Has The Bible Been Changed A Lot?

Is the text vastly different than it was? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

It was recently brought to my attention that Business Insider decided to celebrate Christmas with a video on why the Bible isn’t trustworthy. Normally, I prefer to celebrate with presents and time with friends and family, but to each his own I suppose. So do we really have anything new here?

Of course not.

That doesn’t mean it doesn’t need to be addressed. After all, a lot of people will never bother to study what it is they believe and why. (You know how it is, we live in a society where people will learn about their favorite sports team, TV show, video game, etc. but won’t dare to really consider maybe they should think about the belief that they base their entire life on.) Sadly, this will also apply to many skeptics who will take a faith that makes strong claims and decides ipso facto that since those claims involve miracles they must be nonsense and never examine the claims seriously.

So let’s dive into this video. The speaker starts with talking about the Bible being the most sold book of all and that many think it contains the actual words of God. What many people don’t realize according to him is that the Bible has been changed, A LOT. So what are these evidences?

To begin with, no first edition exists. All we have are copies of copies.

This sounds scary if you’re someone who doesn’t know about manuscripts in the ancient world, until you realize that we don’t have the first writing of ANY ancient work that I know of. If there is one, I will be quite surprised. We have copies in every case. How much we can trust the account depends on a number of factors.

How soon is the earliest copy to the date of the original writing?
How many copies do we have?
Can we check these copies back and forth?

So how does the New Testament measure up?

manuscript copies

As you can see, Homer comes closest and it’s not even a contest really. Now if the speaker wants to make a big deal out of this, we ask that he be consistent. Please be extremely skeptical of all the other books on the list as well.

The speaker then says that this all took place many years after the events supposedly took place. It would be good to know how much skepticism he has. Would he go all the way to being a mythicist? Inquiring minds want to know! He also points out that many of these copies weren’t made by professionals but were made by laymen.

Naturally, we can’t expect someone busy enough to make a video for Business Insider to go out and read some of the scholarship on this issue and actually inform himself. While he cites a couple of scholars, there’s no in-depth looking at what they say and providing context for the issue. He could do what I did and interview Charles Hill on the Early Text of the New Testament and issues of canonicity or interview Daniel Wallace. (And if he can’t interview at least listen to what they have to say.)

The speaker goes on to talk about how this lead to many errors and omissions.

No. It’s not a typo on my part. He’s the one who said “This lead to many,” Who knows? Maybe he differed from the original script at one point.

If he wants to talk about these kinds of omissions and errors, he’s free to examine the texts. We will have a little bit more on this, but we have so many texts in so many languages that it’s easy to cross-check. When we do, we find that in fact the Bible does hold up, but again, a little bit more on this later.

We go to the three biggest changes. The first is the woman caught in adultery. It’s a shame that this is news to so many Christians, but such it is. We live in a time of great Biblical ignorance.

The next is the Gospel of Mark. (It’s amazing how predictable these are.) This change is the ending of the Gospel and how it has no narrative of Jesus rising and appearing. The speaker then tells us that in original manuscripts, this story is nowhere to be found.

Wait a second.

What original manuscripts?

Our speaker has gone on and on about how there are no original manuscripts and now is saying this is not to be found in the original? In what way does he know? Could it be that we can tell because we can actually check the texts back and forth and see what they say and compare them? Has our speaker undermined his own case?

The third is that in Luke, Jesus makes a dying plea to forgive the executioners, but it was not intended to refer to the Romans but to the Jews. This was taken out and then added centuries later to appear to be about the Romans. This is one many haven’t heard of, but notice something.

Apparently, we don’t have a clue what the text said, but we can tell what the originals somehow said, that a change was made, and that said change was later corrected. We can discuss why it happened and how, but that doesn’t change what the original said. Even his source on this, Bart Ehrman, says it is likely to be found in the originals.

While we’re at it, what else does Bart Ehrman, this non-Christian New Testament scholar say about the New Testament?

If the primary purpose of this discipline is to get back to the original text, we may as well admit either defeat or victory, depending on how one chooses to look at it, because we’re not going to get much closer to the original text than we already are.… At this stage, our work on the original amounts to little more than tinkering. There’s something about historical scholarship that refuses to concede that a major task has been accomplished, but there it is. Novum Testamentum Graecum Editio Critica Maior: An Evaluation: TC: A Journal of Biblical Textual Criticism, 1998, a revision of a paper presented at the Textual Criticism section of the 1997 Society of Biblical Literature in San Francisco. http://rosetta.reltech.org/TC/vol03/Ehrman1998.html

 

In spite of these remarkable [textual] differences, scholars are convinced that we can reconstruct the original words of the New Testament with reasonable (although probably not 100 percent) accuracy. Bart Ehrman, The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings 3rd ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003), 481.

