Deeper Waters Podcast 3/11/2017: Mike Licona

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

“It depends on which Gospel you read!” Many of us have heard Bart Ehrman talk about this in describing Gospel differences. It is a kind of unavoidable problem. Why are there differences in the Gospels? Shouldn’t we expect them to agree, especially on major events like the resurrection?

If you want to know why there are differences in the Gospels, you should talk to someone who has written on this. In fact, the very name of his book is Why Are There Differences In The GospelsThat someone is Mike Licona, a friend, a scholar, a great apologist, and my father-in-law, and he will be my guest. So who is he?

MikeLicona

According to his bio:

Mike Licona has a Ph.D. in New Testament Studies (University of Pretoria), which he completed with distinction. He serves as associate professor in theology at Houston Baptist University. Mike was interviewed by Lee Strobel in his book The Case for the Real Jesus and appeared in Strobel’s video The Case for Christ. He is the author of numerous books including Why Are There Differences in the Gospels? What We Can Learn From Ancient Biography (Oxford University Press, 2017), The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach (IVP Academic, 2010), Paul Meets Muhammad (Baker, 2006), co-author with Gary Habermas of the award-winning book The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus (Kregel, 2004) and co-editor with William Dembski of Evidence for God: 50 Arguments for Faith from the Bible, History, Philosophy, and Science (Baker, 2010). Mike is a member of the Evangelical Theological and Philosophical Societies, the Institute for Biblical Research, and the Society of Biblical Literature. He has spoken on more than 90 university campuses, and has appeared on dozens of radio and television programs.

We’ll be talking about Plutarch in comparison with the Gospels, including not just parallel accounts, but how does the writing of Plutarch compare even with anonymity, dating, and miraculous activity? We’ll then be looking at some scenes in Plutarch that appear in more than one life that he has written, but at the same time are vastly different. We’ll be discussing how these work when carried over to the Gospels and if there are similarities in treatment.

We’ll then go to the Gospels. What are we to make of the idea of Ehrman that “It depends on which Gospel you read?” How does this research affect the doctrine of inerrancy if it does at all? What are we to do when we read the same story in different Gospels and see great differences between them? Do the differences outweigh the similarities?

I hope you’ll be listening. Mike Licona is an excellent scholar and this work is one that has been published by Oxford Press and so one can’t say it’s your regular evangelical press. I also hope you’ll be willing to go to ITunes and leave a positive review of the Deeper Waters Podcast. I always love to see how much you like the show.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

 

Has The Bible Been Changed A Lot?

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

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

Of course not.

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

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

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

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

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

So how does the New Testament measure up?

manuscript copies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wait a second.

What original manuscripts?

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: The Miracle Myth

What do I think of Lawrence Shapiro’s book published by Columbia University Press? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

It’s been said before that when Christian Philosopher Alvin Plantinga gets a critique of the Christian worldview, he likes to take his opponent’s argument and reshape it, not to make it weaker, but to remove any problems he sees in it. He wants to make it as strong as he can. When that is done, he goes and then deals with the argument.

Shapiro seems to take the exact opposite approach of taking arguments of his opponents and making them as weak as possible in this book.

This is a book that does not deal accurately with any of the ideas that it wishes to critique. The author takes straw man after straw man and then announces with joy that the hideously weak case has been knocked down. Unfortunately, Shapiro has knocked down a sand castle while a powerful fortress stands there untouched.

In fact, a striking problem of Shapiro’s book is how little time he spends discussing actual miracle claims. There are many times he argues against the idea of miracles and in fact painting them as ridiculous as claims of alien abductions or Bigfoot. The only two claims of a miracle he takes on are the Book of Mormon and the resurrection of Jesus, and while I disagree with the former entirely, even then Shapiro does a horrible job dealing with this.

Fortunately, at the start Shapiro does make clear what he’s arguing against. He says “Miracles, I argue, should be understood as events that are the result of supernatural, typically divine, forces.” Now at this point, I still wonder what is meant by this term supernatural. I don’t see atheists and skeptics define it a lot and the supernatural/natural dichotomy makes no sense to me.

I can’t help but wonder how familiar Shapiro is with some miracle arguments when he says “Why do we think that it’s perfectly natural that a stone falls when dropped or that metal expands when heated or that days are shorter in the winter than in the summer? We do so because these events and others like them happen all the time.” Of course, Hume himself said that dropping a stone 1,000 times and watching it fall will not prove that it will fall the 1,001st time.

At the start of his story The Man Who Was Thursday, Chesterton wrote about a man who was amazed about all that did happen like that. It is amazing when a train reaches the correct stop or a letter reaches the correct address because there was a potentially infinite number of places it could have gone to. All of these are a way of establishing order in the universe.

Why bring this up? Because unknowingly to Shapiro I suspect, when he makes statements like this, he’s upholding the theism he would be arguing against. This is, in fact, part and parcel of the fifth way of Thomas Aquinas. The fact that there is expected order at all is something that needs to be explained and with more than “We see it happen every day.” You may see a man kiss his wife every day, but that doesn’t mean you don’t need to know of a reason behind it.

Right after this, Shapiro does bring up the natural/supernatural distinction which he thinks that nearly everyone accepts. Perhaps they do, but for what reason? I contend that it is not a good one as I have questioned Christians and atheists on this one and never received replies that make sense of the distinction. I prefer to speak of objects acting according to their nature unless other objects or forces or beings intervene.

