Contextualizing Inerrancy

What’s the new resource at Deeper Waters? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

What is inerrancy? It’s a question that normally if you ask ten evangelicals you’ll get eleven opinions. An even more controversial question would be what counts as going against inerrancy? There’s also the problem that today, the inerrancy of Scripture is often equated with the inerrancy of interpretation.

In a new resource available just recently, my ministry partner, J.P. Holding of Tektonics.org, and I look at the question of inerrancy. The book is called Contextualizing Inerrancy and you can find it here. The goal of the book is to go further than our Defining Inerrancy and include some real scholarly interaction.

What we do in this work is not just look at the topic of inerrancy, but see what some scholars say by reviewing their work on the topic. There are many people that don’t just disagree with someone’s interpretation on a particular text, but contend that by taking on that interpretation, that person has denied inerrancy. Most notably is the case of Norman Geisler going after Mike Licona. (And for those who don’t know, possible bias on my part is that Mike is my father-in-law.)

Those of us who are contextualizers do not believe that the text can be fully divorced from the context. This includes not just the Biblical context, but the social context. There are a number of remarks I could say to my wife that would grant her and me instant laughter. Most everyone else would not understand them. Why? Because there is a background knowledge known between the two of us that explains the context.

We hold that the Biblical writers also lived in a culture where they did not have to explain the culture. We do not live in that culture and we have to do the work to find out about it. While this includes studying the original languages, it goes beyond that. It looks at archaeology and other writings of the time to find out what life was like. We use all of this to inform our interpretation. How can study of the Biblical text be damaged by studying the world of the Bible?

With this, we look at evangelical scholars today and the work that they’re doing to see how that helps with the question. Our goal is to help Christians have a more refined look at Scripture and in the end, we hope you’ll walk away with a greater appreciation for the Bible. After all, anyone can pick up a book and find something about it to criticize, and many people are doing just that, but few will sadly bother to take the time to actually really study and see if their criticisms are accurate.

I really hope you’ll go and partake of this resource and share it with a friend as well. Christmas is here and this could be a great gift for someone as well. We appreciate every copy that you buy and we also hope that you’ll leave a positive review.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

 

Book Plunge: The Battle for the Bible

What do I think of Harold Lindsell’s book published by Zondervan? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

While this book is about 40 years old, it still has an impact today. Many inerrantists point to it to see the dangers of denying inerrancy. While I do see myself as an inerrantist, I do not hold the position dogmatically. I certainly don’t put all my eggs in that basket. If I am wrong on inerrancy, then I am wrong. It does not change Christianity.

The sad fact is that many inerrantists seeking to defend inerrancy are actually damaging inerrancy. Lindsell says in the book that he does not know of anyone abandoning their faith over inerrancy nor anyone who says that if there is one error in the Bible, we can’t trust any of it. Perhaps this was true in his day, but it no longer is. I see comments like this regularly from atheists. I meet many who think that if they refute inerrancy, they refute Christianity. Take David McAfee’s Disproving Christianity as an example. The whole book for the most part is just listing Bible contradictions as if this does the job. The resurrection of Jesus is nowhere dealt with.

This is not to say that you should not be an inerrantist. It’s to say that you need to have all your beliefs lined up properly so you know the foundation. Many would seem to want to argue that the Bible is inerrant and therefore Jesus rose from the dead. I would prefer to start with the foundation being that Jesus rose from the dead and then try to argue from His case if anything that the Bible is inerrant. The case won’t be reached with deductive certainty, but I find it a lot stronger.

Lindsell in the book goes through much of the history. This could be all valid. I do not know nor am I concerned about that. Lindsell does want to say that when one denies inerrancy, the other pillars of the faith come tumbling down. Unfortunately, it looks like future generations will have to establish that. Do some walk away? Yes. However, some can hold to inerrancy and still deny essentials of the faith. Jehovah’s Witnesses come to mind as an example. Do we think every heretic of the past was denying inerrancy?

There are times statements will show up in the book as if they are awful, and yet I want to see the greater context. Lindsell also seems to combine dispensationalism and/or futurism with inerrancy, which I find to be a problematic position and one reason I have a problem with ICBI as I see the deck stacked there in favor of dispensationalism.

There is also just the whole problem about replying to higher Biblical criticism and scholarship. If we can’t answer it, then maybe instead of just buckling our heels together and saying the text is inerrant, we need to do our own research. It’s almost as if people like Lindsell don’t think the Bible really can stand up to this scrutiny so we need to say that it’s inerrant. That won’t answer the questions. Hard questions need to be answered.

If we really believe the Bible, then we need to see that you can apply to it the same tests you’d apply to any other ancient document and see if it upholds. If inerrancy cannot stand up to scrutiny, then ditch it. Of course, I say this knowing that just because an immediate answer isn’t present doesn’t mean it never will be, but it would be fair to say of a claimed contradiction, “This is a tough problem and I guess we have to do more research.”

