Book Plunge: Evidence Considered

Was Jesus’s tomb found empty? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

In chapter 34 of Evidence Considered, Jelbert decides to take on Gary Habermas on if there was an empty tomb or not. At the start, Jelbert says that all of Habermas’s material comes from Christian sources. He also says these are diluted by internal disagreements and contradictions.

However, Habermas is just doing what all scholars do. Even Bart Ehrman will grant this point.

If historians want to know what Jesus said and did they are more or less constrained to use the New Testament Gospels as their principal sources. Let me emphasize that this is not for religious or theological reasons–for instance, that these and these alone can be trusted. It is for historical reasons pure and simple. (Ehrman, The New Testament, page 215)

Now if Jelbert thinks he has some sources that are more relevant to the life of Jesus and closer to the time, he’s free to come forward and show them to us. I am sure the scholarly world would love to hear these sources. If not, then there’s no reason to complain because Habermas uses the main sources that we have. Everyone does that.

Jelbert says that Jesus had in the accounts left the tomb. Why on Earth would it be that angels would have left it open? This sounds like a good question unless you actually think about it for a few seconds. The tomb was open so that everyone could see that it was empty. It wasn’t open so that Jesus could get out, but so that others could get in.

He also says Habermas makes two assumptions. The first is that the Gospels are reliable which is what needs to be shown and that anyone would care to disprove the story anyway. Naturally, both of these are weak claims.

For the former, he’s not trying to prove the Gospels are reliable. He’s trying to prove a part of the tradition in the Gospels, the empty tomb, is reliable, That’s a big difference. The way he’s doing it is by examining the sources we have with normal scholarly protocol. Again, everyone in the field does this.

For the second, apparently Paul might have been in such a position. We know that within a year or two he was already out there persecuting Christians and that’s just one person we’re told about. Christians were regularly facing some sort of persecution from Jewish interlocutors.

Jelbert goes on to say that Christian teachings explicitly encouraged belief without sight. Not at all, but we have the usual litany. Let’s go through each of them.

We have Jesus with Thomas saying “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.” This is a strange passage to use because it would imply that we who are later on are in a better position than the apostles who saw Jesus themselves. Thomas’s problem was that he had every reason to trust Jesus and he failed to believe.

1 Cor. 1:19 says God will destroy the wisdom of the wise and the intelligence of the intelligent he will frustrate. This verse has absolutely nothing to do with seeing something. What it is talking about is a masterful rhetorical work where the teaching of Jesus would challenge the sophists of the day by going against their preconceived notions of what a king should be and by revealing them to be frauds. Sophists, after all, could stand up one day and make a powerful argument that the nation ought to go to war against the enemy and receive applause for it, and the next day get up and argue the exact opposite.

No list of verses like this would be complete without Hebrews 11:1. I have written on that one before here. Nothing further needs to be said.

Jelbert says 1 Thess. 5:21 is often brought out, but that it applies to prophecy. I do agree on that one. Still, I think it’s a principle that can easily be applied across the board.

When he talks about the women discovering the tomb, he says that if the Gospel writers wrote that, they probably believed it. Yet this is what strikes me as odd. Jelbert talks about the accounts evolving over time. If they did, why did this part not evolve? Wouldn’t women witnesses be one of the first ones to change? Why not make the disciples into the heroes?

Jelbert says Mark and Luke have the women wanting to anoint the body with spices, but Matthew has them just wanting to look in the tomb. This is because Matthew has a story about guards that is found nowhere else. There’s one reason that I really think the story has credibility and this is something Jelbert never mentions. The text says the story has been told “to this day.”

If this story wasn’t being told in Matthew’s day, any reader would say, “Well not it hasn’t. We’ve never heard that story.” This is a direct acknowledgment of what was being said at the time. Again, Jelbert never mentions this.

Jelbert also says since Matthew changes Mark, that shows he doesn’t think Mark is reliable. That doesn’t follow. It could mean he does some editing to highlight certain points. It could be he wants to refine a detail. It could be he thinks a detail is unneeded. Jelbert just assumes the worst and goes with it.

Jelbert says that Paul never mentions the tomb at all, but what he needs to show is that he needs to. Paul writes about Jesus buried and risen and the word there indicates coming up from a lying down position. As a Pharisee, Paul would believe that what is placed in the tomb naturally comes back up again. Also, one will search in vain for any interaction with a work like Gundry’s Soma In Biblical Greek to see what is meant by a body.

Jelbert also says that when Paul says “Last of all he appeared to me, it implies an exhaustive list.” Why? Your guess is as good as mine. I see nothing here to make me think the list had to be exhaustive.

Getting back to the guard story, Jelbert says the chief priests and Pharisees go on the Sabbath to request a guard from Pilate who gives them one. That’s a problem at the start because there’s debate on if Pilate gives them a guard of if he acknowledges they had their own guards. He says the angels knock the soldiers out with an earthquake, which again I do not see in the text. They come to and run to the leaders who tell them what to say and assure them they will keep them safe. Jelbert says none of this is plausible. I suppose it isn’t when you straw man all of it.

Jelbert also says that if a body was raised from a mass grave, that would not leave an empty tomb. Sure, but no one claims it is a mass grave. If Jelbert thinks he has such a source, let him show it. All four of our early sources here all agree that Jesus was buried in a tomb alone.

Jelbert now goes to 1 Cor. 15 and the passage about the spiritual body. If this means immaterial, we have a problem. Paul speaks of spiritual men in chapters 2 and 3. He speaks of a spiritual rock in chapter 10. In that same chapter he writes about spiritual food and drink. Spiritual does not necessitate immaterial and again, the reader is invited to check the work of Gundry.

Right now I am convinced the tomb was empty, but not only that, so is Jelbert’s critique of it.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

Book Plunge: Evidence Considered Chapter 32

Did Jesus predict His death and resurrection? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

In this chapter, Glenton Jelbert takes on Craig Evans with the claim that Jesus predicted His death and resurrection. Now I do agree that Jesus knowing the trouble He was causing was not saying much by predicting His own death. Of course, if He predicted how and when, which I think He did, that makes it a little bit different.

One place that Evans goes to is Mark 14:36.

And He was saying, “Abba! Father! All things are possible for You; remove this cup from Me; yet not what I will, but what You will.”

Jelbert says that Evans applies the criterion of embarrassment whereby the early church would not make up a passage that has Jesus being frightened and unwilling to go to His death. Jelbert says that the criterion can be valid in general, but one has to apply it carefully. Did Evans turn every stone looking for other explanations? Let’s see about that.

Jelbert first says this supports the idea that Mark thought Jesus was more man than God. At the start, we have to ask if Jelbert thinks Mark thought Jesus was something like a demigod or what. Christianity has never denied the full humanity of Jesus including the full display of human emotions.

Second, Jelbert says the courage and anguish and sacrifice are beautiful instead of embarrassing and this may be the most moving verse in all of Scripture. Perhaps you might think that if you lived in a modern Western individualistic society. In Jesus’s world, one was to face their death with dignity and a man was to be a man and a king was to be a king. This is not the way a Messiah figure would act. I see no reason why I should really care what Jelbert thinks so far into the future after the event.

