Book Plunge: It’s Not The End Of The World

What do I think of Dee Dee Warren’s book on Matthew 24 published by Xulon Press? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Dee Dee Warren’s book is an excellent commentary on Matthew 24 coming from an orthodox Preterist position that says most of it, at least up to verse 34, was fulfilled in the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. Now I do want to be fair and state some bias here. DDW, as I call her, is a friend of mine and in fact, it was at a TheologyWeb convention where we had a Q&A that I got to hear her and another member speak on this topic and in my long quest of eschatology, that was the time that sealed the deal for me that the Bible does in fact teach orthodox Preterism so I owe a lot to her for that.

Now most of us when we want something fun to read we’re not going to say “Oh! I’m going to go to the library and get a commentary!” Normally, when we pull out a commentary, we go to the part that we’re interested in, read that, and then move on. You could do that with DDW’s book and you’d get good answers, but you’d be missing a lot. This is a commentary that is enjoyable to read as DDW spices it up with her own humor and yet it is at the same time meticulously researched. There are over 400 end notes at the end. DDW has done her homework. If you’ve heard the Preterist Podcast of hers, you’ll know a lot of this already, but even still DDW has sharpened her game for as she would indicate towards the end of her book, we are always learning and growing.

Not only that, she shows how this can apply to us today and how this is meant to encourage us to be more faithful. It’s quite an ironic turn since this passage has been used by so many people to argue against Christianity. In fact, even the great C.S. Lewis had his problems with this passage. When you’re done with DDW’s book, you should see that far from being a disproof and a problem for Christianity, this passage can be seen as one of the great proofs of Christianity as it shows how accurate Jesus was as a prophet and how the judgment of God came on the people of the time. (It’s important to note that it’s the people of the time and not Jews of all time.)

Despite this being a tough subject, DDW’s work is not tough to read. You will not get bogged down with “And this Greek word in this tense refers to.” I have no problem with that intense study, but it can go above the head of the layman several times. DDW is thorough and yet simple. You can read a passage and understand it easily enough and you can get to interact with much of the history of the first century as well.

Also, DDW takes on the hyperpreterism faction at the end of the book as well briefly, and if anyone has had experience dealing with these people, it’s DDW. We can be thankful that she herself came out of it and I am also thankful that she did it with the help of a pastor who took time to answer her questions. If only there were more pastors around today who knew about the major issues going around and were prepared to answer questions. DDW’s work has been a blessing to several in this area. Imagine how it would have been if she had never come around.

If there was a way I’d improve, I’d definitely put the lesson of the Purple Cow front and center. This is a story DDW shares (That is not original with her) and it is important to really studying this topic. In fact, I would have it as a bit of an introduction to the whole book so people could go through and learn to avoid committing the fallacy of the Purple Cow. If there was something else I would have preferred to not be a note, it would have been David Green’s comment on hyperpreterism being a heresy if a position like orthodox Preterism was true.

If you really want to study orthodox Preterism and know what Matthew 24 is about, get this book. If you want to have an answer to the question of “How can we trust Jesus if He was wrong about the time of His own return?”, get this book.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Deeper Waters Podcast 5/16/2015: Matthew Flannagan

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

Sorry for the delay in the blog. I’ve had some circumstances come up beyond my control so today, I’m giving the entry for the show that I will be recording in a few hours and this week, my guest is Matthew Flannagan.

How could a good God kill innocent children? This is one of the thorniest objections that comes up against God today. To some extent, some could perhaps understand God sending a grown human being to Hell who has lived a wicked life, but what about the children? What have the little children done to deserve a death? What kind of God tells people to go into a city and destroy men, women, and children? What kind of being do Christians worship? Matthew Flannagan is here to help us answer those questions. Who is he? According to his bio:

Matthew Flannagan Cropped for 6x4 and 8x12 inch prints Different background colours are avilable by request January 2014
Matthew Flannagan
Cropped for 6×4 and 8×12 inch prints
Different background colours are avilable by request
January 2014

Dr Matthew Flannagan is a theologian and ethicist. He holds a PhD in Theology from the University of Otago and a Master’s degree with honours in Philosophy from the University of Waikato. Matthew currently works as a teaching elder at Takanini Community Church and regularly participates in local and international conferences, panel discussions and public lectures. Matthew is the author of numerous articles on ethics and philosophy and contributor to several books on apologetics, he recently co-authored Did God Really Command Genocide? Coming to Terms with the Justice of God (BakerBook: 2014) with Paul Copan. He and his wife Madeleine also run the popular blog MandM at mandm.org.nz.

The book Did God Really Command Genocide? can be purchased here and based on my review it is a book I highly recommend. In fact, it is one of those books that the further you get into it, the better it gets, which for a non-fiction book is quite a rarity. The book is highly exhaustive and will cover the major issues in the debate very well.

Dr. Flannagan, a father himself, will be answering the hardest questions I can give to him on the topic since your friends and opponents will be asking you similar questions. Couldn’t God have found a better way to do things than this? Why is God so bloodthirsty? Doesn’t He kill people for minor offenses? If people can kill back then because they’re so convinced that God is telling them to do something, then what is to stop a government official today in office from doing the same thing? Is it true that something is good because God says it is good, or does God say that it is good because it is good?

I hope this show will equip you to answer questions that you get on this topic, which is a favorite among skeptics on the internet. I also hope it will give you a greater understanding of the Old Testament texts and how to read them as well as deal with issues in relation to Inerrancy. Be watching for the next episode of the Deeper Waters Podcast.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Is Life Better Without God?

If you remove God from your life, will it be better? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Recently, someone on twitter sent me a link to an article by Skeptic Mom on the question of if life is better without God. I took a look and saw a whole lot of issues that I deal with in the modern day church and figured this would be a good example. Now looking at the post, I don’t see Skeptic Mom at this point as some anti-theist, but just someone who is skeptical of religious claims, which is just fine, but I wonder how many of these claims she’s skeptical of are Christian claims and how many are cultural Christian claims. Let’s start with the first one.

For Skeptic Mom, the first benefit is that her life is more her own. What does that mean? Let’s look at what she says about this:

At church, we were taught stories about biblical characters, such as Jonah, who were punished for putting their own desires over God’s. Stories such as Jonah and the whale (or great fish or sea monster) were told to remind us that God had a plan for each of us and that we must follow his plan. Our job was to discover God’s plan and to follow the path he had chosen for us. We were told to trust that God knew best.

Now that I am an atheist, I no longer have to try to determine what God wants for me. I feel free to determine what I want out of life. I can set my own goals and make my own decisions. The realization that we create our own purpose in life has been a very freeing experience for me.

This is an example of how far our church education has gone. I do not fault Skeptic Mom for this. I fault our churches and the teaching curriculum that we often have. Let’s take a story like Jonah. Do we really think the writer of Jonah sat down and wrote the story hoping that the end lesson for his audience would be “God has a plan for your life.”? Unfortunately, too many of us are taught that. I still remember being in the Sunday School class at a church once and hearing that Joshua wrote the book of Joshua so that the Israelites would learn to obey God. This was in fact not a children’s class. This was the college class of which I was a member.

