Book Plunge: Textual Criticism and Qur’an Manuscripts

What do I think of Keith Small’s book published by Lexington Books? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

At an event recently, I was involved in a debate with Muslims who brought up claims about differences in the Bible and how this isn’t a problem with the Qur’an. On its face, I considered this a ridiculous claim. After all, any manuscript copied by hand from the ancient and medieval world will undergo some change. Still, I didn’t have a real source for that. That led me to searching for a book on the topic. (Yes. It is possible to go to a source for information besides Wikipedia.)

Keith Small’s book was the one I saw that looked like the one to get. After reading it, I think my prediction was correct. One interesting aspect is after reading it, you can’t tell where Small stands in a debate. Is he a Christian? Is he a Muslim? You don’t know. That’s how even-handed he is.

It doesn’t take long for the common Muslim claim to be put to rest. There are documents of the Qur’an all over the world in different museums that have differences in them. To be fair, a lot of what Small says is hard to understand without knowing the Arabic, which I do not know. What can be understood is that there are differences.

Small also points out that this was acknowledged by early Muslim scholars and Christian apologists responding to Islam would also mention some of the differences. Small doesn’t get into any of the possible theology behind this nor does he say anything about any possible ramifications for Islam. This would be a much more serious problem I think for Islam than for Christianity since the Qur’an is also said to be eternal if my understanding is correct.

Also, much of Christianity began with the written document first and then that document was handed down so the document became primary. The Qur’an was stated as a tradition many many times beforehand and then that tradition was handed down, but often it would have many of the changes, albeit minor, that came with oral tradition. We might not be able to speak about the original Qur’an. Instead, we could need to speak about original Qur’ans.

Interestingly, there are some major differences. Some saw the second Sura, the Cow, as it’s own book. Some copies don’t include some Suras. Some have extra Suras. While we can say that Muslims will point to Mark 16:9-20 and John 7:53-8:11, Muslims have their own problems. Unfortunately, many of them will not realize this. Just as Christians have often not really interacted with the evidence of their position too many times, so it is that many Muslims have not done the same.

While I am a critic of Islam obviously, I do think that for the most part, it has likely been handed down fairly well much like any other ancient document, but there can be no support for the common myth of no variants whatsoever. Anyone wanting to study this issue should take advantage of Small’s book. It is sure to be a staple in this field for some time.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: God Among Sages

What do I think of Ken Samples’s book published by Baker? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Ken Samples has given the church a gift in giving us a guide to understanding other religions and not only what they believe, but good ways to interact with them. His work is meant to compare Jesus to other religious leaders. How is He similar? How is He different?

Samples takes a hard look at the other religions, but also a fair look. He points to beliefs that are exemplary in those religions. These are areas of common ground that can be agreed upon. We can often make a mistake when we study another religion where we say that everything it is wrong. This is quite likely not the case. It’s hard to think of a worldview where absolutely everything is wrong. (In fact, if we begin discussing evidence in objective reality, we at least agree that there is an objective reality.)

He also includes reading for those interested. If you want to go to the scholars of that religion themselves and the ones who hold to it, he goes there. If you want to know about Christians who have written on the topic, he also goes there. I think Samples’s treatment is quite fair. I cannot speak on accuracy per se as I am not a specialist in these religions, but he does not go out to make them look foolish.

When that is done, he will tell you about what to say when you talk to people who hold these worldviews. What kinds of questions can you ask? How can you handle their belief system respectfully? The book is also written with questions that make it appropriate for small groups. Naturally, while this is all good, I would also tell people that if you want to engage with someone in this worldview, try to read their holy book or books yourself as well. (I still remember the time when dialoguing with a Muslim when I asked if he had ever read the NT. His reply was “No. Have you ever read the Qur’an?” I was able to answer affirmatively.)

He starts as well with a defense of the deity of Christ and who He was. I thought this was a good section, but I would have liked to have seen a lot more from the other Gospels besides John. I fully uphold John of course, but many groups like Muslims and JWs have been trained to deal with explicit arguments. I like more the implicit arguments and the ones that are seen to be even earlier than John that show a high Christology.

There’s also a discussion about exclusivism vs. inclusivism at the end of the book. This is the section that I had the most difficulty with. I am not one who thinks that one has to explicitly know the name of Jesus to be saved. I don’t think Samples’s explanation for the Old Testament is really convincing. I think those in the Old Testament were saved by looking forward to the pre-incarnate Christ they did not know.

It’s also not because I have a low view of God and sin and a high view of man. I don’t. Aside from the work of the cross of Christ, no one is fit to be in right relationship with God. Samples goes to Romans 10 about people needing to hear the Gospel, and they do, but doesn’t Romans 10 right after 14-15 and 17 contain these verses?

18 But I ask: Did they not hear? Of course they did:

“Their voice has gone out into all the earth,
    their words to the ends of the world.”

Where does that come from? It’s from Psalm 19. Psalm 19 is one of the messages about general revelation. What voice has gone to all the Earth? It is the voice of creation.

Thus, I’m not convinced that we must make a hard line case for exclusivism. Does that mean that people in other religions are saved or possibly saved? No. I think people devoutly following a false faith will be judged for that. However, I am entirely open to someone who knows that the belief system they are in is false and cannot hold up and yet is still seeking the true God. God could reach out to them through dreams, as seems to happen in the Muslim community or other means. There are more than enough missionary stories about missionaries showing up and people there saying something like “We have a tradition that says that one day people will show up with a book that will have the truth and you have fulfilled that today.”

I also don’t think the question of those who have never heard in Scripture is addressed for one reason. It doesn’t need to be. God is not interested in just answering our curiosity. He gave us our marching orders in the Great Commission. That is Plan A and He makes no mention of any Plan B. We could say that some could be saved even without our reaching them, but we have far more confidence if we just go and reach them ourselves.

Of course, this is an in-house debate among Christians. While I disagree with this part, the main reason we read the book is to learn about the other religions, and there I think we have a great guide. I fully encourage Christians reading this text and learning about other religions and how Jesus compares.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Jesus Among Secular Gods

What do I think of the book by Ravi Zacharias and Vince Vitale published by FaithWords? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I have been doing apologetics for a little over fifteen years. When I first started, one of the shaping books for me was Lee Strobel’s The Case for Christ followed by The Case For Faith. It was in the latter that one mind I read particularly gripped me with his story, personality, and reasoning style and that was Ravi Zacharias. One book of his quite popular at the time was Jesus Among Other Gods. I remember devouring that book and thoroughly enjoying it. Now here we are years later and we have Jesus Among Secular Gods.

This might surprise some people. Secularists don’t have gods! In the sense of real entities that are deities that have their own being, sure, but there are a number of isms out there like scientism and hedonism. Can the claims of Jesus stand up to secular thought? Does secular thought really answer the deep questions of life?

Ravi has a story early on about dialoguing with someone in the Middle East who drew two circles. For most Middle Easterners, their faith is the outer rim of the circle and their life is a little dot in the center. We have it reversed. It’s easy for us to compartmentalize our faith. This is what the Middle Easterner believed would lead to the fall of Western civilization. One’s religious walk is a secondary part of their life instead of becoming what influences their whole life.

Ravi goes on from there to interact with Stephen Hawking who suggested that we need to find extraterrestrial life if it’s out there before it destroys us. I appreciated Ravi’s cynicism at first in wanting to say that since we’re having a hard time finding intelligent life here, let’s find it elsewhere, but his next thought was even better. Isn’t it fascinating that intelligent life is something we are to be looking for outside of our Earth, unless that intelligent life happens to be theistic.

Richard Dawkins isn’t safe either. Many of us remember him saying that

The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.

Yet if God is a fiction, then we have a problem. The actions attributed to him are really to be attributed to some really gullible people who in turn did some evil things. If so, then where does the evil lie? If Dawkins has it that God is a fiction and in turn there is no fall away from him but man living by his own nature, then aren’t we the source of the evil? Isn’t it the problem man playing God? Should we not strive to avoid that?

I like a story he tells about Billy Graham visiting Disneyworld and telling Walt Disney that he had created an amazing world of fantasy. Disney replied that Graham had it backward. He had shown the real world. Everything else was fantasy. What did he mean by that?

In Disney’s world, one of the greatest gifts is children are children. They laugh and play and have utter delight. Go out there and what do you find? You find children attacking other children. You find children cutting themselves and harming themselves. You don’t find white knights coming along to save them and you find dragons roaming in the real world that no one will fight.

Of course, Ravi and Vince contrast this with answers from other faiths. A story is told about talking to a man from a Muslim country asking the difference between the Christian God and the Muslim God. He was told that if you want to know what the Christian God is like, read the life of Jesus. If you want to know what the Muslim God is like, read the life of Muhammad. That was enough to settle the question for him.

Vince also shows himself to be taking on the thinking of Ravi. I liked how he described that we talk about the intellect of God and how He knows everything immensely and we can’t compare, but when we talk about His love, we downplay it. We make God’s love very human and act like it’s just as prone to being broken as ours is.

I also appreciated the story about Matthew Parris writing on how Africa needs God. God gives the people hope. Following God helps them to be provided for and keeps them away from other gods such as the infusion of Nike, or the witch doctor, or the machete. We need to have evangelism going on in Africa and not let it be stopped.