Third, Jelbert says embarrassment is resolved by seeing what the story requires. Isaiah 53 would say the Messiah had to suffer, but the question is would Jews and Gentiles really see that, or would they see it as more of a “Jesus was a failed Messiah, but we’re going to come up with this explanation to explain what doesn’t fit for a Messiah.” Jelbert says that applying Isaiah 53 still raises a myriad of problems. How does resurrection work? Was it planned by God? How did Jesus feel about death?

All of these are good questions to ask, but in this case, they’re all irrelevant. If we want to know if Jesus predicted His death and resurrection, none of these questions change the facts. If we want to know if He rose again, none of them change the facts. A police officer can come upon a victim that everyone agrees is murdered. Does he know how it was done? Does he know why? Does he know what the victim was thinking? He could know none of these things and he might want to investigate, and probably will, to see what answers he finds to these questions, but it won’t change that a murder has taken place.

Jelbert also says that if Jesus is God and was sent by God to suffer through the will of God to save us from God’s judgment, was Jesus really suffering? At the start, this is quite a word salad. Let’s be clear on terminology. When we say “Jesus is God” it does not mean that Jesus is the entirety of the Godhead. It’s more theological shorthand rather than quoting and explaining something like the Nicene Creed every time. It simply means that Jesus possesses all the attributes of the divine nature in His person.

Jelbert says God in Jesus has to suffer or there will be no salvation, but no argument is given for this. The early church would have all condemned it. The man Jesus suffered, but God did not suffer. God did not undergo change. God did not die on the cross. (Always be watchful of prayers to the Father that change to “Thank you for dying on the cross.”)

It wouldn’t be an accident that Jesus suffered or else God is not sovereign. Yet surely God cannot victimize His Son, so Jesus did it willingly. Jelbert says that a passage like this tidies it all up. Jesus was hesitant but agreed to go.

And yet, this wouldn’t address the issue at all. How would the outside world see this? Christians could agree that Jesus went and suffered wilingly, but hesitatingly, but why include even the fact that Jesus was in anguish? Wouldn’t it be easier to just ignore that? Why give oneself a difficulty?

Evans also points to the idea of Jesus to carry one’s own cross and points out that Jesus didn’t do that. Someone had to help Him with His cross. This argues strongly for the authenticity of the saying.

Jelbert says that all that happened most likely is that stories were spreading and changing and Mark wrote down the two different accounts. We can applaud his not trying to smooth it out and this shows his sincerity but not his accuracy. Unfortunately, Jelbert provides no data from oral tradition. Nothing is given to back this.

As is pointed out in works like The Lost World of Scripture, stories were told in groups and minor details could be changed, but not the central thrust. There would also be gatekeepers of the story who would make sure that the story was being shared accurately. Jelbert instead just gives a just so story with no data to back it and expects us to think it’s true.

Jelbert also says resurrections apparently happened all the time in the ancient world. He then goes to Matthew 27:52-53 on this passage. It is a wonder why a passage like this should lead one to the conclusion that resurrections happened all the time.

One point Jelbert brings up is that these stories of resurrection lack corroboration outside of the Scripture. He ignores that even in Q, which if accurate is the most basic account of the life of Jesus, miracles are included. Scholars now do not really hesitate to agree that Jesus had a reputation as a healer and/or exorcist. This does not mean that they think He actually did these things, but He had that reputation.

Today, you can read the accounts of Craig Keener about miracles where resurrections are said to take place. These do not receive worldwide coverage. Why? Skepticism. It was just the same back then. The most well-to-do writing histories were normally outside of Judaism. How many of them are going to seriously investigate a crucified Jewish rabbi from Nazareth to see if He did miracles or not?

Second, Jelbert says that if everyone was claiming resurrection, it’s not a big deal if Jesus did. Note how far we have gone. Jelbert has taken one passage, and a passage that is often highly debated as to what it means at that, then said based on this passage we know that resurrections happened all the time, and then based on that bizarre idea says that everyone was predicting resurrection. Even if they were, that resurrection would be at the end and not in the middle of the space-time continuum.

Next, Jelbert returns to Matthew 16:28. This is the one that has Jesus saying some standing there would not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom. Jelbert says this is just false, but many theologians have spilled much ink to explain it. We have to ask if Jelbert did what he asked of Evans. Did he turn over every other stone to find another explanation other than what he thought the text meant? Obviously not, because most any orthodox Preterist could have explained it easily enough.

So what is it? Note that no one there was thinking about Jesus leaving let alone returning. Jesus in talking about His coming would be giving a message of judgment. Jesus would come in judgment before some there would die. The transfiguration would show the disciples He had this authority, but it would not prove to be that event.

Around 2000 I had to get a set of Tyndale commentaries for Bible College. R.T. France did the one on Matthew and said the coming is one of judgment and kingly authority. It is not a coming to Earth but a coming to God to receive His kingdom. Jelbert assumes this must mean the return of Jesus. He gives no argument for that.

This would happen in 70 A.D. when Jesus was publicly vindicated with the destruction of the Temple. Jelbert says Christians must admit Jesus’s prediction is false. Not at all. I must admit it is true based on years of studying eschatology. Perhaps Jelbert should do what he advised Evans to do. Once again, when something comes up in science that seems like a puzzle, well we must investigate and study and if it seems to go against evolution, we must wait and study more. When it comes to Christianity, we must throw in the towel immediately. Keep in mind I have no problem with studying and I have no problem with that even when it seems to counter evolution. I have a problem with a double standard.

Next time we look at this book we’ll study if Jesus died on the cross.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

Book Plunge: Evidence Considered Chapter 31

Did Jesus claim to be God? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Glenton Jelbert decides that he can take on Ben Witherington again and begins looking at Jesus as God. He starts off saying that there is a gap between what is attributed to Jesus and what Jesus said and did. I realize he thinks this, but he has this strange belief that Witherington has to defend every text he uses. He doesn’t.

His second point is that many people have claimed to be God. I invite Jelbert to show me how many people in the exclusively monotheistic culture of ancient Israel were walking around claiming to be God. Good luck finding one. This also would mean that either Jesus was speaking in some pantheistic sense which doesn’t fit, or that Jesus was crazy. Does Jelbert really want to go there?

Third, Jelbert says this presupposes God exists, but it doesn’t have to. If you are skeptical of theism, you can begin by investigating Jesus. If you decide that He claimed to be God and rose from the dead in a miraculous way, then you can justifiably think His claims are true and therefore God exists. Of course, you would want to flesh out what it means for Jesus to be God, but you could still get theism.

In responding to Witherington’s case, Jelbert says what Jesus thought or did not think about Himself doesn’t count as evidence for God because plenty of people have made such claims. Again, note what I said above, but no one is arguing “Jesus claimed to be God and therefore He was God.” Witherington himself argues that the resurrection proves the claim. However, it is being argued that since Jesus made the claim and rose again, the claim needs to be taken seriously and if we want to understand how the historical Jesus saw Himself, we need to look at His claims about Himself.

