Christmas Revolution

What takes place on Christmas? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

If you’re new to this blog, you might not know about my favorite Biblical rendition of the Christmas story. You might be wondering if I prefer Matthew or Luke’s account. Neither. I prefer John’s.

“But the Gospel of John doesn’t have a story of the birth of Jesus.”

Who said the Gospel of John? I prefer John’s work in the book of Revelation. There, you find an account of the Christmas story that I think really brings home what is going on. Let’s go to Revelation 12.

And a great sign was seen in heaven: a woman arrayed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars; and she was with child; and she crieth out, travailing in birth, and in pain to be delivered. And there was seen another sign in heaven: and behold, a great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns, and upon his heads seven diadems. And his tail draweth the third part of the stars of heaven, and did cast them to the earth: and the dragon standeth before the woman that is about to be delivered, that when she is delivered he may devour her child. And she was delivered of a son, a man child, who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron: and her child was caught up unto God, and unto his throne. And the woman fled into the wilderness, where she hath a place prepared of God, that there they may nourish her a thousand two hundred and threescore days.

And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels going forth to war with the dragon; and the dragon warred and his angels; and they prevailed not, neither was their place found any more in heaven. And the great dragon was cast down, the old serpent, he that is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world; he was cast down to the earth, and his angels were cast down with him. 10 And I heard a great voice in heaven, saying,

Now is come the salvation, and the power, and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Christ: for the accuser of our brethren is cast down, who accuseth them before our God day and night. 11 And they overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb, and because of the word of their testimony; and they loved not their life even unto death. 12 Therefore rejoice, O heavens, and ye that dwell in them. Woe for the earth and for the sea: because the devil is gone down unto you, having great wrath, knowing that he hath but a short time.

13 And when the dragon saw that he was cast down to the earth, he persecuted the woman that brought forth the man child. 14 And there were given to the woman the two wings of the great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness unto her place, where she is nourished for a time, and times, and half a time, from the face of the serpent. 15 And the serpent cast out of his mouth after the woman water as a river, that he might cause her to be carried away by the stream. 16 And the earth helped the woman, and the earth opened her mouth and swallowed up the river which the dragon cast out of his mouth. 17 And the dragon waxed wroth with the woman, and went away to make war with the rest of her seed, that keep the commandments of God, and hold the testimony of Jesus:

This is the Christmas story. This is the birth of Jesus and it’s not the pretty and nice story we usually hear. It’s the story of a revolution taking place. It’s not totally absent in the Gospels. It’s in Matthew that we hear about Herod wanting to kill all the boys in Bethlehem in order to eradicate the new Messiah threat.

What really happened on the day Jesus was born? This is when God began His infiltration of enemy territory to reclaim it as His own. This is when He stepped into the kingdom of the devil and said now He was going to reclaim it as the Kingdom of God. This was a revolution.

That revolution is still going on today. We don’t have to wait until Christmas to celebrate it. Anytime that the Kingdom of God claims another soul, then that is Christmas for them as God claims them for His own. Anytime we defeat temptation and hand another part of our lives over to the Kingdom, that is Christmas. Wherever the Kingdom of God grows, the message of Christmas spreads.

I have said before that if we dressed accurately, we wouldn’t wear our Sunday best for church. We would wear camouflage and combat helmets. We are not stopping in to get a fill-up really so we can function throughout the week. We are stopping to get our marching orders to spread the revolution. (This is also why we need more than just “How to be a good person.” We need “How to show the Kingdom of God is a reality.”)

We too, following in the footsteps of Jesus, are constantly entering enemy territory. Like Jesus, we can expect opposition every step of the way. This is true whether we’re bringing the Gospel to a new land, bringing it to our lost neighbor just down the street, or trying to conquer sin in our own lives. We will have opposition. It is not a matter of if but of what kind. Like our Lord,  we can overcome, and like our Lord, even death ultimately will not stop the spread of the Gospel.

The question we all have to ask ourselves is if we’re going to be a part of the revolution or not. If we’re not, sadly, we’ll be more likely to just slow down other soldiers. If we are, then anything we can do will make a difference. God will take any act no matter how small it seems to us and turn it into something great. Someone who gives a cup of cold water in the name of Jesus will not lose their reward.

There are many positions. Not all of us do out and out evangelism, though we should all learn to evangelize some. I happen to do apologetics 24/7. Not everyone will do that, though we should all learn basic apologetics. Not all will be professional counselors, though all should learn some things they can say to lift a brother or sister up.

Some will be more skilled at going into the front lines and confronting the enemy head on. Some will be more skilled at staying behind at the camp guarding what we have and being an encouragement. Some will serve behind the scenes and their names will never be famous this side of eternity, but they will be I am sure, heavenly celebrities.

All we have in common is that we are all to serve somehow. We are told to seek the Kingdom of God. Some of us also need to seek with all our hearts how we can serve the Kingdom, for all of us can.

Merry Christmas.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Big Think On The Historical Jesus

Are scholars coming to doubt Jesus existed? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Ah yes. We’ve been down this road before. Another website claiming that there’s an increasing number of “scholars” who doubt the existence of a historical Jesus. Of course, as we’ll see, when they use the word scholars, there’s really only one reply to that.

inigomontoya

This time the website is Big Think, which is apparently inappropriately named. The article can be found here. I went through it when someone pointed it out to me just groaning at the massive ignorance of the author named Philip Perry. So what are his major errors? (Other than writing the whole thing?)

To begin with, we have the whole idea that Christmas was copied from the pagans, which is something sadly that many Christians fall for. The author claims that the traditions we celebrate came from Norse mythology and from Saturnalia. His source? Just another website. Most of the material if not all is answerable in my ministry partner’s book, Christmas is Pagan And Other MythsI want to focus more on the main article.

When we start talking about Jesus, we then see what the writer means by scholars. As he says “Today more and more, historians and bloggers alike are questioning whether the actual man called Jesus existed.” Yes. There are bloggers questioning this. There are bloggers also saying 9-11 was an inside job and the moon landing was a hoax. We could say there is a growing number. Will the author start treating them seriously?

