Book Plunge: The Challenge of Jesus

What do I think of N.T. Wright’s book published by IVP? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Most readers know that I thoroughly adore the works of N.T. Wright. Give me a Wright book and it normally moves right to the top of my reading list. How can you not enjoy the works of N.T. Wright? Wright has a great gift in that he takes the serious study of the academy and then he brings it to the church in a way that a layman can understand. In all of this, he does not sacrifice an inch on orthodoxy, while maintaining a devotion that will encourage readers to look at Jesus in a whole new light and consider seriously what he says, which is of course, the Challenge of Jesus.

This is a book that was written earlier and then redone for us today. It is indeed one that needs to be redone as the world has changed since the last writing of the book and we need to be reminded anew of the challenge of Jesus. Wright begins with explaining why studying the historical Jesus matters and there are two groups that would say it is pointless. The first would include hyper-skeptics who view history negatively and think that we cannot really know anything about the historical Jesus. On the extreme in this case would be people who say we don’t even know that He existed. Surprisingly on the other end are Christians. These would be the attitude of “God said it. I believe it. That settles it.” Why do we need to study Jesus this way? We have the Word of God here. It tells us everything we need to know.” I would agree with Wright that this is not a wise position. We have learned more about Judaism, and especially Second Temple Judaism, in the past few years and we should seek to put that to use.

I definitely agree with Wright that studying the historical Jesus should be a part of Christian discipleship. We should be wrestling with the question of what the historical Jesus thought and what He was trying to say to His contemporaries. Might we have to sacrifice some beliefs that we think are just obviously what Jesus was saying along the way? Of course. We might. But if we are interested in living as Jesus would have us to live, would that not entail that we should have as many accurate beliefs about Jesus as we possibly could? We should not be afraid of having any belief challenged in our study of the historical Jesus if our goal is truth.

Next is the challenge of the Kingdom and this is also one that is neglected. Jesus spoke so much about the Kingdom of God and today, we say hardly anything about it. People treat the Earth as if it’s a sort of temporary holding spot until God just does away with everything and makes things new. The Gospel is about God becoming King of this world through the work of Jesus. As I write this, I think about a cousin of mine who is a minister who put on his Facebook about the importance of following Jesus. I was pleased to see this and commented that we need to ask why do we follow Jesus? Could anyone give a reason?

No one answered.

How is it that we are go to the unbeliever and tell them that Jesus is the King of this world and that we should follow Him, if we cannot even say why we follow Him ourselves? Do we follow Him because He rose from the dead? Then should we have become followers of Lazarus as well? Do we follow Him because He claimed to be God? Then should we not follow numerous cultists who claim the same? How about following Him because He claimed to be who He said He was and then God raised Him from the dead to vindicate those claims. Of course, to do that, we might actually need to do something shocking, like study Jesus.

Once we learn about Him more, we can see that He is indeed the King of this world and then we can answer the question of why we follow Him. We do not follow Him because we like His teachings, though we might, or because He rose from the dead, though He did, but we follow Him because He claimed to be God’s agent to bring about His kingdom on this Earth and He demonstrated that by being raised from the dead by God. We follow Him because He has shown that He is Lord and Caesar is not and the same applies to all who would like to take on the title of Caesar today. Jesus is the true King of this world.

But what about crucifixion? Yes. Why did that happen? Wright argues that Jesus was taking on the punishment of Israel on behalf of Israel. He was taking on the enemy not with the sword but with surrender. He was the one who did not resist the chastisement of God, but He took on Himself that which He did not deserve. The crucifixion would have normally spelled the death knell of the movement, but it did not. This indeed gets us to the resurrection. Wright does think this can be defended historically, which I agree, and that anyone arguing against it needs a better explanation of why the movement went the way that it did. Because of both of these together, we see that God has acted in Jesus to bring about His kingdom.

Finally, the rest is about how we can be salt and light in our own world. What does what happened 2,000 years ago have to do with today? The answer is the Challenge of Jesus is still just as relevant as we are to be Jesus to our new postmodern world.

