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: Their Hollow Inheritance

What do I think of Michoel Drazin’s book published by G.M. Publications? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

After I got done reviewing Asher Norman’s book, I decided to look into Michoel Drazin’s. This is because Norman refers to Drazin as his authority on Buddha and Krishna and how Jesus is a copy of those. I also have a rule with a book save perhaps Kindle books that usually, I go and scan the bibliography. This book was published in 1990 and as these photos will show, Drazin used nothing but the most up to date research.

DrazinBibliopage1

DrazinBibliopage2

As you can see, with great scholarship from the 1700’s and 1800’s, we’re well on the right track. So much of what Drazin says is repeated in Norman’s work so I will only really focus then on one part. That will be the comparisons that are made between Buddha and Krishna.

For this, let’s put on our skeptical hats. Let’s suppose we don’t know much about the life of Krishna and Buddha and we just want to see if the case has been made. We could point out that this comparison doesn’t hold up in modern scholarship as the idea that Christianity is a copycat of other religions has really fallen by the wayside. There’s nothing wrong with old books per se, but when they make claims, you do want to see if those claims have held up over time.

As we go to the section about the similarities between the life of Jesus and that of Buddha and Krishna, something is noticed. For Jesus, we go to the primary sources most often. There is a link that we can see between the two so that we know where in the life of Jesus these are found. Even if one questions the Gospel’s reliability, one can see that they’re still the primary sources so we know where the material is from.

When it comes to Buddha and Krishna, there are no primary sources cited. Instead, all of them are the writers from the 1700’s and the 1800’s. This is an oddity. If these claims can be found in Hindu and Buddhist writings, why not go straight to those writings? Could it be that the claims really don’t hold up? Could it be that these were claims made by people who actually did not understand the religions they talked about and were caught up in parallelomania?

We also have to ask how likely is it that Jews in the time of Jesus who were peasant fishermen and such would make such a tale? Why would they do it anyway? What benefit did they gain from it? Drazin can come up with a “just so” story, but he needs some backing for it.

Of course, we could add in that the research is in. Mike Licona also looked at similar claims from the work of Acharya S. He got in touch with scholars in the field who did not take the claims seriously at all. There’s a reason the copycat thesis hasn’t lasted.

There is plenty more in Drazin’s book that is just wrong and no doubt, more could be said, but we have already said plenty with Norman’s book and there is no need to reinvent the wheel. Drazin engages in the same kinds of arguments that he would not accept if turned on his Judaism. Unfortunately, he is not skilled in what he speaks of to know this. When Concord magazine says Drazin is clearly an expert in the field, we have to disagree.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: 26 Reasons Why Jews Don’t Believe In Jesus Part 5

What are we to make of Paul? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

If you had thought we were into flights of fancy before with Asher Norman in his book, we have reached new heights with this one. Norman presents some of the worst eisegesis that you will come across. I do realize that there are many Jews who are opposed to Christianity and do want to read anti-missionary material. Please do consider another source. This chapter on Paul will leave a lot of Christian readers stunned at the way Norman twists the New Testament. (Of course, he has nothing but condemnation if he thinks we do that with the old, but it’s okay to do that with the New.)

Let’s start with the idea that Paul believed the ends justifies the means. Norman gives us some Scripture for this. He starts with Romans 3 with verses 5 and 7-8:

But if our unrighteousness brings out God’s righteousness more clearly,what shall we say? That God is unjust in bringing his wrath on us? (I am using a human argument.)

Someone might argue, “If my falsehood enhances God’s truthfulness and so increases his glory, why am I still condemned as a sinner?” Why not say—as some slanderously claim that we say—“Let us do evil that good may result”? Their condemnation is just!

Let’s look at the whole passage. We’ll go with verses 1-8:

What advantage, then, is there in being a Jew, or what value is there in circumcision? Much in every way! First of all, the Jews have been entrusted with the very words of God.

What if some were unfaithful? Will their unfaithfulness nullify God’s faithfulness? Not at all! Let God be true, and every human being a liar.As it is written:

“So that you may be proved right when you speak
    and prevail when you judge.”

But if our unrighteousness brings out God’s righteousness more clearly,what shall we say? That God is unjust in bringing his wrath on us? (I am using a human argument.) Certainly not! If that were so, how could God judge the world? Someone might argue, “If my falsehood enhances God’s truthfulness and so increases his glory, why am I still condemned as a sinner?” Why not say—as some slanderously claim that we say—“Let us do evil that good may result”? Their condemnation is just!

Norman has been outright dishonest by removing the sixth verse which shows that Paul disagrees thoroughly. Romans is often seen as a sort of dialogue epistle with Paul interacting with an interlocutor throughout and quoting what he thinks his opponent will say. These are not the views of Paul. It’s rather funny that Norman accuses Christians of doing to the Old Testament the very thing he does to the New Testament.

Next we go to 2 Corinthians 12:16:

Be that as it may, I have not been a burden to you. Yet, crafty fellow that I am, I caught you by trickery!

Again, the whole passage, 11-21:

11 I have made a fool of myself, but you drove me to it. I ought to have been commended by you, for I am not in the least inferior to the “super-apostles,” even though I am nothing. 12 I persevered in demonstrating among you the marks of a true apostle, including signs, wonders and miracles. 13 How were you inferior to the other churches, except that I was never a burden to you? Forgive me this wrong!