The writer of course tells us which sources we shouldn’t accept. We should not accept religious scholars or atheists with an axe to grind. Interestingly, the atheist he cites can be found here and lo and behold, his source is Richard Carrier! (That is, Richard Carrier who is teaching at the prestigious university of…..ummmm…..well….okay. He’s not teaching anywhere for a scholar who is supposed to be world-renowned in philosophy and history, but oh well.)  Of course, Carrier is someone many of us don’t take seriously at all and when I hear his name, I just think of his theme song going through my head.

Let’s look at the question about religious scholars. John Dickson addressed this point in the past when he responded to Raphael Lataster, someone I have responded to as well here and here. John Dickson said about Lataster’s idea that Christians shouldn’t get involved in the study of the historical Jesus said that

Secondly, no student – let alone an aspiring scholar – could get away with suggesting that Christians “ought not to get involved” in the study of the historical Jesus. This is intellectual bigotry and has no place in academia, or journalism. I would likewise fail any Christian student who suggested that atheists should not research Jesus because they have an agenda. Nobody in the vast field of historical Jesus scholarship operates with such an us-and-them mentality. This is why the methods of history are so important. They are how we assess each other’s work. We don’t fret about other scholars’ private beliefs and doubts. We judge their handling of the acknowledged evidence according to the rules of historical inquiry. Anything else would be zealotry.

When it comes to peer-review, no one gets a pass for being a Christian or an atheist. The methodology is the same. Can you show you handle the scholarship and handle it properly? Would Perry be fine with my saying that no Christian should listen to an atheist on evolutionary biology since they come with a bias?

Perry also finds it interesting that we have Jesus go straight from 12 to 30 with nothing about what happened in-between. This is pretty simple. I challenge Perry to go and read other Greco-Roman biographies of the time and see how much time they devoted to someone’s childhood. Jesus’s biographies are nothing unusual in this regard. They are par for the course.

Perry then goes on to say:

Historians have measures in terms of a burden of proof. If an author for instance is writing about a subject more than 100 years after it occurred, it isn’t considered valid. Another important metric is the validity of authorship. If the author cannot be clearly established, it makes the record far less reliable.

Really? This is a rule? I have never heard about this 100 year rule. This rule would rule out most of ancient history. The huge majority of the lives of Plutarch would be thrown out. Our biographies of Alexander the Great would be out the door. Today, no one could write a book about the Civil War. Only people who have no clue about how to do history would say nonsense like this.

As for the rule about an author being clearly established, it can be helpful to know who the author is, but many times, we don’t know. We hold to Plutarch authorship because his grandson said it later on. I find this whole thing a red herring anyway. Do we really think skeptics of Christianity would keel over and accept it if the opening line of Matthew’s Gospel said “The Gospel according to Matthew?” Not a bit. After all, we have letters claiming to be from Paul and that is not accepted as a good enough reason for granting six of them authorship by Paul to them. Of course, Perry could have looked at what E.P. Sanders said about this.

The authors probably wanted to eliminate interest in who wrote the story and to focus the reader on the subject. More important, the claim of an anonymous history was higher than that of a named work. In the ancient world an anonymous book, rather like an encyclopedia article today, implicitly claimed complete knowledge and reliability. It would have reduced the impact of the Gospel of Matthew had the author written ‘this is my version’ instead of ‘this is what Jesus said and did.’  – The Historical Figure of Jesus by E.P. Sanders page 66.

Perry then tells us we have sources written several decades after the fact. First off, his source is Raphael Lataster for this information, which isn’t a big shock. Apparently, sound mythicist argumentation is just quoting other people who agree with your views. Second, again, could he show us some history that’s not like that in the ancient world? The overwhelming majority was written several decades after the fact.

Keep all this in mind about decades and the 100 year rule as it will hurt Perry in the end, but Perry says nothing about the Pauline creed in 1 Cor. 15. What do scholars say about it?

Michael Goulder (Atheist NT Prof. at Birmingham) “…it goes back at least to what Paul was taught when he was converted, a couple of years after the crucifixion.” [“The Baseless Fabric of a Vision,” in Gavin D’Costa, editor, Resurrection Reconsidered (Oxford, 1996), 48.]

Gerd Lüdemann (Atheist Prof of NT at Göttingen): “…the elements in the tradition are to be dated to the first two years after the crucifixion of Jesus…not later than three years… the formation of the appearance traditions mentioned in I Cor.15.3-8 falls into the time between 30 and 33 CE.” [The Resurrection of Jesus, trans. by Bowden (Fortress, 1994), 171-72.]

Robert Funk (Non-Christian scholar, founder of the Jesus Seminar): “…The conviction that Jesus had risen from the dead had already taken root by the time Paul was converted about 33 C.E. On the assumption that Jesus died about 30 C.E., the time for development was thus two or three years at most.” [Roy W. Hoover, and the Jesus Seminar, The Acts of Jesus, 466.]

Perry also says they were written by people who wanted to promote the faith. Yes. Of course. And? This somehow shows they are unreliable? Should we say that Jewish holocaust museums should be viewed with suspicion? Do we not accept the account of a soldier who was at Pearl Harbor when it was attacked because he could have a bias? In the ancient world, everyone had a bias, just like today. History was to be written with passion after all.

He also says the Gospels contradict on events like the Easter story. Of course, many of us have seen these lists of contradictions, but Perry never tells us what they are. Does he throw out the accounts of Polybius and Livy on Hannibal crossing the Alps because those hopelessly contradict? Perry has created a standard that if there is any disagreement, then we throw it out. Unfortunately for him, Mike Licona has recently shown that this kind of disagreement is common even in the writings of Plutarch. For the part about being anonymous, see E.P. Sanders’s quote above. He then tells us that there’s evidence that the Gospels were heavily edited over the years.

There’s also evidence that Philip Perry climbs on top of his car at night and howls at the moon.

Oh, wait? I need to provide actual evidence and not just make a claim? I just figured I would do exactly what Perry has done. Still, let’s look at the claim. What would someone like Bart Ehrman say about it?

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.

