Why I Don’t Take Internet Bible Critics Seriously

Should you really pay attention to that critic? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Let’s be fair. There are some skeptics out there that do their homework. They do try to really find out what scholars in the world of the Bible are saying and make reasonable cases. I disagree, but at least they are doing their due diligence.

The majority are not.

For the past couple of weeks or so, I’ve been going through a big book. It’s Behind The Scenes of the Old Testament and it’s about 512 pages and most of these pages have plenty of lines on them. It’s the kind of book that these same skeptics will not even read. It would be practically a miracle if they even skimmed it and looked at the pictures.

And yet, these same people will think they can speak with authority on the events in the Bible. They will speak on slavery in the Old Testament and all they have is their knowledge of the Civil War in America and the fact that they are offended and think that is sufficient. Never will they dare ask questions like, “What is slavery in the ancient world? What was the purpose of it? What other alternatives did they have?”

Let alone do these people really have an understanding of the Law for Christians. Many think that the Law was meant to lead us to some kind of Utopia and everything in it is a moral principle for all time. It’d be kind of hard for a Christian to say this since Jesus in the New Testament said that Moses permitted divorce to the people because their hearts were hard. This is not to say there are no moral truths in the Law, but the purpose of the Law is not to produce perfect people.

Too many critics of the Bible read the Bible from a modern Western perspective and then look back on the dumb and unenlightened culture they see in the Bible thinking they’ve made a powerful critique. Argument from outrage is a favorite. God did XYZ! What kind of God would do this? The conquest narratives are a favorite. Lately, I’ve seen David’s baby dying as a result of David’s sin as an example of this. (Strangely enough, these same people will also defend abortion. Go figure.)

My advice to Christians on this is to first off not take such critics seriously. If someone is not willing to read and study life in the Ancient Near East, they shouldn’t comment on it. If they do, we shouldn’t take their comments seriously. I say the same thing about Christians who want to go and critique evolution, but will never ever pick up a book on science in their lifetime. Reading your favorite Christian who argues against evolution without studying science yourself and just repeating what they say is just as bad as reading a new atheist on the Bible and repeating what they say without studying it yourself.

Let me make a caveat here. If you are a Christian and you do read the science and you do want to argue against evolution, have at it. It’s not the route I take as evolution is a non-issue to me. I just don’t repeat the arguments. Someone could be making powerful arguments against evolution or talking nonsense. I don’t know.

Also Christians, if I go after the atheists for doing this, I want to be fair and go after us. Too many of us who are Christians don’t bother to study the context either. We take one little section out of a prophecy and either make it about the end times in a dispensational paradigm (As if the prophets never ever said anything about their own culture) or they make it about themselves.

Let’s go with an example. In Jeremiah 29:11, God tells the people that He knows the plans He has for them, plans to prosper and not harm and to give them a hope and a future. Great passage. It’s used so many times in cards for college graduates and such. Horrible interpretation right there.

Jeremiah is making this point to Israel as they are going to Babylon. If you are sending a card to a college graduate who’s part of a covenant people and is being shipped off to Babylon, then that’s okay. If not, you might want to rethink it.

“Great. So are you saying this verse is useless aside from historical information?”

Not at all. We could apply this to us today. Picture a pastor saying this.

“The children of Israel had received a promise from God. They were about to face suffering and that suffering would make them wonder about the promise. They would doubt it and think God had failed them to let this happen. God assures them that is not so. In the same way, we today are recipients of the promises given to Israel and in Christ. We can often go through hardship and suffering still where we wonder if God has abandoned us. Hebrews tells us that God will never leave us or forsake us. As there was a purpose for the children of Israel going into Babylon, so there is a purpose for our suffering and Romans 8 tells us that God will work all things for good to those that love the Lord. Whatever you are going through in your life, realize that God is in control. As He did for the children of Israel in being with them in their suffering, so will He be with you.”