By the way, Matthew Parris is an atheist.

Vince when taking on hedonism starts with the idea of the experience machine. Imagine a machine you could plug into and feel the sensation of any experience you wanted. You could be making love to a supermodel or going into battle in whatever time period you want or you could be making a scientific breakthrough. You can have whatever you want. Should you plug into the machine?

No. We don’t want just the feeling of doing these things. We want to be able to do these kinds of things. We don’t want to just feel loved. We want to be loved. We don’t want to just have dreams. We want to accomplish them.

Vince also tells about the Christian view of sex here. I like the story he tells about seeing a testimony in the past with someone saying “I used to drink. I used to party. I used to have sex. But now I’m a  Christian and I don’t do these things any more.” If this is your testimony, please stop. Everyone who isn’t a Christian is saying “It sounds like your life was better before.”

Vince reminds us that sex is something sacred and meant for a covenant of two people. The action means something and it is special when saved for that covenant relationship. Our world treats sex as something common and the results have been horrid for us.

That being said, God is not anti-pleasure, but he calls us to more than just living for ourselves in this moment. In fact, he tells us our greatest joy is in denying ourselves and following Him. Lewis would say this is really having us be more ourselves than we ever were before. Christianity is not opposed to pleasure, including sexual pleasure, but that pleasure is not to be a god.

The writers also point out the importance of disagreement. We have reached an age where to disagree with someone is to devalue them as a person supposedly. To be sure, there are wrong ways to disagree with people, but that doesn’t mean all disagreement is the problem. Disagreement can mean we value the person’s opinion and we think the subject itself is really important.

The book overall is a good look at the thinking we have in the West and how we need to contrast that with Christ. Ravi I have found consistently is a writer who touches the heart as well as the head. Vince follows along very well in that pattern and hopefully we’ll see more of him in the future. I recommend you go out and go through this book.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Many Prophets, One Message on the Trinity

Does the Trinity have pagan origins? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I had planned to write a book review again today, but then in a discussion on if Christianity copied from pagans, someone shared this to respond to my claim that they did not. What we saw from the last election cycle in our country is sometimes it’s tempting to get people to move away from a candidate by claiming they’re racist, sexist, homophobic, etc. (Didn’t work too well this time.) In religion, it can be tempting to label something as pagan and think everyone will back away. Of course, labeling is not the same as being able to demonstrate.
The post under question is from Many Prophets, One Message and can be found here. The post is from a Muslim so I won’t be commenting on everything. For instance, when we start talking about the Muslim belief, I won’t be saying anything. Islam is not a specialty area of mine and when I dialogue with Muslims, I stick to what I know, the New Testament. Others who have studied Islam more might want to say something about that part.

So let’s see what they say.

In order to understand the influence of paganism on the doctrine of the Trinity, we need to first understand the world into which Christianity was born and developed. The disciples, the first believers in Jesus, were Jews. In fact Christianity started out as a movement within Judaism. Like Jews since the time of Moses, these first believers kept the Sabbath, were circumcised and worshiped in the Temple: “One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the time of prayer—at three in the afternoon.” [Acts 3:1] The only thing that distinguished the early followers of Jesus from any other Jews was their belief in Jesus as the Messiah, that is, the one chosen by God who would redeem the Jewish people. Today, many Christian scholars agree that authors of the New Testament such as Matthew were Jewish believers in Jesus. The influence of Judaism on the New Testament is important because it helps us to correctly understand its message. The New Testament is full of terminology like “son of God.” Such language is interpreted literally by Trinitarians to mean that Jesus is God the Son, but is this correct? What was the intention behind the Jewish writers of the New Testament when they used such language? What did these terms mean at the time of Jesus?

I’m pleased that there is some right stuff here, such as the authors of the New Testament being Jewish believers in Jesus, though I’d say it’s quite a good possibility that Luke was a Gentile believer. Still, the claim that the first believers kept the Sabbath, were circumcised, and worshiped in the Temple is flimsy. All we have is one verse and it only describes the Temple.

I meet many Seventh-Day Adventists who think that Paul had to worship on Saturday because he went into the synagogues on Saturday to speak to the Jews so he was still observing the Sabbath. If he was, it will need to be established on other grounds. Why would Paul go on Saturday? He went on Saturday because that is the day the Jews were there. If he had gone on Sunday, no one would have been there to hear the message, or at least if some were there, it would not be the usual crowd.

In the same way, when the first believers went to the temple, this is only the believers in Jerusalem and they went there because that was a central meeting place to spread the message of Jesus. Of course, we learn later in Acts 12 about them meeting in the homes of believers as well. As for circumcision, if they were Jews, they were indeed circumcised, but as we learn in Acts 15, circumcision was not seen as essential for Christianity. This was the first great debate. (And aren’t we men all thankful for how it turned out?)

Our writer also says “Son of God” in interpreted literally by Christians. Unfortunately, He does not state what this means. For instance, if I say Jesus is the Son of God, I don’t mean in a literal sense such as God having sex with Mary. I also realize it can be used in a figurative sense as it has been used of angels and of great men and yes, the pagans used the title for their kings. Our author, unfortunately, cites no Trinitarians who are doing what he claims.

In fact, I would argue that Son of God is not the greatest claim to deity Jesus made. Son of Man is far more persuasive. With this, Jesus is consistently pointing to the figure in Daniel 7. This is the figure that will rule alongside the Ancient of Days and whose Kingdom has no end.

When we turn to the Old Testament we find that such language permeates its pages. For example, Moses calls God “Father”: Is this the way you repay the Lord, you foolish and unwise people? Is he not your Father, your Creator, who made you and formed you? [Deuteronomy 32:6] Angels are referred to as “sons of God”: Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan came also among them. [Job 1:6] The Old Testament even goes so far as to call Moses a god: “And the LORD said unto Moses, See, I have made thee a god to Pharaoh: and Aaron thy brother shall be thy prophet.” [Exodus 7:1] The Israelites are also referred to as “gods”: “I said, ‘You are “gods”; you are all sons of the Most High.’”  [Psalm 82:6] What we can conclude is that such highly exalted language was commonplace and is intended figuratively; it is not a literal indication of divinity.

The problem here is that this is not enough to make a case and it can be cherry picking. Just pick verses that agree with your position and hey, you’ve got it! The reference to Moses is one that is being seen as a metaphor and not a claim about what it means to be the son of God. As for Psalms 82, I interpret this as sarcasm. The rulers of Israel prided themselves as being favored since they were the leaders and got to judge Israel, but God says they’re not gods, they’re mere men. Jesus used this passage to back His claims in John 10. If the title can be used of sinful men, how much more the righteous one? Note He used it to back His claim to deity and not to lessen it.

Even as late as the end of the first century, when the New Testament writers started penning their accounts of the life of Jesus, Jewish people were still using such language figuratively. In a conversation between Jesus and some Jewish teachers of the law, they say to Jesus: “…The only Father we have is God himself.” [John 8:41] The Gospel of Luke calls Adam a son of God when it recounts the lineage of Jesus: “the son of Enosh, the son of Seth, the son of Adam, the son of God.” [Luke 3:38] Jesus even says that anyone who is makes peace is a child of God: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” [Matthew 5:9] If the New Testament writers understood such language to be a claim to divinity, then they would have used it exclusively in relation to Jesus. Clearly, it denotes a person that is righteous before God and nothing more.

So we can see that such language, in and of itself, does not denote the divinity of Jesus. So where did such ideas come from?

Again, Son of God depends on the context. It’s not the same meaning every time, and our writer makes the mistake of thinking that it is. Note that passages like John 10 are ignored. Still, he asks a good question. Where does the idea that Jesus is divine come from?

The turning point in history came when Christianity ceased being a small movement within Judaism and Gentiles (non-Jews) started to embrace the faith in large numbers. We need to look to the pagan world of the Gentiles in order to understand the mindset of the people that received the New Testament message. Since the time of Alexander the Great, Gentiles had been living in a Hellenistic (Greek) world. Their lands were dominated by Roman armies, with the Roman Empire being the superpower of the world at the time. The Roman Empire itself was heavily influenced by Hellenistic religion, philosophy and culture. Greek gods and goddesses like Zeus, Hermes and Aphrodite, as well as Roman gods and goddesses like Jupiter, Venus and Diana, dominated the landscape. There were temples, priesthoods, and feasts dedicated to the patron god or goddess of a city or region; statues to the deities dotted the forums of the cities. Even rulers themselves were frequently worshipped as gods.

Aside from the first sentence, I really don’t have a problem with what is said here. We do need to understand the Gentile world and the pagan world to understand the New Testament. Much of what is said here about the pagan world is in fact accurate.

Gentiles from such a polytheistic background would have naturally understood Christian preaching about the “son of God” in light of a Greek or Roman god having been begotten by another. We can see this mindset manifested in the New Testament. In the Book of Acts there is an incident where the Gentile crowds think that Paul is Zeus come among them when he heals a crippled man:

When the crowd saw what Paul had done, they shouted in the Lycaonian language, “The gods have come down to us in human form!”

Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul they called Hermes because he was the chief speaker.

