Understanding The Bible

What does it take to really understand the Bible? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

We live in a day and age where most everyone thinks they can pick up a Bible, read it, and be an expert in it. You have the “prophecy experts” who think they can ignore the genre of a text and the historical setting and successfully pontificate on what is going to happen today. You have the fundamentalist atheists who think likewise that they just read the Bible and the “face value” of the text is what the author meant.

Of course, there is some level where the basic message of a text can be understood, but there is a level where it cannot. There are aspects that do require specialized knowledge. When you’re growing up, for some basic illnesses and such, your parents could pick up something over-the-counter and you could trust them with it. For a specialty condition, they would take you to a doctor.

So what are some things you should try to understand in a passage?

For one, what is the genre of the passage itself? If Jesus is telling a parable, you do not want to interpret it as a historical account. It is historical that Jesus told the parable, but the parable itself is not historical. If you were ever told that the story of the Good Samaritan never happened, that should not cause you to panic about the reliability of Scripture.

But then, what is the grander genre of the book itself? The Gospels, for instance, are Greco-Roman biographies and when you realize this, your reading of them will change. The book of Revelation is apocalyptic and so one of the last things you want to do is read it at face-value. The Law in the Old Testament is written not as iron-clad but more of a teaching tool showing the limits of what could be done in a situation, but giving judges freedom to decide. Of course, there are also cases like the first eleven chapters of Genesis that are real hotbeds of debate.

You also need the original languages. It’s better if you know them yourself, but if you do not, then you can use a site like BlueLetterBible and look them up. Even still, there is a limitation here. You can only look in the Bible itself. My wife asked me today about the verse where Paul uses the word Skubalon. If you want to know what that word means, just the New Testament will not help you. It’s only used once. You will need to look at usages outside the NT, if there are any, and then if you can’t do that, look up the work of scholars who know the language and see what they say.

And yet, there’s still more. You will want to know the historical context. What was going on in a book of prophecy? So many people badly misunderstand the prophets because they think everything is about our time instead of about the time of the prophet or his relatively near future. When Jesus does something in the Gospels, is there any particular historical situation that explains His actions more? When Paul wrote about marriage in 1 Corinthians 7, was there anything going on at the time that explains what he said better?

And still there’s even more! What about the social context? We often think the people in the world of the Bible were much like ourselves. In some ways they were, but not in all. We are a guilt-based culture. Were they? We value individualism. Did they? What was marriage like for them? What was the economic status of the people involved? How did they all relate to one another?

It is not being said that you have to understand all of these or you’re completely in the dark, but if you are struggling with a passage, try to understand some of these even more. What definitely needs to be moved past is a simplistic approach that practically assumes that God will make everything easy for us to understand if He wants to. He is under no obligation to do that and those who are seeking truth will not care if it takes work. If you do care, then you are not really seeking.

When someone is reading a passage and you think they could be misunderstanding it or if you think you are misunderstanding it, consider these steps. Look at them and see what all can be learned. Go and check the best scholars in the field and see what they have to say. To understand any ancient text, one must have the humility to be willing to let it speak for itself as it were and work to understand it.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

5,000+ Gods

How do you know you have the right deity? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

It’s understandable that when it comes to major issues, many of us have strong opinions. It’s understandable that many of us seek to be informed on those opinions. It’s understandable that many times we will want to talk to others about those opinions who agree and disagree with us and want to either share encouragement or change minds respectively.

It’s not understandable though that people share nonsense all the while thinking that they are sharing a powerful argument. One such case recently happened on the Unbelievable? Facebook page. An atheist, no doubt convinced he had a brilliant argument, shared the following meme and asked what the way is Christians find out of this particular dilemma.

People who post this stuff really don’t bother to understand world religions at all. For instance, consider the Buddha. Many Buddhists in the classical system would be seen as atheistic and not think the Buddha is a deity. The Hindu pantheon has several lesser gods, some more prominent than others, but nothing seen as a sort of ultimate deity. Many would have no problem saying that of course there are 5,000 gods, but could say that all of them are real.

Let’s start with something simple though. All truth claims are exclusive. If I say 2 + 2 = 4, then any person who says an answer that is contrary to 4 is wrong. We could say to people who think I am the husband of Allie Licona Peters that “There are billions of men on this planet who could be her husband, but don’t worry, the claim that Nick Peters is the only right answer.” Of course, it is.

How could this work with atheism? Just replace gods with worldviews. There are almost 5,000 worldviews being believed by humanity. Don’t worry. Yours is right. After all, atheism is just a strong a claim. It’s a strong claim if the meme is true to say that you worship the right God out of 5,000 or so. It’s a strong claim to say that you are right and everyone else is entirely wrong because none of those deities are real.

The meme when looking at the question also assumes that all deities have the same amount of evidence for their existence and all religions do as well. Are we really to think that, for instance, archaeologically, the Book of Mormon can begin to compare with the New Testament, or even the Old Testament for that matter? You could if perhaps you right at the start assume that all of the systems are nonsense, which would just be begging the question.