The problem for our age today is inerrancy has become a code word, a shibboleth of sorts that must be adhered to or else here come out the hounds of heresy. At the same time, many young people have married their faith to inerrancy. If there is one contradiction in the Bible, then throw it out. The same has happened with young-earth creationism. This isn’t to say that either of those positions is false, but it is to say we need to see what Christianity really relies on.

Also, Lindsell does sad at times dealing with the contradiction claims. Some of them are quite simplistic and they don’t require much, but the really problematic one is about how many times Peter denies Jesus before the cock crows. In the end, Lindsell has Peter denying Jesus six times. Fanciful interpretations like this do no service to inerrancy.

In conclusion, Lindsell does get a battle starting, but could this battle have far more casualties than intended? Instead of pointing to the dangers one sees if a position is denied, how about going more and more to show the best way to approach scholarship and how to do research? Such a work forty years ago would have done much more good than what we have here.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Does Evolution Destroy Christianity?

If evolution is true, is Christianity in trouble? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

As readers know, I am a layman in the sciences. Much of the material is fascinating and I like the history and the philosophy, but I do not discuss how it is done. I am not trained in that area and I respect the field too much to speak about it where I don’t know.

This is also why when it comes to evolution, I do not say yea or nay either way. I am not a scientist so who am I to speak? For this, I actually owe the new atheists some thanks. When I saw how badly they botched areas that they hadn’t bothered to really understand, it got me to realize I needed to make sure I don’t do the same thing to be consistent.

I also got much of this doing some research in seminary on the relationship between science and Christianity. I found that many of the theistic arguments we use today are dependent on science, yet people were making strong theistic arguments before the rise of science. Could it possibly be a danger to marry an argument for theism or an interpretation of Scripture to a particular scientific viewpoint? What happens if that science changes? Besides, is this the way the ancients read it?

Genesis had been something I had a hard time understanding. If this isn’t a scientific account, how should it be understood? You see, I think in our modern age we are so scientific that we read science into everything. John Walton was the one who cleared away the chaos for me and allowed me to see it in a whole new light.

I have thought about this for years now and arrived at the position I am at. I can still hold to inerrancy, though I do not see it as an essential, and still hold to a historical Adam and Eve, though I question them being the only humans alive at the time, and still hold to all the essentials of Christianity. It’s not a big deal to me then. I can go to an atheist and grant them evolution and ask them then to tell me their real arguments against theism or Christianity. The Thomistic arguments had become the best arguments for my theism and those do not rely on modern science at all.

I have said that if I woke up tomorrow and saw a headline that said, “National Academy of Sciences Now Convinced Evolution is Pseudo-Science” I would say “Cool” and move on. On the other hand, if I saw one that said “Southern Baptist Convention Now Convinced Evolution Must Be Accepted As Fact” I would say “Cool” and move on. I really mean it. The resurrection and theism are still the same.

Imagine then my delight in seeing someone post in the Unbelievable? forum on Facebook that evolution destroys the Adam and Eve myth and thus invalidates Christianity. There is so much wrong with this that it’s hard to know where to begin. This is something that is the case of two fundamentalisms arguing against one another.

Two fundamentalisms? How is that so? Simple. A fundamentalist Christian and a fundamentalist atheist. Let’s look at how both of them have approached the text and the issue.

Believe that it must be either evolution or creation and not somehow both? Check.

Believe that the text must be interpreted literalistically? Check.

Believe that the text is best understood by what a modern individual reader in the West would think today about the text? Check.

Believe that Genesis must be a scientific account? Check.

Believe that Adam and Eve must absolutely be historical? Check.

Believe that even if they are, they must absolutely be the only human beings alive? Check.

Believe that Christianity has to necessarily have inerrancy? Check.

Believe that one problem in a text invalidates all of it? Check.

Believe that somehow the resurrection of Jesus is called into question if there is a problem with Adam and Eve? Check.

Believe that there’s no need to read any scholarship on the Bible to better understand it? Check.

The only difference between these two is really their conclusion. It’s not their methodology.

I have a problem also with a theology also that says that the only way God can be God is if He creates by divine fiat. This is often God-of-the-gaps. If another way is found, then somehow God is out of a job, as if God’s only role is to create. It’s almost as if you’d think that the Bible has nothing to say about God having a sustaining role in the universe in constantly holding all things together by His power.

Let’s use another Biblical example. Conception and birth. The Bible says that I am fearfully and wonderfully made. The ancients knew as well as we do that sex makes babies. This is not in dispute. They knew the basics, but there’s no doubt we know a whole lot more about the process and what goes on inside the womb than they ever did. If you hold to a traducian concept as well, then you hold that the soul of the child comes from the parents as well somehow. This means that you can have a birth take place without God directly intervening at any step of the process.

Does that mean that we are not fearfully and wonderfully made? Not at all. It just means the way we thought we were fearfully and wonderfully made might have been inaccurate at one point.

Let’s also consider that the case for the resurrection does not depend on Adam and Eve. You still have all this data for the resurrection of Jesus that you have to explain. You might have to change your interpretation of passages like Romans 5 some, but it’s not a defeater.

I have met some who say that if there is no Adam and Eve, then there is no original sin. If no original sin, no need for the atonement. If no need for the atonement, no need for Jesus’s death. If no need for Jesus’s death, then Christianity is false.

