Book Plunge: Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, Second Edition

What do I think of Richard Bauckham’s book published by Eerdmans? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I want to think Eerdmans and Bauckham himself for making sure I got a review copy of this book. The first edition was indeed a classic and something all interested in the reliability of the Gospels should read. The second one is no exception and expounds further than the last one did.

Something that is striking to me about this book as I read through it is how different the argument is from most works. Most works will start with dating the Gospels and then argue from there by pointing to events like archaeological findings. Bauckham doesn’t do that, well not in the exact sense. Archaeology I think is only mentioned once that I recall and this concerning the destruction of Jerusalem and Josephus. The closest you get to dating is by looking at the names that show up in the Gospels.

Why would anyone do that? Because when we look at the Gospels, we see the names used in them match the commonly used names at the time and the ones that are exceptions match that same ratio as well. This is not the kind of thing that a later writer would easily produce. We can tell the common names today because we have a whole catalog available to us of all the names being used. Back then, you couldn’t jump on Google and see what popular names were so a writer would not know about that.

Interestingly to me, much of the time Bauckham spends examining Mark and John. Not much is said about Luke or Matthew, though some is of course. I find this surprising since for many of us, the place we’d go to the most for eyewitness testimony is Luke. He specifically mentions eyewitness testimony and there’s much archaeological evidence for Luke and Acts.

Meanwhile, John is usually seen as highly unreliable. Bauckham argues that the Gospel is likely from the perspective of the beloved disciple. He doesn’t believe this to be John, the son of Zebedee, but he does say that this person was part of Jesus’s entourage and was an eyewitness of what he reported. If this is so, then scholars really need to rethink how they see John.

But isn’t eyewitness testimony unreliable? You can see stories about how people got facts wrong about 9/11 when interviewed later about it. How can this be? These people were eyewitnesses. Bauckham does make a case for eyewitness testimony being reliable in many many cases.

Still, as I thought about this, I thought that many of these “eyewitnesses” were really “TV witnesses.” If we really wanted eyewitness testimony about an event like 9/11, what would be best would be to interview people like survivors who worked in the building, people who lost loved ones on that day, and firefighters and police officers who went in and got people out. These are all people who had skin in the game.

This would be the closest parallel perhaps to Jesus. If you want to know who to talk to about the life of Jesus, talk to the people who were active participants in it and not just bystanders. Sure, bystanders can get some things right, but they won’t remember long-term details. A college student watching 9/11 on TV won’t know as much about it as someone who had a loved one in the towers wondering if they would get out.

Speaking of this, many people like Carrier and others often talk about how the Gospels didn’t cite their sources like other writers did. One thing to say about this is there weren’t exactly many written materials to cite. A second thing to say is that ancient writers didn’t use footnotes and endnotes like we do and did not cite all their sources. A third thing is that if Bauckham is right, they did. When they named someone in the Gospels who was not a famous figure, this was a method of citation. Names could drop out then because that person had died and was no longer available.

One example I can think of immediately with this is the resurrection of Jesus in John. In his Gospel, only Mary Magdalene is named, but in the story she uses the word “we” to describe going to the tomb. Could it be that there were other women there, but only Mary is named because only she was still alive?

One other point worth mentioning is that according to Bauckham, form criticism is dead. One can certainly hope so. We have learned so much since the time of Bultmann and others that we should discard an ideology if it is no longer being used. Unfortunately, we do live in the day and age of the internet where an idea being dead doesn’t mean it can’t be used. (Those of you who argue Jesus never existed and is a copy of pagan gods? I’m talking to you especially.)