I’m not surprised when I get to Location 571 in my Kindle reading and read “If science tells us anything, it’s that the dead tend to stay that way.” Normally, this kind of statement isn’t really spelled out which makes it all the more humorous. Perhaps Shapiro just isn’t aware that man in the past has always tended to bury or dispose of the dead in some way. We learned pretty quickly that they’re not coming back. If this is the discovery of modern science, then please tell me which scientist discovered this and when it took place. We know more scientifically about death, but you don’t have to be a scientist to know that dead people stay dead.

Shapiro then says something about the inference to the best explanation. It’s understandable that when you see something science can’t seem to explain, such as a statue crying, you can infer that the cause must be something outside the realm of science (Which is what he would call supernatural.). There’s nothing wrong with the reasoning per se. We do it all the time with what we can’t observe.

At this point, I wonder about the question of goodness. Do we observe goodness? Hume would have said we didn’t. You talk about how the action feels to you and you impress that onto the action. Myself being a Thomist, would prefer to say that the goodness is in the action itself and you recognize it as such. Science cannot explain this goodness. It’s a metaphysical quality. This is not to insult science. It’s just properly recognizing the limits of science.

At 841, Shapiro tells us that whatever we assume about God’s nature is purely speculative. Really, they’re guesses. Somehow, Aristotle and Aquinas and other thinkers didn’t get that memo. They used reasoning about metaphysical matters to arrive at a conclusion about God they could argue for. Sadly, Shapiro never bothers to look at such arguments.

Shortly after, he starts to say something about the resurrection. He tells us that there is a better natural explanation, that for instance, the women went to the wrong tomb or the body was stolen by grave robbers. These would surely explain the data better.

Except they don’t. Kirsopp Lake tried the wrong tomb explanation long ago. It never got much ground. Anyone would have been happy to point out the right tomb. As for grave robbers, grave robbers would normally not steal the whole body but only the parts they needed. None of these would explain either the appearances or the conversion of skeptics like Paul and James.

But hey, Shapiro just needs a just so story. Just throw it out and boom, you’ve shown what a better thinker you are. Obviously, this is something that has never crossed the mind of Christians ever.

It’s ironic he says this in response to Licona’s book on the resurrection where counter-theories would be dealt with. He also says Licona cannot say that this is a miracle. Unfortunately for Shapiro, Licona regularly speaks about what a miracle is. It’s described as an event that goes beyond the laws of nature and takes place in an atmosphere charged with religious significance.

A blind man sits at home one day and all of a sudden, BOOM!, his eyes are open and he can see. Is this a miracle? Maybe.Maybe not. On Licona’s terms, it wouldn’t look like it just yet. Meanwhile, a blind man is at a church service and people gather around him and pray in faith that in the name of Jesus the man’s eyes would be opened. The man can then see. This would be a miracle.

Shapiro also gives an account of Sally. Sally is a little girl who is amazingly accurate with all she says. Unfortunately, she’s also boring. She talks about mundane things regularly. Then one day you see Sally and she talks about how she’s been an alien hostage for twelve years and had gone through a wormhole and because of that, it will seem to us like she was never gone. After all of the description, he asks if we should believe her. His reply is we shouldn’t.

I have a different reply. I understand skepticism. By all means, be skeptical, but instead, ask “Okay. What is the evidence?” Could we take Sally to a doctor to check her for bruises? Could we see where the abduction took place to see some residue? Could Sally tell us facts about the universe and such she would not have known otherwise that we can verify?

Does that seem bizarre to you? Why should it? What is wrong with receiving a strange claim and just asking “What is the evidence?” I’m skeptical of alien abductions, but I am sure that if someone was abducted by aliens, they would want to talk about it. Should I discount the story immediately without seeing the evidence they have?

Shapiro also gives an account of a disease that can only be treated if caught early. The disease is a deadly one, but the treatment leaves one in a horrid state. The test for the disease is accurate when it says someone has it 999 out of 1,000 times. The test says you have it. Should you get the treatment?

Shapiro argues that there is in fact overall a 1 in 10,000,000 chance of getting the disease. Since I am not a specialist on probability, I spoke to my friend Tim McGrew on this, who is a specialist on this. According to him, this means that at the start, the probability you have the disease is .0000001. If the test makes it a thousand times more likely that you have it, your odds are still ,0001.

McGrew says that in that case, it might not be wise to get the treatment regardless of what the test says, but what if there are other tests? What if you can go to other doctors and find other means? Each of these will increase the odds. Should you not at least consider doing this?

McGrew also points out that events like miracles are not like catching a disease where one in a certain population will get it as a random event in the universe. A miracle is a deliberate action by an agent. It is not as if we bury people and one out of every 10,000,000 will rise from the dead.

Shapiro also says with other events, we have more independent sources and other evidence, such as if we take the account that a volcano destroyed Pompeii. I find this one quite amusing since for Pompeii, we only have one direct reference to it. We have allusions to it, but it’s only mentioned by Pliny to Tacitus telling about why his uncle died in an off-the-cuff remark. It’s not until Cassius Dio centuries later that we learn that Herculaneum was destroyed.

Amazingly, Shapiro does concede that if God exists and He is omnipotent, this raises the probability that the resurrection happened to one. You would think that someone would want to look at theistic arguments at that point, but it looks like Shapiro doesn’t. Shapiro in fact asks why not believe in aliens or other entities that raised Jesus. If Shapiro wants to make a case for any of those, he’s welcome to it. We will make our case for a theism consistent with the Aristotelian-Thomistic arguments and see which explanation makes the better case.

