Book Plunge: The Historical Reliability of The New Testament

What do I think of Craig Blomberg’s book published by B&H Academic? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Craig Blomberg has recently written a rather large tome on the reliability of the New Testament and it is one that is definitely in-depth. There is hardly a major issue of New Testament studies that you won’t find here. Blomberg has extensive footnotes as he wrestles with most issues that are alive today in discussion.

Want to know about the Gospels and who wrote them? It’s there. When were they written? It’s there. What about the epistles? There. What about forgery in the epistles? Blomberg has you covered. There’s even a section on Revelation. Why? Because much of Revelation does fit into a historical setting. (This could also be an area I disagree with Blomberg some on as he prefers what he calls a Preterist-Futurist approach. I prefer just an Orthodox Preterist approach. I’m pleased to see he rightly condemns neohymenaeanism.

Blomberg also writes on issues related to textual criticism and the canon. How do we know that the New Testament has been handed down accurately? Even if it has been, there were a lot of other books that could have gone into the canon. Right? Wasn’t this just a decision made at Nicea? (I would also go against Blomberg here saying that this largely comes from Dan Brown. Brown popularized it, but this claim was going on long before Dan Brown.)

If you want to know about those other accounts, there’s a section on them too. Like I said, Blomberg is thorough. It’s hard to think of a way that he could be more meticulous than this.

The final section is on miracles and the resurrection. Again, this is one area where I would disagree on the use of the term supernatural. I have a hard time with this because it is never clearly defined and I think it in fact gives the atheist a free pass with thinking that the natural doesn’t really need an explanation. While it’s not in his area, Blomberg starts off by pointing to others who have written on the existence of God (And I do wish he’d mentioned the Thomistic arguments, in my opinion, the best.) and then goes on to make the case for miracles largely using the work of Craig Keener.

The positives of this volume are that despite it being large, it is also easy to understand. A layman will get a lot out of this volume. If the reader only wants to know about one area, say the synoptic Gospels, for instance, no problem. Just go there. If you want to know about the formation of the canon, no problem. Just go there.

A work like this is also a good response to people who immediately decide there is no evidence for anything in the New Testament. Sadly, few of them will ever bother to pick up a work like this and will instead run to internet sites that already agree with them. Those who do manage to work their way through Blomberg’s book will be blessed for it.

If you want a go-to book on the reliability of the New Testament as a whole, this is the one to go to. In New Testament courses on apologetics even at a Seminary’s level, Blomberg’s book should be a staple for a long time to come. He has also said he will be having a theology book coming out next. We eagerly look forward to it.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

Book Plunge: 26 Reasons Why Jews Don’t Believe In Jesus Part 6

Is the Christian Bible credible? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

We’re continuing our look at Asher Norman’s book 26 Reasons Why Jews Don’t Believe In Jesus. Now we look at the Christian Bible. This chapter and the next one I think are going to be my favorites to deal with, and dare I say it but the next one could be even more fun when we look at the historical Jesus.

You know this chapter is going to start out good when it has a quoting of Earl Doherty. Doherty is someone whose theories are not taken seriously by Biblical scholars and are that of Jesus mythicism. That theory is that the epistles were not aware of Jesus’s earthly history.

Of course, this is just false and we can see that looking even at just the ones that are universally accepted as Pauline. What are some of the facts we have?

1 Cor. 15:3-8

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried,that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.

Christ died, was buried, and appeared to several people. Note the James must be a unique individual called James since no clarification is needed. Could it be that this ties in with James, the brother of the Lord in Galatians 1?

Galatians 1:19

I saw none of the other apostles—only James, the Lord’s brother.

If Jesus had never existed, His brother would probably know about it. I don’t buy ideas about this being a spiritual term. If so, why are the other apostles not brothers as well?

Galatians 3:1

You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified.

1 Cor. 5:7

Get rid of the old yeast, so that you may be a new unleavened batch—as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.

This is fully consistent with Christ being crucified on Passover.

1 Cor. 11:23-26

23 For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

Romans 1:3-4

regarding his Son, who as to his earthly life was a descendant of David, and who through the Spirit of holiness was appointed the Son of God in power by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord.

Christ has a human and a divine nature.

Galatians 4:4

But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law,

Jesus lived a life born of a woman and under the Law, which means among His fellow Jews living a Jewish life.

Now I know the objections. Yeah. Not forgetting them. We will get to them as we go along.

All Norman has on the other side is an argument from silence. The maxim with those is that where silence is expected, the argument from silence is weak. We are told that there is no mention of his sayings, his miracles, or Calvary, to which we ask, why should they? These were occasional letters. They were written to deal with specific instruction. The fundamentals of the faith would have been covered. You don’t go to those who already know these and repeat them again and again.

Norman buys into the idea that these messages were received by revelations. If so, these revelations seem awfully constrained. Why not claim a revelation every time for every event? The language is actually that of oral tradition.

“Are you sure?! Look at 1 Cor. 11. What I received from the Lord! Paul is saying he got a message directly from Jesus!”

No. In his book on the historical Jesus, Keener points out that this kind of language was common for rabbis who claimed to receive interpretations from Sinai. They don’t mean the mountain or Moses appeared to them. They mean that is the foundation. So why does 1 Cor. 11 mention the Lord? Because Jesus is the foundation for what was said. He said the works in 1 Cor. 11. He did not say the words in 1 Cor. 15 so Paul did not receive those from the Lord.

Norman also thinks the Gospels are second century. (Of course, we know we can’t trust second century Gospels, but that fourth century Pseudoclementine Recognitions is totally reliable!) Unfortunately, he gives no scholarship for this as he is still just parroting Doherty. The main example he brings up as a problem is the date of the crucifixion of Jesus based on differences between John and the synoptics and says it can’t be reconciled.

I have no interest in debating inerrancy, but let’s suppose it can’t be. Oh well. That doesn’t overturn that there is much that is historical. All-or-nothing thinking is not the way good historians think. It’s the way fundamentalists think. Still, Norman is free to go and look at several commentaries and see what he can find. If he is so sure we have a defeater, I invite him to please go to a site like Skeptics Annotated Bible and see what “contradictions” they see in the Old Testament that cannot be reconciled.