Sadly, too many Christians won’t be prepared for something like this because, well, all those sermons on how to be a good person and how much God loves you won’t really matter when the text that all that is based on is called into question. Even worse, these kinds of objections are not the crisis that many people think that they are. With some serious study, instead of focusing only on one’s personal hobbies, it’s amazing what one can learn.

Hopefully Business Insider from now on will stick to business instead of going to Biblical studies.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Atheism and the Case Against Christ Chapter 6

What do I think of chapter 6 of McCormick’s book? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Chapter 6 further brings us home just how uninformed McCormick is in Biblical scholarship. This is amusing since he talks about other people holding an emotional commitment to a worldview and thus finding it hard to really examine it properly. One wonders if McCormick is not somehow talking about himself. After all, while one can have a deep emotional investment to Christianity, one can have the same to atheism.

He has a story where someone comes up to you who is a stranger and calls himself Matthew. Matthew wants you to believe a story, but he didn’t see any of it and it’s not clear whether he met or spoke with anyone involved in the story. It was something that took place long ago and passed through a long list of people. He’s still sure they’re all honest and trustworthy.

Matthew then tells you that it actually happened 100 years ago but it wasn’t written until decades later and we don’t have originals of the writing but copies of copies. These original writings were all based on tellings and retellings of the story. Still, he’s convinced everyone involved was trustworthy.

Matthew’s story is about a man named Jones and Jones was abducted off of the face of the Earth. There are many people who sincerely believe the story. It’s not hard to see what the parallel is.

It’s also not hard to see that McCormick doesn’t know for a moment what he’s talking about.

McCormick has cited no references on Biblical scholarship. He has no references on oral tradition and he has no idea how textual criticism works. Instead, he’s gone with a lot of atheist pet slogans and hasn’t bothered to research or questioned them. You can’t help but wonder if he has an investment in these kinds of slogans since they agree so well with what he already believes.

Of course, McCormick says this could change if some crucial differences were shown. Perhaps McCormick should have looked to see if there were any differences. McCormick strikes me as someone who has only really read what agrees with him and disavowed the rest. He does not interact with the best critics of his position at all in these chapters.

It’s also worth noting that Paul is added to the mix and we are told that Paul could be someone who learned about this because he heard a voice when he had a powerful seizure and vision while going to work and before that, he was a famous skeptic with a TV show debunking alien-abduction stories. One can’t help but be impressed with the creativity of certain skeptics. It is apparent they will believe in anything before the resurrection.

So let’s start. First off, McCormick has as we have shown earlier not bothered to understand oral tradition. He also has a problem with written tradition as he assumes a true account would be written down immediately. Does McCormick see this happening with any other book in the ancient world? Or is it rather that McCormick will treat the Jesus story differently? Keep in mind if he does this, he is being hypocritical since he is accusing Christians of treating the Jesus story different from every other claim such as Salem, Islam, alien abductions, etc. If McCormick is going to talk about equal standards, he needs to apply them himself.

Second, we are talking about different cultures. The world of the Bible was an honor-shame culture. In this world, you would not want to share a story that would put you on the outs with society, but that is exactly what happened. The resurrection was a story that would be seen as deviant in nature.

Third, McCormick doesn’t really bother to interact with arguments about authorship or date of writing. Are these not important? Is it the case that obviously Bart Ehrman is right and everyone else is wrong because Bart Ehrman is the skeptic? All of these are important issues. All of them are ignored.

McCormick also says the martyrdom argument won’t work. After all, that people died for a belief doesn’t mean it’s true. If we apply it consistently, we have to conclude that the dedication of Heaven’s Gate proves that there was a spaceship at the tail of the Hale-Bopp comet. This is such a hideous twisting of the claim that it should be embarrassing to McCormick to have it in print.

No. What it is is an indicator that the person is convinced it’s true. If some of the apostles willingly died for their conviction, we can’t be sure that Jesus rose, but we can be sure that those apostles believed he rose. With the Heaven’s Gate cult, we can deny there was a spaceship on the tail of a comet, but we can be convinced that the people sure thought there was one.

All of this thinking is lost on McCormick.

At 1945, McCormick tells us that he thinks the hypothesis that there are other material beings with physical powers unlike our own and in another part of the universe fits more readily with what we know of the rest of the world than magica,l transcendent, supernatural beings. Of course, no doubt, this we refers to materialistic atheists who also share his view. We won’t say anything on God yet, but there is a later chapter looking at the concept of God and yes, McCormick handles it just as abysmally as he handles this.

McCormick has an even worse scenario. Imagine being on trial for a murder committed decades ago that you did not commit. The prosecution rests on the testimony of Mike, Monty, Larry, and Jacob. None of them saw you commit the crime and have never met you, but they heard stories from others that say they saw you commit the murder. This murder happened 30 years ago.

