnesses are, in general, to be preferred especially in circumstances where the ordinary observer could have accurately reported what transpired and, more specifically, when they deal with facts known by most contemporaries.
  6. If two independently created sources agree on a matter, the reliability of each is measurably enhanced.
  7. When two sources disagree and there is no other means of evaluation, then historians take the source which seems to accord best with common sense.

Did I have to type any of that? Nope. It was cut and paste from Wikipedia. Why? Because that’s exactly what they did….

Also, there is another cut and paste job in the article from Wikipedia which I will quote as well.

C. Behan McCullagh lays down seven conditions for a successful argument to the best explanation:[11]

  1. The statement, together with other statements already held to be true, must imply yet other statements describing present, observable data. (We will henceforth call the first statement ‘the hypothesis‘, and the statements describing observable data, ‘observation statements’.)
  2. The hypothesis must be of greater explanatory scope than any other incompatible hypothesis about the same subject; that is, it must imply a greater variety of observation statements.
  3. The hypothesis must be of greater explanatory power than any other incompatible hypothesis about the same subject; that is, it must make the observation statements it implies more probable than any other.
  4. The hypothesis must be more plausible than any other incompatible hypothesis about the same subject; that is, it must be implied to some degree by a greater variety of accepted truths than any other, and be implied more strongly than any other; and its probable negation must be implied by fewer beliefs, and implied less strongly than any other.
  5. The hypothesis must be less ad hoc than any other incompatible hypothesis about the same subject; that is, it must include fewer new suppositions about the past which are not already implied to some extent by existing beliefs.
  6. It must be disconfirmed by fewer accepted beliefs than any other incompatible hypothesis about the same subject; that is, when conjoined with accepted truths it must imply fewer observation statements and other statements which are believed to be false.
  7. It must exceed other incompatible hypotheses about the same subject by so much, in characteristics 2 to 6, that there is little chance of an incompatible hypothesis, after further investigation, soon exceeding it in these respects.

McCullagh sums up, “if the scope and strength of an explanation are very great, so that it explains a large number and variety of facts, many more than any competing explanation, then it is likely to be true.”

At least they think McCullagh is an authority. Here’s what McCullagh says about Mike Licona’s book “The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach.”

This is an astonishing achievement and a major contribution to the ongoing debate. It is clearly written and full of fresh insights and arguments that will enrich discussion for years to come.

Our writers were probably too busy reading Wikipedia to read scholarly books on the matter and learn how historians really operate from them.

Of course, there is the constant cry of “contradictions.” For instance, did the Centurion come to Jesus or did his servants? For the ancients, this would not have been a problem. When the servants came, it would be as if the centurion himself came. Both could be spoken of. Are we to think that when John 19:1 says Pilate took Jesus and flogged Him, that that means Pilate himself did the deed? Much could be said about other supposed contradictions. An excellent source on these would be Tektonics and of course, reading the best commentaries on the issues and other scholarly books like Craig Blomberg’s “The Historical Reliability of the Gospels.” You can also consider my interview with Blomberg on that book.

Again, not everything could be said, but it is safe to say that these writers embody the very worst in research methodology. I suspect all they did was sit at their computers and look up sources like Wikipedia. There is no hint of any interaction with the best material against their position. Those wondering on the pro-Islam side of their argument are invited to go elsewhere, but I can safely say that their criticisms serve for me as a boost to the Gospel and a further demonstration of the bankruptcy of Muslim apologetics.

In Christ,

Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Crucifixion

What do I think of Martin Hengel’s book on crucifixion? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Martin Hengel was one of the best scholars out there in the field and is a valuable resource still five years after his death. He was a member of what we would call the Early High Christology Club and provided some of the best scholarship out there. This is apparent also in his short little book on the nature of crucifixion.

When I say short, I mean it. You can read this one easily in a couple of hours. Doing so will be an excellent investment of those two hours. That it is short does not mean that it is not scholarly. It is incredibly packed with information. Those who want to say they seriously question the New Testament should have no problem as hardly any of it comes from the New Testament. Crucifixion is talked about from various sources. Of course, the New Testament has a lot to say about it, but others at the time had their own statements about it as well.

If there was really in fact one lesson that could be learned from this book and one that I wish all readers would learn, Christian and non, it is this.

The cross was a scandal.

Many people have not really had this sink in. We say Jesus died by crucifixion and this is certainly true, but we don’t realize just what that would mean to the people of the time. To say that the crucified Jesus was the Messiah and you worshiped Him as God would be like saying that you think a pimp on the streets should be the next Pope or that you think a child molester would make a great president of the Southern Baptist Convention.

This is one reason docetism and gnosticism both found their way into Christianity early on. Both of these would have a way of denying the crucifixion. Is it any shock that even in Islam, you have it being denied that Jesus died by crucifixion? At least there’s something that all of these beliefs recognize. It is incredible to think that the Messiah who was seen as sharing in the divine identity of the God of Israel would be crucified.

Hengel in his work goes through several quotes from writers at the time who put crucifixion on the lowest point possible. It was certainly not something you would casually talk about over dinner when you were together. Say the word and it is quite likely that people would fall back in disgust at the very thought of it.