This is something Matthew McCormick did in his book The Case Against Christ. He made a list of 500 deities that were thought to be ominpotent, omniscient, eternal, etc. He then said that these gods are no longer worshiped this way. Well, I did something rather odd there. I actually went and looked up all of these gods. Any that were seen that way could be counted on one hand. You can see some of my doing this here including his big gaffe.

What needs to happen then is something that should be obvious to the atheists who say they care so much about evidence, but they often forget. That is to look at the evidence. That means when the theist pulls up the evidence for whatever deity they believe in, you actually look at it and consider it.

If you asked me why I believe in the deity I hold to, I would say that it is the most logically consistent for me. It is very similar to the one Aristotle arrived at in his philosophy. I go with the Aristotelian-Thomistic arguments. It would be quite long to go into here so that will be for another day.

Then when I look at Christianity, I say the evidence for Jesus is overwhelming. To deny His existence is ridiculous. Other theories I see trying to explain the data surrounding the resurrection I find completely lacking. I say this also by the way as one who has read much on the other side. (I often ask an atheist when the last time they read an academic work that disagreed with them was and I very often get crickets in response.)

There are other points. For instance, the number of other deities is actually much more than 5,000. Also, saying one religion is right does not mean that all religions are entirely wrong in everything that they believe. There are great truths in many of the other world religions.

I am of the firm stance that a meme is not an argument. If you have made your argument, you can illustrate it with a meme, but the meme itself is not the argument. People who think it is I find to generally be shallow thinkers. That includes Christians and non-Christians both. Stupidity can be found among the proponents of any belief system just as intelligence can.

Looking at the thread, I do not see any theist that is concerned about the argument. I’m certainly not, but I figured it would be a good example to post here and one question I’m not sure if I’ve ever tackled on the blog. We can hope that the poster will start citing some academic sources in making his whole argument, but I am skeptical that that will ever happen.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Deeper Waters Podcast 10/7/2017: Ross Clifford

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

Did Jesus rise from the dead? This is the question upon which the Christian faith rests. Of course, to answer a question like this, you need evidence, and if there are a group of people that love evidence and arguing from it, it’s lawyers. So how would the resurrection stand up in a court of law? Could you make a legal case for the resurrection of Jesus?

To answer this, I have decided to bring on someone who does specialize in legal apologetics. He is someone trained in the area of law and decided to use his legal skills on the case for the resurrection of Jesus to see if it would hold up. It did, and in his book Leading Lawyers’ Case For The Resurrection, he looks at seven lawyers and one thought to be a lawyer who also made a case for the evidence surrounding the death and the resurrection of Jesus and came out believers. His name is Ross Clifford and he’ll be joining us.

So who is he?

According to his bio:

Ross Clifford is Principal of Morling Theological College, Sydney.  Prior to entering the Baptist ministry he practised as a solicitor and barrister.  He was the pastor of two Sydney Baptist churches each of which grew dramatically.  He is the author of nine books including The Cross is Not Enough: Living as Witnesses to the Resurrection. He co-pioneered outreaches into Mind.Body.Spirit festivals.  He is a former President of the Baptist Union of Australia, former and current President of the NSW Council of Churches, President of the Asia Pacific Baptist Federation, recent Chair of the Australian Lausanne Committee, and is a Vice President of the Baptist World Alliance for 2010-2015.  In the Queen’s Birthday Honours List of 2010 he was made a member of the Order of Australia (AM).  He is married to Beverley and they have two children.  His passions include legal crime novels, cricket and all brands of football.

What makes a legal case distinctive from a historical case? How strong is it? Could it really stand up in a court of law? After all, we supposedly have these accounts that wildly contradict and differ from one another. They are supposed to be late as the skeptics say. Isn’t that a problem?

And what about hearsay? Isn’t that all that the accounts are? If so, then how can they possibly be used in a court of law to make the claim that Jesus rose from the dead? We certainly can’t get Paul and the writers of the Gospels to take the stand and get to question them. How do we do it when all we have is pretty much ancient documents?

In looking at the legal cases provided, I found them quite fascinating and I hope you will as well. Please be watching your podcast feed for the next episode of the Deeper Waters Podcast. If you like the show also, please go on ITunes and leave a positive review of the Deeper Waters Podcast.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Seeing Through Christianity. Part 7

What does it mean to have faith? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

It’s been awhile since I’ve done Zuersher’s book, which is mainly because having to review stuff like this after awhile feels like pulling teeth, but I think we need to get into it again. Today, we’re going to be looking at one of the favorite topics. Faith. This is one new atheists and internet atheists always get wrong. It won’t be a shock that that happens again.

We’re not disappointed. Right at the start Hebrews 11:1 is quoted and then we’re told that this is a substitute for evidence and admittance to Heaven. This is interesting because first off, heaven isn’t even mentioned in Hebrews 11:1. One could say the rest of the chapter does speak about looking for a heavenly city and such, but the notion is not equivalent to our whole going to Heaven when you die idea. Second, I faith is not seen as opposed to evidence and this is something I have written more about elsewhere.

