The Real Problem of Evil

What is the problem we seem to pay the least attention to? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

He hurt Allie.

That’s all you need to know at the start.

If someone hurts my wife, my kind and pleasant demeanor goes out the window. Instead, the claws come out and I am ready to tear into someone and many times that has happened on Facebook. If people are scared to do something against my wife on there, all the better. I want that. I want it to be known that if you mess with my Princess, I do not sit idly by.

So like I said, he hurt Allie.

Who he is is not important. I don’t want to name names. I will just say someone I trusted did her a great wrong. In the end, I had to talk to many men of God I respected about my own issues. Look at the parable of the unforgiving servant. Look at what John says about hating your brother in your heart. (Yes. This was a Christian who did this to Allie.) Those issues were troubling to me, but what’s a guy to do?

And what does this have to do with the problem of evil?

I resolved my issues a few months ago, but last night’s Bible reading with my wife and I reminded me about it. We were reading in Proverbs about a righteous person will fall, but God will pick them up again seven times. However, if your enemy falls, don’t gloat. God might move His anger from him to you. We ended up having a discussion for awhile about the evil other people do.

What I reminded her of then was when we talk about evil, we many times talk about the things other people do to us. No doubt, those are often very wicked. Like any evil, there is no excuse for them. There is no justification for them. At any evil, there is something that is really unforgivable and that is the sin itself and no excuse can be given. The amazing thing is God does forgive that which we often find unforgivable.

What other people do to us is horrible many times, and the problem is it’s easy to focus on that. It’s incredibly easy. When we do that, we get caught in our own selves and focus on ourselves and have a greater idea of “looking out for number one.” It could be a protectionist thing at that point. “They hurt me, and I will never be hurt by anyone like that again.”

Generally, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to avoid hurt and pain. The problem is when we often do this at the expense of others. If our wanting to avoid hurt is hurting others, then we have a problem. This is because the great evil we should want to deal with is not other people.

The great evil we should want to deal with the most is in the mirror.

Of course, there are times we have to do things about other people. That’s why we have people like police officers out there who do work to protect us from evildoers. There is nothing wrong with protecting a loved one from someone who is doing them evil. If we focus on changing everyone around us, we will have a problem because many times, they will be resistant.

Someone whose evil we can do something about immediately is our own. How others treat us can be horrible, but how do we treat others? Do we put a limit on our love? I’m not saying be reckless around a stranger. Don’t be foolish in the sense of not appropriately handling what God has trusted you with, but most of the problem for us is that we are much more focused on watching ourselves.

When we watch ourselves, it’s not so that we will be good, but so we will receive our good. There is much less thought on the good we can do for others. What are we doing about the evil in our own hearts? Are we living lives of repentance? Are we relying on the Holy Spirit to convict us of sin and change our behavior accordingly?

Do we not realize that the evil that we do will always hurt those around us? There are no private actions. A husband may choose to watch porn in private, but it will affect him when he tries to be intimate with his wife. A person may be having a temper, but what happens when he gets in a car accident for going too fast? How many other people will suffer as a result?

Also, each action we do does something to us. We are becoming a certain kind of person with each action. We are becoming a person with the nature of Heaven or the nature of Hell each time. We are embracing the things of God or embracing our own way.

This is ultimately how I learned to deal with the man who hurt Allie. I chose to not look with anger. Instead, I looked with pity. I feel sorry for him. He had an opportunity to do good to someone and lead them into Christlikeness and he squandered it. Despite myself and Allie’s parents offering several warnings, he never listened. The damage he did to Allie was great, but the damage he did to himself was something he could have prevented. Allie could have taken better steps to resist what he said, sure, but what you do to yourself is something that the immediate effects do not change. It will never be that you had not sinned.

There will be other people who greatly wrong Allie, and I will be there to deal with them. There will be times she wrongs me as well. That happens in marriage. I will need to respond with grace each time. Should I help her to be more righteous and holy? Yes. At the same time, I cannot make changing her my focus. Instead, I need to remember that the tragedy from my perspective in marriage should not be her hurting me, but my hurting her, and vice-versa for her. It is why I am constantly asking myself what I can do to make things right for my wife. That also means that when I screw up, which I often do, I own up to it and ask forgiveness.

Pain and hurt will come into my life. It is inevitable. The greatest person of all, Jesus Christ, knew sorrows and suffering intimately. He was the person who in fact came to suffer. If He could not avoid suffering, it is absurd to think that I should.

While pain and hurt will come into my life, may I make it a focus to not pass pain and hurt on to others. No doubt, I will. Still, life should be a constant seeking to live holy and in repentance wanting to do the best for those around me that is within my power.

That starts immediately in my own household. While I should strive to honor God above all, my wife is the next person on the list. The rest of my family will come after and then my friends closest to me. As I go into the world, everyone who I meet should be someone I strive to be holy before.

That is how I deal with the real problem of evil. Will I deal with the evil within me? Will I turn it over to Christ? There will always be an urge to hold back, but I am cutting myself off from the greatest good when I do that. When we withdraw into ourselves, we say no to all love around us. It is only by opening up and risking hurt, even from the pain of being transformed by God, that we can embrace the greatest good.

So I’m fighting evil. I’m fighting the evil in me mainly so I can do the most about the evil outside of me. Will you do the same?

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Deeper Waters Podcast 5/13/2017: Craig Blomberg

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

The New Testament is a good-sized work and there are many questions about it. For skeptics, the main ones are why should this group of books be given any trust whatsoever? To take on all of it would be a daunting task indeed, but perhaps that has been done.

Indeed, it has been done. It has been done by my next guest on the Deeper Waters Podcast. He is a very well-known New Testament scholar and one who is certainly qualified to talk about this material. He’s been on the show twice before and was nice enough to write the foreword to Defining Inerrancy. He is none other than Dr. Craig Blomberg. The book we’ll be talking about is The Historical Reliability of the New Testament.

So who is he?

According to his bio:

Dr. Craig Blomberg is Distinguished Professor of New Testament at Denver Seminary in Littleton, Colorado.  He holds the B.A. from Augustana College in Rock Island, Illinois, the M.A. from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois, and the Ph.D. from the University of Aberdeen, Scotland.

 

            Craig is the author of fifteen books and has co-authored or co-edited ten more, along with more than 150 journal articles and chapters in multi-author works.  His books include four on the historical reliability and interpretation of parts or all of the Bible (esp. the Gospels), two on interpreting and preaching the parables, three commentaries (on Matthew, 1 Corinthians and James), a textbook on Jesus and the Gospels and another on Acts through Revelation, a handbook on exegetical method, and three books on material possessions in the Bible.  He is a member of the Committee on Bible Translation for the New International Version and of the committee tasked with producing the 35th anniversary edition of the NIV Study Bible, to be released in 2020.

 

On Sunday mornings Craig occasionally preaches or teaches in various churches. On Sunday evenings, he attends Scum of the Earth Church in urban Denver, an outreach ministry to “the right-brained and left out” young adults of the metro area.

 

Craig’s wife, Fran, is a retired pastor. She has her Ph.D in Missiology from the International Baptist Seminary in Amsterdam.  Craig and Fran have two daughters: Elizabeth (Little), who has an M.A. in Christian Studies from Denver Seminary, is married and works as a circuit preacher for the British Methodists in West Sussex, England, where she lives with her British husband, Jonathan, and their son, Joshua; and Rachel, who is studying for her Ph.D. in molecular biology at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.

 

The Blombergs love to travel, often combining vacation and ministry opportunities at other colleges and seminaries.  Craig has enjoyed three Broncos’ Super Bowl victories in his thirty-plus years in Denver, but as a native of northern Illinois his lifelong sports dream came true in 2016 when the Chicago Cubs won the World Series.

