Book Plunge: Textual Criticism and Qur’an Manuscripts

What do I think of Keith Small’s book published by Lexington Books? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

At an event recently, I was involved in a debate with Muslims who brought up claims about differences in the Bible and how this isn’t a problem with the Qur’an. On its face, I considered this a ridiculous claim. After all, any manuscript copied by hand from the ancient and medieval world will undergo some change. Still, I didn’t have a real source for that. That led me to searching for a book on the topic. (Yes. It is possible to go to a source for information besides Wikipedia.)

Keith Small’s book was the one I saw that looked like the one to get. After reading it, I think my prediction was correct. One interesting aspect is after reading it, you can’t tell where Small stands in a debate. Is he a Christian? Is he a Muslim? You don’t know. That’s how even-handed he is.

It doesn’t take long for the common Muslim claim to be put to rest. There are documents of the Qur’an all over the world in different museums that have differences in them. To be fair, a lot of what Small says is hard to understand without knowing the Arabic, which I do not know. What can be understood is that there are differences.

Small also points out that this was acknowledged by early Muslim scholars and Christian apologists responding to Islam would also mention some of the differences. Small doesn’t get into any of the possible theology behind this nor does he say anything about any possible ramifications for Islam. This would be a much more serious problem I think for Islam than for Christianity since the Qur’an is also said to be eternal if my understanding is correct.

Also, much of Christianity began with the written document first and then that document was handed down so the document became primary. The Qur’an was stated as a tradition many many times beforehand and then that tradition was handed down, but often it would have many of the changes, albeit minor, that came with oral tradition. We might not be able to speak about the original Qur’an. Instead, we could need to speak about original Qur’ans.

Interestingly, there are some major differences. Some saw the second Sura, the Cow, as it’s own book. Some copies don’t include some Suras. Some have extra Suras. While we can say that Muslims will point to Mark 16:9-20 and John 7:53-8:11, Muslims have their own problems. Unfortunately, many of them will not realize this. Just as Christians have often not really interacted with the evidence of their position too many times, so it is that many Muslims have not done the same.

While I am a critic of Islam obviously, I do think that for the most part, it has likely been handed down fairly well much like any other ancient document, but there can be no support for the common myth of no variants whatsoever. Anyone wanting to study this issue should take advantage of Small’s book. It is sure to be a staple in this field for some time.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Dear Pastor….

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

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

Dear Pastor,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

Has The Bible Been Changed A Lot?

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

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

Of course not.

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

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

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

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

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

So how does the New Testament measure up?

manuscript copies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wait a second.

What original manuscripts?

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: The Craft of History and the Study of the New Testament

What do I think of Beth Sheppard’s book published by the Society of Biblical Literature? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

History is a fascinating field to study. How do you do it? How do you study history seriously? What about when it comes to the NT? After all, many people view these documents as sacred documents. Does that not change the way that we view these documents and treat them historically?

Beth Sheppard has written a book for students who are planning to study the New Testament so they can better learn how to study it. She deals with information that should be basic, but we all need to learn. It’s usually thought about why there are so many differences in the Bible on the same issue. Sheppard points out that all writers will approach the issue differently due to all of them having different mindsets and matters they want to put out there more and other such issues.

Many historians will approach the same evidence very differently. Some might see item A for a case and think it means very little. The next historian could look at that and make it the centerpiece. There’s also no doubt the biases of the historian that approaches the text. Let’s be realistic and admit that a historian that holds to a worldview that denies miracles, for instance, is just as much biased as a Christian approaching the text. All historians have to learn to work past their biases and really look at the evidence. People have biases, but arguments do not.

Sheppard also looks at the philosophy of history and the mistakes that historians sometimes make. Sometimes a historian can think way too broadly for instance and sometimes a historian can rely way too much on those who have gone before him and still keep their same errors in his thinking. All of this information will be helpful for those who seek to do history and handle the NT.

The reader will also get an education on how history was done in the ancient world and up to the modern era. What was the role of eyewitnesses? How were hearsay accounts treated? How did other historians handle differences in accounts? All of these are important questions and questions like them have been debated for as long as we have been doing history.

Sheppard also looks at other movements in history lately. Sure, postmodernist history has been a big flop, but did it do anything for us? Sometimes having a great error come forward can show you a greater truth that had been overlooked. What about psycho-history? Again, Young Man Luther was a disaster to many, but does that mean the whole is a problem? Some could be surprised that even imaginative history and speculative history can be helpful. How would the world be different if Charles Lindbergh had been elected president? What if Jerusalem hadn’t been destroyed in 70 A.D.? What if Arius had won at the Council of Nicea?