Well, let’s suppose that there was no Adam and Eve. I don’t agree, but let’s go for the sake of argument. I don’t need them to know the reality of sin. I just need to turn on the evening news. Unless you can convince me that humanity is living in a world where everyone acts perfectly, my argument still stands. This is not a defeater.

As for Genesis, part of the reality of learning to interpret a text is to realize that your first natural reading might not be the proper one. It could be, but you need to establish that. This is especially so with a text from another culture, time, place, and language.

Let’s also remember that there are several devout Christians out there that accept evolution and are thoroughly orthodox and sincerely love Jesus. In this debate within Christianity often, one’s orthodoxy and commitment to Christ and Scripture should not be called into question without cause. A different interpretation does not mean you are a better Christian than someone else.

As I said at the start, I am not saying at all that evolution is true. I am just saying it doesn’t matter to me. If you are a Christian and you want to argue against evolution, God bless you, but I give this advice. Make your argument a thoroughly scientific one. If evolution falls, let it fall because it is shown to be bad science. If you’re someone who doesn’t know how to do something like work out a Punnett Square, you really have no basis arguing against evolution. If you make it the Bible vs. science, you will not convince anyone unless they are already convinced the Bible is reliable. You won’t find atheists like that.

None of this is to say Genesis or any part of the Bible is unimportant, but remember the foundation of Christianity is in new creation. It’s the resurrection of Jesus. Go there to establish Christianity.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: The Jesus Crisis

What do I think of David Farnell and Robert Thomas’s book published by Kregel Academic? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

In The Jesus Crisis, we have a look at a book oft-cited in the Inerrancy debates. I had heard a lot of negative statements about this book, but I decided to go in with an open mind. Some things starting off aren’t so bad. There is some serious questioning of the two-source hypothesis and since I’m skeptical of Q as a source, I have no problem with this. I do agree with the authors that when we look at the authorship and writing of the Gospels, we do need to take the church fathers seriously. Certainly, they’re not infallible, but we don’t need to ignore them.

I was also surprised to see David Farnell’s style of arguing in this. In many of his writings, he has often looked as one in a hysterical panic. This was a side that was much more reasonable and measured and the kind that I would have preferred to have seen more often.

Ultimately, insofar as we’re talking about the origins of the Gospels and looking at various forms of criticism, I could agree with some matters. I wonder what the editors would think of Richard Bauckham talking about the death of form criticism. That being said, the further one gets in the book, the more there are areas of concern.

The problem often is that Inerrancy is taken as the starting presupposition and while the writers make an effort to knock down historical methodologies of today, which is fine if they want to do that, they give nothing in the place of how history should be done. The only way seems to be with starting off with the idea that the Bible is the Word of God. Of course, while from a confessional statement I would agree with that, I do not start that way. After all, why start with that book instead of the Qur’an or the Book of Mormon?

There is also a fixation on what Michael Bird would call the American Inerrancy Tradition. (AIT) This goes with the perspicuity of Scripture in that everything should be plain. The question is why should we think this? Peter wrote in 2 Peter (If you think he wrote it) that there were many things in Paul’s letters which were hard to understand. This shouldn’t surprise us. Not everything in Scripture is clear.

Also, the writers insist that we have to have the exact words of Jesus. Why should we? It’s possible that Jesus spoke Greek, but it could be less likely that the common populace spoke Greek and if they did, then one wonders why Matthew would write out a form of Matthew in Aramaic. If he wrote a Gospel in Aramaic and one in Greek, he obviously had to translate some words. One could say some things could have been said on multiple occasions. It is doubtful that Jesus only gave a great parable one time.

However, some things were only said one time. What did Jesus say when He was on trial and when He was on the cross? How many times did Jesus give the Great Commission? If Matthew wrote a Gospel with both of these, one text at best would have the exact words. The other would have a translation. Also, paraphrase would not be a problem since even in the Old Testament, Deuteronomy 5 gives a paraphrase of the Ten Commandments which were said to be written by the finger of God.

The writers may think it puts us in a panic state to not have Jesus’s exact words, but it really doesn’t. I also don’t think historical scholarship is in fact destroying the testimony of Scripture. I would contend the more we are doing good historiography, the more we are affirming Scripture. If one is scared to put sound historical methodology to use for Scripture, could it be one is scared of the outcome?

The saying has been that you treat Scripture like every other book to show that it is like no other book. I am not scared of applying the methodology of history to Scripture. If one wants to show a method is invalid, they need to show it and do so without question begging.

Ultimately, had we just had something like say the first half, this book could have been fine, but the more one gets into the text, the more one sees the panic button being pushed. What if? What if? What if? If one is worried that research of some kind could disprove Scripture, it says little about the Scriptures. It says a lot about them.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

Is The Bible Literally True?

Should we take the Bible literally? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Someone sent me an article from the Huffington Post recently on if the Bible is literally true. The article is by a Steve McSwain who is described as a speaker, author, counselor to congregations, Ambassador to the Councilor on the Parliament for World’s Religions, and Spiritual Teacher. No academic credentials are listed. He does also describe Christianity as his faith so he claims at some level to be a Christian.