This book is a big one, but one you’ll want to go through to have a thorough understanding of how to defend the New Testament. I hope you’ll be looking forward to this new episode coming out soon. Please also go on ITunes and leave a positive review of the Deeper Waters Podcast.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

God As An Afterthought

Does God really play any role in our Christianity? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I was thinking just now on what to blog on today when I was scrolling through Facebook and saw someone post something about how there is only one way to get to Heaven. I’m not about to deny that Jesus is the only way. I just want to ask, what is Jesus the only way to? Some of you are thinking the obvious answer is Heaven, but is that what Jesus Himself said?

If we go back to John 14:6, Jesus says “No man comes to the Father, but through me.” Jesus didn’t describe Himself as the way to Heaven, but as the way to the Father. You will find very little in the Bible about “Going to Heaven.” You will instead find plenty about resurrection and the Kingdom of God. Oddly enough, much of the focus in eschatology in the Bible is not on Heaven, but is on Earth.

The meek will inherit the Earth, until God just decides He wants to do away with the Earth. Let your will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven, until once again, the Earth is done away with. It will be even harder to come up with something for Revelation 21 where the city of Jerusalem comes down from Heaven to Earth. We have things exactly reversed! We think we go up from Earth to Heaven.

I cannot say for sure when this happened in church history. Perhaps someone who has studied all of church history better could give an answer to that. At this point, we can hear many an altar call where someone gives their lives to Jesus. Why? Because they want to go to Heaven someday. In this case, God is an afterthought. You believe in God not because He’s there and you trust Him not because of Jesus per se, but because you just want to go to Heaven when you die. God becomes many times a means to get to Heaven.

Think of how you would hear Heaven being described anyway. How often does it really include something about God? It could include something about Jesus, and don’t think I’m denying the Trinity or full deity of Christ or anything like that, but there is nothing really said about the Father. Jesus emphasized the way to the Father. We don’t do that.

Heaven is often just one example. God is often an afterthought in anything that we do. God is there to fill in the gaps when we have a need. There is a real problem with the God-of-the-Gaps argumentation. The problem is when you put God in a gap, what happens when that gap starts getting filled by something else?

What about suffering? In the past, the things that we consider hard suffering could often be commonplace to people. Diseases that are far and away from us were everyday realities to them. We cry when a small child dies, which we should, but for them, that was a real risk taken every time you had a child as the chances of a child dying were far greater.

It’s fascinating that the problem of evil is much more often a problem to people who are in well-off societies instead of people who actually have suffering around them all their lives. Many of these people are far more grateful and appreciative for what they have. We today have a lot in the West and we don’t really appreciate it. Many of them in these societies have very little and appreciate everything that they have.

Why is evil such a problem to us? Because we think if God was there, He wouldn’t allow XYZ to happen to us. Everyone seems to think that they’re special. (Isn’t it fascinating that the self-esteem movement produced a generation that has immense ideas of entitlement and yet low self-esteem?) When suffering comes in our lives, we don’t have a way to explain it because reality isn’t supposed to be like this. God isn’t doing His job, because, you know, His job is obviously to make sure life is good for us.

We talk very little about what we are supposed to do for God. That’s one reason we’ve probably lost so much the idea of the Kingdom of God. We don’t talk about the resurrection save as a means of showing that Christianity is true. What difference does it make? That’s a deeper question and one that the surface is hardly scratched on. (It’s also like how we stand up for the Trinity, but normally as a tool to answer Jehovah’s Witnesses on a point we don’t really understand the point of.)

Ultimately, this all leads into our once again “me-centered” Christianity. You should become a Christian not because it’s true that Jesus rose from the dead, but because you want to go to Heaven and/or you want God to do something special in your life. You can hear an altar call after a sermon where the resurrection of Jesus isn’t even mentioned. Sadly, many of these people who come forward will never be discipled. They will never be taught about the basics even of Christianity and what a shock when they apostasize and become angry atheists because Christianity failed them, a Christianity that they hardly understood to begin with. (Some of the most uninformed people you can meet on Christianity are apostates.)

What’s it going to take? Let’s start with the pastors. Give your congregation something more. If you think some people will walk away because they don’t like firm teaching, oh well. Better to have a few extremely dedicated than to have a multitude that is wishy-washy. Let your church know about the resurrection. Let them know the Christian life is a sacrifice. It’s not sunshine and rainbows. Jesus told us to take up our cross and follow Him. We are promised in fact suffering and trials and tribulations. Of course, give them the good news that God is with them in everything, but let it be known that not everything that happens is something that they will like.

To the layman, if your pastor won’t educate you, one thing you might want to consider is finding a new church. If you can’t find one in your area, then educate yourself. You’re not dependent on your pastor. Read blogs like this one and read good books and listen to good podcasts. (I do recommend mine, but I could be biased.) Study to show yourself approved. If you think Christianity is the most important thing in your life, live like it is. We often say Christianity is the most important reality in our lives, and then spend more time studying our favorite sports team than learning about Christianity.

To those of us out here in the field, we need to find a way to engage others around us. We need to engage unbelievers and give them a real challenge. Don’t give them the light Christianity, but give them the hard evidential Christianity and let them try to tell you why it’s not true. For our fellow believers, equip them. Train them. Teach them about the cross and the resurrection. Show them that they are supposed to be all about God and not the other way around.

I look forward to a day when I scroll my Facebook page and I find more about the resurrection and the Kingdom of God than I do about going to Heaven. It might be a long time coming, but it will be worth it. Are you and I going to do anything to change that?

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

 

Deeper Waters Podcast 5/6/2017: Greg Koukl

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

On the next episode, I plan to have my guest sit down for story time. We’re going to tell the greatest story there is. We’re going to tell the Story of Reality. We might think fictional stories could be the most exciting stories of all, but we’re going to be told something different. We’re going to be told His story and how our story interacts with His story and we’re going to see if it’s even better.

The writer of the book is someone who has a great mind but also a great way of speaking and telling a story. Many of his books are very conversational in nature in that you think he really is talking to you and not just giving a talk and you’re sitting in the audience. This could be because he has his own radio show and regularly has to engage in topics with people from all persuasions live. That person is Greg Koukl.

So who is he?

According to his bio:

Greg Koukl holds MA degrees in both apologetics and philosophy. He’s spoken on over 70 university campuses and hosted his own radio talk show for 27 years defending “Christianity worth thinking about.” Greg is founder and president of Stand to Reason (str.org) and serves as adjunct professor of Christian apologetics at Biola University

Koukl says the story is about the beginning, the end, and everything in between. That’s quite a claim and we will be putting it to the test. What is this great story that Koukl wants to share? Why should we even call it a story? Couldn’t we say it’s just a story, much like a fairy tale and perhaps it would bring us some comfort, but it is again, just a story? What would it mean if the story was true? Is there any reason to think that the story is true?

How do we best communicate this story as well? Again, if we say that it is a story, then people will consider it like a fairy tale. How do we tell them that this isn’t a fairy tale but more in the language of Lewis and Tolkien, that this is true myth? This is the story that we have all longed for but has in the end turned out to be true?

Koukl is a talented writer who speaks to the everyday man on the street. I know Greg Koukl well and one thing I’ve always noticed about him is that he’s in many ways very ordinary in his life. One of my first memories of being with him involved being at a conference and wearing a hat and posing for a picture and just before it went off, he did a joke move and turned it to the side on me. When we lived in Knoxville and Charlotte and Greg came to both places, Allie and I made a point of seeing him.