Reading Wright is always a blessing. He not only gives me more knowledge, but he encourages me to live a better life and in fact, brings me to the Scriptures anew with looking and thinking about the historical Jesus and what He did and said in His own time. May the works of Wright continue to have their great audience and when the church takes him and those like him as seriously as they take people like John Hagee and Joel Osteen, it will be a much better day for the church.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Jesus Was Crucified. Why Call It “Good Friday”?

Is it morbid to refer to the day that Jesus was crucified as Good Friday? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Good. What do we have in mind? If you asked for a good pizza, one with mouse droppings on it would quite likely not be what you have in mind. If you ask for a good movie, the one with the worst rating at Rotten Tomatoes would not be what you have in mind. If you asked for a good spouse, one who will abuse you and watch internet porn is not what you have in mind. If you ask for a good babysitter, you don’t want one who is a convicted and unrepentant pedophile. Yet here we talk about Good Friday and what do we say happened on it? Good Friday is the day that the righteous Son of God was crucified.

What was that?

You don’t even have to be a Christian at this point to see the problem. Even most non-Christians would hold Jesus up as a good figure worthy of emulation. Few would say that Jesus was the kind of man who deserved crucifixion. Yet that is exactly what happened. So why do we call this day “Good Friday”?

We do not call it good because something good happened. My stance with Jesus is that based on what we have from Him in the Gospels, either the crucifixion was the most righteous act of all that put to death the most wicked man who ever lived, or it was the most wicked act of all that put to death the most righteous man who ever lived. When we say that this was a wicked act, we say it because we believe Jesus was a righteous man. It is important to note that we are not saying the crucifixion was good or was a good action. Yet if it was not a good action, how can we speak then of Good Friday?

Simple reflection on your own past should show this. How many of us have gone through times that seemed absolutely horrible at the time and we would not want to repeat them ever again, but in the end we look back on those times and say “Yes. That was a terrible time, but I am ultimately glad I went through it because that time enabled XYZ to happen.” Perhaps it led to a new development in your life like a career path or a spouse, or perhaps it led to you developing a certain kind of character that helped you. You would never say that what happened was good, but you would affirm that it was used for good.

In fact, this is what we get in Romans 8. All things work together for good to them that love the Lord. Paul never once says that all things are good. He’s spent much of Romans telling us that much is not good. He instead says all things work for good. Of course, he does not suggest a reckless attitude. He does not think that you should do evil so that good may result, something he explicitly states in Romans 3. He is just saying that whatever happens, if you love the Lord, it will work out for your good. If all Christians everywhere could grasp this message and truly believe it, we would all live radically different lives.

What changes everything is the resurrection. Were it not for the resurrection, as Frank Turek has said, Good Friday would just be called Friday. In fact, no one would really care about that day. We would never have heard anything about Jesus. He would not be talked about at all today and would have died as a no-name in history not worth mentioning. The only reason we talk about Him today is not because of what happened on Friday, but it is because of what happened on Sunday and we really need to grasp what that was. Jesus rose from the dead indeed, but so what? What does that mean?

It means God has vindicated the claims of Jesus. Had He stayed dead, it would have been God saying “Yes. Those claims He made are false.” By raising Him from the dead, God gives the stamp of approval on Jesus’s life. Now there is a new king of this world. There was a challenge to Caesar then and a challenge to all Caesars today. The message we have to give to the world is that Jesus is King and you’d best get in line. We most often want to say it would be “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.” Can anyone imagine a herald going around the Roman Empire saying “Caesar is Lord and he has a wonderful plan for your life.” The claim is not about what Caesar will do for you. The claim is about what you will do for the Caesar, or in this case, what you will do for Christ.

Now does Christ do a lot for you? Yes. He does. He forgives you of your sins, He grants you a place in the Kingdom, and He promises to raise you up on the last day. That’s good, but if you stop there, then it’s like getting married and then saying “Now what is my spouse going to do for me?” You should be asking the most what you are going to be doing for your spouse. Jesus is not there to serve you. You are there to serve Jesus.