Jelbert has a problem with saying that if we think as Jesus did, then His intention becomes clear. To be fair to Jelbert, it is fair to be skeptical to know someone’s motives. However, Witherington is really speaking about how things would be understood in the Jewish culture of Second Temple Judaism and, well, I think I’ll just give more credence to Witherington. He knows more about this after all.

Jelbert also refers to Daniel Wallace. Well, he says it’s to Wallace, but Wallace says it’s an intern of his. The part quoted is this:

No author of a synoptic gospel explicitly ascribes the title θεός to Jesus. Jesus never uses the term θεός for himself. No sermon in the Book of Acts attributes the title θεός to Jesus. No extant Christian confession(s) of Jesus as θεός exists earlier than the late 50s. Prior to the fourth-century Arian controversy, noticeably few Greek MSS attest to such “Jesus-θεός” passages. And possibly the biggest problem for NT Christology regarding this topic is that textual variants exist in every potential passage where Jesus is explicitly referred to as θεός.

Well, that certainly sounds powerful, but is this person denying that Jesus was seen as God? Not at all. Hear how Wallace introduces this paper.

Editor’s Note: This paper was originally given at the Evangelical Theological Society’s southwestern regional meeting, held at Southwestern Baptist Seminary on March 23, 2007. Brian was one of my interns for the 2006-07 school year at Dallas Seminary. He did an outstanding job in presenting the case that the original New Testament certainly affirmed the deity of Christ.

So how does the paper conclude?

Even if the early Church had never applied the title θεός to Jesus, his deity would still be apparent in his being the object of human and angelic worship and of saving faith; the exerciser of exclusively divine functions such as creatorial agency, the forgiveness of sins, and the final judgment; the addressee in petitionary prayer; the possessor of all divine attributes; the bearer of numerous titles used of Yahweh in the OT; and the co-author of divine blessing. Faith in the deity of Christ does not rest on the evidence or validity of a series of ‘proof-texts’ in which Jesus may receive the title θεός but on the general testimony of the NT corroborated at the bar of personal experience.

The question now before us is not whether the NT explicitly ascribes the title θεός to Jesus, but how many times he is thus identified and by whom. Therefore, with at least one text that undoubtedly calls Jesus θεός in every respect (John 20.28), I will conclude by answering my initial question: When did this boldness to call Jesus θεός begin? It began in the first century. It was not a creation of Constantine in the fourth century. It was not a doctrinal innovation to combat Arianism in the third century. Nor was it a sub-apostolic distortion of the apostolic kerygma in the second century. Rather, the church’s confession of Christ as θεός began in the first century with the apostles themselves and/or their closest followers and therefore most likely from Jesus himself.

One has to wonder what is going on here. Did Jelbert not look at what the paper was arguing? Did he get a snippet from someone else and just go off to the races with it? Either way, if Jelbert thinks this paper is authoritative, then he should agree that the idea of Jesus as God goes back most likely to Jesus Himself.

It also doesn’t work to say that this is something that evolved. After all, many of the references to Jesus as deity take place in the Pauline epistles, see for instance Tillings’s Paul’s Divine Christology. How is it then that we get Paul who says Jesus is God then and then later on the Gospels, which are evolved, do not say it? Jelbert also says it’s a stretch to say Jesus had knowledge of this and chose not to share it.

No one is arguing that and the paper Jelbert cited is evidence otherwise since it says the idea of Jesus as God goes back to Jesus Himself most likely. The idea is that we moderns often think Jesus had to say something explicitly. Not at all. Jesus’s claims were roundabout ways of getting people to think about His identity and make a judgment.

Witherington also says that Jesus showed His deity in making comments about the Laws of Moses that would seem to even override it. Jelbert says this just gets you in contradictions. After all, the Sabbath was from God and yet Jesus overturned that teaching. How are we to understand that? Doesn’t this show the Bible is a human construction?

First off, I think it’s interesting that when we talk about science and someone presents what they think is a problem with evolution or any other theory, Jelbert says we need to study more and it’s good to investigate a matter. Here, he sees what he thinks is a contradiction and yet doesn’t want to do the same thing. Are we to investigate problems in science and not in Scripture?

Second, Jesus never overturned the Sabbath. Jesus did observe it, but He didn’t observe the traditions the Pharisees added on to it. Jesus also never Himself changed the day of the Sabbath. This came later as Christians recognized the new creation.

Finally, the Law is part of the revelation to the Jews in that covenant. Gentiles have never been under the old covenant. We’ve never been obligated to observe the Sabbath.

Naturally, Jelbert also doesn’t interact with the early high Christology group with scholars like Tilling, Bird, Hurtado, Bauckham, and others. I was really hoping when we got out of science to find some essays with some meat on them that would really leave me wrestling. So far, I’m disappointed.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Evidence Considered Chapter 30

What do we make of Jesus being said to be the Son of God? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

We continue our look at Glenton Jelbert’s work with him taking on the first part of Ben Witherington’s work on Jesus. In this chapter, it is about Jesus being the Son of God. Son of God did not equate to divinity in Judaism. For the pagans, it would have done that, but it certainly would not be in a monotheistic sense.

Witherington does say that Mark quotes “You are my Son” and leaves out “Today I have become your Father” to show that this is not adoptionism. It is recognition of who Jesus is by the Father. Witherington also argues that Jesus did have a unique relationship to God in praying to Him as abba, a term of endearment. Jesus also saw Himself as central to a relationship with YHWH for those estranged from Him.

Witherington also looks at the Johannine thunderbolt. This is Matthew 11:27. In this, Jesus sees Himself as the unique conduit of knowledge between God and man. The only way to know God is through Jesus.

Witherington also offers the parables. In the parable of the tenants, Jesus makes a strong implication to being the Son of God. Jesus understood that in some way, He had a unique connection to God.

Jelbert responds that looking at the argument, it’s clear these were not strong divinity claims. I disagree. Jelbert doesn’t say anything beyond his claim so one could say I don’t have to say anything more.

I will say more. I will say that Jesus approached God in a unique way not seen by any other teacher of His day. Jesus’s statements would be blasphemous on the lips of anyone else. These were the kinds of statements that led to His being crucified and also to nearly being stoned several times.

Jelbert says that in the last essay we were to look at the unquoted context about the Son of Man and assume it applies to Jesus. Here, we are to ignore it and assume it does. I am puzzled as to what is meant by unquoted context. Context of a passage normally isn’t quoted period. It’s just assumed.

Jelbert says that a plain reading shows terms weren’t linked to divinity. Witherington has quoted 1 Timothy 2:5 about one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus. Jelbert tells us the verse specifically cited says Jesus is a man.

I am sure Witherington would be extremely grateful for this. No doubt, in all of his reading of the text, he had never noticed that. We can expect a strong retraction of his usage of this verse any moment now.

Except Jesus being a man has always been a part of Christian theology. What would we say? The God Christ Jesus? That would lead to something like polytheism.