Crucifixion was simply as Hengel says, barbaric, and it was in fact the worst penalty that could be given to someone. The act of crucifixion was designed to not only kill the person involved, but shamefully kill then in a highly painful process. In fact, this is where we get the word “excruciating” from. The word means “out of the cross.”

We today don’t really get the way that shame worked back then. It was designed to be a deterrent to others and a way of making an object lesson of the person involved and saying “You don’t want to be like this guy.” Jesus’s death would have been the most shameful of all. That is not the kind of event that would draw sympathy from others. Instead, it would have been the exact opposite. It would have cemented any idea of Jesus being the Messiah as false. This is why Paul in 1 Cor. 1 says that the cross is a stumbling block. 

In all of this, somehow Christianity survived. It must have been something massive that overcame the shame of the cross.

It’s important to point out that if you’re wanting to learn about the theology of the cross or the work of the atonement, you’re not going to find it in Hengel’s book. His is looking at the nature of crucifixion from a historical point of view. It is wanting the reader to learn how crucifixion was viewed at the time of Jesus and a few centuries before and after. It should open the eyes of the reader still to what exactly Jesus went through and how this would have been perceived.

As I said, this is a short book, but if you want to learn about crucifixion, it is a massively important one to read. Go invest that couple of hours. It will be worth it.

In Christ,

Nick Peters

Book Plunge: The Story of Jesus In History and Faith

What do I think of Lee McDonald’s book on the historical Jesus? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Lee McDonald has written a book on the historical Jesus and one aspect of this book is that it’s quite unique from other books I have read on the historical Jesus. McDonald places great stock in history, but he also says we must go beyond history at times. History can produce the data but at times, there is an element of faith involved with what we do with the data.

I am pleased that McDonald does state his own personal bias upfront. I have no problem with an author doing that and I in fact have no problem with an author having a personal bias. We all do. We cannot avoid that. We should seek to limit our bias as much as we can, but at the end of the day, we must all realize we’re humans capable of bias.

For instance, in the debate about the Historical Jesus, data is not really the problem. Seriously. It isn’t. Most everyone out there seriously involved in the debate will agree to the same data. There are disagreements over some minor issues of course, but except for those on the fringe, such as the Christ-myth camp or the ultra-conservative hyper-inerrancy camp of the new fundamentalists, the data is not the problem.

And for data, McDonald is very thorough and presents plenty of data about the historical Jesus. He goes into each of the Gospels arguing about authorship and date of writing and purpose of writing and looks at the non-Christian sources to see what they say about Jesus. He interacts with scholarship everywhere on the spectrum.

But to get back to the issue, I really don’t like saying that faith is what is involved. Oh there is an element of faith in Christianity of course, but it’s not the case that faith becomes some kind of belief in regard to the evidence. Faith is rather an action in relation to the evidence. Faith is the act of loyally following through the evidence. I would in fact conclude that a historian can make a knowledge claim that Jesus did in fact rise from the dead. One can use history I think and demonstrate this.

While that is a criticism I have of McDonald’s book, it should not count against the overall excellent depth of information that is in the book and even if you’re highly familiar with Jesus studies, you’re sure to get something out of this one.

While McDonald agrees with the resurrection, I also think he’s fair about how far he thinks the evidence goes. He’s not going to defend a hard line inerrancy either. He does admit that there are some passages of Scripture that he sees as difficult to reconcile. Does that mean that they cannot be? Of course not, but it does mean that many of our explanations can often be so-so and just little bandages trying to sustain a view of inerrancy that cannot survive scrutiny.

In conclusion, I don’t agree with everything, and again, how many authors will we agree with entirely, I do think McDonald’s book is a welcome edition and that it would be a great help at a Seminary for students wanting to learn about the historical Jesus.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

How To Not Make A Messiah

If you were to create an account of a Messiah for the people of Israel, what would you not do? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Many times we’re told about how Jesus was a made-up figure meant to inspire the people of Israel and to be a challenge to Caesar. All manner of motives have been given for this great hoax to take place, but I’d like to consider this idea. What kind of Messiah would you make if you wanted one just to win a popularity contest and get the people to follow you? I think it’s easier to talk about what you would not do.

First, you would not have anything that would indicate that the birth of such a person was illegitimate. That is, you would want him to be a descendant of his father and his mother. Some might think it would be good to have a deity bring the child into existence in a more direct way, but for a Jew, this would seem too close to paganism. Therefore, you will have them come from a family of high honor.

You also would make sure that this family would be a wealthy family. This would fit the scene of your Messiah. After all, in the ancient world, poor people were not trusted. Rich ones were the ones that had the favor of the gods and the poor were the ones who were more prone to deceive you because you have something they want.

You will also make sure this Messiah comes from a town that is well-known and honorable. You’d avoid a no-name town that no one cares about such as, oh, Nazareth. The birthplace of your Messiah will be a determining factor of his future after all.

You will also seek to have him come from a region that is not looked down on in the world, such as the area that we call Palestine today. Claims from that part of the world were not taken seriously by the populace as a whole so while this might impress Jews, it would certainly not impress Gentiles.

