Deeper Waters Podcast 2/18/2017: Peter Leithart

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

History throughout time has presented a share of villains for us. Right now, we’re seeing several political statements indicating that Trump is Hitler, and there’s even a law on the internet that the first one to bring up Hitler in a debate loses. For many of us, if you want to say someone is a wicked individual, Hitler is the go-to person to compare them to.

Church history also has a villain. That is Constantine. Constantine was the Roman Emperor who supposedly became a Christian and made Christianity legal, but he’s said to have dominated the Council of Nicea, controlled the process, put together the NT by his arbitrary command, and murdered his family. In many cases, when people talk about matters going wrong in church history. It’s Constantine. He’s even accused of inventing the deity of Christ from the pagan religions and forcing it to be the belief at Nicea.

Perhaps we are looking back from too far ahead. Maybe Constantine wasn’t the villain that he seems to be portrayed as. That’s not to say that we are going to go around and start talking about Saint Constantine, but could we have got Constantine wrong in history? Could it be the king while flawed, wasn’t the villain that we make him out to be?

My guest says that is indeed the case. He is so sure about it, he wrote a book in defense of Constantine. That book is aptly titled Defending Constantine. The author’s name is Peter Leithart. Who is he?

Peter Leithart

According to his bio:

Peter J. Leithart is President of the Theopolis Institute, a study center and leadership training institute in Birmingham, Alabama. An ordained minister, he serves as Teacher at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Birmingham. He is the author of several books, including Defending Constantine and, most recently, the End of Protestantism. He and his wife Noel have ten children and nine grandchildren.

We’ll be talking about who Constantine was. He didn’t exist in a vacuum. What was going on in his time? How did he come to power and what was the Roman world like before him?

What impact did Constantine have on Christianity? Did he radically change everything? Is there reason to believe that he was a Christian himself or was this something that he did that we could say was just somehow politically advantageous?

Then, what about the charges against him. Did Constantine really murder his own family? Was he really involved in the worship of Sol Invictus? What really did happen at the Council of Nicea. There is so much to cover in looking at this figure in ancient Christian history that we need to understand.

I hope you’ll be looking forward to listening to this new episode. There are a lot of myths built up around Constantine and hopefully we can clear away some of the cobwebs that have come about over his history. Please also consider going to ITunes and leaving a positive review of the Deeper Waters Podcast. I love to see them!

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: 26 Reasons Why Jews Don’t Believe In Jesus Part 3

Was Jesus Messiah and deity? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

We’re continuing our look through Asher Norman’s book and in part 3, we look at questions of Jesus as Messiah and deity. Norman lists six requirements for the Messiah. The Messiah would be descended from David and Solomon, be anointed King of Israel, return the Jewish people to Israel, rebuild the temple in Jerusalem, bring peace to the world and end all war, and bring knowledge of God to the world.

He also makes a point about these being empirically verifiable and says that we don’t need faith. Of course, we can be quite certain Norman doesn’t have a clue what faith really is. He offers no definition of the term. It’s also questionable if all of these are empirically verifiable. Of course, the effects are, but can we independently verify that this is how God said the Messiah would be known? We can point to the texts, but can we empirically verify that those texts are from God? If you mean in the way of hard 100% proof? No. If you mean highly likely, then yes.

Looking at the first criteria, Norman makes much of the differences. This ignores any facts on how the ancients did genealogies. Sometimes, you could skip generations and such. If Norman finds this a problem, what does he do with the Old Testament?

Ezra 7:1-5

Now after this, in the reign of Artaxerxes king of Persia, Ezra the son of Seraiah, son of Azariah, son of Hilkiah, son of Shallum, son of Zadok, son of Ahitub, son of Amariah, son of Azariah, son of Meraioth,son of Zerahiah, son of Uzzi, son of Bukki, son of Abishua, son of Phinehas, son of Eleazar, son of Aaron the chief priest— this Ezra went up from Babylonia. He was a scribe skilled in the Law of Moses that the Lord, the God of Israel, had given, and the king granted him all that he asked, for the hand of the Lord his God was on him.

