A Response to John Tors On Inerrancy

What do I think of what John Tors said? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Last week, I was away because my wife and I found out about a little Down’s Syndrome girl who was aged five and died suddenly. We went to Tennessee for the funeral. Shortly after I got back, I found out that I had been mentioned in an article by John Tors that can be found here.

My ministry partner, J.P. Holding, has updated his page on Mark 1:2 in response to some of what Tors says. I will thus not be responding to criticisms of Holding unless they involve me directly. I seriously doubt Dan Wallace will want to spend much time with Tors so I will take them on for him.

Tors starts with a statement that Wallace makes in The Case for the Real Jesus when interviewed by Lee Strobel.

Now, finish this sentence, I said. When Christians say the Bible is inerrant, they mean …
“They mean a number of things. For some, it’s almost a magic-wand approach, where the Bible is treated like a modern scientific and historical textbook that’s letter perfect. Some Christians would say, for example, that the words of Jesus are in red letters because that’s exactly what he said.” (Bold Tors’s)

Tors immediately leaps into attack mode with a response that one wonders if he has really read Wallace at all.

It is typical of this sort of evangelical scholar to mock the view of inerrancy that takes it mean “having no errors,” but whether Wallace likes it or not, that is what inerrancy means. So this is not a “magic-wand approach”; it is the only approach consistent with the actual meaning of inerrancy.

Except Wallace never mocked a view of inerrancy as meaning the Bible is without errors. He went after a view of what that is. I suspect Wallace means more the idea that the Bible is like a modern textbook and every word had to be one directly said by the person involved, be it Jesus or anyone else, and that if we dare question that, then everything goes out the window. That Tors reacts in such a way to something that Wallace never said is quite revealing.

Wallace goes on to say as Tors quotes.

“Well, if you compare the same incident in different Gospels, you’ll notice some differences in wording. That’s fine as long as we’re not thinking in terms of quotations being nailed exactly, like a tape recorder. They didn’t even have quotation marks in Greek. In ancient historiography, they were concerned with correctly getting the gist of what was said.”

Tors responds to this point that is not controversial at all among NT scholars by saying

We have already seen Farnell’s devasting response to this approach. The Bible is not like other works of ancient historiography, because it is “God breathed” (2 Timothy 3:16).

Of course, I have responded to Farnell here and here. However, this is hardly a response. Just say “It’s God-Breathed.” Okay. How does that deal with the writing? Are we to think God just breathed one day and “Poof!”, here is the Gospel of Luke! Anyone can look at the Gospels and notice that there are differences in wording. Are we to think Peter said radically different things when he made his great confession of faith to Jesus? Or, are we to think that he made a statement and the writers recorded the gist of it? (Note Tors. We don’t have the exact words anyway because Jesus was going around speaking in Aramaic and the Gospels are in Greek.)

Tors goes on to quote Wallace saying

“My definition of infallibility is the Bible is true in what it teaches. My definition of inerrancy is that the Bible is true in what it touches. So infallibility is a more foundational doctrine, which says the Bible is true with reference to faith and practice. Inerrancy is built on that doctrine and it says that the Bible is also true when it comes to dealing with historical issues, but we still have to look at it in light of first-century historical practices.”

Tors immediately fires back with

Wallace has it completely backwards; inerrancy is the more foundational doctrine, for, as we’ve said, if the Bible is not trustworthy on historical issues, it cannot be trusted “with reference to faith and practice.” So infallibility is built on inerrancy, not vice versa. Nor should we “look at [the Gospel books] in light of first-century historical practices” that allow for errors, inasmuch as the Bible is God-breathed, which is not a standard “first-century historical practice.”

It’s not a shock that Tors is the one who has it completely backward. Infallibility is the reason one holds to inerrancy. Derek James Brown in his dissertation on Inerrancy and ICBI quoted R.C. Sproul (You know, one of those guys who’s a framer of the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy) who said

Though the words infallible and inerrant have often been used interchangeably and virtually as synonyms in our language, nevertheless there remains a historic, technical distinction between the two words.  Infallibility has to do with the question of ability or potential.  That which is infallible is said to be unable to make mistakes or to err.  The distinction here . . . is between the hypothetical and the real.  That which is inerrant is that which in fact does not err.  Again, theoretically, something may be fallible and at the same time inerrant.  That is, it would be possible for someone to err who in fact does not err.  However, the reverse is not true.  If someone is infallible, that means he cannot err; and if he cannot err, then he does not err.  To assert that something is infallible yet at the same time errant is either to distort the meaning of “infallible” and/or “errant,” or else to be in a state of confusion. (Page 25 of Explaining Inerrancy).

Wallace goes on to say

“I don’t start by saying, ‘If the Bible has a few mistakes, I have to throw it all out.’ That’s not a logical position. We don’t take that attitude toward Livy, Tacitus, Suetonius, or any other ancient historian’s writings. For instance, does the first-century Jewish historian Josephus need to be inerrant before we can affirm that he got anything right?”

To which Tors replies with

Of course not. But Josephus, Livy, Tacitus, Suetonius, and “any other ancient historian” were not divinely enabled by the Holy Spirit. The Bible was, however, so it is in a completely different category from “any other ancient historian’s writings.” In contrast, it seems very clear that Wallace is treating the Bible like simply any other book. Period.

If you want to see what’s wrong with this kind of approach, just consider if Tors was saying the same about the Koran or the Book of Mormon. Is Wallace treating the Bible like any other book? In a sense, yes. That’s the wonderful truth about the Bible. When you treat it like any other book, you see that it is not like any other book. Tors apparently lives in a world where the Bible has to be kept safe from historical research, lest an error be found. It also has to be written in a format that is amenable immediately to 21st century Americans, because, well, aren’t we the most important of all?

Wallace then goes on to say that

You obviously have a high view of scripture, I observed. Why?

“Because Jesus did,” he said matter-of-factly.

How do you know?I asked.

“One criterion that scholars use for determining authenticity is called ‘dissimilarity.’ If Jesus said or did something that’s dissimilar to the Jews of his day or earlier, then it’s considered authentic,” he said. “And he’s constantly ripping on the Pharisees for adding tradition to scripture and not treating it as ultimately and finally authoritative. When he says that scripture cannot be broken, he’s making a statement about the truth and reliability of scripture.”’

Tors quotes multiple parts of this multiple times each time with incredulity, because, you know, incredulity makes a great argument. Wallace is saying that by the methods of historical scholarship, we know that this is Jesus’s view of Scripture. Wallace wants to treat Scripture like Jesus did. Tors seems to have a problem with that. He also imagines that Wallace has said there are historical or scientific errors in the text. It would be nice to know where Wallace said that. I must have missed that part.

We will next quote Wallace saying

“The Gospels contain a summary of what he said. And if it’s a summary, maybe Matthew used some of his own words to condense it.”

To most of us, something like this is not problematic. People write something and they use their own words. Tors however, is always on the hunt for something that goes against his fundamentalism.

See? Just “like any other book.” Period.

We have to wonder what Tors is thinking here. Does he think someone would come up to Matthew and say “Hey Matthew. What are you writing?” “I don’t know. It’s in Greek.” Is it just awful to think that Matthew told a story in his own words? Perish the thought! Wallace goes on to give the reasonable conclusion to what he said with

“That doesn’t trouble me in the slightest. It’s still trustworthy.”

Tors, as expected, hits the panic button.

Actually, if the writers are making stuff up and mixing the historical with the non-historical, then it is not trustworthy, as there’s no way to know what in the Bible is true and what isn’t. As we’ve seen, Gundry’s suggestion that non-historical additions in the Gospel According to Matthew would not be a problem because his readers would know what was historical from the Gospel According to Mark and from Q is patently a non-starter. Furthermore, if Matthew could add non-historical material, so could Mark have done, so that Matthew’s readers (and we) could not assume that everything in the Gospel According to Mark was historical. In fact, how could they assume that any of it was historical?

And, of course, Q is a figment of liberal imagination. But even if it weren’t, how could the readers of Q know whether any of it was historical? If Matthew and Mark could make up non-historical material, why could not the writer of Q? I have not yet found even one evangelical scholar who can answer this question.

It is a mystery how one goes from “Saying something in one’s own words” to “Making stuff up.” Apparently, Tors can make these kinds of leaps. He then says there’s no way to know that something in the Bible is true or isn’t, but this is just ridiculous. We can know this by studying history. If Tors is scared to apply historiography to the Bible, perhaps it is true then that Wallace (And myself) have a high view of Scripture and Tors has a low view of it. After all, Tors apparently seems fearful that if inerrancy goes out the window, that there’s no way of knowing any truth in the Bible.

He also asks how could readers of the Gospel assume any of it was historical? Answer. They wouldn’t. This would also be something that skeptics could look at. Want to know if it’s historical? Just send a servant or two to the area of Judea. Have them ask around. Do an investigation. This is what historians did.

Strobel’s interview continues.

Do you think this idea of inerrancy has been elevated out of proportion to its genuine importance? I asked.
“At times…. Belief in inerrancy shouldn’t be used as an excuse not to engage seriously with history….”

Quick to panic again and make a mountain out of a molehill, Tors says that

Is this meant to imply that “engage[ing] seriously with history” will necessarily lead to the conclusion that there are errors in the Bible? In fact, inerrantists certainly do “engage seriously with history,” but they use already established facts as part of their analysis – much like, once it has been established that the Earth is round, that fact is used in all further geographic analysis. Now, since the Gospel writers were empowered by the Holy Spirit to remember Jesus’ words, and inasmuch as Scripture is God breathed, the historical information in the Bible is superior to that in any other source and stands in judgment of it.

All too often, what passes for “engag[ing] seriously with history” by evangelical scholars is the opposite; whenever a secular source makes a claim that disagrees with a claim in the Bible, it is assumed by default that the Bible is wrong,2 and therefore efforts have to be made to massage the Biblical testimony to fit – or we are simply to accept that the Bible is wrong.

While inerrantists do engage with history, and I speak as one of them, I do not think Tors does. Tors is not engaging with history but still pushing the claim of the Bible being God-breathed. I agree that it is, but Tors never tells what this means or how this plays out. How does he know the text is God-breathed without making a circular argument? Would he accept it if a Muslim said the same about the Koran?

Fortunately, we see that Tors has said that a British scholar has said we treat the Bible like any other book to show it’s not like any other book. Sadly, he says that this has been shown to be inappropriate, but with no clue where or even who this scholar is. At this point, all Tors has is assertions of faith.

He then continues quoting

“That’s better than the opposite position that has become an evangelical mantra: ‘Hands off the Bible — we don’t want people to find any mistakes in it, because we hold to inerrancy.’”

Tors answers with

The implication seems to be that inerrantists do not want to examine the Bible too carefully, because, as these wise evangelical scholars know, there are indeed errors, and so inerrantists want to ignore facts in order to hold to their doctrine of inerrancy. This is a ridiculous implication.

It is a ridiculous implication, and it’s a good thing Wallace doesn’t hold to it. Wallace is instead saying some inerrantists do seem afraid that they will find errors that won’t stand up to scrutiny. If anyone is hesitant to enter history here, it’s Tors.

Now he decides to go after myself and Holding.

Finally, let us consider James Patrick Holding, founder and president of the on-line Tekton Education and Apologetic Ministries.5 He is of interest because he is a frequent “go-to guy” for both Creation Ministries International and Christian Research Institute, which means he is reaching a sizeable audience. Holding has taken it upon himself to challenge Norman Geisler’s defence of inerrancy, and not only online; he and co-author Nick Peters self-published an e-book, Defining Inerrancy: Affirming a Defensible Faith for a New Generation, in which he and Peters attack Geisler’s Defending Inerrancy. In this e-book the authors aver that “the perception of ‘inerrancy’ offered by the old guard isdangerous, misleading, and obscurantist in that it will result in a view of the Bible that is not defensible or respectable.”