Zuersher says the definition above means accepting something as true despite their being insufficient grounds. Of course, Zuersher could have bothered doing some actual research on the topic, but alas, that is too difficult. It’s better to just place faith in the new atheist mantra.

For Zuersher, this means faith is arbitrary. A person can have faith in anything and no one person’s would be better than another’s. Of course, this only happens to work if the claim is true about what faith is. It is not. One wonders that if this was what faith is, why do we even have the New Testament at all?

When asked what determines faith, Zuersher points to where we’re born. There’s no doubt that if you’re born in Iran, you’re more likely to be a Muslim or if you’re born in India, you’re more likely to be a Hindu, but there are also noted exceptions. Many people do convert even at the threat of death. Do they do so with no reason whatsoever?

What about what we believe scientifically? If you are born in a third world jungle that is pre-scientific, you might think the sun goes around the Earth and that evolution is bogus. You’re much less likely to think that if you are born in America. If you are born in Alaska as an Eskimo, you’re much more likely to think that blubber of sea animals is part of a healthy diet. We could go on and on.

We have the quote of Tertullian on how it is to be believed because it is absurd, but it is bizarre to think that Tertullian was opposed to evidence. His claim was rather that this is believed because no one would make up something this ridiculous. It was a turnaround on Marcion thinking that the claim was ridiculous.

Zuersher also says that according to John, Jesus was with the disciples for three years and yet needed better evidence to believe in the resurrection and asks “Do we not deserve equally compelling evidence?” Well, no. Why should you? What is so special about Zuersher that he deserves a personal appearance from the Almighty? (One is sure he’d chalk it up as a hallucination anyway.) Zuersher instead discounts the account as hearsay, despite the claim being from an eyewitness in John 21, something Bauckham makes a compelling case for in Jesus and the Eyewitnesses. (Don’t expect Zuersher to go look for counter-evidence. It’ll challenge his faith too much.)

Zuersher also says faith is a problem because it elevates belief over conduct. As long as you believe, that’s all that matters. Has he never read the book of James?! Has he never read the condemnations of wicked practice in Paul, the one who would be seen as the great apostle of faith? In fact, Zuersher in this very section quotes James and yet ignores what he says about works and faith together. Zuersher paints apologists as saying that no one is good enough, which is true, but then that means that good and bad conduct don’t really matter. Where is the apologist that is arguing this please Zuersher? Please show him to me.

Zuersher then says that to turn belief into a salvific credential while denying a person’s conduct is morally repugnant. I agree. Would he please point me to the apologist who is saying otherwise? I know hundreds if not thousands of them. I don’t know a single one who would disagree.

Naturally, Zuersher does not understand Pascal’s Wager which he goes after. Pascal is not presenting this to the person as a reason to believe without evidence. He’s talking about the person who’s sitting on the fence and could go either way and just isn’t sure. Pascal says if you’re just not sure and think there’s evidence on both sides, go with Christianity! At least you have a gain there. We see he does not understand this because the wager does not tell you which god or goddess to believe in. It’s not supposed to. It’s for a specific kind of individual in a specific situation. I may not really agree with the wager, but I can easily wager that Zuersher has never read Pascal.

Sometime soon we will return to Zuersher. As one can see, it is difficult to read someone like this who actually thinks he’s informed enough to write a book on the topic.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Does Jesus Make A Difference?

Why should anyone trust Jesus? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

As readers know, I’m all about here establishing the truth of Jesus’s resurrection and Christianity. That is important and needs to be done. My concern today is that we are too often not showing any reason for anyone to even bother to take Christianity seriously. Many Christians are indistinguishable from their non-Christian neighbors, which should be disappointing if Scripture tells us we are a peculiar people and about how we are to live among the pagans. While we don’t have many pagans today, though there are a few, we do still have people who we can say are unbelievers.

For too many Christians, the reason that this is so is that they just don’t really know much about Christianity. Why should they? Too many churches have it just as if Christianity is self-help that gives good advice to help you in your life, instead of about the radical announcement that God is reclaiming this world and building His Kingdom. If we were really to go to church in appropriate dress, it would be combat fatigues realizing we are on a mission to reclaim the world.

Too many Christians are what I call regurgitating Christians. They go to church and hear what their pastor says and when the time comes, they just puke it right back out again. They may have the right answers to the questions, but they don’t know why those answers are true. Your pastor could very well be a great guy, but he is not infallible. Scripture is, but his interpretation is not. Check out what is said.

We also have a view in our lives that the purpose of Christianity is that we can go to Heaven when we die. You can hear an altar call that doesn’t say a single thing about the resurrection of Jesus, serving God for life, or the Kingdom of God, but it will sure mention going to heaven when you die. Yes. The very purpose of Jesus coming to Earth and defeating sins was just so you could be happy for all of eternity. Surely God would not expect something bizarre from us, such as lifelong service.

Christianity is not just a get out of hell free card. Christianity is a worldview that is supposed to encompass everything you believe. It’s great that many of us have the right answers, but do we really understand them. Are we just being students who study before an exam so we can know the right answers without bothering to figure out how someone can know those are the right answers and what difference they make?