Also, Mike and Larry got a lot of their story from Monty. Not only that, another man shows up named Perry who says you did it, but he didn’t witness it and just had a powerful vision saying you did it. Does this sound like fair grounds to convict you?

Of course not, and it also doesn’t sound like a fair treatment of the NT. We could get into some wonderful discussions on how Paul got his information and who he was and how reliable he was and we could talk about the synoptic problem and archaeological evidence for the NT. Well, we could talk about these things, but they might have the sad consequence of increasing the reliability of the New Testament. It’s best to not touch them.

In the end, McCormick gives yet another weak performance. Only those thoroughly unfamiliar with scholarship will think he has said anything remotely convincing. This is quite amusing since our next chapter will be about counter-evidence, something McCormick regularly avoids.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Chapter 1 can be found here.

Chapter 2 can be found here.

Chapter 3 can be found here.

Chapter 4 can be found here.

Chapter 5 can be found here.

Chapter 7 can be found here.

Chapter 8 can be found here.

Chapter 9 can be found here.

Chapter 10 can be found here.

Chapter 11 can be found here.

Chapter 12 can be found here.

Chapter 13 can be found here.

McCormick’s Gaffe

 

 

Deeper Waters Podcast 6/4/2016: Sean McDowell

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

One of the defenses of the resurrection is that all of the apostles died for their claim that they had seen the risen Christ, save perhaps John the Revelator who died in exile. The problem is many of us are caught flat-footed when it comes to defending this claim. Is it a true claim? Do we really have the evidence for it? Has someone looked into it?

Yes. Yes they have. That’s Sean McDowell. He’ll be talking to us about his book The Fate of the Apostles. Who is he?

SeanMcDowell

According to his bio:

Dr. Sean McDowell is a gifted communicator with a passion for equipping the church, and in particular young people, to make the case for the Christian faith. He connects with audiences in a tangible way through humor and stories while imparting hard evidence and logical support for viewing all areas of life through a Biblical worldview. Sean is an Assistant Professor in the Christian Apologetics program at Biola University. And he is the Resident Scholar for Summit California.

Sean still teaches one high school Bible class, which helps give him exceptional insight into the prevailing culture so he can impart his observations poignantly to fellow educators, pastors, and parents alike. In 2008 he received the Educator of the Year award for San Juan Capistrano, California. The Association of Christian Schools International awarded Exemplary Status to his apologetics training. Sean is listed among the top 100 apologists. He graduated summa cum laude from Talbot Theological Seminary with a double Master’s degree in Theology and Philosophy. He earned a Ph.D. in Apologetics and Worldview Studies from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in 2014.

Traveling throughout the United States and abroad, Sean speaks at camps, churches, schools, universities, and conferences. He has spoken for organizations including Focus on the Family, the Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview, Backyard Skeptics, Cru, Youth Specialties, Hume Lake Christian Camps, Fellowship of Christian Athletes and the Association of Christian Schools International. Sean has also appeared as a guest on radio shows such as Family Life Today, Point of View, Stand to Reason, Common Sense Atheism, and the Hugh Hewitt Show. Sean has been quoted in many publications, including the New York Times.

Sean is the author, co-author, or editor of over eighteen books including The Fate of the Apostles (Routledge, 2015), A New Kind of Apologist (Harvest House, 2016), The Beauty of Intolerance (Barbour 2016), Same-Sex Marriage: A Thoughtful Approach to God’s Design for Marriage, with John Stonestreet (Baker, 2014), Is God Just a Human Invention? with Jonathan Morrow, and Understanding Intelligent Design along with William A. Dembski.Sean has also written multiple books with his father, Josh McDowell, including The Unshakable Truth, More Than A Carpenter, and an update for Evidence that Demands a Verdict (2017). Sean is the General Editor for The Apologetics Study Bible for Students. He has also written for YouthWorker Journal, Decision Magazine, and the Christian Research Journal. Follow the dialogue with Sean as he blogs regularly at seanmcdowell.org.

In April, 2000, Sean married his high school sweetheart, Stephanie. They have three children and live in San Juan Capistrano, California. Sean played college basketball at Biola University and was the captain his senior year on a team that went 30-7.

If you want to know what happened to the apostles, this is the book to read right now. We’ll be discussing the questions related to the events on the show. I hope you’ll listen and consider leaving a favorable review of the podcast on ITunes.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Rediscovering Jesus

What do I think about the new book from Rodney Reeves, Randy Richards, and David Capes published by IVP? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Rediscovering Jesus by Capes, Reeves, and Richards is a surprising read. Now I had read this book shortly after reading Rediscovering Paul so I was expecting something like that, but that isn’t exactly what I got. At the start, I was kind of disappointed hoping to find more about the culture of Jesus and especially looking at Jesus from an honor and shame perspective. That disappointment was only initial. As I got further into the book, I found myself quite intrigued and fascinated by what I was reading in the book and I found the idea for consideration a fascinating one.