Our college students are getting simplistic teaching at their churches and Ph.d. atheism in the universities (Along with a culture of wanton sexuality) so why are we surprised that so many are falling away into atheism? It’s not really a contest.

If I was starting to teach on the book of Jonah, I’d want to ask some questions first. For instance, do we have any idea of who wrote it? Maybe it was Jonah. Maybe it wasn’t. Do we have any idea of when it was written? What was the context it was written in? Do we know who the audience is? For some books, we might have better answers then others. Then I’d want to know the historical situation going on. Why is this book important enough to be in the canon? For the Old Testament, what did it mean to the early Jews? For the New Testament, what did it mean to the early Christians?

Then I’d want to see what is going on in the book. For Jonah, this isn’t a book about following the will of God, though one certainly should. This is a book about the grace of God. God is a gracious God who desires to see all people come to Him, even a pagan nation like Assyria. In fact, Jonah tells us the reason he did not want to go to Nineveh is because he knew of the grace of God. This is a preacher who has a massive revival after a few days of preaching and he is upset about it. The point we have to ask from the story is who is the God described in the book of Jonah and how are we to live in response?

Much of what Skeptic Mom has here unfortunately comes from a rabid individualism that we have in the text that we center on what the text means for me. We often jump straight to application instead of doing a rich and rewarding look at the text. This also fits in with the idea of “God has a plan for your life” which is something not really taught in Scripture and no, do not dare try to individualize Jeremiah 29:11 on me. Try to look up the context of what is going on in that passage first.

Sometimes people come to me with what they think is a difficult question. They want to know what God’s plan is for their life. I tell them that’s really a simple question and they’re usually surprised. I tell them every time that the answer is to conform them to the likeness of Christ?

“Well what does that say about who I marry?”

“Well you need to marry a Christian of the opposite sex, but the more important question is not what kind of spouse will you marry, but what kind of spouse will you be?”

“What does that say about my career?”

“Don’t work somewhere immoral, but it’s not who will you work for but what kind of worker will you be?”

“Where should I live?”

“It’s not a question of who will be your neighbors, but what kind of neighbor will you be?”

Notice how many times we ask these questions, it’s about what the world and others can do for us instead of the other way around?

So as it turns out, I have great freedom here and so do you. I tire of the idea that we have to find God’s will as if it’s an Easter Egg Hunt and God will give us clues that we’re getting warmer or colder. #1 then is a belief of cultural Christianity. It is foreign to the Bible. Let’s move on to #2. This is about intellectual growth. Skeptic Mom writes that:

When I was a Christian, I did not often think deeply about religious issues. One reason for this was because I didn’t view religion as complex. I thought it was a matter of finding the true religion and the right answers. Often, I simply looked to an authority, such as a trusted minister or the Bible to find answers. The other reason I rarely thought deeply about religion was because my beliefs were rarely challenged. Almost everyone I knew was religious, and those who were not did not challenge my beliefs. It was a subject that was rarely discussed on anything more than a superficial level.

Now that I have become an atheist, I think more deeply about religious issues. Because the majority of people I interact with are people who do not share my perspective on these issues, I am forced to confront another point of view. Even when my beliefs are not directly challenged, I often hear people stating an opinion that differs from my own. This forces me to think about my position on issues to determine what I really think and to determine if I have a good reason for holding my position. Even when I am speaking with another atheist about issues that we agree on, I find the conversations tend to be deeper because we often look at the issues from other points of view to determine if our opinions and assumptions are correct. I think that the reason we can more easily look at different perspectives and possibilities is because neither of us believe that there is a right answer given to us by a deity.

This one really saddens me in particular. As many readers know, I have been on a long crusade to stop anti-intellectualism in the culture. Now do I think in many cases this has hit the atheist movement. Absolutely. Most arguments I see on the internet from atheists are quite frankly embarrassing to look at. I think many in the movement who claims to be “brights” and intellectuals are anything but. Yet if it happened there, I believe it happened because it started with the church first.

And this is the anomaly. You go back and look at the early church and the medieval period and the Reformation era and these were guys who took the life of the mind very seriously. The abandonment of intellectualism in the church around the late 19th century and the early 20th century was one of the worst choices the church ever made. Too many Christians live in a climate of anti-intellectualism where any real thinking is seen as going against the virtue of “faith.” This faith however is certainly not any kind of faith that the Bible endorses. That I have written about elsewhere.

In fact, I would say when I get together with my Christian friends, we have rich intellectual discussions. It’s not “The Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it.” When we do quote the Bible, we also have a great discussion on what the various passages mean and how best to apply them today. My own wife could tell you that if I need to tell her something, I could quote Scripture. I could also quote Lewis or Chesterton or Aristotle or Epictetus. I believe in having a rich intellectual reservoir to draw from and that includes those outside of the church. Christianity provides me a wellspring of knowledge to draw from.

For #3 Skeptic Mom says that the world makes more sense because:

When I was a Christian, there would be times I would learn something that did not fit with my Christian worldview. Often, I would have a brief moment of thinking, “if this is correct, Christianity is not.” Instead of revising my worldview, I would find a way to rationalize my beliefs, decide the information must be incorrect, or ignore that piece of information. For example, I used to believe that our personality was contained within our soul. When we went to the afterlife, our personality would be intact. When I learned how after Phineas Gage suffered a severe head injury his personality changed so drastically that his friends said he no longer seemed to be the same person, I began to see personality as a function of the brain and not the soul. For a moment, I questioned my religious teachings about the soul, but I quickly dismissed this thought and tucked it away in a corner of my mind.

Once I allowed myself to truly consider that my Christian beliefs might be wrong, thoughts I had dismissed came flooding back to my mind. Once I looked at the information without my lens of Christianity, it made more sense. It is very freeing to know that now as I come across new information, I can accept it without trying to make it fit into a preconceived worldview.

I can’t really buy this last part, because we all have a worldview and we will all try to interpret new data in light of that worldview first. Few of us would see a piece of data and decide to chuck our whole worldview at that point. For that to happen, it must be an incredibly convincing piece of data and if you trade in your faith lightly, then it was a faith that you took lightly to begin with.

Now I would like to state that I do not attempt to answer questions really on the relationship of mind and body or dualism like that. That’s not my area. I know many people who do and they happily address objections like this one. This I think is an important part of worldview thinking. You cannot be a master or authority in everything, so you need to learn to be an authority on select issues and seek to learn as much as you can about those. Still, this is a secondary question for Christianity. The primary questions are “Is there a God?” and then “Did He Raise Jesus from the dead?” If one is convinced of these, then one can look at an objection and say “I do not understand that, but I see it does not touch these primary issues so I am willing to think about it, but I am not willing to base my worldview on it.”