1 Chronicles 6:3-15

The children of Amram: Aaron, Moses, and Miriam. The sons of Aaron: Nadab, Abihu, Eleazar, and Ithamar. Eleazar fathered Phinehas, Phinehas fathered Abishua,Abishua fathered Bukki, Bukki fathered Uzzi, Uzzi fathered Zerahiah, Zerahiah fathered Meraioth, Meraioth fathered Amariah, Amariah fathered Ahitub, Ahitub fathered Zadok, Zadok fathered Ahimaaz,Ahimaaz fathered Azariah, Azariah fathered Johanan, 10 and Johanan fathered Azariah (it was he who served as priest in the house that Solomon built in Jerusalem). 11 Azariah fathered Amariah, Amariah fathered Ahitub, 12 Ahitub fathered Zadok, Zadok fathered Shallum,13 Shallum fathered Hilkiah, Hilkiah fathered Azariah, 14 Azariah fathered Seraiah, Seraiah fathered Jehozadak; 15 and Jehozadak went into exile when the Lord sent Judah and Jerusalem into exile by the hand of Nebuchadnezzar.

Here, the genealogy in Chronicles is longer. This puts Norman in a hard spot since he says about Jesus that:

Luke’s genealogy from David to Jesus is fifteen generations longer than Matthew’s genealogy from David to Jesus. This undermines the Christian claim that the Gospels are the “Word of God” because God certainly knows the genealogy of King David. Some Christians attempt to solve this fatal problem by claiming that Luke’s genealogy is actually that of Mary, although Mary is not mentioned in Luke’s genealogy.

Of course, if this is a fatal problem for the NT being the Word of God, then so it is for the OT. Note that 1 Chronicles no doubt is pointing to Ezra, yet Ezra is not mentioned. To say Mary is not mentioned is not insurmountable. As it stands, there are numerous arguments given to explain the genealogical differences. If just one is possible, then we don’t have a defeater and finally, my case for Jesus doesn’t rely on inerrancy to begin with. However, if Norman wants to make that the standard, then he has hoisted himself on his own petard. Let’s go on and look further.

1 Samuel 6:10-13

10 And Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel. And Samuel said to Jesse, “The Lord has not chosen these.” 11 Then Samuel said to Jesse, “Are all your sons here?” And he said, “There remains yet the youngest, but behold, he is keeping the sheep.” And Samuel said to Jesse, “Send and get him, for we will not sit down till he comes here.” 12 And he sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy and had beautiful eyes and was handsome. And the Lord said, “Arise, anoint him, for this is he.” 13 Then Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the midst of his brothers. And the Spirit of the Lord rushed upon David from that day forward. And Samuel rose up and went to Ramah.

1 Chronicles 2:13-15

13 Jesse fathered Eliab his firstborn, Abinadab the second, Shimea the third, 14 Nethanel the fourth, Raddai the fifth, 15 Ozem the sixth, David the seventh.

Whoa! Samuel says Jesse had eight sons. The Chronicler says he had seven. What’s going on? Surely this isn’t the Word of God!

Or it could be that ancients didn’t do genealogies like we do and differences, skipped generations, etc. were allowable. If Norman wants to hold up the NT to modern standards and say it has to meet these or else it’s not the Word of God, then we get to do the same with the Old Testament. Here we have different genealogies. Is the Old Testament not the Word of God.

Norman, who as we will see later on is known for some truly bizarre Scripture readings, says that Paul spoke about the genealogy of Jesus in Titus 3:9 and 1 Timothy 1:4. (He actually has 3:3 listed for Titus when it’s 3:9) Both of these speak about genealogies so surely it’s about that of Jesus. Right? Let’s look at the text.

Titus 3:9

But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless.