This idea is to look at Jesus in isolation from the major sources that we have, such as the Gospel writers individually, the Pauline epistles, Hebrews, the general epistles, and Revelation. What would it be like if each source was the only source we had on Jesus? We usually take a composite of all we have on Jesus and then put that together and say this is the real Jesus. There is no fault in this, but looking at each case in isolation can be an interesting case study. Imagine how different our worldview would be if the only source we had on Jesus was the book of Revelation?

While these are fascinating, there is also a second section where we look at Jesus from other sources. What about the Gnostic Jesus such as popularized in works like The Da Vinci Code? What about the Jesus of Muslims who never died on the cross? What about the historical Jesus of modern historians who do not hold to the reality of miracles? What about the Mormon Jesus that looks like a Jesus made just for America? Speaking of that, what about the American Jesus as here in America, Jesus is used to promote and sell just about anything. Every side in every debate usually wants to try to claim Jesus. Finally, what about the Cinematic Jesus? Many of us have seen Hollywood movies about Jesus. Some are good. Some are not. How would we view Jesus if all we had were those movies to watch? (And since so few people read any more, this could become an increasingly common occurrence.)

For me, honestly the most fascinating section was the one on the American Jesus. This dealt with so much I see in my culture. It’s interesting we don’t talk about the French Jesus or the Japanese Jesus or the Italian Jesus. It’s more the American one. This one changes so much to being the super manly Jesus who takes the world like a man or the Prince Charming Jesus that every girl sings about as her boyfriend. This can be the pragmatic Jesus who is there to help us promote our culture, or it can be the Superman Jesus who rescues us when we’re in need, but then disappears. I do have to admit I am a Superman fan so I could see the parallels very easily and while I do think there are valid parallels, we do not want to see Jesus as identical with Superman. If there’s any chapter in the book I keep coming back to mentally, it’s this one. I will certainly be watching my culture much more.

I find this book to be one of the most eye-opening ones I have read in that sense. I do not think I ever paused to consider what it would mean if all I had to tell me about Jesus was just one particular source or one kind of source. How much richer off we are for having all these other sources! We can also be thankful for the non-Christian sources as well because these can highlight aspects of the Biblical Jesus that we might have lost sight of or they could show that the Jesus of the Bible is so much greater by contrast. If an outside source says something true about Jesus, we are the better for it. If it says something false, this can contrast with the true and we are the better.

I recommend the work wholeheartedly. It fortunately also comes with questions at the end that make it ideal for small group discussion.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: The Gospel of the Lord

What do I think about Michael Bird’s book The Gospel of the Lord published by Eerdmans’s?

gospelofthelord

Michael Bird is really just a treat to read. Whenever I read him, I wish more scholars could write like him. Sometimes, we seem to have this idea that scholarly writing should be dry and serious. Yet, I can’t help but think that Chesterton said years ago that funny and serious are not opposites. The opposite of funny is just not funny. I say this because Bird is definitely a serious writer who knows his stuff well having an extensive bibliography in the material he produces, and yet as you are reading focusing on the subject, he will wow you with some funny joke or illustration to make his point.

As an example of this, Bird says that some think Jesus did not preach a Gospel. Instead, this was something added in by the later church and is an anachronism. Bird realizes that this is a prominent position and says of it

“Yes I think that such a scholarly view, dominant and durable as it has been, is about as sure-footed as a mountain goat on a very steep iceberg.”

Yes. Seeing classic lines like that throughout the book give it an excellent approach as you can see that Bird is serious in his stuff and he enjoys it as well. It would be wonderful if many other NT scholars followed the same line. Many of us can see Jesus used humor in his teaching. Why not do the same in our writing?

But let’s get to the book focus itself. If you want to come here and find out what the Gospel of the Lord is and what an impact it will have on your life and what it means to be a Christian, you won’t find much of that here. What is being written about is the idea of the Gospel and how it came to be. What was meant by Gospel? What about the oral tradition? Why was it recorded the way that it was recorded? What about questions like the synoptic problem or the reliability of the Gospel of John? How much of this really traces back to Jesus and how much of it is just material the early church added in?

Bird does rightly state that the Gospels are giving the story of Jesus becoming Lord. This is classic N.T. Wright as well. God is becoming king in Jesus and restoring His Kingdom. Jesus is the agent that God is acting through and acting through in a much more unique way than any past prophet since Jesus is more than a prophet, but God Himself visiting His people. This is the message that rocked the world and it wasn’t some “I met Jesus and He makes me happy and gives me fulfillment and He’ll do the same for you.” Paul’s would have been “I’ve seen Jesus and He’s the risen King of this universe and you’d better get in line because Caesar is no longer in charge.” Paul did not use those exact words, but that is certainly the sentiment there when he proclaims that Jesus is Lord.