I would in fact argue that the world makes more sense on theism. I think theism best explains morality, existence itself, statements of truth, and the life and resurrection of Jesus. I do not think atheism really explains anything. This is part of the problem. I hold my worldview because it makes the most sense. Someone holds the opposite for the same reason. I advise those curious to read the best scholarship on both sides. From there we move on to #4 which is about having a morality that makes sense. Skeptic Mom writes:

I used to assume that whatever God said was right was good. And, anything God said was wrong was a sin. However, there were several Bible stories that I learned in Sunday school where it seemed that God was wrong. For example, I thought it was wrong for God to test Abraham to see if he would sacrifice his beloved son. Even though God did not make Abraham go through with the sacrifice, I thought that the experience had to have been horrifying for both Abraham and Isaac. I also thought it was wrong for God to demand that his subjects be so loyal that they would even be willing to sacrifice their own children. I would not have wanted my parents to be willing to sacrifice me to God and I knew I would never be willing to sacrifice children I might have one day. I struggled to understand how God was right in this and other Bible stories. My Sunday school teachers taught us that when we could not understand God’s ways it was simply because human beings were not smart enough to understand. Assuming that must be the case, I tried not to think too deeply about those stories. Later in life, I also began to question if everything I was taught was a sin was really a sin. Some things that I was taught was a sin, such as premarital sex, did not seem really wrong, at least not all of the time. I had a tough time reconciling how certain things could really be sins worthy of eternal hellfire. Yet, somehow, I assumed they must still be sins if god said they were.

Now that I am an atheist, I no longer believe in the concept of sin. I am not concerned with what the Bible says is right or wrong. I decide for myself whether something is right and wrong based on whether the action is harmful or whether it promotes human flourishing. My judgments are now based on my values. And, when I learn of immoral acts that are by the Bible, I condemn them.

The start is a basic version of Divine Command Theory, which I do not hold to. Still, even a holder of that viewpoint would want to flesh it out even more beyond that. I understand the problem with stories in Sunday School. One key part is that when difficulties were raised, students were told humans are just not smart enough to understand. While there could be some truth to this, in that surely the way a deity could act would be hard for me to understand, let us not dare make a statement that will dissuade the asking of questions and the seeking of answers! When we do that, we are creating atheists.

Just like Skeptic Mom.

Looking at the story of Abraham, it’s important to note that Abraham was told to do this for Isaac was not just a random child, but was the son of the promise. The way to know that Abraham believed the promise was to see if Abraham would act in a way that would put the promise itself in jeopardy. Abraham had himself interacted with God many times and seen miraculous events in his own life, so it wasn’t that he just heard a voice in his head and that had no bearing in reality. He had even spoken to God when God came before him in the form of a human messenger to discuss the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.

Abraham was also an old man and Isaac would have been a much younger one. Anyone really think an old man like Abraham could force Isaac to get on an altar? Isaac was seen as a willing sacrifice, and Isaac lived in a culture where many would die at a young age and death could come from wild animals, enemy raids, or disease at any moment. Finally, let’s not forget that God STOPS the action from taking place. We also see how shocking this must have been for Abraham because the request is so unusual and out of character for God that we think that something has to be up in this whole story. Indeed, there is. This was the way of showing Abraham really believed the promise.

Yet I do not think morality makes sense in atheism. What is the good? What is the evil? To say that which promotes human flourishing is too vague. No doubt many slave owners thought human flourishing was benefited by owning slaves. No doubt many Nazis believed human flourishing was benefited by the final solution. No doubt many communists believed that human flourishing was established by removing those who were impediments to the rule of Communism. We can even ask it on a smaller level. Did the refrigeration industry cause human flourishing when it put many in the ice industry out of a job? Why should we care about human flourishing anyway? What makes us so special? Maybe we should stop having bacon and put pig flourishing primary?

Then of course, what is goodness itself? How does it exist? Is it a reality that is found in things and actions, or is it just this idea that exists in the mind that we apply to those things and actions? Those are two very different positions. One ends in objectivism. One ends in relativism.

I also do not think for a moment that we should take the position that we need the Bible to know right from wrong. I think the Bible teaches many great moral truths, but these could be known apart from Scripture. In fact, passages like Romans 2 that speak of the Law written on our hearts agree with this. The only reason the people in Romans 1 can be held accountable is that they already do have an idea of right from wrong. It is also not like that the Israelites got the Ten Commandments and said “Wow! We have to stop this murder thing! Turns out that’s not a good thing to do!” Christian morality should be informed by the Bible, but also by sound thinking in the study of philosophy and metaphysics.

The last part is a focus on life and here I will quote just the first paragraph.

When I was a Christian, I spent a great deal of time trying to make it to heaven and avoid being sent to Hell. I spent time trying to avoid activities that would bring the condemnation of God, feeling guilty over being a sinful human being, and begging for forgiveness from God for displeasing him. Instead of trying to make this life the best one it could be, I spent a lot of time worrying about the next life.

At this point, I have to wonder what kind of environment Skeptic Mom was in. It sounds like one that was highly legalistic and very anti-intellectual. This is a kind of Christianity that should be abandoned. Let’s consider something interesting about guilt. Recently I did a search on Bible Gateway after a guest on my show noted that guilt is never talked about in Romans. I went to the search tool and put in the word guilt. It was not in Romans, but I noticed something about every time guilt was used. It never once referred to a feeling of guilt. It referred to guilt in the legal sense. The same with innocence. Yet guess what we focus on here in America? Yep. The feeling of guilt, something not talked about at all in the text.

Are there some feelings talked about? Yep. Honor and shame. These permeated the Biblical worldview and yet how often in churches do you hear sermons on honor and shame? If you’re like me, never. In fact, a search for these terms in the Bible show that they showed up far more in the NT than their Western counterparts.

I also see in Skeptic Mom an idea that Christianity should be focused on the next life. To be sure, Christians should be heavenly-minded, but not at the expense of Earth. Earth is not an afterthought. It is not a mistake. It is the place God designed to dwell with His people. We might have interrupted the plan, but we did not ruin it. That is still His plan. The hymn is true that this is my Father’s world. We should focus on Christ, but never lose sight of this life that He has given us. This is the world we live and serve and worship in. This is the world that we are to seek that His will be done here as it is in Heaven. This is the world that we seek to have brought to Christ that He will rule over it.

Too many churches do have this idea that this world doesn’t really matter. Christ does not share that idea. This is the world that He loves.

In the end, I conclude that I have all the things that Skeptic Mom says she has and in fact, I think I have overall a better explanation of reality. Now to get into the arguments for that, there are many other posts on my blog here that can go into each of those, but I especially think Christianity best makes sense of the life and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. It looks like Skeptic Mom got a legalistic and anti-intellectual version of Christianity and sadly threw the baby out with the bathwater. I wonder if she has ever considered reading someone like N.T. Wright and the depths of his knowledge on such subjects.

I also think this is a warning to the church. The Christianity Skeptic Mom abandoned is rampant and people see it as real Christianity. It is not. I do not doubt people in it are real Christians, but it is not because they are following the Bible well and the long Christian tradition. Our churches could all be benefited by better equipping the saints with good theology and doctrine and teaching them how to think and examine both sides of the argument.

Hopefully in fact, both sides of this argument will do that. We could have much better debates.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Should You Be Still And Know That He Is God?

What does it mean to “Be still and know that I am God”? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

We’re looking at the question of the silence of God. I’d like to look at this point at a passage that is often used to speak to people who are experiencing that silence. That is the one that tells them to be still and know that He is God. It is found in Psalm 46:10.

Yet before we get to that verse, I’d like to do something unusual. Let’s look at the verses before and the one after. (Yeah. I know. Checking the context. What a thought.)

God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
2 Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way,
though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,
3 though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble at its swelling.