In fact, those of us who defend the resurrection can use this. If Jesus did rise, we can expect some effects to take place. If not, then we would need a better explanation that can fit the data but explains the effects. While not much has been done in this area, some work would be welcome.

She ends the book with some case studies. What can we learn about studying clothing in the ancient world that applies to the New Testament? Is the woman in John 4 really a loose woman? Is Paul using medical terminology when he talks about the Holy Spirit in 1 Corinthians?

Sheppard’s book is eye-opening and she keeps her own biases well-hidden. Skeptic and saint alike could benefit from reading this book. You won’t study much of the historical claims themselves, but you will learn about those claims come about.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: From Homer To Harry Potter

What do I think of Matthew Dickerson and David O’Hara’s book on fairy tales? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

One of the authors, Matthew Dickerson, sent me a free copy of this book in PDF format so my thanks to him. A friend recommended I read this book after I spoke at an event he was at. Immediately, I got in touch with the authors thinking this would be a great topic for a podcast. I have been a fantasy fan all my life, though I must admit I don’t get to read as much as I used to, though I used to read books in Dragonlance, Forgotten Realms, and Terry Brooks’s Landover series.

The authors write from a Christian perspective and set the groundwork which is largely indebted to Lewis and Tolkien. These are two authors that do not have their own chapters in the book because nearly everything in it owes some debt to them. I have often told people today that if we enjoy any kind of role-playing game today, we owe that to Tolkien.

The writers start with a look at what is meant by myth. They think the Bible contains mythical elements, but by this they do not mean untrue. That is for the historians to decide. What they mean is a story that is meant to teach us a greater truth than we would find on our own. A person who holds to Biblical inerrancy need not fear this.

They also look at various writers and not just Christian ones. Most noted is the look at Philip Pullman. He is a decidedly non-Christian writer with a war in his series going on against YHWH and the evils of the church. Still, in his work he can’t seem to help but meet the criteria for a fairy tale and some of it in fact undermines his own case.

One of the main ones I was interested in of course was Harry Potter. There is talk on how magic is used in the books. Those interested will obviously need to pick up the books themselves, but the stories belong in the classic tradition of fairy tale. I thoroughly appreciated this part as I am an avid fan of the Harry Potter series having read all the books, including the latest one that has been released which is more of a play.

I also found myself intrigued by other works, such as ordering from the library The Book of the Dun Cow by Walter Wangerin Jr. My copy has not arrived yet, but the writers have a chapter dedicated to this one and the whole premise was intriguing. I left this book with a greater appreciation of the genre of fairy tale. Now that doesn’t mean that I’ll suddenly find the time to read them, but I can easily agree with Lewis that a man need not fear any embarrassment from reading fairy tales. These aren’t just for children. They are a good way of getting past the watchful dragons.

Those interested in fairy tales and fantasy should read this book. Christians concerned about fantasy literature also should read it. I find a lot of criticisms of fairy tales and such come from not appreciating them as fairy tales. This book will help clear up a lot of confusion if it is listened to.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

What is Hermeneutics?

What on Earth is hermeneutics? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Hermeneutics is a big word to a lot of people. If you have grown up in the church. chances are sadly that you’ve never heard it. Sadly, many of today’s popular preachers don’t have a clue about it, such as in how we like to share this joke meme concerning someone like Joel Osteen.

HermanNewtics

The word is a strange one still and we need to know what it is. The Collins English dictionary lists it as the art of interpretation, but especially of Scripture. As to the word origin, it has the following:

from Greek hermēneutikos expert in interpretation, from hermēneuein to interpret, from hermēneus interpreter, of uncertain origin

In Greek mythology, Hermes was known as the messenger of the gods. They had a message and he would take it to the recipient. In other words, he would be an interpreter.

Today, when we read any document, we are engaging in hermeneutics. In fact, this isn’t just reading. If you hear a message or if you even see body language taking place, you are trying to interpret it. Many a woman has been stymied by the way that a man does not catch on when she is flirting with him. My own wife has told me about two times specifically she was trying to flirt with me while married and I did not catch on. (Excuse me while I go and mourn thinking about those two times.)

Some of you have a mindset that when we approach the Scripture, we should do it literally. Properly understood, this is true. Improperly understood, this is a disaster. Properly understood, a literal interpretation means an interpretation done according to the intent of the author. Improperly done, it means that you just read everything as if it was straight forward without anything like metaphors, similes, figures of speech, hyperbole, etc. In fact, we often use the word literally when we don’t mean literally. For instance….