14 Now I am ready to visit you for the third time, and I will not be a burden to you, because what I want is not your possessions but you. After all, children should not have to save up for their parents, but parents for their children. 15 So I will very gladly spend for you everything I have and expend myself as well. If I love you more, will you love me less? 16 Be that as it may, I have not been a burden to you. Yet, crafty fellow that I am, I caught you by trickery! 17 Did I exploit you through any of the men I sent to you? 18 I urged Titus to go to you and I sent our brother with him. Titus did not exploit you, did he? Did we not walk in the same footsteps by the same Spirit?

19 Have you been thinking all along that we have been defending ourselves to you? We have been speaking in the sight of God as those in Christ; and everything we do, dear friends, is for your strengthening.20 For I am afraid that when I come I may not find you as I want you to be, and you may not find me as you want me to be. I fear that there may be discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, slander, gossip,arrogance and disorder. 21 I am afraid that when I come again my God will humble me before you, and I will be grieved over many who have sinned earlier and have not repented of the impurity, sexual sin and debauchery in which they have indulged.

Norman apparently hasn’t learned about something called “sarcasm.” Does he really think Paul is going to confess to openly tricking the Corinthians in a letter trying to regain favor with them in light of the super-apostles? Not at all. In fact, he’s saying just the opposite. He was good to them always and was never a burden to them. Obviously, he had to be up to something!

Finally, Philippians 1:18:

But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.

Again, starting at verse 15 and going through 18 shows a different picture:

15 It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. 16 The latter do so out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. 17 The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. 18 But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.

Paul is acknowledging that some people preach Christ in an attempt to cause trouble for Paul. Paul can’t do anything about this but instead turns it back on them. “What do I care? I’m not doing this for me. I’m doing this for Christ and you all are proclaiming Christ so thank you very much!”

Norman is also convinced Paul lied about being a Pharisee since he worked for the high priest and was never a student of Gamaliel since Paul opposed the Law. (Which he really didn’t, but that thing called the Damascus Road experience did change some views) He also speculates that Paul was a failed convert to Judaism. Will you find any scholarly backing for any of this? Nope. Just Norman’s imagination. In fact, his main source is the Ebionites later on who wrote about Paul wanting to marry the daughter of the high priest. He got turned down and in a rage turned on Judaism.

Evidence for this? None.

We move on to Paul’s Damascus Road experience and here, we are not shocked that Norman thinks that he’s surprised us all by saying there are three different accounts of what happened. Yes. Sometimes the story has some differences in it based on who is telling it and who the audience is. One fact to be sure of is Luke is no fool as he writes this. He knows what has happened. It’s quite likely he’s going for some variety. Of course, there are any number of commentaries Norman could have checked and any number of explanations for this, but no. Norman only saves that research for the Old Testament.

If this wasn’t enough, Norman thinks he’s caught Luke plagiarizing. Why? Because the experience account contains the saying “kick against the goads.” Why that also shows up in The Bacchae of Euripides! Luke is a plagiarizer!

Or maybe Luke is quoting a common idiom which was referring to resisting the will of the deity. Suppose I’m a pastor of a church about to send missionaries to an unreached part of the world. I could get in a pulpit and say “For Jesus, we are about to boldly go where no man has gone before!” No one would accuse me of plagiarizing Star Trek. They would understand the theme that I am pointing to.

Norman goes on to say that Paul was lying about being with Gamaliel because, hey, look at how Paul describes himself in Titus 3:3.

At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another.

First off, since Paul has several Gentiles with him in the writing of the letter, this isn’t a shock. He doesn’t say “I.” He says “We.” Second, Paul is speaking more about spiritual understanding. Christ did indeed add something to Paul.

If you think this is something unbelievable, it gets worse. This next one is so bad that I nearly threw the book up in exasperation when I read it. Let’s give the text first. It’s Galatians 2:19-20:

19 “For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God. 20 I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Followed by 6:17:

17 From now on, let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus.

Norman’s conclusion? Paul sees himself as the alter ego of Jesus.

No. I’m not making that up. Really. I’m not. He really says this.

What Norman misses is that Paul lived in a world where individualism was not the way. Paul would identify himself with his group. In this case, Paul chose to identify with Christ. Paul had his identity wrapped up in Christ and was to live imitating Him. His life was to be for Christ and when he got persecuted, He was just following in the footsteps of Jesus. Despite this, Norman thinks this is better seen as Paul showing mental instability. The instability here is Norman with scholarship about the Greco-Roman world.

Norman then goes on to make the case that Paul didn’t get the Gospel from the apostles. This is hardly a shock to anyone who has read Galatians. Of course, he leaves out that the apostles added nothing to him when he presented himself to them.

Norman goes on to argue that Jesus’s disciples didn’t accept Paul. He goes to Acts 9:26 for this:

26 When he came to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple.

A brief thinking on this will show the problem. Disciples means anyone who followed Jesus in this context. It does not mean one of the twelve. To show this, let’s plug in the definition for the twelve here.

“When he came to Jerusalem, he tried to join the twelve, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was one of the twelve.”

“Hey Peter. Can you remind us again? We’ve been together for at least four years here. Was this guy always one of us? I don’t remember.”