The priest of Zeus, whose temple was just outside the city, brought bulls and wreaths to the city gates because he and the crowd wanted to offer sacrifices to them. [Acts 14:11-13]

In checking this, I found something interesting. When I went to the book of Acts, I did a search for the words “son” and “God.” Only two places do I see references to Jesus being the Son of God. One is in Acts 9:20.

“And straightway in the synagogues he proclaimed Jesus, that he is the Son of God.”

Note that here we have Paul in a Jewish synagogue and saying “He is the Son of God” about Jesus. The question to ask is how would the Jews understand this? In light of the resurrection, it would mean the claims of Jesus were true, and I would include deity in that. Acts 13:33 is the next and could in fact contain early creedal material.

that God hath fulfilled the same unto our children, in that he raised up Jesus; as also it is written in the second psalm, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee.

This would include the idea that as the resurrected Son, Jesus is the rightful king of this world. He is the one meant to rule. Already, we have exalted language of Jesus. This isn’t counting what we find in the Pauline epistles that leads us to conclude that the earliest Christology is indeed the highest.

Still, what about Acts 14? As our writer goes on to say:

It is worthy of note that Paul and Barnabas did not take this opportunity to explain that it was not they but rather Jesus who was God come in human form. Such a clarification is what you would expect, if Trinitarian beliefs about Jesus are correct. Instead, they argued against such pagan beliefs and practices:

But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of this, they tore their clothes and rushed out into the crowd, shouting:

“Men, why are you doing this? We too are only men, human like you. We are bringing you good news, telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made heaven and earth and sea and everything in them. [Acts 14:14-15]

Here we see that the Greco-Roman peoples that Paul and Barnabas were preaching to were in the habit of taking humans for gods. Despite Paul protesting that he was not a god, the people persisted in their belief: “Even with these words, they had difficulty keeping the crowd from sacrificing to them.” [Acts 14:18] From this example we can see that according to Christian history, it was a common practice for people to attribute divinity to other humans. In spite of Paul openly denying being a god, the people continued to worship and sacrifice to him. We can conclude that even if Jesus himself rejected being God at that time, the mindset of the people was such that they would still have found a way to deify him. This is not an isolated incident, as we read elsewhere that Gentiles believed Paul was a god because he survived a bite from a venomous snake:

It is actually not at all surprising. For one thing, I think Luke is speaking in a mocking tone about the people of Lystra. Yet why would Paul not be out spouting full Trinitarian theology at once? One problem is that a lot of people think that if the Trinity is true, that the earliest believers needed to be quoting the Nicene Creed. Not at all. They grew in their understanding like we all do. Paul himself spent three years in the wilderness rethinking everything he knew when he found out Jesus was the Messiah, and in many ways actually understood the ramifications of that better than the others.

Why would Paul not say Jesus was God in human form? Because the people of Lystra would be thinking of Zeus or some other polytheistic deity. Paul would start with where they were. We don’t know for sure what arguments he made as we’re given a picture and a paragraph, but all our writer has is a picture and a paragraph. You need more than that.

He also claims that since people were easily deified, it’s not a shock to think of that happening to Jesus. However, as has been shown, the claims of deity that we’ve already seen aren’t made to a pagan audience but a Jewish one. Jews would not be the ones to do that unless they had really good reason to believe that there had been an incarnation that had taken place. We also have to ask still “How did the idea that Jesus is deity ever come about?” Many people had risen from the dead in the Bible. None were said to be deity. Why Jesus? This is indeed a central question.

Let’s go on.

Once safely on shore, we found out that the island was called Malta.

The islanders showed us unusual kindness. They built a fire and welcomed us all because it was raining and cold.

Paul gathered a pile of brushwood and, as he put it on the fire, a viper, driven out by the heat, fastened itself on his hand.

When the islanders saw the snake hanging from his hand, they said to each other, “This man must be a murderer; for though he escaped from the sea, the goddess Justice has not allowed him to live.”

But Paul shook the snake off into the fire and suffered no ill effects.

The people expected him to swell up or suddenly fall dead; but after waiting a long time and seeing nothing unusual happen to him, they changed their minds and said he was a god. [Acts:28:1-6]

With this background in mind, it’s easy to see how Judaic phrases like “son of God” took on a different meaning when transported out of their Jewish monotheistic context into pagan Greco-Roman thought. The Trinity doctrine arose neither in a vacuum, nor strictly from the text of Scripture. It was the result of the influence of certain beliefs and attitudes that prevailed in and around the Church after the first century. The Church emerged in a Jewish and Greek world and so the primitive Church had to reconcile the notions they had inherited from Judaism with those they had derived from pagan mythology. In the words of the historian and Anglican bishop John Wand, “Jew and Greek had to meet in Christ”

Except the Gentiles never claimed Paul was a son of God. They were claiming he was a god. The Jews were the ones using the Son of God claim. Note that already our writer is claiming the church received ideas from pagan mythology. All we’ve seen so far is that some pagans thought Paul was a god. We have seen no evidence that the Jews received these ideas or that the early church did and if Luke is indeed mocking the people, then it is quite likely they did not.

It’s interesting to note that the Greco-Roman religions were filled with tales of gods procreating with human beings and begetting god-men. The belief that God could be incarnate, or that there were sons of God, were common and popular beliefs. For example, the chief god in the Greek pantheon, Zeus, visited the human woman Danae in the form of golden rain and fathered Perseus, a “god-man.” In another tale Zeus is said to have come to the human woman Alcmena, disguised as her husband. Alcmena bore Hercules, another “god-man.” Such tales bear a striking similarity to Trinitarian beliefs of God being begotten as a man. In fact, the early Christian apologist Justin Martyr, considered a saint in the Catholic Church, said the following in response to pagan criticisms that Christianity borrowed from their beliefs about the sons of God:

Well, not really. That a god could take on a human guise is one thing. That they would take on a human nature is entirely different. This is the claim about Jesus. Jesus entered into every aspect of human life, the good, the bad, and the ugly. (Not that Jesus Himself did anything bad of course.) That is in no way a similiarity to the Christian claims. Gentiles would be quite horrified by the thought of the gods doing something as shameful as actually becoming human. Still, let’s look at what our writer has to say about Justin Martyr.

When we say that the Word, who is our teacher, Jesus Christ the first born of God, was produced without sexual union, and that he was crucified and died and rose again, and ascended to heaven, we propound nothing new or different from what you [pagans] believe regarding those whom you consider sons of Jupiter.

And the comment on this is:

According to ancient Roman myth, Jupiter was the king of all the gods. Here Justin Martyr is telling Roman pagans that what the Christians believe about Jesus being the son of God is nothing different than what they believe about the sons of the god Jupiter. That the Church Fathers’ conception of the Trinity was a combination of Jewish monotheism and pagan polytheism can be seen in the testimony of Gregory of Nyssa, a fourth century bishop who is venerated as a saint in the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches. He also happens to be one of the great figures in the history of the philosophical formulation of the doctrine of the Trinity. He wrote:

We’ll see what comes from Gregory next, but let’s look at what Justin Martyr is saying. What is he defending? He is trying to defend the claim that the Christian religion is NOT shameful. Justin thought the parallels were there because the devil in the myths of the pagans was trying to imitate…..what was he trying to imitate?

The prophecies of Moses.

In fact, I find Justin’s parallels to be stretches. Why would he do this? To get the emperor to stop persecuting the Christians based on their believing something new and strange. In Justin’s time, new beliefs were viewed with suspicion so you tried to connect your beliefs to something old. That’s why Justin points to the Hebrew prophecies. (Get that. Justin believes that all about Jesus is prophesied in the Old Testament, not taken from pagans.) He is wanting pagan audiences to see parallels, indicating they probably didn’t see them before. Note also that there is no indication that the Christians took this on to be more hospitable to pagans. After all, here we are about 100 years later and if that was the plan, it has failed miserably.

I also want to be clear I don’t agree with Justin’s argument, but just because I don’t agree doesn’t mean I think we should misunderstand it. It can only be disagreed with truly if one truly understands it. Let’s make sure we are interpreting Justin rightly.

Now moving on to Gregory:

For the truth passes in the mean between these two conceptions, destroying each heresy, and yet, accepting what is useful to it from each. The Jewish dogma is destroyed by the acceptance of the Word and by belief in the Spirit, while the polytheistic error of the Greek school is made to vanish by the unity of the nature abrogating this imagination of plurality.

The Christian conception of God, argues Gregory of Nyssa, is neither purely the polytheism of the Greeks nor purely the monotheism of the Jews, but rather a combination of both.

There’s a little bit of error mixed in with the understanding here. The Trinity that Gregory accepted is montheistic, but it is not a unitarian monotheism. In fact, this is one of the first mistakes made in Trinitarian discussions. There’s an assumption that God must be one in person. In fact, Jews in the time of Jesus were open to a plurality in the Godhead and even afterward. Afterward, look at figures like Metatron. Before, look at figures like Wisdom and the Logos and sometimes the Son of Man as well.