Tors responds with

Do note that “the perception of ‘inerrancy’ offered by the old guard is that it means “no errors” i.e. the Bible is completely free of all errors, including historical and scientific errors. This is the “perception” that Holding and Peters consider dangerous, misleading, and obscurantist and not defensible or respectable.”

This is news to me, because I do not think the Bible does have historical or scientific errors. I guess Tors knows my view better than I do. I have no problem with the statement that the Bible is without error. I have a problem with a more wooden inerrancy approach that is bent on literalism and 21st century ideas rather than writing styles of the ancients.

I am going to, as I said, bypass what was said about Holding. Holding can answer on his own. For my part, I will address what is said about me.

Holding’s co-author, Nick Peters, who, interestingly, is married to Mike Licona’s daughter, also piles on, but he, too, clearly stultifies himself. He details Patterson’s qualifications, including the following – “A graduate of Hardin-Simmons University, Patterson also completed Th.M. and Ph.D. degrees in theology at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary” – but then asserts that “While these accomplishments can be all well and good, there is a striking omission from it. There is absolutely nothing here about being trained in NT scholarship and exegesis. Being a competent and even skilled theologian and/or philosopher does not make one an expert on NT scholarship and/or biblical exegesis.”

Why yes, I am married to Mike’s daughter. Apparently, this is being waved around to promote the “Bias” charge. All Tors needs to do is contact Mike and be assured from Mike that we have many disagreements, even on the New Testament, and I do not walk in lockstep with him.

Tors wants to say I stultify myself. How? Because I point out that we have no reason to think that Patterson is an expert on NT scholarship and/or Biblical exegesis.

One wonders whether Peters has any idea about the sort of courses one takes in Master’s and Doctoral programs in seminary; in case he doesn’t, he should find out that it certainly includes courses in “NT scholarship and exegesis.” It seems rather strange that Peters suggests that Patterson’s training is inadequate, when Peters himself holds only a Bachelor of Science in Preaching and Bible from Johnson Bible College, and is currently working on a Master’s degree – in philosophy.

Of course I know, because I have studied at a Master’s level in Seminary. While this is taught, it does not mean it’s a specialty area. Does Patterson publish regularly in journals of New Testament scholarship? Is he cited by New Testament scholars? If not, then he’s stepping out of his field. I would say the same thing about Mike Licona trying to be an authority on philosophy.

Tors wrote this in 2015 by the way and wanted to point out with an ironic sucker punch that I’m working on a Master’s in Philosophy. Ouch. Guess that puts me in my place.

Unless, you know, you actually look at anything since 2009 and realize people can change majors, which I did when Mike Licona told me he thought my stuff on NT was really good. Let’s see. What does my own website say?

Can you tell me a little bit about yourself?

Sure. My birthday is 9/19/1980 and I was born in Corryton, TN just outside of Knoxville. I was raised in a Christian home and found out about apologetics while I was in Bible College and my passion was set from then on. I have a Bachelor’s in preaching and Bible from Johnson University and I’m working on a Master’s in New Testament there. I am especially interested in the historical Jesus and the resurrection. I am also an advocate for traditional marriage having been married to my wife Allie Licona Peters since July of 2010. We are both diagnosed with Aspergers and we have a cat named Shiro. My other interests include reading, video games, and popular TV shows like The Big Bang Theory or The Flash and other shows. I’m also extremely sarcastic so you’ve been warned.

Or since he knows about Defining Inerrancy, maybe he could have just read my description in the book.

Nick Peters is currently working on his Master’s in New Testament at North West University in South Africa via a distance program. He has been in apologetics ministry for nearly fifteen years at the time of this writing. He blogs regularly at Deeperwaters.wordpress.com and runs a podcast called the Deeper Waters Podcast, where he seeks to interview the best in Christian apologetics and scholarship. He and his wife Allie are both diagnosed with Asperger’s and both of them currently live in Corryton, Tennessee, just outside of Knoxville, with their cat Shiro.

Now are there differences there? Yep. I switched where I was working on my major at and my website is now at a different address and I now live just outside of Atlanta. Fortunately, the part about my wonderful wife and about Shiro are still true.

Academic qualifications, of course, do not determine how well one can understand the Bible or apologetics, but it is Holding and Peters who choose to focus on that, claiming that Geisler and Patterson are not qualified to assess Licona’s teachings. It seems clear, however, that on that basis Geisler and Patterson are individually each better qualified to assess NT scholarship than Holding and Peters put together.

If so, then either of them are free to respond to the criticisms that I have made of their approach. Nothing has been said by them so far. Geisler ignored a challenge that was put on his wall by someone else from Holding and banned the person who put it up. I also am quite sure that the evangelical scholars will go with my work far more than Geisler’s, particularly since I’m the one who interviews them. Tors can make his assertions of faith, but all it is is faith.

Tors’s approach is in the end, one that is embarrassing to apologetics. It will not convince any skeptic and will leave a Christian who holds to it thoroughly defenseless. Perhaps Tors should study some New Testament scholarship before proceeding.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

Deeper Waters Podcast 3/11/2017: Mike Licona

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

“It depends on which Gospel you read!” Many of us have heard Bart Ehrman talk about this in describing Gospel differences. It is a kind of unavoidable problem. Why are there differences in the Gospels? Shouldn’t we expect them to agree, especially on major events like the resurrection?

If you want to know why there are differences in the Gospels, you should talk to someone who has written on this. In fact, the very name of his book is Why Are There Differences In The GospelsThat someone is Mike Licona, a friend, a scholar, a great apologist, and my father-in-law, and he will be my guest. So who is he?

MikeLicona

According to his bio:

Mike Licona has a Ph.D. in New Testament Studies (University of Pretoria), which he completed with distinction. He serves as associate professor in theology at Houston Baptist University. Mike was interviewed by Lee Strobel in his book The Case for the Real Jesus and appeared in Strobel’s video The Case for Christ. He is the author of numerous books including Why Are There Differences in the Gospels? What We Can Learn From Ancient Biography (Oxford University Press, 2017), The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach (IVP Academic, 2010), Paul Meets Muhammad (Baker, 2006), co-author with Gary Habermas of the award-winning book The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus (Kregel, 2004) and co-editor with William Dembski of Evidence for God: 50 Arguments for Faith from the Bible, History, Philosophy, and Science (Baker, 2010). Mike is a member of the Evangelical Theological and Philosophical Societies, the Institute for Biblical Research, and the Society of Biblical Literature. He has spoken on more than 90 university campuses, and has appeared on dozens of radio and television programs.

We’ll be talking about Plutarch in comparison with the Gospels, including not just parallel accounts, but how does the writing of Plutarch compare even with anonymity, dating, and miraculous activity? We’ll then be looking at some scenes in Plutarch that appear in more than one life that he has written, but at the same time are vastly different. We’ll be discussing how these work when carried over to the Gospels and if there are similarities in treatment.

We’ll then go to the Gospels. What are we to make of the idea of Ehrman that “It depends on which Gospel you read?” How does this research affect the doctrine of inerrancy if it does at all? What are we to do when we read the same story in different Gospels and see great differences between them? Do the differences outweigh the similarities?

I hope you’ll be listening. Mike Licona is an excellent scholar and this work is one that has been published by Oxford Press and so one can’t say it’s your regular evangelical press. I also hope you’ll be willing to go to ITunes and leave a positive review of the Deeper Waters Podcast. I always love to see how much you like the show.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

 

Book Plunge: Why Are There Differences In The Gospels?

What do I think of Mike Licona’s book published by Oxford University Press? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Go to any debate online about the New Testament and one idea you’ll see pop up regularly will be “It contradicts itself over and over.” Go listen to Bart Ehrman and hear him speak about these and what will he say? “Depends on which Gospel you read?” Gospel differences are something that is a cause of concern to many a skeptic and of course, many a Christian as well. Especially if you hold a high view of inerrancy, you want to know why there are so many differences in the Gospel accounts.

This question isn’t anything new. It goes back to the church fathers. This is in fact why there was even an attempt to turn the four Gospels into one Gospel, but the church didn’t really go for it. As it stands, we have four today and they do contain obvious differences, so do we just have sloppy historians or what? Should we call into question the reliability of the Gospels because of this?

Mike Licona has chosen to answer this question and has done so by doing something that many in our world could consider cheating, but hey, he did it. He actually went back and compared differences in accounts of the same event by an author close to the time of Jesus. His choice was Plutarch and he looked at some of his lives that described figures who lived at about the same time and were quite likely written close to each other chronologically.

Of course, everyone should be warned of possible bias on my part. As many know, Mike Licona is my father-in-law, but at the same time when we have our discussions, if I think he is wrong on something, I do not hesitate to tell him. He got a blunt son-in-law when I married Allie.

Mike’s approach is unique and something that had not been done before. If there is any difficulty I encounter when I am engaging with skeptics of the faith is that they assume the way we do things today is superior simply because that is the way we do them. If we do history this way, well that is the right way to do history. If we want this kind of precision in an account, well that has to be superior and that is what the ancients would want. The greatest error we often make is we impose our own time and culture and society on the ancient world and then misread them.

This is why I say Mike cheated, though in a loose sense of course. He actually went back and saw how they did history and what do you see? You see that the differences that you see in the Gospels that are so problematic are the same kinds of differences you see in Plutarch. Some will no doubt complain and say that surely the Gospel writers would not write Holy Scripture in a style that was known to the pagan world. (Yeah. The second person of the Trinity can condescend to become a human being and die on a cross, but using a certain literary style? God forbid!) Such an opinion is going against the overwhelming majority of Biblical scholarship and ignores how God has often met people where they were and if the writers wanted to write a biography of Jesus to tell about His life and teachings, there weren’t many other options.

Mike goes through the accounts and shows that Plutarch used many different techniques when writing and that the Gospel writers did the same. He has a number of pericopes in Plutarch and a number in the Gospels that give a cross comparison. If one wants to throw out the Gospels as unreliable then, one will have to do the same with Plutarch. This indeed raises the debate to a whole new level. Is the modern skeptic willing to throw out one of the most prolific writers in ancient history just to avoid the Gospels?

What does this say for we moderns as well? It tells us what I said at the beginning. We can too often assume our own standards of accuracy and throw those onto the text not bothering to ask if the ancients followed them. If they did not, then we are being anachronistic with the writers and in fact, being unfair with them. They were not moderns and we should not treat them like moderns.

This should also be taken into account when considering our modern idea of inerrancy. For instance, many of us might think inerrancy means we have to have the exact words of Jesus. What if the Gospel writers did not think that but wanted the exact voice instead? In other words, they wanted the gist of what Jesus said even if it wasn’t exact wordage? That’s okay. We just have to accept that. The ancient works were not modern works and if we impose on them what they aren’t, we will get the wrong message and also miss the true message of them.

Mike’s work has really raised the bar of debate and pushed it beyond just simple harmonization. It is harmonization based on how the ancients did it and not how we moderns do it. I fully hope that other scholars will come alongside and critique the work, both positively and negatively and that we can, in turn, come to a greater understanding of the Gospel texts.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Deeper Waters Podcast 10/15/2016: Mike Licona

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

The Gospels are some of the most well known works of literature in the world. Yet today, there is much debate about them. On the one hand, you have some people who are convinced that everything in them is literally true. On the other, you have people who are more of the mythicist mindset who think they’re all totally false. In the middle you have various positions, like my own which is a contextualizing inerrancy or that of many NT scholars today who think there is some truth but not everything is true.

Well what are we to think? Are the Gospels reliable? Can they stand up to the test of scrutiny? Are they good sources to learn about the historical Jesus from?

These are all good questions to ask. Of course, if you ask a good question, you need to make sure you go to a good source for the answer. For that, I decided to bring back a personal favorite guest of mine. This Saturday, I’m pleased to welcome one of the two people in the world I can rightly call “Dad” to the studio. It will be my father-in-law Mike Licona.

Who is he?