Also, let’s not be surprised that the followers of Jesus were surprised that Paul said he was a follower of Jesus. This would be like a Christian church in the Middle East being suspicious of that known ISIS member wanting to join the church saying he’s become a Christian. It’s not a shock that Norman leaves out that Barnabas changed their minds. We know Norman’s game now. Evidence that doesn’t suit his case is thrown out and treated as non-existent.

Norman also says that the apostles had to have appointment letters from James to show they are an apostle. His source for this is a rejected Gospel called the PseduoClementine Recognitions. Norman doesn’t point out that this isn’t a Gospel, that it was written by those the church held were heretics at the time, and that it dates to the fourth century. After all, fourth century documents are far better at judging first century events.

Norman then goes on to quote 2 Corinthians 3:

Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, like some people, letters of recommendation to you or from you? You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everyone.

If you’re going with Norman, you won’t find this verse. He lists it as verse 6. (Honestly, I wonder if Norman has ever read the New Testament or just read about it.) What he doesn’t realize is that letters of recommendation were all about status in those days with a higher honor person giving a recommend for a lower honor one. It’s not about a secret club the apostles had. He gives other verses as well, but none of them show what he wants them to show.

Norman also says Paul did miracles, but since he taught a different God, then this means he was a false apostle. Norman has not shown that this is a diffferent God. Throughout, we’ve shown his understanding of the Trinity is dreadfully lacking.

Norman also says that Paul taught a different Gospel and a different Jesus. We start with 2 Corinthians 11 and verses 4 and 13.

For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the Spirit you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough.

For such people are false apostles,deceitful workers, masquerading as apostles of Christ.

Of course, all of this depends on these apostles being the same as those of the twelve. This has not been shown. Many people were called apostles who were not of the twelve. Norman gives no evidence that what he asserts is the case.

1 Corinthians 4:15-16:

15 Even if you had ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel. 16 Therefore I urge you to imitate me.

Are you wanting to know how this shows Paul taught a different Gospel?

So am I.

Norman gives no explanation.

Galatians 1:6-9:

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse!

As expected, Norman ignores entirely that in this very chapter, Jesus’s own apostles have no problem with the message that Paul is preaching. If anyone wants to check Norman’s claims, just go back and read the verses he gives. It’s easy enough to make any case when you just cherry-pick. I once again shudder to think that this man is a lawyer.

We already looked at Norman’s claim that Paul believed the end justifies the means. There’s one more passage he adds to that. It’s one commonly used and that’s 1 Corinthians 9:19-23:

19 Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.

No doubt, Norman would be outraged at missionaries visiting Japan who take their shoes off in someone’s home even though they never do that at home! How deceptive! How dare you actually live like the people you are trying to reach! This is all Paul is saying. He does say he’s under the law of Christ so he can’t do everything he wants to do, but he does say that if he wants to reach Jews, he abides by the Law. If he’s with Gentiles, he lives more freely.

Many passages Norman quotes also with Paul’s statements about the law also come from Hebrews. While some think Paul was the writer of Hebrews, there’s no hard proof of this. Norman also thinks that Paul was wrong when he said the law can’t make anyone perfect. Apparently, Norman thinks there were sinless people walking around in the past. King Solomon disagreed but hey, Norman knows better.

Norman also says that Paul lied about his opposition to Torah. (His supposed opposition.) For this, he goes to two passages. First, Acts 24:14:

However, I admit that I worship the God of our ancestors as a follower of the Way, which they call a sect. I believe everything that is in accordance with the Law and that is written in the Prophets,

Norman leaves out the first part of this verse, but what’s the problem? I could say this as a Gentile. I have no problem with it. No Christian should. It doesn’t mean we follow the Law, but we realize the purpose of it and agree with it.

Acts 25:8:

Then Paul made his defense: “I have done nothing wrong against the Jewish law or against the temple or against Caesar.”

Again, the problem? It’s not like Paul brought a pig and sacrificed it in front of the temple. Paul abided by the Law in Jerusalem.

Norman also thinks Acts 21 is a clincher. James, after all, has Paul take a purification vow.  This isn’t James giving orders to Paul. It’s James being the middleman. James is in the position of trying to tell Jews they don’t have to be Gentiles to be Christians. Paul is doing the opposite. He’s telling Gentiles they don’t have to be Jews. Now Paul has shown up with a lot of money due to the collection being taken among the churches for Jerusalem and with some Gentiles in tow. Paul is to show his solidarity with his fellow Jews by taking part in this ritual, which he agrees with.

Norman also argues that the Jews thought Paul was a heretic. Again, no major point to make here. Not much of a shock.

Finally, we conclude with the idea that Paul was a Roman agent still in his ministry. Evidence of this? Well in Romans 16, he greets Aristobulus who could have been the grandson of Herod. Naturally, that would mean that he had to walk in lockstep with Herod for Norman. The same with the greeting of Herodian. Paul also greeted all the Christians in the household of Caesar in Philippians. It’s ignored that the city of Philippi was a Roman colony and Christians there could be of the household of Caesar.

Norman also points out that Paul was protected by 470 Roman troops when being transported in Acts. Paul must have been someone important! Norman isn’t aware that the roads back then weren’t known for safety and that with mass riots just having taken place in Jerusalem and forty known men being in a conspiracy to kill Paul with the possibility of even more that is unknown, the Romans didn’t want to take chances.