It’s sadly not much of a shock when Shapiro goes also to “the historian Richard Carrier.” (Cue Yakity Sax playing in your head right now.) I could repeat all that Carrier says here in comparing Jesus’s resurrection to the crossing of the Rubicon, but I have done that elsewhere. Keep in mind also that in historical statements about this event, Shapiro says “We have the written reports that historians produced a couple hundred years after the event.” Keep this in mind because this tells us right now that a couple of hundred years isn’t a problem.

Doug Geivett was also the one who made the claim originally that the evidence of Jesus rising from the dead is comparable to that of Caesar crossing the Rubicon. Shapiro says Geivett would be disappointed to learn that Carrier thinks the Biblical miracles are made up. No, I quite contend that Geivett would not be at all disappointed, other than disappointment for the possible salvation of Carrier. Carrier’s positions are getting more and more to the extreme that it looks more and more that if Carrier says something is true, the opposite is far more likely to be true.

A story Shapiro goes on to deal with then is the account of the Book of Mormon. Now I have done some reading on Mormonism including all of their Scriptures, but it’s hardly a specialty area. Still, while Shapiro makes a good case, it’s just a decent one. Much more could have been said. What is interesting is that he makes a case with something he thinks many of us would readily agree on to show us that the case for the resurrection is just as bad.

Oh really?

In all of this, Shapiro has been wanting to compare Jesus to the story of a frog in India who heals pets who are brought to him, except for ferrets. For some reason, he does not like ferrets. The person telling you about this frog is convinced. Now it’s time to see how well this holds up.

The frog believer tells you at this point that not until decades later did someone think to write down anything about the accounts. Yes. Decades later. This is a man who just recently said a couple of hundred years wasn’t a problem for crossing the Rubicon. Now decades later is a problem for Jesus.

Shapiro also doesn’t ask why the accounts were never written down. He never pauses to think that he lives in a society where books are easily made, inexpensive generally, and everyone can read them. I got his book sent to me immediately on my Kindle and it didn’t cost a lot. Did the ancients have it the same way? Not at all.

In the ancient world, you had two choices. You could go with oral tradition for one. This was free, quite reliable, (Shapiro would have to say that as oral tradition would be necessary for those historians writing a couple hundred years later) and could reach everyone who could speak the language. You could also write. Writing was timely and expensive, not seen as reliable when compared to oral tradition, and could only reach those who could read unless someone read it to them.

This would have been a good thought for Shapiro to consider, but he never does. Instead, he just assumes that the culture was just like his and writing makes the most sense. To us, it does. To them, it didn’t.

Shapiro also says before researching this book, he was profoundly ignorant of the New Testament. I think Shapiro is in a worse position now. He is still profoundly ignorant of the New Testament, but now he thinks that he is informed on it. This isn’t a big shock since he tells us his sources are Bart Ehrman and Richard Carrier. After all, when you want to learn about a view, there’s nothing like going to people who will already agree with the ideas that you hold.

At the start, he is skeptical about written records because the people who were Jesus’s disciples couldn’t write anything. Perhaps, but perhaps not. Some fishermen would need a basic literacy, especially being in charge of a business. Tax collectors would definitely need a basic literacy. Also, the people we attribute the Gospels to does not mean they themselves sat down and wrote the account. Most writings were done through scribes. The Gospel according to Matthew could mean that Matthew was the main source of the account, for instance. We know there were well-to-do people in the early church and they’d just need to give some funding for the writing of the Gospel and it would be made.

Speaking of authorship, Shapiro says that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were not the original authors. Unfortunately, you will not see him interacting with any positive case. He thinks it sufficient to show that Irenaeus said there were four Gospels because there were four corners of the Earth and four principle winds. Never mind that this says nothing about authorship and even only makes sense if it is already accepted that there are four Gospels. Never mind there’s no interaction with someone like Dr. Charless Hill who wrote Who Chose The Gospels? Just make the assertion and that’s enough. Of course, any case will sound good if you only present the evidence for your side.

For enemy assent, he says you would think that if Jesus returned from the dead, some Roman or Jew would write about it to express their disappointment. Why? Why would you expect that? In fact, we did have one Jew who wrote about it. That was Paul. His opinion won’t count though because He became a Christian. We have no evidence that Jesus appeared to the Romans or the Jews en masse so why would they give a testament of it? They would want to shut this up immediately.

Shapiro does tell us that Josephus mentions Jesus twice, but we can’t be sure if the writings are authentic since Christians passed them down. This is news to Josephus scholars who are quite convinced that the Testimonium has an authentic core to it with information about Jesus and the second reference is really not questioned at all. It would have been nice for Shapiro to actually look at real scholars on these issues specifically, but he doesn’t.

For physical evidence, Shapiro thinks it’s interesting that square stones were used to seal tombs instead of round ones so they couldn’t be rolled. Shapiro thinks that since this basic fact is wrong, we can’t trust the accounts. Is this accurate? I spoke to Greg Monette about this who I have interviewed on this before. Monette has spent time in Israel and is doing his Ph.D. on the burial of Jesus.  This is what he told me about it.

Simple answer: even if it were a square stone what do you call it when you move it into place? You ROLL IT!!! It’s true that many tombs discovered have square stones but not all. Rachel Hachlili and L. Y. Rahmani provide numerous references to round doors. I’ve personally seen some in Jerusalem.

For reliable accounting, he tells us our information ultimately comes from two sources. It comes from Mark and from John. He makes no mention of Paul and he makes no mention of material unique to Matthew and Luke and no mention of Q.

Amusingly, in the middle of this, he says that we today “have a sophisticated medical science that explains what happens in death and why death is irreversible, except very rarely and certainly not after a period of three days.” It’s as if the ancients just didn’t know that dead people stay dead. Sorry, but this is hardly breaking news.