MikeLicona

According to his bio:

Mike Licona has a Ph.D. in New Testament Studies (University of Pretoria), which he completed with distinction. He serves as associate professor in theology at Houston Baptist University. Mike was interviewed by Lee Strobel in his book The Case for the Real Jesus and appeared in Strobel’s video The Case for Christ. He is the author of numerous books including Why Are There Differences in the Gospels? What We Can Learn From Ancient Biography (Oxford University Press, 2017), The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach (IVP Academic, 2010), Paul Meets Muhammad (Baker, 2006), co-author with Gary Habermas of the award-winning book The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus (Kregel, 2004) and co-editor with William Dembski of Evidence for God: 50 Arguments for Faith from the Bible, History, Philosophy, and Science (Baker, 2010). Mike is a member of the Evangelical Theological and Philosophical Societies, the Institute for Biblical Research, and the Society of Biblical Literature. He has spoken on more than 90 university campuses, and has appeared on dozens of radio and television programs.

We’ll be talking about the questions surrounding the Gospels. Having recently debated this with Bart Ehrman and having written a book (Which we will be interviewing him on) about the topic of the Gospels as Greco-Roman biographies, Mike is prepared to tackle this question for us. We will also answer questions of if the Gospels really are Greco-Roman biographies, since apparently some people dispute this, and what that means.

Then we’ll ask how we should try to approach the Gospels and what we’re looking for. Do some people set the standard too high? Do some people set it too low? How do the Gospels compare to other works of literature of the time? What about claims of authorship?

I hope you’ll be joining us next time. We are working on getting past episodes up. We do have the one from the 24th of September and the 8th of this month. They will be up soon. Please consider also leaving a review of the show on ITunes.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Deeper Waters Podcast 7/11/2015: Mike Licona

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

Our podcast returns this Thursday and we have what I am sure is a favorite to you listeners out there returning to be on the show for the third time and that is Mike Licona. What are we going to be talking about? Good question. In fact, that is what we’re talking about. Good questions. I’ve gone to private groups on the internet for awhile now announcing that this show would be coming up and gathering questions on the New Testament and the historical Jesus as I follow a cue from Justin Brierley and have a “Grill-a-Christian” format. This will be just like Mike getting done speaking somewhere and then random questions coming up and we’ll see how he does. Now if you don’t know who Mike Licona is, a brief description follows that is from his web site.

MikeLicona

Mike Licona has a Ph.D. in New Testament Studies (University of Pretoria), which he completed with distinction. He serves as associate professor in theology at Houston Baptist University. Mike was interviewed by Lee Strobel in his book The Case for the Real Jesus and appeared in Strobel’s video The Case for Christ. He is the author of numerous books including The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach (IVP Academic, 2010), Paul Meets Muhammad (Baker, 2006), co-author with Gary Habermas of the award-winning book The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus (Kregel, 2004) and co-editor with William Dembski of Evidence for God: 50 Arguments for Faith from the Bible, History, Philosophy, and Science (Baker, 2010). Mike is a member of the Evangelical Philosophical Society, the Institute for Biblical Research, and the Society of Biblical Literature. He has spoken on more than 50 university campuses, and has appeared on dozens of radio and television programs.

Now of course, some more skeptical listeners out there could be wondering if there might be some bias here. Mike is my father-in-law. Am I telling him the questions ahead of time? Nope. Not at all. I like to make things a challenge as much as I can and Mike and I can be competitive at times when we get together. (Watch us play Wii Sports sometime when we visit.) What will happen with the questions is I have them all written out and I will mix them up randomly and draw them out of the hat as it were so that I can’t even tell anyone entirely before the show starts what questions Mike will be asked. That means no doubt that not every question will be answered, but we have two hours and we’ll see what happens in that time and how Mike fares with me in the hot seat.

I think this will be an interview you will enjoy and if you’ve never been to an event like one where Mike speaks at, you’ll get to see what it can be like and how people have to answer questions on the spot. If you’re an aspiring apologist, I hope it will drive you to be even more prepared in all your studies so that if you find yourself in such a situation, you will be able to answer those who question you on the Christian faith.

Be watching your ITunes feed for this one!

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Some Thoughts On Doubt

What’s a Christian to do with doubt? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out?

Recently, my father-in-law Michael Licona had an article show up where he was interviewed about doubt. Mike has been a very upfront person about the doubt that he has in life. We’ve had many discussions on visitations around times like Thanksgiving and Christmas. I’ve also known him to be very helpful when I meet people who struggle with a very deep doubt. He’s learned well from his mentor, Gary Habermas. I’d like to share some of my own thoughts on doubt to go along with his.

First off, Mike and I are very different people. Mike is a constant second doubter and I would not doubt he is much more emotional than I am. It takes awhile for me to be emotional, but when I am, it is intense. There are many people who think I am just cold, which is not really accurate. My wife would be the first to testify otherwise that I am a very sensitive fellow in many ways. Of course, this is important because there will be varying ways that people experience doubt.

Second, one mistake I think many Christians make in the area of doubt is that they think they have to have an answer for everything. Well in reality, you won’t. Mike and I could both defend the resurrection, but if it had to be one of us doing it, I’d hand it over to him. If it came instead to something like the arguments for the existence of God, he’d let me handle that one. Too many Christians think they have to have an answer to every question and know everything about every subject, but if you try to be a jack-of-all-trades, you’ll wind up being a master of none and just have a shallow knowledge that is easily exposed.

Third, one of the ways to better deal with doubt is to not run from it. It is to face it head on. This is often what we try to do with negative feelings. We try to suppress them instead of trying to face them head on. Now of course, when dealing with really negative feelings, you might need the help of a good therapist. When dealing with doubt, you might want to get the help of those who know more than you do. (You essentially will in any case since that will require that you read the best books that you can.)

I really recommend trying to read both sides. When you come across an objection that’s a really good one in your eyes, look into it. Also, try to avoid just looking on the internet for answers. In the age of the internet, anyone can be seen as an expert just because they have a blog or a web site. Now does that mean you should treat me seriously? Well that’s your choice, but certainly not like a scholar at this point. Please definitely avoid a web site like Wikipedia. One of the best tools you will find for your situation is really just going to a library and doing the research there.

Fourth, while you deal with your feelings, it’s best to try to not focus on them. Mike talked in his interview about not feeling the presence of God. This is another way where we’re different. I cannot describe my own Christian walk as one of regularly feeling the presence of God. This seems to be normative to many Christians that you’ll find in a church service, but I do not think I am alone in my own way of thinking. The great danger is that if this is made to be what every Christian is to experience, then what happens to the Christian who through no fault of his own and no lack of devotion to God does not experience such a thing?

The reality is you cannot make yourself feel something. If we could, we would make ourselves feel happy all the time. We can’t. What we can do is try to think things that could bring about a sensation of happiness. I often get the concern when we want freedom from anxiety or just a good feeling, we come to God and want Him to do that for us, but we don’t come to know Him for Him at those times. It is what is known as morally therapeutic deism. This is like a man who consistently comes to his wife because sex feels really good for him (As it does for any husband), but he just isn’t interested in coming to her for her. This is something we must be careful about in our Christian walk.

Fifth. as hard as it can be, try to not listen to your emotions. This is one reason you talk to people outside of yourself. They can see past issues that you might not see past because you are too busy listening to your emotions. You could also try writing down your arguments you are experiencing mentally and asking if B really follows from A. There are many cases where we think A, and then we just jump ahead to Z from that point on.

Finally, it’s important to note that we usually want absolute certainty and that can rarely be found in anything. When I meet someone who cannot be wrong in anything that they think, I often wonder why I should think they are right in anything that they think. Doubt should not be seen as a disease, but rather a chance to get further growth and a natural part of our learning cycle. In fact, I have more concerns about a Christian who never doubts what they believe. If you do not doubt it, you are not seriously thinking about it and if you are not seriously thinking about it, you’re just not taking it seriously.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Is Inerrancy An Essential?

Is Inerrancy the litmus test for orthodoxy? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

We would have liked to have hoped that Geisler had ended his obsession, but alas, this is not the case. Of course, this has been also because of his web site where he has a petition for people to sign to stand up for the Bible before it’s too late!

Because we all know that Mike Licona, one of the strongest defenders of the resurrection of Jesus today, is just going full throttle in an attack on the Bible. Reading Geisler and seeing his obsession, you’d think Mike Licona is some master villain making it his goal in life to destroy the faith of Christians.

Of course, as has been pointed out with regard to this petition is that Geisler is the one who determines who is the true upholder of Inerrancy and who isn’t. I have in fact demonstrated this pointing out how Geisler has deleted my signature from the petition, even though I agree with what it says. See here. This also has happened to Craig Blomberg.

If you think I sound extreme in this, keep in mind that there is even a question asking if Mike Licona is the next Bart Ehrman. Think I'm kidding? Think again. It’s my understanding that this was from a paper at Veritas Evangelical Seminary. If that’s right, I’m pretty sure that if Geisler graded it I know what the reaction was.

Of course, it’s bizarre to say Mike is the next Bart Ehrman. In fact, the more likely scenario is someone in Geisler’s camp would be the next Bart Ehrman since Ehrman was one who put too many eggs in the Inerrancy basket and not just Inerrancy, but a literalist Inerrancy. If Geisler thinks that that is not a problem, I’d like him to meet the several ex-Christian atheists that I’ve met online who in large part left Christianity because they had the Inerrancy doctrine called into question when they in reality held to a modern view of Inerrancy, like Geisler’s.

So now, let’s see what Christopher Haun has to say on his article on Inerrancy and if it’s a litmus test for orthodoxy.

It’s worth pointing out that this starts with a quotation from Daniel Wallace in his review of Defining Inerrancy, the Ebook that J.P. Holding and I co-wrote together with a review by Craig Blomberg. You can find a description here:

If you want to, you can go here and buy a copy and help support Deeper Waters at the same time! Please leave a positive review!

Keep in mind also, that this is a book that a response has not been written to. We are sure Geisler will just be thrilled when the print version comes out expanded to include the works of scholars in the field as well.

At least we can be sure that it has been noticed as is indicated by Haun’s review.

What’s the relationship between biblical inerrancy and orthodoxy? Recently Daniel Wallace suggested that Carl Henry opposed the importance of inerrancy, claiming it was not a litmus test for orthodoxy. Wallace wrote:
And it is this very problem that one of the architects of modern evangelicalism, Carl Henry (who could hardly be condemned as being soft on inerrancy!), addressed in his book, Evangelicals in Search of Identity. It seems that many evangelicals are still not listening. And yet Henry saw, forty years ago, that the evangelical church was making inerrancy the litmus test of orthodoxy to its discredit.

That is of course Wallace being quoted but note what is said at the start. Wallace said nothing about Henry opposing the importance of Inerrancy. He said the opposed it being used as a litmus test for orthodoxy. If that is the case, then there should be no disagreement.

In fact, Wallace himself says that Henry was not soft on Inerrancy. Wallace’s point then is that Henry did see Inerrancy as highly important, but he did not see it as an essential for orthodoxy. Those interested can see the whole quote here:

In Defining Inerrancy, the authors note that they have known many evangelicals who have abandoned the faith precisely because they started out with such a hardening of the categories. This rings true: I get countless emails from people who have either jettisoned their beliefs (or have friends or family members who have) because their starting presupposition was that it’s inerrancy or nothing. Such people would throw the proverbial baby out with the bathwater! And it is this very problem that one of the architects of modern evangelicalism, Carl Henry (who could hardly be condemned as being soft on inerrancy!), addressed in his book, Evangelicals in Search of Identity. It seems that many evangelicals are still not listening. And yet Henry saw, forty years ago, that the evangelical church was making inerrancy the litmus test of orthodoxy to its discredit. Yet again, I digress. Holding and Peters are not in the least denying inerrancy; they are simply rejecting a rigid form of it that they see as dangerous to the health of the evangelical church.

If you’re wanting to make sure I’m quoting it right, just go here.

Interestingly, Haun leaves out the problem that is noted here. Also left out is the point that Inerrancy is not being denied but a rigid form that Holding and I see as dangerous to the health of the evangelical church, something I take Wallace to agree with since he speaks about getting numerous emails from people who abandoned Christianity because they have the impression that it’s all-or-nothing with Inerrancy.