Paul also taught submission to Roman authority, but this is hardly a shock either. Would Norman have preferred that Paul taught open revolt? What’s so awful about saying to be a good citizen insofar as you can?

Norman’s arguments are woefully lacking and we haven’t even got to the worst in the book. We’ll see more next time when Norman looks at the New Testament itself.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: 26 Reasons Why Jews Don’t Believe in Jesus Part 1

What do I think of Asher Norman’s book published by Black, White, and Read? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Michael Brown is coming here to Atlanta in March to debate Asher Norman on if Jesus is the Jewish Messiah. In preparation, I decided to get Norman’s book to go through it. (I have already gone through a number of Brown’s books.) The book is divided into sections and I plan to go through a section a day.

At the start, I’ll tell you this is a horribly argued book. In fact, I find it quite embarrassing that I looked at the “About the author” last night and saw that he was a lawyer. One would think a lawyer would be better studied in how to examine evidence, especially both sides of the case. Norman apparently isn’t. His arguments show a lack of understanding that high school apologetics could deal with them.

You don’t have to go far to find such problems. Even on the first page of the introduction, you have one. You can see Norman arguing that the concept of the Trinity means that 1 + 1 + 1 = 1. The simple way to answer this is just to say “What are we adding?” If we were saying one god plus one god plus one god equals one god, then I would agree, this is nonsense. If we were saying one person plus one person plus one person equals one person, likewise. That is not what is being said.

I don’t even think addition is the right way to describe it. Sometimes people speak of Jesus as part of the Trinity or a member of the Trinity. The former makes God into a composite. The latter makes God a social club. I would say we just start with God who exists as a being in three persons somehow and we throw out our assumptions that any being who exists must exist as one center of consciousness. One of the first mistakes we make with the Trinity is the assumption of unipersonalism. (I am one person, so God must be likewise.) I would expect somehow that God would be greater than I could understand.

When we get to page 5, we find Norman saying that a council of Bishops at Nicea voted that Jesus would be god by a vote of 218 to 2 and this was established by the pagan emperor Constantine. Anyone who has any clue on church history knows that this is nonsense. The full deity of Christ was the early teaching of the church. Tertullian was using the term Trinity freely one hundred years before Constantine. The council was meant to deal with the Arian problem. How would Norman have preferred they deal with the debate? Would he prefer they all play Super Smash Brothers Brawl together and let them determine the winner that way?

On page 9, Normans asks how we Christians know the Old Testament has been transmitted accurately across time. His response is we trust the testimony of the Jewish people, though we reject that testimony on the nature of Jesus. Well, no. I trust that it has been because of the textual evidence, most notably that since the Dead Sea Scrolls has been discovered. We have manuscripts of the Old Testament like the New that we can compare. I have never encountered anyone who says “I believe the Old Testament has been handed down accurately because the Jews say so.” This is yet another example of how Norman really doesn’t investigate the best claims that are out there.

Norman also argues that according to Christian theology, it is impossible to obey the commandments of the Law. Not at all. I don’t know what Christian theology he is reading, but I think it could be because I do believe the testimony of Paul who said he was blameless before the law. Of course, this dealt with the external matters of the law. Paul was certainly still a sinner. I think we should all work at overcoming temptation in our lives every day.

Norman also says Abraham was chosen because he obeyed the commandments. Oddly, he goes to Genesis 26. He doesn’t go to the start in Genesis 15 where we read this in verse 6.

“Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.”

I would instead argue that it’s a both/and. Because Abraham believed the Lord, he wound up keeping the commandments. It’s much like the debate about the relationship of faith and works. Works do not bring about the salvation, but works show the salvation. (In fact, I would also say that about the keeping of the Law before Jesus. One did not keep the Law to be saved, but to show that they were saved.)

We certainly don’t have anything against the Law, but we have to ask with this if Norman believes what he says about the law being eternal and that we cannot change the commandments. Does he have slaves? Will he be selling his daughters? Does he build barriers around the roof of his house? Some aspects of the law were indeed cultural. God took the people where they were and gave them stepping stones as it were.

In fact, as Glenn Miller of the Christian Thinktank points out, some changes were being made within the time of Moses.

For example, the Passover in Exodus was supposed to be eaten in the individual homes (Ex 12), but in Deut 16, it was NOT supposed to be so–it was supposed to be eaten at the sanctuary in Jerusalem. This is a change within the period of Moses’ leadership.

“This law [Lev 17.5-7] could be effective only when eating meat was a rare luxury, and when everyone lived close to the sanctuary as during the wilderness wanderings. After the settlement it was no longer feasible to insist that all slaughtering be restricted to the tabernacle. It would have compelled those who lived a long way from the sanctuary to become vegetarians. Deut. 12:20ff. therefore allows them to slaughter and eat sheep and oxen without going through the sacrificial procedures laid down in Leviticus, though the passage still insists that the regulations about blood must be observed (Deut. 12:23ff.; cf. Lev. 17: 10ff.).”

We might also point out the changes in where Israel was supposed to live: camped out around the tabernacle, or in the lands allotted at the end of Moses life. The circumstances changed–and the ‘old’ laws of the wilderness wanderings were annulled and new ones created. Numerous other examples can be adduced: no more following the cloud, no more laws about the manna, etc.

More of this, I will leave to specialists of Old Testament Law. I do not hesitate to point you to the works of Michael Brown. I am sure some of this will be discussed at the debate.