We also discuss the question of why the biographical information of Jesus is there. It seems odd that if the early church wasn’t interested in the historical Jesus, that they would put so much into this historical figure. Why not just go with a sayings Gospel that would be revealed much like the Gnostics got their revelations? We could also ask why the early church would invent a Jesus who said nothing about what they were struggling with at the time. The Jesus of the Gospels says nothing about if we should eat meat offered to idols or how church services are to be conducted or how much of the law a Gentile must follow, particularly with regard to circumcision.

Why also would the issues of Jesus be a pre-Easter narrative? Wouldn’t it be better to have the authoritative teachings on the lips of a post-resurrected Jesus? This is something interesting about the Gospel accounts of the resurrection. They’re so lacking in theology. Now you might say God raises Jesus from the dead in them, true enough, but you don’t see any statement really about ramifications. You don’t see any talk about salvation by grace through faith being explained. Jesus does not say “Because I have been raised, it means that God is doing X, Y, Z.” We go to the epistles for that.

Bird also talks about the oral tradition and how it would have been shaped by eyewitnesses. This did not rise up in a vacuum. These people were not just passing around sayings and claiming they came from revelation. They were claiming in the face of those who would have known better, that Jesus really did live at such and such a time and did say such and such a thing. Now this is going to seem foreign to many on the Internet who happen to think the idea that Jesus never even existed is all the rage among scholars. (It isn’t. It’s more like talking about people who believe the Earth is flat.) Yet this is the material that we are dealing with. Richard Bauckham has also done a magnificent job on this in Jesus and the Eyewitnesses. Of course, this is going to be presented to a crowd that will first say “The Gospels were written late and were not contemporary” and then when you show that say “Eyewitness testimony is unreliable.” You have to keep moving that goalpost!

movingthegoalpost

Also definitely worth highlighting is this statement by Bird that I think should be written in gold and passed on to everyone on the Internet and elsewhere who debates about Christianity any.

“There are two approaches to the Gospels that I ardently deride. First, some über-secularists want to read the Bible as nothing more than a deposit of silly ancient magic, mischievous myths, wacky rituals, and surreal superstitions. They engage in endless comparisons of the Bible with other mythic religions to flatten out the distinctive elements of the story. Added to that is advocacy of countless conspiracy theories to explain away any historical elements in the text. This approach is coupled with an inherent distaste for anything supernatural, pre-modern, and reeking of religion. Such skeptics become positively evangelical in their zealous fervor to prove that nothing in the Bible actually happened. Second, then there are those equally ardent Bible-believers who want to treat the Bible as if it fell down from heaven in 1611, written in ye aulde English, bound in pristine leather, with words of Jesus in red, Scofield’s notes, and charts of the end times. Such persons regard exploring topics like problems in Johannine chronology just as religiously affronting as worshiping a life-size golden statue of Barack Obama. Now I have to say that both approaches bore the proverbial pants off me. They are equally as dogmatic as they are dull. They are as uninformed as they are unimaginative. There is another way”

If only this could be written in gold and plastered on the mirror of every debater anywhere of the historical Jesus. How much better off we would be! I have so often met the former who would think that if you have to admit to a historical Jesus, you might as well go on and commit ritual suicide. I like to tell such people that many atheists admit the existence of a historical Jesus and go on to lead happy and meaningful lives. On the other hand, there are people who put a doctrine like Inerrancy on a pedestal. (We surely don’t know anyone like that around here) Some followers of this school of thought are so convinced that if you show one contradiction in the Bible, the whole thing is false. Unfortunately, this has led many skeptics to think the exact same thing, hence there are some books where the authors actually think they disprove Christianity just by showing Bible contradictions.

Bird treats this study of the historical Jesus so seriously that he goes on to say

“Second, we need to get our hands and feet dirty in the mud and muck of history. Jesus is not an ahistorical religious icon who can be deciphered entirely apart from any historical situation. On the contrary, he could not have been born as Savior of the world somewhere in the Amazon rainforest or in the Gobi Desert. He came to Israel and through Israel, to make good God’s promises to save the world through a renewed Israel. So, whether we like it or not, we are obligated to study Jesus in his historical context. I would go so far to say that this is even a necessary task of discipleship. For it is in the context of Israel’s Scripture and in the socio-political circumstance of Roman Palestine that Jesus is revealed as the Messiah and Son of God. So unless we are proponents of a docetic christology in which Jesus only seems human, we are committed to a study of the historical person Jesus of Nazareth in his own context. That means archaeological, social-historical, and cultural studies of the extant sources as far as they are available to us. It requires immersing ourselves in as much of the primary literature of the first century as we can get our hands on — Jewish, Greek, and Roman — so that we can walk, talk, hear, and smell the world of Jesus. It entails that we go through the Gospels unit by unit and ask what exactly Jesus intended and how his hearers would have understood him. It equally involves asking why the Evangelists have told the story as they have and why they have the peculiarities that they do. Third, we have to explore the impact that the Gospels intended to make on their implied audiences and how the four Gospels as a whole intend to shape the believing communities who read them now”