Jelbert also says we can’t be sure that Jesus said these things because it was written down later while the theology was evolving. Naturally, there is no interaction with scholars like Hurtado, Bauckham, Bird, Tilling, etc. who make up the early high Christology club. Jelbert also lives in a strange world where apparently before a scholar quotes any text he has to make a strong case for it going back to Jesus.

On a side note, Jelbert also talks about Jesus referring to the Canaanite woman as a dog in Matthew 15. In this case, I think Jesus is playing along and showing the disciples where their own hostility towards outsiders led them. Sadly, the text cannot convey tone of voice or anything like that. There was something in Jesus’s statement to the woman that indicated that she should press harder, and she did. Jesus does end up healing her daughter.

Jelbert goes on to talk about the evolution of the person of Jesus. Paul and the early Gospels do not see Jesus as God. It would be good to see some backing of this claim. Philippians 2 and Romans 9:5 and other such passages come to mind in Paul. There’s also the Christianization of the Shema in 1 Cor. 8:4-6.

For Mark, I think it’s all throughout. Jesus, in the beginning, is given a divine title compared to Caesar and then John the Baptist shows up preparing the way of the Lord and lo and behold, there’s Jesus. In the next chapter, Jesus claims to be able to forgive in the name of God and to be the Lord of the Sabbath and such. Perhaps Jelbert lives in a world where you have to come out and explicitly say “I am God” to be seen as making such a claim.

Jelbert says that this also shows a move from monotheism to the Trinity. Absent is any notion that even in Jewish monotheism, there was a question about the possibility of plurality in the person of God. One could see the work of How God Became Jesus for examples. It also ignores that the Trinity is monotheistic.

Jelbert then says that in the words of the immortal Alan Bennett, “Three in one, one in three, perfectly straightforward. Any doubts about that see your maths master.” It took awhile to find who it was, but apparently Bennett is a playwright who wrote a play called Forty Years On. Well, that’s a great place to go to get your scholarship!

Jelbert says that Witherington’s essay shows that Jesus did not teach the Trinity. Of course, it would have been relevant if Witherington had argued any such thing. We might as well say Jesus didn’t teach the Pythagorean Theorem. I don’t think Jesus would have had much success teaching the Trinity to the local people in Israel and it would have only led to confusion. He planted the seeds instead in His own person.

John 10:30, I and the Father are one, merely defines a special relationship. Well, unless you ignore that Jesus said that no one can snatch believers out of the Father’s hand and out of His own hand just before this and you ignore that the people picked up stones saying Jesus claimed to be God. No doubt, Jelbert understands things better than the immediate listeners did.

Jelbert says that it’s unlikely Jesus said the Great Commission since Jesus’s followers didn’t go to Gentiles immediately. Yet why think this? Could they not have thought to go into all nations telling all the Jews in the diaspora about Jesus? Jelbert also draws a distinction between baptizing in Jesus’s name and the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but Jesus is not giving a baptismal formula here that must be followed. Peter says Jesus’s name in Acts 2 due to Jesus needing to be the new one to recognize as Lord.

Jelbert will also try to explain the rise of Christianity. He brings up Mormonism and scientology as counter-examples. Never mind that these were based in modern individualistic cultures with a more tolerant live and let live attitude. Never mind that these were cultures that more readily accepted new ideas. Never mind that these built on, especially in the case of Mormonism, previously successful ideas.

So what does Jelbert say made the religion successful? For one, it upheld church authority and gave them control, which would be absolutely worthless as a matter of appeal. All religious people had that authority in a culture that didn’t have separation of church and state. This would also only appeal to people who wanted to be in control and then, why be in control of such a small movement that would be opposed to Rome?

He also says it undermines self-worth making us question our own senses and reasoning abilities. No examples of this are given. Could it be Jelbert is revealing something more about his own psychology than Christianity itself?

It also promoted wishful thinking with ideas of eternal life and eventual justice. Unfortunately, this kind of thing is only appealing if you believe the promises can be delivered on. If you don’t, then it doesn’t appeal. It’s a nice story. Also, it’s worth noting that our emphasis on Heaven and such is absent in much of the New Testament, such as the Pauline epistles.

Finally, it exhorts its members to proselytize, which is surely a great draw! Go out and tell your neighbor who could report you to Rome about your new faith! One wonders why Jelbert thinks this way.

Jelbert then says it’s easy to imagine that a religion with these characteristics would be successful. Of course, it’s hard to imagine a religion with a crucified Messiah, a belief seen as new, radical exclusivity, and a bodily resurrection that would be seen as shameful being successful, but hey, details. Who needs them?

Thankfully, Jelbert doesn’t say that this speculation is accurate. It’s a good thing, but apparently it’s a good just-so story to justify atheism. Could it be Jelbert is engaging in his own wishful thinking?

Jelbert also says on a side note that the burden of proof is on the one making the claim. If the claim is unpersuasive, then atheism is justified. Well, that’s only if atheism is seen as the lack of belief which I do dispute, but what about the problem of who decides if something is unpersuasive? I find the arguments persuasive. Jelbert doesn’t. Why should his view be the rational one? Maybe he’s the irrational one and doesn’t know how to recognize a persuasive argument. Maybe I am. How could we know?

Next time we’ll look at a second essay by Witherington on Jesus as God.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Evidence Considered Chapter 29

Is Jesus the Son of Man? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

We return to Glenton Jelbert’s Evidence Considered to look at Darrell Bock’s work on Jesus being the Son of Man. Jelbert isn’t too impressed with this essay apparently as this is one incredibly short chapter. Just as soon as I thought I was beginning it, it was over. It’s a shame because in my thinking, Jelbert really doesn’t treat the evidence fairly at all.

Jelbert says Bock seems to take for granted the existence of God and the credibility of the Bible. On the former, yes. Bock is not supposed to give the Kalam Cosmological Argument or anything like that every time. Many Christian Bible scholars could give that, but they won’t be like a William Lane Craig and specialize in it. Still, I don’t even think theism is necessary to make the case. It could be making the case for Jesus gets us closer to the case for theism.

As for credibility, Bock has written several works on this so there is nothing that he just assumes in this. When New Testament scholars make their case, they make it based on the data they have and if they think their case requires treating a text differently or suspiciously, they say so and why. Bock is just fine with what he is doing.

Jelbert says part of the problem is that Bock says the phrase means a human being. This isn’t an immediate problem since Jesus is indeed a human being. Not only that, it’s an essential of Christian theology that Jesus is a human being. If Jesus is not a human being, then there is no Christianity. That’s another point and I won’t go on on that one for now.

Naturally, Daniel 7:13 comes up and Jelbert says that one problem is it’s a dream. So what? The text of Daniel makes it clear this dream was from God. Jelbert doesn’t believe that? Big deal. Jesus and His audience would. The Sadducees could be an exception, but most of the people in Israel would think that.

Jelbert makes much about the statement about like and the use of a. I think these are just common Biblical descriptions. If this is where your strongest argument lies, then your case is pretty weak.

Now though, we get into one of my favorite parts. It’s a topic I love to discuss. This is the best way I think to see the evidence.