So Jesus rose from the dead. Why? Was God just showing off what He could do with Jesus, or could it be He was actually showing that Jesus has conquered death? Could it be that He was showing the divine claims of Jesus were actually true and Jesus is the rightful king of this world?

What about our ethics? Too many Christians are doing what everyone else does. They will go along with the politically correct crowd. This is especially the case with sexual ethics. There are too many Christians that see no real problem with sex before marriage or even living together before marriage. Does Christianity have anything to say about sex?

If you look at your neighbor and the only difference you and your non-Christian neighbor have is that you answer the Jesus questions right and they don’t, then you have a problem. I’m not questioning your salvation here, but I am saying that you seem to have it but it makes no difference. Imagine winning the big powerball lottery and having access to all the money, but going home and living your life with your budget the exact same way and having the money just sit there. That’s what many of us are doing with Jesus.

In all of this we look at the world and ask “What has gone wrong?” It’s good to ask that, but if you want to know what went wrong, it’s us. We went wrong. We did not heed the Great Commission. We have not made Jesus the central passion of our lives. Many of us know more about our favorite TV show or sports team than we do about Jesus. I’m not at all saying don’t have any other interests and hobbies, but do prioritize.

Look at everything in your life. If people can look at how you handle things in your life and look at how the non-Christian handles things and see absolutely no difference, why should they think Jesus makes any difference to you? If they don’t think Jesus makes any difference, why on Earth would they really bother investigating?

Keep in mind, I’m not saying their skepticism is justified. Sure, the church is full of hypocrites and such, but that doesn’t mean Jesus didn’t rise from the dead. That’s established on its own. It’s my contention here that we could at times be placing an extra hurdle in front of people who could otherwise come to Jesus. Not only are we keeping them away, we are really missing out on a full Christian life that we could be having.

How do you do this? Go and get some good books on basic Christianity or go and listen to some Christian podcasts on the topic. Do more than just a couple of hours on Sunday. Christianity is not just a system of ethics for being a good person and then getting to go to heaven when you die. It’s a worldview that is meant to encompass and touch everything in your life. Many of us are sitting on a gold mine and living like paupers. There is far more for us if we will just take it.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Deeper Waters Podcast 7/29/2017: Tony Costa

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

The resurrection is the central claim of Christianity. All the theistic arguments in the world can work, but if Jesus did not rise, then all is for naught. Christianity is bogus at that point. This is what everything hangs on. It’s important then that Christians understand and have a good defense of this doctrine.

Can a modern man really believe that a man came back from the dead? How can we trust accounts that are 2,000 years old when it comes to these monumental claims? Don’t extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence? Weren’t the people who believed this living in a pre-scientific culture and today we all know better?

We have had shows on this before, but to discuss it this time, I decided to bring on someone I haven’t brought on before. This person got in touch with me originally after seeing the replies that I had made to a certain John Tors. I had heard this person on Unbelievable before and knew that I wanted them on so I decided to take advantage of the email and they agreed to come on. That person is Tony Costa. So who is he?

So who is he?

Tony Costa has earned a B.A. and an M.A. in the study of religion, biblical studies, and philosophy from the University of Toronto. Tony received his Ph.D. in the area of theology and New Testament studies from Radboud University in the Netherlands. His area of expertise is biblical and systematic theology, cults, the New Age Movement, and comparative world religions with a specialization in Islam. Tony is also an ordained minister of the Gospel. As a Christian apologist Dr. Costa gives reasons for the valid belief in Christianity and also advocates the unique claims of Jesus Christ. He also lectures and debates at various universities and colleges on the existence of God, Muslim-Christian relations, as well as the credibility of the Christian faith. Tony is a professor of apologetics with the Toronto Baptist Seminary. He also teaches as an Instructor with the School of Continuing Studies at the University of Toronto in the area of New Testament studies and Second Temple Judaism. He serves as an adjunct professor with Heritage College and Seminary in Cambridge, Ontario and Providence Theological Seminary in Franklin, Tennessee. Tony is also a member of the Network of Christian Scholars in Canada. He has lectured throughout Canada, the United States, and overseas. He is the author of Worship and the Risen Jesus in the Pauline Letters (New York: Peter Lang Publishers, 2013), as well as a contributor of scholarly essays in Christian Origins and Greco-Roman Culture, and Christian Origins and Hellenistic Judaism and various journals. Tony is happily married to a wonderful wife, has 3 children, and a grandson, and resides in Toronto, Canada.

This is the central doctrine. We’ve had Gary Habermas and Mike Licona both come on to talk about it. This time, Tony Costa will be in the hot seat and I plan to ask him the most difficult questions I can and see if the resurrection can stand up. I hope you’ll be looking forward to this one and leave a positive review of the Deeper Waters Podcast on ITunes.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: History, Law, and Christianity.