You would make sure this person has a great career. They would likely be a king or a military leader. For the Jews, this would mean someone in the line of David, who the Messiah was to be a descendant of. For Gentiles, a powerful warrior would earn their respect, especially for those who were not happy with the Roman Empire.

You would not have this person be a miracle man. Why? Because people like Lucian and others made it a habit to debunk miracle claims and the world was full of people who were skeptical of miracles. Adding miracles would make your messiah seem like the modern equivalent of a televangelist.

You would make sure his followers were the best of the best. That would mean people who fully understood his teachings and embraced the reality of who he was. Not having your Messiah be understood would be an indication that your Messiah was not a good teacher. He would also be known by the company of his closest followers.

You would make sure his immediate family accepted his claims as well. After all, if one’s own family doesn’t accept one’s unique claims about oneself, then why should anyone else do so? Having the recognition of your family is important in this field.

You would have him travel abundantly. This is the Messiah who is to save the world after all. There’s no need to limit him to one country or people. Go out and spread him with all the world and make sure he has a worldwide reputation.

You would have him be embraced by all his people. After all, why should anyone think that a person is the Messiah of the Jews if it turns out the Jews themselves do not accept such a claim? How could someone proclaim such a message with confidence.

You would certainly not have him die a shameful death. Now for a shameful death, I can’t think of any more shameful than crucifixion. This was the humiliation given to dissidents of Rome who were seeking to be their own kings. Such people would be branded as traitors to Rome and defeated by the Roman Empire. For a Jew, they would be seen as under God’s curse. In any way, following such a person would mean identifying with him, something that would dissuade people from following him.

If this Messiah figure died, you would make sure he had an honorable burial. That would mean that all the people would come immediately to mourn him. He would be mourned by his family and he would be buried in the tomb of his ancestors and near the place where he lived. Anything else would be dishonorable.

This person if dead would be divinely exalted. This would mean this person was immediately ushered into the presence of God and received vindication that way. Any other way, like a bodily resurrection, would be far harder to explain after all and be the route that could be most easily disproven, which is not helpful if you’re making up this claim. You want something that cannot be disproven at all. Besides, this is what happened to the emperor and you’re wanting to rival the emperor. Who wants a bodily resurrection anyway? That returns you to a prison.

You would also make sure your belief was not exclusive. Your messiah would be a divine figure indeed, but he would be one among many. This would be someone that your Gentile friends after all could worship along with all their other deities.

Now these ideas are important to follow, but it would be difficult to follow all of them, though possible. Still, one should be absolutely certain that any belief that went against all of these would have to be doomed to failure. That would be the last kind of Messiah that anyone would make up and follow.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

The Apostle’s Creed: I believe in Jesus

What is the case for the historical Jesus? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Since I’ve already looked at the words I believe, there’s no need to reinvent the wheel here. So let’s move on to the next line and notice that it says that I believe in Jesus.

At the bare minimum, let’s start with Jesus. What is the case that there was a historical Jesus?

Quite good actually.

You see, a lot of Christians don’t take the time to look for this evidence. A lot of atheists don’t either, or just disregard whatever evidence is presented because it doesn’t reach a bar that they arbitrarily set. Many don’t bother to take the time to see how the ancient world worked, to which I have some excellent resources on that here, here, and here.

Ancient historiography is not modern historiography. In our day and age, we have numerous recording devices and we all have access to ways to read and write for the most part. All of us communicate through the written word to some extent and we have added mediums the ancients didn’t such as television and the internet.

Also, ancients by and large had much better memories than we do. Why should we? We can make post-it notes and have our phones be our memories and save information on our computers. If you don’t have access to technology like that, chances are you’ll use your memory a lot more.

Let’s also keep in mind some realities which I’ve explained further in an article like this that would show that in the ancient world, Jesus wasn’t really worthy of mention. He never ran for office. He never went into battle. He never traveled as an adult outside of his country. He never wrote anything that lasted. To make matters worse, he was crucified as a Messiah claimant. You might say he did miracles, but so what? You think a historian in Rome is going to take seriously the claim that a supposed Messiah who was crucified did miracles? Nope.

So what do we have on the existence of Jesus?

Well right off, we have Paul’s letters. Now some will say these don’t say a lot about the historical Jesus. That’s right, but why should they? Paul is not attempting to write a biography. He’s wanting to deal with misunderstandings that have taken place. Yet there are times he does refer to the Jesus tradition.

In 1 Cor. 11, he has the Lord’s Supper.

In 1 Cor. 7, he has the Jesus tradition on divorce and marriage.

In 1 Cor. 15, we have the excellent creed that dates to within five years of the resurrection event that lists the appearances of Jesus.

In Romans 1, we have the testimony that Jesus was of the line of David.

In various places in the Pauline epistles, we have the statement of Jesus being crucified.

In 1 Thess. 4, it is believed we have some Jesus tradition in the fourth chapter concerning the resurrection.

In Galatians 1, we learn that Jesus had brothers, especially James.

