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: Buried Hope Or Risen Savior?

What do I think of this book edited by Charles Quarles and published by B&H Academic? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

For the most part, the Talpoit Tomb theory that this book is dedicated to answering is done and gone. It was a flash in the pan that got the attention of sensationalists, but not the attention of the leading scholars. Unfortunately, it also shows that this is where we’re at. On both sides of the aisle, people want to go to the press immediately with a “finding” that they have and present themselves as a scholar even if they’re not (Joseph Atwill anyone?) and not let their work be peer-reviewed and tested. So it was with Talpoit with the only scholar I know of coming to its defense being James Tabor.

Still, that doesn’t mean we can’t learn something from a work like this even if the theory it’s meant to debunk has already been thoroughly debunked. Charles Quarles has put together an elite team to deal with specific questions of the tomb theory. The first one is Steven Ortiz. In his chapter, he deals with how archaeology is done. It really isn’t done the same way Indiana Jones does it. It actually can be described as a rather mundane practice in many ways, though the conclusions are no doubt fascinating. Ortiz also recommends that findings be kept in their historical context and be subject to peer review.

Craig Evans gives a look on burial in the time of Jesus. His writing is mainly about the use of ossuaries which were boxes the bones of the loved ones were kept in. He points out that Jesus was indeed given a proper burial, but it sure wasn’t an honorable one. This is an important fact to point out as it increases the likelihood of the accuracy of the burial narratives. A shameful burial would not be made up.

Another issue with the ossuaries is the names on them. Who better to deal with this from the Christian side than Richard Bauckham? He goes into detail on studies of names in the time of Jesus and how common the names on the boxes would be. The problem is this chapter can get very technical and it’s easy to get lost in.

By far, the most technical chapter is the next one by William Dembski and Robert  J. Marks II. Those names might seem out of place in a book on the NT, but they’re there because they’re dealing with the probability claim as one statistician said the odds are 1 in 600 that the Talpoit Tomb is NOT the tomb of Jesus. Dembski and Marks look at this claim and apply their own mathematical approach that argues otherwise. This is the most technical chapter in the book and you would need a good knowledge of probability theory I think to understand it.

Gary Habermas comes next and gives us the basic case for the resurrection of Jesus and how Talpoit fails to explain the data that we have. Of course, he’s not saying Talpoit is wrong because Jesus rose from the dead. He’s saying it’s wrong because we have data agreed to by NT scholars that Talpoit is not capable of explaining.

But would it matter even if it was the burial place of Jesus? Couldn’t Jesus just have risen spiritually and we would all be fine even if His bones were found? Mike Licona takes this one arguing that a spiritual resurrection is not allowed when we look at the writings of Paul, our earliest source on the resurrection.

Finally, Darrell Bock wraps it all up as he reviews every chapter and tells us what he thinks we should learn from them. The read overall is not a lengthy one, but it will be an informative one. Even though the theory as I said is discarded for the most part now, we can look at something like this as a way of knowing how to examine such theories and learn something about the relevant fields in the meanwhile.

The tomb theory is done and gone, but the information in response lives on. Such is the way things seem to go. That which is meant to be a death knell to Christianity usually shows itself to make that which it wants to destroy even stronger.

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 10/22/2016: Gary Habermas and Mike Licona

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

Yes. The new podcasts are coming. We had a problem with sound for awhile and we’re working on increasing the volume, but I think we might have it fixed now. Please just be patient with me. I’m trying to do what I can.

The resurrection is the central aspect of Christianity. It is definitely one of the most questioned. Are there answers to those questions? For this, I have not one, but two guests on to talk about the resurrection. I gathered questions through people on Facebook and have presented them to my guests. They have no knowledge of the questions in advance.

So who are the guests?

Gary Habermas and Mike Licona both together. Who are they?

Let’s start with Gary Habermas.

