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

Book Plunge: Why There Is No God. Part 1

What do I think of Armin Navabi’s self-published book? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Someone in an apologetics group I belong to asked if anyone had read this book. Myself, being the type who wants to be there to help my fellow apologists out, decided to get it at the library. Who knows? Maybe I have some masochist streak in me. The book goes through twenty arguments for God’s existence from an atheist who used to be a Muslim.

It describes itself as a thorough examination, yet the book is just about 125 pages long and looks at, as I said, twenty arguments. I have no idea how you can give a thorough treatment with that. In fact, it’s so short that you could easily read it in a day’s time.

Of course, don’t be expecting to find anything of real substance in here. Much of it is the modern fundamentalism relying on today’s atheist heroes who are just as much fundamentalist. If you’re also expecting to have him interact with the best arguments, like those of Aquinas, well you know without my saying it the answer to that.

I have decided to investigate five arguments a day. Keep in mind a lot of these arguments are arguments that I would not use. Still, even when critiquing a bad argument, we can learn much about Navabi’s approach. Let’s go ahead and dive in.

Argument #1: Science can’t explain the complexity and order of life; God must have designed it this way.

Many of you know I’m not one up for Intelligent Design arguments. If I go with design, it’s the teleological design in the fifth way of Aquinas. (btw, Navabi shows his ignorance here by saying Paley introduced the design argument in 1802 when really, arguments of design go all the way back to even the time of Christ.) Navabi starts with a claim that it used to be that many natural forces were attributed to deities. While this is so, I think many atheists make a false assumption here. Since these were explained by deities, the deities were invented to explain these. That doesn’t follow. Why not that the deities were already thought to be there and that they were assigned these by their worshipers in order to explain how they take place?

Many of you also know that as a Christian apologist, I have no problem with evolution. If you just say evolution explains it, I’m not going to bat an eye. That’s because a question is being answered that I think doesn’t answer the main question for Christianity in any way. Before we go to the next question, we have to address the main argument that Navabi puts forward that we were all expecting.

“If complexity requires a creator, who created God?”

This is Richard Dawkins’s main argument and so many atheists bounce around this Sunday School question as if no one in Christian history ever thought about it. When we talk about something needing a cause, what we really mean is potential being made actual.

What?

Okay. As I write this now, I am sitting at my computer. Suppose my wife calls me and wants something from me. If I agree, I will stand up and go to her. I can do that because while sitting, I have the potential to stand. Once I stand, I have the potential to sit, or lie down, or jump, or do any number of things. Actuality is what is. Potentiality can be seen as a capacity for change.

When any change takes place in anything, that means a potentiality has been turned into an actuality. As I write this, my wife is in the living room watching Stranger Things for the third time. The change is happening on the screen because of signals that are being received from somewhere else through Netflix. (Don’t ask me to explain how it works.)

Now many of us could see this cause and effect going on and say it makes sense. (In fact, it’s essential for science.) Still, we might ask about our own actions. Aren’t we the cause? Do we need anything beyond us? A Thomistic response is to say yes. What we do we do because of something external to us driving us towards it and that is the good. We either want the good and pursue it or refuse it and rebel against it.

What does this have to do with God? For us to say God has a cause, we would have to show that there was some change that took place in the nature of God. If there wasn’t, then there is nothing in Him needing a cause. The universe we know undergoes change so something has to be the cause of the change in the universe.

But isn’t God complex? Actually, no. Note that I am talking about complexity in His being. I am not talking about God being simple to understand. In Thomistic thought, God is the only being whose very essence is to be. There is no distinction between being and essence. You and I are all human. There is a human nature that is given existence and then that for us is combined with matter that separates us from one another. Angels, meanwhile, are each all their own nature and that nature is granted existence. There is no matter that separates them so they differ by their nature. God alone is no combination. Because of this, He doesn’t need a cause.

That’s pretty complex. If you want to read more about this, I really recommend the writings of Edward Feser. He’s quite good at explaining Thomistic concepts for the layman, and I’d say much better than I am at it.

Argument #2: God’s existence is proven by Scripture.

Navabi gives many of the same fundamentalist arguments here that we’ve come to expect. Naturally, it begins with talking about inconsistencies in Scripture. After all, many times the way that a Christian approaches inerrancy can be the same way that a fundamentalist atheist does.