Now some of you might be saying “And don’t we have in 1 Tim. that he was crucified under Pontius Pilate?” We do, but most skeptics will not accept 1 Timothy as an actual Pauline epistle. It is universally accepted that Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, and Philemon are authentic however.

After this, we also have all four Gospels. These Gospels date to the first century. For most ancient figures, if we had four sources like this within a hundred year period, we would be absolutely thrilled! Yet strangely enough, that bar is changed when we come to Jesus. Of course, anyone wanting to know about how the Gospels can be trusted is invited to listen here.

So let’s go on to sources outside the Bible. A great work you can read on these sources is “Jesus Outside the New Testament” by Robert Van Voorst. Let’s start however with Josephus. The longer reference is here.

“Antiquities 18.3.3 Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man, for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews, and many of the Gentiles. He was the Christ, and when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men among us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; for he appeared to them alive again the third day; as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him. And the tribe of Christians so named from him are not extinct at this day.”

This passage is known as the Testimonium Flavianum.

There is also no doubt that there are some interpolations in here, which means later scribes added some material. The question is, is the whole thing an interpolation?

The leading Josephus scholars say no. We do have here some authentic language that comes from Josephus with some parts added in.

Yet some basic truths we could learn from the passage is that Jesus was a Jewish rabbi who was seen as one who worked miracles. He claimed to be the Messiah but was crucified under Pilate. There was a belief that He rose from the dead and the Christians named after Him persist to this day.

The idea that Jesus never existed and Josephus never mentioned him is not popular among Josephus scholars. It is a wonder why it is that we should take seriously the claims of internet atheists over scholars in the field.

What about the second passage?

Antiquities 20.9.1 But the younger Ananus who, as we said, received the high priesthood, was of a bold disposition and exceptionally daring; he followed the party of the Sadducees, who are severe in judgment above all the Jews, as we have already shown. As therefore Ananus was of such a disposition, he thought he had now a good opportunity, as Festus was now dead, and Albinus was still on the road; so he assembled a council of judges, and brought before it the brother of Jesus the so-called Christ, whose name was James, together with some others, and having accused them as law-breakers, he delivered them over to be stoned.

Well this is not considered to be an interpolation at all and the reference to Jesus here points back to an earlier reference. Without the earlier reference, this latter reference makes no sense. From here, we would also get the idea that Jesus does indeed have as his brother James, which is consistent with Paul.

Next is the Roman historian Tacitus. Tacitus wrote in his Annals in 15.44 that

“But not all the relief that could come from man, not all the Bounties that the prince could bestow, nor all the atonements Which could be presented to the gods, availed to relieve Nero From the infamy of being believed to have ordered the Conflagration, the fire of Rome. Hence to suppress the rumor, he Falsely charged with the guilt, and punished Christians, who were Hated for their enormities. Christus, the founder of the name, was Put to death by Pontius Pilate, procurator of Judea in the reign Of Tiberius: but the pernicious superstition, repressed for a time Broke out again, not only through Judea, where the mischief Originated, but through the city of Rome also, where all things Hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their Center and become popular. Accordingly, an arrest was first Made of all who pleaded guilty; then, upon their information, an Immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of Firing the city, as of hatred against mankind.”

Interestingly, this is also the only place that he refers to Pontius Pilate.

Tacitus is seen as one of the greatest if not the greatest Roman historian. There is no reason to think that he uncritically shared a rumor and this is in fact something that a Christian would not write. It is not flattering to Christ at all. It refers to a mischievous superstition and indicates that it was something hideous and shameful.

Often reasons for rejecting this passage include that Tacitus gets the idea wrong about Tacitus. He was a prefect and not a procurator. Yet it’s just fine to think that Tacitus was using the title that was around in his day to refer to Jesus. There is also a possibility that there was a fluidity between the terms. To say that it is a hard and fast error is a huge burden for the skeptic.

Our next source is Seutonius.

“As the Jews were making constant disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus, he expelled them from Rome.”

This could in fact be a reference to what is talked about in Acts 18 when some Christians were expelled from Rome as well. At that point in time, there would not be known to be much difference between Jews and Christians. Still, some are skeptical of this.

For instance, Raphael Lataster writes that Chrestus refers to “The Good.” I wrote to my friend Ron C. Fay, a Greek expert, on this regards, only to have him tell me that it’s a Latin term and does not mean “the good.” In fact, when I contacted other Greek experts, including my own father-in-law, Mike Licona, none of them thought such a thing was even plausible.

On a prima facie basis then, there is no reason to disregard this. The burden is on the part of the mythicist.

Next we have Lucian who did not care for the Christians at all. The first reference?

“It was then that he learned the wondrous lore of the Christians, by associating with their priests and scribes in Palestine. And—how else could it be?—in a trice he made them all look like children, for he was prophet, cult-leader, head of the synagogue, and everything, all by himself. He inter preted and explained some of their books and even composed many, and they revered him as a god, made use of him as a lawgiver, and set him down as a protector, next after that other, to be sure, whom they still worship, the man who was crucified in Palestine because he introduced this new cult into the world.”