What do I think of John Warwick Montgomery’s book published by NRP books? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

This is a book that is really short. It’s less than a hundred pages and you could read it in a day, but it would be a day well spent. Montgomery is someone who exemplifies what it means to be educated given how many degrees he has. The book is an older one, but it is still relevant to our times.

For many of us, it is also a different approach. If you learned the minimal facts or the honor-shame approach, this is something different. This is more along the lines of Gospel reliability, which is an approach that I think we could say in our times has been brought back by J. Warner Wallace.

Ths is good news for us. After all, there are multiple routes we can take to get to the same goal and if we get to the goal, then we have victory. It also helps that Montgomery does argue as a lawyer would making his case and pointing out the weaknesses to his opponent’s position.

To which, his opponent is someone named Professor Stroll, who is probably someone most of us have never heard of, who takes a position close to mythicism, but doesn’t seem to quite go there yet. He has at least interacted with some scholarship in his case, but those looking at it will realize that many things have still not changed.

Interestingly, Montgomery includes what he says in the book, although I think it should have been put in the front of the book. It would be better to have gone through knowing the case of the opposition and then seeing the response to it. Still, there is something commendable about seeing the case for the opposition be explicitly stated right there in the book.

I also like that Montgomery can admit when a case isn’t as good as it could be even when argued from his side. There are times he will add some rejoinders to what his own allies that he calls forth as his witnesses say.  This helps to build up the credibility of the case.

At any rate, it’s good for people to look at the case and realize that even back decades ago, there was still a powerful case and that case has only improved over time. I would be amiss if I didn’t mention what many of my friends who read the older books have to say, and that’s that there has always been a powerful case. It helps us to familiarize ourselves with the approaches of the past as well as the present as just because an approach is not the modern or current approach, that does not mean it’s a poor or faulty approach.

Legal apologetics is a fascinating field and one I definitely plan to spend more time on. This book is a short little look at the case for Christianity, but as I said, it is a good one. It is certainly a good way for you to spend your day.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

A Response to Schrodinger’s Christian on the Empty Tomb

Did Jesus leave behind an empty tomb? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I was alerted recently to a blog by someone known as Schrodinger’s Christian (SC from now on) who claims to be a doubting Christian and in this post is arguing against the empty tomb. I looked through and saw more of the same and decided since it was late in the evening that I would write a response to it. Now that that time has come, what can be said to a post like this?

First off, I think it’s noteworthy that such an emphasis is placed on an error-free text. I’ve said before that inerrancy is a secondary issue and while it is no doubt an important one, it is too easy to marry one’s Christianity to inerrancy. We see at the start Defending Inerrnacy cited and I’m not surprised it did not have much effect. SC is right in that we must look when doing history to what is probable, but there will be no need to defend inerrancy here to make the case for the empty tomb. Of course, the writings of the Gospels must be taken into consideration, but we don’t need to treat them as inerrant or inspired to make the case.

SC goes on to say that he thought that it was unanimous among historians that there was an empty tomb. I would very much like to know where he got this idea. As someone who knows extremely well both of the main people behind the minimal facts approach, I have never once heard any of them utter such a thing. Is it a majority view? Yes. Is it a unanimous view? Not at all.

He goes on to list a number of points such as Mark is the first mention of an empty tomb, Paul doesn’t hold to it, Mark’s ending isn’t original, no other sources talk about the empty tomb, etc. All of these are of course disputed to some degree, but let’s look and see what he does with them. Does he also interact with the scholars in the field on this?

SC starts with Paul asking why Paul doesn’t ask where the body went and why he doesn’t ask his detractors to explain what happened? The reason is because no one there was doubting that Jesus rose from the dead. Paul is making a classical argument and the start of it is stating what we all agree on. Here’s where we agree. Jesus was raised from the dead. The argument in 1 Cor. 15 is on the general resurrection. Gentiles would be able to say Jesus was an exception because of who He was. Paul starts off by giving the agreed statement on Jesus’s resurrection, an early Christian creed.

In fact, SC shows no knowledge that this is a creed in this post. (Noteworthy that by that standard that he has given, it is probable that he does not know this since surely he would have mentioned it since saying an early creed doesn’t mention an empty tomb would help his case.) This is the earliest account we have of the resurrection, but it is not meant to be a Gospel account. It is meant to give the bare facts and does it include an empty tomb? I contend that it does.

Where? It says Jesus was dead, then he was buried, then he was raised. That means the place where he was buried was empty which would mean an empty tomb. I also contend based on the arguments of Licona and Martin and Gundry and Wright and others that Paul believed fully in a bodily resurrection in the passage. SC lives in a world where explicit mention needs to be made. (Yet keep in mind by that standard, SC doesn’t have the basic knowledge about this being a creed since he does not explicitly mention it.)

Well what about veneration? Here, I wish for the reader to keep in mind that first off, since Christianity was a shameful cult at the time, it’s doubtful the Jewish leaders would allow any homage to be paid to the tomb of Jesus. They would have wanted to silence the cult and they were not above persecution. Thus, one reason for this non-veneration was because of the Jewish leaders.