A favorite one to start with is creation. After all, no one ever noticed that the sun comes after plants in the creation account. You don’t really need to ask if Navabi will interact with any arguments. Young-Earthers and Old-Earthers both have said something, but for people like Navabi, just raise the objection. That’s enough. For what it’s worth, I prefer John Walton’s stance.

Let’s also look at some supposed controversies on the resurrection accounts. Here is the first one.

Matthew 27:57-60.

57 When the even was come, there came a rich man of Arimathaea, named Joseph, who also himself was Jesus’ disciple:

58 He went to Pilate and begged the body of Jesus. Then Pilate commanded the body to be delivered.

59 And when Joseph had taken the body, he wrapped it in a clean linen cloth,

60 And laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn out in the rock: and he rolled a great stone to the door of the sepulcher, and departed.

Acts 13:27-29.

27 For they that dwell at Jerusalem and their rulers, because they knew him not, nor yet the voices of the prophets which are read every sabbath day, they have fulfilled them in condemning him.

28 And though they found no cause of death in him, yet desired they Pilate that he should be slain.

29 And when they had fulfilled all that was written of him, they took him down from the tree and laid him in a sepulcher.

Did you see the contradiction?

Navabi wants us to say that in one account, Joseph buries Jesus. In another, the people do. It’s amazing that this one is put forward as anything serious. Joseph was among the people who did crucify Jesus, though he was a secret sympathizer. His action of burying Jesus would be seen as the Sanhedrin providing for his burial. How is this a contradiction?

There’s also how many figures were seen at the tomb and how many women there were. The basic replies work well enough here that some writers chose to focus on one man or angel instead of pointing out two. I think the women mentioned were the ones alive at the time who could be eyewitnesses.

To be fair, the dating of the crucifixion between John and the Synoptics is a live one. I have no firm conclusion on this, but also it doesn’t affect me either way. The basic facts about the historical Jesus do not hang on this. Scholars do not doubt that Jesus was crucified at the time of Passover.

I will have no comment on what Navabi says on the Quran. I will leave that to the experts in Islam.

When we go back to the Bible, Navabi throws out that the writings were based on oral tradition and written decades or centuries later. Well with the New Testament, I don’t know any scholar who says centuries later. Navabi also doesn’t bother to investigate oral tradition and how well it works or how much later other ancient works were then the events they describe. Neither will many of his atheist readers, you know, the people who talk about loving evidence so much. (Except for claims that agree with them of course.)

And then there’s the claim that the books are anonymous and we don’t know who wrote them. His source for this is Ehrman’s Jesus Interrupted. I have written a reply to that here. It would be good for Navabi to explain how he knows how other anonymous works in the ancient world were written by the people they’re ascribed to and to actually investigate the arguments for traditional authorship, but don’t be expecting that.

Argument #3. Some unexplained events are miraculous, and these miracles prove the existence of God.

This chapter is quite poor, which is saying a lot for a work like this. A miracle is described as an improbable event. You won’t find any interaction with Craig Keener’s Miracles even though this came out after that did. We’re told that a problem with miracles is that they’re unfalsifiable, which is quite odd since so many skeptics make it a habit of disproving miracle claims.

Suppose someone walks into your church service who has been blind all their life. A member of your church comes forward and says to them “God told me to come and pray for you” and ends a prayer saying “In the name of Jesus, open your eyes” and the person has their eyes open. Are you justified in believing a miracle has taken place? I think you definitely are.

These are the events that we want to be explained. If Navabi wants to say miracles cannot happen, then he needs to make a real argument for that. If he wants to say they have never happened, then he needs to be able to show his exhaustive knowledge of all history. Can he do that? After all, his claim is quite grand and could be hard to “falsify” since we don’t have access to all knowledge of all history.

Argument #4. Morality stems from God, and without God, we could not be good people.

While the moral argument is a valid one, never underestimate the ability of atheistic writers to fail to understand an argument. Navabi’s first point is that morals change. However, if morals change, can we really speak of objective truths? Those are unchanging things. If morality just becomes doing whatever people of the time say is good, then congratulations. We do what we think is good and congratulate ourselves on doing what we already agree with.

As expected, Navabi trots out Euthyphro. This is the question of if something is good because God wills it, or does God will it because it’s good. Again, atheists bring up this argument found in Plato completely ignoring that it was answered by Aristotle, his student, in defining what the good itself is. When atheists bring this forward, I never see them define what goodness itself is. We could just as well ask “Is something good because we think it is, or do we think it is because it is good?” Everyone has to answer Euthyphro unless they define goodness separately.