This book is full of many in-depth arguments, many of which are too in-depth to go into here. Anyone wanting to discuss the reliability of the Gospels owes it to themselves to check out this work. Bauckham is no slouch in the field and his reputation should not be taken lightly. I hope this study will be the start of many many more such studies.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Jesus In America

What happens to Jesus in America? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I love America. I live here and I think it’s the greatest nation on Earth. Unfortunately, we do have many flaws here. One of the big ones is how individualized everything has become. While I am a capitalist, I do think greed is often a problem and we have Christianized everything and not in the Biblical way. Jesus has been used to turn slogans around to different Jesus messages and you can go and buy Testamints at your Christian bookstore. (Because, you know, giving someone a mint like that is a great way to witness.) This has happened so often that we have what has been called Jesus Junk.

Our sermons aren’t much better. We go to a church service and it’s not about serving. It’s all about getting ahead. What can we do to be more moral people? How can we better handle the problems in our lives? Nothing against being moral people and handling the problems in our lives, but there’s more to Christianity than that. My favorite part is at the end hearing an altar call where you can hear absolutely nothing about the Kingdom of God and the resurrection of Jesus, but you sure hear how you can go to Heaven when you die.

In this kind of culture, Jesus becomes a sort of glorified Dr. Phil. Jesus is there to be a self-help guru for you and to help you feel better about yourself. Is it any wonder that the prosperity gospel does so well here? Again, there’s nothing wrong with advancing ahead and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with having wealth, but what did Jesus really come for?

Go to most churches today in America and the idea that you get is that Jesus died for me. Well, yes. That’s true. He did die for you, but He died for a lot more than just you. He died for God. He died to bring about God’s Kingdom. He died to bring about God’s will on Earth. He died in service to the Father to reconcile God and man together. It’s not that God needs us, but that God wants to share His blessings on us. Thinking God needs us is just more of our self-centeredness.

This is why we don’t think much about service like we should in the churches. Most pastors would be thrilled if people would be able to give even just the 10%. There are many Christians who indeed are in need in our churches, and the churches are often the last place that they will go to to meet those needs. The churches don’t just give and support. Again, most of us are looking out for ourselves and Jesus is a convenient help to that.

We have lost sight of the idea that Jesus is the king. It could be because we have grown up in a country where our leaders are elected and we have a president and the idea of a monarchy seems like a quaint thing from olden times that we no longer need any more. Perhaps in a merely human sense, it is, but we are talking about the divine king. This is not an ordinary king who will make mistakes and raise our taxes and such, but make no mistake, this is a king who will call us to come and die.

Perhaps that’s the part we don’t want to hear. We want Jesus to give us more of what we want. Money, power, fame, sex, whatever it is. Jesus is a means to an end rather than the end in Himself. Most of us don’t really think about Jesus, unless we think about the things that He gives for us even if it’s just the feelings that we get with Him.

Today in America, for many of us, if we want food, we can go to a restaurant and get served quickly. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with that. If you want to, you can even get fast food. Today, we treat Jesus like that. If we’re hungry, we go to the restaurant. If we need to fill better about ourselves, we go to Jesus.

Of course, if this is all Jesus does, then there’s no need for unbelievers to really come to Jesus. If you need to feel good about yourself, there are several self-help books that can do that or you can go get Xanax or something like that. You sure don’t need Jesus for that. Now if you want something else, like divine forgiveness, or the Kingdom of God on Earth, you will need Jesus.

Jesus is not just a commodity on the market. He’s not just another self-help guru. He isn’t just giving us a message of peace and love, because messages like that don’t get people crucified. He is a real historical figure who walked and died among us and rose again. This isn’t a fairy tale or a story that takes place a long time ago in a galaxy far far away. This is real history. This has serious ramifications for us and things much more important than feeling good about ourselves.

It is my sincere hope that the American church will realize that while Jesus can make us good people and that can lead to good feelings, there is so much more. There is a real historical reality here. There are real ramifications for all of us. I’ve had enough of Jesus Junk. Let’s see how much better the real deal can do influencing our culture.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Seeing Through Christianity. Part 7

What does it mean to have faith? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

It’s been awhile since I’ve done Zuersher’s book, which is mainly because having to review stuff like this after awhile feels like pulling teeth, but I think we need to get into it again. Today, we’re going to be looking at one of the favorite topics. Faith. This is one new atheists and internet atheists always get wrong. It won’t be a shock that that happens again.