He goes on to say that New Testament scholars recognized long ago that the Gospels as they are today would be unrecognizable to the original authors? Really? What scholars are these? In talking about this, he refers to Bart Ehrman. That sounds like a good idea. Let’s see what Bart Ehrman says about this.

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.

Shapiro also tells us that within a couple of centuries of the writing of the Gospels, hundreds of distinct Gospels had to exist. Okay. Show them? What’s the evidence for this? Go with the manuscripts we have and show me the vastly different manuscripts.

He also wants to bring out some discoveries that will be absolutely shocking! Now if you’ve read this blog any, none of this will shock you, other than Shapiro’s ignorance about it and the ideas he brings from it. As I said earlier, Shapiro moved from being profoundly ignorant to being profoundly ignorant and thinking he’s not.

His first major shock for you is that 1 John 5:7-8 is not in the original manuscripts. (Shapiro has John 5:7-8 and nothing about it being 1 John) So what do we draw from this? It’s that the author of John never accepted the Trinity.

Yes. I’m serious. That’s exactly what he says.

Of course, there will be no interaction with scholars like Tilling, Bauckham, Hurtado, and others. Never mind you can see the full deity of Jesus in the Gospel of John plain as day. Never mind the early church never had this verse and they still had no problem condemning Arius. Never mind that technically this verse doesn’t even go with the Trinity. Arians and modalists could still interpret it a different way. The ignorance of Shapiro is astounding.

Next major shock. The Gospel of Mark did not originally have the last twelve verses which means the first witness we have did not mention the resurrection. Well, no. The first witness we have is Paul who did talk about the resurrection. Second, it would be a mistake to think that Mark has no resurrection. Who would disagree with him on this? Bart Ehrman. Check footnote 280 on p. 226 of How Jesus Became God.

It is sometimes said that Mark does not have a resurrection narrative, since the final twelve verses (16:9–20) are lacking in our best and earliest manuscripts. It is true that Mark appears to have ended his Gospel with what is now 16:8, but that does not mean that he lacks an account of Jesus’s resurrection. Jesus is indeed raised from the dead in Mark’s Gospel, as the women visiting the tomb learn. What Mark lacks is any account of Jesus appearing to his disciples afterward; in this it is quite different from the other three canonical Gospels.

And finally, the account of the woman caught in adultery is not in the original writings. Of course, no doctrine hangs on this one at all, but what is amazing is how amazed Shapiro is by these discoveries. He thinks he’s found something that blows apart the idea of the reliability of the Bible. Question for Shapiro. How do you know that these weren’t in the originals? Could it be you know that because we do in fact have great information on what is in the originals?

But nope, Shapiro thinks this destroys any idea that the Gospels are reliable. The only matter destroyed here is the idea that anyone should pay attention to anything Shapiro says. I can take him to the best conservative scholars who have no problem thinking the text is reliable and know these problems already. Perhaps my interview with Dan Wallace would suffice.

In good scholarly humility, Shapiro decides to interact with N.T. Wright and say “It seems that Wright’s case for the resurrection—consisting of more than seven hundred pages of learned and dense analysis of the historical context in which Jesus and the authors of the New Testament lived—can be easily disassembled with the philosophical tools that I have illustrated in the preceding pages.”
Never underestimate the ego of modern day atheists.

He goes on to say that to grant that Jesus’s tomb was found empty and that people claimed to see Him alive after his crucifixion is to beg the question. No, Shapiro. It is not. It is to go with the conclusion of Biblical scholars across the board who have studied this. While Ehrman is a rarity who discounts the burial, let’s look at what he says on the appearances.

“We can say with complete certainty that some of his disciples at some later time insisted that . . . he soon appeared to them, convincing them that he had been raised from the dead.” (Bart Ehrman, Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium, pg 230).

Shapiro wants to argue also that all that is necessary is just the belief that Jesus rose from the dead. Unfortunately, belief will not explain what happened to the body or the appearances or the conversion of skeptics like Paul and James. Shapiro gives an explanation that explains nothing and then thinks he’s defeated Christianity. You honestly don’t know whether to laugh or cry. In fact, he’s so desparate for a solution that he even goes with the twin hypothesis and says maybe Jesus had a twin named Kanye.

Shapiro gives an explanation that explains nothing and then thinks he’s defeated Christianity. You honestly don’t know whether to laugh or cry. In fact, he’s so desparate for a solution that he even goes with the twin hypothesis and says maybe Jesus had a twin named Kanye.

To top things off, Shapiro thinks that if we are strong conservatives, his arguments should be found very troubling. The only troubling matter is Shapiro actually thinks they’re troubling. Shapiro actually makes me thankful that atheists are getting more and more uninformed and thinking they are informed.

He also has an appendix asking what the supernatural is. The oddity is that he never really answers the question the whole time through. I searched and searched and found nothing. It’s also worth pointing out that not once in this book is Craig Keener’s work interacted with.

In conclusion, Shapiro’s book leaves me tempted to be an environmentalist. It’s a shame so many innocent trees will die. I hope in the future we’ll see a better class of skeptics than this.

Book Plunge: Why Are There Differences In The Gospels?

What do I think of Mike Licona’s book published by Oxford University Press? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Go to any debate online about the New Testament and one idea you’ll see pop up regularly will be “It contradicts itself over and over.” Go listen to Bart Ehrman and hear him speak about these and what will he say? “Depends on which Gospel you read?” Gospel differences are something that is a cause of concern to many a skeptic and of course, many a Christian as well. Especially if you hold a high view of inerrancy, you want to know why there are so many differences in the Gospel accounts.