This is followed by the problem of evil. There are more than enough good resources out there for someone wanting more. I am including some interviews I have hosted on my show about the topic that can be found here, here, and here.

Navabi concludes with a natural explanation of morality to the tune that it evolved. Unfortunately, this doesn’t explain things because there has to be a standard of good we have in mind by which we recognize a good action. Goodness is not a material property that comes about through evolution. It is something we discover much like laws of nature or logic.

Argument #5 Belief in God would not be so widespread if God didn’t exist.

This is not an argument I would make, but there are some examples of bad thinking here. Navabi says that if God was revealing the world religions, wouldn’t we expect them to have more in common? Unfortunately, why should I think God is revealing all of them. Could man not believe and make up his own easily enough?

Navabi also says that if these religions are describing the physical world, they can’t all be right, but they could all be wrong. Of course, this isn’t really an argument. One needs to show that all of them are wrong.

Finally, while I don’t use the argument, it does have to be acknowledged that theism is widespread. Given this is the case, why is it that the theistic claims are treated by the atheists as extraordinary claims? Wouldn’t it be the opinion outside of the ordinary, namely that God does not exist, that should be considered as extraordinary?

We’ll go through the next five next time.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Deeper Waters Podcast 9/24/2016: Jim Stump and Kathryn Applegate

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

The interplay between science and religion is one of the great topics of discussion today. I am convinced there is no real disagreement nor can there be. True science and true religion will agree. Through the years in this journey, I have changed my mind on several issues. Not being a scientist, I don’t debate the issue specifically, but I have tried to see if affirming any beliefs would really damage my interpretation of the Bible or Christianity or theism.

One such area is evolution. A few years ago, I realized that I could interpret Genesis without going against inerrancy as well as still have theism and the resurrection without arguing against evolution. With that, I am able to focus where I think I need to and remove what is a trump card from someone like Richard Dawkins for instance.

Is my position unusual? Are there Christians who really know the sciences and see no problem with believing in evolution and the resurrection of Jesus? I was excited to see that IVP had a book along these lines and requested my review copy. I liked it so much I decided to have the two editors come on. The book is How I Changed My Mind About Evolution. Who are the editors?

jimstump

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, forthcoming) and co-authored (with Chad Meister) Christian Thought: A Historical Introduction (Routledge, 2010). He has co-edited (with Alan Padgett) The Blackwell Companion to Science and Christianity (Wiley-Blackwell, 2012) and (with Kathryn Applegate) How I Changed My Mind About Evolution (InterVarsity, 2016).

kathrynapplegate

Kathryn Applegate is Program Director at BioLogos. Before leading the BioLogos Voices program, she managed the BioLogos Evolution & Christian Faith grants program. Kathryn co-edited (with Jim Stump) How I Changed My Mind About Evolution (InterVarsity Press, 2016). She received her Ph.D. in computational cell biology from The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) in La Jolla, California. At Scripps she developed computer vision algorithms to measure the remodeling activity of the cell’s internal scaffold, the cytoskeleton. Kathryn enjoys an active involvement in both the science and faith community and in her church. She and her husband Brent have two young children and love exploring the state parks of Michigan together on the weekend.

We’ll be asking questions about issues such as inerrancy, a historical Adam, and whether Jesus can be seen as infallible or not. We’ll also be asking if someone wants to argue against evolution, how should they go about it? I’m sure for many this will be a controversial subject, but I hope that you’ll also listen and consider the viewpoint. I have become convinced that many people actually do see evidence for evolution and Christianity both. Why not get their case? We could also consider a debate sometime in the future on the topic.

Hope you’ll be listening and that you’ll also consider leaving a positive review of the Deeper Waters Podcast on ITunes.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Deeper Waters Podcast 9/17/2016: Tyler Vela

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

There have been throughout history numerous opponents of Christianity. Saul of course sought to undermine the faith, and then became its greatest proclaimer. Then you have Celsus who was refuted by Origen, Porphyry who came later, and then people who sought to change the faith like Arius and others. As we moved into more recent history, more and more people have risen up seeking to do away with the faith. People like Nietzsche, Hume, Hobbes, and others. Atheistic writers like Mackie and Flew have also been popular. Many times, Christianity has had decent opponents.

And then, there’s David McAfee.