If Perry wants to back his claims that the Gospels are heavily edited, let him. By the way, pointing to Mark 16:9-20 and the pericope of the woman caught in adultery does not show heavily edited. We’ve known about these passages since the time of the early church. If anything, showing that these weren’t in the original manuscripts shows we have a good idea of what was in the original manuscripts.

Perry goes on to say that:

St. Paul is the only one to write about events chronologically. Even then, few facts about Jesus are divulged. Paul’s Epistles rest on the “Heavenly Jesus,” but never mention the living man. For such an important revolutionary and religious figure, there are surprisingly no eyewitness counts. And the writings we do have are biased. Roman historians Josephus and Tacitus do make a few, scant remarks about his life. But that was a century after Jesus’s time. So they may have garnered their information from early Christians. And those threadbare accounts are controversial too, since the manuscripts had been altered over time by Christian scribes whose job it was to preserve them.

As soon as you hear this talk about “Heavenly Jesus” you know where exactly this is coming from. There are a number of things we know about Jesus from Paul, such as His being crucified, having a Passover meal, being descended from David, dying on Passover, being seen after His resurrection, and being born of woman under the law in Galatians 4, which would definitely refer to an earthly existence. Scholars across the board have not taken the heavenly Jesus idea seriously. (By the way Perry, these are real scholars who actually have Ph.Ds and teach at accredited universities and not bloggers.)

Perry also finds it shocking that such an important religious figure wasn’t talked about. Unfortunately, what is really shocking is that Jesus was talked about. Perry is following an anachronism here. It is assuming that because Jesus is all the rage today and everyone talks about Him, that meant everyone was talking about Him in His time. Not at all. As I have in fact argued, in Jesus’s time, He wasn’t worth talking about. He discounts Josephus and Tacitus who wrote a century later. This isn’t accurate anyway. Jesus would have been crucified around 30 A.D. Josephus wrote before the end of the century and Tacitus wrote at the start of the second.

He also claims that their sources are Christian. Unfortunately, this is not demonstrated. Perry can talk all he wants about these accounts being controversial, but this is not according to the scholars of Josephus and Tacitus. The overwhelming majority have no problem with a witness to the historical Jesus being found here.

Next, Perry gives a list of authors who back his thesis supposedly. Let’s look at them.

Reza Aslan in Zealot? Nope. Aslan holds that there is a historical Jesus and that he was a zealot. His claim is wrong, of course, but he is not a mythicist.

Nailed by David Fitzgerald? Fitzgerald has no credentials in the scholarly community. One needs to look at atheist Tim O’Neill taking down Fitzgerald here.

Bart Ehrman with How Jesus Became God? Bart Ehrman has even written the book Did Jesus Exist? taking down the Jesus mythicist movement. He has no patience for these people. Finally of course, we have Richard Carrier with On The Historicity of Jesus. (Carrier to most of scholarship is just someone who happens to have a degree but to most skeptics on the internet, he’s the alpha and omega of scholarship.)

Perry has the quote from Bart Ehrman, but what of it? Ehrman himself doesn’t think that Jesus never existed and if Perry had done just a brief look on Amazon and found Ehrman’s book and read what it’s about, he would have known this. Unfortunately, Perry did not do any real research.

Perry also uses Carrier’s argument of the Rank-Raglan figure to show that Jesus is a mythical figure. Unfortunately, he doesn’t answer the questions like “Why does Carrier use Matthew instead of Mark when Mark is thought to be earlier?” He also doesn’t address the critiques of this position like here and here.

In the first article, I would like to highlight one quote of Ronnblom.

Unfortunately, Carrier subtly changes the criteria to better fit Jesus, and reorders them. Worse still, Carrier does not inform his readers that he has done this. This is amounts to academic dishonesty, since he is clearly misrepresenting his sources

And as McGrath says at the start of his article:

The scale was not designed to determine historicity. Its folklorist users show little or no interest in the attempt to do what historians do, namely peeling back layers of myth in search of underlying history, if there is any. The Rank-Raglan scale does not seem, contrary to Carrier’s claim, to consistently fit figures who were definitely not historical better than ones who certainly were. And so Carrier’s attempt to use the scale to slant his calculations of probability in the direction of the non-historicity of Jesus are at best unpersuasive, and at worst deliberately misleading.

Keep in mind, this is said to be the centerpiece of Carrier’s argument.

It’s also worth pointing out that Carrier has given a talk on the crossing of the Rubicon by Caesar and says that all the great historians of the age mention it. Unfortunately, the great historians of the age wrote much later. What happened to that 100-year rule?

Finally, we conclude with Perry bringing up Joseph Atwill. Unfortunately, the media does us a disservice of calling most anyone a Biblical Scholar. This would be like me calling any blogger who critiques evolution a scientist. Atwill’s crazy theory is that the Romans invented the figure of Jesus to control the Jews. Larry Hurtado has taken his own shot at Atwill. Even Carrier said Atwill’s theory was nonsense, but hey, who cares? He made the claim.

We can hope that someday, BigThink will actually follow its own advice and think. Right now, this growing number so far consists of just a small handful of writers. Next story no doubt will be “A number of scientists are seriously questioning evolution”. I will be told that that is inaccurate I am sure, but when it comes to Jesus, you’re allowed to break the rules.

There’s a reason mythicism is rightly seen as nonsense.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Dear Anti-Christmas Zealot

What do I think of those wanting to spoil the holiday? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Christmas is that wonderful time of year when so many people get to be reminded that Jesus is still a very active part of this culture. Even if you say the name Christmas, there is still Christ right there in it. At our apartment complex here, we went to a Christmas party with several people there who were not Christians. This is a great time to get to share the Gospel as well then.

Yet some of you are not in the same mood. Some of you are in fact quite anti-Christmas. You are convinced that we have been tricked into observing a pagan holiday. You are convinced that Jeremiah condemns Christmas trees plainly.

You are also people I do not put up with.

Many times as I go through Facebook, I will find many arguments going on. A lot of them, I will stay out of. My time is limited. I only have so much that I can do. I do not want to get caught in endless debates when I could be reading and spending time with my wife who frankly is much better looking than you all are.