How do you get to the intent of the author? Is there some magic formula? Well, no. This can often be a problem in dialogue because it’s thought by some that there’s some magic technique you can use to automatically tell. There’s no more some magic technique for Scripture than there is for Shakespeare and there’s no piety in taking everything in Scripture as if it was written to 21st century Americans.

So over the next few times as we continue our look at basic apologetics, I’d like to give some rules of hermeneutics that I try to follow. These will largely focus on Scripture, though you can use them for various other texts that you come across throughout the day. (This also includes messages that are not written.) Hopefully in the end, you’ll also be paying attention to the words that others use much more and you’ll be paying much more attention to the way that you use your own words. Your own words can dig you into a hole very easily if you’re not careful with them.

Hope to see you as we continue this journey!

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Some Necessary Areas In Apologetics

What do you study when you study apologetics? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

One of the mistakes that can be made in apologetics is to think you have to be able to answer every objection out there. You can’t. You won’t. There are too many new religious movements rising up and too many scientific discoveries being discussed and too many ethical quandaries and too many philosophical topics that no one can study it all.

It’s okay to not have an answer to something. In fact, many times someone will send me a question and I’ll happily refer them to someone else. It’s not my specialty area. I might give them a little something to tide them over and then say “But if you want a better answer, I recommend you contact XYZ.” If you think otherwise and that you will be able to answer everything, you need to really rethink your position on apologetics.

Still, there are some areas that I think you will definitely need to have at least a basic grounding in even if it isn’t your specialty.

First, you definitely need something on the resurrection of Jesus. This is the central claim of the Christian faith. You need a reason beyond “The Bible says so.” Look into the resurrection of Jesus. Fortunately, there exist books today like Gary Habermas and Mike Licona’s The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus.

Second, you need something on basic Biblical reliability. How do you know that the Bible has been handed down accurately? How do you know that the information in there is reliable. You are again fortunate. You have works such as Craig Blomberg’s Can We Still Believe The Bible? and The Historical Reliability of the Gospels.

Third, you need some reason for believing that God exists. Again, there are books that can help you with even this. An excellent recent read that also has the benefit of being incredibly funny is Andy Bannister’s The Atheist Who Didn’t Exist.

Fourth, you need something on the deity of Jesus and why He is unique. Again, I have a recommendation. Get your hands on Bowman and Komoszewski’s Putting Jesus In His Place.

Fifth, you need something that can help you with moral issues. I happen to think the writings of J. Budziszewski are incredibly good at this one. A favorite mine of his on this topic is The Line Through The Heart.

sixth, I recommend that you get something on sound thinking. The rules of logic are quite helpful and there’s an old classic that I still love. I can’t think of a better work now than Peter Kreeft’s Socratic Logic.

Some of you might be wondering about some issues that I did not include in this. Why did I not include anything on creation? That is because creation can become a debate that gets us caught in an idea of science vs. religion all too easily and some people focus so much on the first few chapters of Genesis that they never get to the resurrection.

Of course, in all of this, you will need to definitely do Bible study. Don’t become someone who reads other books so much that you never read the book. It will be important as you go along this path that you come to learn more about the Bible. There are many many issues that are worthy of discussion, but these are major ones that I would make sure I have some basics on.

We’ll be discussing more about apologetics next time.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: How I Changed My Mind About Evolution

What do I think of Kathryn Applegate and J.B. Stump’s book published by IVP? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

When you see a title like this, your first inclination would probably be to think that this is a book by several ex-atheists who came to Christ and then as a result changed their minds on evolution. That’s a natural idea to think. Unfortunately, it’s dead wrong. In fact, this is about Christians who came to either believe in evolution or be open to it and saw no conflict with their Christian faith.

I find this interesting because I find myself in the category of people who are open. If you ask why I don’t come out and affirm, it’s because I don’t possess the scientific acumen to really examine the evidence. I also don’t possess the desire to spend years reading about it when my focus is elsewhere. How did I reach this conclusion?

It actually happened when I was studying at Southern Evangelical Seminary. I was writing a research paper on science and religion and thinking about the interplay between the two and how so many people so often claim that war is going on between the two. I also combined this with the Thomism that I had been learning about. I thought about the five ways and how those were valid ways of showing God exists long before the scientific arguments of our day came along such as the first two ways of William Lane Craig or of the Intelligent Design movement.

I started asking how much could I grant and still have Christianity? I realized it was quite a lot. My research got me to realize that if evolution is true, we have to accept it. We have no other choice. If something is true and if we believe the Bible is inerrant, it will not contradict the Bible. We might have to change our interpretation of the Scriptures.