This question isn’t anything new. It goes back to the church fathers. This is in fact why there was even an attempt to turn the four Gospels into one Gospel, but the church didn’t really go for it. As it stands, we have four today and they do contain obvious differences, so do we just have sloppy historians or what? Should we call into question the reliability of the Gospels because of this?

Mike Licona has chosen to answer this question and has done so by doing something that many in our world could consider cheating, but hey, he did it. He actually went back and compared differences in accounts of the same event by an author close to the time of Jesus. His choice was Plutarch and he looked at some of his lives that described figures who lived at about the same time and were quite likely written close to each other chronologically.

Of course, everyone should be warned of possible bias on my part. As many know, Mike Licona is my father-in-law, but at the same time when we have our discussions, if I think he is wrong on something, I do not hesitate to tell him. He got a blunt son-in-law when I married Allie.

Mike’s approach is unique and something that had not been done before. If there is any difficulty I encounter when I am engaging with skeptics of the faith is that they assume the way we do things today is superior simply because that is the way we do them. If we do history this way, well that is the right way to do history. If we want this kind of precision in an account, well that has to be superior and that is what the ancients would want. The greatest error we often make is we impose our own time and culture and society on the ancient world and then misread them.

This is why I say Mike cheated, though in a loose sense of course. He actually went back and saw how they did history and what do you see? You see that the differences that you see in the Gospels that are so problematic are the same kinds of differences you see in Plutarch. Some will no doubt complain and say that surely the Gospel writers would not write Holy Scripture in a style that was known to the pagan world. (Yeah. The second person of the Trinity can condescend to become a human being and die on a cross, but using a certain literary style? God forbid!) Such an opinion is going against the overwhelming majority of Biblical scholarship and ignores how God has often met people where they were and if the writers wanted to write a biography of Jesus to tell about His life and teachings, there weren’t many other options.

Mike goes through the accounts and shows that Plutarch used many different techniques when writing and that the Gospel writers did the same. He has a number of pericopes in Plutarch and a number in the Gospels that give a cross comparison. If one wants to throw out the Gospels as unreliable then, one will have to do the same with Plutarch. This indeed raises the debate to a whole new level. Is the modern skeptic willing to throw out one of the most prolific writers in ancient history just to avoid the Gospels?

What does this say for we moderns as well? It tells us what I said at the beginning. We can too often assume our own standards of accuracy and throw those onto the text not bothering to ask if the ancients followed them. If they did not, then we are being anachronistic with the writers and in fact, being unfair with them. They were not moderns and we should not treat them like moderns.

This should also be taken into account when considering our modern idea of inerrancy. For instance, many of us might think inerrancy means we have to have the exact words of Jesus. What if the Gospel writers did not think that but wanted the exact voice instead? In other words, they wanted the gist of what Jesus said even if it wasn’t exact wordage? That’s okay. We just have to accept that. The ancient works were not modern works and if we impose on them what they aren’t, we will get the wrong message and also miss the true message of them.

Mike’s work has really raised the bar of debate and pushed it beyond just simple harmonization. It is harmonization based on how the ancients did it and not how we moderns do it. I fully hope that other scholars will come alongside and critique the work, both positively and negatively and that we can, in turn, come to a greater understanding of the Gospel texts.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Atheism: The Case Against Christ Chapter 5.

What are my thoughts on chapter 5? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

If you want any hard evidence that McCormick is uninformed on Biblical scholarship, chapter 5 is exhibit A.

To begin with, McCormick talks about the oral tradition and says that many scholars point to how reliable it is. It’s noteworthy that in all of this, he nowhere cites a scholar of oral tradition. There’s a good reason for that. None of them would support the nonsense that McCormick has in this chapter. McCormick acts as if oral tradition was just used by the Jews in order to pass down the laws of God.

This is just wrong. Oral tradition was used by the Jews to pass down the sayings of the rabbis as well, but even more, it wasn’t just used by the Jews. Every society at the time relied more on oral tradition than they did on written tradition. That McCormick treats this as if it was just a Jewish phenomenon shows us that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. While there was writing of course, the main way of transmitting information and what was seen as the most reliable was the oral tradition.

At Loc. 1645 McCormick says “The Christian who would corroborate the resurrection in this fashion cannot ignore the fact that Jews, rabbis, Talmud scholars, and modern Jewish experts on the Jewish oral tradition emphatically reject the claim that Jesus’s resurrection was incorporated into Judaism in this way.” and “If Jesus’s resurrection and other essential Christian doctinres that overturn Judaism were preserved by a time-honored and hallowed Jewish method, why does Judaism persist and deny the resurrection and those doctrines?”

Yes. He actually says these.

For the first part, of what relevance is this? Jews don’t believe Jesus rose from the dead for the most part. Okay. And? That somehow demonstrates that oral tradition, which isn’t exclusively Jewish, is unreliable? A modern Jewish expert on oral tradition (Which McCormick cites none) could uphold that the traditions of Jesus were reliably recorded in the New Testament but that they were wrong beliefs. That’s not a problem.

For the second claim, again, this isn’t a Jewish method but a method used by Jews. Every society used oral traditions and many non-Jewish societies today still use oral tradition. Why is it denied? Because Jesus was seen as a crucified criminal who failed the prophecies. Again, this doesn’t overturn the historical evidence.

McCormick wants to also paint the tradition in the story of a money bag being used as evidence. One cop passes it off to another and then to another. A corrupt cop can take some money out of the bag and then just change the amount that it’s said to hold and pass it off to the next. Isn’t this how oral tradition works?