Mark is said by Norman to be the first Gospel written. That is a statement that some scholars would disagree with, but not most, so we won’t make a big deal about that. The humorous idea is his problem with Matthew using Mark if Matthew was an eyewitness. If Matthew had been the one behind it, why use Mark, which I have addressed elsewhere. The most amusing part is when he says that Matthew speaks of himself in third person. Why didn’t he say “Jesus saw me sitting at the table” instead of “He saw Matthew.”

Poor Norman. He doesn’t realize how far behind the times he is. This was addressed by Augustine 1,600 years or so ago. Just go to Contra Faustum 17.

  1. Faustus thinks himself wonderfully clever in proving that Matthew was not the writer of this Gospel, because, when speaking of his own election, he says not, He saw me, and said to me, Follow me; but, He saw him, and said to him, Follow me. This must have been said either in ignorance or from a design to mislead. Faustus can hardly be so ignorant as not to have read or heard that narrators, when speaking of themselves, often use a construction as if speaking of another. It is more probable that Faustus wished to bewilder those more ignorant than himself, in the hope of getting

    hold

    on not a few unacquainted with these things. It is needless to resort to other writings to quote examples of this construction from profane authors for the information of our friends, and for the refutation of Faustus. We find examples in passages quoted above from Moses by Faustus himself, without any denial, or rather with the assertion, that they were written by Moses, only not written of Christ. When Moses, then, writes of himself, does he say, I said this, or I did that, and not rather, Moses said, and Moses did? Or does he say, The Lord called me, The Lord said to me, and not rather, The Lord called Moses, The Lord said to Moses, and so on? So Matthew, too, speaks of himself in the third person.

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

Consider the Anabasis by Xenophon. Here’s the 1st part of book three with a note at the end by the editor.

After the generals had been seized, and the captains and soldiers who   1
formed their escort had been killed, the Hellenes lay in deep
perplexity--a prey to painful reflections. Here were they at the
king's gates, and on every side environing them were many hostile
cities and tribes of men. Who was there now to furnish them with a
market? Separated from Hellas by more than a thousand miles, they had
not even a guide to point the way. Impassable rivers lay athwart their
homeward route, and hemmed them in. Betrayed even by the Asiatics, at
whose side they had marched with Cyrus to the attack, they were left
in isolation. Without a single mounted trooper to aid them in pursuit:
was it not perfectly plain that if they won a battle, their enemies
would escape to a man, but if they were beaten themselves, not one
soul of them would survive?

Haunted by such thoughts, and with hearts full of despair, but few of
them tasted food that evening; but few of them kindled even a fire,
and many never came into camp at all that night, but took their rest
where each chanced to be. They could not close their eyes for very
pain and yearning after their fatherlands or their parents, the wife
or child whom they never expected to look upon again. Such was the
plight in which each and all tried to seek repose.

Now there was in that host a certain man, an Athenian (1), Xenophon,
who had accompanied Cyrus, neither as a general, nor as an officer,
nor yet as a private soldier, but simply on the invitation of an old
friend, Proxenus. This old friend had sent to fetch him from home,
promising, if he would come, to introduce him to Cyrus, "whom," said
Proxenus, "I consider to be worth my fatherland and more to me."

 (1) The reader should turn to Grote's comments on the first appearance
    of Xenophon. He has been mentioned before, of course, more than
    once before; but he now steps, as the protagonist, upon the scene,
    and as Grote says: "It is in true Homeric vein, and in something
    like Homeric language, that Xenophon (to whom we owe the whole
    narrative of the expedition) describes his dream, or the
    intervention of Oneiros, sent by Zeus, from which this renovating
    impulse took its rise."

 

The Wars of The Jews by Josephus. 2.20.4

4. They also chose other generals for Idumea; Jesus, the son of Sapphias, one of the high priests; and Eleazar, the son of Ananias, the high priest; they also enjoined Niger, the then governor of Idumea, 32 who was of a family that belonged to Perea, beyond Jordan, and was thence called the Peraite, that he should be obedient to those fore-named commanders. Nor did they neglect the care of other parts of the country; but Joseph the son of Simon was sent as general to Jericho, as was Manasseh to Perea, and John, the Esscue, to the toparchy of Thamna; Lydda was also added to his portion, and Joppa, and Emmaus. But John, the son of Matthias, was made governor of the toparchies of Gophnitica and Acrabattene; as was Josephus, the son of Matthias, of both the Galilees. Gamala also, which was the strongest city in those parts, was put under his command.

De Bello Gallico by Caesar

VII.—When it was reported to Caesar that they were attempting to make their route through our Province, he hastens to set out from the city, and, by as great marches as he can, proceeds to Further Gaul, and arrives at Geneva. He orders the whole Province [to furnish] as great a number of soldiers as possible, as there was in all only one legion in Further Gaul: he orders the bridge at Geneva to be broken down. When the Helvetii are apprised of his arrival, they send to him, as ambassadors, the most illustrious men of their state (in which embassy Numeius and Verudoctius held the chief place), to say “that it was their intention to march through the Province without doing any harm, because they had” [according to their own representations] “no other route:—that they requested they might be allowed to do so with his consent.” Caesar, inasmuch as he kept in remembrance that Lucius Cassius, the consul, had been slain, and his army routed and made to pass under the yoke by the Helvetii, did not think that [their request] ought to be granted; nor was he of opinion that men of hostile disposition, if an opportunity of marching through the Province were given them, would abstain from outrage and mischief. Yet, in order that a period might intervene, until the soldiers whom he had ordered [to be furnished] should assemble, he replied to the ambassadors, that he would take time to deliberate; if they wanted anything, they might return on the day before the ides of April [on April 12th].

We are quite amused to learn that Norman thinks it amusing that Josephus wrote The Wars of the Jews. Of course, he’d think that’s a ridiculous idea, but if we follow his standards, then Josephus did not write the book.

Norman also acknowledges that most scholars think the Gospels are late first century works, but considers this unlikely because the epistles don’t refer to them (Why should they?) and they aren’t mentioned until the second century. Of course, we could ask when the first reference to books like Isaiah, Daniel, or the writings of Moses take place and see how well they hold up by Norman’s standards.

Norman misses the point that many ways are used to judge when a work is written beyond “When is it first referenced?” We look for internal evidences and matters such as that. You will not see any interaction with the other side such as Blomberg or Bauckham or anyone else. More information would be damaging to Norman’s case. It’s better to go with the sensational mythicists.