Jelbert says that the usage of Son of Man shows that Jesus was an apocalyptic prophet who thought the end times were imminent. Interestingly, he points to Ehrman’s Did Jesus Exist? rather than his Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of a New Millennium. I have reviewed the latter book. Jelbert says Jesus thought this, but He was wrong. The end times did not arrive.

On the contrary, (To quote Thomas Aquinas) Jesus did think they were going to arrive and Jesus was right. The question is, what were the end times the end of? If you think the end of the world, then you are mistaken. Let’s consider Jesus speaking about the temple. The disciples want to ask Jesus the sign of His coming and the end of the age.

Odd question isn’t it?

I mean, what do they mean with His coming? Jesus is already there! Did they mean His return after His resurrection? Doubtful. These guys hadn’t even realized Jesus was going to die yet, let alone die, be resurrected, and ascend to come again later. What did they want to know?

And if this is the end of the world, why point to just the temple? Won’t that be the case with everything? A lot of what Jesus says doesn’t make sense if He means the end of the world. “Flee to the mountains!” Because, you know, the mountains will be totally safe if the world comes to an end. Pray that it not be in the winter on a Sabbath. After all, if the world comes to an end, let’s hope it’s in the summer on a Thursday.

Could there be some other way to understand this? Why yes there is. It’s in the sense of what is meant by a coming. A coming refers in the Old Testament many times to judgment. Consider Isaiah 19:1. The Lord rides on a swift cloud and is coming to Egypt. So is the Lord going to be like kid Goku riding on a nimbus cloud in judgment? No. Coming and clouds are both tied in. Clouds for deity and coming to refer to judgment.

In Revelation 2:5, Jesus tells the church at Ephesus that if they do not repent, He will come to them and remove their lampstand. Whoa! The second coming is going to take place if this one church doesn’t get their act right? Nope. This is about judgment.

One of my favorite passages on this is in 2 Samuel 22.

1 David sang to the LORD the words of this song when the LORD delivered him from the hand of all his enemies and from the hand of Saul. 
2 He said: “The LORD is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; 
3my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation. He is my stronghold, my refuge and my savior— from violent people you save me. 
4 “I called to the LORD, who is worthy of praise, and have been saved from my enemies. 
5 The waves of death swirled about me; the torrents of destruction overwhelmed me. 
6 The cords of the grave coiled around me; the snares of death confronted me. 
7 “In my distress I called to the LORD; I called out to my God. From his temple he heard my voice; my cry came to his ears. 
8 The earth trembled and quaked, the foundations of the heavens shook; they trembled because he was angry. 
9 Smoke rose from his nostrils; consuming fire came from his mouth, burning coals blazed out of it. 
10 He parted the heavens and came down; dark clouds were under his feet. 
11 He mounted the cherubim and flew; he soared on the wings of the wind. 
12 He made darkness his canopy around him— the dark rain clouds of the sky. 
13 Out of the brightness of his presence bolts of lightning blazed forth. 
14 The LORD thundered from heaven; the voice of the Most High resounded. 
15He shot his arrows and scattered the enemy, with great bolts of lightning he routed them. 
16 The valleys of the sea were exposed and the foundations of the earth laid bare at the rebuke of the LORD, at the blast of breath from his nostrils. 
17 “He reached down from on high and took hold of me; he drew me out of deep waters. 
18 He rescued me from my powerful enemy, from my foes, who were too strong for me.
You can search all you want through the life of David in 1 and 2 Samuel. You will never find a passage with YHWH hitching up on Gabriel and Michael and riding through playing Green Arrow. You will never find a massive event where the valleys of the sea are exposed and we see the foundations of the Earth. Yet here David says all of this took place.
Why?

Because for David, as for other Jews, political actions and such were depicted often using cosmic imagery. We do the same when we refer to an event as earth-shaking, without necessarily speaking about an earthquake. The great mistake is to take apocalyptic imagery as if it was literal.

So what was Jesus talking about?
He tells you. It was the destruction of the temple. Jesus says the temple will be destroyed and all the things He speaks of will take place. (By the way, for those who think this is the same event as 1 Thess. 4 or 1 Cor. 15, where is the resurrection? What timeframe does Jesus give? This generation will not pass away.
The temple was destroyed in 70 A.D.
Jesus was right.
Of course, some might be wondering about interpretations. I recommend looking up the position I have given, Orthodox Preterism, and see how the passages are interpreted. Even if you don’t agree, realize it is an acceptable view within Christianity.
Jelbert then goes on to say that sometimes Jesus refers to someone else as the Son of Man. This isn’t as momentous as Jelbert thinks. There was a common practice to refer to oneself in the third person. Paul does the same in 2 Corinthians 12 when writing about the man he knew who had an experience of heaven. Paul is speaking about himself. He says Ehrman makes a case that Jesus would have thought a future figure would be this Son of Man.
Ehrman does make such a case, but I think Michael Bird has a better one. Bird has pointed to a passage like Matthew 19:28-30. This passage is after the rich young ruler comes to Jesus and Jesus tells His disciples that when the Son of Man comes, they will sit on twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel. So what’s the big deal? Maybe Jesus is talking about another man coming in the future.
Doubtful. For one thing, this passage is quite likely an authentic one by skeptical standards since it refers to the twelve apostles judging the twelve tribes. A later writer would not have that since that would imply Judas. Yet if this is what happens to the apostles, where is Jesus? Is Jesus just slinking in the background somewhere? If the apostles get this great honor, doesn’t it fit that Jesus would have the glory of the Son of Man?
Furthermore, Son of Man is not a title the early church would make up. It doesn’t show up in Paul and it doesn’t normally show up in the Fathers unless they’re quoting Scripture. It’s quite an anachronism unless Jesus said it. The only times it shows up are in places like Acts 7 and the stoning of Stephen, and in my view, Stephen says that referring to Daniel 7 and the Son of Man standing in judgment. Hebrews tells us that Jesus sat down next to the right hand and Psalm 110:1 which says “The Lord said to my Lord, ‘sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.’ ” (By the way, that’s the most quoted Old Testament verse in the New Testament.) Why is Jesus standing then? I think it’s because Jesus is judging the nation of Israel there as sealing their fate for stoning the first Christian martyr.
Also, another passage that Jelbert points to is the one that before the transfiguration has Jesus saying that some listening to Him would not taste death before they see the Kingdom of God come in power. Jelbert again thinks this is about the end of the world. It’s not. It’s about the kingship of Jesus being vindicated in A.D. 70 with the destruction of the Jewish temple showing the age of the Law was ended and the age of the Messiah had come.
Some Christians think this is referring to the transfiguration, but if so, it’s a weak prophecy. Imagine if I went to my church next Sunday and gave a sermon and said, “Some of you will not taste death before next Sunday comes!” I would not be heralded as the most awesome prophet of all. 99.9999% of the time I am sure I would be correct. Even with a higher mortality rate in the past, it wouldn’t be that great.
The transfiguration was a revelation of who the king is, but His rule would be established in the destruction of the temple. Jelbert thinks we have to redefine terms. No. We just have to abandon a Western literalism and go with a more Jewish approach to the text. If Jelbert wants to say I’m wrong, he’s free to engage me on my exegesis, but what he thinks is a passage showing a great weakness in Christianity is one that I think shows one of its great strengths. If I wanted to show a great proof that Jesus was a true prophet, I would go to these passages that Jelbert thinks are such a problem.
In the end, I have every reason to think Jesus spoke of Himself as the Son of Man and He spoke truly. He truly was an apocalyptic prophet and He truly was right. I am not waiting for Jesus to be the King. Jesus is the King right now and His enemies are being made a footstool for His feet.
In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Evidence Considered Chapter 28

Can we believe miracles took place? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

In chapter 28, Jelbert decides to take on Craig Blomberg on miracles in the Gospel tradition. At the start of his response, Jelbert says that we need to avoid circular reasoning.  We can’t say that a god or a demon accounts for some miraculous events and then when we see those events, that’s evidence.