He does say at the start that while he values the Bible, he doesn’t believe it to be divinely dictated or a sacred text without error. I don’t know any evangelical today who really holds to the dictation theory. No doubt, there are some in the rank and file who do, but not the majority.

He goes on to say that if you are a Biblical literalist, that this bothers you. You believe that everything must be literal and it must be error-free. At this, I have a problem. What is meant by literal? It’s a term that’s often used and yet few people really define it. Most people do not think Jesus is literally a door or a vine when He uses that language.

Sadly, McSwain is probably accurate when some people think that if they risk undermining the text or questioning it, they could undermine all of it. Everything goes out the window then. This is the all-or-nothing thinking that many Christians do have and amusingly, many skeptics have that as well. I recall one person on Unbelievable? asking a guest on the show that if the Bible doesn’t agree with how Judas died, then how can we trust that Jesus was crucified?

McSwain goes to the flood accounts and says that they obviously contradict. He points to the differences between verses 2 and 15 of chapter 7. Let’s go and look at what they say.

Verse 2: Take with you seven pairs of every kind of clean animal, a male and its mate, and one pair of every kind of unclean animal, a male and its mate

Verse 15: Pairs of all creatures that have the breath of life in them came to Noah and entered the ark.

Look. I know that there are possible claims of contradictions and such, but this is not a good one. All that is said in verse 15 is pairs came. It doesn’t specify how many and how many of each kind came. In that case, give the benefit of the doubt to the author instead.

He goes on to say that,

The real Moses never wielded a staff with supernatural powers, the tip of which, when dipped into the Nile, turned the river into a cesspool of blood. Or, when dipped into the Red Sea, caused it to part so Israelites could pass to the other side on dry, not muddy, ground.

None of these Biblical stories, including the ones where Jesus is depicted as defying the laws of nature and performing miracles… as in, walking on water or giving sight to the blind or, most amazingly, raising dead people back to life were recorded as factual, or literal, eyewitness accounts. And, even if they were, they cannot be depicted as such today, if you want any of it to be believed… to be respected… or, to be read with any seriousness.

For the sake of argument, this could be true, but the problem is McSwain gives us no reason to believe any of this. I also have to wonder what kind of Christian he is if he denies any miracles at all. Again, McSwain’s case could hypothetically be right, but he has given us no reason to think so, that is, unless you just come out and agree that miracles don’t happen, but that is the very thing under question.

As for the idea of eyewitness accounts, it would be nice to see some interaction with scholarship, such as Richard Bauckham, but we can suspect that won’t happen. Statements of faith are problematic no matter who says it. Unfortunately, mayn people will read McSwain and believe it because, well he’s in the Huffington Post, and do so without any real reason why they should believe it.

What matters to McSwain is how the stories have shaped the lives of those who hear its message. This can sound good, but while it’s great that people have their lives changed, do we want to enforce the Noble Lie? If Christianity is not true, then there is truly no resurrection, no heaven beyond this world, no hell to shun, no forgiveness of sins, no real love of God.

It’s hard to believe that the early church was really excited about that.

McSwain has a watered down faith. Note I have not said he has to embrace inerrancy, but he seems to have just embraced that Christianity is all about being a good person and the truth of the Bible does not matter. If anything, the truth of the Bible matters abundantly. If it is true that God lived among us and that Jesus died and rose again and there is real forgiveness and a heaven to gain and a hell to avoid and eternal life in resurrected bodies, I should think we would want to know it. If it is not true, then who really cares? But if it is true, it matters greatly. As has been said, if Christianity is not true, it is of no importance. If it is true, it is of the utmost importance.

Book Plunge: Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy

What do I think of this book edited by J. Merrick, Stephen Garrett, Stanley Gundry, and published by Zondervan? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I have been no stranger to the Inerrancy debates and when this book went on sale I decided to get a copy. I like that the book features so much on ICBI (International Council on Biblical Inerrancy) and the CSBI (Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy) that came from it. The authors are all Christians and have different viewpoints.

All are also supposed to write on three problems for Inerrancy. The first is the conquest of Jericho. The second is the different accounts of the conversion of Paul. The third is the God of peace in the NT versus the God of the conquest in the OT.

Albert Mohler has the first essay. I am convinced that easily this was the worst of the lot. Mohler treats the CSBI as if it was sent down from heaven above. His argument style is highly fundamentalist. One key example of this is at location 772 in the Kindle version where he says the following:

Archaeologists will disagree among themselves. I am not an archaeologist, and I am not qualified to render any adequate archaeological argument. The point is that I do not allow any line of evidence from outside the Bible to nullify to the slightest degree the truthfulness of any text in all that the text asserts and claims. That statement may appear radical to some readers, but it is the only position that is fully true and trustworthy. Any theological or hermeneutical method that allows extrabiblical sources of knowledge to nullify the truthfulness of any biblical text assumes, a priori, that the Bible is something less than the oracular Word of God.