Many of you might have never heard of him. Somehow, he has over 159,000 likes on Facebook at the time of writing and has traveled to speak about the problems of Christianity. Unfortunately, he has this strange idea that he can do this without even mentioning the resurrection and thinks that if you disprove Inerrancy, then you disprove Christianity. Still, he is out there and there is someone who has chosen to focus in on him and deal with his objections.

My ministry partner has reviewed the book as have I. I have even challenged him to debate if he thinks he can disprove Christianity and it was ignored. Many others have done the same thing. No one has done as thorough a job as Tyler Vela. In fact, Tyler Vela goes through McAfee’s book with a fine tooth comb and actually interacts with the scholarly literature. Of course, as far as I know, there has been no response from McAfee. If you want to know about the response, Tyler Vela is my guest again this Saturday.

Who is that?

tylervela

(Just to be clear, my sources indicate that Tyler is the one on the right.)

Tyler Vela studied Philosophy and English at California State University, Sonoma, graduated with a Preseminary B.A. (Biblical and Theological Studies) from Moody Bible Institute (Chicago), and is currently studying toward his Masters of Biblical Studies at Reformed Theological Seminary (Charlotte). He is the host of The Freed Thinker Podcast and blog and is a frequent guest on many Christian and skeptical podcasts and forums.

We’ll be talking about the book Measuring McAfee that Tyler wrote in response. We’ll be going through some of the contradictions and discussing what has really happened to atheism especially on the internet where there seems to be a strong fundamentalist mindset and contrary to what many atheists might think, an anti-intellectual one. Why is it that someone like McAfee has such a following when he doesn’t really have a clue what he’s talking about? What can Christians learn from this and what impact does this mindset have for the future of the church and the future of debates between Christians and atheists and others?

I hope you’ll be tuning in. For those wondering, we had a problem with last week’s show. We had to cancel in the middle, but we only have to do about fifteen minutes more. I hope to have that up soon. Please also consider leaving a review on ITunes of the show.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Christians Are Hate-Filled Hypocrites And Other Lies You’ve Been Told

What do I think of Bradley Wright’s book published by Bethany House? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Back when Smallville was on the air (sheds a brief tear that it’s over) there used to be a term when the show started called “Freak of the week.” What this referred to was the villain that Clark would fight that week who had been mutated by Kryptonite. For Christians, you could say we have the crisis of the month or something similar.

Christians always seem to be worried about something saying that the sky is falling and if this happens, it will be the worst possible thing. Yeah. We have that penchant unfortunately. That could be why apocalyptic nonsense like Four Blood Moons sells so well and everyone thinks the end of the world is right around the corner. (Because, you know, every other generation was wrong, but not us! We’re the exception!) You can even check the updated rapture index  every Monday and the more bad news there is, well the closer we are to Jesus coming.

Now to be sure, there usually can be something bad going on. No one is saying we live in utopia. No doubt, there are ways that we can improve in the church, but maybe things aren’t as bad as we think they are. Maybe in some ways we’re in fact doing pretty good.

Bradley Wright is a professor of sociology who knows statistics well. Of course, a lot of us do think statistics often look impressive and carry divine authority. (We say this despite that 62% of statistics are made up on the spot.) Wright looks at the statistics often shared by Christians and shows that the claims really aren’t as bad as they think they are.

In fact, in some cases, they’re pretty good. Consider marriage and sexuality. Evangelical Christians who are regular church attendees do in fact have better marriages and are less prone to divorce. In fact, there are more young people than we realize who are growing up with the same values.

Is this the last Christian generation? Well, maybe, except every generation before has been saying something like that as well. The things your parents say about you if you’re a part of that younger generation, well their parents said about them. In fact, when I see young children today, I’m tempted to think the same kind of thing. History repeats itself.

Are we Christians really living the life we’re meant to live? For the most part, it looks like we are. (Though Wright would say we have a habit of sharing bad statistics that needs to stop.) Wright looks at this by comparing us to several other groups out there. Also, he has a stipulation that the “nones” does not equal atheist, something a lot of atheists need to learn. Many of them in fact hold high views about God, prayer, and the Bible.

He also looks at the claims that the world has a negative view of Christians. In a sense, he’s absolutely right. Isn’t this what we should expect? The church has always been attacked and viewed negatively by the world. Why be surprised? Of course, if there are areas where we are legitimately doing something wrong, we need to improve. (For instance, I understand one claim is that a focus on inerrancy and young-earth creationism leads to apostasy)

The reality is we need to improve anyway. If we’re doing wonderful or if we truly are the last Christian generation in America, our call is the same. It is the Great Commission. We are to be doing that regardless and there’s no excuse for sitting back and saying “Well we’re doing good enough. No need to push harder.”