Wonder where they got that idea from….

Once again also, we must stress that no one in this is attacking Inerrancy. Wallace believes in Inerrancy. Holding believes in it. Licona believes in it. Blomberg believes in it. I believe in it. It is in Geisler’s world and that of his followers that if you disagree with a more literalist interpretation, a style that is foreign to the text, then you disagree with Inerrancy. It doesn’t matter if you say you believe in Inerrancy, as long as you disagree with the interpretation of Geisler, you deny Inerrancy.

If writers are interested in why so many are saying they are moving away from Inerrancy and moving to authority, it is not because we have found a problem with the Bible. Not at all! It is because we are looking at this modernistic view and saying “If what it means to believe in Inerrancy is to believe in what Geisler says, then we need to find something else to believe in.”

But let’s look at some of what else Henry said.

Inerrancy is the evangelical heritage, the historic commitment of the Christian church.

A quote like this I find concerning. It shows me that our emphasis moved from Jesus to the Bible. Now to be sure, the Bible is the best witness we have of Jesus today. Still, the Bible is not Jesus. The church did not start with people proclaiming the Scripture, but it started with people proclaiming the resurrection and the Scripture in part was a testimony to that.

If the strength of American evangelicalism rests in its high view of Scripture, its weakness lies in a tendency to neglect the frontiers of formative discussion in contemporary theology

This one is worth noting because that is exactly what is being avoided. Keep in mind Geisler did not show up at the round table discussion about Licona’s view on Matthew 27 but decided afterwards that this was a good time to go after Blomberg for the great crime of standing up for Licona. (And noteworthy that he had to go back thirty years and find a paper that no one batted an eye at and try to find a way Blomberg supposedly denied Inerrancy in it.)

Geisler has this idea apparently that the way to respond to Licona’s interpretation of the passage in question is to wave a flag that says “Inerrancy” and say “Since the passage is Inerrant, therefore Licona is refuted.

This might sound like an odd notion, but to refute someone’s interpretation, you have to show the text does not mean what they take it to mean. It would not work to have the Jehovah’s Witnesses come by and when they say Jesus is not fully God to say “Inerrancy!” and act like they’re answered.

To be fair, Geisler has tried to do this some, but his arguments have been highly lacking and have not shown an interaction with New Testament scholarship. The proper attitude at that point would have been to just back away from the discussion until further research had been done. Waving the flag that says “Inerrancy” does not give Licona any reason to think his view is wrong. Now if Geisler does make an exegetical argument one day that Licona sees and makes him say “I am convinced now that Matthew is treating this as a historical event, but I think he was wrong” then I and Holding and others will certainly say that that is a denial of Inerrancy. That has not happened yet.

Those who reject inerrancy have never adduced any objective principle, either biblical, philosophical, or theological, that enables them to distinguish between those elements which are supposedly errant in Scripture and those that are not.

At this point, it is clear that New Testament scholarship has not been interacted with. Now of course, I disagree with those New Testament scholars who say the Bible is in error, but at the same time, I do agree we need a historical methodology to show that the Bible is not in error. Inerrancy is not a presupposition, but rather a conclusion.

In fact, it’s ironic that there is a statement like this because it does indicate a more presuppositional approach.

Simple question. How would someone like Henry know that the message of the Bible is true rather than say, the message of the Koran or the message of the Book of Mormon? Both of those claim to be from God as well after all.

If he points to historical claims that are known about what happened in Scripture without the doctrine of Inerrancy, then our case is made. If he says that he knows that it is true because it is the Bible and the Bible is the Word of God, then we are getting into circular reasoning.

In fact, this is the approach of a minimal facts technique where the Bible is treated the way liberal scholars treat it and we STILL have the conclusion that Jesus rose from the dead. Once you establish the resurrection, Inerrancy becomes much easier to establish. It does not work however to try to establish Inerrancy first since you will inevitably need to show the resurrection to do that.

So do we have an approach to show some parts of the Bible are at least reliable? We do. We use historiography. Surely Geisler has been pleased to see archaeological findings that have corroborated the Bible and shown that the Bible was right about such and such a person or place existing. No doubt Henry was a great champion of Christianity, but he was simply wrong here.

If one asks what, in a word, eclipsed the biblical doctrine of the inspiration of Scripture, what theological redefinition of inspiration in nonconceptual categories, and what encouraged neo-Protestant denial of inspiration as a decisive New Testament concept, the answer is modern biblical criticism.

There is some truth to this. There were liberals who wanted to take an approach to the Bible that would jettison the miracles and “supernatural” phenomena. (I do not like the word supernatural as I think it points to an Enlightenment dichotomy that I do not hold to.) Thus, they attempted to make arguments to show that the text was not reliable. There is nothing wrong with doing this as we make arguments to show Mormon texts are not reliable.

Picture yourself as an evangelical Christian if you’re not one and you have just got done presenting a host of problems with the text of the Book of Mormon such as contradictions and archaeological mistakes and matters of that sort to a Mormon who has come to the door and the Mormon responds by saying

“I have a testimony from the Holy Ghost that the Book of Mormon is true, that Joseph Smith is a true prophet of God, and the Mormon Church is the true church of God.” When you hear this, are you going to sit back and say “Well darn it. I guess I can’t refute that.

Instead, you are more likely to see it as a defense mechanism. When I have dialogued with Mormons and they have said that, I have interpreted it to mean “Ah. There is a point that they cannot answer.”

Now picture yourself as a modern Biblical critic who is agnostic or atheist. You go to Christians and present to them what you think are a number of mistakes in the Bible such as archaeological mistakes, disagreements with modern science, contradictions, etc. Now suppose you hear this back.

“The Bible is the Inerrant Word of God and if the Bible says it, then it is true and therefore, Jesus rose from the dead.”

You are not going to be convinced.

But what if that’s what Christians did in the face of criticism? What if in the face of charges that the Bible had errors, our response was to just make a statement saying that the Bible has no errors? That’s no more a response than the Mormons making a statement that the Book of Mormon is from God and that is known because of a testimony from the Holy Ghost.

Now I am not opposed to making statements on Inerrancy, but statements do not answer questions alone. Statements should be made after questions have been answered. Unfortunately, many Christians chose to retreat. When liberals came to colleges that had been set up to proclaim the Christian faith, Christians set up their own Seminaries instead of staying to fight the battle against the liberals. How are those colleges doing today?

The problem was not Biblical criticism. The problem was bad methodology and faulty premises and conclusions. The way to respond to this is to respond with good methodology and true premises and conclusions. The way to respond to bad historiography is with good historiography. The way to respond to bad science is with good science.

If we uphold Scripture as Inerrant, then we should not fear any methodology that seeks to call it into question. If it is Inerrant, then we should not be afraid of scientific research if we think the Bible is addressing scientific questions. If you truly think the Bible teaches a young Earth for instance, you should welcome the scientific research of the scientific community because that should establish it. If you think it teaches evolution, you should welcome that. If you think it teaches an old Earth without evolution, you should also welcome that.

If you think the Bible teaches that Jesus died and rose again, you should welcome the historical research and if you are convinced that historians who say otherwise are wrong, you should seek to point to problems in their methodology or the evidence that they present. Just making a statement of what you believe will not constitute an answer.

In other words, we should be able to meet our opponents at their own game and be able to face them and win. If the Bible is historically true, then if we do history right, we will find that the Bible stands up. Of course, we can’t prove EVERYTHING historically, but if we go through and find we can trust what we can test, then we have good reason to give the benefit of the doubt to the rest. If we think the Bible speaks on scientific matters, then we should welcome the science and if it is wrong, we should be able to show it scientifically.

This is why when it comes to evolution, I stay out of the debate. I am not a scientist and I do not speak the language. If you think evolution is false and want to argue it, here’s what you do and I don’t think even the staunchest evolutionist will disagree with me on this point. Go do your study and preferably a degree in a science that is related to the field, such as biology, and study the arguments for and against and make your own arguments and present a case from the sciences that refutes evolution. If evolution is bad science after all, the way to refute it is with good science. This is the same way that if denying Jesus rose from the dead is bad history, the way to refute it is good history.

If Geisler does not want to get involved in the field of New Testament scholarship and answer Licona on an exegetical level, that is fine. The best course of action then for him to take is frankly to stay out of the debate. Perhaps he can instead rely on others who he thinks are New Testament scholars who will address the problems that they see with Licona’s view and leave the Inerrancy question out of it.

As long as Geisler goes with the Inerrancy question, then he is simply chasing windmills. The sad tragedy is that he is not driving people to Inerrancy but rather driving them away from it as more and more are looking at what is happening and saying “If this is what Inerrancy entails, I want no part of it.”

It is ironic that people like myself and Holding are lifting up a view of Inerrancy that is defensible and this according to NT scholars like Wallace. Haven’t we seen someone say that those who defend Inerrancy are being attacked while those who attack Inerrancy are being defended?

Now if anyone wants to see if I am quoting Haun rightly, and to be fair I am not responding to everything as I don’t disagree with Henry who is cited profusely, then one can just look at the original article here.

It is still my contention that those who are defending a modern literalism based on a modern Western view of Scripture no doubt mean well and their intentions are good and noble, but they are simply doing more harm than they realize to the body. Again, I have interacted with several ex-Christian atheists that lead me to this conclusion.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Apostles’ Creed: He Rose Again From The Dead

Did Jesus stay in that tomb? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

The center of the Christian faith lies right here. If this did not happen, then let’s all just pack up and go home. We might become deists or some other kind of theism, but we certainly cannot be Christians any more because Jesus would not be who He said He was.

Now many of us know about the minimal facts approach of Gary Habermas and Michael Licona. Many of you also know that I use that approach, but I also use another approach and since the minimal facts is already well known (And if it isn’t, get the Case for the Resurrection of Jesus by Habermas and Licona)I will be here using another approach. This is one used by my ministry partner, J.P. Holding of Tektonics, and one I plan to do even further research on later on to improve it more.

When a minimal facts approach is started, it’s usually started with Jesus’s death by crucifixion. Yes. This is a fact. It is one of the most certain facts in history. The most that many apologists get from that is that Jesus died.

Let’s not stop at that point.

What kind of death did Jesus die?

Jesus died a death that would be seen as a shameful death. It was designed to lower his status in the eyes of the people as far as possible. To non-Jews, Jesus died as a traitor to Rome. He was a would-be king who got what He deserved and once again, Rome put down those who were opposed to her rule. To a Jew, Jesus died under the curse of YHWH. He claimed to be the Son of God and Messiah and because of that, He was put to death. (Mainly for the first one. Claiming to be the Messiah was not blasphemous. It just might be seen as egocentric, crazy, etc.)

Note in Jesus’s society also, your identity came from someone else. There was no self-made man. Connection to the group was important and if you were a follower of Christ, that would be who your identity was in. It would be in a man seen as a traitor to Rome and under the curse of YHWH.

How many of you want to be a part of that group?

In fact, if you were telling the story about Jesus to someone as a Christian, as soon as you got to crucifixion, the person you were talking to would likely shut their ears at that point. There would be no need to listen any further.

Want to know what it would be like to say a crucified man was your Messiah, savior, and God?

Imagine what it would be like to have someone say that the new president of the Southern Baptist Convention was an open homosexual and pedophile.

Imagine what it would be like to hear the person running for the office of president used to be president of the KKK.

Imagine what it would be like to be a part of Ken Ham’s organization and hearing that Francis Collins or Hugh Ross will be the guest speaker at a convention this year.

Imagine what it would be like to hear that a terrorist arrested in Afghanistan was going to be put in charge of our military.

I’m sure you can come up with your own examples. Pretty much, this kind of event would fly in the face of everything that you knew. If you knew anything about crucified people, you knew that they were no good and certainly no one worth putting an investment in.

And what are you being told to invest in them?

EVERYTHING!