We’re not disappointed. Right at the start Hebrews 11:1 is quoted and then we’re told that this is a substitute for evidence and admittance to Heaven. This is interesting because first off, heaven isn’t even mentioned in Hebrews 11:1. One could say the rest of the chapter does speak about looking for a heavenly city and such, but the notion is not equivalent to our whole going to Heaven when you die idea. Second, I faith is not seen as opposed to evidence and this is something I have written more about elsewhere.

Zuersher says the definition above means accepting something as true despite their being insufficient grounds. Of course, Zuersher could have bothered doing some actual research on the topic, but alas, that is too difficult. It’s better to just place faith in the new atheist mantra.

For Zuersher, this means faith is arbitrary. A person can have faith in anything and no one person’s would be better than another’s. Of course, this only happens to work if the claim is true about what faith is. It is not. One wonders that if this was what faith is, why do we even have the New Testament at all?

When asked what determines faith, Zuersher points to where we’re born. There’s no doubt that if you’re born in Iran, you’re more likely to be a Muslim or if you’re born in India, you’re more likely to be a Hindu, but there are also noted exceptions. Many people do convert even at the threat of death. Do they do so with no reason whatsoever?

What about what we believe scientifically? If you are born in a third world jungle that is pre-scientific, you might think the sun goes around the Earth and that evolution is bogus. You’re much less likely to think that if you are born in America. If you are born in Alaska as an Eskimo, you’re much more likely to think that blubber of sea animals is part of a healthy diet. We could go on and on.

We have the quote of Tertullian on how it is to be believed because it is absurd, but it is bizarre to think that Tertullian was opposed to evidence. His claim was rather that this is believed because no one would make up something this ridiculous. It was a turnaround on Marcion thinking that the claim was ridiculous.

Zuersher also says that according to John, Jesus was with the disciples for three years and yet needed better evidence to believe in the resurrection and asks “Do we not deserve equally compelling evidence?” Well, no. Why should you? What is so special about Zuersher that he deserves a personal appearance from the Almighty? (One is sure he’d chalk it up as a hallucination anyway.) Zuersher instead discounts the account as hearsay, despite the claim being from an eyewitness in John 21, something Bauckham makes a compelling case for in Jesus and the Eyewitnesses. (Don’t expect Zuersher to go look for counter-evidence. It’ll challenge his faith too much.)

Zuersher also says faith is a problem because it elevates belief over conduct. As long as you believe, that’s all that matters. Has he never read the book of James?! Has he never read the condemnations of wicked practice in Paul, the one who would be seen as the great apostle of faith? In fact, Zuersher in this very section quotes James and yet ignores what he says about works and faith together. Zuersher paints apologists as saying that no one is good enough, which is true, but then that means that good and bad conduct don’t really matter. Where is the apologist that is arguing this please Zuersher? Please show him to me.

Zuersher then says that to turn belief into a salvific credential while denying a person’s conduct is morally repugnant. I agree. Would he please point me to the apologist who is saying otherwise? I know hundreds if not thousands of them. I don’t know a single one who would disagree.

Naturally, Zuersher does not understand Pascal’s Wager which he goes after. Pascal is not presenting this to the person as a reason to believe without evidence. He’s talking about the person who’s sitting on the fence and could go either way and just isn’t sure. Pascal says if you’re just not sure and think there’s evidence on both sides, go with Christianity! At least you have a gain there. We see he does not understand this because the wager does not tell you which god or goddess to believe in. It’s not supposed to. It’s for a specific kind of individual in a specific situation. I may not really agree with the wager, but I can easily wager that Zuersher has never read Pascal.

Sometime soon we will return to Zuersher. As one can see, it is difficult to read someone like this who actually thinks he’s informed enough to write a book on the topic.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Does Jesus Make A Difference?