Finally, we’ll end our look at part one with a statement Norman makes in his summary.

According to the Jewish Bible, God is one and infinite. According to Christianity, God is a triune being (the trinity) and God is finite because Jesus (a member of the Trinity) was finite.

I have to say that this is a quite honest misrepresentation. Norman can say all he wants to that he thinks our concept of God is finite, but I could read through many systematic theologies we have and have a hard time finding that. Look through the creeds and see if you can find that. If Jews have the freedom to say what they believe, so should we.

Still, that doesn’t answer the objection. The problem is that Christians say that Jesus has two natures and we are not to confuse the natures together. The human nature is not divine and the divine nature is not human. The terms of Jesus and God are not interchangeable. Jesus is fully God. God is not fully Jesus. All Hondas are fully cars. Not all cars are fully Hondas. All women are fully human. Not all humans are fully women.

If Norman does not want to believe in the Trinity or the deity of Christ, that is his choice, but one wishes that he had done some basic homework. The Christianity that he presents here I do not recognize at all. It looks throughout the book like Norman takes modern Christianity and modern Judaism and compares them. While some ideas are the same, some are not.

Tomorrow, we shall go to part two.

Whatever Happened To Israel?

The Bible is all about Jesus, isn’t it? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out!

Many of us have heard the joke. A boy is in a Sunday School class and the teacher asks the question “What’s small, has a bushy tail, climbs trees, and eats nuts?” A little boy raises his hand and the teacher points to him and he says “Well, it sounds like a squirrel, but I know the answer has to be Jesus.”

I thought about this recently in looking through Facebook memories. I found an interaction I did with someone Jewish who told me that I would insist that Isaiah 53 had to be about Jesus. I said in fact that I have no problem with Isaiah 53 being the nation of Israel. I pondered further upon seeing this and thought that this could be a problem with our hermeneutics. It damages our giving of the Gospel and damages our witness to the Jewish people around us especially.

You see, many Christians today seem to think that everything in the Bible is about Jesus. Please don’t assume at the start that I’m disputing this. I’m not. I just want that position to be further nuanced. Another assumption we have that unless a prophecy is about Jesus specifically, then that is a prophecy about the end times and whoa! Wouldn’t you know it? We just happen to be the people that the Bible is prophesying about so hey, let’s open up the Bible and then see what is going to happen in the world next!

Both positions I consider damaging. Let’s start with the first.

I tell people that when you read the Old Testament I want you to try to cease to be a Christian, at least for a little while. Imagine you’re a Jewish person at the time of the writing who is hearing this for the first time. You have no clue about Jesus. What are you going to think about the text? How will you interpret it and understand it?

When we give our presentations of the Gospel, we often present Israel as a footnote if even that. Israel was quite central to what God was doing. We make it sound sometimes like God wanted to redeem the world and Israel failed so Jesus came as plan B. As I’ve argued elsewhere, when we give a Gospel presentation, we need to include Israel. When we include Israel, we can understand the covenants of God and the promises of God better.

“Okay, Nick. I get what you’re saying. But what about Jesus? Isn’t the Bible supposed to be all about Jesus? How can it be if it’s about Israel?”

Good objection. I had suggested you cease being a Christian for awhile when reading the Old Testament. After that, bring back your Christianity and then see how a Jewish Christian at the time of Jesus would read the text. Then go even further and see how a Gentile in the first century who believed in Jesus would read the text. The text is written for you, but it is not written to you.

When you see a text that could be about Israel, go with it. See what it says about Israel. Then ask yourself these questions. “Who is the true Israel?” Who is the true one who represented God to the world? Who is the true one that could be called someone in covenant with God? Who was the one who brought God to the world? The true Israel is the one who did those things. Israel was meant to do them, but Israel couldn’t because Israel was part of the problem consisting of fallen human beings. Jesus was the one who did not fall and thus can be called the true Israel. We today can also be called Israel not because we have replaced Israel, but because we have been included in the promises of God. We have been grafted into the olive tree. All who believe in Jesus are on that tree. It includes Jewish and Gentile believers.

Thus, the text can be about Israel at first, but it also points to the greater Israel, Jesus. We can be included in a sense as well as we take on the identity of Jesus. This is another motive for us to strive to be like Jesus.

What about end times stuff? Well believe it or not, a lot of prophecies have been fulfilled and not just ones about the first coming of Jesus. Much of Isaiah 12-16 describes Babylon for instance. A lot of the prophets were seen as prophets because some of what they said had happened as they said it would. Now some of you might want to go to a dual fulfillment for the end times. As an orthodox Preterist, I don’t buy into that, but if you want to use it, please do not deny the prior fulfillment. The Bible is definitely all about Jesus, but it is not all about you.

This will also help you reach the Jewish people you know. Our Christianity can often make it seem like the Jewish people have been passed over and God does not work with them anymore. Imagine what it does when we say the Old Testament itself is not about Israel.

There was an old episode of All In The Family once with Archie Bunker’s son-in-law getting after him about his antipathy for Jewish people. The son-in-law asked him about his nephew and niece having Jewish names like David and Sarah. Archie replied that those were names from the Bible, which has nothing to do with the Jews.

A funny clip and we all see it as a ridiculous statement, but do we live it in our hermeneutics? Are we just as guilty of excluding Israel? Does it damage the way we read Scripture and our witness to Jewish people?