Even the concept of God-men who were saviours of mankind was by no means exclusive to Jesus. Long before Jesus was born, it was not uncommon for military men and political rulers to be talked about as divine beings. More than that, they were even treated as divine beings: given temples, with priests, who would perform sacrifices in their honour, in the presence of statues of them. In Athens for example, Demetrios Poliorcetes (Demetrios the Conqueror of Cities, 337–283 BCE) was acclaimed as a divine being by hymn-writers because he liberated them from their Macedonian enemies:

How the greatest and dearest of the gods are present in our city! For the circumstances have brought together Demeter and Demetrios; she comes to celebrate the solemn mysteries of the Kore, while he is here full of joy, as befits the god, fair and laughing. His appearance is solemn, his friends all around him and he in their midst, as though they were stars and he the sun. Hail boy of the most powerful god Poseidon and Aphrodite! For other gods are either far away, or they do not have ears, or they do not exist, or do not take any notice of us, but you we can see present here, not made of wood or stone, but real. So we pray to you: first make peace, dearest; for you have the power…

Note that there is a difference between being a divine being, and being seen as ontologically equal to one supreme God. What is the claim of Jesus? Was Paul just preaching that Jesus was a divine being? Note also that you can show all day long other humans were turned into divine beings. That does not show that when it was done to Jesus, that it was done falsely. That would be like saying “Other Jews thought other figures were the Messiah, so when they thought it about Jesus they thought wrongly.” It doesn’t work.

The Athenians gave Demetrios an arrival that was fit for a god, burning incense on altars and making offerings to their new deified king. It must be pointed out that as time passed by, he did some other things that the Athenians did not approve of, and as a consequence they revoked their adoration of him. It seems that in the days before Jesus, divinity could be stripped away from human beings just as easily as it was granted. Perhaps the best known examples of God-men are the divine honours bestowed upon the rulers of the Roman Empire, starting with Julius Caesar. We have an inscription dedicated to him in 49 BCE discovered in the city of Ephesus, which says this about him

Descendant of Ares and Aphrodite

The God who has become manifest

And universal savior of human life

What of it? Claims were made of Caesar like this. Again, our writer will have to show that the claims were made falsely about Jesus. This has not been done. In fact, as we saw earlier, the claims were first made in a Jewish context. I plan on showing more of that later on.

So Julius Caesar was God manifest as man, the saviour of mankind. Sound familiar? Now prior to Julius Caesar, rulers in the city of Rome itself were not granted divine honours. But Caesar himself was – before he died, the senate approved the building of a temple for him, a cult statue, and a priest. Soon after his death, his adopted son and heir, Octavian, promoted the idea that at his death, Caesar had been taken up to heaven and been made a god to live with the gods. There was a good reason that Octavian wanted his adopted father to be declared a God. If his father was God, then what does that make him? This deification of Caesar set the precedent for what was to happen with the emperors, beginning with the first of them, Octavian himself, who became “Caesar Augustus” in 29 BCE. There is an inscription that survives from his lifetime found in the city of Halicarnassus (modern Turkey), which calls Augustus

…The native Zeus

and Savior of the human race

There’s something interesting about all of this. It does indeed sound familiar, but not for the same reasons. Let’s consider what is said by a Bart Ehrman blog which can be found here. If you will look through, the exact same references are used and many times, the same language is used. Ehrman is also a favorite of Muslims, so this doesn’t surprise me, but again, can the writer show that this happened with Jesus in a Jewish context?

This is yet another example of a divine saviour of mankind. Now Octavian happened to also be the “son of God” by virtue of his divine father Julius Caesar. In fact Octavian became known as ‘Divi filius’ (“Son of the Divine One”). These, of course, are all titles widely used by Christians today to describe Jesus. We must realise that the early Church did not come up with these titles out of the blue, they are all things said of other men before they were said of Jesus. For early Christians, the idea was not that Jesus was the only person who was ever called such things, this is a misconception. The concept of a divine human being who was the saviour of mankind was a sort of template that was applied to people of great power and authority. We’ve seen that the history of paganism is littered with such examples, and Jesus was just another divine saviour in a long list of divine saviours that had preceded him.

And this is it. There is no interaction with the divine claims found in the New Testament. There is no indication that pagans believed in a Trinity. Instead, we have the idea of “Pagans turned humans into deities so the same happend with Jesus.” That needs to be shown on all counts and not just asserted. Let’s look at some divine claims about Jesus.

Chris Tilling has a wonderful book called Paul’s Divine Christology. I have reviewed it here. Tilling’s hypothesis is that if there was something that set YHWH apart as deity it was His position as being in covenant relationship with Israel. When we go to the New Testament, we see this same language, but it’s not so much YHWH and Israel as it is Jesus and the church. The parallel is that Jesus is seen as the one the people of God honor in the New Testament in the way that God is honored in the Old Testament.

Another work worth reading is that edited by Michael Bird called How God Became Jesus. I have also reviewed that here and interviewed three of the authors here. You can get an excellent lesson on Christology there.

I regret that I haven’t read Larry Hurtado’s massive work Lord Jesus Christ yet, but I have read How On Earth Did Jesus Become A God?. Hurtado points to some of our early creedal traditions. Jesus is spoken of as the Lord. The language is saying “Anathema, Maranatha.” It refers to the coming of the Lord and is in Aramaic, something Gentiles were not known for speaking. This is high language of Jesus referring to the coming of the Lord. Romans 1:3-4 referring to the divine nature of Jesus fits in this as well as this is also a creedal statement.

The writer might also be interesting in my talk with Rob Bowman on the Trinity. For John, there is my talk with Paul Rainbow on Johannine theology. There are plenty of other authors that could be read like Bauckham and O’Collins and others. Our writer did not interact with any and it’s very easy to make a case if you ignore all the best arguments against your position.

Also, I point to statements such as Paul’s of Jesus being in the divine nature in Philippians 2 and then the language of Isaiah that was applied to God alone. Revelation has all creation in chapter 5 worshiping Him who sits on the throne and the Lamb. Note that the Lamb is separated from all creation. In fact, a fascinating way to study Revelation is to go through and see not what it says about whatever your view is of end times, but what does it say about Jesus?

Matthew also begins with early on having Jesus being seen as Immanuel, meaning “God with us.” In the end, Jesus says He has been given all authority and says “I am with you always.” These are bookends. In the middle, He also says that when two or three are gathered, He is in their midst, which is a reference to what was said about YHWH in the study of Torah by the Jews.

We could go on and on with Jesus forgiving someone in the book of Mark and Mark 1 having Scripture that applied to YHWH being applied to Jesus, with Hebrews, a thoroughly Jewish book, having an opening chapter that is a massive tour de force on Jesus being fully equal with God, and with Jesus saying that all must honor Him as they honor the Father in John. The person wanting to know more about this is invited to go to the best scholars on both sides and study the issue.

In conclusion, I find that the writer just hasn’t made his case. He has spent so much time looking at the pagans, that he has not looked at Jesus at all really. What happened in the life of Jesus? What is the evidence? A suspicion is not the same as an argument. The same arguments made could be used to argue that Jesus wasn’t really the Messiah, which Islam would not want to say.

If the writer wants to show true pagan influence, I hope they do better next time.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

ISIS. We Don’t Hate You

What do we say to our enemies? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Sometime in our day and age, it’s hard to be able to show love to your enemies. Many of us remember well 9/11. We remember the worst terrorist attack ever on American soil. We see in our minds the image of people on the upper stories leaping out of the windows. We remember watching those towers come down.

We remember also people coming on the news afterwards trying to tell us that Islam is a religion of peace, and so they have told us. They have told us after every single terrorist attack that has happened. It’s really hard to think that it is and we wonder how we as individuals, not as the political entity of a nation, are to respond to ISIS.

ISIS in their magazine recently put out and article called “Why We Hate You And Why We Fight You.” It’s a real article and you can see it here. A commenter on Mike Licona’s Facebook page said when shared that it would be awesome if someone wrote from a Christian perspective to counter about why we don’t hate them.

Well why not?

First, “We hate you first and foremost, because you are disbelievers, you reject the oneness of Allah.”

Naturally, this is about the Trinity. Of course, we could respond and say that Muslims deny the full deity of the Son of God which would also be blasphemous. Many of them have an idea that Jesus was conceived of some sexual union between God and Mary. Not at all. Still, it’s important to note we wish to honor God properly and to honor the Son as we honor the Father per John 5:23. This will get us into apologetics arguments for why we believe the NT is reliable and why we believe in the highest Christology that we can.

The main difference between us is we think God is best to give out the final judgment rather than us. We like you would rather see you converted than see you dead. That is so much for us that as individuals, we are willing to wait it out and pray for our enemies and bless those who persecute us, per Jesus’s instructions in the Sermon on the Mount.

Second, “We hate you because your secular, liberal societies permit the very things that Allah has prohibited while banning many of the things He has permitted”

Some of these things we’ll agree on actually. We don’t care for the way the homosexual lobby has transformed America. Still, the difference is we don’t want to win over our enemy with the sword. It ultimately won’t convince him. It’s also not allowed in the way of Jesus.

As for separation of church and state, we seek to give a place where everyone can worship freely. That may seem risky to you, but to us, ideally it’s supposed to allow everyone to live in freedom. Here for instance, I disagree thoroughly with your religion of Islam, but I would surely defend the rights of Muslims to build a mosque and worship as they see fit.