Why should anyone trust Jesus? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

As readers know, I’m all about here establishing the truth of Jesus’s resurrection and Christianity. That is important and needs to be done. My concern today is that we are too often not showing any reason for anyone to even bother to take Christianity seriously. Many Christians are indistinguishable from their non-Christian neighbors, which should be disappointing if Scripture tells us we are a peculiar people and about how we are to live among the pagans. While we don’t have many pagans today, though there are a few, we do still have people who we can say are unbelievers.

For too many Christians, the reason that this is so is that they just don’t really know much about Christianity. Why should they? Too many churches have it just as if Christianity is self-help that gives good advice to help you in your life, instead of about the radical announcement that God is reclaiming this world and building His Kingdom. If we were really to go to church in appropriate dress, it would be combat fatigues realizing we are on a mission to reclaim the world.

Too many Christians are what I call regurgitating Christians. They go to church and hear what their pastor says and when the time comes, they just puke it right back out again. They may have the right answers to the questions, but they don’t know why those answers are true. Your pastor could very well be a great guy, but he is not infallible. Scripture is, but his interpretation is not. Check out what is said.

We also have a view in our lives that the purpose of Christianity is that we can go to Heaven when we die. You can hear an altar call that doesn’t say a single thing about the resurrection of Jesus, serving God for life, or the Kingdom of God, but it will sure mention going to heaven when you die. Yes. The very purpose of Jesus coming to Earth and defeating sins was just so you could be happy for all of eternity. Surely God would not expect something bizarre from us, such as lifelong service.

Christianity is not just a get out of hell free card. Christianity is a worldview that is supposed to encompass everything you believe. It’s great that many of us have the right answers, but do we really understand them. Are we just being students who study before an exam so we can know the right answers without bothering to figure out how someone can know those are the right answers and what difference they make?

So Jesus rose from the dead. Why? Was God just showing off what He could do with Jesus, or could it be He was actually showing that Jesus has conquered death? Could it be that He was showing the divine claims of Jesus were actually true and Jesus is the rightful king of this world?

What about our ethics? Too many Christians are doing what everyone else does. They will go along with the politically correct crowd. This is especially the case with sexual ethics. There are too many Christians that see no real problem with sex before marriage or even living together before marriage. Does Christianity have anything to say about sex?

If you look at your neighbor and the only difference you and your non-Christian neighbor have is that you answer the Jesus questions right and they don’t, then you have a problem. I’m not questioning your salvation here, but I am saying that you seem to have it but it makes no difference. Imagine winning the big powerball lottery and having access to all the money, but going home and living your life with your budget the exact same way and having the money just sit there. That’s what many of us are doing with Jesus.

In all of this we look at the world and ask “What has gone wrong?” It’s good to ask that, but if you want to know what went wrong, it’s us. We went wrong. We did not heed the Great Commission. We have not made Jesus the central passion of our lives. Many of us know more about our favorite TV show or sports team than we do about Jesus. I’m not at all saying don’t have any other interests and hobbies, but do prioritize.

Look at everything in your life. If people can look at how you handle things in your life and look at how the non-Christian handles things and see absolutely no difference, why should they think Jesus makes any difference to you? If they don’t think Jesus makes any difference, why on Earth would they really bother investigating?

Keep in mind, I’m not saying their skepticism is justified. Sure, the church is full of hypocrites and such, but that doesn’t mean Jesus didn’t rise from the dead. That’s established on its own. It’s my contention here that we could at times be placing an extra hurdle in front of people who could otherwise come to Jesus. Not only are we keeping them away, we are really missing out on a full Christian life that we could be having.

How do you do this? Go and get some good books on basic Christianity or go and listen to some Christian podcasts on the topic. Do more than just a couple of hours on Sunday. Christianity is not just a system of ethics for being a good person and then getting to go to heaven when you die. It’s a worldview that is meant to encompass and touch everything in your life. Many of us are sitting on a gold mine and living like paupers. There is far more for us if we will just take it.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Why Does God Allow Evil?