This is not listed as a Psalm of David. The language believe it or not is not the language of natural disasters. It’s the language of war. Often times in the Bible, political events were described using language of cosmic phenomena. Now you might think that doesn’t really make much sense. If you do, then please explain to me why it is we can talk about storms in politics, events that are earth-shattering, and other such terminology. We do use similar terminology today, though unfortunately we are not as poetic as the ancients were. Peter Kreeft has said that prose is fallen poetry and poetry is fallen music. Music is for him the original language. If we remember the Psalms were sung, there could be some valuable truth there. The language should be rich and pull us in with a word picture.

4 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy habitation of the Most High.
5 God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved;
God will help her when morning dawns.
6 The nations rage, the kingdoms totter;
he utters his voice, the earth melts.
7 The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.

The Psalmist here points to Jerusalem, seen as the holy city of God. Jerusalem is the place that is supposed to be where Heaven and Earth meet, and this especially in the temple. Jerusalem is the city of God and as long as it has that status, it will not fall. All the armies of the world can come against Her, but if they are in a covenant with God, God will protect them. They can have walls of course like any other ancient city would have, but their true fortress is God Himself. They do not rely solely on weapons of warfare, but they resolve on their covenant with YHWH.

8 Come, behold the works of the Lord,
how he has brought desolations on the earth.
9 He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
he breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
he burns the chariots with fire.

The Psalmist reminds the audience that God has indeed acted in the past. He has destroyed the enemies of Israel. If He can bring a cessation to the wars in the rest of the world, why can He not protect His holy city? It is a reminder to the people that they need to be faithful to YHWH. YHWH has acted in the past and He can and will act again if we maintain our trust in Him and rely on what He said. Now we get to the key verse.

10 “Be still, and know that I am God.
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth!”

Okay. So what is going on here?

This verse has nothing to do with meditation and thinking to yourself “God is God.” That does not mean that that’s wrong to do. It just means that this verse is not about that.

This verse is not about God not speaking to you when you are in the midst of a trial. That is dealt with in other passages, but this verse has nothing whatsoever to say about it.

This verse is not about your own personal assurance for any trial that you are facing, though you could have personal assurance still and it could start by realizing who God is.

This is a verse telling the people to cease from their labor and activity in the situation and rely wholeheartedly on God. It is reminding them, as the rest of it shows, that God is in covenant with Jerusalem and because of that, He will protect His city so that His name will be exalted.

11 The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.

The final verse concludes it. This is why you are to be still. God is your fortress and God is with you. Now could you find some personal application today? Sure. But we must before we apply the passage to ourselves today find out what it meant to the people back then. If it did not mean that then, we should be cautious about misapplying it today. One great danger is that we often individualize passages that were meant for a community.

On a personal level, is it good to know about the nature of God? Absolutely. Do you need to remember that nature in a time of crisis? Sure. Could personal meditation on the nature of God be helpful? Definitely. Note you can have some great truths and the wrong passage to illustrate those truths.

This one is not about what many people think it is. Just because you like the message you get does not mean that you are hearing the message properly.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

A Response To Richard Hagenston

Is your pastor really not telling you some truths about the Bible? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Richard Hagenston is an ordained United Methodist minister and a former pastor who has written a book called Fabricating Faith: How Christianity Became A Religion Jesus Would Have Rejected. Now to be fair, I have not read the book yet, but someone sent me a link to the blog of Hemant Mehta, the “friendly atheist”, where he has a guest post by Mr. Hagenston.

Now I’d like to start with a sad statement. I think the reason many of these issues will never come up from pastors is that frankly, most pastors don’t even think about them. I have said several times that too many pastors are unequipped. I am not saying all pastors should specialize in apologetics, but all pastors need a basic knowledge at least of apologetics, they need to have at least one “Go-to” person in the church on apologetics, and they need to be able to emphasize the importance of apologetics to their flock. The sad reality is too many people in the flock have no clue what apologetics is, including myself for a long time, and this could be because many pastors don’t know either.

The result of this will be in the increasing amount of misinformation put out. On the one hand, Christians who apostasize from the faith will go out and share all this information that they never knew about, most of it coming from bogus sources on the internet. The second is that there will be too many Christians who will follow in kind because their pastor never protected them. Unfortunately, those who stay in the faith too often live in their secluded bubbles and ignoring the outside world, which kills any chance of their fulfilling the Great Commission.

That having been said, let’s look at the truths that will not be told.

The first is that the apostles did not know of a virgin birth.

The problem with such a claim is the same as illustrated by Christ-mythers. It relies on an argument from silence. If X never mentioned an event, then he didn’t know about it. We could only guess from something like this that a large population of the world at the time knew absolutely nothing about a volcano that destroyed Pompeii and Herculaneum. Because we deem something as important does not mean that the people of the time would have really wanted to talk about it.

Let’s consider the virgin birth. If the first Gospel written was Mark, why would Mark not mention it? It’s really quite simple. Mark is an inclusio document that is based on the eyewitness of Peter. Peter would most certainly have not been present for a virgin birth. Despite this, some think there could be a veiled reference in describing Jesus as the son of Mary instead of of Joseph in Mark 6:3.

Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him.

In fact, it could be the virgin birth would not be something that the writers would want to mention. As David Instone-Brewer points out in The Jesus Scandals. the virgin birth would have also been seen as an embarrassment. Not because if it was true that that would lower Jesus. It is because it would be seen with skepticism and in a Jewish culture, it would admit one sure fact about Jesus.

Jesus had a birth that was not normal.

Why would that be shameful? Because that could easily lead to the charge that Jesus was a mamzer, that is, a child born illegitimately. That might not be as big a deal here in modern America, but in the Jewish culture, that would really call into question your status as a righteous man of God. A writer like Matthew could have heard the rumors and think he had to say something and grasp onto Isaiah 7:14, which was admittedly not seen as Messianic at all. (Were Matthew making up a story, one would expect him to use passages that were seen as Messianic.)

Another danger of this is that unusual births (Not virgin but unusual) was part of the system of pagan gods at the time. Jews were quite resistant to paganism at the time. Now they could accept some cultural aspects, but their religious aspects were by and large kept. Excellent information on this can be found in Jesus and His World by Craig Evans and The Jesus Legend by Greg Boyd and Paul Eddy. For a brief example, we see in the garbage of the Jews in Jerusalem few if any pig bones before 70 A.D. After 70 A.D., we see them. Why 70 A.D.? That’s when Jerusalem was destroyed and the Romans would have taken over the area and observance would not be practiced as much.

Why would Luke mention the virgin birth? Luke could quite likely have had Mary as one of his sources while he was in Jerusalem, which I suspect at this point happened when Paul was on trial as described in Acts and Luke had plenty of time. Luke wanting to show Jesus’s relation to all men could have shown that this happened this way to say Jesus is not just for the Jews. He’s for the Gentiles as well and his unique birth pictures that.

For John, John goes way beyond the virgin birth and has the fullest statement of pre-existence in the Gospels. If John is also the last to write, it could be that he would know what was covered in the others and feel no need to repeat that ground.