I also thought about this because I had seen too many Christians, and sadly it was sometimes myself, critiquing evolution without understanding science. But wait, wasn’t it my concern that the new atheists were critiquing ideas without bothering to understand them? Ought I not be consistent? Now that being said, I am not opposed to Christians critiquing evolution. I just say that if you want to do it, make sure you build a case that is scientific. If evolution falls, let it fall because it is bad science. Let it never be the case that we make it the Bible vs. science. That damages the faith community and the scientific community both. (And atheists make the same mistake of such a dichotomy which I think leads to great ignorance on both the Bible and science.)

So enough about me, let’s get to the book. This book contains twenty-five accounts of people who accept evolution or are open and are committed Christians. I was very pleased to see N.T. Wright in here who wrote an essay on how this is a major issue in America, but not so much of one in the U.K.

Sometimes I thought the title was not as accurate. Some were Christians who never really had a problem with evolution. Some were, but not all. Can we really speak of them changing their mind on evolution?

Also, I understand that we should read more elsewhere to learn about evolution itself, but I would have liked to have seen more argumentation for evolution. Still, if you grant that at the most each author had about ten pages, I suppose I can see why it was lacking. Much of it was more autobiographical.

What I saw over and over was the need to really look at science and how science really can be a gateway to the glory of God. True, there are pastors and Biblical scholars in this book, but let us not think they are the only ones who are bringing the truth of God. The scientists can do it too. Sure, science won’t bring us the message of salvation by itself, but it does still help our lives here tremendously and explain the wonders of the God that the scholars and pastors reveal.

I realize there are some Christians who still struggle with this and I understand it. In fact, the editors of this book do and I’m sure most of the writers in the book do. Still, I always want to point to the foundation. If you found out evolution was true, would that refute for you the fact that Jesus rose from the dead? If it does, then you might not have a good apologetic for the resurrection to begin with. If Jesus rose from the dead, then how can evolution disprove that?

Could it also be that you believe in a God not with a certain nature but who works a certain way? We can still be made by God and formed over time. In fact, all of us are. From the time our parents have sex and conceive us, we spend nine months being formed and yet none of us thinks that that undermines our being made in the image of God.

I recommend that if you don’t know science, try to grant what can be established scientifically. If you do know and you think you can argue, make a case. If evolution is false like I said, it deserves to fall. Stick instead to your strengths ultimately. You don’t have to answer everything. The resurrection is the sure foundation. If you have that, you have Christianity. Christianity does not rest on old creation. It rests on new creation.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Contemporary Rules

How do historians work? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

If you want to see where ignorance of history dwells, just go on the internet. Look for people who want to say that Jesus never existed. There is where you see the problem the most. Never mind that this is a position that 99.99999% of scholars in the field who have Ph.D.s and have passed peer-review, including non-Christian scholars, have rejected. The interwebs has brought to life an idea that died long ago. Even many of the strongest critics of Christianity that were more liberal than the strongest liberal today would not go this far. Sure, Bruno Bauer did, but even he wasn’t accepted by his own colleagues.

Today, one of the claims you’ll hear is about contemporary witness. Unless these people were contemporary with Jesus, we can’t trust their accounts. Of course, the writers of the Gospels and Paul are written off immediately because these are in “the Bible.” It’s an ironic twist. People who think this way treat the Bible just like a fundamentalist does. The fundamentalist says it’s a book that is beyond historical inspection and we should not use it that way. The skeptic can often say the same thing. The only difference is one believes everything in it. The other one is hyper-skeptical of everything in it. Both are not treating the book according to rules of history.

Let’s suppose Jesus died in 30 A.D. Does that mean that if Josephus was born in 29 A.D. he’d suddenly be valid, but if he was born in 31 A.D., he doesn’t qualify? This is part of the problem of what happens. Where do you draw the line?

Never mind that you’d throw out much of ancient history with that. You would not know about Hannibal, Queen Boudica, or Arminius. If you wanted the real accounts of Alexander the Great, those come 400 years later. Most of the writings of Plutarch are about people who were dead before he lived.

One of my favorites is how when presented with a comparison between the resurrection and the crossing of the Rubicon by Caesar, that Richard Carrier, the prominent internet blogger, has argued at one part that every historian of the age wrote about Caesar’s crossing. What he doesn’t mention is that none of those historians were alive at the time.

Now of course, contemporaries are wonderful to have and I would contend we have them in the Gospels and the epistles, but they are not a requirement. In fact, the earliest material that we have on Jesus is incredible compared to other ancient figures and that’s the creed in 1 Cor. 15. Even the skeptic James Crossley on the Unbelievable? show referred to it as a gold mine.