Habermaspic

Gary Habermas (Ph.D., Michigan State University) is Distinguished Research Professor and Chair of the Department of Philosophy at Liberty University. He has published 40 books, half of them on the subject of Jesus’ resurrection, plus more than seventy chapters or articles in other books, plus over 100 articles for journals and other publications. He has also taught courses at about 15 other graduate schools.

And for Mike Licona:

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 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 going through your questions on the resurrection. What are they? That’s what you’ll need to listen to the show to find out because I’m not telling on any of it. When I say my guests are going to not know the questions at all before the debate, I mean it. In the end, I think you’ll be pleased with the results. My goal in this is to not only demonstrate that the questions can be answered, and indeed they can be, but also show that if you study the issue well, you can see how it is possible to answer questions when you don’t have advance knowledge of them.

I look forward to your responses to this program. Please consider going to ITunes as well and leaving a positive review of the Deeper Waters Podcast. I really love to see them.

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

What Is The Gospel?

When we speak about the Gospel, what are we talking about? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Recently, someone alerted me to something that was said on James White’s Facebook page which is the following:

Without using Google, who said the following, providing a classic example of what I call the “Mere Christianity” movement, which defines the faith *apart from* the Gospel itself:

While I’m an evangelical by choice, I recognize one does not need to be an evangelical to be a Christian. If one embraces the essentials of the Christian faith, I’m happy to call that person my brother or sister and work alongside them in ministry, whether they are Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox, or whatever.

For some fun, I sent it to a few people that I know to see what they thought also. One of those people was Mike Licona. He told me that he read the statement and found that he agreed with it.

Which is good since he’s the one who made it.

I, however, will stay that I stand by that statement. There are a number of us who have supported Mike with what he went through with the accusations that he was denying inerrancy. In this number are Protestants, Catholics, and Orthodox. I have some of each on my Facebook friends list. I would have no problem having guests of either persuasion on my show and in fact I do know I have had Catholics on there before. All of these people I see as my brothers and sisters in Christ.

Now do I think they’re off on some doctrines? Yep. You bet. You know who else is? Most everyone I know. In fact, I’m off on some doctrines. Why do I hold to them then? Because I don’t know what they are! I just know that the field of Christianity is a complex field and it would be quite arrogant of me to think I’m the one person who got everything right.

But let’s look at this charge. What is this with defining faith apart from the Gospel itself. As I told my wife that evening, I think too often we misunderstand the Gospel. We think the Gospel is justification by faith. It’s not. I do not deny justification by faith, but justification by faith is I think a response to the Gospel and not the Gospel itself.

In a book I recently reviewed called One Gospel For All Nationsbiblical scholar Jackson Wu presents a viewpoint from China on how different cultures see different things in the Bible. Of course, this doesn’t change what the Bible says, but we all have a danger of reading our culture into the Bible. Consider a passage like Romans 7 with the supposed autobiography of Paul. We all read that as if it is Paul describing what we go through, but it isn’t. Most scholars agree this is not autobiographical and is more a speech in character. If we go this route in fact, we could be putting us in that position and making us opposed to the good news in Romans 8 unintentionally.

Wu says that wherever the Gospel is mentioned, you find at least one of these three themes in the text. Those are creation, covenant, and Kingdom. The problem for most of us is we can go straight from Genesis 3 to the Romans Road and think all that stuff isn’t important. I think of what N.T. Wright said when he hears the creed that talks about Jesus “Born of the Virgin Mary”, and then “Suffered under Pontius Pilate.” Wright says he can picture the four Gospel writers in the background saying “We spent a lot of time on that stuff in the middle and we think it’s important.”

I find it odd then to think about defining faith apart from the Gospel itself. Perhaps we should hear what the Gospel is. Romans 1 for instance begins this way.

Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God— the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures regarding his Son, who as to his earthly life was a descendant of David, and who through the Spirit of holiness was appointed the Son of God in power by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord. Through him we received grace and apostleship to call all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith for his name’s sake. And you also are among those Gentiles who are called to belong to Jesus Christ.