Norman also claims that the Gospels were not by eyewitnesses. He has a quotation from Eusebius about pious frauds which proves nothing of that sort. All it says is several frauds showed up. By this standard, we could say all money is fake because there is plenty of counterfeit money. He then goes on to quote Robert Taylor in the 19th century who was not taken seriously in his own day and just has an assertion. Again, no interaction with Bauckham.

He then quotes Josh McDowell who talks about the differences in manuscripts and says that only 50 variant readings of the Bible at his time were of great significance. Norman in true fundamentalist form jumps to modern times and asks if someone would trust a medical textbook where there were only fifty passages of doubt. Today, textbooks are printed by machine and copied that way so there is no chance of error, but Norman doesn’t know how textual criticism works. We do have differences. They are unavoidable.

Norman tells us that by contrast, after 1948 thousands of Torah scrolls were brought to the public and aside from some in Yemen, there were no differences among the manuscripts. He gives no evidence of this claim. There is no mention of comparing the Masoretic text to the Dead Sea Scrolls. There is no mention of when our earliest manuscript of the Old Testament is or how far the distance is from that manuscript to the time of writing. Without any citation for this claim, I have no reason to take it seriously.

The next chapter is on the birth narratives not agreeing. Norman is hanging his hat on inerrancy. I have no wish to enter into that debate at this point, but I recommend the reader go to his library and look up the commentaries on this issue.

He also then goes to say the Gospels don’t agree on the names of the disciples. (Don’t you love this argument? The names disagree, therefore Jesus didn’t rise from the dead! Or even further, the names disagree, therefore Jesus never existed!) Norman is not aware that the same person could have two different names in antiquity. We also have no need to comment on the accounts of the death of Jesus supposedly being contradictory.

It’s important to state that I say this not because inerrancy doesn’t matter, but because this becomes a game of “Stump-The-Christian.” By conceding to that debate, one agrees that Christianity hinges on inerrancy. I make no statement like that. I only want to go for the main question. Did Jesus rise from the dead?

We’ll also then skip the resurrection accounts being contradictory as the case does not rely on the accounts of the Gospels. It is worthwhile to point out that Norman says the trial of Jesus lacks credibility because it violates so many Jewish customs. Norman is only repeating what Christian scholars have said for years. This was an entirely wrongly done trial just to deal with Jesus.

Norman’s case here largely hangs on inerrancy and pays no attention to leading scholarship. He is fine with 19th century works and works not accepted by the scholarly community today. We hope that one day he will get past this, but it seems unlikely.

But the worst is yet to come….

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

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

Deeper Waters Podcast 10/15/2016: Mike Licona

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

The Gospels are some of the most well known works of literature in the world. Yet today, there is much debate about them. On the one hand, you have some people who are convinced that everything in them is literally true. On the other, you have people who are more of the mythicist mindset who think they’re all totally false. In the middle you have various positions, like my own which is a contextualizing inerrancy or that of many NT scholars today who think there is some truth but not everything is true.

Well what are we to think? Are the Gospels reliable? Can they stand up to the test of scrutiny? Are they good sources to learn about the historical Jesus from?

These are all good questions to ask. Of course, if you ask a good question, you need to make sure you go to a good source for the answer. For that, I decided to bring back a personal favorite guest of mine. This Saturday, I’m pleased to welcome one of the two people in the world I can rightly call “Dad” to the studio. It will be my father-in-law Mike Licona.

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 the questions surrounding the Gospels. Having recently debated this with Bart Ehrman and having written a book (Which we will be interviewing him on) about the topic of the Gospels as Greco-Roman biographies, Mike is prepared to tackle this question for us. We will also answer questions of if the Gospels really are Greco-Roman biographies, since apparently some people dispute this, and what that means.

Then we’ll ask how we should try to approach the Gospels and what we’re looking for. Do some people set the standard too high? Do some people set it too low? How do the Gospels compare to other works of literature of the time? What about claims of authorship?

I hope you’ll be joining us next time. We are working on getting past episodes up. We do have the one from the 24th of September and the 8th of this month. They will be up soon. Please consider also leaving a review of the show on ITunes.

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

Book Plunge: Rediscovering Jesus

What do I think about the new book from Rodney Reeves, Randy Richards, and David Capes published by IVP? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Rediscovering Jesus by Capes, Reeves, and Richards is a surprising read. Now I had read this book shortly after reading Rediscovering Paul so I was expecting something like that, but that isn’t exactly what I got. At the start, I was kind of disappointed hoping to find more about the culture of Jesus and especially looking at Jesus from an honor and shame perspective. That disappointment was only initial. As I got further into the book, I found myself quite intrigued and fascinated by what I was reading in the book and I found the idea for consideration a fascinating one.

This idea is to look at Jesus in isolation from the major sources that we have, such as the Gospel writers individually, the Pauline epistles, Hebrews, the general epistles, and Revelation. What would it be like if each source was the only source we had on Jesus? We usually take a composite of all we have on Jesus and then put that together and say this is the real Jesus. There is no fault in this, but looking at each case in isolation can be an interesting case study. Imagine how different our worldview would be if the only source we had on Jesus was the book of Revelation?

While these are fascinating, there is also a second section where we look at Jesus from other sources. What about the Gnostic Jesus such as popularized in works like The Da Vinci Code? What about the Jesus of Muslims who never died on the cross? What about the historical Jesus of modern historians who do not hold to the reality of miracles? What about the Mormon Jesus that looks like a Jesus made just for America? Speaking of that, what about the American Jesus as here in America, Jesus is used to promote and sell just about anything. Every side in every debate usually wants to try to claim Jesus. Finally, what about the Cinematic Jesus? Many of us have seen Hollywood movies about Jesus. Some are good. Some are not. How would we view Jesus if all we had were those movies to watch? (And since so few people read any more, this could become an increasingly common occurrence.)

For me, honestly the most fascinating section was the one on the American Jesus. This dealt with so much I see in my culture. It’s interesting we don’t talk about the French Jesus or the Japanese Jesus or the Italian Jesus. It’s more the American one. This one changes so much to being the super manly Jesus who takes the world like a man or the Prince Charming Jesus that every girl sings about as her boyfriend. This can be the pragmatic Jesus who is there to help us promote our culture, or it can be the Superman Jesus who rescues us when we’re in need, but then disappears. I do have to admit I am a Superman fan so I could see the parallels very easily and while I do think there are valid parallels, we do not want to see Jesus as identical with Superman. If there’s any chapter in the book I keep coming back to mentally, it’s this one. I will certainly be watching my culture much more.