There. If anything, this is a richer understanding I think because it is connected to the New Testament. In the passage in Jeremiah, we can know that some of the people who went to Babylon never came back. After all, the return was about 70 years later. In the New Testament, some promises are individualized, such as Romans 8. We will all in Christ be resurrected in new and glorified bodies and each of us will give an account of what we have done and each of us will be treated accordingly. At the same time, we are a community in Christ and should live that way.

Studying the context of the passage goes a long way and will help us. Critics of the Bible need to really work to study the text instead of thinking that outrage is an argument. Christians need to study it because we think it comes from God and we need to treat it seriously and not misapply it. Will we always interpret it properly? Of course not, but we should always seek to bring the best information to the table that we can.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

Book Plunge: Irresistible.

What do I think of Andy Stanley’s book published by Zondervan? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Andy Stanley has in the past made himself a controversial figure. It’s understandable why that is. He knows in his newest book that he’s putting himself in a risky position. The whole idea behind the book is how to make the faith irresistible and reclaiming what Jesus launched into the world.

At that start, I even wonder. Can we ever say that Christianity was truly irresistible? It seems like a lot of people did a pretty good job resisting it. So much so that Paul required a personal experience to stop murdering Christians and the Romans didn’t really hesitate to persecute them.

Stanley has been put under fire for statements he has made about the Old Testament and inerrancy. I do understand both. I have a lot more sympathy with the trouble he got into on the latter. My father-in-law, Mike Licona, got caught up in inerrancy debates just because he dared to interpret one passage differently and then a host of others were brought out. I think a lot of people got turned off on the topic of inerrancy because of that.

The Old Testament, I am a bit more cautious on. I think Stanley does make it right more towards the end. He shows that when people come to believe in Jesus in the New Testament, they do come to embrace and study the Old Testament more. Well and good. Still, I wonder if he thinks that Old Testament apologetics is all a waste.

I don’t think he does, but one can get that impression sometimes. I think there are many great and precious truths in the Old Testament. My wife came to know Jesus because of a passage in the Old Testament. Many of us know it. It’s Psalm 139 where God says that we are fearfully and wonderfully made. The Old Testament tells us we are in the image of God and begins the story of sacred space that God seeks to create. I am fully convinced that without understanding the Old Testament, your understanding of the New will be woefully inadequate. Sometimes, I do wonder if many doctrines I disagree with in the church fathers came up because none of them, as far as I know, were Jewish.

I think sometimes Stanley’s language of the Old Testament can be over the top. Yes. The book of Hebrews refers to the old covenant as obsolete. That does not mean the Old Testament is obsolete. The Testament contains the covenant, but it is more than the covenant.

Yes. The God of the Old Testament is seen as violent at times, but what about the God of the book of Revelation? Yes. The God of the Old Testament said things about slaves, but what about the fact that Jesus and Paul never told people to release their slaves en masse? The God of the Old Testament condemned homosexuality and so did Paul, but you know, Jesus didn’t say anything about it so maybe it’s okay.

I should clarify I think Jesus didn’t speak about it because in ancient Israel, it wasn’t an issue. It was just condemned and if anything, Jesus’s silence on the matter should be seen as tacit agreement with the principle. He didn’t hesitate to speak out in other places where he thought the law was not right, such as divorce.

This isn’t to say that I disagree with everything Stanley says in this book. Some material I think is quite helpful. I think it’s important to realize that a contradictin in the Bible does not spell the end of Christianity. I think it’s important to realize that we don’t have to answer every question about the Old Testament, or even the New for that matter. I think it’s important to realize that we can know moral truths apart from the Law.

I also think it’s a great point to say that we meet many people who say they want to get as close to that fine line without crossing over it as they can, which is a self-emphasis. On the other hand, there are many people who want to be full of God and the Holy Spirit and have a passion in prayer and such. Unfortunately, that can also still be just an emphasis on self. You want to have these things sometimes because you want to be sure you are in the right.

I think it’s a good insight to say that the love of God must not be just vertical, but it must be horizontal as well. I think though that Stanley can neglect the vertical in some cases. What about passages like Matthew 6 where you go into your prayer closet alone and don’t show people that you’re praying? Your Father who sees in secret rewards you.