First off, this isn’t entirely accurate. Scientists do this kind of thing regularly. If such and such object existed, then we would see X take place. We see X take place. Therefore, the object exists. It’s just fine to say “If an immaterial reality exists, we can expect to see miracles take place. We see miracles take place. Therefore, an immaterial reality exists.

Second, and this is more important, circular reasoning works both ways. If there are no immaterial beings, then miracles would not take place. Then when we see something that looks like a miracle, well, it can’t be a miracle. Why? Because no immaterial beings exist. That is truly arguing in a circle.

Jelbert says that in general, it is difficult to imagine any account being sufficient to convince us of a supernatural event. First off, I question the use of the term supernatural. Second, this could be said of anything one is skeptical of. The creationist could say, “It is difficult to imagine any account being sufficient to convince us that life came from non-life.” Yet on both counts, why should we think that? Can you give an answer on both counts that is not question-begging?

On the contrary, I think it’s quite simple. Imagine attending the funeral of a dead friend. Then lo and behold, three days later you see him alive again. Perhaps you are skeptical and you go to a doctor. It’s him. The DNA is the same and everything. Would this not be sufficient?

Suppose you have a friend who is blind. You go and pray for them and then in the end pray that in the name of Jesus they be healed. All of a sudden, they open their eyes and have perfect 20/20 vision? Perhaps it wasn’t a miracle, but could you not be justified in thinking that it was?

Jelbert also says that in our modern age, there is a great lack of evidence for miracles. Search a miracle claim and at rock bottom the evidence evaporates. Naturally, there is no interacting with someone like Craig Keener whose book Miracles here I reviewed and I interviewed him here. Good luck for Jelbert disproving all of those.

That’s something else to point out. For Jelbert to be right, he has to be right on every single miracle claim there is. Are a number of them fraudulent? Sure. Are all of them in Keener’s work true? Probably not. Yet by necessity, they have to be for Jelbert. Hypothetically, they could all be false and that still would not prove that miracles cannot and have not taken place.

Jelbert also says we are told to have faith. He does not say if Blomberg says this or not, but he presents a paragraph on faith which relies on a false definition. Faith is not a way to know things but a response to known things. Those interested can see more here.

Jelbert also says Blomberg is wrong about miracless being in every layer of the tradition. After all, Paul never mentions them. For one thing, in 2 Corinthians 12, Paul tells us in verse 12 that the signs of an apostle were done including wonders and signs in the midst of the Corinthians. When you write a church questioning your reputation, you don’t make a claim like this unless you know that your opponents will agree to it.

For another thing, Blomberg, of course, knows about Paul and Jelbert should have considered that. What Blomberg is talking about is the Gospel tradition. When we study even down to the layer of Q, we find miracles. The same grounds that allow many facts to be known about the historical Jesus are the same grounds that would allow for miracles. Even skeptical scholars today admit Jesus was known as a miracle-worker and an exorcist.

He also says that Jesus telling people to not say that He healed them would explain why people did not know about the miracle accounts, but this again begs the question that they did not know. Much more likely is that Jesus is doing this so that He can avoid grabbing at honor for Himself and avoid trouble with the authorities at times.

Jelbert then says it comes down to credibility and that the birth narratives destroy the credibility. Yes. Well, I suppose if you look at accounts, don’t bother to look at counter-scholarship on them and throw your hands up in the air and say I can’t reconcile them, then yes, credibility is shot. Fortunately, most scholars don’t do things this way. If we decided an ancient author could not be believed when he got one thing wrong, we would know far less about the ancient world than we do.

This could also work against Jelbert. Let’s take our creationist who is skeptical of evolution again. He comes to Jelbert who wants to argue about fossils that support evolution. “That’s nice, but you see, Piltdown Man and Nebraska Man were thought to be real by Ph.D.s and yet now we know they were hoaxes and besides that, science changes its mind most every week so science like yours has lost all credibility with me.”

Not only this, if we did throw out Matthew and Luke, we still have Mark and John and Blomberg would say even Q has miracles. How is Jelbert going to avoid them? Does he want to keep using this all-or-nothing thinking? Down that road lies mythicism.

Jelbert also relies on Wells who relies on Strauss. Wells is kind of scraping the bottom of the barrel though at least he has changed his mind on mythicism. Why do we have these miracles that are like the Old Testament? Because the authors are trying to depict Jesus as superior to Old Testament prophets.

Yet even if we went with a time of 70 A.D. for Mark, there would still be people around who knew these did not happen if they were false. What we have to assume for Jelbert is that everyone suddenly had total amnesia about what Jesus did and an entirely new story was created and totally replaced what really happened within a generation. Good luck with that.

Going along the path of Wells quoting Strauss, we get the old chestnut of not knowing who the Gospel authors were. Well, I suppose if you have books and all our earliest sources closest to the time say the same thing about authorship and these writers saying these claims of authorship being in different places, it’s really difficult to figure out.

Why would the early church choose Matthew, a name not well-known in the Gospels and a tax collector? Why Mark, who was a sissy boy who ran back home to his mama in the first missionary journey and caused a rift between the first two great evangelists? Heck. You could have named it after Peter who Mark was supposed to be the interpreter of? Why Luke, a Gentile not even mentioned in the Gospels. Interestingly, the only figure you could understand is John, and that is the one disputed the most. Was it John the apostle or John the elder? Many other works from the ancient world are anonymous. What methodology does Jelbert have to identify them?

He also says Luke used Mark and at times edited him so Luke doesn’t see him as completely reliable. First off, no one is arguing for complete reliability. Second, that a source edits some of what is said doesn’t mean the original is seen as unreliable. There could be any number of reasons. Luke might just want to stress something differently than Mark does.

Finally, Jelbert says we do not know how well the Jesus in the Bible reflects the historical Jesus, but we do know that no miracle anywhere has sufficient evidence to accept it. We should all marvel at the wonder of Jelbert with this one. What a remarkable man. Somehow, he knows that all miracles all over the world do not have enough evidence. Somehow, he has investigated all of them. Perhaps there were new miracles said to take place today. Worry not dear readers. Jelbert knows the evidence is insufficient!

That, my friends, is circular reasoning.