I find this book to be one of the most eye-opening ones I have read in that sense. I do not think I ever paused to consider what it would mean if all I had to tell me about Jesus was just one particular source or one kind of source. How much richer off we are for having all these other sources! We can also be thankful for the non-Christian sources as well because these can highlight aspects of the Biblical Jesus that we might have lost sight of or they could show that the Jesus of the Bible is so much greater by contrast. If an outside source says something true about Jesus, we are the better for it. If it says something false, this can contrast with the true and we are the better.

I recommend the work wholeheartedly. It fortunately also comes with questions at the end that make it ideal for small group discussion.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: The Gospel of the Lord

What do I think about Michael Bird’s book The Gospel of the Lord published by Eerdmans’s?

gospelofthelord

Michael Bird is really just a treat to read. Whenever I read him, I wish more scholars could write like him. Sometimes, we seem to have this idea that scholarly writing should be dry and serious. Yet, I can’t help but think that Chesterton said years ago that funny and serious are not opposites. The opposite of funny is just not funny. I say this because Bird is definitely a serious writer who knows his stuff well having an extensive bibliography in the material he produces, and yet as you are reading focusing on the subject, he will wow you with some funny joke or illustration to make his point.

As an example of this, Bird says that some think Jesus did not preach a Gospel. Instead, this was something added in by the later church and is an anachronism. Bird realizes that this is a prominent position and says of it

“Yes I think that such a scholarly view, dominant and durable as it has been, is about as sure-footed as a mountain goat on a very steep iceberg.”

Yes. Seeing classic lines like that throughout the book give it an excellent approach as you can see that Bird is serious in his stuff and he enjoys it as well. It would be wonderful if many other NT scholars followed the same line. Many of us can see Jesus used humor in his teaching. Why not do the same in our writing?

But let’s get to the book focus itself. If you want to come here and find out what the Gospel of the Lord is and what an impact it will have on your life and what it means to be a Christian, you won’t find much of that here. What is being written about is the idea of the Gospel and how it came to be. What was meant by Gospel? What about the oral tradition? Why was it recorded the way that it was recorded? What about questions like the synoptic problem or the reliability of the Gospel of John? How much of this really traces back to Jesus and how much of it is just material the early church added in?

Bird does rightly state that the Gospels are giving the story of Jesus becoming Lord. This is classic N.T. Wright as well. God is becoming king in Jesus and restoring His Kingdom. Jesus is the agent that God is acting through and acting through in a much more unique way than any past prophet since Jesus is more than a prophet, but God Himself visiting His people. This is the message that rocked the world and it wasn’t some “I met Jesus and He makes me happy and gives me fulfillment and He’ll do the same for you.” Paul’s would have been “I’ve seen Jesus and He’s the risen King of this universe and you’d better get in line because Caesar is no longer in charge.” Paul did not use those exact words, but that is certainly the sentiment there when he proclaims that Jesus is Lord.

We also discuss the question of why the biographical information of Jesus is there. It seems odd that if the early church wasn’t interested in the historical Jesus, that they would put so much into this historical figure. Why not just go with a sayings Gospel that would be revealed much like the Gnostics got their revelations? We could also ask why the early church would invent a Jesus who said nothing about what they were struggling with at the time. The Jesus of the Gospels says nothing about if we should eat meat offered to idols or how church services are to be conducted or how much of the law a Gentile must follow, particularly with regard to circumcision.

Why also would the issues of Jesus be a pre-Easter narrative? Wouldn’t it be better to have the authoritative teachings on the lips of a post-resurrected Jesus? This is something interesting about the Gospel accounts of the resurrection. They’re so lacking in theology. Now you might say God raises Jesus from the dead in them, true enough, but you don’t see any statement really about ramifications. You don’t see any talk about salvation by grace through faith being explained. Jesus does not say “Because I have been raised, it means that God is doing X, Y, Z.” We go to the epistles for that.

Bird also talks about the oral tradition and how it would have been shaped by eyewitnesses. This did not rise up in a vacuum. These people were not just passing around sayings and claiming they came from revelation. They were claiming in the face of those who would have known better, that Jesus really did live at such and such a time and did say such and such a thing. Now this is going to seem foreign to many on the Internet who happen to think the idea that Jesus never even existed is all the rage among scholars. (It isn’t. It’s more like talking about people who believe the Earth is flat.) Yet this is the material that we are dealing with. Richard Bauckham has also done a magnificent job on this in Jesus and the Eyewitnesses. Of course, this is going to be presented to a crowd that will first say “The Gospels were written late and were not contemporary” and then when you show that say “Eyewitness testimony is unreliable.” You have to keep moving that goalpost!

movingthegoalpost

Also definitely worth highlighting is this statement by Bird that I think should be written in gold and passed on to everyone on the Internet and elsewhere who debates about Christianity any.

“There are two approaches to the Gospels that I ardently deride. First, some über-secularists want to read the Bible as nothing more than a deposit of silly ancient magic, mischievous myths, wacky rituals, and surreal superstitions. They engage in endless comparisons of the Bible with other mythic religions to flatten out the distinctive elements of the story. Added to that is advocacy of countless conspiracy theories to explain away any historical elements in the text. This approach is coupled with an inherent distaste for anything supernatural, pre-modern, and reeking of religion. Such skeptics become positively evangelical in their zealous fervor to prove that nothing in the Bible actually happened. Second, then there are those equally ardent Bible-believers who want to treat the Bible as if it fell down from heaven in 1611, written in ye aulde English, bound in pristine leather, with words of Jesus in red, Scofield’s notes, and charts of the end times. Such persons regard exploring topics like problems in Johannine chronology just as religiously affronting as worshiping a life-size golden statue of Barack Obama. Now I have to say that both approaches bore the proverbial pants off me. They are equally as dogmatic as they are dull. They are as uninformed as they are unimaginative. There is another way”

If only this could be written in gold and plastered on the mirror of every debater anywhere of the historical Jesus. How much better off we would be! I have so often met the former who would think that if you have to admit to a historical Jesus, you might as well go on and commit ritual suicide. I like to tell such people that many atheists admit the existence of a historical Jesus and go on to lead happy and meaningful lives. On the other hand, there are people who put a doctrine like Inerrancy on a pedestal. (We surely don’t know anyone like that around here) Some followers of this school of thought are so convinced that if you show one contradiction in the Bible, the whole thing is false. Unfortunately, this has led many skeptics to think the exact same thing, hence there are some books where the authors actually think they disprove Christianity just by showing Bible contradictions.