Next, we also remember that according to Romans, we were all once enemies of God and living our own lives putting ourselves at the center. Okay. Some of us still struggle with that. We also remember that while we were His enemies, God sent His Son to save us. Our fellow Americans and such who disagree with us are in the same boat. Anyone of them could also follow in the footsteps of Paul for all we know.

Third, “In the case of the atheist fringe, we hate you and wage are against you because you disbelieve in the existence of your Lord and Creator.”

And again, we agree. We don’t care for atheism. The difference is we don’t hate atheists. It’s atheism that is the problem. We also think it’s foolish to deny the reality of a creator and yes, we could all bear to think about our final judgment a lot more. Still, as with the second, we prefer to use the methods of Christ and besides, we’d rather show the idea is just wrong instead of killing those who hold it.

Fourth, “We hate you for your crimes against Islam and wage war against you to punish you for your transgressions against our religion.”

We have seen plenty of this towards us as well. In fact, our own military has burnt Bibles sent to our soldiers. Yet still, this all falls under the second theme. We would rather show that the religion is wrong instead of going the path of warfare.

Fifth, “We hate you for your crimes against Muslims; your drones and fighter jets bombs, kill, and maim our people around the world.”

Based on what came first, I’m quite sure that even if this stopped immediately, you’d still have the same attitude. This goes to what we do as a nation. If we look at nations that have been attacked by Muslims, we take that seriously. If an innocent nation was being attacked, we would also take that seriously. Many of us were living in peace when 9/11 took place. That kind of matter is taken by our government as an act of war and like you, we want to defend our women and children as well.

Sixth, “We hate you for invading our lands and fight you to repel you and drive you out.”

In the West, there is no real desire to build an empire. With our nuclear capabilities, we could have done so easily if we wanted to. We have no desire to wipe you off of the map. We would prefer to see people living in freedom. Still, once again, we are not to hate our enemies. We are to love them.

“What’s important to understand here is that although some might argue that your foreign policies are the extent of what drives our hatred, this particular reason for hating you is secondary, hence the reason we addressed it at the end of the above list. The fact is, even if you were to stop bombing us, imprisoning us, torturing us, vilifying us, and usurping our lands, we would continue to hate you because our primary reason for hating you will not cease to exist until you embrace Islam…As much as some liberal journalist would like you to believe that we do what we do because we’re simply monsters with no logic behind our course of action, the fact is that we continue to wage—and escalate—a calculated war that the west thought it had ended several years ago. So you can continue to believe that those ‘despicable terrorists’ hate you because of your lattes and your Timberlands, or you can accept reality and recognize that we will never stop hating you until you embrace Islam.”

And here is where we are different. Your reason for hating us is we don’t embrace Islam. Our reason for loving you is God. God loves you and He loved us even while we were enemies. In fact, His love for us never changed. We didn’t earn it at all. We don’t become Christians so He will love us. We become Christians because He loves us.

And what is that love? It is not sentimental warm fuzzies. It is not what you would see in some Disney movie. It is the active sacrificing of your good for the good of the other. For instance, many of us who are husbands frequently put our own desires on the line for the other. You also know this in saying that you want to protect your women and children. You would be willing to die for your women and children. So are we.

What our nation does as a nation we cannot say. What happens if we are attacked directly could lead into that self-defense, especially with our wives and children at stake. It is nothing we take delight over. It has been said that all good soldiers should hate war but sometimes it is a necessity.

An ultimate difference between us is Jesus is our supreme example whereas yours is Muhammad. Jesus has been our greatest incentive to holiness and a life of true love and sacrifice for one another. No doubt, we fail miserably at times, but we all still seek to try.

Of course, if you want to keep going after us, you’re going to do so and that will just perpetuate the cycle. We would prefer you take the way of Christ. Perhaps you should look into the case for Christianity. What have you to lose? If Islam is true, there is no reason to fear. Start by reading the New Testament. At this, you might ask me if I’ve read the Koran. Indeed I have. I hope to someday soon read some of the hadiths as well. I think it’s part of being informed.

Unfortunately, we suspect you will likely keep going down the same path, but we Christians in America should make it a point to pray for you. Our opponents are not flesh and blood but principalities. It is the ideologies that are our ultimate enemy, not the people who hold them. We hope you’ll see things the same way.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

A Response to Seth Dunn of Pulpit and Pen on Nabeel Qureshi

Is Nabeel Qureshi someone that we should avoid? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I found out yesterday that David Wood had made a video about Seth Dunn of Pulpit and Pen doing a hit piece on Christian apologist Nabeel Qureshi. I have had my interactions with Dunn in the past. For instance, when the Coptic Christians were murdered by ISIS and I shared that, Dunn considered it a good time to point out that (in his view) that the Coptic Christians weren’t really Christians due to their view on salvation. (Those who can see my Facebook can read it here.)

I have seen N.T. Wright described as an unsound theologian because he’s an egalitarian and he baptizes babies. I have seen it said that William Lane Craig made a point in a debate just because he was trying to win a debate. In fact, he has even gone after myself on my view of Heaven and Hell (Or at least one I am open to) is plainly heretical.

When my wife later (Much later since we didn’t want to make an issue out of it really as I can’t make an issue of everyone who says anything to me on Facebook) confronted him on this, he did back it.

I did say Nick is a heretic. This was on the comment section of his blog, not on FB if memory serves. He’s a universalist, if that’s not heresy then I don’t know what is

This would work if universalism was my view. It is not. Not everyone will be saved. Unfortunately, Dunn still sees Heaven and Hell as they have to be separate locations and pushes that on my what I say. No. My view there was that the same sun that melts wax hardens clay. Those who have lived lives of righteousness will be in the presence of God forever and think this is Heaven because they have loved God and being with the one they love is a delight. Those who have not and have rejected Jesus will live forever there as well and will consider it hell because they have hated God. I do not see any redemption either for them at that point. Heaven and Hell are not defined by a location (Since God is omnipresent) but are defined by relationship to God. Universalism is the view that all will be redeemed. That is not my view.

But hey, why make a big deal out of it? I had seen Dunn write many times on Facebook and every single time it was all about how some group isn’t really Christian or something along those lines. It reminds me of the Christians who want to say that every new game craze or fad that comes out is somehow satanic. After awhile, you just don’t listen any more. There are better usages of time.

Then I saw David Wood came out with that video. I was frankly surprised. Why is David Wood spending so much time on this? In fact, this is a nearly 40-minute video. I hadn’t seen a video that long from David Wood, at least in recent history, aside from something like a debate of course. Why do this?

For one thing, Pulpit and Pen is a prominent blog for some reason. Second, Dunn has actually been nominated for president of the SBC. It looks like this won’t happen at least this time around, but that shows me this is more serious than I thought.

I should also point out that I happen to know David Wood and Nabeel Qureshi personally. At this point, I don’t think I have got to meet David Wood in person yet, though I would be delighted to someday. The same can’t be said for Qureshi. We’ve had a number of interactions together and his character and commitment to Christ has always been an amazement to me. Both of these men have also been on my show.

According to Dunn, one of the first problems with Qureshi is that he spoke at Reset 2016. Of course, Pulpit and Pen did have something else to say. Someone else on the site said that the event was shut down due to intense heat. This was a judgment of God.

Do you think I’m exaggerating?

I wish I was, but I am not.

Of course, by these standards, when the Reason Rally is not shut down, does this mean that God is pleased with them? I figured we were supposed to be interpreting the work of God by Scripture.Who knew that we could do it by watching the Weather Channel?

So why is this event so problematic? Because Dunn thinks that there were too many people there who were enemies of the cross. Now do I approve of all the speakers there? No. At the same time, I’m nowhere near as extreme as Dunn is where everyone must have their theology right in every single area or we seriously call them into question. I disagree with Roman Catholics, but I do not think they are all lost. There are lost Roman Catholics just as much as there are lost Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, Lutherans, etc.

Still, Dunn thinks that by speaking here, Qureshi has made himself be seen as questionable. After all, it’s hard to imagine that because Qureshi goes out and speaks about Jesus to a million people that somehow he should be viewed with suspicion. Let’s remember that our Lord was seen as a friend of tax collectors and prostitute and the group of twelve men he surrounded himself with did not include theologians who had all their i’s dotted and their t’s crossed.

However, Dunn is not done yet. There is another suspicion brought to light by a Muslim apologist named Yahya Snow. I had not really heard of Snow. Still, I have known that in many cases, Muslim apologetics can be some of the worst apologetics that there is. I would even put it below the new atheists. I have seen some of the most bizarre arguments brought forward, such as the time a Muslim even accused me of thinking that Joseph was 90 when he married Mary. This was news to me since I had never once believed anything like that.

David Wood said that while there are respectable Muslim scholars, such as Shabir Ally, Snow is not one of those. In fact, Snow can be considered the worst of the worst. At least, that was the way it sounded to me when he described someone else as an example of someone who could not be beat for how bad his arguments were until Snow came along.

This guy then, is the one Dunn relies on for his claim. What is the claim? There is a great inconsistency in the story of Nabeel Qureshi of how he became a Christian. You see, Qureshi had dreams that played an instrumental view in his conversion.