This shouldn’t surprise us. In going after Mike Licona for what he said about the resurrection of the saints in Matthew 27, Al Mohler said the following:

What could one possibly find in the Greco-Roman literature that would either validate or invalidate the status of this report as historical fact?

This is one of the things that’s quite wrong with much of our Christian mindset today. We have isolated ourselves off from the outside world and we have read our culture into the text. Mohler is one who has used Inerrancy as a weapon, something Michael Bird has something to say about in his chapter. I agree with Mohler’s conclusion on the truth of Inerrancy, though I do so with the full openness that I could be wrong, but I see no real argument for it.

Next is Peter Enns where I see the exact opposite. Peter Enns has abandoned Inerrancy and sees it as a problem. There is much that he says that is important for us to consider. The difference with Enns is that I like that he actually argued his case. I just don’t agree with his case and thus I reject the conclusion, but I can at least say he put forward an argument.

Michael Bird comes next. Bird writes with a more international perspective where he critiques what he calls the American Inerrancy Tradition. (AIT) Bird reminds us that there are plenty of Christians all over the world who uphold Inerrancy and have never heard of ICBI or CSBI. He also says that it’s amusing that America seeks to tell evangelicals all over the world how to handle the text right while we also produce people like Joel Osteen and Joyce Meyer and the Left Behind novels.

Bird’s essay I found to be one of the best. Bird wants Americans to realize that there is a world outside of the U.S. and we can learn from them. We need to stop reading American thinking into the text. ICBI was hardly an international conference since few if any representatives were there from even certain continents to give their perspective.

Kevin Vanhoozer came next with another great essay. Vanhoozer writes about how to try to get the meaning from the text and recommends we take off our cultural blinders. I really didn’t notice too much of a distinction between Vanhoozer and Bird.

Finally, there’s John Franke. I still don’t know what to think of his essay because it’s really hard to tell what he’s arguing for. He seems to hold to a more coherence view of truth and thus it’s hard to tell what Inerrancy is for him.

The back and forth as always is quite helpful in this. Those who like Bird’s writing style will also be pleased to see he has brought his razor-sharp wit to this one as well. It is my hope that more will follow his and Vanhoozer’s route and get away from AIT. It would be good to see also a new ICBI and have this one be truly international and have certified scholars make up the board entirely. Time will tell if this will happen.

For those interested in the Inerrancy debates, get a copy of this one.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Can Your Christianity Be Disproven?

Are you open to the possibility of being wrong? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Let me state it right at the start. I am not doubting Christianity. I am not writing from a position of doubt. I am convinced that God exists and that Jesus rose from the dead. Despite that, I should always be open to being wrong. This hit home again for me reading Zondervan’s Five Views On Biblical Inerrancy.

Al Mohler has the first chapter and in it, he pretty much equates inerrancy with the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, or CSBI. For Mohler, it seems difficult to imagine inerrancy that does not conform to this statement and if Jesus and Paul or anyone else is an inerrantist, then they would have signed on entirely with the CSBI. That is too much of an assumption I think to make, but a major problem came when I read his response to problem passages that Zondervan asked each person to write on.

In the Kindle version at location 772, I read the following:

Archaeologists will disagree among themselves. I am not an archaeologist, and I am not qualified to render any adequate archaeological argument. The point is that I do not allow any line of evidence from outside the Bible to nullify to the slightest degree the truthfulness of any text in all that the text asserts and claims. That statement may appear radical to some readers, but it is the only position that is fully true and trustworthy. Any theological or hermeneutical method that allows extrabiblical sources of knowledge to nullify the truthfulness of any biblical text assumes, a priori, that the Bible is something less than the oracular Word of God.

Well, yes. This position is very radical. Naturally, if the Bible is inerrant and is true in all it claims and teaches, then if it says X, then X is true. Yet at the same time, if God is the God of reality and has written two books as it were with nature and Scripture, then we should expect that nothing outside of Scripture will contradict Scripture.

The problem is that this is the very claim under question. How do we know the Bible is inerrant? Do we start with that as a presupposition or do we reach it as a conclusion? If we say the former, why do this with the Bible and not the Koran or the Book of Mormon?

Let’s picture Al Mohler in a discussion with a Mormon. This Mormon holds to the position on the Book of Mormon that Mohler holds to on the Bible. Mohler goes and points out many archaeological difficulties with the Book of Mormon. The Mormon does not change his position. Why? Because he says he won’t allow any line of evidence from outside the Book of Mormon to conflict with the Book of Mormon.

Now Mohler goes to a Muslim. The Muslim is convinced that the Koran says that Jesus did not get crucified or die on a cross. Mohler goes to several lines of evidence to show that Jesus was crucified, but the Muslim is unconvinced. After all, no line of evidence outside of the Koran is allowed to contradict the Koran.

Are the Muslim and Mormon being unreasonable here? Yep. The sad thing is, so is Mohler. What is being said is a way of saying the double-theory of truth is true. By this, something could be true in the world outside of the Bible and something else contradictory true in the Bible. May it never be!