1 Timothy 1:4

nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith.

No. What’s going on is that in the ancient world, your heritage described much of your identity. Christians had a new heritage and identity. That was being in Christ. Why dispute genealogies and such then? This is nothing against genealogies insofar as they are genealogies or against knowing your physical heritage, but it’s saying to not make that central.

The second criterion is the Messiah will be anointed king of Israel. Let’s look at the texts Norman gives.

2 Samuel 7:12-16

12 When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. 14 I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. When he commits iniquity, I will discipline him with the rod of men, with the stripes of the sons of men, 15 but my steadfast love will not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you. 16 And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.’”

1 Chronicles 17:11-12

11 When your days are fulfilled to walk with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, one of your own sons, and I will establish his kingdom. 12 He shall build a house for me, and I will establish his throne forever.

The text has been looked through and nowhere does this anointing seem to be mentioned. Of course, there is the talk of building a house forever. Perhaps that relates to the Temple. We’ll deal with that next.

The third is bringing the people back to Israel.

Isaiah 11:12

He will raise a signal for the nations
    and will assemble the banished of Israel,
and gather the dispersed of Judah
    from the four corners of the earth.

Isaiah 27:12-13

12 In that day from the river Euphrates to the Brook of Egypt the Lord will thresh out the grain, and you will be gleaned one by one, O people of Israel. 13 And in that day a great trumpet will be blown, and those who were lost in the land of Assyria and those who were driven out to the land of Egypt will come and worship the Lord on the holy mountain at Jerusalem.

Jeremiah 33:7

I will restore the fortunes of Judah and the fortunes of Israel, and rebuild them as they were at first.

Since the nation of Israel has been around for 69 years now, it has to be wondered what this means then. Is the nation to be dispersed yet again and then the Messiah will bring them back? It is amazing that Norman reads these passages like a modern futurist instead of thinking about the return of Israel from the captivity in Babylon.

It also has to be asked, how is it that the Messiah will bring them back if they do not repent? This was the criteria that Solomon laid out in 1 Kings 8 and Daniel followed in his prayer in Daniel 9. Does God change His mind on this? It looks like that if a Messiah is coming, and Norman thinks he is, then Israel will have to be dispersed yet again and then brought back yet again, yet what was the basis of the first bringing back in 1948 if not national repentance? (We could ask what was the reason for the dispersion in 70 A.D. if Israel was keeping the covenant faithfully…)

The fourth is that the Messiah will rebuild a Temple.

26 I will make a covenant of peace with them. It shall be an everlasting covenant with them. And I will set them in their land and multiply them, and will set my sanctuary in their midst forevermore.27 My dwelling place shall be with them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 28 Then the nations will know that I am the Lord who sanctifies Israel, when my sanctuary is in their midst forevermore.”

Let’s just point out that the word sanctuary can refer to that of the Temple, but many times, it does not. Nothing here definitely then about a Temple.

Micah 4:1

It shall come to pass in the latter days
    that the mountain of the house of the Lord
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
    and it shall be lifted up above the hills;
and peoples shall flow to it,

Isaiah 2:2-23

It shall come to pass in the latter days
    that the mountain of the house of the Lord
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
    and shall be lifted up above the hills;
and all the nations shall flow to it,
    and many peoples shall come, and say:
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
    to the house of the God of Jacob,
that he may teach us his ways
    and that we may walk in his paths.”
For out of Zion shall go forth the law,
    and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.

I still stand by my contention that this is being read like a modern futurist. Meanwhile, I also think it’s great to see that Norman is sure the Dome of the Rock will be undone for the Jewish Temple. Good luck with that.

The fifth is the Messiah will bring world peace and end war.

Ezekiel 37:26

I will make a covenant of peace with them. It shall be an everlasting covenant with them. And I will set them in their land and multiply them, and will set my sanctuary in their midst forevermore.