I hope you’ll be looking for the next episode. We did have some technical difficulties last week and will have to reschedule, but we hope this week will go better. Please also go on ITunes and leave a positive review of the Deeper Waters Podcast.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

The Case For Christ Movie

What did I think of the film? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Last night, Allie and I finally got around to seeing The Case For Christ. We had heard nothing but good things about it. In the past, I have been used to seeing Christian films that are cheesy and think that they have to shove the Gospel down your throat at one point in a super obvious way because, hey, otherwise you will miss it. Not so with this one.

I also know a number of the people involved in the story so that gave it an extra sense of joy. The story is indeed a fairly accurate one, though also at times I think holding back. Lee Strobel is a successful writer for a newspaper and he and his wife and daughter are enjoying their lives when through a series of events, his wife Leslie actually becomes a Christian. Lee, an atheist, finds his world torn apart.

One of the first thoughts he has, and this is extremely accurate for men, is that Leslie has gone and cheated on him with another man and that man is Jesus. He immediately thinks that somehow he was not good enough for her. Everything becomes a comparison between him and Jesus. Their marriage becomes all about the argument and gets darker and darker, though I do not think the movie could show the full level of darkness that was reached.

Meanwhile, Lee is also investigating a story about a cop that was shot. Alongside this one, the religious editor when hearing Lee complain about his wife says that if he wants to tackle Christianity and disprove it, the place to go is the resurrection. Might I say that it is wonderful hearing something like this? So many Christian movies hardly ever seem to make any significance of the resurrection. Many churches don’t in fact. Christianity is all about living a good life and the resurrection seems to be a nice add-on.

Lee asks him who the main expert to go to on the resurrection is and gets told to talk to Gary Habermas, which he does. At one point, there is some anachronism here. Habermas talks about his wife Debbie and how he wants to see her again, but that death took place much later than when the movie starts unless there was a lot of time skipped that I don’t know about which I doubt since it also has Lee’s son being born around this time.

It’s also excellent that many audiences are being introduced to this material for the first time. I find it fascinating that a movie can be made like this with a lot of scholarly input and actual information and yet still gripping. The story of Lee’s marriage, the investigation into the cop shooting, and the investigation of Christianity all started weaving together incredibly well.

I often thought the few other people in the theater could have thought that Allie and I were being rude. At some points, there was some mild laughter from me, but that was because I knew the answer that was coming and seeing Lee get caught flatfooted was a funny moment. I wonder what people might be thinking who were being introduced for this material for the first time.

What this shows us also is you can do apologetics and it can be accurate and it can be something enjoyable for the audience. You don’t have to shove it down their throats and it can be an enjoyable story. There’s also the real fact that just because Leslie accepted Jesus, it doesn’t mean her life is sunshine and rainbows then. It was a nightmare with she and Lee bickering back and forth. Our idea today is that Christianity will make your life better. It might do that, but sometimes, it can make it harder. You will have a much harder time in Iran if you become a Christian than if you do in the South in America. The question to ask about Christianity is not will it make your life better, but is it true?

If you want to know about the acting and such, I can’t really comment on that. It’s not the kind of thing I notice in a film or TV show. I’m sort of blind to that. I just look and ask if I enjoyed the film and what I thought about the content. In this case, this is a movie I am going to be wanting to get on DVD when it comes out. It’s a great one to watch and I hope more come out like it.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Resurrecting The Trinity

What do I think of M. James Sawyer’s book published by Weaver Book Company? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

The Trinity is something that many people do not really pay attention to in Christianity. Sawyer is certainly right that for many Christians today that if the Trinity was proven false, their church services and worship style would be little changed if any. We are often mere monotheists, confessing Trinitarians but practicing Arians.

Of course, we do lip service to the Trinity, but that’s where it usually ends. The only other time we open up the Trinity box is when Jehovah’s Witnesses come by so we can beat them up with it and win in a battle that we don’t often see the importance of and then the Trinity goes back on the shelf. Sawyer wants us to see the Trinity as a life-changing doctrine.

In our modern secular world, we can often view God through a scientific lens where He often plays no active role in our universe except for an occasional miracle. This is why deism is such a possibility for so many people. The universe can run on its own power with laws of nature being active. God is not really necessary. The universe is just a big machine.

Go back to the past and in fact to many other traditions today like the Orthodox church and the Trinity is a living reality to them. We can make many statements about God that would be easily agreed to by a Muslim or a Jew. To some extent, this is understandable. There is no philosophical argument that can prove the Trinity. If we have just reason alone, we can get so far, but the problem is we often act like reason alone has got us as far as we can go.

Instead, the Trinity is to show us what God is like mainly through Christ. Christ doesn’t appease an angry side of God. Christ shows us what the Father Himself is like. If we think the Father is eager to judge us, then we have to ask why Jesus doesn’t seem the same way. There is no dark side of God. What you see is what you get. When you look at Jesus, you see what God is like.

Sawyer also shows that we can have those false views of God such as the kind of name-it, claim-it God or the God who is eager to smite us all. To some extent, we all have these ideas of God at some time in our lives I suppose. It has been rightly said that whatever your idea of God is, it is inadequate. Still, we should strive for as truthful a view as possible.

Sawyer also says that this has often led to a certain moralizing in our walk. Holiness can become a burden when it needn’t be because we are trying to appease the angry God. There is no problem with being moral, but the issue is did Jesus really come to establish a new morality, or did He come to give us God? By all means, He showed us a better way, but did He not show God as well?

When we look at our theology, it is too easy to not have it really be informed by Jesus. The God of the philosophers is tempting to stick with, but the God revealed in Christ is a huge step forward. Too many of us are too tempted to stick with all the omni traits, which we should not deny, and just leave it at that instead of interacting with the whole theological picture.

There isn’t as much in defense of the Trinity here against objections, but that’s fine. There is some grounding of the idea and how it contrasts with Rabbinic thought and about what happened in the Arian controversy, but I think the whole of the work doesn’t seek to defend the Trinity as much as it seeks to show why the Trinity matters. This is indeed something that we need restored to the church today.

The only major area I think I’d disagree with is that Sawyer does seem to hold a higher view of The Shack than I would like. It’s quite interesting that one of the main reasons I didn’t like that book was because of the way it treated the Trinity. If you are like me, you can still get a lot out of this as it doesn’t play a major role in the book.

I hope a book like Sawyer’s is appreciated. The church needs to reclaim the revelation that has been given in Christ. Our doctrine has become largely about morality and such instead of really about a revelation of who God is so that He can often seem just as distant to us as He would have been before the revelation of Jesus. There is a better way.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Bahnsen Burner on 1 Cor. 15

Is the 1 Cor. 15 creed a good defense of the resurrection? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I was asked by a reader of the blog to give my thoughts on a website called Bahnsen Burner, which normally deals with presuppositional apologetics and how in this case they’ve decided to respond to Geisler and Turek on 1 Cor. 15. Looking over the case, I’m really just seeing more of the same. At any rate, let’s go through it.

Bahnsen Burner (BB henceforth) starts off quoting Geisler and Turek.

But the most significant aspect of this letter is that it contains the earliest and most authenticated testimony of the Resurrection itself. In the fifteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians, Paul writes down the testimony he received from others and the testimony that was authenticated when Christ appeared to
him:

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas [Peter], then to the twelve. After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; and last of all, as it were to one untimely born, He appeared to me also (1 Cor. 15:3-8, NASB).

Where did Paul get what he “received”? He probably received it from Peter and James when he visited them in Jerusalem three years after his conversion (Gal. 1:18). Why is this important? Because, as Gary Habermas points out, most scholars (even liberals) believe that this testimony was part of an early creed that dates right back to the Resurrection itself – eighteen months to eight years after, but some say even earlier. There’s no possible way that such testimony could describe a legend, because it goes right back to the time and place of the event itself. If there was ever a place that a legendary resurrection could not occur it was Jerusalem, because the Jews and the Romans were all too eager to squash Christianity and could have easily done so by parading Jesus’ body around the city.