What we could get from this is that Christians worshiped Jesus and that Lucian believed that they were gullible in doing so. This would also help indicate that Christianity was a shameful belief at the time. I take the reference to a synagogue to actually show some confusion on Lucian’s part in thinking that Christianity was a sect of Judaism, or else he is just referring to a gathering that he sees as an off-shoot of Judaism, which is correct insofar as it goes, and would meet at a synagogue then as that’s where Jews met. The other lawgiver in this case then could be Moses.

What about the second reference?

“The poor wretches have convinced themselves, first and foremost, that they are going to be immortal and live for all time, in consequence of which they despise death and even willingly give themselves into custody; most of them. Furthermore, their first lawgiver persuaded them that they are all brothers of one another after they have transgressed once, for all by denying the Greek gods and by worshiping that crucified sophist himself and living under his laws. Therefore they despise all things indiscriminately and consider them common property, receiving such doctrines traditionally without any definite evidence.”

Again, this is hardly a flattering statement to the Christians and not one that they would make up. They would not refer to Jesus as a crucified sophist and say that they accept claims without evidence. (So yes, this also means that the claims of Boghossian are nothing new.)

There’s also Pliny the Younger, who wrote about the behavior of Christians and said

“They affirmed, however, that the whole of their guilt, or their error, was, that they were in the habit of meeting on a certain fixed day before it was light, when they sang in alternate verse a hymn to Christ as to a god, and bound themselves to a solemn oath, not to any wicked deeds, but never to commit any fraud, theft, adultery, never to falsify their word, not to deny a trust when they should be called upon to deliver it up.”

Here we have indications that these people were willing to die for Christianity, which is why Pliny is supposed to arrest them. They are being tried as if guilty of a crime. Surely if they were convinced this was a myth, they would not be willing to do so. Therefore, early on, we have belief in Jesus as a deity. How did this happen entirely within a relatively short time with zero reality behind it?

Finally, we’ll look at Mara Bar-Serapion.

What did he say?

“What advantage did the Athenians gain from putting Socrates to death? Famine and plague came upon them as a judgment for their crime. What advantage did the men of Samos gain from burning Pythagoras? In a moment their land was covered with sand. What advantage did the Jews gain from executing their wise King? It was just after that their Kingdom was abolished. God justly avenged these three wise men: the Athenians died of hunger; the Samians were overwhelmed by the sea; the Jews, ruined and driven from their land, live in complete dispersion. But Socrates did not die for good; he lived on in the teaching of Plato. Pythagoras did not die for good; he lived on in the statue of Hera. Nor did the wise King die for good; He lived on in the teaching which He had given.”

Now some might say Jesus isn’t mentioned by name. Fair enough. But let’s see what we know about this person. He was a teacher of the Jews. He was said to be their king. He was said to be wise. After executing (Not just killing but executing which I take to refer to a capital offense) him their kingdom was taken away from them. This king lived on in the teaching he had given. (Note he does not say was resurrected as a Christian would.)

Okay. So someone wants to say it wasn’t Jesus.

Feel free to say who is a better candidate.

In light of all of this, and without strong evidence to the contrary, I find it no shock that NT scholarship doesn’t even debate this question any more. There are more certified scientists who hold to a young-earth than there are equivalent scholars in ancient and NT history that hold that Jesus never even existed.

“But the YEC position is totally bizarre!”

Yes. A number of skeptics might say that, but if you want to be consistent and consider Christ-mythicism as a serious position, then you should do the same with YEC. Note I say this in no way to insult YECs. I am not one, but I am happily married to one. (My own wife just doesn’t really care about the debate and even respects Hugh Ross far more than Ken Ham.)

For the Christian who says they hold to a historical Jesus, they are on the firm ground of NT scholarship. It is the internet atheist who has convinced himself he knows better.

He has not convinced those in scholarship of that.

There’s a reason for that.

And oh, if someone wants to say that this is just Christians saying this, two non-Christian scholars, Maurice Casey and Bart Ehrman, have also written against Christ-myth nonsense.

Again, there’s a reason it’s considered nonsense.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Killing Jesus

What do I think of the latest in the series from Bill O’Reilly? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

I used to like Bill O’Reilly. Really. I did. I’m extremely conservative after all and I like having a voice that seems conservative, but my respect for O’Reilly has dwindled to non-existent, especially with regards to how he handles the topic of religion.

Now I understand that not everyone can be a religious expert. This includes not just people on Fox, but CNN, MSNBC, NBC, ABC, etc. Pick any news station you want. You might be able to speak authoritatively on politics and other matters, but that does not necessarily mean you can do the same with religion. You can be an expert on politics and religion, but being an expert in one does not entail being an expert in the other.

I read Killing Jesus at the request of my parents wanting to know what their son who does study the topic of Christianity in-depth would think about it. I was admittedly approaching with great hesitancy.

One other factor of this was Killing Lincoln. My mother had started to go through the book from the library and asked me if I wanted to. She just couldn’t finish it. It wasn’t interesting to her. I agreed because I read nearly anything I can get my hands on. I hate not finishing a book so I finished the whole thing and had to agree sadly. It was simply a boring read.

And I thought the same about Killing Jesus.