Your whole life and identity is being put on the line with this one. If you are wrong, there’s no turning back. Now this isn’t because of threat of Hell. For many in the ancient world, you die and that is it. You might go to some shadowy existence. Jews could hold to some variation of Hell at times. Either way, the turn and burn approach would not be what was most likely used.

What temporary gains would you get in this life if you became a follower of Christ? Well let’s name a few.

You would be mocked. Now this might not seem like a big deal, but in an honor-shame society like the ancient Mediterranean was, it was. Think back for instance to when you were in high school. You would have cliques being formed and you needed to identify with the cool kids. If you were a guy and got identified as a homosexual for instance, that could end your social status. If you were a girl and got identified as loose, that could also end your social status. Everyone else determined where you were on the social ladder.

Now multiply that a few times and you have a better idea of what the ancient world was like.

A major difference is this world has far more power. You go home from school and school is done. There is no place in the ancient world where you can escape life itself.

You want to go to the marketplace? You’re known there. Want to go worship at a pagan temple or Jewish synagogue? You’re known there. Want to go to a club or meeting place? You’re known there. Not only are you known, your ancestors will be known as well. What you do will forever stay with your children.

Not only will that happen, but with this shaming you will be seen as deviant. Why? You’re going against the gods! You’re going against the emperor! If we suffer, it is because we have not been giving the honor to the gods that is their due. Any major calamity shows up? You’re the problem! You will then be dealt with by Rome because you’re being a traitor to the social order.

And yes, that finally gets us to persecution. A pagan would persecute you because you were a traitor to Rome and denying the gods. If you had wanted to include Jesus among other gods to worship, well worshiping a crucified man would be odd, but okay. No. You’re saying that not only do you worship YHWH through Christ, you say that is the only way to worship. You deny that the other gods even exist. How can the people earn their favor if they tolerate you in their midst?

Yeah. Tolerance. That’s a big one. The Jews could be tolerated because they were an old religion. They were just told that they had to sacrifice on behalf of the emperor. They did not have to pray to him. You want to come with a different belief? Well that’s fine if you can fit it into the Roman pantheon.

A new idea however is viewed with suspicion. That’s going against the social order. That’s claiming that our ancestors have been wrong for centuries. That’s saying that these beliefs that have guided and shaped us our whole lives have been wrong. Come with something new and you are a threat.

“Well geez. Mormonism was something new also and look how well it survived!”

While Mormonism did get some persecution, Americans had far more of a live and let live attitude. Mormons also had several wide open places that they could go to to escape any persecution. Christians only had the catacombs. If Mormonism had survived in an honor-shame culture, there might be something to the argument, but there isn’t.

“Well Islam was also a new belief.”

Yes. It was. And early on it spread by the sword and it offered its followers in this life power, wealth, and women. Those were some nice perks. The perks that came from Christianity could come elsewhere. You want to live a good and virtuous life? Greek philosophy can give you that. You want good fellowship? The pagan festivities can get you that. You want to get in touch with the divine? Mystery religions can give you that.

For Christianity, it’s biggest rewards would not even be seen in this life. They were waited on for the life to come. As you can hopefully see, becoming a Christian was not a simple task of walking down the aisle and saying a prayer and expecting your family and friends to celebrate your new belief. No. It was putting everything on the line.

Which makes it interesting since according to a scholar like Meeks, the middle and upper class were people who were often converting to Christianity. Why does this matter? These people had the most to lose on the social strata. Another aspect is these people often had the means to check out the stories. “You claim you have eyewitnesses? Well let me send my slave to Jerusalem to talk to these ‘eyewitnesses.’ ” These were the people who could most do a fact-finding mission and come to a conclusion.

Well Christianity did offer forgiveness of sins! As if the average Gentile or Jew was worried! Jews already had a system to deal with their sins. The sacrificial system and following the Law worked just fine. Why would they want to risk all of that for a system that abandoned both of those and even abandoned other aspects of Jewish life like the Sabbath and Torah observance? That would help ensure that they got cut off from YHWH!

The Gentiles? They too could offer sacrifices and frankly, they were more interested in living the good life. Of course, this was a life of virtue, but they had the philosophers to help with that. An approach that focused on the sinfulness of the people just would not work as well. (And in fact it assumes right off that Jesus is the solution to that, something that it would be very hard to persuade an ancient person of.)

Note also that Christianity had high high standards of living. Now the Jews would be familiar with them as would a number of God-fearers, but they were still high. Most especially would be in the area of sexual ethics. Chastity was the rule until you were married. Adultery was absolutely forbidden.

Christians also gave to the poor. “Well that’s nice.” Not so fast. The ancients did not really trust the poor. The poor were the ones who were likely to steal from you. After all, they didn’t have anything. The rich were the ones who were your benefactors and you wanted to be in their good favor.

Well surely Christians had something going for them! They taught the resurrection of the body!

Of course they did.

Another strike against them.

What?

Yeah. In the ancient world, the world of matter was a lower world. Go look at your Plato. The material world was lesser and the higher world was the spiritual world. In fact, even having a God not taking on the appearance of a human but of becoming human would be seen as totally bizarre.

To escape the body was seen as a relief. Apotheosis would have been the main goal. This would be being exalted to the realm of deity, and no body was required. This would often happen to the Caesars supposedly.

In the Phaedo of Plato, at the end Socrates asks for a cock to be sent to the god of healing as a gift. Why? Socrates is being released from his body. That is the ultimate healing. He is being free from the prison that he has lived in.

Is it any wonder that some of the earliest Christian heresies had a problem with Jesus being material? Think of Gnosticism or Docetism. Each of these would have made a whole lot more sense than the message the Christians were giving. In fact, if the Christians were supposedly changing the story to make it more acceptable for Gentiles, they would be seeking to remove the resurrection. That was just something seen as bizarre and unwanted to the Gentiles.

Now Jews could be more open, but a resurrection happening in the middle of space and time? That made no sense! The disciples in fact took the hardest route they could with their belief. They did not claim divine vindication. That would be easy! They claimed resurrection. They claimed it in the very city that Jesus was crucified in and in the very faces of those who did it.

So why is it that the resurrection would matter so much? It was more than the forgiveness of sins. It was more than dealing with the problem of evil. It was vindication. If God did raise Jesus from the dead, then God is essentially saying “Jesus was right.” Right about what? He was right about being the Son of God. He was right about being the Messiah. He was right about having your whole life depend on Him.

And if Jesus is raised, well that’s a good reason to believe He’s who He said He was.

In fact, that’s the only reason to do so.

If Jesus was not raised, Christianity should have died out early on like any other cult group would have. Christianity instead overcame the most impossible odds ever and not only did it dominate the Roman Empire without using the sword, today Jesus holds the allegiance of billions all over the world.

Not bad for a guy who was crucified.

Notice also how well this works if you add to it a minimal facts approach as well. We did not have to go into that too much, but even the social data alone makes a powerful case for the resurrection of Jesus and one that is too often overlooked. Why not add it to your apologetic arsenal?

In Christ,
Nick Peters

A Defense of the Minimal Facts

Have the minimal facts been knocked down? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

I was recently sent an article by Matthew Ferguson of Adversus Apologetica where he attempts to knock down the minimal facts approach. Looking through the article, I am largely unimpressed. For those interested, it can be found here.

The minimal facts approach is the one offered by Gary Habermas and Mike Licona. The idea is to take facts that even liberal scholarship will acknowledge that are attested to early and argue from there that the best conclusion that can be reached from what we know is that Jesus rose from the dead.

Much of this is done to avoid going to the gospels. As Habermas has said in many talks, the gospels are by liberal standards 40-70 years afterwards. You can go that route, but it’s much more difficult. It’s also done this way to just avoid “The Bible says it happened, therefore it did,” approach, as Habermas and Licona take facts that have been held by non-Christian scholars in the field.

So looking at Ferguson, I have a problem right off with this sentence.

“When investigating virtually every other past event outside of the origins of Christianity, historians operate under the principle of methodological naturalism.”

He goes on to say that

“If they did not responsibly limit the historical method to a purely secular epistemology, as I have discussed before, supernatural events such as witchcraft at Salem in the late 17th century would be fair game for being considered “historical” and we would have far greater evidence to support such miracles than the resurrection of Jesus. We can all see the absurdity of the former example and yet apologists (who exercise the same skepticism towards supernatural events outside of their religion) consider it an unfair bias to bracket Jesus’ resurrection as a religious, rather than historical, matter.”

Actually, no. I don’t see the absurdity of the former. I happen to know people who have been involved in the occult and have no reason to discount a number of claims that I hear from them. Also, even if we had greater evidence for Salem, so what? That means the evidence for the resurrection is not reliable? Does any historical claim become false if we have more evidence for another claim along the same lines? If we have more evidence for Hitler, does that mean that Napoleon is a myth? If we have more evidence for Napoleon, does that mean Alexander the Great is a myth?

Ferguson also has this idea that we’re all anathema to miracles in other religions. Licona himself asked me about this once in discussing miracles and said “What about miracles outside of Christianity like Apollonius and Vespasian?” My reply was “What about them?” If these people did miracles, so what. Questions need to be asked.

“Is there any particular religious message that is to be conveyed if the miracle is true?”
“What is the evidence for the claim?”
“Who reports the claim?”
“How close to the time is it?”

Personally, I would in fact welcome a strong case for Vespasian or Apollonius doing miracles. Why? Because doing miracles is not anathema to my worldview but is so to a worldview that is rooted in naturalistic thinking. That just opens up even more the possibility that Jesus rose from the dead since we can say “We have clear evidence of a miracle in this case. Why not the other?”

Of course, there is also the fact that Craig Keener has written a massive tour de force demonstrating miracle claims going on today. These have eyewitness testimony and have often medical reports backing them. In the volume, Keener also includes numerous arguments against the position of Hume.

So if we have miracle claims going on today, why should we ipso facto disregard all of them? Let’s open them up. While most atheists tell me about how we shouldn’t let bias deal with the data, if any side will have bias here, it will be the atheistic side. If all of Keener’s miracles were shown to be false I’d think it was a shame, but it would not disprove either his argument against Hume or the resurrection of Jesus. If just one of the hundreds of miracles Keener writes about is an accurate account, then atheism needs to come up with a better explanation.

So at the start, I do not see a good reason to accept methodological naturalism. When I look at history, I want to know what really happened and I cannot do that if I rule out explanations that I disagree with right at the start. If a miraculous event happened in history, the only way we can know that is if we allow ourselves to be open to it, and if we are not open to it when a miracle had in fact occurred, then we can never know true history.

Ferguson goes on to say

“I have, on the other hand, met several apologists who converted for personal reasons and later sought rational and evidential justifications when they were trying to convert other people who do not share such personal experience.”

Of course, some people come to Christianity for various reasons and then when looking into their belief system, find there are rational reasons for believing it. There are many of us who would prefer that apologists not use personal experience as an argument. I cringe every time Bill Craig uses his fifth way for instance. It’s way too much like Mormonism.

On the other hand, there are some people who start out critical and investigate the evidence and come away Christians. Lee Strobel, J. Warner Wallace, and Frank Morison come to mind. What really matters is the evidence that each side presents. If one comes to Christianity first and finds the reasons later, they cannot help that. Their arguments should not be discounted for that reason.

Going on we are told

“Such apologists, seeking to hijack the field of ancient history, are desperate to slap the label “historical” onto the resurrection. This goal is derived in no sense whatsoever from legitimate academic concerns, but instead is one born purely out of the desire to evangelize. Once Jesus’ resurrection is considered “historical,” you just have to accept it and apologists can cram their religion down people’s throats. It was to avoid such non-academic agendas that historians bracketed such religious questions in the first place. I myself was originally content with letting the resurrection be a religious, rather than historical question, but apologists have fired the first shot in attempting to invade the field of ancient history. Since they are now targeting a lay audience with a variety of oversimplified slogans aimed at converting the public rather than seriously engaging historical issues, my duty here on Κέλσος is to correct their misconceptions.”