Bird treats this study of the historical Jesus so seriously that he goes on to say

“Second, we need to get our hands and feet dirty in the mud and muck of history. Jesus is not an ahistorical religious icon who can be deciphered entirely apart from any historical situation. On the contrary, he could not have been born as Savior of the world somewhere in the Amazon rainforest or in the Gobi Desert. He came to Israel and through Israel, to make good God’s promises to save the world through a renewed Israel. So, whether we like it or not, we are obligated to study Jesus in his historical context. I would go so far to say that this is even a necessary task of discipleship. For it is in the context of Israel’s Scripture and in the socio-political circumstance of Roman Palestine that Jesus is revealed as the Messiah and Son of God. So unless we are proponents of a docetic christology in which Jesus only seems human, we are committed to a study of the historical person Jesus of Nazareth in his own context. That means archaeological, social-historical, and cultural studies of the extant sources as far as they are available to us. It requires immersing ourselves in as much of the primary literature of the first century as we can get our hands on — Jewish, Greek, and Roman — so that we can walk, talk, hear, and smell the world of Jesus. It entails that we go through the Gospels unit by unit and ask what exactly Jesus intended and how his hearers would have understood him. It equally involves asking why the Evangelists have told the story as they have and why they have the peculiarities that they do. Third, we have to explore the impact that the Gospels intended to make on their implied audiences and how the four Gospels as a whole intend to shape the believing communities who read them now”

Did I read that right? Making studying the historical Jesus necessary for discipleship. Yes. Yes you did. And that includes studying him in his historical context. That means not imposing our 21st century ideas on to Jesus. It means doing real work. Again, look at the two groups Bird talked about above. The group of skeptics won’t because they say “If God wanted to reveal this to me, He would have made it clearer to me” as if God is just looking for your intellectual agreement to what He has to say. The second will say “If it’s the Word of God, it will be understandable by the Holy Spirit.” Both groups are just lazy. The first refuses to do any work and prefers their arrogant atheistic presuppositionalism. The second group is just as arrogant and thinks it’s God’s job to make the text clear to them.

Bird also talks about delivering such information on university campuses. While students expect to hear Jesus is a bunch of nonsense, Bird points out that much of their information comes from The Simpsons more than real historical study. This is becoming increasingly a problem when those who argue the most on this topic can quite often do the least reading. If they do any reading at all, they are only reading what agrees with them. That is assuming that they will even read a book. Too many of them will just read what they find on the Internet and treat that as Gospel.

Bird writes throughout the book on oral tradition and the forming of the Gospels and yes, the genre of the Gospels, something I’ve had some strong reason to write on due to certain people having a strong position that the Gospels cannot be Greco-Roman biographies. Bird does place them firmly within this category. However, the information in the Gospels is entirely from a Jewish viewpoint. These works are saturated in the Old Testament and in fact assume a thorough background with the Old Testament and with the area of Israel often times as well. This would show that the early church was also already treating the Old Testament quite seriously.

While I could go on, I think enough has been said at this point. Those wishing I had said more I hope will realize that I leave that to you in getting this book and learning the magnificent information in it. Bird is a wonderful writer with excellent humor and I look forward to reading more by him.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Jesus: Evidence and Argument or Mythicist Myths?

What do I think of Casey’s book? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out!

If you had noticed a lack of Book Plunges on the blog lately, that’s because I was busy reading books in preparation for my debate with Ken Humphreys, and I am extremely pleased with how I did and I am certain that when you hear the debate that you will think the mythicist position was extremely lacking. Still, I did not want to be cocky so I chose to read all I could on both sides.

Maurice Casey was an agnostic NT scholar who seems to have reluctantly found himself drawn into this. I suspect it was something like the case with Ehrman where one of his main assistants, Stephanie Fisher, saw mythicism gaining ground on the internet. Casey decided to start looking into their writings. As can be imagined, he and Fisher both found them extremely lacking, and at the same time, extremely confident.

One benefit this book has is a rogues’ gallery of who’s who in Jesus Mythicism. Casey seems to have a special dislike for people like Earl Doherty, Neil Godfrey, and Acharya S. Interestingly, Ken Humphries is not mentioned at all. It would have been nice to have seen more about Richard Carrier and it would be interesting to know what Casey would have thought if he had got to read Carrier’s book.

Casey does rightly point out that we need to avoid fundamentalism, yet too often he seems to go extreme with that as well. How exactly does Ben Witherington get listed as a fundamentalist? He’s anything but! It’s also important to state that while some institutions of higher learning have a statement of faith, people who sign on to that and agree to teach there already agree with it based on years of research. I can point out that there is just as much on the other end of scholars who are willing to accept any explanation before they’d accept a miracle, no matter how bizarre. Despite that, they can still be excellent scholars and we should avail ourselves of their learning.

A major problem I had with the book of Casey’s is that he really makes a lot out of knowing Aramaic. There is no doubt that Casey was an expert in this field but too often, it looked like the Aramaic card was being thrown around too easily and that Casey’s knowledge of Aramaic meant that he was right in what he said. No doubt sometimes it was valuable, but like I said. It was used too much.

I also wish that something had been said about the extra-biblical evidences. It would have been helpful to include information in that regard concerning Tacitus and Josephus for instance. Mythicists will too quickly throw out the NT and twist any bit of data to go and accept the theory they’ve already arrived at.

On the other hand, Casey does make some excellent defenses of the Gospels including that some healing stories he thinks are accurate, though he does trace them to psychosomatic healings. It’s quite interesting that mythicism has got non-Christian scholars writing books that are showing the Gospels are reliable.

I also wish more had been said about high context societies including resources that could be used for further study. I find this is an important point that many people in the world of historical Jesus studies miss and they do so with great loss. Understanding the social world of Jesus really changes everything.