What do I think of Clay Jones’s book published by Harvest House Publishers? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I want to thank Harvest House for sending me a copy of Clay Jones’s book. I consider him a friend and he has helped me through some personal issues of mine that I have struggled with before. I was thrilled to hear about this book and after reading it, I have to say I love it and I hate it.

This is a great book because it is a thorough look at the problem of evil. Many questions will be answered and questions one didn’t know were out there will be addressed. It is a challenge for anyone who wants to use the problem of evil as an argument against theism.

With that being said, why would I hate this book at the same time?

I hate it because this is more than a detached look at the problem of evil. This is an in-your-face look. It’s so much easier to talk about evil when it’s the people out there who are the problem. It’s easy to condemn genocide when you realize you’re not one of those people doing it. You’re a “good person” after all. It’s not so easy when you realize that many of these people we today call “good people” are people who are just as much capable of genocide. In fact, if we think we’re better than those who do commit genocide, we’ve taken the first step to being a person who will commit genocide.

Jones’s book shows that evil is not just a problem out there. Evil is a problem within. Regularly throughout the book, I would experience knowing that I contribute to the problem of evil and if I don’t in a major way, there’s not much that’s stopping me from doing so. It’s much better to talk about evil when it’s something out there, but Jones won’t leave it at that.

Jones also includes much about Heaven in this book, which is quite good. He also got me right here as I realized I don’t have the great desire for Heaven that I should. Part of this could be we just don’t know what Heaven is like. Jones says that the most common comparison between the eternal state and our world today is marriage.

This also I concur with. For a young man especially growing up, he finds that he knows two things normally about sex. First, he has never really had it before. Second, he knows that he wants it and that it’s very good. This is the same with heaven. In fact, the desire for both is enjoyable itself. Ask any husband who knows that tonight is the night. He has something to look forward to all day.

Fortunately, Jones does help someone change their outlook. He does say that if Heaven was the way the popular media depicts it, it would be understandable to not look forward to it. Heaven will not be an eternal church service nor will it be just sitting on a cloud playing a harp forever. Heaven is a place where we will be doing the work of God and some will be leading others and ruling cities. Yeah. Think about what it would be like if all of a sudden Seattle was placed under your control.

If there was something I would have liked explained more in the book, it’s natural evil. I really don’t think the fall is sufficient to explain it all. After all, if our scientific history is correct, there were earthquakes and such before the fall. There also is the case of animal predation. Why does a porcupine have quills except to defend it from predators? Dembski argues that God made the world knowing about the fall in advance, which is true, but also raises the question of what did happen there. I would have liked to have seen more from Jones on this front as natural evil is usually one of the biggest hurdles that is raised.

Jones’s book is not just good apologetics. It’s also good for Christian practice. Jones doesn’t just equip you with answers and understanding, but he also shows you where you need to develop and how the problem of evil really begins with you. He also reminds you to put your hope in the future promise of God.

I recommend Jones’s book, but be prepared when you read it. Be ready to take look at yourself. You might not like what you see. Again, evil seems easy to complain about when it comes to people outside of you. It’s not as pleasant when you realize you are part of the problem.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Are People Inherently Good?

Are we inherently good? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I want to say at the outset that much of my thinking on this is influenced by Clay Jones’s book Why Does God Allow Evil? I would like to say the thinking was all mine, but it was not. I am near the end of Jones’s book and I do hope to review it when the time comes.

Saturday while I was out driving I heard the end of a radio talk show asking if people are good or evil inherently. I tried to call in and answer, but they never got around to me. Since I didn’t get to say what I think on the air, why not say it here?

After the flood, we are told that humans have their every inclination to evil. We all know that a child has to be trained to be good. Being evil is something that seems to come naturally to us. Why do we not often notice this? It is because we live in a culture that has been so Christianized that we no longer consider how radical the Christian ethic was at its time. Today, we look at slavery as something that is just obviously wrong. Go back to the first century Roman Empire and try to convince your average citizen of that. Good luck.