Did I read that right? Making studying the historical Jesus necessary for discipleship. Yes. Yes you did. And that includes studying him in his historical context. That means not imposing our 21st century ideas on to Jesus. It means doing real work. Again, look at the two groups Bird talked about above. The group of skeptics won’t because they say “If God wanted to reveal this to me, He would have made it clearer to me” as if God is just looking for your intellectual agreement to what He has to say. The second will say “If it’s the Word of God, it will be understandable by the Holy Spirit.” Both groups are just lazy. The first refuses to do any work and prefers their arrogant atheistic presuppositionalism. The second group is just as arrogant and thinks it’s God’s job to make the text clear to them.

Bird also talks about delivering such information on university campuses. While students expect to hear Jesus is a bunch of nonsense, Bird points out that much of their information comes from The Simpsons more than real historical study. This is becoming increasingly a problem when those who argue the most on this topic can quite often do the least reading. If they do any reading at all, they are only reading what agrees with them. That is assuming that they will even read a book. Too many of them will just read what they find on the Internet and treat that as Gospel.

Bird writes throughout the book on oral tradition and the forming of the Gospels and yes, the genre of the Gospels, something I’ve had some strong reason to write on due to certain people having a strong position that the Gospels cannot be Greco-Roman biographies. Bird does place them firmly within this category. However, the information in the Gospels is entirely from a Jewish viewpoint. These works are saturated in the Old Testament and in fact assume a thorough background with the Old Testament and with the area of Israel often times as well. This would show that the early church was also already treating the Old Testament quite seriously.

While I could go on, I think enough has been said at this point. Those wishing I had said more I hope will realize that I leave that to you in getting this book and learning the magnificent information in it. Bird is a wonderful writer with excellent humor and I look forward to reading more by him.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: What Have They Done With Jesus?

What do I think of Ben Witherington’s book published by Harper Collins? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

WhathavetheydoneiwthJesus

Recently, I received an announcement in my email that this book was on sale on Kindle. Unfortunately, it is no longer at the sale price, but I scooped it up as soon as I saw it was. Why? Because frankly, Ben Witherington is one of the most phenomenal scholars that there is. I have been told that he has an excellent memory down to the page numbers of a book that he has read and is quite knowledgeable in many other fields outside of the New Testament.

Yet in this one, he’s talking about the New Testament and taking a shot at the bad history that is often presented. I knew I was in for a treat when the very first chapter was titled “The Origins of the Specious.” This is more of a classical humor that we often see from Witherington. Witherington says we live in a culture that is Biblically illiterate and yet Jesus-haunted. Jesus is seen all around us, and most of us have not done any real study on Jesus and that consists of more than just going to church every Sunday. The way that our culture buys into ideas on Jesus immediately has had Witherington tempted to write a book called “Gullible’s Travels.”

He gives an example of this when he talks about being interviewed by a major network and being asked if it could be possible that Mary was a temple prostitute who was raped and Jesus was the result. That would be why he said in Luke that he had to be in his father’s house. Yes. That was an actual question that was asked and the tragedy is that was his first question asked by this network as was said and not presented apparently as some crank theory to get his take on.

In our culture, too often the culture will ignore the hard facts found in scholarship on the historical Jesus and instead go with the bizarre crank theories that you can find on the internet and the History Channel. Consider for instance how the idea that Jesus never even existed is spreading like wildfire on the internet. People who will demand the strongest evidences for Christians when making their claims will accept the weakest arguments when made in favor of an idea like this.

So how does Witherington deal with all of this? Witherington suggests we look at the primary sources, the Gospels and the epistles, and see what we can determine about the lives of those who were closest to Jesus. He uses the strongest scholarship he can find and also brings out many of the realities of living in an honor-shame culture that too many people are unfamiliar with. (While unfortunately, they are quite familiar with The Da Vinci Code).

Witherington starts at a place we might not expect, with a woman named Joanna. Now I’m not going to give a full look at any argument. That is for the reader to learn when they get the book. Joanna is someone mentioned in Luke 8 and is seen at the crucifixion in Luke 24, yet Witherington also makes a compelling case that she is also the Junia that we find mentioned in Romans 16.

Witherington brings out an amazing amount of information on this woman just by looking at the culture that she lived in and seeing the best scholarship on the issue. We often think of preachers who are said to milk a text for whatever it’s worth. Witherington is not like that. He’s not trying to squeeze blood out of a turnip. Instead, he is more like a highly skilled detective calling in the person for an interview and asking as many questions to get to the truth and finding the person has a lot more to tell than was realized.