No. Not at all. McCormick should have read some scholars like Vansina or Bailey or Sandy or Dunn or Small or anyone else. I have no reason to think that McCormick is really doing research when he doesn’t even consult sources for his claims.

Usually, oral tradition is compared to telephone, but this isn’t how it is. Instead, the stories would be told in groups. In those groups, there would be people who would be in charge of the tradition ultimately who were the gatekeepers. They would oversee the process and make sure the stories didn’t stray too far. Some minor changes were allowed for minor details, but the main thrust of the story had to stay the same.

In the telephone game, a story is whispered once to one person who cannot hear it again and they have to tell the same story to the next. That’s not at all what was happening. Stories were told in groups and kept in check in that way.

McCormick can then go on all he wants about what are the odds that one person did X in the chain, but this still assumes that individuals are involved in the chain and not groups and that there can be no back-checking. Again, it would be nice if he would reference some scholars of oral tradition. Perhaps I should comment on evolutionary theory and how it works and not cite any scientists who write on evolution. It would be about as effective. This kind of thing sounds convincing if you’re an atheist who has never studied the issue. If you’ve spent any time studying whatsoever, you’re being convinced, but of the opposite viewpoint.

Of course, McCormick says that between the events and the first recording, 30 to 100 years have passed and we only have two copies from two centuries later.

Well if he means complete copies, that could be. That number is quite likely changed now though as we’re constantly finding new manuscripts. However, we also do have partial manuscripts and quotations from the church fathers and writings in multiple languages all over the Empire. Does McCormick think all of them were somehow altered? Note also there is a difference between first writing and first copy that we have. For most other manuscripts, it’s several centuries between the writing and our first copy and yet they are viewed with far less suspicion.

Now someone might be saying “But Bart Ehrman says”. Yes. Let’s see what Bart Ehrman 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. 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

And

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.

McCormick then goes on to say at 1715 that when the story gets written down and then adds “Which we would think would be an even more reliable method of recording” and then goes on from there. Well unfortunately, because we would think it would not mean that they would. In fact, the oral word was more reliable to them than the written word. As Papias said

“I used to inquire what had been said by Andrew, or by Peter, or by Philip, or by Thomas or James, or by John or Matthew or any other of the Lord’s disciples, and what Aristion and the Elder John, the disciples of the Lord, were saying. For books to read do not profit me so much as the living voice clearly sounding up to the present day in (the persons of) their authors.”

Teachers would often not like to write down their teachings because students could misunderstand them apart from their tutelage. All McCormick has done is show some cultural favoritism. Not only that, writing would reach far fewer people. Oral tradition was something everyone could understand and evaluate and keep in check. Writing was also costly and timely and would only reach readers and those who they would be read to. For a look at costs, consider this.

The cost of writing and rewriting was not free. A secretary charged by the line. Like anyone whose living depended on billing customers, the secretary kept up with how many lines he wrote each time. Although we do not know the exact charges for making drafts and producing a letter, we can make some educated guesses. A rough, and very conservative, estimate of what it would cost in today’s dollars to prepare a letter like 1 Corinthians would be $2100, $700 for Galatians, and $500 for 1 Thessalonians.” Richards, Capes, and Reeves, Rediscovering Paul p. 78

Of course, we have a quotation from Ehrman which ends with the classic “We have more variances in the manuscripts than we do words in the New Testament.” This sounds convincing again to an atheist who hasn’t studied it, but the reason we have so many differences is we have a large work and we have a large number of manuscripts. Ehrman elsewhere does show that most of these variants are inconsequential.

“It would be a mistake, however, to assume that the only changes being made were by copyists with a personal stake in the wording of the text. In fact, most of the changes found in our early Christian manuscripts have nothing to do with theology or ideology. Far and away the most changes are the result of mistakes, pure and simple — slips of the pen, accidental omissions, inadvertent additions, misspelled words, blunders of one sort or another. Scribes could be incompetent; it is important to recall that most of the copyists in the early centuries were not trained to do this kind of work but were simply the literate members of their congregations who were (more or less) able and willing. (p. 55) (Misquoting Jesus by Bart Ehrman)

McCormick then says that we know some works were not canonized and deliberately excluded. Indeed. A good researcher at this point would want to know what these manuscripts were and why. McCormick doesn’t, because McCormick is not a good researcher. Just tossing out a sound bite is enough.

McCormick doesn’t know apparently that documents included were to have apostolic authority in believing to be from an apostle or the close associate of an apostle, they were to be in line with the oral tradition, and they were to be accepted by the majority of the church instead of a few isolated communities. I invite McCormick to read some of these later writings and then he should know why they weren’t included.

McCormick also has something to say about the miracles at Lourdes in that the accounts don’t stand up to outside scrutiny. Is he not aware that miracle claims always call for outside scrutiny? It’s not just Catholics working in isolation and they error more on the side of caution.

At 1813, McCormick tells us that the Gospels and Q are the only early written sources we have. Completely absent is any mention of Paul which contains the earliest and best material on the resurrection. Again, exactly how out of touch is McCormick with scholarship today?

He concludes the chapter saying it is true the histories and transmission of the information is much more convoluted than the simplified model he has given. No. In reality, the way of tradition as stated is quite simple as I have argued. It is McCormick’s story that is convoluted. Of course, he would know this if he bothered to read any scholars on oral tradition. Unfortunately he does not, and yet he wants us to somehow treat him as an authority.

I don’t have enough faith for that.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

McCormick’s Gaffe

Deeper Waters Podcast 2/28/2015: Justin Langford

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

One of the benefits of being at Defend The Faith 2015 this year was getting to meet so many apologists, and meeting them for the first time. Some I’d never got to meet or even heard of before. Last week we interviewed Tawa Anderson for instance, and that interview will be up on our site soon. This Saturday, we’re interviewing someone else I met at the conference and that is Justin Langford. Who is he?