I have thought often about why this is. I have a number of theories.

The first is that he’s trying too hard. I suspect he’s trying to make the story exciting instead of just telling the story. Of course, there is historical fiction that might paint in some details, but O’Reilly just really seems to detract from the story.

Second, it’s like combining a textbook with a novel. It doesn’t work. The story is interrupted constantly by O’Reilly wanting to explain historical data. Unfortunately, many in our society don’t know the basic history and need it explained so one goes back and forth between history and story instead of letting the history be the story.

Third, if these are true, then it really doesn’t bring much success as history and story both since there can be too much speculation on what was said and done that is not really historical, such as what people were thinking and saying at the time. Much of this is unfortunately ideas in an individualistic society pushed over onto an agonistic society. It is a way of thinking foreign to the people of the Bible.

There are also concerns that lead me to question O’Reilly’s historical research, although I do give some bonus for referencing my father-in-law Mike Licona’s “The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach.”

At the start, we are told on page 1 that we have the four gospels, but they are written from a spiritual perspective rather than a historical chronicling. Now it could be this is the case, but why assume it? The Gospels in fact are Greco-Roman Biographies, with the possible exception of Luke which is a historiography perhaps with tendencies towards such a biography.

On p. 14, we are told prophecies that are fulfilled in Christ. I doubt that O’Reilly can find such a list in Jewish understanding. We interpret Isaiah 7:14, the virgin birth passage, as a prophecy, but is there evidence that Jews at the time were saying “The Messiah will be born of a virgin!” Such an understanding I think will lead to problems in dialogues with Jews.

p. 74 contains a claim that the spot of the temple was also where Adam was created. I am quite dubious of such a claim and would like to see some documentation for it.

On p. 90 among other places, O’Reilly makes the claim that Mary Magdalene was the prostitute who came to Jesus in Luke 7. This is not held today by biblical scholarship and is a false reading by one of the Popes in church history. There is no biblical basis for the equation between the two.

p. 98 says that John the Baptist was speaking about the end of the world. The end of the world is an idea that is really foreign to the Biblical text. It talks about the end of the age. For the Jews, God was acting in this world and living in it and would bring it about to its original purpose. He would restore the creation and not destroy it.

I wonder about the dating of the gospels. O’Reilly says they were written as many as 70 years after Jesus’s death. Mark is the early 50’s, Luke between 59 and 63, Matthew in the 70’s, and John between 50 and 85. At the latest, this would mark 55 years after the death of Jesus.

On p. 131, O’Reilly says of the preaching of Jesus in the synagogue in Luke 4 that the message was Elijah and Elisha were rejected by Israel. O’Reilly leaves out the most important part. Jesus specifically said that blessings went to Gentiles instead of to Jews. The message of rejection was well-known already and while disappointing, would not lead to the desire to stone. To say the blessing went to Gentiles instead would.

On p. 255 O’Reilly gives us the myth that Hitler sought the holy lance that was supposed to have been used on Jesus. This is a historical myth however. It is largely popularized by Trevor Ravenscroft.

Also, there is a strong emphasis on Jesus’s claims to be God. This was not the message Jesus went around preaching. I do fully uphold the deity of Christ of course, and we should defend that, but the main message of Jesus was the Kingdom of God and God acting through Him as that King. O’Reilly gives the impression the gospels were written to show the deity of Christ. They were written to show the life and message. Deity is a part of that, but not the message entire.

My conclusion is that the history in here is at best mediocre at times and readers would better be served by picking up scholarly books, such as Craig Keener’s on the Historical Jesus, and going through those. Another read they could consider is Gary Habermas’s “The Historical Jesus” and works by N.T. Wright like “Simply Jesus” and “How God Became King.”

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Why Arguments From Silence Are Weak

Does silence on cases involving Jesus reveal a problem? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

One of the #1 arguments used by people like Christ-mythers is the argument from silence. Surely if Jesus was a historical figure, more people would talk about him! This was the Son of God! This was someone going around doing miracles! Why isn’t he being talked about everywhere?

Some people compare this to the modern world. If some great phenomenon happened, such as, say, a meteor hitting Mt. Rushmore and destroying it immediately, this would be talked about the world over immediately. You would suddenly have bloggers writing everywhere! News teams would swamp the area! Even as far away as the other side of the world, people would be talking.

Yes. Yes they would be. The problem is these modern comparisons fail. Let’s note some important differences.

First off, this all takes place after what Brent Sandy and John Walton have called in their book “The Lost World of Scripture”, the Gutenberg Galaxy. (The title is not original with them) Readers interested in The Lost World of Scripture are invited to listen to my interview with one of the authors, Brent Sandy, here and read my review of it here.

After Gutenberg everything changes. People can produce books much more quickly and efficiently. As a result, the number of books goes up and the cost to make them goes down. Because of this, literacy will go up as more books can be distributed to the public and there is in fact more leisure time rather than much time spent on the tedious task of copying a manuscript. Of course, it’s still not as efficient as today’s methods, but it is much more efficient.