From there, we move on to Mary Magdalene who contrary to popular theory was not the wife of Jesus. As Witherington has said elsewhere, when she sees Jesus in John 20, we do not see her saying “Oh honey! So glad you’re back! Let’s go and get a James Dobson book and revitalize her marriage!” (We can also say in this that she never once asked Jesus to take out the trash.) Mary Magdalene is a woman with many legends told about her, but she’s also a woman with a remarkable story. The culture not being accurate about Mary Magdalene does not mean we should downplay her. This was an amazing woman with a shameful past who is an excellent example of the transforming power of Jesus.

From there, we move on to figures who we have more information on. We go to Peter and how he would have seen Jesus in his time and what information we can gain about what Peter did after the resurrection. Peter was known as Jesus’s right hand man and what he would have to say about Jesus would be of utmost importance. As Witherington goes on and shows James and Paul later, Peter will still play an important role there since if Peter gives the okay to these guys, they must have been doing something right.

After that, we go to the mother of Jesus. Mary is definitely another Mary with many stories built up after her. Witherington points out that we have Mariology, but we don’t have Peterology or Jamesology. Yet while those of us who are Protestants do think the pendulum has swung too far with the treatment of Mary by Catholics, we should realize the Scripture does say that all people will call Mary blessed, and for good reason and realize that Mary is an important witness to the truth of Christianity and who Jesus was and is.

From there, we move to the Beloved Disciple. Witherington has an interesting take in that he thinks much of the material in the Gospel of John comes from Lazarus. I must say that after reading the material, I find it quite fascinating. Still, it doesn’t mean John has no role in this. John could very well have been the editor of all the material and compiled it all together into a Gospel. This is possible and worth considering.

The next look comes from James, the brother of Jesus. James has often got a bad rap as being a legalist of sorts. Witherington argues that James was in fact an expert at how to handle possibly volatile situations. Paul was interested in the question of what Gentiles needed to do to be considered Christians. Did they need to be Jewish. James was wanting to make sure there was no entire cut from Judaism and that Gentiles would be sensitive to Jewish concerns so that Jews would want to remain Christians and was wanting to say that Jews could still follow and observe the Law as Christians and honor their heritage. While there was no doubt some disagreement between the two, if these two were brought together to discuss points of doctrine, there would be more nods of agreement than disagreement.

At the end of this section, I had a new respect for James and still do. It left me thankful that there were Christians like James who were put in very difficult situations and had to learn how to walk a line very finely to keep an early church together, and James did this without an instruction manual or without even having access to a New Testament. He also had no doubt had to rely on people like Peter a great deal for information on Jesus since James was not a disciple beforehand. That Peter let James lead the Jerusalem church shows what a remarkable amount of trust Peter had in James’s understanding of the Jesus tradition.

Also, we have a brief look at Jude. Jude is one of the shortest books in the Bible, but it is still a book of utmost importance and the look at Jude, one of Jesus’s brothers, will show the importance that Jude would have played in the society and how this little book contains big information on Jesus.

Finally, we get to Paul. We too often can see Paul as the originator of Christianity. This would not explain Peter and James approving of the work of Paul. It also misses the radical change that Paul had in his life, something Witherington brings out well. I have been at men’s study groups before where Paul came up and people have said they want to have faith like Paul. I have reminded them that if they want to have faith like Paul, they need to see the change Christ brings to the world like Paul did. We often do not see that.

Paul was a first-rate thinker highly educated and was the one who really first saw the implications of the death and resurrection of Jesus, even beyond that which Peter saw. This is remarkable since Paul was not part of the inner circle or even part of the twelve at the time of Jesus. Witherington gives a detailed look at the life of the Apostle to the Gentiles and how he changed the world in a way that it has never been the same since.

What do all these people have in common? It would take something miraculous to get them to do what they did. It would have to be an utter life-changing event. Witherington sees no other way to explain the rise of the church. As Witherington says:

“Here we are able to reach a major conclusion of this study. None of these major figures who constituted the inner circle of Jesus would have become or remained followers of Jesus after the crucifixion if there was no resurrection and no resurrection appearances of Jesus. The church, in the persons of its earliest major leaders, was constituted by the event of the resurrection, coupled with the Pentecost event! The stories of these figures, especially their post-Easter stories, are the validation of this fact. There would be no church without the risen and appearing Jesus”

I wholeheartedly agree with Witherington. The best explanation for the rise of the Christian church is the one that the church itself gave. God raised Jesus from the dead. Jesus is the Messiah and the fulfillment of the hopes of Israel. Jesus is the one who is bringing the Kingdom of God to man. By His resurrection, God is reclaiming the world for Himself and inviting us to take part in it.