In conclusion, the book is a mixed bag. I am really thankful that many non-Christian scholars are stepping up to point out the flaws of mythicism and I hope more Christian scholars do so as well. If you are into this debate, if you can call it that, then you could be benefited by reading Casey’s book.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

A Response To Richard Hagenston

Is your pastor really not telling you some truths about the Bible? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Richard Hagenston is an ordained United Methodist minister and a former pastor who has written a book called Fabricating Faith: How Christianity Became A Religion Jesus Would Have Rejected. Now to be fair, I have not read the book yet, but someone sent me a link to the blog of Hemant Mehta, the “friendly atheist”, where he has a guest post by Mr. Hagenston.

Now I’d like to start with a sad statement. I think the reason many of these issues will never come up from pastors is that frankly, most pastors don’t even think about them. I have said several times that too many pastors are unequipped. I am not saying all pastors should specialize in apologetics, but all pastors need a basic knowledge at least of apologetics, they need to have at least one “Go-to” person in the church on apologetics, and they need to be able to emphasize the importance of apologetics to their flock. The sad reality is too many people in the flock have no clue what apologetics is, including myself for a long time, and this could be because many pastors don’t know either.

The result of this will be in the increasing amount of misinformation put out. On the one hand, Christians who apostasize from the faith will go out and share all this information that they never knew about, most of it coming from bogus sources on the internet. The second is that there will be too many Christians who will follow in kind because their pastor never protected them. Unfortunately, those who stay in the faith too often live in their secluded bubbles and ignoring the outside world, which kills any chance of their fulfilling the Great Commission.

That having been said, let’s look at the truths that will not be told.

The first is that the apostles did not know of a virgin birth.

The problem with such a claim is the same as illustrated by Christ-mythers. It relies on an argument from silence. If X never mentioned an event, then he didn’t know about it. We could only guess from something like this that a large population of the world at the time knew absolutely nothing about a volcano that destroyed Pompeii and Herculaneum. Because we deem something as important does not mean that the people of the time would have really wanted to talk about it.

Let’s consider the virgin birth. If the first Gospel written was Mark, why would Mark not mention it? It’s really quite simple. Mark is an inclusio document that is based on the eyewitness of Peter. Peter would most certainly have not been present for a virgin birth. Despite this, some think there could be a veiled reference in describing Jesus as the son of Mary instead of of Joseph in Mark 6:3.

Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him.

In fact, it could be the virgin birth would not be something that the writers would want to mention. As David Instone-Brewer points out in The Jesus Scandals. the virgin birth would have also been seen as an embarrassment. Not because if it was true that that would lower Jesus. It is because it would be seen with skepticism and in a Jewish culture, it would admit one sure fact about Jesus.

Jesus had a birth that was not normal.

Why would that be shameful? Because that could easily lead to the charge that Jesus was a mamzer, that is, a child born illegitimately. That might not be as big a deal here in modern America, but in the Jewish culture, that would really call into question your status as a righteous man of God. A writer like Matthew could have heard the rumors and think he had to say something and grasp onto Isaiah 7:14, which was admittedly not seen as Messianic at all. (Were Matthew making up a story, one would expect him to use passages that were seen as Messianic.)

Another danger of this is that unusual births (Not virgin but unusual) was part of the system of pagan gods at the time. Jews were quite resistant to paganism at the time. Now they could accept some cultural aspects, but their religious aspects were by and large kept. Excellent information on this can be found in Jesus and His World by Craig Evans and The Jesus Legend by Greg Boyd and Paul Eddy. For a brief example, we see in the garbage of the Jews in Jerusalem few if any pig bones before 70 A.D. After 70 A.D., we see them. Why 70 A.D.? That’s when Jerusalem was destroyed and the Romans would have taken over the area and observance would not be practiced as much.

Why would Luke mention the virgin birth? Luke could quite likely have had Mary as one of his sources while he was in Jerusalem, which I suspect at this point happened when Paul was on trial as described in Acts and Luke had plenty of time. Luke wanting to show Jesus’s relation to all men could have shown that this happened this way to say Jesus is not just for the Jews. He’s for the Gentiles as well and his unique birth pictures that.

For John, John goes way beyond the virgin birth and has the fullest statement of pre-existence in the Gospels. If John is also the last to write, it could be that he would know what was covered in the others and feel no need to repeat that ground.

As for Paul, why would Paul really need to mention it? Now it could be mentioned in Romans 1 and possibly in Galatians 4, but is it really important to the message of Paul? In a high context society, this is what would have been known already. Paul is not writing a life of Jesus. He is trying to deal with problems in the church and there’s no need to interrupt an argument on whether Christians should be circumcised or not with “Oh by the way, Jesus was born of a virgin.”

For more on this, listen to my interview of Ben Witherington in the second hour of my podcast here and to my interview with David Instone-Brewer here.

Now could it be that the other apostles didn’t know of a virgin birth for arguments’ sake? Sure. You need more than silence to show that.

The second myth is that Jesus offered nothing for the Gentiles. The first two pieces of evidences are that first off, Jesus’s healing of Gentiles was limited, such as the healing of the Centurion’s servant, and second, the way Jesus treated the Syrophoenician woman.

It is interesting that the centurion’s servant is used as an example because in the story, Jesus says many will come from the east and the west to dine with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, while the sons of the kingdom will be cast out.

10 When Jesus heard this, he marveled and said to those who followed him, “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith. 11 I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, 12 while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

What the author misses is that Jesus’s first focus was Israel. He was coming to them to offer Himself to them as their king. It never meant He never saw anything beyond, but it meant that His message started with Israel.

So what about the Syrophoenician woman? Here we have a case of Jesus using sarcasm and I’d say in fact, pointing out the problems with the attitudes of the Disciples who most likely would certainly have seen this woman as a dog. Let’s look at the story.

21 And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon. 22 And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” 23 But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, “Send her away, for she is crying out after us.” 24 He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” 25 But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” 26 And he answered, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” 27 She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eatthe crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” 28 Then Jesus answered her,“O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly.

Jesus in the Gospels regularly challenges the assumptions of people around him. “Why is He with a Samaritan woman?” “Which one of these men is a neighbor?” “If this man was a prophet, He would know what kind of woman this is.” “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors, sinners, and prostitutes?” John the Baptist as well did this. “God can raise up children of Abraham from these stones.” Could Jesus be doing the same here?