Justin Langford smaller and cropped

Justin Langford is Assistant Professor of Christian Studies at Louisiana College in Pineville, LA where he teaches New Testament and Greek. He received a B.A. in Sociology from Louisiana College, and the M.Div., Th.M., and Ph.D. degrees from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. Justin’s areas of interest are the general epistles, hermeneutics, Koine Greek, and intertextuality. He is a member of the Evangelical Theological Society and the Society of Biblical Literature. Justin is married and has three small children. Other than teaching and spending time with his family, Justin enjoys music, football, and coffee.

(For the sake of interview, we will be nice and try to overlook the fact that he likes football and has fallen for coffee, the great diversion of satan to take us away from tea.)

Langford gave a quite fascinating presentation on forgeries in the Bible. One interesting exercise that he did was that he put up two passages. Naturally, he didn’t include anything like verse numbers or anything of that sort and said “Okay people. Which passage of these two do you think came from the Bible and which one came from something outside of the Bible?” Honestly, there were some I didn’t even recognize immediately, which shows how easy it can be to be taken in.

So Langford gave some tips then on how forgeries are detected and what steps are to be taken. We also had an interesting discussion which said “What if we found a book today that we could all agree was Pauline, even the most liberal scholars, such as a 3 Corinthians? Should we include that in the canon?” I was actually on the side of people who said “No. We should not include that in the canon. A part of canonicity is that the text needed to be accepted by the church as a whole. If a letter was not accepted by the ancient church, we should trust their wisdom and have a closed canon.” Others disagreed but the most important part of it all is that we had a good discussion on the topic.

With works out there like Bart Ehrman’s Forged (Which I have reviewed here and here.), we have to be doing better. These kinds of charges are only going to keep coming and the church needs to have a good line of defense. We can be thankful that there are people like Langford out there who are answering those kinds of charges. I urge you to be watching your Podcast feed for the next episode of the Deeper Waters Podcast.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Truth In A Culture of Doubt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Christ,

Nick Peters

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

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

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

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

DarrellBockimage

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

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

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

In Christ,

Nick Peters

Book Plunge: The Historical Figure of Jesus

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

E.P. Sanders is really one of the most important writers in recent times on the historical Jesus. His works have been highly influential and while he does not come from the Christian perspective, he does I think seek to treat the Gospels fairly and not always with a hyper-skepticism, although I think there are times that the skepticism that he has is unwarranted.

Let’s start with something he does not say. Not even on the radar at all for Sanders is the idea that Jesus never even existed. This despite the idea that internet atheists will often insist that there is some debate to this. In fact, he will tell you that we know a lot about Jesus. In fact, on page 3, he tells us that the sources that we have for Jesus are better than the ones that we have for Alexander the Great.

Sanders starts us off largely with the political setting and the theological setting of Jesus. What was Rome doing at the time of Jesus? What was going on in Judaism at the time? Both of these are essential questions and readers who want to go with the Bible only and no extra-Biblical information will find that their attempts to understand what was going on in the life of Jesus are highly lacking since they do not consider all the sources. This is remarkable since even Sanders agrees Jesus was not thought much of in his time and Palestine was not thought much of either.

Sanders also even addresses the common charge that the Gospels are anonymous. He tells us on page 66 that in the ancient world, to have an anonymous work implied complete knowledge and reliability. To put a name to the account would be just saying “In my opinion, this is what happened.” Could it be that despite what internet atheists say again that there was an entirely valid reason for a work to be anonymous?

My main contentions are largely twofold. First off, on page 143 he quotes Cicero’s view that there are no miracles. (Despite the ancient world supposedly consisting of gullible people, Cicero would be right at home with the intellectual elite of his day) Sanders says he fully shares this view. Unfortunately, this view is not defended. Now can one investigate miracles fairly despite disbelieving in them? Yes. All one needs to do is take a non-dogmatic stance. It is just saying “I don’t believe in miracles, but I am open to the evidence.” Then look at the evidence and be skeptical, but make sure your skepticism is reasonable.

The other claim is one that shows up repeatedly and that’s that Jesus was wrong about his coming at the end of the age. This too often relies on a more literal reading of the text than on the kind that I believe Jesus fully intended us to get. Unfortunately, this kind of viewpoint has been bought into by several skeptical writers including Ehrman. Many who do this also tend to state repeatedly that we can’t take the Gospels literally. It is quite amusing that we’re repeatedly told to not do this and yet on this point, that is exactly what the skeptics do.

Still, someone is impoverished if they don’t take advantage of reading authors like Sanders. While the Christian will disagree with his ultimate conclusions, there is still much valuable information to learn and we owe it to ourselves as good investigators to do so.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: How God Became Jesus

What do I think about the latest response to Bart Ehrman? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

HowGodBecameJesus

It’s time for your regular book due out around Easter that will silence the Christians once and for all. This time, it’s Bart Ehrman who has written “How Jesus Became God.” Fortunately, a group of Christian scholars were allowed to have a copy of the manuscript and have already written a response. Doubtless, the response will not be read by internet atheists who are never interested in reading both sides of an issue and all the scholarly data that they can, nor will it even be read by new atheist leaders. Instead, as I made this image a few days ago, I want to give people a preview of what they can expect after Ehrman’s book comes out.

braceyourselveschristology

I was sent a copy in advance courtesy of Zondervan seeing as Charles Hill, one of the writers of this book, had agreed to be on my podcast for an interview and apparently in talking about that, it was decided that it would be good to have a show based on this book. It is amusing to hear Michael Bird’s description of Ehrman’s book that I was sent and can be found in the introduction of “How God Became Jesus.”