One point Jones brings out is about genocide. Who are the people who do genocide? We would normally think of these people, probably from watching movies and TV shows, as the classical villains who do nothing but think about evil all day long and delight in death and destruction. Not really. Many of the people who ran the concentration camps of the holocaust would be people who would go home and be excellent parents and spouses and be really kind to their neighbors. So what kind of people were they ultimately?

People like you and me.

Really. There is not a great gap separating people capable of genocide. This was found out even further by the Milgram experiment. At the instruction of an authority figure, ordinary people would do actions that could have in other circumstances led to the killing of an innocent human being. You can read about that here.

If you at this point in fact start to think that you are better than the person committing genocide or the person who gives the lethal voltage in the Milgram experiment, congratulations. You have already taken the first step in becoming that person who is committing genocide and capable of giving lethal voltage. You have already assumed that you are incapable of falling like that.

Consider the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector. We look at it and see the problem of the Pharisee saying that he is not like the tax collector. What’s the problem then? We go and say “God. I thank you that I am not like that Pharisee.” Oh, we might not explicitly say that, but that is a thought that can come into our minds. Most of us, as much as we don’t want to admit it, are more like the Pharisee than the tax collector.

In the video game Earthbound, at one point the party of heroes goes through a cave and the main character realizes his thoughts are being broadcast on a wall in written form for all to see. Most of us would want to flee out of such a cave as quickly as possible. Most of us I suspect know about the evil inside of us and the thoughts that come through our heads where we wonder “Where did that come from?”

In fact, our society seems to have lost the idea of virtue. I have been considering lately how so many books and such deal with feelings people have, and in a sense, that needs to be dealt with, but very rarely do we deal with the character of a person that can lead to those feelings. The problem we often have is not fixing ourselves, as in our character flaws and such, but fixing how we feel about ourselves.

So where do I come down? People can do good, but the example given on the show was would you pick up a $20 bill for someone if you saw them drop it and they didn’t notice? The sad reality is someone like Hitler might just do that and then go back and gas thousands of Jews and see no wrong in it.

When you see someone doing evil, realize that if it weren’t for the grace of God, you could be that person. This is what makes forgiveness such a key issue. We forgive because God has forgiven us and that could just as easily be us. We need to show mercy because were it not for grace, we could be that person. We need to be desiring that that person grow in character and virtue instead of being where they are.

This should result in humility in all of us. We are all capable of great evil and we must all watch ourselves and be building ourselves up to be the persons that we need to be so we don’t become those people who do evil. Never once do we need to say that we are above a certain sin. If we think that, we are far more prone to fall into it.

And of course then, we must all rely on Christ more and more. The cross is the demonstration of His love for us and to that we must return. At the foot of the cross, we all realize we’re fallen and evil.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Deeper Waters Podcast 7/29/2017: Tony Costa

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

The resurrection is the central claim of Christianity. All the theistic arguments in the world can work, but if Jesus did not rise, then all is for naught. Christianity is bogus at that point. This is what everything hangs on. It’s important then that Christians understand and have a good defense of this doctrine.

Can a modern man really believe that a man came back from the dead? How can we trust accounts that are 2,000 years old when it comes to these monumental claims? Don’t extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence? Weren’t the people who believed this living in a pre-scientific culture and today we all know better?

We have had shows on this before, but to discuss it this time, I decided to bring on someone I haven’t brought on before. This person got in touch with me originally after seeing the replies that I had made to a certain John Tors. I had heard this person on Unbelievable before and knew that I wanted them on so I decided to take advantage of the email and they agreed to come on. That person is Tony Costa. So who is he?

So who is he?