Move forward to today and everyone can get their opinion out there. As soon as you see a story on the news, someone can comment on it and it can be anyone. Twitter is an excellent example of this. A news story takes place and people are immediately sharing it and in fact sharing links to it.

Over Thanksgiving while visiting the Liconas, we were watching a football game on Thanksgiving night. (I say we loosely. Allie and Mike were watching. I was reading more. Football just bores me honestly, but my wife and father-in-law are both Ravens fans.) Mike was getting tired and so was Allie and we all decided we’d just go to sleep.

Now this game was not played in the city where we were, but there was no doubt that when we woke up in the morning, we would be able to tell who won. In fact, immediately when the game was over, we could have been told who won. The age of mass communications has made this kind of knowledge much easier to come by.

Second, if literacy is up, then it turns out that the written word can often become the best way to spread information, though even this is not always the case. Today, we can use videos on YouTube or for news just go to a news broadcast. The visual is still a powerful aid to get the message out. Something that made the Vietnam War so different was we could really see the images of it. People who heard the Kennedy/Nixon debate for the most part said Nixon won. Those who watched for the most part said Kennedy won. The visual is definitely having an impact.

Third, when information is written down more and more, memory will take less and less place in society. An oral culture thrives on memory far more than we do and seeks to have all its information not so much in individual memory, but rather in collective memory. (Again, see Sandy and Walton above) You could change some secondary details in a story, such as some chronology, but the primary details had to stay the same.

We still do this today. If I have Jehovah’s Witnesses or Mormons visit me, I will certainly call my own parents to give an account of what happened, but my parents are not apologists so I give a basic account. When I call Mike then or my former roommate or write it out here, the account gets more and more detailed. Why? Because these are the people that know the language and I can communicate it to them in a different way.

It’s not for these reasons alone that written sources were not used the most in the ancient world. As alluded to earlier, cost was an issue.

Here is what one writer says about the issue who happens to have a PH.D.

“By the estimates of William Harris, author of Ancient Literacy (1989), only 20% of the population could read anything at all, fewer than 10% could read well, and far fewer still had reasonable access to books. He found that in comparative terms, even a single page of blank papyrus cost the equivalent of thirty dollars—ink, and the labor to hand copy every word cost many times more (p. 195). As a result, books could run to the thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars in value each. Consequently, only the rich had books, and only elite scholars had access to libraries, of which there were few.”

Of course, I already am sure that several out there are saying that this is just another Christian excuse for not having writing. It’s a convenient little remark that is meant to explain away a problem. For those who think that, there is a problem. Here is the source for this statement.

“Richard Carrier, Sense and Goodness Without God, 2005. p. 232”

Carrier himself is a Christ-mythicist, but I have no problem with this here. To get just the papyrus of a single page could cost $30. Ink and labor would cost more. Add in as well that for these books someone else would have to deliver the book which would be a delivery charge and you’d have to make sure someone was there who could read the book. Usually, the deliverer would serve as a reader and he would have to know the content well enough to be able to explain it to the audience, properly read it with all the nuances in speech, etc. This was a costly enterprise!

So let’s compare these methods.

One method, writing, costs an exorbitant amount to produce and reaches only about 10% of the population at the most. Oral tradition, which in the ancient world was just as reliable if not more reliable, was absolutely free and could spread the word far and wide to everyone who could speak the common language.

Which one will be done? Decisions decisions….

Today we value the written word the most, but the problem is this is an anachronism on our part where we throw our modern mindset back into the ancient world. It is saying “We value writing today and seek to write things down immediately. Weren’t the ancients the same way?” No. No they weren’t.

Another point when it comes to Jesus is as I have written about elsewhere, Jesus would have essentially been a nobody in the ancient world. He could have been popular in some circles where he was, but that does not extend everywhere.

Many a town can have its own celebrities and such. Politicians in states can usually be known in their states, but unless they do something really big or have a scandal of some sort, that fame won’t likely extend much beyond that. A professional athlete who’s not that well-known can still be a celebrity in his own town.

Jesus lived in an area that was important as a trade route that connected three continents, but it was not viewed as important for its culture. The culture was certainly tolerated by the Romans due to it being old, but it was not something that they celebrated. What was Rome interested in? Power and glory. What were the Greeks interested in? Knowledge.

So who was Jesus?

Jesus was a rabbi. He was a preacher who supposedly did miracles (Oh who would believe in that stuff? Not an educated Roman). He never ran for political office. He never as an adult traveled outside of his own country. He never led any troops into battle. He was such a weak figure that it only took a small cohort to arrest him. The Romans didn’t have to call in an army or anything. The movement was put down in a weekend. (Of course, the resurrection did change that) Worst of all, He was crucified, the most shameful death of all, something that any Messiah and Son of God claimant would surely avoid.

It’s quite amusing to hear Jesus then being compared to other people at the time who we have records of such as, say, the Caesar on the throne. Yes. We all know that a Jewish rabbi should get as much attention as the reigning Caesar at the time. Let’s keep in mind that some who have made the mistake of thinking that the sources are equal have in fact admitted it was a mistake. See here for details. Of course, we all will make mistakes in our research from time to time. By all means, check all claims from everyone.