Good Friday is only good because we know it was used for good and we know that because of the resurrection. No one wants to say what happened was good, but God took the greatest evil done and used it for the greatest good. This should remind us all today that God can take the evil and suffering in our own lives and use that for a greater good.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

A Response To Islam Answers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Contra Faustum 17.1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Such is sufficient to make our case.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mark: The King of the Jews.

Luke: This is the King of the Jews.

John: Jesus of Nazareth the King of the Jews.

Does anyone notice a recurring theme here?

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

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

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

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

Wikipedia.

I’m not kidding. They really use Wikipedia.

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

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

None given.

Argument for it?

None given.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finally…

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

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

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

Yeah. I don’t see the logic either.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If the primary purpose of this discipline is to get back to the original text, we may as well admit either defeat or victory, depending on how one chooses to look at it, because we’re not going to get much closer to the original text than we already are.… At this stage, our work on the original amounts to little more than tinkering. There’s something about historical scholarship that refuses to concede that a major task has been accomplished, but there it is.

Elsewhere, this scholar also says:

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

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

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

The first one is here: Novum Testamentum Graecum Editio Critica Maior: An Evaluation: TC: A Journal of Biblical Textual Criticism, 1998, a revision of a paper presented at the Textual Criticism section of the 1997 Society of Biblical Literature in San Francisco. http://rosetta.reltech.org/TC/vol03/Ehrman1998.html

The second one is here:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Their next claim?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Christ,

Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Crucifixion

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

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

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

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

The cross was a scandal.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Christ,

Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Christ Crucified by Donald Macleod

What do I think about Donald Macleod’s book on the atonement? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

ChristCrucified

Paul wrote to the Corinthians that he desired to know nothing else save Christ and Him crucified. Why? What makes the crucifixion of Christ so central? What is it about those six hours on a Friday afternoon that forever rocked the world?

Donald MacLeod’s work is all about this event and what all it entails as he goes through the Gospels and the rest of the New Testament writings. This is an in-depth look at the doctrine of the atonement. After going through it, you should never think about the doctrine the same way and a reading of this got me to realize I need to think about the atonement more seriously.

So let’s cover the positives. First off, the first couple of chapters are just gripping as we go through a brief look at the life of Christ but described in terms of what the events must have been like for the Christ and how He was rejected by the world and His friends and the weight of bearing the sin of the world on the cross.

In fact, I’d say this was my favorite part of the book and if you purchase it (As IVP sent me a review copy and I greatly thank them for that) then this part will easily be worth the whole price of the book. I do not consider myself an emotional person and empathy is not a strong suit of mine, but I still found myself gripped by what I was reading.

Second positive, Macleod goes into great detail on theological terms used in Scripture like Propitiation and redemption and terms we might not think too much about. A section I thought would last a few pages turned out to go through a whole chapter.

Third, Macleod gives an apologetic presentation as well answering questions at the end such as if there was another way. He looks at rival theories that seek to explain the death of the Christ without it being a substitution and blood atonement. He also throughout the book answers charges of cosmic child abuse and other such claims.

Finally, Macleod ends the book rightly where he should, with a look at what this means for the Great Commission. He shows us that by the work of Christ, the devil has been defeated and we are free to go into the world and fulfill the Great Commission.

Now let’s talk about ways I thought the book could have been improved. On a minor point, Macleod is quite sure that Jesus was buried honorably. This is a point that I would contest. This is only a minor one, but it did stand out to me.

Second, Macleod raises some questions about divine impassibility, the idea that God does not have emotions. I found this troubling throughout as the ramifications of God being emotional are problematic as I think it ends up being a deity that is changing and progressing and in fact, dependent on His creation. A few times Macleod points to how it must have been for the Father to see His Son on the cross and at suffering in the heart of God. The theory of the atonement does not depend on God suffering and I found such ideas raising questions that I do not think are adequately answered if impassibility is denied.

Third, I would have liked to have seen more on justification. There was not a whole chapter on it and that would have been a welcome inclusion. Especially I would have liked to have seen how Macleod’s view of the atonement would interact with the New Perspective on Paul. Could we see some interaction with Wright and Dunn and others?