This is also one reason why I don’t say something like “Show me the bones of Jesus and I’ll abandon Christianity.” If we were to hypothetically say that Jesus never rose from the dead, it seems strange to think that not only would His bones be here, but that we could tell they were His bones. I instead ask people to give me a better explanation for the rise of the early church than the one that the church itself gave that explains the data agreed to by critical scholars.

If we want to evangelize people, it is disingenuous for us to tell them that they must be ready to abandon their worldview and accept ours upon conflicting evidence, but we are not doing the same. Some might think that that is a risk. It is only a risk if you think that Christianity could be false. If you are convinced you are right, it is not a risk. Even if you turned out to be wrong, you should be thankful. After all, who wants to believe something that is false?

I cannot go with the position of Mohler. I am convinced it is a blind faith and it makes inerrancy the central doctrine when the resurrection is. I believe in the Bible because I believe in the resurrection. I do not believe in the resurrection because I believe in the Bible.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Deeper Waters Podcast 12/2/2017: Old-Earth vs Evolution

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

Many Christians do agree today that the Earth is old, but then they hit an impasse. What about evolution then? It does seem to be the reigning theory and there are a lot of Christians that hold to it, but is that really what the science shows and how does that mesh with Scripture? Christians who aren’t scientifically informed can be confused.

Recently, the book Old Earth Or Evolutionary Creation was published. It was edited by Kenneth Keathley and J.B. Stump. I got a copy of the book and when I finished it figured the discussion should continue. Since the dialogue was between Biologos and Reasons To Believe, I spoke to both ministries to get representatives to come on to talk about the book. Kenneth Keathley as well is coming on. J.B. Stump is coming from Biologos and from Reasons to Believe we have Fuz Rana.

So who are they?

Kenneth Keathley

According to his bio:

Ken Keathley is Senior Professor of Theology and the Jesse Hendley Chair of Theology at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina where he has been teaching since 2006. He also directs the L. Russ Bush Center for Faith and Culture, a center that seeks to engage culture, present and defend the Christian Faith, and explore its implications for all areas of life. He is the co-author of 40 Questions About Creation and Evolution (Kregel, November 2014) and co-editor of Old Earth or Evolutionary Creation?: Discussing Origins with Reasons to Believe and BioLogos (IVP, July 2017).  Ken and his wife Penny have been married since 1980, live in Wake Forest, NC and are members of North Wake Church in Wake Forest, North Carolina.  They have a son and daughter, both married, and four grandchildren.

Jim Stump

Jim Stump is Senior Editor at BioLogos. As such he oversees the development of new content and curates existing content for the website and print materials. Jim has a PhD in philosophy from Boston University and was formerly a philosophy professor and academic administrator. He has authored Science and Christianity: An Introduction to the Issues (Wiley-Blackwell, 2017) and edited Four Views on Creation, Evolution, and Intelligent Design (Zondervan 2017). Other books he has co-authored or co-edited include: Christian Thought: A Historical Introduction (Routledge, 2010, 2016), The Blackwell Companion to Science and Christianity (Wiley-Blackwell, 2012), How I Changed My Mind About Evolution (InterVarsity, 2016), and Old Earth or Evolutionary Creation: Discussing Origins with Reasons to Believe and BioLogos (InterVarsity, 2017).

And Fuz Rana

Fazale Rana is the vice president of research and apologetics at Reasons to Believe. He is the author of several groundbreaking books, including Who Was Adam, Creating Life in the Lab, The Cell’s Design and Dinosaur Blood and the Age of the Earth. He holds a PhD in chemistry with an emphasis in biochemistry from Ohio University.

I hope you’ll be listening to this episode as we discuss science and theology and how it all comes together. What is the evidence for evolution? How should one interpret Scripture? What is the relationship between faith and science? Please be looking for the next episode and consider leaving a positive review of the Deeper Waters Podcast on iTunes.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

Book Plunge: Biographies and Jesus

What do I think of Keener and Wright’s book published by Emeth Press? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Richard Burridge caused a revolution of sorts in Gospel studies in the 20th century by making a thorough demonstration that the Gospels are Greco-Roman biographies. Today, most scholars would agree with that. Still, that is the start of the journey. We now have to ask what difference it makes. Is this just knowledge that will answer a question for us on a game show, or are there some ramifications for this?

In this volume, Keener and Wright have brought together several students doing graduate level research at Asbury to talk about the issue. There are some chapters by the editors of Keener and Wright and one by Licona, but for the most part, this is done by students, which I find refreshing. It’s good to see new faces rising up and taking on the task of serious scholarship.

The students look at what difference it makes to say that the Gospels are biogarphies. One at the start is that we have spent so much time trying to trace the communities that received the Gospels that we forgot the point of the Gospels. The point of the Gospels is to tell the story of the life of Jesus. An average person in the pew might not consider this much of a shock, but it does affect how we read the Gospels greatly. The Gospels don’t have a community and then they shape the story. The story is written in such a way about Jesus and telling about Him that hopefully it will shape the community.