Wright’s book is a fun and enjoyable read. Reading it will give you hope that things aren’t as bad as you think they are. Still, even if they’re not bad, there’s always room for improvement and as I said earlier, we still have the Great Commission to do. If we’re doing poorly, let’s change that image. If we’re doing great, let’s do even better.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

The Foundation For Your Faith

What is your hope built on? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Last night I was in a group when someone came with this question “How can I not be a YEC and still keep my faith?” Now some of you reading this are YECs so I want you to hang on. Right now, I don’t care if you remain a YEC or not. That’s not my issue. It’s irrelevant to the point. The point I want to make is, should YEC (Or OEC or TE) be the foundation for your faith?

I decided to respond to this person by asking them about the resurrection of Jesus and ask “If I was a Christian in doubt, how would you convince me of the resurrection of Jesus?” The person had to admit he didn’t know and then tried to make a defense. I told him if he wants to learn this, then I recommend getting Habermas and Licona’s book and going through that and I’d be glad to talk with him afterwards.

It’s quite sad to me that so many people can be able to defend their eschatology or their doctrine of the age of the Earth or any number of other secondary issues, but they have never been told how to make a case for the resurrection of Jesus. You could believe in the Earth being young and not believe in Jesus’s resurrection. Believing in the resurrection and trusting it is something different. (I say trusting since Pinchas Lapides was a Jew who believed in the resurrection but never once thought Jesus was the Messiah.)

This is my problem with when we make a doctrine like the age of the Earth or inerrancy or any other secondary doctrine the focus of our apologetic. I mention those two because those are two of the favorite ones that skeptics like to attack Christianity on and too many people think that if one of those falls, the resurrection falls. Consider inerrancy. I do not believe in the resurrection because I believe in inerrancy. I believe in inerrancy because I believe in the resurrection. I could lose my belief in inerrancy and still hold to the resurrection. You know what? I’d still be in. Suppose I believed in inerrancy and yet somehow horribly misinterpreted the Bible. (JWs have a high view of Scripture after all.) I would not be part of the covenant of God. The resurrection is what changes it.

Not only that, the resurrection when understood provides much more joy in life. Thinking the Earth is young is not enough to show that God is a covenant keeping God who honors His promises and is making this world right. Knowing about the resurrection is enough to show that. Again, the resurrection is the foundation.

Sadly, this is not what we find taught in most churches. I do not hear in churches a case for the resurrection of Jesus. It’s just not taught that often. In fact, I can’t even say I often hear what difference the resurrection makes. It’s like it’s just a fact in history that proves Christianity is true or proves that Jesus is God, but it doesn’t reach beyond that.

I look forward to the day when our churches return to the resurrection. This is the foundation of our faith and nothing else. Believe what you want in the secondary areas, but remember that they are secondary. Keep the resurrection as your focus.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Measuring McAfee

What do I think of Tyler Vela’s new book? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Most people have never really heard of David McAfee. I try to keep up with most of the atheists out there and I hadn’t heard of him, until someone mentioned him in the Christian Apologetics Alliance, which is how I came across my friend Tyler Vela. Before too long, I found myself engaging on his page and really, the level of ignorance among his atheist followers was just staggering. I can’t help but wonder how this person has any following whatsoever.

McAfee is someone who does no research and makes wild claims that will only affect one subset of Christianity and yet he thinks he’s attacked the whole. He will regularly take out snippets of conversations on his page and elsewhere where he thinks he’s demonstrated the ignorance of his opponents without bothering to look and see what’s really going on.

I recall immediately the time that he posted a claim about there being a large number of denominations, which is usually a number thrown out like 30,000 or something of that sort. My reply in the thread was to ask “What’s a denomination?” McAfee took this reply and made a whole thread out of that on its own as a demonstration of theist ignorance supposedly. In reality, had he really bothered to interact with the question, he would have known that the question of what a denomination is is precisely the question that needs to be asked since even some Catholic apologists are against using this kind of argument because it’s just false.

Of course, seeing events like this take place, I decided to see if McAfee would be willing to do a debate. That challenge is still open and he still has not accepted. I’m not the only one he’s turned down. He’s turned down everyone, and yet somehow he has over 120,000 likes on Facebook and seems to be recognized as some authority to speak on disproving Christianity. (Which happens to be the title a book of his which I have also reviewed.)