The good thing is that none of these negatives ultimately distract from the book as a whole. You can still walk away with a good theory of the atonement and understand that these are points you can disagree on. The argument as a whole still stands as none of these points are central.

In conclusion, I do recommend the work as one if you want to understand the atonement more thoroughly as Macleod has gone highly in-depth and we owe him a debt of gratitude.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

How To Not Make A Messiah

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Apostles’ Creed: Died

Did Jesus die on the cross? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

There are some theories that should have died several several years ago and never did. Unfortunately, they keep rising up despite being put to death by the people that would have been their ablest defenders had there been any truth whatsoever to them.

One such idea is the swoon theory. This is the idea that Jesus never died on the cross.

In fact, it was Strauss years ago, who was beyond most liberals today in critiquing the NT, who put to death this theory. Strauss said that someone like Jesus who was half-dead could hardly have come out of the tomb and managed to just a few days after crucifixion appear to his disciples and proclaim that He was the Lord of Life who had conquered death. The apostles would not have called it a miracle. They would have called a doctor instead.

Yet this theory never seems to die. What are some reasons for it?

First, a large number of Muslims hold to this view saying that according to the Koran, Jesus did not die on the cross. Now since I am not an authority on the Koran, I will not comment on this point, but one does not need to be an authority to know that many Muslims make this claim.

Second, this is a popular claim that is popular on the internet and with conspiracy theories with such ideas as that Jesus never died but instead got up and went who knows where. There is even a group in Japan that thinks Jesus went all the way there and married and died.

Third, some people do look at the claim that some people were brought down from the cross and survived. This number could be counted on one hand and even more numerous would be the people who did not survive even when taken down. In fact, right off, I only know of one person who survived. This was when Josephus asked for three of his friends to be removed from crosses. All three got the best medical care Rome could provide. Only one survived.

In fact, several years ago, the Journal of the American Medical Association wrote an article where they stated firmly that based on medical knowledge we have today, that Jesus did indeed die on the cross.

At this point, I also think a certain objection must be added from some of the more unitarian bent who want to say “If Jesus is God, how did He die on the cross? Gods can’t die!”

The problem with this statement lies in what is meant by the word “die.” If you mean that God ceased to exist when Jesus died, then yes, God cannot die. God cannot cease to exist. Yet no one arguing for the resurrection claims that God ceased to exist on the cross.

What does it mean? It means that some aspect of Christ, perhaps His soul, left His body on the cross. Many of us don’t think we cease to exist when we die. We just go to live in another state. If this is the case for Christ, then Christ did the same thing. His soul experienced a separation from His body. A reuniting took place on Sunday morning in a new and glorified body.

It is a shame that the conclusion needs to be spelled out. Jesus did indeed live. Jesus was indeed crucified. Jesus did indeed die. Unfortunately, in our age of people often relying largely on internet searches and wikipedia instead of real scholarly research, this needs to be spelled out.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Apostles’ Creed: Crucified

Was Jesus crucified? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Since I did not find the time to write a blog on Thursday, I’m going to make up for it with a rare Saturday blog. I hope you’ll also be tuning in to the podcast today that I have with Robert Kolb on the resurrection. For now, we’re going to talk about the crucifixion.

If you meet someone who really thinks they speak with authority and that the crucifixion did not happen, you can rest assured you are talking to someone who doesn’t know what they’re talking about.

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

“Christians who wanted to proclaim Jesus as messiah would not have invented the notion that he was crucified because his crucifixion created such a scandal. Indeed, the apostle Paul calls it the chief “stumbling block” for Jews (1 Cor. 1:23). Where did the tradition come from? It must have actually happened.” (Bart Ehrman, The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings. Third Edition. pages 221-222)

“Jesus was executed by crucifixion, which was a common method of torture and execution used by the Romans.” (Dale Martin, New Testament History and Literature. Page 181)

“That Jesus was executed because he or someone else was claiming that he was the king of the Jews seems to be historically accurate.” (ibid. 186)

“Jesus’ execution is as historically certain as any ancient event can ever be but what about all those very specific details that fill out the story?” John Dominic Crossan here.