Anti-Christmas zealots are an exception to this rule.

I’m going to grant that for many of you, your cause is noble. You think you’re doing a service. You think that you’ve come across a secret the rest of us have missed. I’m convinced you’re not only wrong but dangerously wrong.

To be sure, your arguments don’t sway me in the least. I’ve done my own research and I know enough to not believe something just because I read it on a website or saw it on a YouTube video. You see, I’ve seen so many claims from atheists about Christian history that have turned out to be bogus that I’ve learned to question them all. (For example, believe it or not, Columbus did not sail to prove the Earth was round. Everyone already knew that.) I in turn also question many Christian claims. That means I read the best scholarship that I can find on these subjects.

What I find you often doing is some of the worst research that there is. Don’t think I haven’t tried to correct organizations on this. When I had some friends getting interested in this from Jim Staley’s ministry, I wrote to the ministry and asked them for some sources on Mithras being born on December 25th. They sent some material and after my checking, I found that none of it held up or it was too old. One such resource was from 1961. We’ve learned a lot in fifty years so I wanted to know if they had any recent material. I emailed them back my concerns waiting for a reply.

It was probably a year or so ago. I’m still waiting for the reply.

Unfortunately, when you do the pagan copycat thing, you’re actually helping some of the most uninformed people on the planet. These are the people known as Jesus Mythicists. Some of you Christians might not be aware of it, but there are plenty of atheists on the internet who spread this garbage idea that Jesus never even existed. Many of my fellow apologists don’t even bother dealing with these people anymore because they’re that out of touch with reality. I’m an exception. I still do. (Usually, it only lasts a couple of days or so. Dealing with mythicists is like watching a slinky go down the stairs. It’s fun at first, but after awhile you realize it’s the same old, same old.)

These mythicists will cheer you on. They’ll say “Yes. You see? The Christians copied from the pagans! Let me give you a greater shocker! Jesus Himself is a copy from the pagans! Let’s talk about Mithras, Horus, Osiris, Dionysus, Krishna, Attis, etc.” Unfortunately, you’ve already taken step one and told them Christians copied from pagans. What’s to stop you from the second step?

Yet my greater concern here is with baby Christians. These newcomers to the faith might not know as much and will be swayed easily. A lot of Christians, unfortunately, can be caught blindsided by the pagan copycat claim. (Maybe this wouldn’t happen if our churches would actually start telling us why we believe what we believe instead of just having sermons on how to be a good person.) Many of them fall away because they see these claims and don’t know how to handle them. Sadly, your anti-Christmas zealotry I think helps with that.

It also does the harm of increasing conspiracy theory thinking among Christians. So many of you have bought into Illuminati thinking and believing that there is a grand cover-up going on in the world today. The claims are absolutely bogus, but I think a lot of Christians get a bit of an ego stroking by thinking that they are a group that is in the know. They see right through what is going on. In reality, you don’t. Your willingness to so easily believe things that don’t have any credibility to them and reject information from those who are informed will make others think that Christianity itself is not something to take seriously since Christians will believe anything.

Now, of course, you love Scripture and you’re more than happy to turn to Jeremiah 10:2-4 and tell me that God condemns Christmas trees there. Sadly, you again fall into a trap that many people in the West fall into today. You think that the Bible is all about you and all about your time period. This is the exact same thinking that makes you convinced that you are the last generation on Earth before Jesus returns. (Oh sure, every other generation before you thought that, but well, they were just wrong and we are right this time!)

Jeremiah is talking about what’s going on in his own time. idolatry was a problem and wood was a great resource for making an idol. Today, a Christian is not engaging in idolatry unless they are bowing down in active worship to their Christmas tree and offering sacrifices to it and proclaiming that it is their god.

This Christmas, my family on my wife’s side and my side will be celebrating Christmas. We have no problem with it. We know we’re coming together in honor of the birth of the Messiah. If you want to oppose that celebration, go ahead, but I will be here to argue with you about it. I don’t want to see any more young Christians led astray by this and being more prone to bad thinking. We Christians need to be the most informed people on the planet. It doesn’t help our cause when our loudest voices are often some of the most uninformed.

Merry Christmas everyone.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

Does God Hate Christmas Trees?

Is there a command in Scripture against Christmas Trees? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and fall out.

The most wonderful time of the year has come upon us. Here in America, the weather is getting colder and leaves are falling. Holiday shopping is going on. People are making plans to go and visit friends and family. And oh yes, Christians on the internet are wanting to tell everyone who dares to put up a Christmas tree that that is a great affront to Christ.

Yes indeed. All the signs of Christmas!

That last one doesn’t seem to fit. Some of you might be reading this and haven’t encountered these people on Facebook or anywhere else. Consider yourself fortunate. While there are some debates I don’t enter into on Facebook because others can and I’ve done it a thousand times before, this is an exception. I don’t put up with this because this kind of thinking is extremely harmful to baby Christians.

This is for those Christians really who are in your face with this stuff. I did have some friends once who wanted to ask me about the teachings of Jim Staley (You know, that guy that is in prison now on charges of fraud.) and what I thought about Christmas. They get the gentle side because I know they’re still seeking and wanting information. Too many today are quite fervent in their strides. (One this week telling me he had an anointing from God in this season of end-times revelation so I had better not disagree with him.) It’s the ones who are accusing the others that I have a problem with.

Some of you are glad for the explanation, but others are wondering, “Where does the Bible condemn Christmas trees?”. How about we just jump straight to the text? It’s in Jeremiah 10:2-4.

Thus saith the Lord, Learn not the way of the heathen, and be not dismayed at the signs of heaven; for the heathen are dismayed at them.

For the customs of the people are vain: for one cutteth a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the axe.

They deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not.”

Yep. There it is. God hates Christmas trees. The anti-Christmas crowd now is ready to say “Case closed” but hang on. Let’s look at the text and see what’s really going on.

Part of the problem we have here in the West is that we think everything is about us. Of all the times in the world, God was just most interested in our time. Obviously, our time has to be the end times because, hey, this is all about us. I mean, sure we have to keep changing the rules for “This generation” with regard to 1948 and Israel being founded and the six-day war and everything else, but it has to be about us!