Moreover, notice that Paul cites fourteen eyewitnesses whose names are known: the twelve apostles, James, and Paul [sic] himself (“Cephas” is the Aramaic for Peter), and then references an appearance to more than 500 others at one time. Included in those groups was one skeptic, James, and one outright enemy, Paul himself. By naming so many people who could verify what Paul was saying, Paul was, in effect, challenging his Corinthian readers to check him out. (pp. 242-243)

To this, BB says:

The statements made here are so misleading that it’s amazing that any publishing house would have accepted this book’s manuscript. But lies do sell in this day and age, just as they did 2,000 years ago and before.

Let’s consider some of the statements made here in regard to this highly contested passage.

The authors tell us that the First Epistle to the Corinthian church “contains the earliest and most authenticated testimony of the Resurrection itself.” I’m not so concerned about the “earliest” part here, since it is ultimately irrelevant; even a legend has to have its inception sometime. Rather, it’s this claim, presumably regarding the specific passage cited (I Cor. 15:3-8), that it “contains the… most authenticated testimony of the Resurrection itself.” I can only ask at this point, “authenticated” by what? And what specifically do the authors think is “authenticated” in this passage? The phrase “testimony of the Resurrection itself” seems to be used quite loosely here, for even the gospel depictions of Jesus’ passion put no witnesses with Jesus when and where he was supposed to be resurrected – that is, in his very tomb!

In this, we have the common scenario of asking a question and not really bothering to look for the answer. If I was to say what I think that Geisler and Turek are saying, it’s that the passage is accepted by the vast majority of scholars on the historical Jesus as containing early material accepted across the board. That doesn’t mean they believe in the resurrection, but they do believe that appearances took place.

As for seeing the actual resurrection, that was not the claim. The claim was that He appeared to many. Let me put it easily enough for BB. Jesus was dead. There is not a debate about that. Jesus was crucified. Jesus was dead. I would normally think that would not need any scholarly backing, but in our day and age with people thinking mythicism is all the rage among scholars (It’s not. It’s no more the rage than anti-vaccination thinking is the rage among doctors) I will post some and these are all from scholars that would not hold to orthodox Christianity at all.

“The fact of the death of Jesus as a consequence of crucifixion is indisputable, despite hypotheses of a pseudo-death or a deception which are sometimes put forward. It need not be discussed further here.” (Gerd Ludemann. .”What Really Happened To Jesus?” Page 17.)

Christians who wanted to proclaim Jesus as messiah would not have invented the notion that he was crucified because his crucifixion created such a scandal. Indeed, the apostle Paul calls it the chief “stumbling block” for Jews (1 Cor. 1:23). Where did the tradition come from? It must have actually happened. (Bart Ehrman, The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings. Third Edition. pages 221-222)

Jesus was executed by crucifixion, which was a common method of torture and execution used by the Romans. (Dale Martin, New Testament History and Literature. Page 181)

That Jesus was executed because he or someone else was claiming that he was the king of the Jews seems to be historically accurate. (ibid. 186)

Jesus’ execution is as historically certain as any ancient event can ever be but what about all those very specific details that fill out the story? (John Dominic Crossan http://www.huffingtonpost.com/john-d…_b_847504.html)

Now here’s the deal. Jesus is dead. Jesus is then seen again by people and these people are convinced He is alive. That means that in their mind, He somehow passed from death to life. That is what constitutes a resurrection appearance. They are convinced that a man they knew to be dead earlier is seen alive and well later.

BB goes on to quote Geisler and Turek.

The authors ask:

Where did Paul get what he “received”?

In answer to this, they say that Paul “probably received it from Peter and James when he visited them in Jerusalem three years after his conversion (Gal. 1:18).”
And in saying this, they are well in agreement with the majority of scholars of the historical Jesus. Of course, this is scholarly work we’re talking about. On the internet, you’ll find something different where skeptics will believe any conspiracy theory no matter how rejected by scholarship just because, hey, it argues against Christianity!
But Paul himself does not tell us this. For Jesus’ death itself, Paul appeals to “the Scriptures.” Throughout his several letters, Paul relies heavily on Old Testament citations to buttress his points. Also, I find it puzzling that Geisler and Turek would reference the first chapter of Paul’s letter to the Galatians and not notice what he says just a few verses prior to the one they do cite. Paul makes it explicitly clear that the answer which our authors give us is not the right answer to the question the pose. Observe:

Dear brothers and sisters, I want you to understand that the gospel message I preach is not based on mere human reasoning. I received my message from no human source, and no one taught me. Instead, I received it by direct revelation from Jesus Christ. (Gal. 1:11-12)

Nor should we expect Paul to tell us. In a day and age where writing was timely and expensive with only so much room to write, Paul would say what was most essential first. There’s no need to tell the Corinthians information that is already known such as where the creed is from. Why does he repeat the creed then? Because Paul is forming an argument and he’s reminding them of the claims that they all already agreed to.

“Wait! These people are saying there is no resurrection! Why would they agree that Jesus was raised?”

Those are good questions. The answer is that the debate is not about the resurrection of Jesus but the resurrection of believers. Corinthians could easily say there was no general resurrection of the dead but Jesus, Jesus is the exception. He’s the man of special honor and favor. He will be raised, but not us. Paul then starts his argument saying “Jesus is raised. We know that. Here’s how we know it.”

Galatians 1:11-12 is a favorite to go to, but the problem is an equivocation on received and on Gospel. The four Gospels we have now were not necessarily called Gospels back then. Paul does say he received something by revelation, but is it the Gospel formally? One can imagine a conversation going on with pre-conversion Saul and the soldiers with him.

Soldier: Hey, Saul. These Christians we are persecuting. Who are they? What do they believe? How do we identify them?
Saul: Beats me. You think I actually know what they’re teaching?

Paul would have already known the content of the Gospel. What was not known is the truth of the Gospel. Paul is saying that when it comes to the truth, he wasn’t just one following the apostles. He himself was an apostle. In fact, the language in Galatians 1 is highly pointing back to Jeremiah and his call to preach to the nations.

Paul is saying that the message he received was that Jesus was indeed the resurrected Messiah. He didn’t get that by hearing what the apostles said so that the Galatians could just go over his head and back to someone else. He received that message by a direct appearance of the risen Jesus to him.

As for according to the Scriptures, what is meant is not a chapter and a verse, but that this is a fulfillment of the Scriptures. This is the story of God all alone. It wasn’t an accident. God meant this from the beginning.

BB goes on.

So according to what Paul tells us, he “received” the gospel that he preaches to everyone else directly from Jesus as a revelation. (One wonders why that same Jesus doesn’t reveal himself directly to everyone else as well rather than revealing himself to one person who then goes around telling everyone he meets about it.) Paul himself is telling us that what Geilser and Turek propose is precisely what did not take place.

The difference is 1 Cor. 15 has passed on and received. Received alone is one thing. The two together indicate an oral tradition. Paul would have been given this tradition as well as what was a simple and easily memorable way of saying what the early church believed. We can ask why Jesus doesn’t appear to everyone, but that is for another post and won’t affect the data itself.

Here an objection comes. Yeah? Well Paul uses that same language in 1 Cor. 11:23. “What I received from the Lord, I passed on to you!” Paul gets everything by personal revelation.

It’s an interesting comeback, but flawed. In his book on the historical Jesus, Craig Keener points out that rabbis of the time claimed to have teaching from Sinai. They did not mean personal revelation, but that which went back to the source. In this case, the teaching goes directly back to Jesus who said the words at the Last Supper. That’s not the case in 1 Cor. 15 because Jesus never gave a list of the resurrection appearances. Paul’s language is quite concise.