Second, veneration took place to honor the dead. Jesus’s tomb would not be venerated because Jesus was not dead. He was live. You don’t go and lay wreaths or such on a tomb when there’s no one in it.

Finally, http://enoch2112.tripod.com/ByronBurial.htmByron McCane’s article on the shamefulness of Jesus’s burial is most helpful. McCane contends that the burial of jesus was a shameful burial and one that the followers of Jesus would not want to draw any more attention to than necessary. As McCane says

The shame of Jesus’ burial is not only consistent with the best evidence, but can also help to account for an historical fact which has long been puzzling to historians of early Christianity: why did the primitive church not venerate the tomb of Jesus? Joachim Jeremias, for one, thought it inconceivable (undenkbar) that the primitive community would have let the grave of Jesus sink into oblivion. Yet the earliest hints of Christian veneration of Jesus’ tomb do not surface until the early fourth century CE. It is a striking fact–and not at all unthinkable–that the tomb of Jesus was not venerated until it was no longer remembered as a place of shame.

SC then goes on to say that Romans did not do decent burials. He is correct, if he was talking about anywhere else in the Roman Empire. Not in Palestine. In Palestine, for the most part, Jews were granted tolerance with their religious observances. Part of that included burying the dead. It didn’t matter if the person was a saint or a criminal. Burial was mandatory. In peacetime then, the Romans let the Jews observe burial practices.

Why was this? Because if you bury a body in a shallow grave, the land could be polluted by the dead body. Consider also that a dog or a bird could get a part of the body and bring it into the temple and rendering the place unclean. This could not happen. For the purity of the land, all bodies had to be dealt with properly and while Jesus was seen as a wicked blasphemer, He still had a body.

SC says we have no record of a criminal being allowed burial after death. For one thing, not many Jews would write about the burial practices of criminals so why is this a shock? Second, we do in fact have evidence of someone who was crucified being in a tomb. This alone would be enough to render the objection moot.

He also says it would make no sense for Joseph of Arimathea to be involved in the process, but why? Are we to suppose that just everyone in the Sanhedrin automatically agreed with the verdict? Considering this was a kangaroo court, perhaps also not even everyone was there but just the ones available. This wasn’t a court interested in truth after all.

So why would Joseph do the job? Because since the Sanhedrin ordered the death of Jesus, they were responsible for what happened to the body. Joseph took advantage of this along with Nicodemus. Note that the family did not do this. The family would not be allowed to approach a criminal and mourn for him. This was to shame. Joseph and Nicodemus both do try to do what they can with spices and such to give some honor to Jesus, but it is like having someone with a gushing wound and thinking a child’s band-aid will heal it up.

It’s also worth nothing what a Jewish scholar of Jewish burial practices at the time of Jesus has to say about this.

“Jesus came from a modest family that presumably could not afford a rock- cut tomb. Had Joseph not offered to accommodate Jesus’ body his tomb (according to the Gospel accounts) Jesus likely would have been disposed in the manner of the lower classes: in a pit grave or trench grave dug into the ground. When the Gospels tell us that Joseph of Arimathea offered Jesus a spot in his tomb, it is because Jesus’ family did not own a rock- cut tomb and there was no time to prepare a grave- that is there was no time to dig a grave, not hew a rock cut tomb(!)—before the Sabbath. It is not surprising that Joseph, who is described as a wealthy and perhaps even a member of the Sanhedrin, had a rock-cut family tomb. The Gospel accounts seem to describe Joseph placing Jesus’ body in one of the loculi in his family’s tomb. (Jodi Magness, Stone and Dung, Oil and Spit: Jewish Daily Life in the Time of Jesus, pg 170)

“There is no need to assume that the Gospel accounts of Joseph of Arimathea offering Jesus a place in this family tomb are legendary or apologetic. The Gospel accounts of Jesus’s burial appear to be largely consistent with the archeological evidence” ( Magness, pg 171)

Also, if more is needed, I did do some interviews on this. I interviewed Greg Monette who is doing his Ph.D. on the burial of Jesus. I also interviewed Craig Evans on his book Jesus and the Remains of His Day and we talked about the burial of Jesus in that. It also hasn’t escaped my notice that SC did not cite any scholars in his case.

So let’s conclude by looking at the questions SC thinks we need to answer.

  1. Why did Mark need to say that the women told nobody about the tomb?
  2. Why did Paul not mention an empty tomb in his argument for the resurrection?
  3. Why do the resurrection accounts diverge so wildly after Mark’s account?
  4. Why do we not have any external sources for an empty tomb?
  5. Why was Jesus’ tomb, the location of the resurrection of God Incarnate, not venerated by early Christians when it was otherwise customary to do so?
  6. Why did the Romans allow Jesus to be buried when it would have been historically unprecedented, hurting the Roman legal system and undermining the purpose of the crucifixion as a whole?
  7. Why would a member of the Sanhedrin, who just voted to have Jesus killed as a blasphemer, request Jesus’ body?
  8. For that matter, how was there a unanimous vote if there were at least two known Jesus-followers on the council?