Note that Jesus doesn’t complain about the presence of the woman. It is the disciples who do. The disciples are the ones who have no compassion for the woman and want Jesus to send her away. Jesus doesn’t go out directly since he’s trying to escape the crowd and rest for now along with his disciples. This woman must have sought him out then and Jesus’s first words in the dialogue are not to the woman, but are to the disciples.

Jesus in fact points to a schedule in His ministry to the woman. He never says “No.” He instead points out that His first priority is Israel. The woman in fact never disagrees. She never asks specifically to be made a focus. All she asks for is crumbs from the table. Pets in the house would traditionally be fed later, but surely she can get a little something for now. Jesus commends her on her faith which would no doubt have shamed the disciples who were supposed to be part of faithful Israel. Jesus in fact was being the true Israel by being kind to a foreigner and acting as a priest for a foreigner.

Let’s consider also another passage in Matthew. This is 21:43.

43 Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits.

This is part of the Parable of the Vineyard and we must realize how shocking this statement is. This would be like saying in our country that much of our financial abundance and our land would be given to a third world country outside of us. Many of us in America still have this idea that we are central in the story of history and everything revolves around us. Now I do love our nation, but we are not the focal point of history. Empires come and empires go.

If you were a Jew and heard this, it would mean the covenant promises were being violated by your people and God would leave you abandoned. The Jews had experienced that in the Babylonian exile and did not want to go through it again! They were the special nation. They were the ones chosen by God. How could they miss out on the blessings? Jesus’s words are absolutely shocking.

And of course, Matthew is the one that has the Great Commission in His Gospel as well ending out his own inclusio account. Jesus is said to be God with us in the virgin birth and he is God with us even to the end of the age.

The other piece of evidence is that Paul experienced resistance from the Gentiles. This is the passage used.

11 But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. 12 For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. 13 And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. 14 But when I saw that their conduct was not in step withthe truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?”

Yet in this passage, we see nothing about how Peter responded to Paul. Instead, we find the way that Paul responded to Peter and pointing out that Peter was acting out of line with the Gospel by living as though righteousness would be declared by following the food laws rather than through faith in Christ. What evidence do we find that Peter accepted Paul?

Now we could point to 2 Peter, but that is not usually accepted and since our writer later on writes about forgeries, I doubt he would accept it. So let’s go with Galatians itself.

In Galatians 1, we read the following:

18 Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and remained with him fifteen days. 19 But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord’s brother. 20 (In what I am writing to you, before God, I do not lie!) 21 Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia. 22 And I was still unknown in person to the churches of Judea that are in Christ.23 They only were hearing it said, “He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” 24 And they glorified God because of me.

No resistance here.

And from those who seemed to be influential (what they were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality)—those, I say, who seemed influential added nothing to me. On the contrary, when they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been entrusted with the gospel to the circumcised (for he who worked through Peter for his apostolic ministry to the circumcised worked also through me for mine to the Gentiles), and when James and Cephas and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given to me, they gave the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and me, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. 10 Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do.

No resistance here either.

In fact, if tradition is true and Clement was the disciple of Peter, then we could see what Clement says about someone his teacher would have supposedly opposed.

We read the following in 1 Clement 47:1

Take up the epistle of the blessed Paul the Apostle.

Again, not real resistance.

So thus is the second secret dealt with.

For the third, how about Jesus never claiming to be God in the synoptics?

The first major mistake here is that the only way to many people to claim deity is to go around saying “Hey! I’m God!” In reality, in the ancient world, like much of today, actions spoke louder than words and Jesus regularly pointed to His actions. This would be His claim to forgive sin, and this apart from the temple itself, His claim to be the Lord of the Sabbath, and His claim to send out the angels in Mark 13 as well as His strong claims about sitting by the right hand of God and coming with the clouds (Language of theophany) in response to the high priest.

While more passages could be listed, let’s look at what Hagenston says.

In fact, all of those first three gospels show Jesus scoldingly saying that he should never be thought of as God. Mark 10:18 depicts Jesus as saying, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.” Obviously, he took offense at the mere thought that he might be considered to have the same righteousness as God. He is shown making the same point in Luke 18:19 and Matthew 19:17.

Obviously? No. Not obviously. It might seem that way to a modern Western reader, but in the ancient world, Jesus would have known this man was trying to butter him up as it were. How will He respond to a compliment of an exalted type? Does He deny that He is good? Then why should anyone listen to Him? Does He affirm His own goodness? Then what kind of person is He claiming to be? Jesus instead deflects the comment without once denying it. “Okay. You want to say I’m good? That applies to only God. Are you ready for that level of commitment?”

Unfortunately as the story shows, the man was not ready for it.

For more on this and how the church perceived Jesus early on, see my interview with Charles Hill, Michael Bird, and Chris Tilling on How God Became Jesus . For a look at how the ancients would have viewed Jesus from their perspective, see my interview with E. Randolph Richards here. For a defense of the incarnation and Trinity, see my interview with Rob Bowman here. 

The next objection is that the Gospels have irreconcilable differences in the resurrection accounts.

Let’s suppose that’s true.

So what?

Most scholars today defending the resurrection don’t even go to the Gospel accounts to do so. They go to 1 Cor. 15 and Galatians 1-2. Inerrancy is not a requirement for the Gospels to be true or even reliable. (Although one could find in commentaries several ways to reconcile the resurrection accounts.) So what does Hagenston say?

To add to the confusion, the Gospel of John shows Jesus appearing in both Galilee and Jerusalem. The actual appearance of a resurrected Jesus would have been so stunning that it raises the question of why there was not even one record of such an event that made a deep enough impression to be passed down in all the gospels.

Once again, the problem is the argument from silence. There are any number of reasons why such an appearance would not be mentioned, including it not being really needed. One account with more than one witness would have sufficed in a Jewish court of law. Of course, for an excellent defense of the resurrection, the best work now is Michael Licona’s “The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach.” You can hear my interview with
him here. You can hear my interview with Gary Habermas on the same topic here.

Next is the claim that Jesus opposed public prayer. Did he?

“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.

“Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

“And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

How is it you are not to pray publicly? You are not to pray publicly to be seen by others. Jesus would have known about several public prayers in the history of Israel, such as Solomon at the temple ceremony in thanking God for it. This was in fact proper for someone acting as a priest to the people. Jesus condemned instead showman prayers, prayers done just to receive glory for oneself.