BB continues

Apparently having failed to understood this portion of Paul’s epistle to the Galatians, or at any rate to factor into their thinking about the question they pose before themselves in regard to I Cor. 15:3-8, our authors find their proposal that Paul “received” what he states in that passage important because they want to see it as “part of an early creed that dates right back to the Resurrection itself – eighteen months to eight years after, but some say even earlier.”

What I find curious at this point is how oblivious the authors seem to be of the quagmire they’ve gotten themselves into at this point. For one, they are clearly relying on the content of later writings – the gospels – to supply them with the dating they assume for the events that Paul mentions in this passage. Nothing in the letter itself suggests that the resurrection that Paul speaks of happened any time recently (for all that Paul gives us, his Jesus could have been crucified a century or more earlier, and not necessarily in Palestine for that matter), and only by interpreting Paul’s account by reading elements from the gospel stories into it can it be made into a reference to a recent event. The erroneous nature of this assumption and its significance to my broader point will be brought out more clearly below. For the present, I’d like to focus on another problem that Geisler and Turek bring upon themselves. For if I Cor. 15:3-8 is part of an early creed which Paul has simply imported and woven into his letter, then obviously he is not recounting firsthand knowledge. In fact, if the gist of I Cor. 15:3-8 is a creedal formula passed down to him from other believers, it is at best hearsay that he inserts into his letter.

Apparently, there’s an unwritten rule out there that you cannot use later sources to amplify your understanding of earlier ones. For instance, we have a reference to the destruction of Pompeii in 79 A.D. by the eruption of Vesuvius in an off-the-cuff remark between Pliny the Younger and Tacitus. It’s only later on that we learn historically of Herculaneum, which would actually be the more important town. No doubt, the people of the time already knew this information, but we ourselves would not.

Now if BB wants to suggest another time and place where all of this happened, he’s more than welcome to. For historical Jesus scholars, it’s quite established about the time of when Jesus died. You will have a date between 29-33 A.D. and even then that does not affect the creed at all. All will agree about it’s the time from death to the creating of the creed.

Also, Paul is not inserting firsthand knowledge into the letter. Yes. So what? If all we went by were firsthand knowledge in ancient history, we would have very little. Most accounts were written by historians who would show up later on the scene and collect the details.

“Yeah! But hearsay isn’t allowed in a court of law! It’s unreliable!”

No. It’s not allowed in a court of law generally because you’re allowed to question your accusers. That can’t be done with hearsay. We have to ask how much of ancient history BB is willing to discount because of the rule of it not being firsthand. He would have to throw out Hannibal, Queen Boudica, and Arminius

BB continues:

As if that weren’t bad enough, notice the overtly question-begging nature of the following statement:

There’s no possible way that such testimony could describe a legend, because it goes right back to the time and place of the event itself.

It always strikes me as rather perverse when apologists tell us that it’s impossible for a story to have legendary content while expecting us to believe in supernatural beings, resurrection of the dead, miracles, etc. But here Geisler and Turek insist that the testimony we find in I Cor. 15 could not contain any legend. To make this kind of claim, the authors must assume the historicity of the gospel accounts of Jesus, which are the only documents in the New Testament which place Jesus’ life, death and resurrection in a historical context. The authors are, in effect, using later documents to inform and corroborate earlier documents. Nothing in Paul’s letters to the Corinthians, let alone the passage in question, place Jesus’ death and resurrection in any historical setting or even remotely suggest a date to the event in question. So given what Paul states in I Cor. 15:3-8, there’s nothing there which tells us that his account of the resurrection is “early” or that “it goes right back to the time and place of the event itself.” If the aim is to validate the resurrection story of the New Testament as authentically historical, Geisler and Turek simply beg the question by claiming that Paul’s own statements about it could not contain elements of legend because it is too close in time to the event in question. If the event in question is in fact legendary, and Paul’s own account of that event provide no indication of time or place or setting, then the accounts we find in the gospels, the earliest of which being written a decade or more after Paul’s letter campaign, would simply be embellishments of the legend itself. If Paul were passing on a legend that he had learned (and maybe even helped embellish himself), what would keep later writers from adding to and elaborating that legend? And if the later writings – namely the gospels – are themselves legends, then using them to date an event which is itself legendary, simply immerses apologists deeper and deeper into the fake environment of their imagination. Having to rely on one legendary work to validate another legendary work can only mean that the alleged historicity of Christ will evaporate under examination.

Note BB that there are many skeptical scholars of the NT who do not think the Gospels are accurate entirely, but they do think there is much we can learn about the historical Jesus from them. Many skeptics have an all-or-nothing thinking. Either the Gospels are entirely inerrant according to our idea of what it would mean to be inerrant, or they’re all fake.

Again, if BB wants to make that case, he’s free to try to make it. It will be a long uphill battle. The only ones who argue for completely legendary would be mythicists themselves. When we look at the historical Jesus, we take all the data we have which includes the Gospels and the Pauline epistles.

If historians want to know what Jesus said and did they are more or less constrained to use the New Testament Gospels as their principal sources. Let me emphasize that this is not for religious or theological reasons–for instance, that these and these alone can be trusted. It is for historical reasons pure and simple. (Ehrman, The New Testament, page 215)

One would also think that if the legend was being embellished, the Gospels would have more appearances in them and appearances to huger multitudes than 500. They don’t. The Gospels overall are quite constrained in this.

But the question-begging doesn’t stop there. Geisler and Turek continue:

If there was ever a place that a legendary resurrection could not occur it was Jerusalem, because the Jews and the Romans were all too eager to squash Christianity and could have easily done so by parading Jesus’ body around the city.

But if the Jesus story were a legend in the first place – the very premise which our authors are trying to defeat, then appealing to what might have happened or could have happened to Jesus’ body simply begs the question, for it assumes precisely what they are called to prove: namely that the story we have of Jesus in the New Testament is not legend. If the story about Jesus is merely a legend, then there was no body to crucify and seal in a tomb or parade through the streets of Jerusalem.

Again, if BB wants to try to find another locale for all of this, he’s welcome to it. Such hyper-skepticism is why the internet is not taken seriously by scholars today. Picture that crazy uncle at that family reunion you go to who holds all these strange ideas. The internet is where all these crazy uncles get together and discuss those ideas.

As if this could be helpful to us today, Geisler and Turek fall back on the typical defense that anyone questioning Paul could have followed up on the claims he makes in I Cor. 15:3-8:

Moreover, notice that Paul cites fourteen eyewitnesses whose names are known: the twelve apostles, James, and Paul [sic] himself (“Cephas” is the Aramaic for Peter), and then references an appearance to more than 500 others at one time. Included in those groups was one skeptic, James, and one outright enemy, Paul himself. By naming so many people who could verify what Paul was saying, Paul was, in effect, challenging his Corinthian readers to check him out.