1.  Because Mark is a writer who prefers shock and awe. It’s possible the original ending was lost and it’s also possible Mark left it this way because it was the job of the audience to tell the message.

2. Because he didn’t need to. If he has a death and a burial and a resurrection, then that means the tomb was empty. The tomb was also shameful and thus not mentioned.

3. Probably because you have different eyewitnesses giving their accounts. This objection relies more on inerrancy.

4. Because it was a shameful event. We also don’t have any dispute that Jesus was buried for at least the first 300 years.

5. Because the burial was shameful and Jesus wasn’t there anyway.

6. Because toleration was granted to Jewish purity practices in the holy land.

7.Because he was a secret sympathizer and was trying to give some honor to Jesus.

8. Because it doesn’t mean everyone was there. It was a kangaroo court after all.

We conclude that SC really doesn’t have much of a case. Hopefully, he’ll spend more time interacting with scholarship and less time with concerns about inerrancy. He would also be benefitted by learning about the honor-shame culture of the New Testament.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Seeing Through Christianity Part 6

Is there a problem with revelation? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Christianity is a revealed faith in that some things we know only because God has revealed them to us. In this section, we’ll look at Bill Zuersher try to take on revelation in his train wreck Seeing Through Christianity. If you’ve been with us this far, you know to not expect much.

The first thing he says is one person’s revelation is just as valid as another’s. At any time a new revelation can show up that will overturn the others. It would have been nice of course to see some substance to this claim. All he says is determining the truth is undeniably a political process. Perhaps he should engage in political processes more often then. 1 Thess. 5 in fact tell us to test everything and hold to what is true and it is done in the context of speaking about prophecy.

Zuersher also asks why God would allow competing revelations. Once again, apparently Zuersher is too lazy to bother examining the claims and wants to blame his laziness on God and say “You should have clearly answered me.” Obviously, something like binge watching The Walking Dead is of more importance, or at least taking time to write a book without bothering to understand the substance of what one writes about.

His other solution is God should have made His revelation overwhelmingly true if He wanted people to come freely. Had Zuersher bothered to look at the evidence, maybe he would have found that. If someone will not look for truth, then they cannot expect to find it.

He also says God could have come up with a better technique than books. Apparently, we’re back to the idea of a fairy on one’s shoulder constantly telling them the truth. This would destroy any real seeking of the truth and have one become a Christian just because God is a belligerent nag. Zuersher apparently lives in a world where intellectual assent is the most important thing.

He also says the Bible hardly seems like a stellar book. He says it should be equally accessible to every culture. While I hold to understanding the original culture, without that understanding, one can still grasp the basic message of the Bible. He says the meaning should be unambiguous. Why? Who knows? He says it should remain unchanged over time. Perhaps some looking at textual criticism would have helped him out. As Bart Ehrman says (And no, it is not Barton Ehrman as Zuersher consistently says):

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

He also says we would expect consistency. I would argue we do have consistency. The same story is told throughout the Bible of the Kingdom of God coming on Earth based on the ministry of Jesus. He also says it would possess the highest moral and scientific content. While I would say the Bible contains many moral teachings, it also does so starting out from a specific point. A book like Slaves, Women, Homosexuals would have helped Zuersher out. (Unfortunately, research is something he’s not interested in.)

As for scientific truth, why? Seriously. Why? Are we to think Scripture is concerned with turning us into scientists? Zuersher just takes what he thinks is the most important truth and makes it central.

Of course, his favorite way to demonstrate the latter is to point to the fact that the Bible says the Earth is 6,000 years old. Naturally, he will acknowledge there are Old-Earth creationists, but he won’t bother to look at their arguments. It all comes down to “You’re not taking the Bible literally.” It’s amusing to me where we have this idea that because the Bible is Scripture, it’s to be “literal.” What we most often mean is literalistic. No one does that. Like any other literature, the Bible contains metaphor, simile, allegory, hyperbole, satire, sarcasm, figures of speech, irony, etc. We can also be sure that Zuersher won’t bother with the fine work of John Walton on Genesis 1 nor consider scholarship on the genealogies from which he makes his case.

And of course, Zuersher still says the problem is the deity didn’t make Himself clear. I would have to ask again clear to who? There are many cultures and times that we know of. Somehow, something was supposed to be clear to every single person ever? This is quite a stretch.

Naturally, Zuersher has a whole problem with what he calls the supernatural realm. Readers of this blog know I don’t use that term. Zuersher says that if God wanted to make His presence known, He would be successful. He actually says “If such a deity wanted me to know something, I would know it. Period.”

Translation: Since I’m not bothering to do the research and study of a claim, I’m just going to blame my lack of belief on God.

How does Zuersher know this about God? How does he know that God’s great goal is to get people to give him intellectual assent? From whence does he get this knowledge?

As we can expect, Zuersher says that if there were sufficient evidence, we would not need faith. I have written on this in another post. Zuersher will go after faith in another chapter so we will save that for then. He also says the fact is that the God of the Bible does not make himself known to billions of sincere seekers.