“While Ehrman offers a creative and accessible account of the origins of Jesus’ divinity in Christian belief, at the end of the day, we think that his overall case is about as convincing as reports of the mayor of Chicago, Rahm Emanuel, sitting in a Chick-Fil-A restaurant, wearing a Texan-style cowboy hat, while reading Donald Trump’s memoire—which is to say, not convincing at all.”

Yes. As far as I’m concerned, Michael Bird stole the show. Michael Licona has called Michael Bird a new rock star in the New Testament world. I can see why. Since his chapters in the book are first, it is apropos to start with him. I actually found myself laughing a number of times throughout reading what Bird says. How do you beat hearing someone say that Ehrman’s view of Jesus is so low that it could win a limbo contest against a leprechaun?

Bird has excellent information as well on what was and wasn’t considered divine in the world of Second Temple Judaism and about the view that Jesus had of himself. Throughout what the reader sees is what Craig Evans, the next writer in the book, says about Ehrman. Ehrman is simply on a flight from fundamentalism. He still has the same mindset as to how Scripture should be that he had as a fundamentalist. His loyalty has just changed.

Bird points out that too often, Ehrman gives into a parallelomania, a condition where he sees ideas that he thinks are related but really aren’t. This is the same thing that is done with the idea of Jesus being based on dying and rising gods, which is interesting since Ehrman argues against this idea in “Did Jesus Exist?”

Moving on to Evans, Evans deals with the idea that Jesus was not buried and shows that Ehrman just hasn’t interacted with the latest archaeological evidence. He points out that in many cases, crucified people would not be buried, but that Jerusalem would certainly be a different scenario due to Jewish laws and rituals and such. He also points out that Paul as a Pharisee would certainly have seen Jesus as buried and raised meaning raised bodily. Evans takes us through numerous archaeological findings and writings of Jewish Law to convincingly make his point. (This would also deal with Crossan’s view that Jesus’s body was thrown to dogs.)

After that, we have Simon Gathercole. Gathercole writes on the pre-existence of Jesus to deal with the way that the early Christians saw Jesus. He points out that Ehrman seems to switch back and forth between Christologies based on the idea he has before coming to the text, including the tunnel period, the period between 30 to 50 A.D.

I found it amusing to hear about how Ehrman wants to know the primitive Christology of the early church. (Keep in mind, he does not once also interact with Bauckham, who is part of the Early Highest Christology Club. Not once.) The reason this is amusing is that Ehrman is constantly speaking about how we have such great uncertainty about the text, yet he wants to take this text he thinks is so uncertain, and use this uncertain text to determine oral tradition in it, which we can only know from the uncertain text, and from that oral tradition get to what the early Christians believed about Jesus. Why is it that Ehrman is uncertain about the text but certain about the oral tradition that predates the text that he has no direct access to?

Gathercole also points out that the NT does not quote the OT in a straightforward way. He uses the example of the slaughter of the infants at Bethlehem. Rachel did not literally weep. Also, the slaughter was in Bethlehem, not Ramah. Still, Ramah is close to Bethlehem and Rachel is seen as one of the mothers of Israel. (Though interestingly, she would not be the mother of the tribe of Judah.) The NT simply did not use the OT the way Ehrman thinks it did.

After this, we come to Chris Tilling who writes about the interpretative categories of Ehrman. Tilling points out that Ehrman bases the Christology of Paul on Gal. 4:14, which is hardly the main place to go to find out Paul’s Christology. Ehrman, for instance, does not at all interact with the Shema, which would mean how it is used in a passage like 1 Cor. 8:4-6. Ehrman also says 1 Thess. is likely the earliest Christian writing that there is, yet he does not interact with the Christology in that letter either.

To make matters even worse, the only extended argument with Paul’s letters is the extended exegesis of Philippians 2:6-11. This is an important passage for Paul’s Christology, but there are numerous more passages. Amusingly at places like this, Tilling says Ehrman does not do the work of a historian. One can almost picture Tilling saying “Put some ice on the burn. It will help.”

Finally, we have Charles Hill who looks at church history and the deity of Christ there. He goes through several sources in the church fathers to show that this was indeed the reigning view and wasn’t some aberration as Ehrman would have you to believe. He also points out that the paradoxes that Ehrman thinks should be so embarrassing don’t really seem to embarrass the church fathers at all nor the writers of Scripture.

He also deals with the idea that the charge of killing God given to the Jews led to their persecution. Hill points out that Islam has a non-divine prophet who is not a Christian and has been responsible for going after the Jews. What is that to be blamed on? Does this mean Christianity has always been innocent of anti-semitism? Nope. Does this mean that that anti-semitism is justifiable? Nope. Does this mean that Ehrman overstates his case? Yep.

Finally, we have a conclusion from Bird wrapping up the whole piece. He reminds us of what was argued against in the previous chapters and wraps up with a conclusion that the orthodox view is correct. It’s not that Jesus became God, but that God took on flesh in the person of Jesus.

If there was one flaw that this book has in light of all the great benefits it has it is this. There is no index. The book would be greatly benefited to have an index to look up terms and Scripture passages and other parts like that. The notes are extensive and helpful, but I do hope future editions have an index.

Still, for those wanting to see another great response to Ehrman, it would benefit you to read this one. After all, you can be sure the internet atheists that you’re interacting with won’t be reading it.

In Christ,
Nick Peters