Yet if there was one thorn in McAfee’s side constantly, it would be Tyler Vela. Vela has somehow chosen to focus on McAfee which is a good thing. With the rise of internet atheism, we need people who are dealing with even those who are not so well known. Vela’s book is a look at McAfee’s that is in-depth and covers practically everything.

Ultimately, reading this is like picturing a spider and using a tank to squash it. McAfee is entirely out of his league. Vela and I do come from different viewpoints in Christianity. He’s a reformed guy with a support of presuppositionalism. I differ on both counts, and yet I can agree with a good deal of what Vela says in this book. If there are times that I think he is wrong on something, he is certainly not nearly as wrong as McAfee is. In fact, there were times when reading I think it’s more of a compliment to say McAfee is wrong. We could say that McAfee’s argumentation is so bad you can’t even call it wrong. It misses the mark that much.

As one who read McAfee’s book, he uses no footnotes or endnotes and he does not cite scholars. He might make a reference to what Biblical scholars say, but there’s no indication that he has ever read one. The material he has could be found just by searching internet atheist blogs. If this is what passes for an authority on Christianity in atheism today, then Christianity is in good hands. This is especially so since Tyler Vela is well-read and quotes regularly and has footnotes that point to further sources on areas he doesn’t want to spend as much time on.

McAfee has this challenge hanging over his head and he does know about it as shown by a post on his page. Naturally, he decided to go with a vulgar joke instead of, you know, actually making a response. That McAfee can still act like he knows what he’s talking about with something like this out there unanswered at all should be a mark of shame to him and to his followers.

Alas, it will not be. We are often told that Christians will believe anything if it supports what they already believe. This is a human problem that affects Christians and atheists are just as prone. If you want to be an atheist, be one, but certainly try to be a few thousand steps above McAfee.

If I had some criticisms, I would have first off liked to have seen more of an emphasis on the resurrection. This is the foundation stone of Christianity, though McAfee sadly thinks it’s Inerrancy. I would have preferred for Vela to include at least a brief apologetic for the resurrection if only in an appendix. The next is that I wish Vela would have had someone proofread his book first. There are several typographical errors in there and some of them can affect the meaning of the sentences very much.

Still, this is an excellent work and even if you don’t care about McAfee, you will find valuable information in here.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Deeper Waters Podcast 11/14/2015: YEC vs. OEC

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

This week, I’m going to be putting announcements up early for the podcast. Why? Because I’m visiting my in-laws for Thanksgiving and going early so that we can go to ETS/EPS together so if you’re there and you want to find me, let me know. We’ll see what we can do. Since I will be out, I do not plan on blogging and I cannot guarantee I’ll get the show in your ITunes feed ASAP, but I’m going to try! Today, I’ll be writing about what’s coming up Saturday and then tomorrow, who will be on on the 21st, and then the next day my guest for the 28th.

Christians are not without their share of disagreements. One that often raises its head up today is the age of the Earth. What does the Bible teach? Is it in accord with what we know from science? Does science tell us that the Earth is young or old? What does that say about questions like animal death before the fall? Would God have created a good creation that had predatory activity in it?

A few months ago I was contacted by Jay Hall who wanted to come on my show to promote his book on YEC. Now I do not hold to YEC so I laid a condition. I could have him come on if he would be willing to debate an OEC. He agreed and when I sent out a call for one, Ben Smith answered the call. Books have been exchanged and I’ve read both of theirs. Now we prepare for the second debate we’ve had on Deeper Waters. Also, while I am OEC, I will do my best to avoid any bias and it will be up to you and my guests to decide if I did a good job.

Our first debater to enter the ring in this next episode is Jay Hall. Who is he?

Jay Hall_pic

According to his bio:

Jay Hall is Assistant Mathematics Professor at Howard College in Big Spring, Texas. He has a Master of Science degree in Mathematics from the University of Oklahoma. Hall has 53 credit hours of Science courses in various disciplines. He has taught at the High School, Technical School and Community College levels. He also has experience in the actuarial field for a number of insurance and consulting organizations. Hall has previously published the Math textbook Calculus is Easy and has a paper on MathWorld. (One-Seventh Ellipse) He is also a member of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma. You may contact Jay Hall at YoungEarthScience@yahoo.com, his website is YoungEarthScienceBook.com – go here to find the YES-YoungEarthScience YouTube page and connect on the various social media platforms.