None of these people would be considered orthodox Christians who are saying this. This argument is not being made for theological reasons. It is being made for historical reasons. The testimony of history that Jesus was crucified is overwhelming. It is the testimony of all of our earliest sources as well as non-Christian sources such as Tacitus.

Some people look at the crucifixion and say that it means Jesus died and say “Well so what? The only way you could argue that Jesus rose again is that you had him die. So what?” The reason crucifixion matters is not that it’s just that Jesus died, but that He died the worst death it was possible to die in His time. He died a death that was humiliating and shameful.

In Jesus’s society, you would not invent a story that your messiah who was to be your rival to the emperor even was crucified. That would make as much sense as making up a story that your candidate for the Pope had been an active homosexual in the past or that your candidate for president of the Southern Baptist Convention is a registered sex offender.

And yet, the Christians all agreed that Jesus was crucified, the part of the message that was extremely dangerous to their cause. Why did they all agree? It is because it was undeniable that it happened that way. Everyone knew it.

For Christians today, we can remember all that our Lord did in suffering not just a painful death, but a death that was shameful as well. This is what Hebrews means when in the 12th chapter it says that He went to the cross despising the shame. The shame was worth it for the greater glory that would come. We today can realize that our sufferings lead to the greater glory that will follow.

Christ trusted the promise of God to the cross.

How far are we able to trust that promise?

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Apostles’ Creed: Suffered Under Pontius Pilate

Did Jesus suffer under Pontius Pilate? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

First off in starting this, I can’t help but think of the words of N.T. Wright on the Nicene Creed where we will read about Jesus being born of the virgin Mary and then crucified under Pontius Pilate. Wright says that he can see Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John sitting in the background saying “You know, we spent a lot of time writing that stuff in the middle and think it’s pretty important.” The creed doesn’t cover the deeds of Jesus in his life there, so I won’t be talking about them here, but I definitely urge you to study the life of Jesus as well.

Bruno Bauer was one of the first people to suggest that Jesus never even existed. Now that led to some problems. If Jesus never existed, what about all these other people that are talked about in the Gospels? Bauer said most of them never existed either. He included Pontius Pilate. Josephus talks about him some as does Philo, but he’s not talked about much elsewhere. In fact, Tacitus only mentions him one time and here’s the interesting thing about it. The only place Tacitus talks about him is also the only place Tacitus talks about Jesus.

Unfortunately for Bauer, we now have archaeological evidence for Pilate. There has been an inscription found that dates to the time of Tiberius and describes Pilate as the prefect of Judea. It would be amusing to see what someone like Bauer would do with this today. Fortunately, the idea of Christ never existing didn’t really have any severe consequences. It’s not like Karl Marx saw it and took hold of it and it became part of the ideology to some extent of the Soviet Union. Oh wait….

Now some wonder about the idea of suffering. Why would Pilate even care? Pilate was not a great lover of the Jews. Why would he even capitulate to the chief priests who were insisting that he be the one to crucify Jesus Christ?

Well back then, it wasn’t like Pilate had poll numbers. He wasn’t going around Judea saying “Vote for me as Prefect!” He had also already had trouble with the Jews, involving an attack on them when they complained about him using temple funds to build an aqueduct as well as his sneaking in insignias of the emperor one night that the Jews saw as a violation of the second commandment against idolatry.

Add in this other thing as well. Pilate had a close relationship with Sejanus and it could be that the crucifixion took place after Sejanus had got in trouble with the emperor for charges of planning a revolt. Pilate could have seen his career in Jeopardy. A line like “You are no friend of Caesar” would have hit home.

With this in mind, it is entirely plausible to think that Jesus did indeed suffer under Pontius Pilate. How exactly was it that He did suffer? That will be the subject of our next blog post on the Apostles’ Creed.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Killing Jesus

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

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

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

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

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

And I thought the same about Killing Jesus.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Christ,
Nick Peters