Micah 4:3

He shall judge between many peoples,
    and shall decide disputes for strong nations far away;
and they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
    and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
    neither shall they learn war any more;

Isaiah 2:4

He shall judge between the nations,
    and shall decide disputes for many peoples;
and they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
    and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
    neither shall they learn war any more.

btw, it’s worth pointing out that later on, Norman is ready to accuse Luke and Matthew of plagiarizing when what they say is so similar to what someone else said be it Mark or a Greek poet. By those standards, since Micah is the later prophet, is he plagiarizing Isaiah?  Still, I look at this and wonder since first off, these passages are about YHWH. They’re not about the Messiah. Does Norman actually think the Messiah will be YHWH? I think there’s another group of people that thinks YHWH is the Messiah of Israel, though centered around a person named Jesus….

Second, I see again a modern futurist reading of the text. Norman complains about the way Christians treat the Bible and yet he treats it the exact same way!

The sixth criterion is bringing knowledge of God to the world.

Isaiah 11:9

They shall not hurt or destroy
    in all my holy mountain;
for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord
    as the waters cover the sea.

Isaiah 40:5

And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
    and all flesh shall see it together,
    for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

Zephaniah 3:9

“For at that time I will change the speech of the peoples
    to a pure speech,
that all of them may call upon the name of the Lord
    and serve him with one accord.

Jeremiah 31:33

For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.

The reply is still the same. Norman rules out a second coming, but let’s consider this. Moses nowhere talks about a temple. The word doesn’t show up. The term for Messiah only shows up in Leviticus and here it talks about the priests. Norman still considers these essential. Why is it that YHWH can give progressive revelation and yet it stops with the OT? Still, we have looked at the negative test. Let’s look and see if Jesus meets these criteria.

Jesus is of the seed of David and Solomon. He is a descendant of them both through Mary and Joseph. Those interested in the differences in the genealogies are invited to see the best commentaries and works on these issues.

Jesus is indeed the King of Israel. Norman’s texts don’t mention an anointing so we don’t need to either. Jesus is King of Israel as demonstrated by God raising Him from the dead.

The third is that Jesus will bring the Jews back to Israel. In this case, yes. Israel is the people of God and now that people has been expanded to include Jews and Gentiles. All Jews who come to Jesus are being part of Israel, the remnant.

Jesus will reign with the final temple. He does indeed. This time, the church is His temple. God doesn’t dwell in places built with human hands. His rule is not restricted to one building.

He will bring peace to the world. No one is doing more to bring peace than Jesus. No one has shaped ethics more than Jesus. No one has had more of an effect like this than Jesus and all great moral reformers today take cues from Him somehow.

Finally, He will bring knowledge of God to the world. The reason people all over the world today read and study and love the Old Testament is because of Jesus. Atheists don’t debate polytheism much any more. They debate monotheism. Jesus established one God so much in our minds we don’t consider polytheism at all.

Next we move to Jesus not being the Son of God. Norman does provide amusement with a list of people who were half-man and half-god and born of virgin mothers such as Adonis, Attis, Dionysus, Mithras, and Isis. (It is a wonder how a mother like Isis can be half-man. It is suspected he means Horus or Osiris, but this is Norman we’re talking about.) There is a later chapter specifically on those figures so we will deal with that then. Rest assured, I’m very much looking forward to it.

Norman gives a list of verses about God not being a man. These were addressed in earlier posts and there is no need to reinvent the wheel. Just go back and read here.

Norman gives us many texts to show that God was alone when He created.

Deuteronomy 4:39

know therefore today, and lay it to your heart, that the Lord is God in heaven above and on the earth beneath; there is no other.

Deuteronomy 32:39

“‘See now that I, even I, am he,
    and there is no god beside me;
I kill and I make alive;
    I wound and I heal;
    and there is none that can deliver out of my hand.

2 Kings 19:19

So now, O Lord our God, save us, please, from his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you, O Lord, are God alone.”