As for Paul, why would Paul really need to mention it? Now it could be mentioned in Romans 1 and possibly in Galatians 4, but is it really important to the message of Paul? In a high context society, this is what would have been known already. Paul is not writing a life of Jesus. He is trying to deal with problems in the church and there’s no need to interrupt an argument on whether Christians should be circumcised or not with “Oh by the way, Jesus was born of a virgin.”

For more on this, listen to my interview of Ben Witherington in the second hour of my podcast here and to my interview with David Instone-Brewer here.

Now could it be that the other apostles didn’t know of a virgin birth for arguments’ sake? Sure. You need more than silence to show that.

The second myth is that Jesus offered nothing for the Gentiles. The first two pieces of evidences are that first off, Jesus’s healing of Gentiles was limited, such as the healing of the Centurion’s servant, and second, the way Jesus treated the Syrophoenician woman.

It is interesting that the centurion’s servant is used as an example because in the story, Jesus says many will come from the east and the west to dine with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, while the sons of the kingdom will be cast out.

10 When Jesus heard this, he marveled and said to those who followed him, “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith. 11 I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, 12 while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

What the author misses is that Jesus’s first focus was Israel. He was coming to them to offer Himself to them as their king. It never meant He never saw anything beyond, but it meant that His message started with Israel.

So what about the Syrophoenician woman? Here we have a case of Jesus using sarcasm and I’d say in fact, pointing out the problems with the attitudes of the Disciples who most likely would certainly have seen this woman as a dog. Let’s look at the story.

21 And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon. 22 And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” 23 But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, “Send her away, for she is crying out after us.” 24 He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” 25 But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” 26 And he answered, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” 27 She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eatthe crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” 28 Then Jesus answered her,“O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly.

Jesus in the Gospels regularly challenges the assumptions of people around him. “Why is He with a Samaritan woman?” “Which one of these men is a neighbor?” “If this man was a prophet, He would know what kind of woman this is.” “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors, sinners, and prostitutes?” John the Baptist as well did this. “God can raise up children of Abraham from these stones.” Could Jesus be doing the same here?

Note that Jesus doesn’t complain about the presence of the woman. It is the disciples who do. The disciples are the ones who have no compassion for the woman and want Jesus to send her away. Jesus doesn’t go out directly since he’s trying to escape the crowd and rest for now along with his disciples. This woman must have sought him out then and Jesus’s first words in the dialogue are not to the woman, but are to the disciples.

Jesus in fact points to a schedule in His ministry to the woman. He never says “No.” He instead points out that His first priority is Israel. The woman in fact never disagrees. She never asks specifically to be made a focus. All she asks for is crumbs from the table. Pets in the house would traditionally be fed later, but surely she can get a little something for now. Jesus commends her on her faith which would no doubt have shamed the disciples who were supposed to be part of faithful Israel. Jesus in fact was being the true Israel by being kind to a foreigner and acting as a priest for a foreigner.

Let’s consider also another passage in Matthew. This is 21:43.

43 Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits.

This is part of the Parable of the Vineyard and we must realize how shocking this statement is. This would be like saying in our country that much of our financial abundance and our land would be given to a third world country outside of us. Many of us in America still have this idea that we are central in the story of history and everything revolves around us. Now I do love our nation, but we are not the focal point of history. Empires come and empires go.

If you were a Jew and heard this, it would mean the covenant promises were being violated by your people and God would leave you abandoned. The Jews had experienced that in the Babylonian exile and did not want to go through it again! They were the special nation. They were the ones chosen by God. How could they miss out on the blessings? Jesus’s words are absolutely shocking.

And of course, Matthew is the one that has the Great Commission in His Gospel as well ending out his own inclusio account. Jesus is said to be God with us in the virgin birth and he is God with us even to the end of the age.

The other piece of evidence is that Paul experienced resistance from the Gentiles. This is the passage used.

11 But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. 12 For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. 13 And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. 14 But when I saw that their conduct was not in step withthe truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?”

Yet in this passage, we see nothing about how Peter responded to Paul. Instead, we find the way that Paul responded to Peter and pointing out that Peter was acting out of line with the Gospel by living as though righteousness would be declared by following the food laws rather than through faith in Christ. What evidence do we find that Peter accepted Paul?

Now we could point to 2 Peter, but that is not usually accepted and since our writer later on writes about forgeries, I doubt he would accept it. So let’s go with Galatians itself.

In Galatians 1, we read the following:

18 Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and remained with him fifteen days. 19 But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord’s brother. 20 (In what I am writing to you, before God, I do not lie!) 21 Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia. 22 And I was still unknown in person to the churches of Judea that are in Christ.23 They only were hearing it said, “He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” 24 And they glorified God because of me.

No resistance here.

And from those who seemed to be influential (what they were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality)—those, I say, who seemed influential added nothing to me. On the contrary, when they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been entrusted with the gospel to the circumcised (for he who worked through Peter for his apostolic ministry to the circumcised worked also through me for mine to the Gentiles), and when James and Cephas and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given to me, they gave the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and me, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. 10 Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do.

No resistance here either.

In fact, if tradition is true and Clement was the disciple of Peter, then we could see what Clement says about someone his teacher would have supposedly opposed.

We read the following in 1 Clement 47:1

Take up the epistle of the blessed Paul the Apostle.

Again, not real resistance.

So thus is the second secret dealt with.

For the third, how about Jesus never claiming to be God in the synoptics?

The first major mistake here is that the only way to many people to claim deity is to go around saying “Hey! I’m God!” In reality, in the ancient world, like much of today, actions spoke louder than words and Jesus regularly pointed to His actions. This would be His claim to forgive sin, and this apart from the temple itself, His claim to be the Lord of the Sabbath, and His claim to send out the angels in Mark 13 as well as His strong claims about sitting by the right hand of God and coming with the clouds (Language of theophany) in response to the high priest.

While more passages could be listed, let’s look at what Hagenston says.

In fact, all of those first three gospels show Jesus scoldingly saying that he should never be thought of as God. Mark 10:18 depicts Jesus as saying, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.” Obviously, he took offense at the mere thought that he might be considered to have the same righteousness as God. He is shown making the same point in Luke 18:19 and Matthew 19:17.

Obviously? No. Not obviously. It might seem that way to a modern Western reader, but in the ancient world, Jesus would have known this man was trying to butter him up as it were. How will He respond to a compliment of an exalted type? Does He deny that He is good? Then why should anyone listen to Him? Does He affirm His own goodness? Then what kind of person is He claiming to be? Jesus instead deflects the comment without once denying it. “Okay. You want to say I’m good? That applies to only God. Are you ready for that level of commitment?”

Unfortunately as the story shows, the man was not ready for it.

For more on this and how the church perceived Jesus early on, see my interview with Charles Hill, Michael Bird, and Chris Tilling on How God Became Jesus . For a look at how the ancients would have viewed Jesus from their perspective, see my interview with E. Randolph Richards here. For a defense of the incarnation and Trinity, see my interview with Rob Bowman here. 

The next objection is that the Gospels have irreconcilable differences in the resurrection accounts.

Let’s suppose that’s true.

So what?

Most scholars today defending the resurrection don’t even go to the Gospel accounts to do so. They go to 1 Cor. 15 and Galatians 1-2. Inerrancy is not a requirement for the Gospels to be true or even reliable. (Although one could find in commentaries several ways to reconcile the resurrection accounts.) So what does Hagenston say?