Jelbert in all of this nowhere gives any argument against miracles at all. He can say there is no argument for theism (Though he never counters the way of Aquinas), but even so, miracles are an argument for theism. It would have been good for Jelbert to follow his own advice and avoid circular reasoning, but alas, that is not done.

We shall continue next time.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Evidence Considered Chapter 27

Did Jesus exist? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

We return to the work of Glenton Jelbert with his book Evidence Considered. We are done with the science section, but he still has some more things to say about science. I choose to forego commenting on those. I have said enough and again, science is not my main area. We’re getting into the stuff I do enjoy, the history.

Let’s start with the really good news. This chapter is on if Jesus existed and looks at the work of Paul Maier. Good news here is also that Jelbert is not a mythicist. He does agree that Jesus existed.

So that’s the end of the review of this chapter. Right? We can all go home. Jelbert and I agree. Let’s move on to 28.

Not quite. There are a few arguments on the way I find problematic. There are also ways of doing the research I question.

Maier argues that the real debate is not did Jesus exist, but who was He? Jelbert says to say He was God is an extraordinary claim and requires unassailable evidence. If that is not given, it is rational to assume it is not true until otherwise shown. The problems are many with this.

For one thing, extraordinary claims are subjective. I consider atheism an extraordinary claim. Could I go to Jelbert and then say, “Unless you present unassailable evidence of atheism, then theism is true?” I could, but that would not be a valid argument at all.

Keep in mind I am not saying that Jesus is the Son of God in the Christian sense is a mundane claim. It is not. It is a serious claim that needs evidence, but it needs sufficient evidence to be believed. Without a standard as to what counts as extraordinary, then too often it becomes “That which is extraordinary to an atheist.” Many a creationist would say life from non-life is an extraordinary claim and until it can be shown how that happened we are all justified in believing in creationism.

Jelbert also says the atheist position says that other religions present equally unconvincing evidence would be agreed by Christians, but it isn’t. We think Christianity does have the unique evidence of history. We would give a religion like Judaism much more credibility since it’s essential to us. This also doesn’t answer the evidence for Christianity, which I am sure we will get into in these chapters.

Jelbert does say that Paul is silent on many biographical events in the life of Jesus. Of course, he is. He’s not writing a biography. He’s writing to deal with situational events that knowledge of the life of Jesus, which would be background knowledge for his audience, would not help. The Corinthian church has to deal with meat offered to idols. How does saying Jesus performed miracles help answer the questions?

Jelbert is also willing to concede the Gospels may be attempts to historically write the life of Jesus. He presents us with a version of the telephone game. There is no looking at how stories are told in ancient societies. Such could be found in a work like The Lost World of Scripture. The stories would be told in groups. A few would be gatekeepers of knowledge as it were to make sure the story was told accurately. There could be variation on minor details, but the whole thrust of the message had to get through.

Two events in Matthew are worth mentioning. The first is the slaughter of the infants. There is no outside mention of this in Josephus or anywhere else. Josephus would likely be the only one to record this, but we have no reason to think Josephus is exhaustive in everything that Herod did. Second, this would be a minor event. At most, about a dozen children would die. This would be par for the course for Herod. It’s also strange that the Bible seems to be the only work I know of that if something doesn’t show up outside of it, it must be seen as suspect.

The second is the prophecy that Jesus would be called a Nazarene. Jelbert says no such prophecy exist. My answer is that this is the only time Matthew speaks about a fulfillment of the prophets, plural. I think he’s saying the general message of prophecy is that the Messiah would grow up in a humble and shameful state.

There’s also nothing he says about a census as in Luke. Jelbert presents nothing on the other side that acts as positive evidence. I point the reader to the interview I did with Ben Witherington especially.

Jelbert also asks if both birth narratives could be cobbled together to form a unit. He doesn’t see how with any integrity. Let’s stop there. The problem is this is the same kind of thinking he accuses IDists of. “Could this organism come about through purely naturalistic processes? I don’t see how.”

Second, he says the only reason you would do this is because you think the Bible is the Word of God which presupposes God exists. Not necessarily. Now suppose I do think Jesus rose from the dead on other grounds and I think the Bible is the Word of God and I have good arguments for God’s existence. Is it reasonable to think there’s an explanation even if I don’t know one? Yes. Just like it’s reasonable for the atheist to think there’s a way life came from non-life even if it is not known now.

But besides that, couldn’t some people want to resolve these accounts because they want to try to figure out what happened and if a way exists, go with it? That is the nature of historical investigation. We can look at differing accounts and try to reconcile them.

I could just as easily turn this on Jelbert too. Why doesn’t he want to investigate to see if the accounts can be reconciled? Because he is an atheist and he doesn’t want the Bible to be the Word of God and for Jesus to have risen from the dead. Is that true? I can’t say. Could it be plausible to some? Yep. This is why pointing to motives is really kind of pointless.

In the end, Jelbert and I agree on the conclusion, which is refreshing. He does say this doesn’t give evidence for God, which is true, but this is also a cumulative case. It’s hard to have Christianity if Jesus never existed after all.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Evidence Considered Chapter 26

Is ID caught in the vise? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

The good news as we return to Glenton Jelbert’s work is that this is the final science chapter before moving to history. (Well, good news for me at least.) The bad news is this is probably the most tedious chapter in the book as Jelbert responds to the claims of William Dembski. Dembski in this one is speaking of putting a naturalist in an intellectual vise. I think Jelbert treats this uncharitably as he implies Dembski is like an inquisitor applying torture. Dembski is more of a lawyer grilling the opposing witness.

As I have said, I am not a supporter of ID, but I am a supporter of good argumentation. So what is said?

Jelbert at one point says we cannot find design in nature because that would be looking at nature that is not nature, but this is begging the question. It is saying that nature is undesigned and if it wasn’t, it wouldn’t be nature, but who says this is so? I can hold to design, but not in the ID sense, but in that of classical teleology.  Can Jelbert demonstrate that nature has no design to it? Dembski may mean something different, but for me, I mean order and that is relatively abundant. Per Edward Feser’s classic example, an iceberg floating through the water makes any water around it colder. It does not turn it into cotton candy.

Jelbert also says there is no precise criteria that tells you what science is and isn’t. Surely this is not so! For one, we can say that science deals with what is material in nature. We do not need to do an experiment everyday to see if 1 + 1 = 2. This is true for all times and all places. When it comes to metaphysical questions, such as God, science is not much help. It’s the opposite. Science needs the grounding of metaphysics to be of use.

Jelbert also says that methodological naturalism is saying that science should limit itself to material causes. No evidence is given for this claim. Why should I accept it? Furthermore, isn’t Jelbert again begging the question? If the cause of an event is non-miraculous, such as God for instance, then science will be unable to find the answer and NOT lead us to the truth.

I have no problem with wanting to try to find material causes first, but if evidence builds up that something extra-material has acted, then we should accept it. Not only that, this I think puts much of science in a bind. As a theist, I can happily accept evolution and if God did it that way, that’s how He did it. For the naturalist, it HAS to be a materialistic process like evolution. Note that I am not arguing against evolution in saying this. I am saying as Alvin Plantinga says, for the naturalist, it’s the only game in town.