The next claim is that some books of the Bible are forgeries and this is most notably, the pastoral epistles. Hagenston does bring up some reasons why they are thought to be forgeries.

However, there is wide agreement among many Bible scholars that they differ so much from Paul’s vocabulary, style, and teachings that they could not be by him.

It’s interesting that he talks about the teachings being so different and then in the next paragraph compares 1 Cor. 14:34-35 to 1 Tim. 2:11-15. Of course, he does say 1 Cor. 14 is likely a later insertion. It is quite possibly an interpolation. Also possible is that Paul was quoting the words of the Corinthians to them. We know earlier in the epistle he has women taking part in worship in chapter 11.

But to look at the earlier argument, yes, there are differences, but this can also be expected depending on who is being written to. For instance, these letters are personal letters. The only other example we have of this from Paul is Philemon. If I write an email to a friend, it will be quite different in all of those ways from an email I could write to my wife.

This would be easier of course to reply to had Hagenston given more concrete examples. He didn’t. For a look at the teaching on women however, see my interview with Lynn Cohick here. For the question of forgeries, see my interview with Andrew Pitts here.

Next is that some contradictions in Scripture are intentional. The first example is Psalm 51. What does Hagenston say?

An Old Testament example is found in Psalm 51. That psalm was written after Babylonia destroyed Jerusalem (and its Temple that had been built by Solomon) and led the city’s inhabitants off to exile. Since the Temple was no longer available for sacrifice, the author of Psalm 51 offers comfort in Verses 16 and 17 by saying God does not even desire sacrifice but only a contrite heart.

But then, in a clearly intentional contradiction, someone who disagreed with that came along and added, immediately afterward, Verses 18 and 19 saying that God would be delighted by sacrifices that would follow a rebuilding of Jerusalem.

Hagenston sees a contradiction between offering up the sacrifices of a broken and contrite heart and then switching to offering bulls. This is only a contradiction if you hold to a view that is a legalistic one of Judaism. Judaism instead more often saw the sacrifice of bulls and other animals as something done not so much to earn forgiveness but to show forgiveness. The proper response to forgiveness was to offer something of value to you.

Since God pronounced David righteous by his contrite heart, David would respond by offering up bulls on the altar.

Hagenston goes on to say.

In the New Testament, we see an example in what the gospels say about the message of John the Baptist. The gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke all depict John the Baptist as saying he was offering a baptism for the forgiveness of sin through repentance alone. But, writing later, the author of the Gospel of John didn’t like that at all. He wanted to say that forgiveness comes only through sacrifice, the blood sacrifice of Jesus himself. So, in contradiction to the other gospels, he says that the message of John the Baptist was to proclaim Jesus as a pending sacrificial Lamb of God.

Once again we have the same kind of scenario going on here. As I read the texts, I do not see repentance alone. In the texts themselves, John says to bear fruit in keeping with repentance. We know from elsewhere in the Gospels that John’s disciples fasted, for instance. Jesus is seen as walking out of lock-step with the tradition. We see John saying nothing about sacrifices. He doesn’t commend them and he doesn’t forbid them.

The final is that apostles taught by Jesus insisted Paul was wrong about His Gospel. What does Hagenston say?

As for the identity of Paul’s opponents, in 2 Corinthians 11:13 he calls them “false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ.” But who were they? In 2 Corinthians 11:5 he sarcastically calls them “super-apostles.” In that time, “super-apostles” could have meant only one thing: the original apostles.

Is this possible? Sure. Some commentators are open to it. Is it a done deal? Not at all. Hagenston gives no argument for it. There are not scholarly authorities cited. It is only an assertion.

Hagenston will need to make an argument and do so interacting with the best scholars in the field. Until he does so, there is really nothing that can be said.

In the end, I find many of Hagenston’s criticisms lacking. While he says he is still a Christian, and that could be the case until he starts denying Christ rose from the dead as I do not see inerrancy as an essential of the faith, he seems to have come from a more modern perspective and is not interacting with the scholarship in the field. As is too often the case, he gives a one-sided presentation.

I conclude the way I started. This is precisely why more education and awareness of apologetics is needed in the field.

In Christ,

Nick Peters

Deeper Waters Podcast 7/12/2014: Talking About Plutarch

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

First off, for all interested, the podcast is now up on ITunes! All interested can find a link to the podcast here. Please be sure to leave a good review of the podcast so that others will be encouraged to listen to it as well. So now, let’s get to what we’re going to be talking about.

We’re going to be bringing back one of our favorite guests to the show, at least considering that so many people wanted to call in and ask him a question last time he was on! In fact, this is a guest that I can call family and mean it. My guest is going to be my father-in-law, Mike Licona, and we’re going to be talking about the works of Plutarch and how they relate to the study of the Gospels.

Some of you might not know who Mike is, so let’s get some introductions in.

Mike

According to his bio:

Mike Licona (Ph.D.) is associate professor of theology at Houston Baptist University and president of Risen Jesus, Inc. He has a Ph.D. in New Testament Studies from the University of Pretoria, which he earned with distinction and the highest mark. 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 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 Society of Biblical Literature, the Institute for Biblical Research, and the Evangelical Philosophical Society. He has spoken on more than 60 university campuses and has appeared on dozens of radio and television programs. For more on Mike’s ministry, visit www.risenjesus.com.

Mike’s latest studies have been of Plutarch to see how Greco-Roman Biographies were written at the time and how that can help us understand the Gospels better, especially when dealing with the idea of “contradictions.” This of course will spark some inevitable questions.

Are the Gospels really in the genre of Greco-Roman biography? Why should we study something like Greco-Roman Biographies? Why think the Gospel writers would use a form of literature that could be considered pagan to get the message of Jesus across? Can studying something from the culture really help us to understand what is going on in the Gospels themselves?

Then of course, we’ll be looking at some favorite “contradictions” and seeing how it is that studying the Gospels as Greco-Roman Biographies can in fact help us to figure out what the solutions to these contradictions are. Mike is a thorough scholar and one who you will appreciate getting to listen to so I hope that you’ll be looking for this podcast to show up in your ITunes feed as we talk about the study of Plutarch.

In Christ,
Nick Peters