To add to the confusion, the Gospel of John shows Jesus appearing in both Galilee and Jerusalem. The actual appearance of a resurrected Jesus would have been so stunning that it raises the question of why there was not even one record of such an event that made a deep enough impression to be passed down in all the gospels.

Once again, the problem is the argument from silence. There are any number of reasons why such an appearance would not be mentioned, including it not being really needed. One account with more than one witness would have sufficed in a Jewish court of law. Of course, for an excellent defense of the resurrection, the best work now is Michael Licona’s “The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach.” You can hear my interview with
him here. You can hear my interview with Gary Habermas on the same topic here.

Next is the claim that Jesus opposed public prayer. Did he?

“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.

“Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

“And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

How is it you are not to pray publicly? You are not to pray publicly to be seen by others. Jesus would have known about several public prayers in the history of Israel, such as Solomon at the temple ceremony in thanking God for it. This was in fact proper for someone acting as a priest to the people. Jesus condemned instead showman prayers, prayers done just to receive glory for oneself.

The next claim is that some books of the Bible are forgeries and this is most notably, the pastoral epistles. Hagenston does bring up some reasons why they are thought to be forgeries.

However, there is wide agreement among many Bible scholars that they differ so much from Paul’s vocabulary, style, and teachings that they could not be by him.

It’s interesting that he talks about the teachings being so different and then in the next paragraph compares 1 Cor. 14:34-35 to 1 Tim. 2:11-15. Of course, he does say 1 Cor. 14 is likely a later insertion. It is quite possibly an interpolation. Also possible is that Paul was quoting the words of the Corinthians to them. We know earlier in the epistle he has women taking part in worship in chapter 11.

But to look at the earlier argument, yes, there are differences, but this can also be expected depending on who is being written to. For instance, these letters are personal letters. The only other example we have of this from Paul is Philemon. If I write an email to a friend, it will be quite different in all of those ways from an email I could write to my wife.

This would be easier of course to reply to had Hagenston given more concrete examples. He didn’t. For a look at the teaching on women however, see my interview with Lynn Cohick here. For the question of forgeries, see my interview with Andrew Pitts here.

Next is that some contradictions in Scripture are intentional. The first example is Psalm 51. What does Hagenston say?

An Old Testament example is found in Psalm 51. That psalm was written after Babylonia destroyed Jerusalem (and its Temple that had been built by Solomon) and led the city’s inhabitants off to exile. Since the Temple was no longer available for sacrifice, the author of Psalm 51 offers comfort in Verses 16 and 17 by saying God does not even desire sacrifice but only a contrite heart.

But then, in a clearly intentional contradiction, someone who disagreed with that came along and added, immediately afterward, Verses 18 and 19 saying that God would be delighted by sacrifices that would follow a rebuilding of Jerusalem.

Hagenston sees a contradiction between offering up the sacrifices of a broken and contrite heart and then switching to offering bulls. This is only a contradiction if you hold to a view that is a legalistic one of Judaism. Judaism instead more often saw the sacrifice of bulls and other animals as something done not so much to earn forgiveness but to show forgiveness. The proper response to forgiveness was to offer something of value to you.

Since God pronounced David righteous by his contrite heart, David would respond by offering up bulls on the altar.

Hagenston goes on to say.

In the New Testament, we see an example in what the gospels say about the message of John the Baptist. The gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke all depict John the Baptist as saying he was offering a baptism for the forgiveness of sin through repentance alone. But, writing later, the author of the Gospel of John didn’t like that at all. He wanted to say that forgiveness comes only through sacrifice, the blood sacrifice of Jesus himself. So, in contradiction to the other gospels, he says that the message of John the Baptist was to proclaim Jesus as a pending sacrificial Lamb of God.

Once again we have the same kind of scenario going on here. As I read the texts, I do not see repentance alone. In the texts themselves, John says to bear fruit in keeping with repentance. We know from elsewhere in the Gospels that John’s disciples fasted, for instance. Jesus is seen as walking out of lock-step with the tradition. We see John saying nothing about sacrifices. He doesn’t commend them and he doesn’t forbid them.

The final is that apostles taught by Jesus insisted Paul was wrong about His Gospel. What does Hagenston say?

As for the identity of Paul’s opponents, in 2 Corinthians 11:13 he calls them “false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ.” But who were they? In 2 Corinthians 11:5 he sarcastically calls them “super-apostles.” In that time, “super-apostles” could have meant only one thing: the original apostles.

Is this possible? Sure. Some commentators are open to it. Is it a done deal? Not at all. Hagenston gives no argument for it. There are not scholarly authorities cited. It is only an assertion.

Hagenston will need to make an argument and do so interacting with the best scholars in the field. Until he does so, there is really nothing that can be said.

In the end, I find many of Hagenston’s criticisms lacking. While he says he is still a Christian, and that could be the case until he starts denying Christ rose from the dead as I do not see inerrancy as an essential of the faith, he seems to have come from a more modern perspective and is not interacting with the scholarship in the field. As is too often the case, he gives a one-sided presentation.

I conclude the way I started. This is precisely why more education and awareness of apologetics is needed in the field.

In Christ,

Nick Peters

Reading The Bible As Literature

Is there a reason so many debates about the Bible just miss the point? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Okay. We get it in the atheism/theism debates. Some people believe the Bible is reliable. Some do not. That’s fine and until the return of Christ, that’s not going to change. Yet I have been pondering lately that the way we talk about the Bible is part of the problem, and this isn’t just how atheists talk about it, but also how theists talk about it.

It seems while we speak about if the claims of the Bible are true, which we should, there is a lack of the recognition that the Bible is a piece of literature. It speaks with allegory, hyperbole, metaphor, simile, etc. It uses poetry and narrative and proverbs and apocalypses to make its point. The Bible exists in one book, but it is itself a collection of many books, books written by different authors in different times and locations.

Considering all of this, the Bible is not going to be an easy book to understand! Add in that it comes from languages different from our own, a culture different from our own, a time different from our own, and a place different from our own.

I started pondering this the most recent time I saw someone describe the Bible as a book of fairy tales. This is a common claim, but quite frankly a strange one. Fairy tales are really wonderful works of literature that show a richness of imagination and insight into the human predicament. What kind of person would laugh at a fairy tale for being a fairy tale? Yet this kind of statement is not an insult to the Bible alone, but it is also a lowering of the kind of writing that is a fairy tale.

Now why do many atheists say this? I suspect it’s because our culture has been heavily influenced by scientism. We have this idea that all truth should be amenable to the sciences and that science is the highest way of knowing anything if not the only way of knowing anything. We expect then the Bible to speak in scientific language because we are a scientific people.

It doesn’t, and that’s not because the Bible is anti-science. Many of us are not anti-science and we don’t speak in scientific language. The Bible has a totally different purpose. Even if you don’t think it is from God, the authors at least were really trying to make a message about God and they did not have to do it in a way that is convenient to modern listeners. They would write in ways their immediate audience would understand.