First of all, Paul does not name fourteen eyewitnesses. In fact, the details he provides are far less substantial. In I Cor. 15:3-8, Paul only names two other people: Cephas and James. He refers to “the twelve,” which is nowhere explained in any of Paul’s letters, and to “all the apostles.” It is not even clear from what Paul gives us here that either Cephas or James were members of either group. Christians typically suppose that the Cephas Paul mentions in this passage corresponds to the Peter of the gospels (perhaps we’re expected to accept that only one person in the entire first century bore the name Cephas). Of course, I would suspect that at least some of Paul’s readers would have wondered whom he meant by “the twelve” and who were “the apostles” he mentions. Apologists typically respond to these kinds of questions by alleging that Paul’s audiences would have known whom he had in mind with such expressions, because this would have been included in his on-site missionary work when he visited the churches he later addressed in letters. There’s a persistent and annoying perhapsical nature to all this, and puts a great burden on the memories of those whom Paul personally missionized, persons who may or may not have been the recipients of Paul’s letters, which – like I Corinthians – was addressed to the church as a whole, not to a specific individual. The question naturally arises: what exactly did Paul teach the congregations he visited on his missionizing journeys, and how can we know what he taught? If his letters are an indication of what he taught, what do they tell us about “the twelve” and “the apostles”? I Cor. 15:3-8 is the only passage in all of Paul’s letters where he makes reference to this mysterious “twelve,” and even here it is not even clear that “the twelve” and “the apostles” he references in the same passage are the same group. He certainly does not name them in his letter, and one can only speculate that he named them when he visited the church addressed by the letter. Moreover, if Paul is just repeating a creed here, as Geisler and Turek seem to think, then it’s quite possible that even Paul himself did not know the names of those who constituted “the twelve.”

Even when I was a believer, Paul’s reference to “the twelve” here bothered me. Doherty sums up the problem succinctly when he writes:

One could ask why Paul does not use the term “the Twelve” anywhere else in his letters, despite often talking about the Jerusalem apostles. In fact, one would be hard pressed to understand what it refers to simply by this sole reference in I Corinthians 15:5. One might also be forgiven for thinking that, as Paul expresses it, “the Twelve” doesn’t even include Peter. And more than one commentator has fussed over the fact that this really ought to be an appearance to “the Eleven,” since the gap left by Judas’ departure had not yet been filled, according to Acts. (Challenging the Verdict: A Cross-Examination of Lee Strobel’s “The Case for Christ”, p. 193.)

So indeed a list of the names who made up the membership of “the twelve” would be quite informative here, but Paul does not provide this. Simply assuming that his 1st century readers would have known what Paul meant strikes me as hasty, and even if it is not unjustifiable, it is certainly of no help to us today, and only raises further questions about what Paul might have taught on his missionary journeys. For instance, did Paul teach that Jesus was born of a virgin? His letters nowhere make reference to this feature which is not introduced until we get to the gospels of Matthew and Luke, which are the only two New Testament documents which mention it. Did Paul teach that Jesus assembled the disciples, or “apostles” which he mentions in I Cor. 15, during missionary work of his own? Paul’s letters nowhere indicate this. Did Paul teach his congregations that Jesus performed miracles during an incarnate visit to earth? Nowhere do any of Paul’s letters suggest this. Did Paul teach that Jesus was betrayed by Judas Iscariot? Again, one would never learn about this gospel feature from anything Paul wrote.

Yes. No one would learn this from what Paul wrote. BB can call it hasty, but it’s simply the facts of a high-context society. If you read the Federalist Papers for instance, the writers will refer to many events in Greek and Roman history. There is no explanation of the stories. They’re off-the-cuff remarks that assume the reader knows what is being talked about.

As for if Judas Iscariot is among the twelve, let’s ask a quick question. Football fans. How many teams are in the Big Ten? Yeah. My family and friends who are football fans tell me that there is a different number now than ten. What is going on with the term “The twelve?” It became a catch-phrase used to describe the original apostles that were called.

It is indeed true that Paul does not use the term anywhere else in his letters. That’s the point. The creed is full of non-Pauline language which further shows that this is not something original to Paul. Even a personal revelation Paul could have put in his own language.

As for why not name names, it’s because the creed is short and to be something easily memorized. Ancients had better memories, but that does not mean many would memorize a list of 500 names. Instead, investigators would be sent to the Jerusalem area and investigate. They would ask around to see if any of these 500 were known in the area and available for questioning.

Regardless, how would any of Paul’s readers be able to investigate any of the things he mentions in I Cor. 15:3-8? He does not identify a place, so any reader would not be able to gather from what Paul writes in his letter where he should begin such an investigation. Where would a Corinthian go to seek confirmation on Paul’s claims with “the twelve”? And would he be encouraged to do so? And what of the anonymous 500 brethren? We’re not given one name here, let alone a time, place or setting. So the defense that Paul’s congregants could have at any time gone out and checked out his claims is dubious. And our authors’ suggestion that “Paul was, in effect, challenging his Corinthian readers to check him out,” borderlines the ludicrous. If Paul really wanted his readers to check up on his claims, he should have done much more than make the passing references that he gives us in I Cor. 15:3-8.

At the very time, Paul was getting a delegation from Corinth to join him on a trip to Jerusalem. Skeptics could send investigators along in such a group. Travel was not unheard of and the Roman roadway system made it much easier. Would they be encouraged? Since Christianity was a shameful belief and many people would be high honor and not want to lose that easily. Larry Hurtado demonstrates the shame and ostracism facing Christians in his book Destroyer of the Gods.

To make matters even more problematic, Paul gives no details on what any of the people he mentions may have actually seen or witnessed. Did they see a resurrected man? How would they know that the man they saw was once dead? Did they have a waking fantasy, as believers today have when they’re in worship? Believers today often refer to themselves as “witnesses” of Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection, and yet they can do this even though they weren’t even alive back in the 1st century. If the word “witness” enjoys a very loose meaning for many of today’s Christians (and it very often does), why suppose it didn’t enjoy similar flexibility among the early Christians? Christians today are constantly exclaiming how Jesus is present with them, standing right beside them and encouraging them, giving them “strength” so that they can overcome the adversity of hardship, trials and tribulations, afflictions and persecutions. They obviously do not have a physical person in mind when they make these kinds of declarations, so why suppose the early Christians were speaking about a physical Jesus when they claimed to have “witnessed” him?

Because what believers say today is entirely corresponding to what they said back then. Never mind that someone complaining about question-begging has just done a huge amount of it about the culture. It’s interesting to hear him say “Witness means many things today, so why not suppose it meant the same back then.” But to suppose that the events Paul writes about were the same as the Gospels, well that’s too much.

What did they see? They saw Jesus. We have all we need. Death, burial, resurrection appearances. I would also argue that the language of 1 Cor. 15 refers to a physical body. That again is for another post.

If 500 or so believers saw Jesus in the flesh (an interpretation which Paul’s words do not require), who were they, and where is their testimony? It seems that, if so many people had more than merely a subjective experience of an imaginary Jesus – as today’s believers frequently have in the ecstasy of church worship, we’d have more contributors to the documentary evidence than what we find in the New Testament. If I had seen a man who was actually resurrected from the grave, whom I thought was “the Son of God,” I would waste no time in writing down exactly what I had seen, where I had seen it and when I had seen it. If I knew of others who had the same experience, I would not hesitate to get their testimony down in writing, or at least to have them endorse such statements of witness. But that’s me.

BB again assumes his own culture in here with “I would waste no time writing it down!” Well, as Richards, Capes, and Reeves say in Rediscovering Paul.

The cost of writing and rewriting was not free. A secretary charged by the line. Like anyone whose living depended on billing customers, the secretary kept up with how many lines he wrote each time. Although we do not know the exact charges for making drafts and producing a letter, we can make some educated guesses. A rough, and very conservative, estimate of what it would cost in today’s dollars to prepare a letter like 1 Corinthians would be $2100, $700 for Galatians, and $500 for 1 Thessalonians.” Richards, Capes, and Reeves, Rediscovering Paul p. 78

So here’s the deal. You can use a method that is free, quick, easily accessible, and reaches more people, such as oral communication, or you can use a method that is costly, timely, can only be accessed by those who can read, and even then the rest have to hear it orally. Decisions, decisions. Which one will you choose?

In fact, there are many great events that weren’t written down about at the time. Hardly anyone wrote about the destruction of Vesuvius that destroyed two cities at the time. We have no contemporary writing about Hannibal in the Punic Wars. Now it’s possible that some things were written and simply lost, but we cannot appeal to lost documents.