Some commentators will think that the Gospel doesn’t really start until later around verse 16 or 17. This is false. It begins right here. What do we have? We have a descendant of David which points back to the covenant made with David. We then have the resurrection of Jesus by which Jesus was declared to the world to be the Son of God. Because of this, we have received grace.

If we make something like justification the Gospel, then really we have to ask “What is the point of Israel?” Does the Bible just have a lot of filler stuff in it? What is the point of Jesus teaching the Kingdom of God? Could it be that maybe He actually meant there was a Kingdom and He was the king?

So what is the purpose of justification then in all of this? It’s realizing that there is indeed a new king in town and He calls for your allegiance. Justification is admitting that God is in the right and you are in the wrong and submitting to the Lordship of Christ. In doing so, God welcomes you to His family. God then looks at you and pronounces you to be in the right.

So let’s look at the above list. Protestants. Catholics. Orthodox. Would these agree that God created the world and yet it fell into sin through our actions? Yep. Would they agree that God made covenants with Abraham, Israel, and David? Yep. Would they agree that God revealed Himself in Christ, the God-man, who physically rose from the dead? Yep. Would they agree that we should all submit to Jesus as Lord? Yep. (And would they all fall short still in that submission. Yep.)

With that, I have no problem calling any of them my brothers and sisters in Christ. I would have no problem working alongside them in ministry. If I minister to someone and he comes to Jesus and wants to be Orthodox or Roman Catholic, okay. I don’t have a problem with that. I would hope my Orthodox and Roman Catholic brothers would think likewise if he wanted to join the other community or be a Protestant after they evangelized him.

So if Mike Licona is in the wrong for being willing to see Christians outside of evangelicalism and to fellowship with Roman Catholics and Orthodox brothers and sisters, well I guess I’ll be in the wrong too. I just see us all as learning to submit to Jesus as Lord. Do we have some differences and can we discuss them? Yeah. We do and we can, but that should not stop us from doing the real Kingdom work together.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Thoughts on Risen

What do I think about this new movie? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

We’ve lately seen a slew of movies that are based on the Bible. Some of these have been good. Some have not been so good. (Noah and Exodus) The latest one to come out is a movie called Risen. Today, I went to see that one with the in-laws and my wife. All of us agreed that it was a good movie. (For those interested, Mike Licona’s endorsement since he was right next to me was “awesome.”)

My thoughts on it were a mix. I thought the movie was good in that it was good to see the resurrection being treated as a real event of history, which it is, and it’s good that a company like Sony is behind it. I also do think that it was largely respectful to the Biblical worldview. I cannot comment on the acting or matters like that. It’s hard to explain, but unless it’s just outright awful, I don’t really notice that.

Some people I know did not like the fact that Mary Magdalene was depicted as a prostitute. This indeed is an old myth that has been around for well over a thousand years but really has no historical credibility. Still, my other issues were more the fact that I think the film is something a Western audience would appreciate, but I did not find fit too well with the biblical culture.

For those who don’t know, the plot revolves around a Roman tribune who is told to investigate what has happened to Jesus since rumors are flying that he has been resurrected. The tribune approaches it much like the skeptic calling in anyone who says that Jesus is risen and finding out who told them that and trying to track down the disciples. I really do not want to go into it much beyond that because I really do want people to go and see the film.

One aspect that did not fit in was when Mary Magdalene comes in and is asked where Jesus is, she replies that the tribune should open his heart. This could be what we would say in a Western culture, but I can imagine it would be quite meaningless to an Eastern culture. We have a concept of looking within that is so basic to us that we miss the fact that this is really something unique in history and different from the majority world.

The main message was also said to be that we have eternal life. Now I think there is of course truth to that, but I think if we just make it eternal life, we miss a lot. (And it is odd to say that as eternal life is something grand in itself.) This is the problem that we have in our culture. We have a disconnect quite often. Why do we have eternal life because Jesus rose from the dead?