Yet here’s the problem. In an interview, Qureshi said that David Wood was sitting at the other end of the doorway. In yet another case, he was standing. There you have it! It’s the smoking gun!

Unfortunately, Wood points out that Qureshi called him and told him about the dream and that Qureshi wrote it down in his dream journal. So did Qureshi slip up? Yes. This can happen. Wood even plays a clip of William Lane Craig saying that 2 + 2 = 5 is a necessary truth. Are we to say that Craig doesn’t know what basic math any more is? No. Sometimes, we can all slip up when we speak. More on this later.

The next point is that Qureshi has questionable credentials as a Muslim. Qureshi was an Ahmedi Muslim. They are often viewed by fellow Muslims as non-Muslims. As Wood points out, the Ahmedi do have some odd beliefs, but Qureshi held to everything you were supposed to believe as a Muslim. Since Dunn in his article refers to James White who he says is a Christian apologist and an expert in Islam agrees on that point, then perhaps he should hear what James White says from the 1:40:00 point on in this video.

White doesn’t deny that Qureshi was a Muslim and in fact he says that while he disagrees with Qureshi’s stances, including on Roman Catholicism, that Qureshi is a gift to the church. He just thinks that Qureshi should describe himself as a devout Ahmedi Muslim. There could be truth to that.

Wood’s video is worth watching in the whole, but it was said last night that Dunn had written a response. I have looked at this response. Now I think it would have been better to accept the correction and move on, but that is not what happened. The counter can be found here.

So what does Dunn say in response?

Wood defends Qureshi’s speaking engagement at Reset 2016, comparing the event to an atheist “reason rally” or a gathering of hostile Muslims. This is an inappropriate comparison. Reset was not the Areopagus. Reset 2016 was advertised by its promoters as a Christian event where “we are gathering as one—lifting a unified sound, asking Jesus to reset our generation.” Reset was not a gathering of hostile atheists or Muslims but (nominal) Christians who came for miles to be unified with one another and pray to Jesus. This was not a Billy Graham crusade designed to see people saved, it was a Christian “unity” event that included the Pope of Rome. It took no Christian boldness to show up to the event and draw applause from the crowd. It would have been bold of Qureshi to separate his Jesus from the indeterminate amount of false Jesuses parading around at this event, rebuking those who followed them, and calling them to repentance and faith.

This might make sense if you’re caught in the idea of discernment ministries where you’re supposed to know who is and isn’t a heretic, but I think Wood’s answer still stands. Qureshi was asked to come and share something about Jesus to a million people. He jumped at the chance. I also suspect, and Qureshi could tell me if I’m wrong, that he would do what any preacher does most every Sunday. A preacher always is aware that there could be non-Christians in his audience. He ends most of his sermons with a call to the Gospel. So again, let’s see. Is Nabeel to be viewed with suspicion because he went and talked to a million people about Jesus? That’s an odd basis for suspicion.

Wood’s video does not accurately represent my view of Qureshi’s Christian faith. I did not assert that Nabeel Qureshi was “apostate”. Nor did I assert the same about Ravi Zacharias, Josh McDowell, or Tim Tebow (who also participated in the Reset 2016 event). If one performed an exhaustive search of all my blogging at this site and my personal site, one would be hard-pressed to find examples of me using the term “apostate”. I intentionally avoid the use of this incendiary term to prevent overly emotional reactions to my writing. Other contributors to this website do frequently use the term. However, none of them have claimed that Qureshi, Zacharias, McDowell, or Tebow were “apostate.”

Maybe not specifically, but one could draw a valid inference. For instance, after Dunn gives a warning in his original article about speakers at a conference and how Christians should be careful, he points to Scripture. What Scripture? This one.

“Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.” (1 Cor. 6:9-11)

Yes. This passage about those who will not inherit the Kingdom of God. What am I to believe based on that? Dunn goes on to say that

Christians should remember that every brother and sister converted from complete lostness and spiritual deadness.  Rather than judge Christian speakers by their backstories, Christians should judge them by the ongoing demonstration of their faith.  No one’s dream or vision is more trustworthy than gospel presented in Holy Scripture.

Of course, I don’t think Qureshi would disagree with this. He would definitely think the Gospel is more reliable, but that does not mean Qureshi is going to discount his dreams any more than I’m going to discount some of the best scholarship that defends the resurrection of Jesus. Does that mean the scholarship is more reliable than the Gospel? Not at all. Dunn may not use the words, but the idea is there. If you keep crying wolf over and over, people will not listen when real wolves show up.

Wood’s video does not accurately represent my view of Qureshi’s former faith. I did not assert that Nabeel Qureshi was not a Muslim. I asserted that his Islamic credentials were “in question” given that he was of the Ahmadi sect. This is simply a statement of fact, given that there are a number of Muslims who claim that Ahmadi’s are not true Muslims. Given that Islam, on the whole, is a false religion, it’s tough to say exactly what “true” Islam is. One must rely on various opinions. Since I am not an expert on the matter, I cited the opinions of Muslim apologist Yahya Snow and well-respected Christian Apologist James White. David Wood, who is knowledgeable on the subject does not agree with Snow or White. Wood’s assessment is very educational but not terribly relevant to my argument.  My modest assertion that Qureshi’s Islamic credentials are “in question” stands. That Qureshi was raised a devout Ahmadi is not in question, nor did my article indicate that it was.

And Wood accurately answers this. Qureshi held to all the essential beliefs it requires to be a Muslim. Dunn thinks that since Islam is a false religion, it’s difficult to know what a true Muslim is. Why? I think Mormonism is a false religion, but that does not mean that I don’t know that there are beliefs that Mormons see as non-negotiable. The same with Jehovah’s Witnesses. Dunn points to White, but again, White is the one who sees Qureshi as a gift to the church. Perhaps Dunn should send his article to White so that White can see the error of his ways and chance his view on Qureshi.

Wood points out that even the best of speakers misspeak. This is true. I have done it numerous times on my own podcast in egregious ways. I’ve never done it on professionally produced and edited television program while telling about a seminal event in my life, however. I’ve also never done it with Pat Robertson on The 700 Club. Whatever the case, Wood provides testimony to corroborate Qureshi’s dream story and admits that Qureshi just made a mistake. This is fine and I’m glad the air has been cleared on this issue.

This is the kind of thing that just astounds me. Dunn admits that we all make mistakes, but then he says “I’ve never done it while talking about a seminal event in my life or on the 700 Club.” At this, I just want to say “Good for you.” Unfortunately, others do make mistakes in these arenas for a number of reasons. If Craig can be on stage saying 2 + 2 = 5, then I am much more open to this happening. It would have been better for Dunn to just let this slide instead of still pushing it forward.

Dunn goes on to talk about Ravi Zacharias, whose minsitry Qureshi works for, speaking to Joyce Meyer as a great Bible teacher. I’m not here to defend Zacharias in that. I do not think Meyer is a great Bible teacher at all. Dunn goes on to say that Qureshi had never heard of her. Good for him. Qureshi was able to enter into a dialogue with Seth on the matter. Is Qureshi right in his assessment? I don’t know, but I know this. Qureshi was willing to look.

Of course, things get worse. Qureshi actually said the Roman Catholic Church gets a bad rap from Christians. Dunn is sure many Calvinists would disagree. So am I. There are many of us who disagree with Calvinists as well. Why is it that the Calvinists should be seen as the ones that set the bar?

I certainly don’t want Pulpit & Pen to be an echo chamber but I understand the readership and the theological leanings of the readership of my own blog.  The Pulpit & Pen has a largely Reformed readership.  To our average reader, these statements about brotherhood with Roman Catholics are downright offensive.  As David Wood notes in his video, Qureshi has studied the Christian faith from California to Kentucky and beyond, at the postgraduate level.  How could any educated Protestant theologian not see Roman Catholicism as something to “cut ties” over?  Thank God Luther did. Luther put his life one the line to refute the Pope.  Qureshi speaks with him.  There are almost certainly regenerate Catholics (who have yet to leave the Roman Catholic Church) but official Catholic doctrine (see Galatians 1 and the Council of Trent) is anathema.  Qureshi seems to disagree.

Perhaps we don’t see it that way because we see that we agree on the resurrection of Jesus, the Trinity, the deity of Christ, etc. Do I think RCCs have some wrong views on salvation. Yes. I think in fact a lot of Christians do and God saves them regardless. Dunn says he finds Qureshi’s comments offensive. Well I find it offensive to take someone who White has said is a gift to the church and try to tear them down. Still, there is worse coming along these lines.

Much worse.

As you can see, some of the tweets above are months, even over a year, old.  I did not just happenacross a video from a Muslim apologist (one David Wood has a history with) and try to discredit Nabeel Qureshi and write an ill-advised, critical blog based on his assertions.  I’ve observed Qureshi for over a year, as well as his employer RZIM.  To me, he seems more concerned with being a New York Times Bestseller (Roman Catholic buy Christian books, too) than consistently rightly dividing the word of God. The evidence is in print before you.

Now it’s my turn.