What we have to look at is what is the context of the passage? Is Jeremiah talking about Christmas trees? Obviously not. There was no celebration of the birth of the Messiah going on. What is he talking about? Idols. You would go out and cut down a tree and use it to make an idol that would be decorated with silver and gold.

The parallel here is not to avoid decorations of silver and gold. It’s not as if God would say “Yeah. That’s fine. Go cut down an idol. Just don’t decorate it.” It’s also not as if God would be fine if you just carved something out of stone and said, “This is my idol.”

“But look, you bend down to put gifts under a tree! That’s worship!” Unfortunately, this is no more worship than a plumber bending down to a sink to fix it is worship. Gifts just go under a tree. We obviously can’t put them on top of the tree or in the leaves.

There’s also this strange notion that you would accidentally worship a tree. How does someone do that? Worship is an intentional act of treating something as the greatest good in life. Now you could say we do worship many things in this life in putting them first, but I have never seen anyone get so fixated with a Christmas tree that they centered their lives around it.

Now, why would someone use a Christmas tree in the first place? Probably just to decorate the house in the past. In an age without heating and air conditioning, if you wanted a beautiful plant in the winter in your house, it would probably need to be an evergreen. Do people have a problem with beautifying your house? Has any of this crowd ever bought flowers at the store to decorate their house? Have they ever put a flower on a loved one before a prom or some event like that? What’s the problem?

There is also another great danger here. Many of you who are arguing that all this stuff was stolen from pagans are helping out another crowd. It’s not your fellow Christians. It’s your opponents. There are people who want to claim that Christians stole everything from the pagans, including the idea of a dying and rising god. Congratulations. In this argument, you give them further ammunition. Unfortunately, most people who make this argument have never bothered to look at any documentation or used any primary sources for their claims. It doesn’t help Christianity when Christians are making the exact same claims that our opponents do. (It also stretches credulity to think that pagans in the Reformation period looked back and copied a tradition from pagans well over a thousand years ago to use a Christmas tree.)

What to do this year then? If you want to, go out and get a Christmas tree. Celebrate Christmas. Don’t live in fear of those with anti-Christmas paranoia.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

Halloween Research: A Case Study

How can we research claims? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Around Halloween, I always find myself debating with people who want to claim that Halloween is pagan and I’m compromising with the devil by celebrating the day. Of course, I’ve been accused of compromising in so many areas that it doesn’t really affect me anymore. Many times, I’m told that what is being taught is common knowledge.

You know, like the fact that the Council of Nicea determined the New Testament canon, or that the ancients all believed the Earth was flat until Columbus sailed, or that the Dark Ages were a time where the church ruled the world and scientists were oppressed. These are claims that everyone knows. No need to back them.

Except these claims that everyone knows are just false.

Excuse me then if I grow skeptical, especially after finding out that such claims took for granted are just myths. If you want to tell me that a day is pagan, you’d better make a case. For anyone wanting to make this case about Halloween or Christmas or Easter or any other day, I have some rules for you to follow.

First off, find good sources. I’m sure your favorite pastor on television is a great guy and unless you’re watching Word of Faith teachers, they probably really love Jesus. Unfortunately, they can also be wrong. Pastors can be just as credulous as anyone else can be.

For instance, recently a picture has been going around Facebook that has even been shared by a well-known Christian apologist. This is the image that is going around.

laveyquoteonhalloween

Your average Christian reading this will be shocked by this. “My children are worshipping the devil?” Unfortunately, people on Facebook will take such a quote and run with it without bothering to answer some questions first. Here are some problems I notice with this meme.

Where did LaVey say this? There isn’t a quote. There isn’t a reference. There’s nothing. Now at this point, what you can do is take some of it and put it in quotes in a search engine and see if anything comes up. When I did this, I got nothing. Therefore, until someone shows otherwise, I do not give the benefit of the doubt to a random quote on the internet. I need to see the evidence.

Second, why should I care? Seriously. LaVey thinks children are worshipping the devil. Well, what makes him right? Is he infallible in this area? Could it be that children are just playing games and eating candy? Even if the quote is an authentic quote, why should I believe it?

These questions weren’t answered. Instead, the meme was just shared and a debate ensues immediately. Now notice in all of this that I have not claimed definitively yet that Halloween is not a pagan holiday. I have said that the claim has not been backed. So how can it be backed better?

I already spoke about preachers. If your preacher makes a claim like this, feel free to email him and ask him what his source for this claim is. Go and check that source. Look up what it says. What you especially want are historical sources close to the events under question. If you read about the Crusades, for instance, it would be better to have accounts from the time of the Crusades. An account 500 years later won’t have information in it nearly as good. If you read scholars today on the Crusades, make sure they cite those earliest sources.

Maybe you have a website. Good for you. Unfortunately, websites can make bogus claims. If you want to say Halloween is stolen from the pagans because you found it on a website, then brace yourself. I can show you several websites that claim the idea of Jesus dying and rising again was stolen from the pagans and by your standards, you would have to believe it.

If you have a website source, you need to see who wrote the article and how knowledgeable are they on the subject in question. Anyone today can set up a website. That doesn’t mean they are right.

“Hey Nick. You have a website as well. Do you want me to be suspicious of your claims?”

By all means be suspicious. Check out what I say. I am also not infallible. I can make mistakes. (Ask my wife. She’ll be more than happy to testify.) Check what I say with the scholars in the field.

If your website has links, check those links out. I am a political conservative, but unfortunately, I have found that many conservative websites just link to other sites saying the same claim without any primary source being cited or without specifically named individuals being cited. I refuse to share such stories then. Sadly, I find many of my fellow conservatives don’t think the same way that I do.

So let’s suppose then that you’ve found the proof that Halloween or any other holiday was originally a pagan holiday. Wonderful. Is your work done? Not a bit. You have to show me why it matters today. That’s an even more difficult argument to make.