1 Chronicles 17:20

There is none like you, O Lord, and there is no God besides you, according to all that we have heard with our ears.

Isaiah 44:6

Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel
    and his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts:
“I am the first and I am the last;
    besides me there is no god.

Isaiah 45:5-6

I am the Lord, and there is no other,
    besides me there is no God;
    I equip you, though you do not know me,
that people may know, from the rising of the sun
    and from the west, that there is none besides me;
    I am the Lord, and there is no other.

Unfortunately, Norman doesn’t realize that I can happily agree with all of these as a Trinitarian. In fact, these kinds of passages and many more are used by us to deal with Jehovah’s Witnesses. Still, I am amazed at one passage that seems to have escaped Norman’s notice since he places a big emphasis on God being alone.

Proverbs 8:22-31

22 “The Lord possessed me at the beginning of his work,
    the first of his acts of old.
23 Ages ago I was set up,
    at the first, before the beginning of the earth.
24 When there were no depths I was brought forth,
    when there were no springs abounding with water.
25 Before the mountains had been shaped,
    before the hills, I was brought forth,
26 before he had made the earth with its fields,
    or the first of the dust of the world.
27 When he established the heavens, I was there;
    when he drew a circle on the face of the deep,
28 when he made firm the skies above,
    when he established the fountains of the deep,
29 when he assigned to the sea its limit,
    so that the waters might not transgress his command,
when he marked out the foundations of the earth,
30     then I was beside him, like a master workman,
and I was daily his delight,
    rejoicing before him always,
31 rejoicing in his inhabited world
    and delighting in the children of man.

This is Wisdom speaking and it’s definitely a creation passage. How does Norman explain this? We Christians explain it easily enough. If you’re like me, you hold that Wisdom is actually Jesus. (Spoken of in feminine terms due to Wisdom being subservient.) Wisdom was a highly described figure in Second Temple Judaism and in passages in the apocrypha, is spoken of in language reminscient of YHWH in the Old Testament.

Why does Norman leave this out?

Norman also states that the Messiah will fear God, but God cannot fear himself. This is the old canard of unipersonalism whereby God must be one person. All that needs to be said is that the Son walks in the incarnation in the fear of the Father.

Norman thinks there is a lot to the idea that the term “Son of God” can refer to Israel in the Old Testament and followers of Jesus in the New Testament as well as the King of Israel and the Messiah. Indeed it can. Norman takes a flat fundamentalist reading assuming it must mean the same thing and cannot mean deity. That it can also mean, especially in a Greco-Roman usage. It’s noteworthy that Norman nowhere looks at the term “Son of Man.”

The next section is about how Jesus was elected God in 325 A.D.

Okay. You can stop laughing and we’ll get back to the blog.

You see, For Norman, it’s supposed to be news to many of us about the existence of the Arians. No. Not news at all. The deity of Christ had been firmly held as doctrine. There can be plenty of lists one can go to to find these references. One such can be found here.

Next Norman wants to say that Judaism has no concept of a Trinity. Naturally, he ignores literature of Second Temple Judaism that tried to establish what made God God and has other figures that share in divine status, such as Wisdom, and even later figures like Metatron who is said to bear the name of YHWH. For this, he goes to some statements of the church today.

His first stop is The Concise Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. In it, he finds the statemen that the Trinity can neither be known by reason apart from revelation, nor demonstrated by reason after it has been revealed. Norman takes this to mean that the Trinity cannot mean understood. Of course, in a sense, that is true, no more than even a unipersonal God in monotheism can be understood, but that is not what the work is saying. It is saying that if you sat down in your armchair with just reason, you could not get to the Trinity. Once you get the information and know the Trinity, you still can’t make an argument with reason alone to get to it.

At times, I wonder how this man is an attorney since he reads texts so badly.