It is true that some Christians see evolution as a killer to Christianity, but I think this is highly mistaken. On the other hand, evolution is often seen as a necessary staple for atheism. As Dawkins says, Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist. Who then has the most at stake? Prove evolution to me and I go to church just fine the next Sunday. Disprove it to an atheist and could there be a major gap in their worldview?

Jelbert also says that numerous tests have been done to try to disprove materialism such as the efficacy of prayer and the experiments have failed. Later on, Jelbert will say excuses are made such as “We can’t test God.” Well, yeah. We can’t.

The problem with the prayer experiments is not bad science I think so much as bad theology. It is saying that if God is real, then He will respond in such and such a way to prayer. How do we know this? God could have any number of reasons for healing someone or for not healing someone and God is under no obligation to answer X number of prayers. There are so many variables I never consider such things reliable.

Yet you have someone like Craig Keener produce his massive work on miracles, and this gets no interaction. These are cases where I think one can justifiably think an extramaterial agent has interacted. Note this again is a problem for the atheist. If all of Keener’s examples were disproven, theism would still be safe with metaphysical arguments and Christianity safe with the resurrection of Jesus. If atheism is true, none of the miracles can be true miracles.

Jelbert also says one of the problems with ID is it knew what it wanted to find before it started and did the work that way. Yet Jelbert says that there are many clues to materialistic pathways to the origin of life. He has also said earlier that science should be limited to materialistic causes. If it is wrong to assume an extramaterial cause, it is not just as wrong to assume a material cause? Note I am not saying that there is no material explanation for the origin of life. I am saying that isn’t Jelbert guilty of what he is condemning ID for? This is especially ironic since Jelbert says a problem with ID is that it claims to know an origin event with certainty.

Again, I think this is a tedious chapter and doesn’t flow well at all. I don’t think Jelbert has made the case and if anything, he has far more at stake than I do. Modern science is great, but it is not something to build a worldview on. I consider it better to go with metaphysics and I think that is firmly in the theist camp.

Now I eagerly look forward to getting into the history around Jesus.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Evidence Considered: Part 25

Is ID qualifying as a science? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

It’s been awhile since we’ve looked at Jelbert’s book, but now it’s time to do so again. In this chapter, we’re looking at his response to Bruce Gordon. Gordon has contributed a chapter on the scientific status of inferences to design.

I am not a supporter of the ID movement, but at the same time, I wish to try to remain fair. Are some criticisms of it invalid? As we will go through this chapter, I will demonstrate that I think that while ID hasn’t made its case, neither has Jelbert with his criticism.

One big problem is Jelbert is talking about methodological naturalism, but this is never defined. What is meant by this? The term can be difficult to talk about. Also, we don’t want to confuse methodological naturalism with metaphysical naturalism. If we say that absolutely nothing miraculous can happen in history, then we are begging the question. This doesn’t mean that we just throw in a miracle every now and then when we can’t explain something. It does mean that we remain open.

Jelbert also says that some sciences do look for an agent, but these are not agencies in the abstract. I don’t think this follows. We can find in anthropological studies an artifact and know it was designed. Perhaps and most likely it was designed by humans, but maybe, though I am skeptical, it was designed by an extraterrestrial agent. This is a pure hypothetical, but either way, we could tell it was designed.

Furthermore, would Jelbert says it was suddenly valid if I said the agent I was looking for was the Trinity of Christianity? Doubtful. All ID is saying is to look for signs of design. Even if we don’t know who the designer is, we can know that there is design.

At the end, Jelbert says that Gordon has not shown anything and his argument about who designed the designer and such leads to some problems with ID I have. If you make science king, you will never answer the God question yea or nay. You have to go to metaphysics so why not just start with metaphysics?

If we ask about who designed the designer, it first assumes the designer is complex, whereas if you talk about the God of Christianity, universally it has been held that ontologically God is simple, in that He has no parts. If that is the case, then He needs no designer.

Second, if complex things need a designer, then we can say the universe is complex so it needs a designer. If Jelbert wants to then say complex things don’t need one, then we could say if God is complex, which He is not, then He doesn’t need a designer. Jelbert can’t have it both ways.

This is also why I find Jelbert’s closing arguments weak. When I follow a good Thomistic metaphysic, I get to an eternal being who doesn’t change and so asking if He died at one point doesn’t work. It also does get past the problem of the infinite regress. I would really recommend Jelbert read some of the writings of Edward Feser at this point.

So I don’t agree with ID, but I can’t say Jelbert has provided a killing blow to it either.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Evidence Considered Part 24

Does agency prove a problem for materialism? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

In this entry, we’re looking at what Glenton Jelbert has to say about what Angus Menuge says about the role of agency in science. What it is saying is any there any goal-oriented behavior in the sciences? If so, then this is a problem for materialism as who is behind these goals?

I actually also disagree with the take of Menuge, but that doesn’t mean that I agree with Jelbert. Menuge is quick to jump to the Intelligent Design community. At this point I want to remind Christians that it was possible to make empirical arguments for the existence of God based on the observance of nature before Intelligent Design ever became a thing.

I have a great concern that too many of us are putting all of our eggs into the Intelligent Design basket and if that basket ever falls, well what then? As a Christian, I do believe there is an intelligent designer, but that doesn’t mean that I uphold the ideology behind Intelligent Design. I think it rests way too much on modern science that could be subject to change.

Why not go back in the past and see how people argued for God then and see if that includes agency? Two ideas come to mind. It won’t be a shock to readers of my work that both of them come from Aquinas.

The first relies on two kinds of causes in Aristotelian-Thomistic thought. The first one is known as the efficient cause and the second as the instrumental cause. Suppose you are building a house. You are the efficient cause of that house. You are the one behind it making it. Now what do you use to make it? Tools, cement, wood, brick, etc. Those are the instrumental causes. That through which you make something is an instrumental cause.

The problem is instrumental causes do not act on their own. There is someone that is behind them or something that is behind them. To say an instrumental cause can be its own cause is like saying a paintbrush can paint the picture itself if the handle is really long. A secondary cause works with the help of a primary cause.

Another way for Aquinas would be the fifth way. This one can be readily misunderstood. Some people think it is Intelligent Design, but it is not. All you need is a connection between A and B. If an iceberg floats through water and makes water around it consistently colder, you have this at work.

Why does this consistently happen? Acorns become oak trees and not puppy dogs. If you pull the bow back to fire the arrow, the arrow does not fly backwards. Planets do not go chaotic in their orbits but maintain a consistent pattern. These patterns are so consistent we can measure them accurately and predict major events with pinpoint accuracy. When we had the solar eclipse last year, everyone knew when it would be.

Aquinas reasons that it is because an eternal mind has put this into nature. The argument is much deeper than this. I recommend the work of Edward Feser on this. If you can’t afford his book Aquinas then you can go to his blogspot and read up on it.

Again, I find Glenton’s work lacking. The case for theism is still there and even if I don’t agree with one approach, there is still another that works.

In Christ,
Nick Peters