Apologists can be expected to make the most of Paul’s mention that most of the 500 brethren who saw something are still alive. But it is important not to read more into Paul’s words than what they actually say. Apologists typically assume that Paul’s words confirm that Jesus’ death and resurrection were recent. Instead, however, Paul’s own treatment here has the effect of “stamping [Jesus’] appearances as recent, but not the death, burial, and prompt resurrection…, which he merely says occurred ‘in accordance with the scriptures’.” (Wells, Can We Trust the New Testament? Thoughts on the Reliability of Early Christian Testimony, p. 7, emphasis added.) As I pointed out above, there is nothing in Paul’s letter which lends itself to dating Jesus’ death and resurrection in the recent past. Consequently, to claim that I Cor. 15:3-8 is “too early” to be legend, requires one to assume the truth of the basic portrait of Jesus found in the gospels, which simply begs the question at issue.

Again, if BB wants to go this route, he’s welcome to it. Just don’t be expected to be taken seriously in the scholarly world. It’s noteworthy that so much of what he cites comes from mythicists. That tells us about all that we need to know.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

A Reply On Jesus’s Existence To World Future Fund

Is there evidence for Jesus? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

So yesterday, someone posted on Facebook asking about this article. It was material that they had never come across before. I can sympathize because people who don’t buy into conspiracy theories and such will ever come across Jesus mythicism. If all you read was the best scholarly literature on the historical Jesus, you’d never catch it.

Yes. I know so many atheist fanboys are screaming Richard Carrier, but no. He’s not the best. He doesn’t teach at an accredited university and his book he wanted to have an impact is hardly known anywhere. That’s not meant to be an insult. It’s just reality.

We’re told that the time Jesus lived is one of the most heavily documented in ancient history. That could be debated, but let’s just go with it. What of it? We are told there are no contemporary records. Of course, this is excluding the New Testament because, you know, if it’s in the Bible it’s automatically thrown out, a rule not followed by critical non-Christian scholars of the New Testament, but hey, who cares about consistency?

Unrealized of course is that if you went by this standard, you would have to deny many figures in ancient history such as Hannibal or Queen Boudica or the German Arminius. Are we going to see any Hannibal mythicists who will tell us the Punic Wars were a story made up by Rome to increase their reputation of defeating a great opponent to show how awesome in battle they were? Doubtful, but it would be the consistent outcome.

We’re also told a reign of terror was started when Christianity seized power and Eusebius was asked to write a church history. Little problem. Christianity was only legalized under Constantine. It was over 60 years later before it “seized power” as it were. Naturally, we’re also told Christianity was responsible for the Library of Alexandria being destroyed. Oh! What sources are cited for this? Gibbon is in the sources, but there’s no correspondence above to the note. At any rate, I recommend someone like Tim O’Neill for this.

At this, I suspect some skeptics reading might say I’m referring to another Christian so why bother? Well let’s see what O’Neill says about himself in the article where he takes Gibbon to task.

As an atheist, I’m clearly no fan of fundamentalism – even the 1500 year old variety (though modern manifestations tend to be the ones to watch out for). And as an amateur historian of science I’m more than happy with the idea of a film that gets across the idea that, yes, there was a tradition of scientific thinking before Newton and Galileo. But Amenabar has taken the (actually, fascinating) story of what was going on in Alexandria in Hypatia’s time and turned it into a cartoon, distorting history in the process.

Also, how do these people think we have works from the pagan world at all? Do they want to take a guess who was copying them? Was all of it done secretly by closet pagans for well over a thousand years? Do they not realize it was Christians preserving all these works from being destroyed?

Of course, they don’t.

The next source we get is Josephus.

This brief piece of evidence which supposedly contributed the best “proof” of Jesus’s existence has actually been proven to be a fraud. It has been demonstrated continuously over the centuries that “Testamonium Flavium” was a forgery manufactured by the Catholic Church, and was inserted into Josephus’s works. The Testamonium Flavium account is so thoroughly refuted, that biblical scholars since the 19th century have refused to refer to it, unless to mention its false nature.

Odd. I read Bible scholars regularly and never do I hear them saying that this is a fraud. Note that World Future Fund. I read scholars. I don’t read people on the internet who like to claim to be scholars but aren’t. The Testimonium is no doubt said to have some parts that are interpolation, but much of it still stands as accurate. There is also the second reference to Jesus in Josephus which largely depends on the first. That isn’t even questioned by WFF. My friend James Hannam has looked at several of the scholarly works as well and written an article here.

We continue.

Most written accounts of the life of Jesus did not exist until a couple decades after his purported existence. These accounts were presented by a number of different authors and had somewhat conflicting stories about his existence. These written accounts are known as the Gospels. Also, it is worth knowing that not all of the gospels that were written even made their way into the bible. Only four gospels became the canonical writings for the church. The rest were burned, destroyed or lost. Historians estimate that the first written gospel, the gospel of Mark, was written sometime after 70 C.E, which means that at the earliest, it would have been written 40 years after the alleged crucifixion of Jesus.

Nothing is said about the epistles which contain our earliest references to the historical Jesus. Naturally, WFF goes with a conspiracy theory of sorts. If they want to know why other Gospels weren’t included, there’s a good reason. For one thing, they didn’t have apostolic authority. A Gospel needed to be by an apostle or an associate of an apostle. The early church worked to trace the origins of the Gospels they had and found them to come from those in the Jesus tradition. This wasn’t so with the later Gospels. This is one topic I discussed with biblical scholar Charles Hill here.

As for dating, there’s no links here so we don’t know what scholars are being relied on. Decades later is hardly a problem in the ancient world. As for conflicting accounts, we also have two conflicting accounts on how Hannibal tried to conquer Rome. By the standard of these writers then, Hannibal never existed.

We go on.

There is widespread belief that Nero blamed the burning of Rome on the Christians; however, there are many holes in this theory.

This belief comes from the account of the Roman historian Tacitus (56-120 CE) about how Emperor Nero (37 – 68 CE) blamed the burning of Rome on “those people who were abhorred for their crimes and commonly called Christians.” The passage then states that the fire agitators were followers of “Christus” who “was put to death as a criminal by the procurator Pontius Pilate.” The passage then also states that Christians constituted a “vast multitude at Rome” and goes on to discuss the ghastly ways in which they were persecuted.

However, there are many troubling details about the historical accuracy of this passage. Some critics call into question whether Tacitus wrote this account at all, or if it was yet another forgery. Around the date of Nero’s Fire, 64 AD, there were no “multitude of Christians” in Rome. At this time, there was not even a multitude of Christians in Judea. Therefore, it is highly doubtful that Nero would refer to Christians in this way.

It would be interesting to know who these critics are who say Tacitus is a forgery. Certainly no scholars of Tacitus. The text also speaks of Christians in such abhorrent terms that it’s nothing that the Christians themselves would make up. As for a multitude, the problem is that this is a term that is vague. A multitude does not have to have any set number of people. It just has to have a crowd that is deemed sizable enough to make a difference in some way. Again, this isn’t a problem for scholars in the field.

This is also the only mention of Christians in the work of Tacitus, despite the fact that he wrote several volumes

This is also the only mention of Pontius Pilate in the work of Tacitus, despite the fact that he wrote several volumes. What of it? I’m surprised frankly that Tacitus even mentioned Jesus once.

Also, the supposed persecution of the Christians by Nero is not recorded by any other historian of Nero’s time. If the persecution of Christians were really that widespread, wouldn’t other historians be writing about it?