I know Qureshi as I said. His character has always struck me as exemplary. Wood pointed out that Qureshi lost his family as a result of his conversion. In Qureshi’s own book, he said he wished he could have died right after converting so his parents would never know about it. I have seen him be asked about how he can talk to Muslims when so many of us get so angry about them based on events like 9/11 and he said that he always tries to remember that anyone of them could be someone like Paul someday.

Every night before I go to bed, I read a verse of Scripture. I let that be something I think about as I go to sleep. Last night, I read Philippians 3:17 as I’m going through Philippians. I got to this verse.

Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do.

I thought that was amazing. Paul could tell others “Live like I do. I am your model.” I honestly do not think I am ready to say that about myself yet. I also thought that if anyone was like that, it was Nabeel. This is someone who Wood points out was willing to go to jail with him for preaching the Gospel and continued to do so in prison.

Yet Dunn says Qureshi seems more concerned with writing bestsellers, since Roman Catholics buy those as well, than rightly dividing the Word of God. No. Qureshi is just a good writer and people like his books. For Dunn’s sake, should Qureshi try to make his books be not as good so they won’t sell as much?

I don’t blame David Wood for defending him. They are good friends and he has seen Nabeel witness to people. Good for him. I wouldn’t walk across the street to hear him speak. He’s a book-selling, speaking-tour ecumenist. I don’t know Nabeel Qureshi’s heart but I don’t write blogs or study Apologetics at the masters level to sell books or make money–I do it to edify the church. I think the church would be edified to avoid ecumenists like Nabeel Qureshi, no matter how interesting their backstories are.

It’s nice to know Dunn’s standards and I think in this passage he’s told us a lot more about himself than he does about Qureshi. Well Dunn can stay in his echochamber and refuse to listen to Qureshi and think that gives him bonus points or something, but I consider it a treat to get to hear Qureshi speak. He also says he doesn’t know Qureshi’s heart, which he doesn’t, but somehow he knows that Qureshi writes blogs and studies at the Master’s level to sell books or make money, instead of edifying the church, which is obviously what Dunn does.

Yes. Because back when Qureshi was wishing he was dead after his conversion, he hatched this master plan where he said “Forget my family! I can make a lot of money as a best-selling author! After all, Christian apologetics is where the money is!”

No it isn’t.

I am nowhere near wealthy. In fact, I am at the poverty level. I don’t do what I do to make money. Would I like to have more coming in? Yep. Would I like to have a best seller some day? Who wouldn’t? Still, the recognition I get will be based on the quality of my work and the apologetic material that I produce. If I was just wanting to make money, I would be in a different field altogether. I’m not because frankly, I have a passion for this field. I love the fruit that it produces and what I do gives me great joy.

You see, if you’re going to say you don’t know Qureshi’s heart, stop right there then. Don’t go on to say why he does what he does. You don’t know.

The writing ends with some points including that David Wood can have at it if he wants another round. I wouldn’t be surprised if he does. David Wood is a bulldog of sorts and he will definitely stick up for someone like Qureshi. I also plan to be right there as Qureshi is my friend and I think writings like those of Dunn in fact tear down Christians needlessly.

We’ll see what happens after this but Qureshi is a friend of mine and I choose to stand by him. I would uphold him as a fine example of what we should all strive to be. I do not agree with him on everything, but I think his character and commitment are examples to us all.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Answering Jihad

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

I want to be clear at the start. I consider Nabeel Qureshi a friend. I’ve got to meet him in person many times and I highly admire him. I was also given this copy by Zondervan for review purposes. I hope to remove as much bias as possible.

That being said, I do want to say that at the start, Qureshi really does care for the Muslim people. He has told myself and others that for all he knows, there could be one like the Apostle Paul among the Muslims who will go on to become a great missionary so he’s always praying for them. Qureshi is equally against Muslim violence and violence against Muslims.

This is important in our day and age when we can look at a Muslim and immediately think of 9/11. We can give thanks for the Muslims out there that do condemn atrocities like 9/11. At the same time, it’s important to raise the question and ask if this violence is consistent with the history of Islam.

Qureshi covers the issues relating to the nature of Muhammad and the nature of the Koran. The work is quite thorough. If you do not know anything about Islam as you start to read the book, you will be able to still understand what is going on in the world today. Qureshi writes with scholarly rigor and at the same time, combines it with a pastoral heart.

The book is divided into three parts. The first answers questions on the origin of Jihad. What is Islam and what is Sharia and what is meant by Jihad? We also get a brief look at the history of Muhammad.

The next section deals with our own time. What does it mean when we speak today of Radical Islam. What about terrorist groups like Al-Qaeda, ISIS, and Boko Horam? Is it possible that one day we could see a reformation in Islam that will make it a peaceful religion?

Of course, one could ask the question that was asked by Obama after some Muslim attacks. Don’t Christians have a history of warfare in the Crusades? Don’t they also have a history of warfare in the Old Testament? Do Muslims and Christians really worship the same God?

The book is excellent and each section can be read in a brief time and easily digested. If there was a concern that I did have, it would be that I think that Qureshi does condemn the Crusades too quickly and leans too close to pacifism for my taste. I think the Crusades largely started off as defensive wars for instance to help those in need. Of course, this does not mean that all that was done in the Crusades was right and much is to be condemned, but as it is problematic to say all of it was right, it would be just as much to say that all of it was wrong.

Still, I think this is an excellent book for understanding Islam and if there’s one thing we can all get from this, it would be Qureshi’s heart on the matter. He really does love Muslims. Maybe we could be better at reaching them if we had the same love for our enemies that Qureshi has.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

How To Examine Claims

What are some steps you can take in investigation? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

So yesterday, my wife brings to my attention this claim. It’s an old one and it’s one I had looked at before but not really wrote much about except on Facebook because I take it as prima facie nonsense since it sounds like conspiracy theory thinking. It’s important that you know that in my family, I’m the more intellectual and my wife is the more emotional. So let’s suppose you’re someone who hasn’t studied this area as much and you hear a claim. How can you start investigating a claim like this?

Let’s start by seeing what it says:

Much to the dismay of the Vatican, an approx. 1500-2000 year old bible was found in Turkey, in the Ethnography Museum of Ankara. Discovered and kept secret in the year 2000, the book contains the Gospel of Barnabas – a disciple of Christ – which shows that Jesus was not crucified, nor was he the son of God, but a Prophet.

Actually, the account could not show that. It cannot show that any more than you can give someone a NT and show them Jesus is the resurrected Lord just by doing that. You have to work through the data of what the document says and why it should be believed. At best, you can say an old manuscript was found that CLAIMS this, but not one that shows it.

If we go this route, we also have to look beyond it. This is one claim. Do we have any other claim to the contrary? We have several. Practically every book of the New Testament as well as sources like Josephus, Mara Bar-Serapion, Tacitus, and Lucian. The crucifixion of Jesus is one of the most accepted facts of all by New Testament scholars.

Could it be this Gospel is right? Well perhaps, but if you’re going to say every other claim is wrong and this in the face of expert opinion on both sides of the fence, you need some convincing evidence. Just saying it is not convincing enough.

The book also calls Apostle Paul “The Impostor”.  The book also claims that Jesus ascended to heaven alive, and that Judas Iscariot was crucified in his place.

Amazingly enough, this all seems to match very well with Muslim doctrine. For those interested, I would suggest doing some research on the Gospel of Barnabas. Also, don’t confuse it with the Epistle of Barnabas.

A report by The National Turk says that the Bible was seized from a gang of smugglers in a Mediterranean-area operation. The report states the gang was charged with smuggling antiquities, illegal excavations, and the possession of explosives.  The books itself is valued as high as 40 Million Turkish Liras (approx. 28 mil. Dollars).  Man, where is the Thieves Guild, when you need them?

Now we’re getting somewhere. We have some claims we can look into. So let’s do that. Let’s go to the National Turk. I go there and I type in Bible in the search engine. The second link matches the image I see above. You can read the story here. At this point, I am not looking to see if the story is true or false, but if you read the story, the National Turk is saying nothing like what is presented in the rest of the article about the content of the book.

Authenticity
According to reports, experts and religious authorities in Tehram insist that the book is original.  The book itself is written with gold lettering, onto loosely-tied leather in Aramaic, the language of Jesus Christ.The text maintains a vision similar to Islam, contradicting the New Testament’s teachings of Christianity.  Jesus also foresees the coming of the Prophet Muhammad, who would found Islam 700 years later.
Several problems here. First off, who are these experts and religious authorities? We’re not told. There is not a single name I can go and check on. Do we even have a date on the book yet? If the book is 1,500 years old, who cares if it’s an original? We want the earliest and best sources. It’s also a wonder how this person could think Islam came 700 years later. Islam was active in the middle of the 7th century which would be 600 years after Jesus.
It is believed that, during the Council of Nicea, the Catholic Church hand-picked the gospels that form the Bible as we know it today; omitting the Gospel of Barnabas (among many others) in favor of the four canonical gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.  Many biblical texts have begun to surface over time, including those of the Dead Sea and Gnostic Gospels; but this book especially, seems to worry the Vatican.
And now we have something else we can investigate. Yes. This is believed. It is also believed by some that evolution is a giant fraud put on them by the scientific community. It is believed by many that the moon landing is a hoax. It is believed by many that 9-11 was an inside job. It is believed by many that Jesus never existed. The opposite claims are also believed by many. Of course, anyone who bothered to study the Council of Nicea would know that this is nonsense. Here’s what one scholar says about this.