The example I always use is wedding rings. Let’s suppose you convinced me that wedding rings were pagan in origin. Am I taking mine off? Not a chance. Mine is a reminder constantly of the covenant relationship I made with my wife years ago. It is a covenant made with her before God and man. It was not done to honor any pagan deity. You need to show that my actions are intentional wrongdoing. Showing that people did something wrong years ago is not enough to show I am doing such today.

Also, just saying that you will not have anything to do with the works of darkness or anything like that doesn’t work. That begs the question. Holiness, believe it or not, is not an argument. Because you think you are being holy in a position does not mean that you are being right. Just look at the Pharisees. These people were the ones who weren’t hanging out with “sinners” like Jesus was because they were too holy for that. We all know which side was right in this case.

Be careful on the internet friends. If you’re making truth claims, be ready to back them. This is especially so if you’re one in the public eye. People will take your claims far more seriously. Test everything. Hold to that which is true.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

 

My Annual Halloween Post

What are my thoughts on Halloween? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

You have to love it when the holiday season comes around. We get all the regular crowd coming out and condemning Christians for following pagan festivals. How do we know they’re pagan? Well, we read it on the internet and we know it is. Either that or we heard it from a preacher and we know it is. Unfortunately, many such people have not done their own research at all. So what do I think of the matter?

Having seen so many of these claims show up bogus, I just don’t take them seriously anymore, but I’ll go further than that. I’ll go further and say it doesn’t even really matter. If you go out on Halloween and dressed up in a costume or your kids are dressed up and you’re getting candy, you are not preparing their souls to be possessed by demons. In fact, if you think going out and getting candy is enough to send your children flying into the arms of satan, then I think you have worse problems, such as what kind of flimsy faith are you passing on to your children?

One illustration I like to use is a wedding ring. Let’s suppose you could convince me beyond a shadow of a doubt that wedding rings are really pagan in origin. Am I taking mine off? Not a chance whatsoever. I know why I put on that ring, to begin with. I didn’t do it to honor a pagan deity. I did it to honor God and my wife. No pagan deity is involved. What I did I did in service to God because the pagan deities aren’t real.

In fact, it’s sad to me that so many Christians are concerned about their children falling into the arms of the devil, but have done nothing to equip their children with good Christian apologetics to overcome the lies of the culture around them. Even if not that, what other threats are out there? Are you preparing your children with good sexual ethics and a worldview that has a place for sex for when that temptation comes up? Are you preparing them to answer questions they’ll get from an atheist professor in a classroom someday about their faith? Are you preparing them to not fall in love with their possessions or other addictions out there? I guarantee you we are losing more young people to a culture of wanton sexuality, atheism, and materialism than we are to Halloween.

I don’t doubt that many of you do want to be God-honoring in this, and that’s great, but also try to realize that your fellow Christian can celebrate Halloween and do so with a clear conscience. Too many Christians don’t do that and then think that they are more righteous for their neighbor for doing such. In that case, then they have fallen into pride. Now, of course, you can give your reasons why you don’t, but listen to what your neighbor says. Maybe something you’ve believed is wrong.

If you hear a preacher or someone else say something about Halloween, by all means, look it up. To use an example, I had some friends getting into Jim Staley’s material on Christmas once. I emailed Staley’s organization and asked for references to Mithras being born on December 25th. The references I received had nothing specific and were quite outdated. I pointed this out to them and asked them for something more.

That was over a year ago. I’m still waiting to hear back.

You might say that this is common knowledge, but common knowledge is commonly wrong. I have seen so many claims disproven such as people used to think the Earth was flat that I have learned to question all these claims. Unfortunately, this time of year Christians fail at that.

If you showed up on our door this evening, you’d find candy waiting there for you. We would love to have you. By the way, we’re also not giving out tracts. I’m all for sharing the Gospel, but make your house one a child will be happy to come to and one they don’t think they’re being preached at. Give the best candy on the block. Show them that you’re a house they are welcome at. This is one day that you have little children coming to your door. Welcome them.

When Jesus came to this Earth, He didn’t come just to redeem sinners. He came to redeem the world. This planet is not an accident. He means to reclaim it for the Father. That means every day belongs to Jesus. Halloween does too. Could some occultists and others misuse the day? Sure. They can do that with any day. That does not mean fear of them dominates us. We’re Kingdom people. Let’s live like it.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Christmas Thoughts

What are my thoughts on Christmas Day? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

This blog is late in the day, but hey. I just got done awhile ago watching Pixels in my own house here. (Yeah. My folks did come through there.) Now that that is done, I figure I’ll write some about what Christmas means. I would like to really tell you that I’m a pious and holy guy and I just think about Jesus constantly on this day. I would like to tell you that, but there’s a commandment against lying so I really can’t.

And as I thought about it some today, I wonder if I treat Christmas like any other day, and if that’s really a bad thing if I do or not. As one in ministry, I do think about Jesus many times throughout the day and theology and history are favorite areas of mine. I wonder how many out there do say they spend Christmas thinking about Jesus, but aside from Easter, that’s the only time they really think about Him. Perhaps Christmas is a time where many of us can put out the lights on the lawn to show how much we are celebrating the birth of Christ while throughout the rest of the year we’re treating Him like He’s no big deal.

Of course, I’m not opposed to people lighting up their lawns on Christmas. My family happens to make it a point to go out looking at Christmas lights every year and sadly, it’s harder and harder to find really good displays of Christmas lights. As I ponder it, I wonder how many people are saying they are celebrating the birth of Christ, but inside, there’s a husband who isn’t repenting of an addiction to internet pornography, or there’s a couple who has forgotten the meaning of marriage and is on the brink of divorce, or there is someone in the house who hates His fellow man. Now to an extent, we’re all hypocrites of course, but I wonder how much that could be going on. How many of us are putting our best foot forward, like we are prone to do every Sunday, while hiding everything that’s wrong.

Yesterday I had written about Christmas as a declaration of war. It’s a contrast to think about putting your best foot forward when here on Earth we had the Prince of Peace roaming around, but look at His life and try to find where He had some peace. What He wouldn’t have given for some! From his very birth He had people who were trying to kill Him. His disciples who should have been His most trusted companions were often embarrassments to Him who spent their time arguing among themselves over who was the greatest and when these men who wanted to be the greatest had trouble show up, they turned tail and ran. The life of the Prince of Peace eventually led to a violent death on a cross.