No. The eruption of Vesuvius in 79 A.D. was wide-known and killed 250,000 people and destroyed two cities yet for historians writing about it, you need to wait until Cassius Dio in the third century. You have allusions to it elsewhere and an off-the-cuff remark between Pliny and Tacitus, but no. Historians weren’t writing about it. Obviously, it was a myth. The Christians were more of a nuisance group. Why write about them?

In addition to the Testomonium Flavianum, there exists another tenuous piece of evidence that some have tried to use as proof for the existence of Jesus. The Roman Historian, Pliny The Younger (62-113CE), wrote a letter to the Emperor Trajan in 110 CE requesting his assistance in the proper punishment of a group of “Christiani” who were causing trouble and would not bow to the image of the emperor. According to Pliny, these Christiani would meet before daylight and sing hymns with responses to “Christ as God.”

However, this letter does not provide concrete evidence for the existence of Jesus as a person since it makes no direct mention of “Jesus of Nazareth,” nor does it refer to his life. Also, there are many critics who have argued that this letter is a forgery.

It should be noted that the most oft given source here is Acharya S.’s Truth Be Known web site. Again, hardly a scholarly source and perhaps one should see the other myths Acharya has embraced before jumping wholeheartedly on the bandwagon. At any rate, there is no reference to Jesus of Nazareth. Well if the WFF wants to name another Jesus that would seem to match the account in Pliny, they’re welcome to try! Also, I know of no scholar who thinks this letter is a forgery.

And finally,

The last piece of questionable historical evidence we’ll discuss here is the passage in Suetonius’s Life of Claudius, dating around 110 CE. There is a reference in this work to a figure named “Chresto” who caused the Jews to riot in Rome. First of all, if Jesus Christ did exist, it is not possible that he would have been in Rome at this time. Claudius reigned from 41-54 CE, this is at the time of Christ’s alleged crucifixion.

The reference is to Chrestus and some think Suetonius was just confused here. It doesn’t mean that the Chrestus was in Rome (Yes folks. Biblical scholars and historians had never figured out until now that Jesus never went to Rome.), but that the riots were about him. This is one source I would be more hesitant on using, but I still lean towards it being one to Jesus.

Naturally, we saw no scholarly evidence being cited in this reference and instead just speaking of conspiracy theories. Jesus mythicism is a conspiracy theory for atheists. I have to admit honestly I’m a bit thankful for it. The more mythicism spreads, the more Christians can build up real scholarship and corner a future market and the more atheists can destroy their own intellectual credibility. I know many atheists have not jumped on this bandwagon and are more open to evidence, but we see in mythicism that even atheism has a fundamentalism.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

Deeper Waters Podcast 4/22/2017: Ken Samples

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

Is Jesus really unique? We live in a world where there are many religions. Each of them claims to be true. Is there really any way to tell? Why should anyone think that there’s anything special in Christianity as opposed to another view like Islam or Confucianism?

Ken Samples in his book God Among Sages has looked at the religions of the world. He points out positive contributions of each one and ways that we can better understand and interact with adherents of them, but then shows the uniqueness of Jesus. In the end, Jesus does indeed stand out.

This Saturday, we’ll be exploring that claim further. We’ll have an hour together to discuss the matter and we’ll be making the most of it. Still, we need to ask who Ken Samples is. Well….

According to his bio:

Philosopher and theologian Kenneth Richard Samples has a great passion for helping people understand the reasonableness and relevance of Christianity’s truth claims. He is the senior research scholar at Reasons to Believe and the author of several books, including Christian Endgame and 7 Truths That Changed the World.

How does someone approach other religions of the world? As Christians, we can tend to be hyper-skeptical of any of them and not really give them the time and attention they deserve if we want to reach their adherents. Islam is one of the major world religions highly impacting our world today, but how many of us have actually read the Qur’an and informed ourselves about it, yet we often have no trouble commenting on daily news stories about Islam itself as if we know what we’re talking about with it.

It can also be tempting to go on full attack mode with other religions, but there’s no need to do that. There are things that will be correct in other religious beliefs. We also don’t need to rule out automatically the religious experiences of people in other belief systems. If we want them to treat Christianity seriously, we need to treat their belief system seriously.

There is also the question in the end of what about those who have never heard. While Samples and I do fall on different sides of the spectrum here, we both fully uphold the idea that the Great Commission needs to be fulfilled. This is an area that Christians can disagree on, but we must never take it as a reason to be lax in our duties with regard to the command of Christ. As I have said before, the Bible never explicitly addresses the question. It gives us our marching orders and says nothing about if we fail the plan. There is no plan B.

I hope you’ll be looking forward to the next episode of the Deeper Waters Podcast and I hope you’ll also consider going on ITunes and leaving a positive review of the show! It’s always great to see them. Be ready next time to discuss world religions and the uniqueness of Christ.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

Book Plunge: The Qur’an In Context

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

The Qur’an for many Christians is a very foreign book. Some people have tried to read it and yet have not made it past the second sura. The style of writing is different to most Christians and does not seem like an engaging work, but the reality is that Christians need to understand this work. Whatever you think of Islam, the Qur’an is the holy book of this faith and it has shaped the world greatly.

Anderson has written a book to help us in its text. Anderson urges us rightly to try to drop our preconceptions and approach the book seriously and seek to understand the way it was written, the why, and the historical context. Even if you don’t think it’s holy Scripture, the Qur’an still should be understood on its own terms. That requires work, just like understanding the Bible does. I have been a long opposition to people not bothering to study the historical context of the Bible and yet speaking on it. I say the same for the Qur’an.

Anderson goes through piece by piece and then compares what he finds to the Bible. There is no doubt on my part he wants to be as fair as he can to the Qur’an. He also addresses the question of if we worship the same God or not. I think we could say that we have that as our intention and I think that Anderson does argue that, but there can be no doubt the descriptions of Allah and YHWH are vastly different.

Anderson also wants us to study the world of 7th century Arabia. What was going on? What were Christians and Jews and pagans all saying? How did Muhammad approach this world?

Next comes a long look at the worldview of the Qur’an. What does it say about evil? What does it say about Adam? What must one do to be saved? All of these have marked differences and Anderson has many questions about whether the system in the Qur’an is really coherent or not.

Jesus is a big topic. The problem for the view of Jesus in the Qur’an is that it’s really downplaying. Very little is said about the ministry and teaching of Jesus. Much comes from non-canonical sources and its depiction of the Trinity is highly lacking. The Qur’an says Jesus is the Messiah, but divests this of any real meaning at all.

Amazingly, you can have many in-depth looks at the lives of other people in the Bible, but with Jesus, you get nothing like that. You don’t understand what His ministry was and why He came. It simply looks like Jesus is only there to point to Muhammad.

Ah yes, but what about the crucifixion? The Qur’an is clear on that and that’s that Jesus did not die on the cross. Anderson disputes that and I have to say he makes a highly highly compelling case. I have long thought that Islam denies that Jesus was crucified, and many Muslims do, but Anderson made a case that made me rethink if that’s what the original Qur’anic author intended and I dare say I will not be as strident until I find a better response to that claim. Anderson bases his claim on what he considers a better reading of that text in light of other texts he thinks are clearer. He contends that others are reading the clear texts in light of this one and changing those in ways that don’t fit.

Finally, he wraps things up by asking if we could say the Qur’an is the sequel to the Bible. The answer is decidedly, no. There are too many differences across the board. Still, we should strive to understand the Qur’an in its historical context to have better discussions with the Muslims we encounter.

Anderson’s book gives a lot of food for thought. He is kind and fair in his treatment and there is nothing here I can think of that would be seen as “Anti-Muslim” or dare I say it, Islamophobic. I look forward to even seeing what some Muslims think about the material in here.

In Christ,
Nick Peters