It is a wonder how Ferguson has this great insight into the mind of everyone who has written on the resurrection from an evangelical perspective. I, for instance, have no desire to shove religion down someone’s throat. Do I wish to share my view? Of course! Who doesn’t? Can I force someone to accept the resurrection? Not at all! I can present the evidence that I see and let them decide and if they disagree, let them disagree with me on historical grounds.

When one considers the last sentence, I hope that Ferguson in turn is going after the new atheists who are targeting the lay audience with simplified slogans and even worse, not doing real research into philosophy and theology at all! This is evidenced by P.Z. Myers’s “Courtier’s Reply.”

Furthermore, I do not see how he could look at a work like Licona’s “The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach” which is actually Licona’s PH.D. with a few updates and say that that it has oversimplified slogans and does not seriously engage historical issues. Could he say the same about a work like N.T. Wright’s “The Resurrection of the Son of God”?

To be fair, I will not dispute that there is much out there that is garbage. There are works by Christian apologists that I myself have taken to task for being so light and fluffy. One such work even had Wikipedia cited in the back.

Moving on we read

“One such slogan is the so-called “minimal facts” apologetic, spawned by the likes of Gary Habermas and William Craig.”

Right here, I can tell the study has not been done on this. Craig’s approach is not the minimal facts approach of Habermas. In fact, Habermas himself says that some of Craig’s material are not facts that he would use. Craig’s material relies on the gospels. Habermas’s (And Licona’s in turn) does not. Thus, I will be spending this work defending the real minimal facts approach. If something is not part of the minimal facts, I will not waste time with it.

Ferguson continues,

“This “minimal facts” apologetic attempts to provide a minimal case for believing in just one of Jesus’ miracles: the resurrection. First, I find it to be completely disingenuous for apologists to pretend that they are trying to convince you of “only one” miracle. What if I believed in the resurrection, but thought Jesus did it through sorcery or simply left open-ended the question of its religious significance?”

That’s fine. Go ahead. Habermas has even said in public talks that at the start, he’s not saying God raised Jesus from the dead. He’s saying that Jesus rose. You come up with your explanation. You want to say it was sorcery. Fine. Say it was sorcery. Just give a reason why you think it was and why you think my explanation that it was God who raised Him is lacking. Isn’t that what we’re supposed to be doing?

“Apologists would not accept this and would obviously want to convince me that Elohim had raised their Messiah. What apologists don’t tell you is that in the fine print of the “minimal facts” apologetic there is a clause stating that by accepting the free trial of the resurrection miracle, you are signing yourself up for a lifetime subscription to a fundamentalist, conservative Christian worldview.”

No you’re not. There. An assertion made without an argument can be dismissed just the same way. All you have to do is get that Jesus rose. Don’t want to believe the Bible is Inerrant? Sure. Go ahead. There are some Christian scholars who hold to the bodily resurrection and don’t think the Bible is inerrant. Want to believe in theistic evolution? Sure. Go ahead. There are some like that as well. There are Christians of all stripes who believe Jesus rose from the dead and do not hold to a “conservative and fundamentalist approach.”

Besides, if a fear of accepting such an approach is behind Ferguson, then could it not be said that his worldview is shaping his looking at the evidence instead of the other way around?

“But furthermore, the “minimal facts” apologetic is not rooted in facts to begin with, and when stated honestly boils down to the argument: “If you accept the Bible as factual, how can you deny the fact of Jesus’ resurrection?”

This is not the minimal facts argument. In fact, the minimal facts argument is done to AVOID such a statement. One can take a quite liberal approach to the Bible and still accept the minimal facts. This is simply a straw man on Fergusons’s part. Of course, if the facts are wrong, then they are wrong and that is problematic, but we will see if they are.

“This apologetic takes a variety of forms, but is most commonly represented in the following manner. Apologists claim that there are “four facts” about Jesus’ resurrection:

After his crucifixion Jesus was buried by Joseph of Arimathea in a tomb.
On the Sunday after the crucifixion, Jesus’ tomb was found empty by a group of his women followers.
On different occasions and under various circumstances different individuals and groups of people experienced appearances of Jesus alive from the dead.
The original disciples suddenly and sincerely came to believe that Jesus was risen from the dead despite their having every predisposition to the contrary.”

This is Craig’s list. It is not the approach of Habermas and Licona. For instance, Habermas and Licona do not use Joseph of Arimathea at all. In fact, they don’t even get to the gospels. Therefore, I will not be wasting my time dealing with any arguments concerning Joseph or the reliability of the gospels or anything along those lines.

“Apologists love to use the term “facts,” so that these issues are treated as non-negotiable [1]. Of course, where do we learn of the details of these “facts”? From ancient secular sources disinterested in proving a resurrection? Nope, from the New Testament, in the works of authors who had a religious agenda to spread belief in Jesus’ resurrection. I won’t dismiss the argument on the grounds of bias alone, however, and will further demonstrate how the first two “facts” are not facts at all, the third is poorly worded, and the fourth exaggerates and oversimplifies the early belief in the resurrection.”

The NT which is also in fact said to be the best source for the life of Jesus, even according to skeptics like Bart Ehrman. An exception to this could be found perhaps in John Dominic Crossan who uses sources like the Gospel of Peter and the Gospel of Thomas or in other scholars in the Jesus Seminar who give much weight to Q, which would in reality be found in the NT anyway, but even these would not dispute that the NT contains historical information.

Also, did these people have a bias? Yep. You bet. So did everyone else who wrote anything historical. There was no such thing as uninterested historical writing. Writing was not done just because someone wanted to write something. Ferguson writes about this because he cares about it. I write in response because I care about the topic.

Ferguson also says the first is not a fact. Again, so what? Even if it isn’t, the minimal facts approach is untouched. He also says the second is not a fact, which is interesting as well since this is the one minimal fact that Habermas himself says is not as well attested as the others. What about the third and fourth? Well we’ll see when we get there.

So let’s move on to the empty tomb. Ferguson thinks that dispatching with the claim about Joseph of Arimathea’s burial of Jesus deals with the empty tomb. No. It would just mean one account of the burial was wrong. It would not mean that there was no burial and thus no empty tomb.

Ferguson writes about the women being at the tomb and how the argument is they were not allowed to testify in a court of law and due to the criterion of embarrassment, the gospel writers would not make up such an account. The problem is that this is irrelevant to the minimal facts approach. The minimal facts approach does not deal with women coming to the tomb. It simply deals with the reality of the tomb. We could come here for extra evidence if need be, but it is not necessary.

Therefore, after giving an explanation for why he thinks the writers would use women based largely on MacDonald’s thesis of Mark basing his work on Homer, Ferguson thinks he’s disproven the empty tomb. Not at all. The basis for the empty tomb in the minimal facts approach is 1 Cor. 15. There, we find that Christ was buried and that Christ was raised. The raising would mean that there was an empty tomb left behind. A Jew would not accept the fact of a resurrection that left behind a body. Resurrection was bodily.

So therefore, I do not see fact two dealt with according to the methodology of the minimal facts approach. Let’s look at what he says about point three, the appearances.

““Fact three” of this apologetic is poorly worded, but this one does have a kernel of historical truth. I don’t think any skeptic denies that the early Christians claimed to have experiences of Jesus risen from the dead.”

Ferguson claims that we have such stories today and there were claims of post-mortem appearances in the ancient world. Fair enough. In fact, I could grant some of them, but do we have any claims of other people in the ancient world being raised to life, especially in the Greco-Roman culture where they were clear that resurrection did not happen?

Ferguson goes on to say that

“Do we have anything better? Well, we do have the apostle Paul, who wasn’t an eye-witness of Jesus, but who claims to have had a vision of him. Paul (2 Corinthians 12:2-4) elsewhere claims that he was once raptured up to “third heaven” in a experience that is very similar to the ones told by crazed street preacher, Clarence “Bro” Cope, who likewise claims to have been raptured to heaven twice and to have had Jesus appear to him. Are we to trust the testimony of people who for all purposes appear to be schizophrenic?”

It is hardly a fair comparison to compare Paul to Clarence “Bro” Cope, and the link that Ferguson has is in a post loaded with argument from outrage. Even if this had been a hallucination on Paul’s part, that does not equate to him being schizophrenic. Ferguson should leave such psychological judgments to those who do study history.

Should we trust Paul as well? NT critics seem to think so! Paul is quite well accepted. I don’t know any NT scholar who looks at what Paul says and says “Paul was crazy! Therefore we don’t need to deal with what he says.” Paul shows himself to be a learned man, a scholar of his day, and someone we should take seriously. Is Ferguson also allowing his bias (What he condemns in others) to interpret the facts to say that this did not happen? Note that in 1 Cor. 15, this is not described as a vision but put alongside appearances to Peter, James, the twelve, and five hundred.

What Ferguson wants us to think then is that all these people conveniently had the same hallucinations, that a rare event like a mass hallucination (Something Licona and Habermas have both dealt with) happened (It can even be disputed that one has happened), that it was a resurrection they thought they saw and that they did not instead see Jesus in Abraham’s bosom vindicated, and this still would not answer the question of where the body was anyway!

Ferguson continues,

“Paul’s testimony is useful, however, since Paul is writing only a couple decades after Jesus and he claims to have known Peter and other eye-witnesses of Jesus. What does Paul relate in 1 Corinthians 15? Nothing about an empty tomb being discovered by women. It is not even clear that Paul believed Jesus had physically resurrected in the same body rather than a spiritual one [4]. Paul instead reports that Jesus ὤφθη (“appeared to him”). This is the passive form of the verb ὁράω (“to see”), which very often means “to be seen in visions.”

To begin with, even Dale Martin in “The Corinthian Body” argues that the body Paul speaks of was physical. The idea that spiritual was opposed to physical was put to the test best by Licona who examined the word translated as physical by translations such as the RSV. He looked at every instance of the word from the 8th century B.C. to the 3rd century A.D. Not once was it translated “physical.” Spiritual would in fact mean something along the lines of “animated by the spirit.”

Furthermore, Licona says about ὤφθη in its Pauline usage in “The Resurrection of Jesus” that there are 29 usages of it by Paul in the NT. 16 refer to physical sight, 12 have the meaning of behold, understand, etc. Only one refers to a vision. However, this is still a problem in that the creed is not Pauline language really but language Paul got from elsewhere.

Where can we go to see? We can consider Luke. Luke uses the word to describe Jesus’s body appearing and Jesus eating food. One could say that this did not happen, but Luke believes that it did and Luke believes in a bodily resurrection. He uses the language of something that can be seen with the eyes. If Paul also agrees that resurrection is what happens to a corpse, then it’s reasonable to say that he thinks these appearances were of a body that had been a corpse and resurrected and thus, physical. One can say Paul is wrong, but let us be clear on what he means.

“Paul, who describes his own visions of Jesus in no physical terms at all (e.g. Galatians 1:15-16) likewise uses the same vocabulary to describe the early disciples’ visions of Jesus. Accordingly, the early post-mortem sightings of Jesus could have been little more than hallucinations and visionary experiences, perfectly explicable in natural terms. This would not at all be surprising for an early apocalyptic cult, in light of of the psychological conditions we observe of cult members today.”

The translation of Galatians 1 this way might be appealing to some in the Carrier type school of thought, but it is problematic still. For one thing, the wording in Galatians is highly ambiguous and most likely will be driven by one’s view of the resurrection. It is not wise to build a case on an ambiguous passage.

These could have been hallucinations? Okay. I need to see evidence of that. Why would the apostles have come up with this? It would have been the most easily disprovable theory and ended up costing them everything, especially in the society of the time where they would have received ostracism and of course, be going against the covenant of YHWH which means they would face His judgment. Paul himself would be in no position to have such an experience. He was a persecutor of the church and the conversion accounts in Acts include objective phenomena which means that this was not something that just took place in Paul’s mind.

It will not work to just say “This case is a cult that has hallucinations, therefore another case is like that.” We need to examine what makes the groups different. In Christianity, the differences are vast in comparison to other movements.