And victory was won a few days later at an empty tomb.

In fact, Jesus came to people who did not put their best foot forward. Jesus came and spent most of His time with the rejects and the nobodies of society. He spent His time with the people no one wanted to spend time with. He could have been a respectable rabbi and spent time with the other rabbis, but He did not. He hung out with the riffraff, the ones that were rejected by those rabbis.

Maybe I’m not really alone in saying that Christmas can often be like other days. About the only main difference is on this day you exchange gifts and spend more time with family. Frankly, I’m also at the age where the gifts are nice, but they don’t really matter as much any more. Now sometimes I do miss the wonder I had as a child and the big Christmas Eve gatherings that used to take place where we would exchange gifts and be up till around midnight, but that was not meant to last forever and maybe someday Allie and I will have a family of our own that we can start new traditions with, but until then, I do hope to treasure the time, especially with my own wife, which is in a remarkable way when I consider it the new family unit that is the joining of two families that would have been totally separate but bound by the love of the two children.

And maybe tonight when I go to bed, I will remember that I can celebrate peacefully because of the good that came about from the Prince of Peace. How different would my world be today if there had never been a Christmas to begin with? Did Jesus come for more than Christmas lights and for exchanging gifts and for even spending time with family? If I didn’t have all of those, would I still be able to have what Jesus came for?

Yes, and so could you.

Merry Christmas.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Christmas Eve Thoughts

What do we do the day before Christmas? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Christmas Eve is here and looking back, Christmas has radically changed over the years. In the past, I know it was about looking forward to what I was getting the next day. To be sure, there’s still some of that there. Allie and I have asked for various items and I look forward to getting some of them. (I highly anticipate that by this time tomorrow I’ll be watching my own copy of Pixels for instance.) I don’t know when it is, but you reach an age or a point in life where the gifts don’t really mean as much to you.

It could also be because now I know much more about what the season means. When you grow up, unfortunately, you’re not often told today all about the Christmas story. It’s not because parents don’t often care. It’s because many of them frankly don’t know about the Christmas story due to our lack of discipleship in the churches. My parents didn’t know what apologetics was until I started studying it and frankly, I didn’t even know what it was until I started studying it. I had never heard the word before.

One thing I like to think about this day though is to look at Christmas as really a declaration of war on the part of God. Christmas is God entering enemy territory and declaring war on the works of the devil. If that is the case, then we can see Christmas Eve as if it was preparation for D-Day. We are getting ready to celebrate the infiltration of our master into the enemy camp. We are celebrating that because we know the plan was successful and the battle was won.

It seems odd to think of Christmas as a war, but that is indeed what it was. We must remember that when Jesus was born, it was not the case that Jesus is born and the first thing we hear about is all the world coming together in peace and love. No. If we go with Matthew’s account, we know that Herod immediately ordered the slaughter of infants where Jesus was born. Evil was already on the move. When Joseph returns, he hears about Herod Archelaus and decides to go to Nazareth. Now why did he do that? Because Archelaus had ordered the murder of thousands of Jews on the temple grounds. Passover was canceled that year. Joseph and Mary lived a hectic life right at the start beyond what most of us would expect.

And yet, somehow the plan worked. All the evil that was devised against Jesus did not work, until it was the proper time, and then what was really meant to be the killing blow was in fact just that, but it was not the end. It was figured by the Jewish leaders that death would surely be the end and not just death, but a shameful death. God had other plans. God had the plan to overcome even a shameful death and bring the greatest honor to Jesus ever.

Tonight, I’ll be celebrating Christmas Eve with my church family and then with my blood family, but I hope I don’t forget that Christmas Eve is a day where we celebrate that we know the victory is coming.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Merry Christmas Huffington Post

Is Christmas based on paganism? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Ah yes. Christmastime. A time for love and joy and celebration and for people to come out and suddenly start taking an interest in history by declaring that everything is pagan once again. Yeah. The pagan copycat thesis died a long time ago for Jesus, and that doesn’t stop many from writing about that on the internet, but many still like to say it for Christmas. Many Christians in fact like to say that Christmas is based on pagan traditions that we just happened to steal and use for ourselves. It’s understandable. It’s also in much of pop culture. My wife and I enjoy watching The Big Bang Theory (A show about four ordinary normal guys), yet as much as I can delight in the antics of Sheldon Cooper, he’s just wrong on this count.

The article today I plan to respond to is written by Philip Greywolf Shallcrass. Let’s see what he has to say.

Pagans have deeper links with the season though. Virtually every part of Christmas has its origin in Pagan celebrations of Midwinter. Christmas Day is on December 25th because that’s when pre-Christian folk throughout the Roman Empire celebrated the birth of Sol Invictus, the Unconquered Sun. In 274 CE, Emperor Aurelian promoted Sol Invictus as a god that all citizens of the Empire could worship alongside their own deities. He combines aspects of other pagan gods, including Mithras, a Middle Eastern deity born to a virgin mother on December 25th. The birth of Christ was first celebrated on this day in 336 CE.

Okay. Sol Invictus. Lets’s start it out. Is any primary source given that says Sol Invictus was celebrated on this day? Nope. Not a one. There’s a reason for that. You won’t find one. In fact, this kind of thing is so ludicrous even Cracked has an article on this. Last I checked, they’re not hardline defenders of evangelical Christianity. They refer to this article in fact. The point is rightly made that Saturnalia lasted from December 17th to the 23rd and that there would not be another holiday celebrated since most people would still be hungover and then preparing for the New Year. In fact, they contend that Aurelian, who was not a fan of Christianity, set up the date to challenge the birth of Christ.

Now does this mean that Jesus was born on December 25th? Not really, though we can be open to the date and I would say there is more evidence for that than for the other figures in history. At least with the case of Jesus you have people from the past actually making such claims.