As you’ve probably guessed, Jay will be arguing for YEC.

Our second contender in the ring is Ben Smith. Who is he?

Ben Smith current photo

According to his bio:

Ben Smith has been studying and teaching theology and apologetics for 30 years since becoming a Christian while attending Ga. Tech. He is the author of the book Genesis, Science, and the Beginning available now on Amazon and Kindle. He has a Bachelor of Arts degree in Christian Worldview and Apologetics from Luther Rice College and Seminary. He is the Ratio Christi Chapter Director at the University of West Georgia in Carrollton GA, teaches apologetics at Christ Fellowship Church, and is a regular speaker at the Atlanta chapter of Reasons To Believe ministries which meets at Johnson’s Ferry Baptist Church in Marietta, GA. He is president of Discovering the Truth Ministries.

We’ll be discussing the issues of science and Scripture both on this show. I hope to have a fair debate and I hope to have you listening.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Scripture and Cosmology

What do I think of Kyle Greenwood’s book published by IVP? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I always have an interest in books on science and faith and books I think could be related to inerrancy and books about the worldview of people who lived in Biblical times. With Kyle Greenwood’s work, I have all three. The heavy emphasis is on the third part with a still sizable portion on the first and just a touching on the second, but the reader who goes through this book will be informed on the topic under consideration better.

One of the great problems we have today is people trying to read modern science into the Bible. Christians want to act as if so much of modern science was predicted by the Bible long ago, as if God had a great interest in teaching people scientific principles. That He does not does not mean that He does not care about science, but it does mean that He was wanting to get across a major message and was willing to leave the rest for us. After all, God told us things that we could not know on our own and left what we could discover for ourselves to be discovered by ourselves.

For non-Christians, there is this idea of course that if God spoke, God would speak in agreement with our modern science. One can only wonder what would happen if we were living 1,000 years from now and how much of our science might be different. Would we need a whole new Bible at that point because the science had changed? If the Bible supposedly does not speak about modern science and in scientific language, then it should not be treated seriously.

Greenwood writes to first off show how the ancients viewed the world with the main elements being land, heavens, and sea. Was their worldview primitive by comparison? Yes. What of it? God did indeed speak in that world and used the terminology that the people would be familiar with. Rather than give a whole discourse on the scientific nature of reality, something that would be largely unintelligible to the people back then and would have no way whatsoever to be discovered and backed back then, He instead chose to use the terminology of their time and culture in order to give His revelation.

Of course, in some ways, the Hebrews did not borrow from their pagan neighbors as much as they might have shared similar cosmology. This wasn’t attributed to the gods and there wasn’t sacred space for various deities out there. Everything was attributed to the one God and it was the one God who kept everything in motion by His wisdom and by His power. Naturally, this continues in the New Testament where Jesus Himself is included in this creative force as being the agent of God’s creation.

Greenwood also interacts with how the worldview of cosmology was changing. The first major change was brought by Aristotle and then more change came later on through minds like Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, and Newton. Through this, interpretations had to be changed and could it be they had to be changed because we were reading science into the text to begin with and had removed it from its original context? This is why I have been especially pleased with the work of scholars like John Walton as well that point out that works like Genesis 1-3 are not written to answer scientific questions but to answer questions on the nature of God.

To be fair, while I have not been an extensive reader on the medieval period and history, I have done some and there were a few parts that I thought I wanted to check up on. I would certainly want to make clear that the time was not really a dark ages time. There was indeed great scientific advancement going on and I think the work that Greenwood cites illustrates some fine examples of that going on.

Now we come to today. What can we learn? It’s not that science and faith don’t mix. Of course they do. I think Greenwood would mainly agree with Galileo. It is the role of creation to tell us how the heavens go and the role of Scripture to tell us how to go to heaven. Many times when we have married a scientific interpretation to the Bible, it has led to embarrassment mainly because that’s not what the text was trying to teach us in the first place. Does this mean the Bible errored? No more than there’s an error when we talk about sunrise and sunset today. We simply have God speaking in the language of the people at the time. The nature of their cosmological claims does not alter the truth being conveyed. (The glory of God reaching to the ends of the Earth does not change depending on the size and shape of the Earth. God is still the most glorious.)

This will be a fine book in anyone’s library working to understand the worldview of people of the Bible and how better to interpret the text today.

In Christ,
Nick Peters