I conclude with saying that this is a book that should be read entirely and its ideas grasped. The people around Jesus will not be seen in the same light again. Readers will also get great clues as to the dynamics that exist in an honor-shame society and what a radical difference that makes to our understanding of Christianity.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Deeper Waters Podcast 12/20/2014: Paul Rainbow

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

The writings of John in the New Testament are noted for being difficult to understand. His Gospel is markedly different from the other Gospels. Let’s not forget about the book of Revelation either! Chesterton in his book Orthodoxy said “Though St. John the Evangelist saw many strange monsters in his vision, he saw no creature so wild as one of his own commentators.”

A book I went through not too long ago on this topic is Johannine Theology by Dr. Paul Rainbow. After reading it, I was convinced that this was an important topic that needed some more discussion and so I asked Dr. Rainbow to come on the show. So who is he?

Dr. Rainbow was born in Minneapolis in 1955 and studied at Born 1955, Minneapolis.
Studied at U. Minnesota, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Harvard Divinity School, and U. Oxford (England). He taught briefly at Canadian Bible College when it was in Regina SK (1980–82) before undertaking advanced studies. He served on staff as a Lay Assistant at St Ebbe’s Church, Oxford (Church of England = Anglican), 1987–88. He has been at Sioux Falls Seminary (German Baptist) for the last 26 years teaching New Testament. He is married to Alison and they have two grown children. For a hobby, he is also a classical pianist.
PaulRainbow
As you can imagine, Johannine theology is about the doctrine of God that is found in the Gospel, the epistles of John, and the Apocalypse. For the sake of argument, we will be assuming that these are all Johannine writings. It is worth noting that Rainbow does give a defense of authorship, but it will be more important in the interview for us to focus on the main subject matter.
Many of us read the Gospel of John and think that it’s meant to reveal the nature of Jesus. Of course, to a degree, it is, but it goes beyond that. It’s mainly to show us the nature of God. The way that we know who God is is by looking at Jesus. Is Jesus the full and best revelation? Yes, but He is the full and best revelation of the Father and if we are to know the Father, then we will have to know the Son as well.
This is definitely a complex topic, but if you’re a follower of the Deeper Waters Podcast, you should be used to complex topics. Still, we will try to keep it as simple as we can so that the average listener can get the most out of it.
I hope that you’ll be watching your podcast feed soon in order to catch this episode and I encourage you to go to Amazon as well and pick up a copy of Rainbow’s book if you’re interested in studying the doctrine of God in the writings of John. John’s writings are difficult so we will be working to take full advantage of having a scholar in the field help us sort through the difficult issues.
In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Johannine Theology

What do I think of Paul Rainbow’s book on the theology of John? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

JohannineTheology

Johannine Theology is over 400 pages of looking at a highly complex topic. John is the Gospel that is often the most problematic for people due to its being so different from the others. Even N.T. Wright has said it is like his wife Maggie. In speaking of her he says “I love her, but I do not claim to understand her.”

Rainbow begins with a brief history on Johannine studies and with a defense of authorship and the date of the writing and such and from there, it’s off to see what the book has to say. The opening should be sufficient for those who are interested in the basic apologetic aspect to understand the usage of John in studies of the historical Jesus.

Rainbow argues that while John’s Gospel certainly tells us about the life of Jesus, the main character being it all is really God. The Gospel should be read not just as a Christological statement but as a Theological one. This is fitting since we are told that it is the Son who is explaining the Father. We know God by knowing the Son. He who has seen the Son has seen the Father. We cannot know God as He truly is apart from knowing the Son and the Son came to reveal the Father.

I found this to be a highly important insight. Rainbow is not at all downplaying the importance of Christology. He has plenty to say about that in a later chapter and of course, he comes down on the side of orthodox theology, but he does want to stress that we cannot leave God the Father out of the equation in John.

I will say when he got to Christology, I was disappointed on one aspect. Much of the Christology came from the Gospel. I find an excellent place to go to really to get Christology in the Johannine corpus is to go to the book of Revelation. I did not see this interacted with in the work. Revelation begins after all describing itself as the Revelation of Jesus Christ and it does say that the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.

Rainbow also covers other themes related to theology. He covers the question of salvation and that of apostasy. He covers issues related to free will and predestination and points out that John has no desire to really address our questions there. It could be argued that John in fact argues for both sides of the equation. He also argues for how John says the church is to be to the world.

Surprisingly, there is little on eschatology and this was one area I did have a difficult time with as I happen to highly enjoy discussions of eschatology. Rainbow does take a futurist stance in his writings and that is not something that is argued for. I find it interesting for instance that Revelation is said to tell us about the antichrist and yet Revelation never once uses the term.

Still, Johannine Theology is a difficult topic to handle and I think Rainbow for the most part does an excellent job. I would have liked to have seen more on eschatology, but then that could be its own book entirely. Still, if you want to understand the writings of John in relation to theology, then you should get yourself a copy of this volume.

In Christ,

Nick Peters