Of course, if we do something just for a reward, that’s not good, but sometimes God tells us to do things and we will be blessed. The verse in question is one such case. Let’s face it. When a man starts dating a girl, you can say all you want the nobility of love and such, and many good men somewhere do, but yeah, he’s also thinking about the privilege of having sex with her.

I think it’s a great question to ask what love would require of us. What is the most loving thing we can do? It’s a good principle to look at if we want to study how it is a Christian should walk. It’s also noteworthy that the apostles repeatedly pointed to the example of Christ and walking like Jesus.

I also did enjoy the bit on eschatology and the destruction of the temple. I have been an orthodox Preterist for years and it’s good to see someone well-known like Stanley presenting this viewpoint. I hope more Christians will come to embrace it.

In the end, I have mixed feelings. I understand the motivation behind the book and why it is that way and for that, I agree, but I still fear we can be too dismissive. I wondered at times about how Stanley would answer if someone asked who was skeptical about Jesus, “Is the God of the Old Testament the Father of Jesus?” I don’t doubt that Stanley thinks such, but I just wondered.

But if Stanley wanted controversy, he’s certainly produced a work that will bring it about. If Stanley has overstated his case, then it could just be that this leads to the work that can bring about the necessary corrective that will be the balance without going to the extreme that the inerrancy witch hunt has gone. I am also thankful for excellent work in New Testament scholarship, but I hope we will see more in Old Testament as well, like Walton and Longman.

If you pick up this book and read it, you might agree with most of it, you might disagree. Either way, you will have an opinion. Most everyone who reads this will have something to think about.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Deeper Waters Podcast 6/9/2018: Tremper Longman

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

Noah’s Ark is often one of the most popular stories of the Bible. It’s one that we grow up hearing. The story seems simple enough. The world is full of evil people. God has had enough. He sends a flood and everyone dies except the good people, Noah and his family. As children, we don’t ask many questions.

Nowadays, we do. Not only are we asking questions, people around us are asking questions. Christians might know this story well, but so do our skeptical friends, and they don’t believe it. After all, they want to talk about the scientific data behind the story. They want to know if the whole world was flooded and how does that mesh with science?

Meanwhile, we realize that Israel was going through their own trials at the time and living in the midst of pagan cultures. These cultures also had flood stories. Maybe Israel just copied them and applied it to YHWH. Maybe it’s all just a myth. How should we approach the story?

To discuss this, we need someone who knows the Old Testament very well. We also need someone who knows the cultures surrounding Israel very well. We also need someone who will be able to tell us if we even need to bother to address the scientific concerns or not. Fortunately, The Lost World of the Flood is with us now. It is by John Walton and Tremper Longman, and the latter will be my guest this Saturday.

So who is he?

According to his bio:

Dr. Tremper Longman III (B.A. Ohio Wesleyan University; M.Div. Westminster Theological Seminary; M.Phil. and Ph.D. Yale University) is Distinguished Scholar and Professor Emeritus of Biblical Studies at Westmont College.  He has written over 30 books including commentaries on Genesis, Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Daniel, and Nahum. His most recent books are The Fear of the Lord is Wisdom: A Theological Introduction to Wisdom Literature in Israel and Lost World of the Flood (with John Walton). His books have been translated into seventeen different languages. In addition, as a Hebrew scholar, he is one of the main translators of the popular New Living Translation of the Bible and has served as a consultant on other popular translations of the Bible including the Message, the New Century Version, the Holman Standard Bible, and the Common Bible. He has also edited and contributed to a number of Study Bibles and Bible Dictionaries, most recently the Baker Illustrated Bible Dictionary (2013). Tremper and Alice currently reside in Alexandria, VA and  have three sons (Tremper IV, Timothy, Andrew) and four granddaughters (Gabrielle, Mia, Ava, and Emerson).  For exercise, he enjoys playing squash.