Think about it.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Deeper Waters Podcast 8/6/2016: Larry Hurtado

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

All religion is pretty much the same. Right? There was a smorgasbord of religious beliefs in the first century and Christianity wasn’t any different. Right? Don’t people convert for many reasons and Christianity was another choice? Wouldn’t people have been just fine with you being a Christian as they were any other system?

My guest this week is Dr. Larry Hurtado. He is the author of the book Destroyer of the Gods. While it is not out yet, I have got to read an advance copy and it is excellent. Hurtado shows that Christianity was radically different from the religious system of Rome but replaced it so much that today we treat Christianity as the norm.

So who is Larry Hurtado?

Hurtado high res

According to his bio:

Larry W. Hurtado is Emeritus Professor of New Testament Language, Literature & Theology in the University of Edinburgh.  He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, and a former President of the British New Testament Society.  Author of ten books and over 100 articles in journals, multi-author and reference works, his research has ranged broadly on issues in New Testament textual criticism, physical/visual features of early Christian manuscripts, the Gospel of Mark, early Christian worship, and the origins and early development of devotion to Jesus.  Born and educated in the USA, he taught previously in Regent College (Vancouver) and the University of Manitoba (Winnipeg).  He lives in Edinburgh and is married to Dr. Shannon Hunter Hurtado (art historian).

We’ll be discussing what it was that made Christianity unique. What were the social stigmas involved with being a Christian? Why did they matter so much? Why was it Christianity was seen as unique for denying the gods when Jews did the exact same thing?

We will also get more basic and discuss questions like what was religion in the ancient world? What was its relation to the state? Was there really any such thing as separation of church and state? Was there such a thing as a divide between one’s private life and one’s personal life?

If one became a Christian after having been a Gentile, how would their life be different? How would their social interactions be different? What risks were they taking? Would they lose their honor and reputation? Their jobs? Friends and family? Maybe even their own lives?

And what about books? What was it about Christianity that made it a religion of the book as opposed to most other systems out there except for perhaps Judaism. How did Christianity shape the world so that today the modern book is a concept that might not have been otherwise?

Be watching for these kinds of questions on this Saturday’s show. This is an exciting book to read and one that I hope gathers more attention in the scholarly world. I’m honored to get to have Dr. Hurtado on my show to talk about it and I hope you’ll be listening and please consider going on ITunes to leave a positive review of the show.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Paul Was Not A Christian. The Original Message Of A Misunderstood Apostle

What do I think of Pamela Eisenbaum’s book published by HarperCollins? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I often read mythicist material so when I see a book titled “Paul was not a Christian” I immediately start to suspect that this is the kind of material I’m going to be looking at. I must say I was pleasantly surprised. She is actually a rarity in that she is a Jewish New Testament scholar and she does have a Ph.D. in the field. If someone comes here thinking they will find something along the lines of a mythicist argument or conspiracy theory nonsense, they will not find it. Instead, one will find interaction with other leading scholars in the field and a scholarly argument from Eisenbaum’s side.

And yet, if the title is an indication of the message she wants us to get, I ultimately think she fails. Before I say why that is, let’s look at what she does say.

Eisenbaum is rightly concerned about a negative view of Judaism that too many Christians have. In this, she is correct. We often have this idea that Jews were suffering under the weight of the Law and wondering how they could be holy before a God who was just demanding so much of them and would have loved any chance of grace. This in spite of the fact that the OT regularly speaks about forgiveness and grace. This despite the fact that in Philippians 3 Paul describes himself as blameless with regard to the Law. Sure, there were disputes in Judaism over who was and wasn’t a Jew and what got one to be considered a Jew, but it was not really the legalistic system that some Christians make it out to be. More power to Eisenbaum in critiquing this view.

I also agree with Eisenbaum that too often we make the central message of Paul to be justification by faith. Is this a message of Paul? Yes. Is it the main message? No. His message would have also been that of Jesus and justification by faith was an outworking of that message. Paul’s message would have centered around Jesus being crucified and resurrected. The emphasis on justification by faith assumes the point above being contested, that Paul lived in a world where Jews were struggling under the Law and that they just wanted a way to be righteous before God. Most of them already saw themselves as righteous before God. The Law was not followed so they would be righteous, but to show that they were righteous.

Eisenbaum is certainly also right that we should take Paul’s identity as a Jew seriously, especially since he himself said he was one. Paul should be seen as a Jew who was well-learned in the Hellenistic culture of the time. One of the great realities that has had to be learned in the quest for the historical Jesus is that Jesus was a Jew. The same needs to be said about Paul as well. Paul was a Jew. It’s important also to note that while Eisenbaum wants to make sure Paul is not seen as anti-Jewish, and he is not, Eisenbaum herself is not anti-Paul. Nothing in the book is meant to put Paul in a negative light. In fact, Paul is highly respected throughout Eisenbaum’s work and she seriously wrestles with what he says.

Eisenbaum does say that the social context Paul wrote in was not monolithic or homogeneous due to multiple writings going around and the canon was a fourth-century development, but this could be a kind of all-or-nothing thinking. Were there disputes and factions and such? Yes. Were there however unifying beliefs that we find? Yes. We could be sure Paul would not include anyone in the body who did not believe in the resurrection of Jesus in a bodily sense. After all, in 1 Cor. 15 if Jesus has not been raised then our faith is in vain, which has the assumption that the faith of all of us is that Jesus has been bodily raised.