Besides, how many of us would really like to have many events described in scientific language? Consider for instance the union of man and woman in the act of sex. Which account would you rather here to describe what happens in the event? Would you prefer a purely scientific account or would you prefer to get an account perhaps from the lovers themselves? (Naturally after they’re done. There won’t be much desire to explain in the midst of the act.)

If you choose the first one, I pity you. I really do.

What needs to be done is to wrestle with the literary forms of the Bible and see if maybe our modern ideas of what the text means are wrong. Perhaps the Bible is not interested in the questions we are interested in. Perhaps one really needs to wrestle with the text to understand it. Still want to disbelieve it? Fine. At least do your part to really try to understand it as a text.

I’ve spoken about the atheists, but frankly, I think the theists are just as guilty. In fact, in many ways, I think my fellow theists are more guilty than the atheists are because we’ve set the standard that the atheist will follow.

For us, it really boils down to one word.

Literal.

Immediately, some people reading this who are Christians are going into a defensive stance because I have just made a statement that is going to dare to suggest that we don’t take the Bible literally. Why I must just be a liberal Christian who rejects miracles and inerrancy and everything else.

On the contrary, I believe we should ALWAYS take the Bible literally.

Why?

Because literal really means “According to the intent of the author.” If the author meant the text to be taken straight forwardly, then do so. If he meant it to be a narrative, then do so. If he meant it to be a metaphor or an apocalypse or a generality, then take it that way as well.

Too often, we have taken literal to mean something more like a wooden reading of the text. That’s not what a literal meaning is. That’s why in today’s parlance if I was asked if the Bible is the Word of God to be interpreted literally, I would say no, because sometimes the Bible is not straight forward.

Why should this surprise us? Jesus told his own parables in a confusing manner. In fact, he did so purposely. Job in his book talked about the search for wisdom and compared it to mining and digging deep for great wealth. It would not be easy to understand and considering all we’ve said about the Bible, why should it be?

Thus, when we hear Christians talk about the literal interpretation, too often it sets up atheists who think that this is always the way the Bible should be read and when read in that sense, they reject most of it as nonsense, and who can blame them? In fact, none of us take it that way or else in reading the words of Jesus, we’d all be blind and have no hands. (Too many people heavy into inerrancy fall into this trap of literal interpretation.)

In fact, when I put a short form of this up on Facebook, what happened immediately but a debate started about Genesis 1, which shows the problem! It’s immediately jumped to that Genesis 1 must be read in scientific terms! Surely this is what the author of the text meant to convey!

But maybe it wasn’t! Could it be someone like John Walton is right with his interpretation of Genesis One. Of course he could be wrong, but isn’t it worth listening to to consider first instead of assuming our presupposition is correct?

The theist, you see, is often guilty of not treating the Bible as literature as well and not really being able to wrestle with the text and ask the hard questions of the text. Some of us have this idea that we should not question the Bible. I disagree entirely. We should question the Bible with every question we can bring to it. In doing so, we can best find out what it is the text is saying.

Ironically, the two sides mentioned both have similar mindsets. Both of them tend to view the Bible always in a straight forward sense and both assume the Bible was written in a way that is directly fitted for modern 20th and 21st century people in a Western civilization.

Maybe it isn’t.

That’s not the fault of the Bible then. That’s the fault of us for wrestling with the text.

If you are on a debate site and you are arguing about the Bible, then for this part, it doesn’t really matter what side you’re on. You owe it to yourself to wrestle with the text as literature and seek to find out what it means and why you think it means what it means. If someone questions that, then it’s up to you to defend your position and if you can’t, be open to changing your mind.

Will we still disagree about the truth claims of the Bible? Absolutely! Yet if we follow a procedure like this, hopefully some of us will have instead better informed disagreements as to the nature of the text and what it is saying rather than a quick dismissal of it all or a quick embrace of it all.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

The Triumph of the Christ

What happened on Palm Sunday? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Yesterday we celebrated Palm Sunday. This is to acknowledge the day that Jesus entered Jerusalem. While we state that this is the start of what we call the Passion week, I’d like to instead look at it as the Triumph of the Christ. For those who don’t know, a triumph was a celebration held for a Roman general after a great victory. To be sure, this isn’t an exact parallel with Jesus, but there is no doubt He is getting a king’s welcome.

Also, I will be looking at this in the gospel of Matthew mainly. Right now, I’ve been spending the past month or so focusing on this gospel. I’m using it then to show how it works with an overall thesis I’ve been developing. Of course, the other gospels have valuable information, but I’d like to look at the presentation in Matthew.

I am also using the BibleGateway web site and the NIV translation.

“As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, 2 saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me. 3 If anyone says anything to you, say that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away.” ”

In Matthew 8, we saw Jesus as Lord in healing a centurion’s servant from a distance. The centurion realized Jesus has under His authority sickness and even from a distance. In Matthew 14, we saw Jesus’s authority over the waters as He is able to walk on the sea. Regularly, it has been stressed Jesus has not just the authority to interpret the Law, but the authority over nature. He is the rightful ruler of the cosmos. When He comes to Jerusalem then, He is able to give the orders just as much. What is the reason? The Lord needs them. That is all that needs to be said. The king wants what He has a right to.

“4 This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet:

5 “Say to Daughter Zion,
‘See, your king comes to you,
gentle and riding on a donkey,
and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’””

Fulfillment is a huge theme in Matthew. Regularly, one reads about how Jesus is fulfilling an OT Scripture. Note that this one is about kingship. The king of Israel is coming, and not just the king of Israel, but the king of the cosmos.

“6 The disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed them. 7 They brought the donkey and the colt and placed their cloaks on them for Jesus to sit on. 8 A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9 The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted,”

The disciples are good servants of the king. Now here, we come to a question. Did Jesus sit on two animals at once? I say no. The “them” refers to the cloaks. There’s a simple reason I don’t think Matthew intended for us to think that Jesus sat on two animals. Here it is:

Matthew is not an idiot.

Matthew grew up and lived in a society where people rode animals. He was likely an eyewitness to what happened. He knew darn well that one person could not ride two animals at once. At worse, we have an ambiguity here. For some interested in Inerrancy, I could understand attributing an error to Matthew at some part, though I don’t think there is one. I cannot understand attributing idiocy to him.

““Hosanna to the Son of David!”

“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”

“Hosanna in the highest heaven!””

All of these are cries or praise and highly Messianic. Deliverance has come for Jerusalem! The Messiah is here! For the people in the city that day, they were likely anticipating the Davidic Kingdom was coming back. Jesus has a far greater Kingdom in mind, and unfortunately, it will be one that the people do not see. We must always remember that when God acts, we accept Him on His terms, not ours.

“10 When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, “Who is this?”

11 The crowds answered, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.””

Once again, the question comes back to who is Jesus. This is the question Matthew wishes for us to ponder. He wants us to ask who Jesus is. The answer of the people is that He is the prophet. Matthew sees much more. Matthew sees the king coming to His people giving them a last chance to accept or reject Him.

As passion week goes, we will see how they responded.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Ehrman’s Introduction To The New Testament

Are our students ready for Seminary? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Yesterday, I went on a search through local churches in our area to see how many of them were interested in having a speaker come talk about apologetics-related topics. I would consistently find that there were youth programs and college programs, but on only two churches can I recall finding anything remotely related to apologetics.