“Stories, of course, change over time, which is why the later Gospel accounts describe the post-mortem appearances in more physical terms. Consider a diachronic analaysis of how the resurrection stories developed over time:

Paul, the earliest source, has no empty tomb and just “appearances” of Jesus.
Mark, half a century later, then has an empty tomb.
Matthew, after him, then has guards at the tomb to confirm it was empty.
Luke then has a Jesus who can teleport and is at first not recognizable to his followers.
Finally, John has Thomas be able to touch Jesus’ wounds.
If you go later into the Gospel of Peter, Jesus emerges as a giant from the tomb with giant angels accompanying him.”

As has been argued earlier, for Paul to have buried and then resurrection would mean that there was an empty tomb left behind. If that is the case, one could then say Mark downplayed what happened with Paul as he left out the appearances! Furthermore, a writer like Hurtado has written showing the earliest view of Jesus would have been him seen as the Lord. Hard to go up from that one!

Now we move on to the fourth fact.

“First off, the ancient Jews and the people around the wider Mediterranean did not have carbon copy beliefs. There were all sorts of strange religions and new beliefs floating around the region at the time. Often times new religions are started by deviating from previous expectations towards new and radical ones. This certainly has a higher probability for explaining the origins of Christianity than a magical resurrection.”

Ferguson is writing against the idea that Christians would have a crucified messiah as their savior. To be sure, there were new beliefs floating around. How having a more radical belief is more probable than a resurrection has not been shown. The term magical is just a bit of well poisoning on Ferguson’s part. Magic in the ancient world does not correspond to what we have in the resurrection.

“But belief in the resurrection need not even be unlikely. Kris Komarnitksy has written an excellent article about how “Cognitive Dissonance Theory” can explain the early Christian belief in the resurrection. This theory observes that among religious groups and cults, when something occurs that violates the adherents’ previous expectations and beliefs, rather than abandon their cherished religious beliefs, they instead invent new and radical ad hoc assumptions to rationalize the alarming information. Just look at liberal Christians today who are “evolution-friendly” and think that Christianity is compatible with Darwin’s theory, after thousands of years of Christianity teaching Six Day Creation and a century and a half of Christians battling evolutionary science. Rather than drop their warm and comforting beliefs about their religion, they merely invent new stories to explain away how utterly discredited it has been.”

Let’s look at the first part. Why should I be held accountable for what Christians did for a century and a half. I am not a theistic evolutionist, but I have no problem with evolution. I just leave it to the sciences. I could not argue for it. I could not argue against it. Furthermore, Ferguson does not realize that there have been a wide variety of accounts of the age of the Earth in church history. This was the case even before the rise of the information we have today.

In fact, if this is what counts for a liberal Christian, then Ferguson has discounted his own theory that believing in the minimal facts requires you be a conservative fundamentalist since I believe in the minimal facts and I have no problem with evolution and hold to an old Earth.

Cognitive dissonance does occur, but should I think it has here? In every single case in ancient history that I know of, when the would-be Messiah died, the movement died. Why was Jesus’s case different? Why again did they go the hard way with a physical resurrection? Why not just divine vindication? Why would Paul and James have converted? Paul was a persecutor. James was a skeptic. What would it take to make you convinced your dead brother was really the Messiah?

“So the early Christians, when their Messiah was crucified, instead of abandoning their faith, rationalized the story through ad hoc assumptions. “Perhaps Jesus had only temporarily died!” “Maybe he will return soon from Heaven and avenge his death!” Such rationalizations could have easily triggered some of the mentally unstable cult members to start having hallucinations and visionary experiences of Jesus. They could tell others, who would then have a prior expectation that triggers similar visions or who would simply delude themselves through placebo effects, and suddenly a new rumor starts circulating that Jesus has been raised from the dead as the “first fruits of the resurrection.” The cult regains its confidence with a new expectation: “Soon all the saints will resurrect!” “Soon Jesus will return in this very generation!” (cf. Mark 13:28-30; 1 John 2:18) tick tock tick tock … “Okay, well maybe we have to wait for a couple new signs, but then he will return!” (cf. 2 Thessalonians 2:1-4) tick tock tick tock … And so every generation of Christians has had its expectations reversed and yet believers just keep inventing new ad hoc assumptions to rationalize a worldview that has consistently and repeatedly failed to deliver.”

This part is quite amusing for me since, as an orthodox Preterist, I do hold that Jesus’s coming did take place within a generation! Jesus was right on time! Yet Ferguson’s account relies on possibility after possibility and doesn’t explain more likely options nor does it explain what really happened to the body. Was it eaten by dogs as Crossan says? We’d need an argument for that. Why would Paul and James go for this placebo effect? What did they have to gain from it? This relies on simply psychological history, something that is laden with problems. It’s hard enough to do psychoanalysis when you have the patient right there and can ask him questions. It’s even harder to do it for ancient people.

“Furthermore, thinking that their Messiah had only temporarily suffered, but would soon return in an apocalypse is not even that odd of a new development. Historical Jesus studies have found that Jesus was most likely an apocalyptic prophet teaching that a new “Kingdom of God” would soon come about through divine intervention, but that the righteous for the present would have to endure hardships and wait for their future reward. Sure, if Jesus had been a military Messiah, then faith in him probably would have dissipated following his crucifixion. But Jesus was talking about suffering followed by divine intervention in the first place. Is it really that hard to create an ad hoc assumption that Jesus had only been crucified because of temporary suffering, but that he would be returning soon as the agent carrying out the divine intervention they were awaiting? Not at all. Of course, the divine intervention never happened, but it does explain how belief in the resurrection could emerge through cognitive dissonance, visions, and hallucinations, followed by later legendary developments of a physically resurrected Messiah interacting with his followers.”

Once again, as a Preterist, I say that yes, the divine intervention did happen and is in fact happening. Ferguson reads the Olivet Discourse I suspect the way that a conservative fundamentalist does. You remember them? Those are the people that were condemned earlier. Again, why would this belief have been invented? If anything, it would have most likely been a belief that Jesus would judge Rome as Israel hoped. It would not be that Jesus would judge Jerusalem, the holy city!

And of course, the apostles had nothing to gain from this! They received ostracism and were social pariahs. Paul describes what he had to gain from all of this in 2 Cor. 11. James we know was put to death for what he believed.

In his conclusion, Ferguson says

“The ironic thing about apologetic attempts to “prove” the resurrection is that if god really existed, we would not have to rely on such a fantastical historical quest to prove it. God could just provide miracles today making it clear that he exists and he could tell us that Christianity is the correct religion.”

This is more along the lines of “God must do my work for me.” If Keener is right, God is doing miracles today. Furthermore, much of this has been dealt with in my writing recently on the argument from locality, an argument I find full of problems. See here.

Looking at this from Ferguson, again the question is “Is Ferguson’s worldview shaping the evidence or is the evidence shaping his worldview?” This is an indication that it is the former that is taking place.

Of course, it is not surprising since Ferguson did not even get Habermas’s approach correct. Perhaps he will do better next time.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

A Response to El Nimir

Why do I find Muslim apologetics so problematic? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

I’d also like to remind readers of this blog that tomorrow, I will be hosting Nabeel Qureshi, a Muslim turned Christian, on the Deeper Waters Podcast.

A response to Tark El Nimir

Recently, Muslim Apologist Tark El Nimir has challenged Christian apologist Mike Licona on his Facebook page. Licona is a busy fellow and seeing as I’m his son-in-law and seek to help him out, I figured I’d take up the keyboard and draft a response to El Nimir. His article can be found here.

El Nimir: “Making his case, Michael Licona quoted many historical records, he favoured, the early christians[sic.] knowing well that such records held many discrepancies. Now seeing as the Quran is not a historical document or book, it presents a more factual approach to who Jesus or the prophets was. Michael licona’s[sic.] argument is purely on historic and miraculous evidence that ONLY Christians support. Makes one wonder where Divinity and History agree?”

Reply: Blech! Something’s wrong! The water here tastes nasty! Yes. El Nimir has brought in a well-poisoning at the start saying that the accounts contain discrepancies. Here’s what we are not told about that.

Are the accounts hopelessly contradictory? No answer to that. El Nimir could ask any police detective who has to deal with eyewitness testimony and he’d find out that every case with eyewitness testimony has discrepancies. That does not automatically equal contradictions. Sometimes they can be harmonized. Sometimes, some accounts will contain some errors, but it doesn’t mean the whole is in error.

Are there any attempts to deal with any supposed contradictions? We are not told this as well. We are just given a blanket statement. If El Nimir were really interested in such ideas, he could pick up numerous scholarly commentaries and see the responses that have been given. Some responses are good. Some are not. That is just part of research.

Are the accounts totally unreliable? We are not told that and if we were told an account must be perfect or it has no reliability whatsoever, then we would be in a world of hurt with ancient history. For instance, if the accounts are totally unreliable, should we hold to a Christ-myth position?

For those wondering what we would do, then we just say we do historical study, like we would with any other ancient work. Licona’s position depends on treating the Bible not as the Inerrant Word of God, but as a historical document making claims about Jesus.

Furthermore, Licona’s argument is not based on claims ONLY Christians support. If this were the case, then I could just as well ask El Nimir what other historians besides Islamic ones accept the claim that the angel Gabriel spoke to Muhammad? Licona’s minimal facts are those that can be attested to by non-Christian scholars. El Nimir can attest to this simply by reading such scholars. The difference between Licona and a non-Christian like Crossan, Martin, or Ehrman, is not largely the facts but rather the interpretation.

El Nimir: “He quotes Mark 14: 61-64, which he believed to be the divine word spoken by Jesus himself. In this passage, Jesus said “…you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power (In Greek-δυνάμεως)…” Why did Jesus choose to say “the right hand of “Power”, and not “God” Himself?”

Reply: This is simply wrong. It’s a circumlocution done out of respect to God, much like Kingdom of Heaven. He’s pointing to judgment motif found in Daniel 7 and the Son will be sitting at the right hand of God when God judges the people who have rejected Jesus. Mike has more information on this passage here.

El Nimir: “Semantically there is a great difference between the two statements. Most importantly, Jesus did not identify God as the divine being, but referred instead to the attribute of God’s Power. It is important to make this distinction because of God’s existence separate to His creation, while His power manifests within all of His creation. In other words, Jesus’ words may be understood as referring to him being supported [within the creation] through God’s power.”

Reply: You would be hard-pressed to find a commentary even by a non-Christian making such a claim. I would argue not only is God’s power manifest in creation, but every attribute He has is. Still, Jesus did identify God as the divine being and every Jew present knew it.

El Nimir: “Jesus clearly indicates in the following passage that his return would be to the Father, who is the shared God of both himself and his disciples: “I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God. John 20:17” It is interesting Jesus thrones “God” but he himself in this passage does not make a distinction between his position or his disciples in relation to the divine “God” yet there is the element he is equal to them nature.”[sic]

Reply: What this has to do with the prior passage, I do not know. El Nimir says Jesus does not make a distinction. If that is the case, then he should have said “Our God.” He never does. Jesus was instead showing that the relationship had been extended. What Jesus had naturally, which came first, they now had by identifying with Him.

El Nimir: “Jesus is Not the Savior of Mankind?
One may be confused to learn that Jesus said “I was sent ONLY to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” Matthew 15:24RSV. Jesus’ Gospel is now ‘undestood’ [sic] to be for all of mankind since Jesus also said: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations” Matthew 28:19. But that is NOT what Jesus really meant!!”

Reply: No. It’s not shocking unless one is completely unfamiliar with the biblical story. God’s first place to go to was always Israel and through Israel He would reach everyone else. When He came offering the news of the restoration of the covenant, the first to receive the offer was Israel.

El Nimir: “SHOCKINGLY the same verse in the original Greek gospel included the Greek word “τὰ -THE” before the word “nations” as seen HERE. The use of the word “THE” makes these nations specifically targeted as opposed to a general usage, meaning specifically the Twelve tribes of Israel. Yet the word “THE” remains absent in all Bibles, so that the Bible reader will understand making disciples is generally for all nations.”