Eisenbaum is also right that Paul does not use the language of conversion. Does he speak of a call of Jesus and the appearance of Jesus to Him? Yes. Eisenbaum is certainly right that this does not mean that Paul ever ceased to be a Jew and too often we have used the language of conversion. In fact, Richards, Reeves, and Capes in their book Rediscovering Paul also agree and say we should speak more of the call of Paul than we should speak of the conversion.

I also agree with Eisenbaum that Romans 7 is not an autobiographical account of Paul’s personal struggles. I see it more at this point as a description of Adam who was the last named character. Paul would not have described himself as alive apart from the Law for instance and when we read his account in Philippians 3, we see no such idea of a struggle with Paul. This is something in fact that Westerners have read into the text.

Throughout the book then, the reader will find relevant material on the new perspective on Paul, what makes a Jew a Jew, and the early Christian view of Jesus. Now there were some points I did disagree with. I disagree with her view on Christology and I think the work of scholars like Bauckham, Tilling, Hurtado, and others have definitely shown that the earliest Christology is the highest Christology. I also disagree with her that the crucifixion would not necessarily have been seen as falling under the Deuteronomic condemnation of those who were hung on a tree. I think Evans has made an excellent case in his latest book, though to be fair this definitely came out after Eisenbaum’s writing.

So in all of this, why is it then that I disagree with Eisenbaum’s claim that Paul was not a Christian? There’s a very simple reason.

Nowhere did I see Eisenbaum state what a Christian is.

It could be tempting to say that of course we all know what a Christian is, but that still needs to be addressed. For instance, if being a Christian means citing the Nicene Creed and affirming a formulaic view of Trinitarian theology, then would we say that it could be there were no Christians and no Christianity until later in church history? This sounds like an absurd position to take. If we say that a Christian for Paul would be someone who saw Jesus as the resurrected Messiah and Lord of all, then we could definitely say that Paul was a Christian. The problem is that Eisenbaum argues throughout that Paul never ceased to be a Jew so he would not have been a Christian, but this makes it be that if one is a Jew, one cannot be a Christian, and vice-versa. Ironically, Eisenbaum who is arguing that Christianity does not mean opposition to Judaism has herself created an opposition to Christianity in her work. That one cannot be a Jew and a Christian both would certainly be news to many Messianic Jews today.

This is the main problem then I find. Eisenbaum has written that Christians have imposed a split and she herself has that exact same split the other way. This should not detract from the excellent material in her work and we should take the views of Judaism from such a scholar seriously and we should learn to read Paul as a Jew, but we should still also read Paul as a Christian and in fact, because he was a Christian, he was exceptionally Jewish. After all, if Jesus is the Jewish Messiah, and He is, what could be more in line with being a Jew than believing in the Messiah of the Jews?

So by all means go out and read this work for the scholarly insights within, but the main point is still not established. Much of what Paul said has been misunderstood due to what our culture has imposed onto the text, but the dichotomy is not really there and we as Christians should embrace the Jewishness of our Christian brother Paul.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: The Chosen People

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

As an IVP reviewer who has a passion for the NT and thinks that our modern individualism so often misreads the text, I took notice when I saw a book come out about election in Second Temple Judaism. I try to avoid the Calvinism/Arminianism debate with everything I have and have surprised a lot of friends by not jumping onto the middle ground of molinism. Thornhill’s book then sounded like something right up my alley.

Thornhill writes to help us see what election would mean for Paul and what would it mean to be a Jew and how would you be included within the spectrum of Judaism. It’s often been said that it was not Judaism that existed at the time of Paul but rather Judaisms. We could compare it to many Christian denominations today. There are some who will have an incredibly wide umbrella and accept most anyone in. There are some who will make incredibly small. I’ve heard the joke many times about Saint Peter welcoming someone to heaven and having them go by a room where they’re told to be quiet and when asked why is told “Those are the (Southern Baptists, Presbyterians, Methodists, etc.) and they’re somber because they think they’re the only ones here.

This is why Thornhill goes to the Jewish writings of the time to look and see how the Jews identified themselves. What were negotiables? What were non-negotiables? What did it mean to be elect and how did one maintain one’s role in the covenant with YHWH? Many times we have in the past thought that the law was this system put on Jews that they slaved under and struggled to follow and were just hoping that they were in the grace of God, but this really isn’t the case. Jews had quite different views and while no one would really say being born a Jew was a free pass, most were not trying to find a new way of salvation. Paul himself definitely wasn’t. After all, in Philippians, he writes that with regards to the Law, he was blameless.

Thornhill’s main thesis in all of this is that election is not about individuals but about rather a group and whether one is in the group or not. Today, we could say that there is only one who is truly elect in Christianity and that is Jesus and those who are elect are those who are in Jesus. For the Jews, it would have been recognizing who is truly in Israel and who isn’t. Our debates on free will and soteriology might in fact be a surprise to Jews if they were here today. Could it be that many of them would say “God is sovereign and man has free will and we just don’t know how that works out but that’s for God to do.”?

Thornhill does not speak on the Calvinism/Arminianism issue directly, but he does give food for thought. Could it be that perhaps we will move past this debate by realizing that our focus on individualism is something that we are reading into the text itself and try to approach it more the way the ancient reader would have read it, or dare I say it, more the way the apostle Paul would have been thinking when he wrote it?