Helpful also are notes about the dating of the Gospels. We can accept testimony about historical figures on far weaker grounds than we do the Gospels. Too often, it’s easy to dismiss all the evidence that is there for one position and then say that there is no evidence of the position. It needs to be realized that bias cuts both ways and we must all make sure prior worldview assumptions aren’t changing the way we view the data.

One helpful source in here are the comparisons across other biographies. Those who say the Gospels are unreliable because of differences in the accounts should see differences in other accounts of the same event. Very rarely would we reject the primary event because the secondary details are disputed. Sadly, this is done with the Gospels constantly.

Also helpful to readers will be Keener’s section on oral tradition. He points out problems with the idea of telephone and shows how memorization was taken extremely seriously in the past. Again, this is often a case of a double standard. The Gospels are looked at through one set of lenses and all other ancient history is looked at through another set.

Keener and Wright have put together excellent material that will be helpful for any student of the Gospels. To have new minds going through the material and presenting their thoughts is an excellent treat and as far as I’m concerned, they certainly wrote like professional scholars. I look forward to more research like this being done.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

A Response to Schrodinger’s Christian on the Empty Tomb

Did Jesus leave behind an empty tomb? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I was alerted recently to a blog by someone known as Schrodinger’s Christian (SC from now on) who claims to be a doubting Christian and in this post is arguing against the empty tomb. I looked through and saw more of the same and decided since it was late in the evening that I would write a response to it. Now that that time has come, what can be said to a post like this?

First off, I think it’s noteworthy that such an emphasis is placed on an error-free text. I’ve said before that inerrancy is a secondary issue and while it is no doubt an important one, it is too easy to marry one’s Christianity to inerrancy. We see at the start Defending Inerrnacy cited and I’m not surprised it did not have much effect. SC is right in that we must look when doing history to what is probable, but there will be no need to defend inerrancy here to make the case for the empty tomb. Of course, the writings of the Gospels must be taken into consideration, but we don’t need to treat them as inerrant or inspired to make the case.

SC goes on to say that he thought that it was unanimous among historians that there was an empty tomb. I would very much like to know where he got this idea. As someone who knows extremely well both of the main people behind the minimal facts approach, I have never once heard any of them utter such a thing. Is it a majority view? Yes. Is it a unanimous view? Not at all.

He goes on to list a number of points such as Mark is the first mention of an empty tomb, Paul doesn’t hold to it, Mark’s ending isn’t original, no other sources talk about the empty tomb, etc. All of these are of course disputed to some degree, but let’s look and see what he does with them. Does he also interact with the scholars in the field on this?

SC starts with Paul asking why Paul doesn’t ask where the body went and why he doesn’t ask his detractors to explain what happened? The reason is because no one there was doubting that Jesus rose from the dead. Paul is making a classical argument and the start of it is stating what we all agree on. Here’s where we agree. Jesus was raised from the dead. The argument in 1 Cor. 15 is on the general resurrection. Gentiles would be able to say Jesus was an exception because of who He was. Paul starts off by giving the agreed statement on Jesus’s resurrection, an early Christian creed.

In fact, SC shows no knowledge that this is a creed in this post. (Noteworthy that by that standard that he has given, it is probable that he does not know this since surely he would have mentioned it since saying an early creed doesn’t mention an empty tomb would help his case.) This is the earliest account we have of the resurrection, but it is not meant to be a Gospel account. It is meant to give the bare facts and does it include an empty tomb? I contend that it does.

Where? It says Jesus was dead, then he was buried, then he was raised. That means the place where he was buried was empty which would mean an empty tomb. I also contend based on the arguments of Licona and Martin and Gundry and Wright and others that Paul believed fully in a bodily resurrection in the passage. SC lives in a world where explicit mention needs to be made. (Yet keep in mind by that standard, SC doesn’t have the basic knowledge about this being a creed since he does not explicitly mention it.)

Well what about veneration? Here, I wish for the reader to keep in mind that first off, since Christianity was a shameful cult at the time, it’s doubtful the Jewish leaders would allow any homage to be paid to the tomb of Jesus. They would have wanted to silence the cult and they were not above persecution. Thus, one reason for this non-veneration was because of the Jewish leaders.

Second, veneration took place to honor the dead. Jesus’s tomb would not be venerated because Jesus was not dead. He was live. You don’t go and lay wreaths or such on a tomb when there’s no one in it.

Finally, http://enoch2112.tripod.com/ByronBurial.htmByron McCane’s article on the shamefulness of Jesus’s burial is most helpful. McCane contends that the burial of jesus was a shameful burial and one that the followers of Jesus would not want to draw any more attention to than necessary. As McCane says

The shame of Jesus’ burial is not only consistent with the best evidence, but can also help to account for an historical fact which has long been puzzling to historians of early Christianity: why did the primitive church not venerate the tomb of Jesus? Joachim Jeremias, for one, thought it inconceivable (undenkbar) that the primitive community would have let the grave of Jesus sink into oblivion. Yet the earliest hints of Christian veneration of Jesus’ tomb do not surface until the early fourth century CE. It is a striking fact–and not at all unthinkable–that the tomb of Jesus was not venerated until it was no longer remembered as a place of shame.