I hope you’ll be listening to this interview. We’ll be talking about the book and how we moderns should approach the flood narrative today. I hope it will be of great help to you in your apologetics endeavors. Please go on iTunes also and leave a positive review of the Deeper Waters Podcast.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

Book Plunge: Old Testament Theology For Christians

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

Sometimes I have a suspicion that if many Christians were honest about their Bibles, you would find Genesis 1-3 in them and then the very next words would be the opening of the Gospel of Matthew. Many of us treat the Old Testament almost as if its apocryphal literature. We can get some moral precepts from it every now and then and it has some good stories, but if we want to know who God is, we have to go to the New Testament.

There can be no doubt that Christ is the greatest revelation we have of God, but there should also be no doubt that the Old Testament is authoritative revelation. The Old Testament is, as Philip Yancey would say, the Bible Jesus read. We ignore it to our own peril.

Yet while we say we don’t ignore it, when we go there, we are often just looking to see if we can find Jesus in every passage. We’re not often looking to see what the Old Testament says about God. We also take our ideas from the New Testament and while they are true, we assume that they must be what the Old Testament authors had in mind.

I have encouraged Christians for some time that when they read the Old Testament, they cease to be Christians. Instead, try to read it as if you lived at the time that it was written. Be a Jew then and picture how you would hear it. Then you can think of how you would read it as a 1st century Christian in the light of Christ and then how you would read it today.

Fortunately, we now have John Walton’s work with us. Walton is an Old Testament scholar par excellence. He has a devotion to Christ and a passion for the Old Testament. Those do not contradict. All Christians should have a great love for the Old Testament.

Walton’s book takes us through a journey of the culture of the Old Testament. We explore issues that we talk about in Christianity today. How did monotheism play out in ancient Israel and how did Israel relate to its God in a way that was similar to the way the pagans did with their deities? How was it different? What role did a deity play in creation?

What is the theme of the Old Testament? What was the yearning in the heart of the average Israelite? How did this theme play out in the Old Testament and what does it say about the New Testament?

On and on Walton takes us through the world of the cosmos to the meaning of the promise of land to Israel to understanding the Law. He also has a final section dealing with how many Christians and skeptics today read the Old Testament. If there seems to be any overarching message, it’s to really try to wrestle with and understand the Old Testament as a revelation of God meant to reveal who He is and not just details that will be fleshed out in the New Testament.

Going through the book will give you several insights. One such one that comes to mind for me is why is it Israel was seen as wrong in 1 Samuel for wanting a king when God had already made allowances for a king in the Law and was planning on making David king as well. Walton points out the problem was not wanting a king but wanting a king to be like the other nations and to do so thinking that would mean the favor of God.

I really recommend getting this book if you want to study the Old Testament and know it better. If you don’t want to, then you already have a major problem you need to deal with. The Old Testament is a revelation of God and we need it to understand God. It also does indeed provide us greater understanding of the New Testament to know what came before it.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Deeper Waters Podcast 4/21/2018: Ted Wright

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

Archaeology. Digging up the world that was before us and seeing what we can learn about it. Naturally, the Bible soon gets to be investigated to see what can be learned about the past. In many ways, archaeology has been a friend. Consider looking at the book of Acts.

But there are always difficult issues to talk about. There are cases where we have to wonder if archaeology is on our side or not. The Old Testament has plenty of these. If any event in the Old Testament is seen as defining the history of Israel, it is the Exodus.

In this grand event, God delivers His people from the most powerful empire known to man at the time. There are numerous plagues that strike the Egyptians, there is the parting of the Red Sea, and then there is the wandering in the wilderness for forty years. The story is a fascinating one and can be gripping to believer and non-believer alike, but is there any evidence for it archaeologically?

To discuss this question, I wanted to have on someone who does understand archaeology well. I wanted someone who has made the case before and has defended it. After listening to him on an Unbelievable? podcast and liking what I saw, I knew who to talk to. Fortunately, he happened to also be a friend of mine that I knew when I lived in Charlotte and who my wife and I met together before. His name is Ted Wright.

So who is he?