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Our Father Abraham

What does it mean to be children of Abraham? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

A few nights ago, I was reading in Matthew’s Gospel and got to the appearance of John the Baptist. If you remember, John warns the Jewish leaders to not say they have Abraham as their father and therefore they will be safe when God’s wrath comes. God could raise up children of Abraham from the very stones. It’s quite a fascinating remark and one that we don’t think about often, but as I read it this time, my mind went back in time decades ago to Sunday School and Vacation Bible School.

“Father Abraham had many sons, and many sons had Father Abraham. I am one of them, and so are you, so let’s just praise the Lord.”

Yeah. Many of us remember that song and remember the silly motions that we all did with it so much so that we were in hysterics, and yet I look back and see it as a wasted moment in many ways. Did we ever stop to think about what we were singing? I didn’t. (And it sure is a good thing when we reach the level of adulthood we start really thinking about all those songs that we sing and take the message of them very seriously!) Did any of my teachers bother to teach me how important the message of that song is? Not that I remember. Unfortunately, this doesn’t usually change as we grow in the Christian faith if we are raised up in it. Education never gets serious.

What would it have been like if we had thought about that little song?

First, we would have thought that Abraham was a Jew, but it’s clear in Scripture that not everyone is a Jew, yet we’re supposedly children of Abraham? How does that work? Does that mean that we become Jewish? Perhaps in a sense we do. Look at 1 Cor. 10:1-5.

For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. 2 They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. 3 They all ate the same spiritual food 4 and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. 5 Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered in the wilderness.

Some of you might be looking and saying “Yeah, and?” Well look at how it starts. “Our ancestors.” Paul is writing to a church consisting of Jew and Gentile both and yet he refers to the Israelites as our ancestors. In fact, some translators look at 1 Cor. 12:2 when it speaks about once being pagans as once being Gentiles. These people are no longer outsiders to the message of Christ. They are included in the one body that Paul speaks of in that same passage and the one tree that is spoken of in Romans 11. This should strike us also as a great call to unity not only with those of us who are Gentiles and Christians, but Jews who embrace Jesus as the Messiah of Israel.

You see, Paul says in Gal. 3:29 that if we belong to Christ, we are children of Abraham. We are inheritors of the promise that he received. If we are not, then we do not. Being a child of Abraham is incredibly important then. It means we are recipients of the promise that was made to Abraham. We are part of the covenant made so long ago and then part of the new covenant in Christ. This is how we are all one.

John the Baptist had a serious warning for the people of the time. Show yourselves to be true children of Abraham. It’s a shame the Jewish leaders would have been stunned back then and we hardly even think about it today. How far we’ve fallen from a good Biblical education. By all means, teach the song to your youth at church and have some fun with it. There is no objection to that. Make sure that fun is a vehicle to learning. There is much to be known about the way of Christ and that includes knowing how the promises found in the Old Testament thousands of years ago apply to us today thousands of years later.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Deeper Waters Podcast 12/14/2013

What’s coming up this Saturday on the Deeper Waters Podcast? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

You all know that on the Deeper Waters Podcast, I strive to bring you the best in Christian scholarship. I also want to share the work of others who are coming up in the field and are quite able apologists themselves, such as when I interviewed my friend Chris Winchester on dealing with Mythicists.

But every now and then I make an exception and get a guy like Eric Chabot to come on.

Naw! Eric is a good friend of mine and his specialty is in Messianic apologetics, which means this week we talked about Jesus and Judaism, something relevant for Christmas time as we talk about the incarnation and the fact that this happened for the Jewish people.

The show was recorded earlier today. It’s not the pattern that I normally follow, but I did it this time to work with our schedules. Therefore, anything I tell you about in the show is something that we already discussed. Unfortunately, this also means we were unable to take your calls, but it is a topic that is important and will be coming up again.

The incarnation is a stumbling block to Jews because they have the idea that God is not to become a man. This gets into for them what they consider to be idolatry and polytheism. Is this the case? Is this what we see in the NT? Do the Jews who wrote it ever think for a minute that they are engaging in idolatry or polytheism? How do we answer the charge that that is in fact what they are doing?

This will get us into the OT interpretation. Does the OT teach the deity of the coming Messiah? If it doesn’t right at the start, does it anywhere? Does the doctrine of progressive revelation play any role in the Jewish understanding of the OT?

Also, what about Judaism at the time of Jesus? How would Jesus have been viewed in light of Second Temple Judaism? What in fact is Second Temple Judaism? What categories did they have for the Word, the Wisdom, and the Shekinah glory of God? Did Jesus make any claims about Himself that would relate to the understanding of Second Temple Judaism of those topics?

Why is it that someone can be an atheist and be accepted just fine by several Jews, but when someone becomes a Messianic Jew who believes in Jesus, they can be rejected? Why is it that to believe in Jesus is seen as being tantamount to denying one’s Jewish identity?

And of course, what role does the OT have to play for Christians today? Is it irrelevant to us, or should we instead view it as the Bible that Jesus, Paul, and the early church all used? How ought we to read the OT today?

It was a fascinating show and I ask that you listen in. I am counting on the CYI staff to be playing it from 3-5 PM EST this Saturday. You could if you want listen to it early and do so here.

In Christ,
Nick Peters