When we’re confronted with this rule we have to ask who views this rule as authoritative? Is it qualified historians in the field or is it people on the interwebs who don’t study history? Something highly ironic about all of this is that these skeptics would likely consider YEC a joke, and yet they too follow the Ken Ham rule. “You weren’t there!”

If someone comes to you with the idea that you have to have a contemporary, while I do think we have them in the Gospels and in Paul, it’s best to just ask “Who set this rule?” If we want to know the rules of establishing evolution, do we go to Ph.D.’s in the field or do we go to people on the interwebs? The same thing with how to do history in answering mythicists.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: People To Be Loved

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

Preston Sprinkle has written a unique book on homosexuality where he says it’s not just an issue and frankly raises up a point that we often lose sight of. People are people. Whatever person you’re arguing against, they are a person. This is something both sides need to learn. Traditionalists like myself can often see just the issue and be tempted to think the worst about homosexuals that we meet, when in reality many homosexuals, like many heterosexuals, are wonderful people. Of course, just like heterosexuals, some are jerks. How you view your sexuality is not a determiner of your demeanor.

Meanwhile, those on the left need to realize that the homosexuals are persons as well. In what way do they often act otherwise? It’s too easy to assume that if someone is a homosexual, that that entails their identity so that if you say homosexual practice is wrong, you are treating the person as if they are not a person, and this is simply false.

Sprinkle wrote this book wanting us to see not just the issue but the person. He starts by talking about being on a plane and sharing with some people who ask what project he’s working on and he says it’s a book on homosexuality. The husband shakes his head saying there is no debate and the Bible is very clear. Sprinkle does want to say there is a huge debate in academia, but instead he asks where the Bible is clear. Unfortunately, the man has no idea where the Bible verses are that speak about homosexual practice.

Too many Christians could be like that today.

Sprinkle also does introduce with too many stories of homosexuals who have committed suicide and have been bullied for their being homosexual. Naturally, we should all condemn this sort of behavior. He also writes about those who leave the church. Interestingly, they don’t leave because they’re told same-sex behavior is wrong. They leave because of how they’re treated. The main walk away he wants you to get is that homosexuality is not about an abstract issue. It is about an issue that concerns people to be loved.

In this, many of Sprinkle’s stories hit hard. He does open this by a look at the Scriptures themselves. He comes down on the side of the traditionalists, who he describes as non-affirming. He also addresses many of the issues such as if someone is born with a sexual orientation and if change is possible of an orientation. He points out that too many of us have this idea that if you have to live your life without sex that it is absolutely unlivable.

Sprinkle also wants us to know that homosexuality does not define someone’s life. Still, while I agree that most homosexuals are fine people and there are other sins to focus on, I do think there are some people that while they are still people to be loved, there needs to be more on how to respond to them. Do some people get turned away from the church because there are many Christians who are aggressive and unloving to them? Yes. Of course. There are also homosexuals who are also aggressive and speak about their lifestyles.

What about situations such as the book After The Ball written as a coercive propaganda material to change the hearts and minds of Americans, which was a brilliant success by all standards. There are in fact people who want to be aggressive in their homosexuality and label us as intolerant bigoted homophobes if we disagree. Then there are issues many people have with the transgender talk today about men sharing bathrooms with women.

Do we love those people who are hurting and open to discussions? Of course. We are also to love the aggressive ones, but shouldn’t our approach be different? I did not really find Sprinkle’s book addressing how to deal with this. We could say Christians seem to always be talking about homosexuality, but that’s also because our culture is always talking about homosexuality. We are talking about what everyone is talking about and giving our viewpoints.

While few Christians will ever meet a leader in this movement, they are online and they will meet them and they will meet heterosexual supporters of the homosexual movement who are like them in their responses. There is a problem with Christians of course treating homosexuals horribly, but how are Christians to respond when homosexuals do likewise? While I know Sprinkle is for non-violence, as am I and I do not think this needs to be physical, I don’t think this means we just lie down and let homosexuals walk all over us.

Still, I have to say that Sprinkle’s book is a breath of fresh air. If I could recommend one book on the popular level, it would be this one. Sprinkle gives you good academic research and then he gives an excellent application. Sprinkle reminds us that every time we discuss homosexuality, we are also discussing homosexual persons. These are people to be loved. No. These are people who are loved by Jesus. The question is, are we going to love like Jesus did also? We do not affirm the sin, but we do love the person.

In Christ,
Nick Peters