There are also a lot of people who think (I base this on the number of times I hear this or am asked about it) that it was at the Council of Nicea that the canon of the New Testament was decided. That is, this is when Christian leaders allegedly decided which books would be accepted into the New Testament and which ones would be left out.

That too is wrong.

Who is this scholar?

Bart Ehrman.

Anyone want to think he has an axe to grind for Christianity? Muslims love quoting Ehrman. Will they accept him here?
What evidence do we have any of this is worrying the Vatican? We have no statements from the Vatican whatsoever. All we have is the article’s say so. Why should I take that seriously?
Much more of this article is just accusations about other people, but I think it’s ironic how it ends.
For centuries, the “defense” of blind faith has driven nations to war, violence, discrimination, slavery and to become the society of automatons that we are today; and for just as long, it has been justified with lies.  If you know better, act like it.
It is amazing that so many people who shared this article did so with blind faith without checking it. There’s also a greater irony when you talk about war and violence and look at the history of Islam. Perhaps those who believed this article should have known better and acted on it.
This has just been one case, but I hope I have shown some of the tools that can be used. This is also assuming that you are not an expert on the material. I really recommend doing this even for stuff that agrees with you. There’s a lot of nonsense on the internet after all.
In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Jesus and the Jihadis

What do I think of Craig Evans and Jeremiah Johnston’s book published by Destiny Image? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

ISIS. Go back in time a few years ago and the most any of us would think of would likely be that Isis was the name of that Egyptian deity. Now ISIS is a household name, but we’re not thinking about an Egyptian deity. We’re thinking about an Islamic one. ISIS represents the Islamic State declaring war on the rest of the world with the desire to turn the world over to Islam. They are ready to die for Islam and not only that, but they are ready to see to it that you die for Islam as well. They are a group bent on your destruction and the sad reality is you probably don’t really realize how much of a threat they are.

Is this just a radical offshoot of Islam out of step with historical Islam? According to Evans and Johnston, no. In fact, if Muhammad were alive today, he would not only join ISIS, but he would in fact lead it. To show this, the authors go back in time and give a brief history of the origins of Judaism and Christianity and then compare that to Islam. On this journey, you will learn a good deal about the historical Jesus and especially the way that archaeology has impacted our understanding of the New Testament. This is important because the constant contrast in the book will be the person of Jesus with that of Muhammad and then the contrast of YHWH and Allah, the Bible and the Koran, etc.

The writers also give plenty of frightening statistics about the way that ISIS is growing. These people have a lot of money and they know how to use social media well. You no longer have to leave the comfort of your own home for ISIS to train you. Nope. You can live a normal life here in America and be training secretly in the comfort of your own home to be a Jihadist. This makes it extremely difficult to find out who is and who isn’t a threat to our security in America. Jihadists show no signs of stopping and indeed, they won’t stop until all the world is converted to Islam and as many of us have seen on the news, they don’t have any hesitation to kill you if they think you stand in their way.

This book has a fitting section also about Luther’s Koran at the end. Martin Luther in fact supported the man who wanted to print a copy of the Koran in the Latin of the people because Luther thought that every Christian needed to learn the Koran so they could know how to answer Islam. Luther said this even though he himself had never encountered a Muslim. If it was needed then, it is needed all the more today. One of the reasons Islam is spreading so much is that Muslims are more than willing to die for their faith. If only the day will come when Christians are as willing to live for Jesus as Muslims are willing to die for Allah.

I found this book to be extremely eye-opening and I hesitate to say more because you quite frankly need to read it yourself. We live in a culture where Christians are at war and most of us are walking around like it’s 9/10/2001.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Addendum: I was given a free copy of this book by Jeremiah Johnston for the purposes of review.

Deeper Waters Podcast 10/10/2015: Rodney Reeves and Randy Richards

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

Recently, we had Rodney Reeves and Randy Richards on to talk about Rediscovering Paul. They’re coming back again and this time they’re talking about Rediscovering Jesus, which I reviewed here. The book is a fun and unique look at Jesus asking what our Christianity would be like if we only had one source or one type of source and then what it would be like if we had some version of Jesus outside of the Bible. So who are the people coming on to talk about this?

Let’s start with Rodney Reeves.

publicity photo

I’ve been married over thirty-six years to Sheri (Richardson) Reeves, who is a Speech and Language Pathologist for Citizens Memorial Hospital, Bolivar, MO.

We have three children: Andrew (28) lives in Kansas City, MO; Emma (24) lives in Chicago, IL; and Grace (19) who is a first-year student at Belhaven University, Jackson, MS. Sheri and I are members of the First Baptist Church, Bolivar, MO.

I’m in my sixteenth year at Southwest Baptist University, Bolivar, MO, as the Redford Professor of Biblical Studies, also serving as Dean of The Courts Redford College of Theology and Ministry. I teach courses in New Testament and Greek.

I’m an SBU alumnus (1979), and I graduated from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Ft. Worth, TX (MDiv, 1982; PhD, 1986). I did part of my doctoral study at Oxford University, UK (1985-86).

Prior to coming to SBU, I served as Senior Pastor, Central Baptist Church, Jonesboro, AR (1995-2000), and associate professor of New Testament at Williams Baptist College, Walnut Ridge, AR (1987-1995).

I have written several articles for scholarly journals, textbooks, dictionaries, handbooks, and magazines. I’ve written four books: A Genuine Faith: How to Follow Jesus Today (Baker Books, 2005); Rediscovering Paul: An Introduction to His World, Letters and Theology, co-authored by David B. Capes and E. Randolph Richards (InterVarsity Press, 2007); Spirituality according to Paul: Imitating the Apostle of Christ (InterVarsity Press, 2011). My newest book, Rediscovering Jesus: An Introduction to Biblical, Religious and Cultural Perspectives on Christ (once again co-authored by Capes and Richards, InterVarsity Press, 2015) was released this summer. And I’m currently working on a commentary on the Gospel of Matthew, Story of God Bible Commentary, ed. Scot McKnight (Zondervan Publishing, 2016?).

My hobbies are fishing, camping, golfing, and reading.

I made a vow to God many years ago to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and to minister to the Body of Christ. I have tried to keep that promise as a member of a Baptist Church, as a minister, and as a college professor. I study Scripture because I want to be a committed disciple of Jesus. I teach biblical studies in an effort to serve the needs of the Church. I’m a part of the academic community here at SBU in hopes of advancing the Kingdom of God, trying to encourage each other to fulfill Jesus’ commandment: to love God with all of our heart, soul, strength, and mind, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. Therefore, I see my work here as part of the whole kingdom enterprise of teaching students to be servants of Christ for a world that needs him.

And as for Randy Richards.

Richards arms crossed smallest size

Dr. Randy Richards loves training students for ministry, both domestically and internationally. He has been teaching since 1986, originally at a state university and then abroad at an Indonesian seminary. Upon returning to the States, Dr. Richards has served at two Christian universities before joining Palm Beach Atlantic University as the Dean of the School of Ministry in 2006.

His wife Stacia has joyfully accompanied him from jungles of Indonesia to rice fields in Arkansas to beautiful South Florida. They have two fine sons. Josh (Ph.D. 2012, University of St Andrews, Scotland) is a university professor in English. Jacob (Ph.D. 2014, College of Medicine, University of Florida) is a medical researcher.

Dr. Richards has authored or co-authored seven books and dozens of articles. Recently, he has published Rediscovering Jesus (InterVarsity, 2015; Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes, with Brandon O’Brien (InterVarsity, 2012), “Reading, Writing, and the Production and Transmission of Manuscripts” in The Background of the New Testament: An Examination of the Context of Early Christianity (Baker, 2013), “Will the Real Author Please Stand Up? The Author in Greco-Roman Letter Writing” in Come Let Us Reason: New Essays in Christian Apologetics (B&H, 2012), “Pauline Prescripts and Greco-Roman Epistolary Convention” in Christian Origins and Classical Culture: Social and Literary Contexts for the New Testament (Brill, 2012), and a dozen articles in The Baker Illustrated Bible Dictionary (Baker, 2013).

He has just finished another popular book, Paul Behaving Badly, and is finishing A Little Book for New Bible Scholars, both with InterVarsity Press and due out in 2016. He is also completing chapters in two other books and several dictionary articles.

Dr. Richards is a popular lecturer, speaker and preacher, recently in places as diverse as Wycliffe Hall (Oxford), Kathmandu, and Kenya. He was a Senior Scholar at the IRLBR Summer Summit at Tyndale House (Cambride) in 2013. He regularly conducts missionary training workshops, and currently serves as a Teaching Pastor at Grace Fellowship Church in West Palm Beach.

This book is a highly enjoyable look at the life of Jesus that will lead to you thinking about it in a whole new light. These guys are really passionate about the book as well as I saw last time they came on and I hope you’ll be here to see round two of the discussion. Be watching for the next episode of the Deeper Waters Podcast!

In Christ,
Nick Peters