Oh you can find about concerts and pizza parties and “Jumping into God’s Word!” everywhere. What you cannot find is serious content. It is more important to keep our youth entertained. Still, there will be some who will want to go off for higher learning and that includes in the Christian faith and when we send them off to Seminary or Divinity School or something of that kind, we can be sure that they’ll be safe. Places that teach the NT will teach them the beliefs that they grew up with.

If you really believe that, you are part of the problem.

I have been making it an effort to study Bart Ehrman’s material more. In wanting to get the most of his thought, I ordered his “Introduction to the New Testament.” Now Ehrman does say that he’s just trying to go with what historians can say about the Bible. If you want to believe the Bible is the Word of God, he’s not going to tell you to not do that.

However, he sure won’t give you any reason to think that.

Now of course, Ehrman does have some good material in there. There are some interesting ways to look at the text and a good student of the NT should be prepared for that. Yet despite his saying that he doesn’t want to persuade you of X, the end result is that his book will persuade you of X if you are not prepared.

Sorry parents and ministers, but pizza parties are not preparing us.

“But we are teaching our youth what the Word of God says!”

Until they meet an Ehrman who tells them through his book in a Seminary that the gospels are by anonymous authors and we can’t really study miracles and the accounts are written late and that there were other holy men walking around doing miracles and that most critical scholars think that a number of books in the NT are pseudonymous and that there are numerous contradictions in the Bible.

It will be hard for the youth to think the Bible is the Word of God while accepting all of that.

And what are they to counter Ehrman with? Faith? No. Faith is not meant to be a counter. It is not meant to be a leap in the dark. It is meant to be trust on reliable evidence and unfortunately, going to that big youth concert is not giving the youth the tools they need to be able to have that reliable evidence. There is only one way for them to get it. They must be taught it. Either parents and churches will teach them what they are to believe about the reliability of Scripture, or rest assured people like Bart Ehrman will.

It is quite disappointing to find that Ehrman never really gives counters to his positions. For instance, when discussing who wrote the Gospels, he never lays out the case for why some scholars think Matthew wrote Matthew. Any mention of the church fathers saying X wrote a Gospel are seen as “hearsay” because they are too late. (Although apparently 20th century interpreters are not too late.) It doesn’t matter that the tradition is quite constant about the authorship of the gospels and these are the people who would have been in the position to know. Ehrman will give no reason why you should think Matthew wrote Matthew, but he will give you reason to think that he didn’t.

The same goes with dating. Ehrman will tell you that these accounts were written after the events and use time descriptions that sound like a long time, without bothering to mention how long after the fact it was that other ancient biographies were written and that the time is like a blip in comparison.

When discussing a passage like 1 Cor. 15, Ehrman will say some people use it to defend the resurrection, but absent is any mention of the arguments that are used by those people. In fact, Ehrman says very little about the resurrection. He certainly gives no other explanation for the data. This is increasingly a concern of mine. Ehrman will give the impression that there is no one in scholarship who disagrees with the position of critical scholars and if they are, they are certainly in the minority.

His usage of Acts is quite odd. When Acts suits his purpose, such as when saying that Peter and John were uneducated, then Acts is reliable. When Acts disagrees with what he says, as it does numerous times, then Acts needs to be taken with a grain of salt. Why should I accept Acts 4 as reliable when I should question the “We” passages? This would be particularly so since Acts 4 would be early and the writer would not likely have been an eyewitness.

To be fair, a few times Ehrman will list evangelicals in the recommended books, but the overall tone of the book is clearly one that is meant to show that we should not trust the accounts.

Interestingly, when it comes to the text of the NT, his main area, Ehrman says the following on page 481:

“In spite of these remarkable differences, scholars are convinced that we can reconstruct the original words of the New Testament with reasonable (although probably not 100 percent) accuracy.”

This isn’t the impression you’d get from books like “Misquoting Jesus” or “Jesus Interrupted.”

So now let’s return to the college youth groups in churches. Our youth are not prepared. What are we to do with this? If we don’t do anything, then when the student goes off to college and starts reading Ehrman’s book, there will be one of three possible responses.

1) The person will apostasize or at least severely water down their faith effectively nullifying any good they could do for the kingdom.

2) The person will hold on to their faith but purely as a “faith” position and will isolate themselves from the world and not bother interacting with disagreeing thought, again effectively nullifying any good they could do for the kingdom.

3) The person will actually study Ehrman’s arguments and read the other side and make a defense for the Scripture.

Sadly, #3 will be the rarity if it ever happens.

We must be doing better. There’s nothing wrong with having some pizza parties and concerts and such, but if this is all we are doing for our youth, we are sending them off to have their faith destroyed, and no amount of pizza will restore it.

The choice is ours. We can determine who will teach our youth how to think about the Bible. It will be us, or it will be our opponents.

Choose wisely. Their eternity and the eternity of people they reach could hang in the balance.

In Christ,

Nick Peters

What is a Bat?

It’s not a plane and it’s not Superman, but is it really the other option? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

A friend of mine on Facebook alerted me to a debate going on on his page over a picture he had put up that I had shared on my page. In the thread, he had an atheist listing numerous errors in the Bible and had as his example of a most blatant one, that bats are identified as a bird.

Today, we know bats are mammals and mammals are not birds, therefore, it would follow from this that a bat is not a bird. Since that is the case, then we must obviously admit that Scripture has a gaping error in it and that we can no longer treat it as a reliable source.

Or maybe not.

A number of problems arise here immediately. First off, we today often expect the Bible to speak in modern scientific terminology. It doesn’t. In fact, there is no harm in thinking there are times that God does speak to people in ways they understand rather than teach them science. We use some of the terminology today. We tell people they should listen to their hearts and we love our spouses with all our hearts, when our hearts merely pump the blood. They do not control love or thinking. We talk about going to the ends of the Earth. We have weather reports that talk about the sunrise and when it will be. Before we criticize the Bible, we should ask if it is really meaning to teach us scientific truths. This is not to say it has scientific errors, but is it meant to be read scientifically?

Secondly, let’s suppose worse came to worse and there was an error in it. Does this mean that Jesus did not rise from the dead? Not at all. I have an increasing concern today with Christians who seem to think that if there is one error in the Bible, then the case is done. It is as if you could not demonstrate that Jesus rose from the dead unless the Bible was Inerrant. Do we really think the historical case is that weak?

When the apostles went forth with the message that Jesus was risen and gave their account of seeing Him, they did not have the gospels. They had their own testimony. They could point to the OT as further confirmation, but that would be an addition to the reality they already had. They didn’t even have the epistles for awhile! Are we to think that if an error showed up later in their accounts of what happened and in the epistles that that meant everything they said was false?

The biggest problem with all of this is that technically, the Bible does not list the bad as a bird. The Hebrew word used is “‘owph”. In the same passage it even refers to insects. What does something have to have to qualify as an “‘owph”? Wings. Is there anyone who is going to dispute that bats have wings? All this would take to figure out is some basic checking. You could go to various websites that can link you to the original Greek and Hebrew of biblical passages and see what the words mean. Unfortunately, few will take the necessary five minutes to do this.

Instead, all we have is another argument that’s for the birds.

In Christ,
Nick Peters