I had no idea that atheists were mind readers. This is quite astounding. Somehow, Zuersher knows all these people out there are sincere seekers? People might think they are, but Zuersher is not. Zuersher is one that is demanding that God show Himself on Zuersher’s terms. A sincere seeker will move Heaven and Earth to find the truth and will be willing to sacrifice anything he holds dear for it. In fact, few of us who are Christians would qualify at this point as we all still have little idols in our own hearts.

Still, Zuersher uses this in the end to make his formal argument. If the Christian God existed, He would make Himself known to sincere seekers. He has not done this. Therefore, He does not exist. Doubtless, Zuersher will discount any who say they were sincere seekers and found Christianity to be true. Zuersher looks to be one who blames his own unbelief on anyone else he can, except the person he sees in the mirror.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Seeing Through Christianity Part 4

What do we do with the atonement? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

As we continue through Zuersher’s work, we come to a chapter on atonement. Now I’ll state this upright. I have not spent much time looking at a lot of theories of the atonement. I have read Wright’s recent work on the cross. I think it’s an excellent work. Still, I cannot speak as an authority on the atonement, but that could be in some ways an advantage here.

You see, the reason I don’t see this as a defeater here is this is my situation. I have enough evidence to convince me that God exists. I have enough evidence to convince me of the full deity of Jesus. I have enough evidence to convince me that Jesus rose from the dead physically. I have enough evidence to convince me that Scripture is reliable. Does it make any sense to anyone to say “I’m not fully clear on how atonement works, so therefore I should doubt that Christianity is true.”?

Of course not. Any area of study will always have some unanswered questions. Consider for instance in science, when we see creatures that seem incredibly advanced. Does this mean every evolutionist will just throw in the towel and abandon the theory wholesale? Not at all, nor would I expect them to. One looks at the primary data they have for a position even if secondary details aren’t exactly clear.

Zuersher says first that there is disagreement means that this is being made up as we go along. He says that this means we do not have some privileged path to the divine. If by that He means that God is not obligated to answer all of our questions for us, that is entirely correct. If He means that we do not have the way to God in Christ, that would be wrong, but believing we do doesn’t mean we have perfect atonement knowledge.

The next part is one that Zuersher gets so close to the truth of matters, but then He rejects it for theological reasons. Zuersher says that satisfaction says that God’s honor must be restored, but if that’s true, then God has personality traits unworthy of a morally perfect being. It’s truly tragic how close Zuersher gets to good theology but then allows his cultural prejudices and lack of understanding of honor to get in the way.

To begin with, I don’t think it’s right to speak of God as a morally perfect being. A morally perfect being is one that does that which they ought to do always. God has no ought. He does not owe anyone anything. God is instead a good being. He is perfect and lacking nothing in Himself.

So how could God be lacking honor? It’s not a lack in Himself. It’s rather how God is perceived. There were two kinds of honor in the ancient world. One was one had based on who they were and their lineage and such. God’s honor is untouched here. The other is their reputation. How are they perceived in the eyes of others? Here, God’s reputation is tied to how He is seen in the eyes of humanity and how we treat Him. We can live lives that honor God or not. Zuersher rejects this without bothering to understand the culture or the theology.

Third, he says that God could just forgive. After all, we do it. Sure, but we are not the ones that are perfectly good and holy. If God just lets it go, He is saying that our well-being is of greater importance than His goodness. In other words, the good of man outranks the good of God. God is treating sin as no big deal, when every sin is really an act of divine treason.

He next says that if Jesus had a fully human nature, then what happened on the cross was murder since it was a human sacrifice. Well, he is right that it is murder. Jesus submitted to the ruling authorities. This is also not the same as suicide. The authorities did not realize what they were doing, but many holy men in Judaism dying would see themselves as dying for the sins of the people.

He also says that a willing death does not excuse the executioners. Of course not. Whoever said that it did? They were fully convinced they were doing right. My statement about this has been that either Jesus was the wickedest man who ever lived and the crucifixion was the most just and righteous act of all to stop Him, or He was the most righteous man who ever lived and the crucifixion was the most wicked act of all time.

He then goes into the claims of how Jesus was an invalid sacrifice. I recommend the works of Michael Brown here on answering Jewish objections to Jesus. Brown has looked at this a lot more than I have.

Next, he argues that this was not a real sacrifice since Jesus did not stay dead. One wonders how this is so. Once the offering is given to God, God can do with it what He wants. If He wants to resurrect Jesus, then He can resurrect Jesus. This would be God’s vindication on the life and claims of Jesus.

He also argues that the theory is immoral since it undermines individual responsibility by having someone accept Jesus’s sacrifice. On the contrary, it upholds it. When presented with the claims of Christ, one must accept their responsibility for the sins that got Him there.

Finally, Zuersher ends with saying that educated men and women hold to atonement thinking today should require no further comment. I instead think that someone can bother to write a book responding to a view without interacting with the best scholarship on it should require no further comment. Sadly, Zuersher does this consistently.

In Christ,
Nick Peters