Reply: This argument is beyond ridiculous. The word the is not always translated in a text as the can be put in for emphasis. Translators do this not to show a conspiracy of some sort, but to make the reading more fluid. Even if there was a “the” in that passage, that is meant to show that it means only Israel? One does not get that impression in Acts 1:8 which is a parallel.

El Nimir assumes that if the article is there, it must be expressed. If that is the case, what happens in a passage like Acts 5:38? If translated that way, it would start “And the now.” No one would think that’s legitimate. Instead, the article there is for emphasis. That is not always the case of course, but it is enough to demonstrate El Nimir does not know what he is talking about.

Consider also if I went to speak at a school and in order to gather the students together, the principal goes on the intercom and says “All students report to the gymnasium.” I go home and talk to my wife Allie later and say “And then, all the students came to the gymnasium. Would anyone say my inclusion of “the” changed the meaning?

El Nimir: “AMAZINGLY, the Bible translators repeated the same error in all verses that ‘says’ [sic] ‘“all THE nation”’ [sic] as in Matthew 24:14RSV “and this gospel of the kingdom will be preached throughout the whole world, as a testimony to all nations”. see the proof HERE .”

Reply: Apparently, it doesn’t take much to amaze El Nimir. He ignores the fact that the message will be preached to the whole world. Apparently, Jesus must have had a small concept of the world. The word used refers to the Roman Empire. Last I checked, the Roman Empire consisted of other places besides Israel.

El Nimir: “When Jesus uses the phrase “the world” he means the world he was ‘send'[sic] to, which was that of the Children of Israel. ‘why,’ [sic] because he said “For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”John 6:33.NIV. We all know the bread here is the revelation of Jesus, for he made it very clear that his revelation was indeed for the children of Israel only when he said: “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs.” Matthew 15:26.”

Reply: El Nimir begs the question here. Jesus’s first message was to the Jews, but if we go to Matthew 15, the passage El Nimir reports to, and even the account he mentions, Jesus provides deliverance for a Gentile woman!

Going to a source like BlueLetterBible, we find the following definitions for the Greek word used for “world”

1) the inhabited earth
a) the portion of the earth inhabited by the Greeks, in distinction from the lands of the barbarians
b) the Roman empire, all the subjects of the empire
c) the whole inhabited earth, the world
d) the inhabitants of the earth, men
2) the universe, the world
Not one matches what El Nimir says.

El Nimir: The Mystery of Jesus’ Two Natures?
“Michael argued the ‘christian’ [sic] perspective of Jesus having “two natures” – the first being his divine nature, and the second his human nature. However, Jesus’ words clearly contradict this perspective. Jesus said: “God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.” John 4:24 Since Jesus identified God as a spirit, one must also note the definition of a spirit, which Jesus described thusly “a spirit does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have” Luke 24:39.”

Reply: El Nimir is missing the point that Jesus is talking about God in His essential nature saying God cannot be bound totally to a single place. Not even the doctrine of the incarnation disagrees with this as no one says God the Son was limited to the body of Jesus. In His deity, He still had omnipresence. That deity chose to be manifest in the body of Jesus, just like the cloud filling the temple in 1 Kings 8 does not mean that God was not omnipresent everywhere else. Even when the glory leaves the temple in Ezekiel, it does not mean God is in no sense present or His omnipresence has ceased to be.

Jesus’s point is that He is not just a spirit, but that He is fully human as well. There would be no contradiction between Jesus having an immaterial aspect to Him, such as a second nature, and still being fully human.

El Nimir: “By speaking in ‘semetic’ [sic] parables Jesus became one of the most misunderstood men who spoke in the bible, In order to understand the ‘semetic’ [sic] Jesus one needs to understand what ‘jesus’ [sic] meant when he used the phrases “I” or “I AM”. For Jesus said “I AM the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.John 14:6”

Reply: That’s “Semitic.” I really want to question El Nimir’s judgment when he doesn’t even spell the terms rightly. However, his statement does not speak well of the apostles but rather of Christ. Was Christ such a terrible teacher that He couldn’t get his closest companions to get the message right?

El Nimir: “How can one come to the Father ‘thourgh’ [sic] Jesus? Yet Jesus also said “The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life.” John 6:63.Since Jesus’ flesh is not the way, then it’s the spirit. But how?”

Reply: One wonders what is going on with this kind of hopscotch interpretation where you assume one word means the same thing in every context. The message Jesus is giving is that trust in Him and total reliance on Him is the way to salvation. One must stake everything on Jesus.

El Nimir: “Jesus said “I AM the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. John 6:51” Obviously no one actually ate Jesus, so it is clear that he was speaking metaphorically meaning the “living bread” as his divine message. Yet Jesus said “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs.” Matthew 15:26. Obviously “the children” here are the children of Israel, and the “bread” is Jesus’ divine message. In other words “I AM the living bread” means I AM the heavenly words that come down from God.”

Reply: The bread in Matthew 15 is the divine message, but not in John 6. In John 6, Jesus is contrasting Himself with the bread that came down from Heaven in the time of Moses and saying that He must be the sustenance of the people. Let’s suppose that bread means divine message. Well let’s go through the gospels and see some other places then.

Matthew 4:3-4And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of divine message.”
But he answered, “It is written, “‘Man shall not live by divine message alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
Matthew 12:4 how he entered the house of God and ate the divine message of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him to eat nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests?
Matthew 15:33 And the disciples said to him, “Where are we to get enough divine message in such a desolate place to feed so great a crowd?”
Matthew 26:17 Now on the first day of Unleavened divine message the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Where will you have us prepare for you to eat the Passover?”
Mark 6:8 He charged them to take nothing for their journey except a staff—no divine message, no bag, no money in their belts—
Mark 8:14 Now they had forgotten to bring divine message, and they had only one loaf with them in the boat.
Luke 7:33 For John the Baptist has come eating no divine message and drinking no wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’
Luke 15:17 “But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough divine message, but I perish here with hunger!
John 13:30 So, after receiving the morsel of divine message, he immediately went out. And it was night.
John 21:9 When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire in place, with fish laid out on it, and divine message.

If we apply El Nimir’s standard across the board, it leads to absurdity.

El Nimir: Michael’s views of the Quranic Jesus?

“The biblical verses concerned with preserving Mary’s honor after becoming pregnant out of wedlock can be found in the gospel of Matthew 1:18 “Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. 20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.”

I get it; the scribes are saying God revealed through His angel that Joseph should take Mary in marriage so they can tell people that Jesus is Joseph’s biological son. Isn’t this misleading?”

Reply: No. No one is saying Jesus is Joseph’s biological son in the text. They are saying he is Joseph’s legal son. The only way it would be misleading is if the text said Joseph was the biological father. For all intents and purposes, Joseph served as Jesus’s father on Earth, but it was not by biology.

El Nimir: ” ‘I’m asking?.'[sic] Is God so weak that he needs another man to defend Mary’s honor by dishonorable means?”

Reply: This is not a statement about God’s weakness. This is just a statement that God thinks His Son should be raised on Earth by a mother and a father. You’d think that with the Islamic stance against homosexuality, which I do hold to the Christian view on marriage of course, they’d be right there saying a child is best raised by a mother and a father. Strange El Nimir seems to not think of that.

Also, if Mary was doing this for honor, a virgin birth is the last thing she would have said. That would be seen as blasphemy as well. I recommend El Nimir read David Instone-Brewer’s “The Jesus Scandals.”

El Nimir: “Or is God so powerful that he can make a day old child speak in her defense?.”

Reply: He could, but did He? Saying what someone can do is not the same as saying what they did do. By this stance, I could charge El Nimir with any crime committed in his area by saying “Well he could have done it.” Who cares about evidence?

El Nimir: “Furthermore it is surprising how Michael failed to see the miraculous speech of Jesus in the Quran, Or is it that he is blinded by the misleading version of the Bible scribes in Matthew chapter one.”

Reply: Why should one accept the Quranic testimony seeing as it is 600+ years late? Of course, the claim is possible. It’s certainly possible baby Jesus could have spoken, but is it probable? Is there enough evidence from the time to show it? There isn’t.

El Nimir: The Quran is Not Divine Because?
“Micheal said ” What we have of the Quran… is a book that is written 600 Yrs after Jesus …in a different country…culture …language. However the crisis of Biblical misunderstanding started when the New Testament was written in Greek while Jesus delivered his message in Aramaic and Hebrew.”

Reply: How this is a crisis, we are not told. Does El Nimir think professional scribes were so dumb that they could not translate Aramaic or Hebrew into Greek?

El Nimir: “Astonishingly the Bible scribes claimed that Jesus told them, he was to come in their lifetime by stating “according to the Lord’s own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. for the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with …call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.” 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17. (Matthew 10:23 Mark 9:1, Luke 9:27, John 21:22, Matthew 16:28).”

Reply: I can’t help but laugh at these kinds of references since my position is that of an orthodox Preterist that says “Yes. Jesus did come in the lifetime of his disciples like He said He would.” Note that none of those passages aside from 1 Thess. Describes a resurrection. As for 1 Thess., no. That hasn’t happened yet, but the we used is an editorial we. Paul did not know when the time would be so he just used we.

El Nimir: “Shockingly this is the one point where all of the New Testament writers agreed (they will not die physically).”

Reply: Does this include Paul in 2 Timothy who says his life is about to be poured out like a drink offering, a reference to his coming death? How about the prophecy of Peter’s death in John 21?

El Nimir: “For that was the reason they never wrote about the experiences of death,”

Reply: Let me take a shot at this. Could it be because the gospel is about the work of Jesus and not the work of the apostles? Could it also be because maybe when the NT books were written, the apostles hadn’t died yet? Note that James however, one of the twelve, had died in Acts 12.

El Nimir: “why should they, when they all agreed they will meet the Lord Jesus in the air and be with him forever. In truth they all died and -2000- years later we’re asking ‘where is the Lord?’ [sic] Amazingly the Divine answer always stated “If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the lord does not take place or come true,that is a message the lord has not spoken” Deut.18:22.”

Reply: Only if we accept El Nimir’s bizarre chronology. For those of us who know how to read apocalyptic texts and recognize when such imagery is not literal, this is not a problem. Perhaps El Nimir should spend time reading real Bible scholars like N.T. Wright.

El Nimir: ” ‘Micheal’ [sic] is not following Jesus but instead he is preaching the false doctrine of Paul who admitted himself to have the blood of the early Christians in his hands by stating “I persecuted the followers of this Way to their death, arresting both men and women and throwing them into prison.” Acts 22:4. Yet God told prophet David “You are not to build a house for my Name, because you are a warrior and have shed blood.” 1 Chronicles 28:3.”

Reply: Which would apply just fine to Paul if He had been claiming to build a temple. He wasn’t. In fact, he also wasn’t a king, another way it doesn’t apply to him. We might as well say Peter could not have been an apostle as well since he cut Malthus’s ear, which would be shedding blood.

El Nimir: “Paul saw a light falling from heaven when he saw what he thought to be Jesus.”

Reply: Nowhere do I know where Jesus is described as a falling light in the Pauline conversion stories.

El Nimir: “Yet only one time in the Bible Jesus mentioned a “light falling from heaven” saying “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven” Luke 10:18. It’s very simple Dr. Micheal, Just take out Paul’s letters, the book of Acts and the Scribes error or editions, then we are left with the Bible most clear prophecy and Jesus own words, that the seal of prophets is to come from the descendents of Ishmael as I gave the irrefutable proof in my Bibical study here

Reply: It would be nice if El Nimir gave any real sources on textual criticism of the Bible to show that the accounts have been altered to the degree he thinks they have been. In fact, if he is suspicious, I have some quotes from him by a Bible scholar on this topic.

“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. Link here”

“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. (The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings 3rd ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003), 481.”
Who is this Bible scholar? If you clicked the first link, you’d know it was none other than Dr. Bart Ehrman himself, a practical patron saint amongst Muslim apologists.
The essay here is yet another example of why I find it so hard to take Muslim apologists seriously at all. We hope next time there will be real arguments and not Biblical hopscotch.