Next we go to the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Here, Norman questions Jesus being the same essence as God. After all, Jesus changed and grew and was finite. Norman is unaware that the Trinity explains this by saying the Son has a divine and a human nature and happens to the human nature does not happen to the divine and vice-versa. Norman even asks what it means if God is one and appears as Jesus in another mode of being. Does that mean Jesus wouldn’t be a distinct person? Yes. It would. That’s because that’s not the Trinity. That’s modalism.

It gets worse. At this point, I think Norman is just dishonest. He then quotes A History of Christianity by Paul Johnson saying “As Christ’s human body was phantasm, his suffering and death were mere appearance. If he suffered, he was not God. If he was God, he did not suffer.” Norman leaves out that Johnson says that this was the theory of the Docetist school and Johnson even calls it a “weird theory.” Those who doubt this can look at Johnson’s work itself and just look up the word “phantasm.” See if you think Norman is quoting it fairly.

Norman also goes on to quote Augustine in Book 5 and Chapter 9 of On The Trinity which he said the statement there was popularized by John Wesley who said “Tis mystery all; the immortal dies.” I wanted very much to see what Augustine really said, so I went to my library and pulled out my copy of Augustine’s work. I went to Book 5, Chapter 9.

At least, I wanted to.

There is no book 5, Chapter 9. There was a ninth secton in a different chapter, but I did not find any statement like that in it. It would be nice if Norman had done his research properly. Of course, one could expect him to actually read Augustine’s work and understand it, but that would be asking too much.

Next time, we’ll be looking at the next area, Messianic prophecies.

It’s not going to get much better.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tomorrow, we shall go to part two.

Book Plunge: Defending Constantine

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

If you want to go see a bad guy in secular history, you go with Hitler. If you want to see a bad guy in religious history, you go with Constantine. If anything has gone wrong in church history, somehow it’s connected with Constantine. Everything went wrong with him. From the average internet skeptic, you’ll hear that Constantine dominated the Council of Nicea or chose what books would be in the New Testament or changed the date of the Sabbath.

Historically, there are real questions about Constantine. Did he really have a conversion? Was he just an opportunist? What about the claim that he murdered his own family? Was he just a showman?

These are real questions.

Leithart takes an interesting look at these questions. He starts the stage not with Constantine but with what went on before Constantine. What was the state of the Roman Empire and how did that lead up to Constantine? Then once he got into office, what happened? How did he handle the Arian controversy? How did he handle the donatists?

Leithart also looks at the impact that Constantine had. What is the relationship between the government and religion? Does Jesus really have anything to say about how a country is run? Does Christianity have anything to say about a Caesar being a Christian?

What about questions of pacifism? Were Christians serving in the Roman military before Constantine came along? Was the church pacifist and then when Constantine came they became more hawkish? Leithart looks at this question as well.

If Constantine did not cause a major theological shift, did he cause any shift? What was the world like pre-Constantine and what is it like post-Constantine? Has Christianity been forever damaged because of the actions of Constantine?

It’s important to note that this is a defense of Constantine. While Leithart wants to show that many of our viewpoints on Constantine are just wrong or not very fair, this does not mean that Constantine was a Messiah. The case is not being made that we should start speaking about Saint Constantine. It is just being said that we should seek to understand Constantine in his historical and social context.

I do wish there had been more on other issues. It’s important that Leithart does respond to scholarly objections, but more and more in our day, we need responses to non-scholarly objections as well. Leithart does rightly speak on Nicea and show that Constantine did not dominate it, but it would have been nice at this point to have shown that a lot of popular myths about Nicea are just myths. These are the myths that the Sabbath was changed at Nicea or that the canon of the New Testament was decided at Nicea. The scholars might not really discuss that seriously, but that does not mean it’s not what the average Christian hears regularly.

Overall, this is an interesting read. It will definitely give you some to think about. If you want to see if there could be any good from Constantine, then get this book and see what Leithart has to say.

In Christ,
Nick Peters