Tony Costa has earned a B.A. and an M.A. in the study of religion, biblical studies, and philosophy from the University of Toronto. Tony received his Ph.D. in the area of theology and New Testament studies from Radboud University in the Netherlands. His area of expertise is biblical and systematic theology, cults, the New Age Movement, and comparative world religions with a specialization in Islam. Tony is also an ordained minister of the Gospel. As a Christian apologist Dr. Costa gives reasons for the valid belief in Christianity and also advocates the unique claims of Jesus Christ. He also lectures and debates at various universities and colleges on the existence of God, Muslim-Christian relations, as well as the credibility of the Christian faith. Tony is a professor of apologetics with the Toronto Baptist Seminary. He also teaches as an Instructor with the School of Continuing Studies at the University of Toronto in the area of New Testament studies and Second Temple Judaism. He serves as an adjunct professor with Heritage College and Seminary in Cambridge, Ontario and Providence Theological Seminary in Franklin, Tennessee. Tony is also a member of the Network of Christian Scholars in Canada. He has lectured throughout Canada, the United States, and overseas. He is the author of Worship and the Risen Jesus in the Pauline Letters (New York: Peter Lang Publishers, 2013), as well as a contributor of scholarly essays in Christian Origins and Greco-Roman Culture, and Christian Origins and Hellenistic Judaism and various journals. Tony is happily married to a wonderful wife, has 3 children, and a grandson, and resides in Toronto, Canada.

This is the central doctrine. We’ve had Gary Habermas and Mike Licona both come on to talk about it. This time, Tony Costa will be in the hot seat and I plan to ask him the most difficult questions I can and see if the resurrection can stand up. I hope you’ll be looking forward to this one and leave a positive review of the Deeper Waters Podcast on ITunes.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: History, Law, and Christianity.

What do I think of John Warwick Montgomery’s book published by NRP books? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

This is a book that is really short. It’s less than a hundred pages and you could read it in a day, but it would be a day well spent. Montgomery is someone who exemplifies what it means to be educated given how many degrees he has. The book is an older one, but it is still relevant to our times.

For many of us, it is also a different approach. If you learned the minimal facts or the honor-shame approach, this is something different. This is more along the lines of Gospel reliability, which is an approach that I think we could say in our times has been brought back by J. Warner Wallace.

Ths is good news for us. After all, there are multiple routes we can take to get to the same goal and if we get to the goal, then we have victory. It also helps that Montgomery does argue as a lawyer would making his case and pointing out the weaknesses to his opponent’s position.

To which, his opponent is someone named Professor Stroll, who is probably someone most of us have never heard of, who takes a position close to mythicism, but doesn’t seem to quite go there yet. He has at least interacted with some scholarship in his case, but those looking at it will realize that many things have still not changed.

Interestingly, Montgomery includes what he says in the book, although I think it should have been put in the front of the book. It would be better to have gone through knowing the case of the opposition and then seeing the response to it. Still, there is something commendable about seeing the case for the opposition be explicitly stated right there in the book.

I also like that Montgomery can admit when a case isn’t as good as it could be even when argued from his side. There are times he will add some rejoinders to what his own allies that he calls forth as his witnesses say.  This helps to build up the credibility of the case.

At any rate, it’s good for people to look at the case and realize that even back decades ago, there was still a powerful case and that case has only improved over time. I would be amiss if I didn’t mention what many of my friends who read the older books have to say, and that’s that there has always been a powerful case. It helps us to familiarize ourselves with the approaches of the past as well as the present as just because an approach is not the modern or current approach, that does not mean it’s a poor or faulty approach.

Legal apologetics is a fascinating field and one I definitely plan to spend more time on. This book is a short little look at the case for Christianity, but as I said, it is a good one. It is certainly a good way for you to spend your day.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

A Response to Schrodinger’s Christian on the Empty Tomb

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Seeing Through Christianity Part 4

What do we do with the atonement? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

As we continue through Zuersher’s work, we come to a chapter on atonement. Now I’ll state this upright. I have not spent much time looking at a lot of theories of the atonement. I have read Wright’s recent work on the cross. I think it’s an excellent work. Still, I cannot speak as an authority on the atonement, but that could be in some ways an advantage here.