Also, Shallcrass claims Mithras was a Middle Eastern deity born to a virgin mother. Again, what is the source of this claim? Good luck finding one. We have no Mithraic writings out there and most of what we know of Mithras comes from artwork and in fact from the early church fathers. The viewpoint now is that in fact Mithras was born out of a rock carrying a dagger and wearing a cap. I suppose you could try to make a case that the rock was female and I’m pretty sure that rocks don’t have sex so the rock would be a virgin, but other than that, there really isn’t a case there. Shallcrass may be an authority on modern pagan rituals, but that does not equate to ancient pagan rituals.

The original significance of the date is that, in the Northern Hemisphere, it’s the first day on which the sun’s rising position on the horizon begins to move northward following the winter solstice. Our ancestors took the sun’s renewed movement as a welcome sign that there would be an end to winter and a return of warmth and growth. Hence they celebrated the rebirth of light, personified as a divine child.

Did they? Well it would be nice to see some evidence of that. It’s also important to note that if that was the case, it should be known that December 25th does not fall in the winter solstice. Now surely if the Christians were co-opting a date to show the birth of their divine child, they would know enough to put it on the right date back then. To put it on the wrong date would just be more embarrassing for the Christians. (And no Shallcrass, a link to wikipedia does not convince me you’ve done real historical research.)

Midwinter celebrations represented a metaphorical shaft of light in the depths of winter, when sources of food were limited and when cold, snow and frost ended many lives, particularly those of the frail, elderly and very young. Celebration lifted the spirits, and feasting was a reminder of good times promised by the sun’s return, as were the exchange of gifts and the decorating of homes and temples with evergreen foliage.

Okay. Any primary sources for this? No. Again, I’ll gladly state that Shallcrass would know more about modern pagan rituals than I do, but why should I think he has a clue on ancient pagan rituals? That would be like claiming your average churchgoer must know more about the church fathers than Bart Ehrman simply by the fact of the churchgoer being a Christian. Unfortunately today, most Christians don’t have a clue about the early church fathers. You’d frankly be lucky to find many who know history past the Reformation. Many of our ideas of church history would go more like this:

Sally Church History

Let’s consider something however. What about evergreen foliage being used? Well there’s a simple reason for that. If you want to decorate your home in the winter and you want to use something that’s a plant, you pretty much have one choice. You have to go with an evergreen because nothing else is really alive at that time of year. This kind of idea did not really catch on until around the time of the Reformation so if the church was copying something, it’s ludicrous to think they would go back 1,000+ years and get an idea. While we do not know for sure the origins of the Christmas tree, it’s a stretch to think people reach back 1,000 years for a tradition.

From here, Shallcrass has some writings on how pagans celebrated the solstice that really have as much to do with Christmas as the price of tea in China. Even still, it looks like Shallcrass did all of his research online entirely. Where are the books on the topic?

You won’t find any.

While the ending might be interesting, this is not at all a true historical investigation. Shallcrass has just made some assertions and then linked to wikipedia and then said he should be considered an authority on the topic. Well he’s not.

Does this mean Jesus was born on December 25th? No. Could a case be made, yes. It’s inconsequential however. Just celebrate the birth of Jesus. Don’t let the ones who oppose it steal your joy. If you know you are not worshiping pagan deities and not honoring pagan deities at all, you have nothing to worry about.

Merry Christmas everyone.

Including you Mr. Shallcrass.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Merry Christmas!

How shall we celebrate this time of year? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Normally, I’d on Thursday put up a post about who’s going to be on the show this Saturday. Since today is Christmas, I’ll be different this week. As I write this, I am with my in-laws in Atlanta. We woke up this morning with the exchanging of gifts and then just got done having a lunch together. I’ve spent most of the day reading, especially since now I have a whole lot of new books to work through.

I did write a post earlier this month on if Christians should celebrate Christmas. Yet even late last night as I was surfing on Facebook I see yet another claim about how we should not celebrate man-made holidays. Now if someone does not want to celebrate Christmas, that’s fine, but when it’s made a matter of legalistic righteousness then I have a problem. You are not more righteous because you do not celebrate Christmas. You are not more righteous because you do celebrate Christmas.

What matters in all of these cases is your intent. You do not accidentally worship a pagan deity. Worship is an act of intention. It is not the case that you go to church and accidentally worship. When you worship something, you are intentionally giving of yourself to a higher being of some sort. If you are observing Christmas, unless you are intending to worship Odin or some being like that, then you are safe on that front.

So what if you are doing it to celebrate and honor the Son of God? Then you’re fine. Now obviously we could raise some questions about how we honor. One could not, for instance, have a big orgy on Christmas and say that that is done to honor God since that explicitly goes against what He said to do, but with freedom of days we are given great leeway in passages like Romans 14 and Colossians 2.

Did we exchange gifts here? We sure did and we had no problem with it. And you know what? The gifts are nice, but the older you get, at least in my experience, the more and more those don’t really matter as much. It’s not because people told you the gifts are less valuable. It just happens over time as you mature and you start to think more and more about what really matters in life.

Maybe that’s why the idea of Christmas can be so problematic for some. Perhaps it’s just that people get caught up in the secondary matters because we’ve never really emphasized thinking about the primary matters. Maybe in our churches we’ve made worship focus on feelings and actions instead of the intent of the heart. Feelings and actions are important, but they flow out of the heart. Maybe the reason some people can focus on gifts so much and what they get is because we’ve taught our society to do that in other areas.

Could it be in our society we’re already so self-focused and when we go to Christmas, it can bring out what’s already there? If we have self-focus already, Christmas will only show what is already there. We will be focused on the gifts. If we are not, then we can appreciate the gifts and not lose sight of what really matters. If we focus on the externals without dealing with the internals, then we’re not going to deal with the root problem.

And how will we get that kind of maturity? How about by improving what we’re teaching in our churches? If we want to be Christ-centered on Christmas, perhaps it would be easier if we were Christ-centered all year round instead of being so me-centered the way we often are in churches. Perhaps if we made worship more about the glory of God instead of being about our own personal experiences and how we feel, then we would be improving our condition overall.

Focus on Christmas as a problem is missing the real problem. Our problems with Christmas are symptoms of a greater problem, our lack of focus all year long. How about this Christmas we resolve that for next year?

In Christ,
Nick Peters