A Jew when asked what a difference it makes that Jesus is risen would likely speak about God having come to His people and the Kingdom being here at last. We miss a lot in our culture because we don’t know what difference it makes to say that Jesus is the Messiah and we don’t know what difference the story of Israel makes in all of this. We could often in our evangelism go straight from Genesis 3 to the resurrection of Jesus. All that stuff in the middle matters a great deal.

Still, the greatest challenge is the practical challenge. We today would say “If I saw that Jesus was risen, my life would never be the same.” The problem is so many of us have immense evidence that Jesus is who He said He was and did rise from the dead, but what change do we have? Everyone in Risen who came to believe spoke about what a great difference it made. Why is it that we in the modern Western church don’t seem to see that great difference?

So in conclusion, are there some matters to be worked on? Yeah. There still are, but this is still a film that we as Christians should be standing behind and supporting. We can want the perfect film, but if we keep shooting down films and not supporting them because they don’t reach such a high standard, it will easily stop filmmakers from even trying. Let’s encourage this one.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Changes For Deeper Waters

What’s happening at Deeper Waters? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

As many of you know, I spend a considerable amount of time in apologetics social media interactions. Mike Licona is expanding his social media outreach and as a part of that expansion, I will be assisting him. This will include responding to discussions in response to postings of his debates/lectures, etc Trust me. I have a few ideas for some things I’d like to consider and Mike and I are already discussing them. What else does this mean?

It means that Allie and I are moving.

On February 17th, we will be packing our bags and moving down to Atlanta. We already have an apartment complex waiting for us. It has a pool and a gym as well. Our apartment has a study for me and it also has a sunroom so I suspect I’ll be sitting there quite a bit when I want to get away from the computer and just reading my books or listening to a podcast. Allie is also hoping to help me get past my lifelong fear of the water eventually. That will take some time, but it is something we hope to see happening.

This means also that during that week, I do not plan on producing any blogs. I will be extremely busy after all. I also will not be doing a podcast that Saturday, but I hope to have things up and running again soon with the podcast. For those interested, we have also changed how we’re uploading the shows so we are actively working on getting the shows to go up on ITunes at this moment, but we have not stopped doing the podcast. Rest assured then that nothing will change with the podcast and I am going to be trying to get the best guests I can still.

We are also expecting a lot of good with Allie for this. There will be far better medical care in Atlanta and she will also be spending time at a horse farm seeing as she loves riding horses and it’s her dream to be able to ride again. I’m hoping the change will be really good for her. We’re also hoping more time with the immediate family close by will be good.

To get back to Mike and I, I’m also anticipating that we will be doing some apologetics events together and attending them as well, such as local Ratio Christi meetings and who knows where all it will end up? From an education perspective, as I am working on my Master’s, I’m hoping Mike will invest with me and the computer program that I will be using with the learning of Greek. Mike is quite the master at the language and I do want a teacher nearby so I can make sure I am not accidentally teaching myself nonsense that will be even harder to unlearn.

Please also do not stop donating to Risen Jesus if you are and do not stop donating to Deeper Waters. We both need your support. We are also working on getting a new domain name for Deeper Waters, including seeing if we can just buy DeeperWaters.com. Thank you all for your support and encouragement and please be praying for us in this endeavor.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

So You Want To Begin

How does one start in the field of apologetics? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Yesterday, I wrote about the importance of teaching youth. Since the talk I gave Sunday at the church was the first instance these kids have of being really introduced to apologetics, I thought “What if some of them do want to study more?” If you do, you’re in luck. In our day and age it’s never been easier to do such, but as I said in the talk, it will require work. There is no such thing as success without the effort put forward. So how do you begin?

If you just have the internet, you could start with apologetics web sites. Naturally, I think my blog is a great place to go to. Of course, I’m not the only site. There are two sites you can go to to get a great look at numerous other apologetics sites. One is the ministry of Brian Auten at Apologetics 315. Another site that you can go to is The Poached Egg. The reason I mention both of these is they are largely compendiums of other sites and resources and you can go and keep looking until your heart’s content.