SC then goes on to say that Romans did not do decent burials. He is correct, if he was talking about anywhere else in the Roman Empire. Not in Palestine. In Palestine, for the most part, Jews were granted tolerance with their religious observances. Part of that included burying the dead. It didn’t matter if the person was a saint or a criminal. Burial was mandatory. In peacetime then, the Romans let the Jews observe burial practices.

Why was this? Because if you bury a body in a shallow grave, the land could be polluted by the dead body. Consider also that a dog or a bird could get a part of the body and bring it into the temple and rendering the place unclean. This could not happen. For the purity of the land, all bodies had to be dealt with properly and while Jesus was seen as a wicked blasphemer, He still had a body.

SC says we have no record of a criminal being allowed burial after death. For one thing, not many Jews would write about the burial practices of criminals so why is this a shock? Second, we do in fact have evidence of someone who was crucified being in a tomb. This alone would be enough to render the objection moot.

He also says it would make no sense for Joseph of Arimathea to be involved in the process, but why? Are we to suppose that just everyone in the Sanhedrin automatically agreed with the verdict? Considering this was a kangaroo court, perhaps also not even everyone was there but just the ones available. This wasn’t a court interested in truth after all.

So why would Joseph do the job? Because since the Sanhedrin ordered the death of Jesus, they were responsible for what happened to the body. Joseph took advantage of this along with Nicodemus. Note that the family did not do this. The family would not be allowed to approach a criminal and mourn for him. This was to shame. Joseph and Nicodemus both do try to do what they can with spices and such to give some honor to Jesus, but it is like having someone with a gushing wound and thinking a child’s band-aid will heal it up.

It’s also worth nothing what a Jewish scholar of Jewish burial practices at the time of Jesus has to say about this.

“Jesus came from a modest family that presumably could not afford a rock- cut tomb. Had Joseph not offered to accommodate Jesus’ body his tomb (according to the Gospel accounts) Jesus likely would have been disposed in the manner of the lower classes: in a pit grave or trench grave dug into the ground. When the Gospels tell us that Joseph of Arimathea offered Jesus a spot in his tomb, it is because Jesus’ family did not own a rock- cut tomb and there was no time to prepare a grave- that is there was no time to dig a grave, not hew a rock cut tomb(!)—before the Sabbath. It is not surprising that Joseph, who is described as a wealthy and perhaps even a member of the Sanhedrin, had a rock-cut family tomb. The Gospel accounts seem to describe Joseph placing Jesus’ body in one of the loculi in his family’s tomb. (Jodi Magness, Stone and Dung, Oil and Spit: Jewish Daily Life in the Time of Jesus, pg 170)

“There is no need to assume that the Gospel accounts of Joseph of Arimathea offering Jesus a place in this family tomb are legendary or apologetic. The Gospel accounts of Jesus’s burial appear to be largely consistent with the archeological evidence” ( Magness, pg 171)

Also, if more is needed, I did do some interviews on this. I interviewed Greg Monette who is doing his Ph.D. on the burial of Jesus. I also interviewed Craig Evans on his book Jesus and the Remains of His Day and we talked about the burial of Jesus in that. It also hasn’t escaped my notice that SC did not cite any scholars in his case.

So let’s conclude by looking at the questions SC thinks we need to answer.

  1. Why did Mark need to say that the women told nobody about the tomb?
  2. Why did Paul not mention an empty tomb in his argument for the resurrection?
  3. Why do the resurrection accounts diverge so wildly after Mark’s account?
  4. Why do we not have any external sources for an empty tomb?
  5. Why was Jesus’ tomb, the location of the resurrection of God Incarnate, not venerated by early Christians when it was otherwise customary to do so?
  6. Why did the Romans allow Jesus to be buried when it would have been historically unprecedented, hurting the Roman legal system and undermining the purpose of the crucifixion as a whole?
  7. Why would a member of the Sanhedrin, who just voted to have Jesus killed as a blasphemer, request Jesus’ body?
  8. For that matter, how was there a unanimous vote if there were at least two known Jesus-followers on the council?

1.  Because Mark is a writer who prefers shock and awe. It’s possible the original ending was lost and it’s also possible Mark left it this way because it was the job of the audience to tell the message.

2. Because he didn’t need to. If he has a death and a burial and a resurrection, then that means the tomb was empty. The tomb was also shameful and thus not mentioned.

3. Probably because you have different eyewitnesses giving their accounts. This objection relies more on inerrancy.

4. Because it was a shameful event. We also don’t have any dispute that Jesus was buried for at least the first 300 years.

5. Because the burial was shameful and Jesus wasn’t there anyway.

6. Because toleration was granted to Jewish purity practices in the holy land.

7.Because he was a secret sympathizer and was trying to give some honor to Jesus.

8. Because it doesn’t mean everyone was there. It was a kangaroo court after all.

We conclude that SC really doesn’t have much of a case. Hopefully, he’ll spend more time interacting with scholarship and less time with concerns about inerrancy. He would also be benefitted by learning about the honor-shame culture of the New Testament.

In Christ,
Nick Peters