Yet we are told that there are no contemporary eyewitness accounts for Jesus. Indeed, there are none for Alexander the Great. Tim O’Neill at Armarium Magnum gives a comparison with this in using Hannibal. As he says:

“To highlight how easily a peasant nobody like Jesus could very easily pass without any surviving contemporary notice at all, I held up the example of someone at the other end of the scale of fame and significance to Jesus and who, despite this, also has zero contemporary references that have survived to us. Hannibal was about as far from a Jewish peasant preacher in terms of fame and significance as you could get in the ancient world, yet we have no contemporary references to him at all. None. This shows that the nature of ancient source material is such that we have contemporary references for virtually nobody, including people much more significant than Jesus. So making an argument about the existence of any ancient figure based on the lack or otherwise of contemporary references is patently ridiculous; doubly so for a peasant preacher.”

Source here.

And once again, before someone writes this off as another Christian grasping at straws, please keep in mind Tim O’Neill is an atheist. He has no desire to promote Christianity, and while I disagree with him on his historical conclusions concerning who Jesus is and what He did, I have great respect for his methodology and for his also not putting up with atheists making bad historical arguments.

If Hannibal does not receive this then why should we expect such for Jesus?

In fact, all of this assumes that the gospels are not contemporary and are not eyewitnesses or based on eyewitness accounts. Luke explicitly says he spoke to the eyewitnesses. Few people in fact I see are actually responding to a work such as Richard Bauckham’s “Jesus and the Eyewitnesses” to see if it could be that the gospels are eyewitness accounts.

As for contemporary, I recently had Dr. Paul Maier on my show which can be heard here who said no scholar he knows of who studies the ancient world would accept the idea that only contemporary accounts are to be used. If we followed such an account, we would have to throw out much of ancient history. In fact, Carrier saying why he thinks the accounts of the crossing of the Rubicon are more reliable than that of the resurrection says the following:

“Fourth, we have the story of the “Rubicon Crossing” in almost every historian of the period, including the most prominent scholars of the age: Suetonius, Appian, Cassius Dio, Plutarch.” That can be found here. Little problem with this. Not one of those scholars is a contemporary.

Let’s consider Appian. From, we get this. This tells us that Appian would have written in the second century A.D. Carrier dates the crossing of the Rubicon to 49 B.C. This means that Appian wrote at least 149 years later and unless he wrote when he was 5 years old, it could have been written around 200 years later.

Information on Suetonius is here.

What does this mean? Suetonius was born 120 years after the event and would have written later as well of course.

Cassius Dio is even worse. We are told he started his work in the 190’s and wrote the Roman History from 211-233. So let’s go with 211 being the date of the writing of the event just to be as generous as possible.

This is 260 years later!

Finally, there’s Plutarch. Plutarch’s information can be found here.

This means Plutarch was born 95 years after the event.

Now if all of these are acceptable to be seen as accounts of historians of the age writing about these events, then if the gospels are before 125 A.D. (30 + 95) then we should be on good grounds. In fact, most liberal scholarship today would date the gospels to around 80-95 A.D. This isn’t even counting the Pauline Epistles which speak of these events even earlier. If 95+ counts for Caesar, why does it not count for Jesus?

In fact, James Crossley has argued for an early date of Mark, perhaps going into the 40’s. Once again, I’d like to remind readers that Crossley is not a friend of evangelical Christianity. He is an atheist. See an interview here.

Another claim is that the gospels are anonymous. We are not told what this has to do with the price of tea in China. I suppose if every skeptic was immediately convinced of traditional authorship, then they would suddenly accept them as valid historical accounts.

Yet as Paul Maier told me on the show, this is really a weak argument. A large number of works from the ancient world are anonymous and we know about who wrote them from outside sources. Besides, even if there was a name on them, why think that would be accepted? The Pastorals have the name of Paul on them, but most critics do not accept Pauline authorship of those works. To establish authorship of a document requires more than having the name on the document. This will require a methodology of determining authorship. Unfortunately, most skeptics today have no such methodology and just want to shout out “anonymous!” as if that alone is an argument. For those interested, I plan on writing in the near future why I consider the gospels to be by their traditional authors. Those interested in more right now can look at my interviews with Dr. Tim McGrew and with Andrew Pitts.

Let’s also not forget something else. Much of the writing of the ancient world has sadly not survived. Some of it was destroyed intentionally unfortunately, but some of it is just lost due to the ravages of time, and this includes Christian writings. Much of what we could find about Jesus would be in the area of Jerusalem and yet we are told by Josephus that after its destruction one would never know a city had been there.

It is for all of these reasons that arguments from silence is weak. The principle to follow is that where we would expect silence anyway, the argument from silence is weak. The rest of the world would not have been interested in a failed Messiah who was crucified and never ran for office or led an army. Miracles would only be scoffed at.

What is required? Doing real history which will require real work, including reading as much as one can on an argument. Too many atheists for too long have been using simple arguments without doing the heavy lifting of real historical work. They may think they are damaging the Christian cause, but in reality, they are only hurting their own cause.

In Christ,
Nick Peters