Naturally, there are other web sites that are wonderful resources. There is Tektonics.org, which is the ministry of my ministry partner, J.P. Holding. My father-in-law, Mike Licona, has an excellent ministry built on defending the resurrection at Risen Jesus. William Lane Craig is known for his ministry of Reasonable Faith. There are many many more that you can find online.

While you’re online, you should probably connect with a group of apologists that you can interact with. One such place to go to is the Christian Apologetics Alliance on Facebook, which I am a member of. You will find people of all levels in apologetics there. You will find professionals who have been doing apologetics for years and you will find people who are just starting to learn the skill, like yourself.

As you browse online also, be skeptical of what you see. There are two great sources of misinformation. The first is YouTube. Unless you know the person who runs the channel well and have good reason to think they’re an authority, do not take them seriously. This includes Christians and non-Christians. The second is Wikipedia. Wikipedia is the place a lot of people begin, but I will advise you to avoid it like the plague. You have no idea who has edited that Wikipedia entry. There is no reason to think the gatekeepers at Wikipedia are skilled at all the information that is being put up on the site.

Online, you can also find great debates. One great site to go to for debates is Unbelievable? Justin Brierley does an excellent job of moderating the debates that take place and you can find a debate on most any topic that you’re interested in.

Yet one of the best resources you can find is your local library. Look for books published by good publishing houses. If you want to check on that, just go to the publishing house’s web site and see what they say. Of course, not all material that is good is published there, and I say this as one with some published Ebooks, but all things being equal, go with the works published by excellent firms. Try to look at the information about the author. You want to see if the author has a Ph.D. and in a relevant field.

Of course, there are exceptions to this as well. One such exception is that I’d encourage you to check out the writings of Lee Strobel. Strobel has several excellent “case” books and in these books, Strobel introduces you to the leading scholars in the field who he went out and interviewed for his book. This is popular apologetics done right and the excellent aspect of the books is that they will introduce you to other leading minds in the field so that you will know the next place to go.

Eventually, you’ll want to go out and debate some yourself and the internet is the easiest place to do it. Here’s the warning. As you start, you are going to get your tail kicked numerous times. It will happen. You will have to have others come and help defend you. That’s okay. No one starting out studying something like martial arts can expect to defeat all of their opponents. You are going to get stumped many many times. It will happen. You’re just learning. The goal is to use this to drive you in your studies all the more.

Another resource besides books you can also use is find excellent podcasts. (Again, I’m biased, but I do recommend mine.) ITunes University is a great resource you can go to for podcasts where you can listen to seminary courses online. If you’re out driving, it’s a great way to pass your time, as it can be to find courses at your library on CD such as Portable Professor or Modern Scholar.

One mistake many apologists make is to think they have to be masters in everything. Choose one or two select fields and have an emphasis in those fields. By all means, have some knowledge in others, but realize your limitations. If you try to master everything, you will inevitably master nothing. Some of you might like history. Some might like philosophy. Some might want to deal with cults. Some might want to deal with political issues. You could enjoy answering questions relating to science. There are all manner of fields.

In all of this, don’t lose sight of other areas. Be sure to be studying your Bible for your own personal development and not just to win debates. Be sure to work on having a good prayer life. (Something I struggle with admittedly.) Something that can help you in all of this is to find someone who will be a spiritual mentor to you. I have one and I email my mentor at least once every day barring some emergency times so he can know everything that’s going on in my life and offer me advice. Note I said “He.” If you are a man, let your mentor be a man. If you are a woman, let your mentor be a woman.

As you go in this field, you will find that it is a lot of fun and you will also be hopefully growing as a Christian. Apologetics is one of the most important ministries that is out there. Peter Kreeft has said that apologetics is the closest you get to saving the world. If Christianity is true, and it is, its truth is essential to the functioning of our life on this planet. You are one of the defenders of that truth and you are one of the people standing between the opponents of Christianity and your fellow Christians who are not equipped at all to defend themselves. Fight the battle well.

In Christ,
Nick Peters