You see, the reason I don’t see this as a defeater here is this is my situation. I have enough evidence to convince me that God exists. I have enough evidence to convince me of the full deity of Jesus. I have enough evidence to convince me that Jesus rose from the dead physically. I have enough evidence to convince me that Scripture is reliable. Does it make any sense to anyone to say “I’m not fully clear on how atonement works, so therefore I should doubt that Christianity is true.”?

Of course not. Any area of study will always have some unanswered questions. Consider for instance in science, when we see creatures that seem incredibly advanced. Does this mean every evolutionist will just throw in the towel and abandon the theory wholesale? Not at all, nor would I expect them to. One looks at the primary data they have for a position even if secondary details aren’t exactly clear.

Zuersher says first that there is disagreement means that this is being made up as we go along. He says that this means we do not have some privileged path to the divine. If by that He means that God is not obligated to answer all of our questions for us, that is entirely correct. If He means that we do not have the way to God in Christ, that would be wrong, but believing we do doesn’t mean we have perfect atonement knowledge.

The next part is one that Zuersher gets so close to the truth of matters, but then He rejects it for theological reasons. Zuersher says that satisfaction says that God’s honor must be restored, but if that’s true, then God has personality traits unworthy of a morally perfect being. It’s truly tragic how close Zuersher gets to good theology but then allows his cultural prejudices and lack of understanding of honor to get in the way.

To begin with, I don’t think it’s right to speak of God as a morally perfect being. A morally perfect being is one that does that which they ought to do always. God has no ought. He does not owe anyone anything. God is instead a good being. He is perfect and lacking nothing in Himself.

So how could God be lacking honor? It’s not a lack in Himself. It’s rather how God is perceived. There were two kinds of honor in the ancient world. One was one had based on who they were and their lineage and such. God’s honor is untouched here. The other is their reputation. How are they perceived in the eyes of others? Here, God’s reputation is tied to how He is seen in the eyes of humanity and how we treat Him. We can live lives that honor God or not. Zuersher rejects this without bothering to understand the culture or the theology.

Third, he says that God could just forgive. After all, we do it. Sure, but we are not the ones that are perfectly good and holy. If God just lets it go, He is saying that our well-being is of greater importance than His goodness. In other words, the good of man outranks the good of God. God is treating sin as no big deal, when every sin is really an act of divine treason.

He next says that if Jesus had a fully human nature, then what happened on the cross was murder since it was a human sacrifice. Well, he is right that it is murder. Jesus submitted to the ruling authorities. This is also not the same as suicide. The authorities did not realize what they were doing, but many holy men in Judaism dying would see themselves as dying for the sins of the people.

He also says that a willing death does not excuse the executioners. Of course not. Whoever said that it did? They were fully convinced they were doing right. My statement about this has been that either Jesus was the wickedest man who ever lived and the crucifixion was the most just and righteous act of all to stop Him, or He was the most righteous man who ever lived and the crucifixion was the most wicked act of all time.

He then goes into the claims of how Jesus was an invalid sacrifice. I recommend the works of Michael Brown here on answering Jewish objections to Jesus. Brown has looked at this a lot more than I have.

Next, he argues that this was not a real sacrifice since Jesus did not stay dead. One wonders how this is so. Once the offering is given to God, God can do with it what He wants. If He wants to resurrect Jesus, then He can resurrect Jesus. This would be God’s vindication on the life and claims of Jesus.

He also argues that the theory is immoral since it undermines individual responsibility by having someone accept Jesus’s sacrifice. On the contrary, it upholds it. When presented with the claims of Christ, one must accept their responsibility for the sins that got Him there.

Finally, Zuersher ends with saying that educated men and women hold to atonement thinking today should require no further comment. I instead think that someone can bother to write a book responding to a view without interacting with the best scholarship on it should require no further comment. Sadly, Zuersher does this consistently.

In Christ,
Nick Peters