According to his bio:

Ted is freelance teacher, writer, researcher and founder of EpicArchaeology.org. For over a decade, Ted has been a speaker on Christian apologetics as well as Biblical Archaeology across North America & internationally. In addition to public speaking, Ted was the former Executive and Teaching Director of CrossExamined.org. Ted has also appeared on numerous television and radio programs including the History Channel’s TV miniseries – “Mankind: The Story of All of Us,” as well as CNN’s 2015 documentary on the historical resurrection of Jesus, “Jesus: Faith. Fact. Forgery.” In addition, Ted has served as adjunct professor of apologetics at Southern Evangelical Seminary as well as Charlotte Christian College & Theological Seminary, where he has taught for over a decade. Ted has a B.A. in Anthropology & Archaeology from the Cobb Institute of Archaeology at Mississippi State University. As an undergraduate Ted worked as a research lab assistant on Phase III (1992-1999) of the Lahav Research Project from Tel Halif, Israel. Ted also has an M.A. in Christian apologetics with a concentration in philosophy from Southern Evangelical Seminary. Ted participated as an assistant square supervisor in the 2014 excavation at Khirbet el-Maqatir (the Biblical city of Ai) with ABR (Associate for Biblical Research). Ted researches and writes for Epic Archaeology, as well as his personal blog, “Off the Map.”

I hope you’ll be here for this episode and if enough time is available, we could discuss some New Testament archaeology as well. Please be watching for this episode. Also, if you haven’t, please go on iTunes and leave a positive review for the Deeper Waters Podcast.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Old Testament Law For Christians

What do I think of Roy Gane’s book published by Baker Academic? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

The Old Testament Law can be very challenging for Christians. Many of us skip over those sections thinking that they have no relevance to our lives. That was the old covenant. We are in the new covenant. Why should we go back there? Let’s skip to all the stuff about Jesus!

However, the Old Testament is just as much a part of our Bible as is the New and the law is just as much a part of our Bible as are the epistles. We need to understand this part of our Bibles to see what God has to say for us today. Unfortunately, many of us are so caught up in our own culture that we can’t imagine stepping outside and seeing what life in another culture could be like, let alone another time or place.

The past is a strange place. They do things differently there. So do they also with the world of the Old Testament. Many of us pick it up and read it like it’s a modern law code. Many of us pick it up and read it like it’s supposed to be the best of the best laws and that if we followed these, we would have a utopia on Earth. Many of us read these as if they have zero relevance to us today. All of these approaches are wrong.

All of these kinds of approaches Gane takes on looking at the way many Christians view the relationship between the two covenants. As someone who criticizes dispensationalism often as a system, I found myself wishing many of them that I interact with online would read something like this. On the other end, people who hold to a more theonomist perspective are also interacted with.

Gane points out in addition that the laws are not to be read in a sort of sense where the same penalty had to be applied. They were more of a guideline for the judges and the judges could use their own discretion if evidence came forward that they thought required it. The judge had a lot more power than was thought and did not have to punish to the full extent of the law, but the law did set a limit.

Gane also deals with many of our more controversial issues today. One of these no doubt today is homosexuality. Gane does indeed say that the restrictions on homosexuality are still applicable for today. The way we handle it is different since we’re not a theocracy, but this is still something God forbids.

The laws are also not meant to lead us to Utopia, but they are meant to make us think about loving our neighbor more. If you are to care for your enemy’s animal, should you not also care for your enemy? This was supposed to instill in the Israelites a new ethic that would better prepare them for the new covenant.

If there was any major disagreement I have with Gane, it comes with the food laws and such. Gane thinks that these are in place and still apply to Christians. I really cannot see any basis for that in the New Testament and Gentiles were never placed under the Law of Moses so I don’t see how we ever could be.

Despite that, the rest of it would be something interesting especially for many of the skeptics we encounter in our journeys on the world of the internet. Those who complain about the Old Testament Law will never likely pick up a tome like this. It is at their loss that they do not learn about this world. It is a loss that we Christians often don’t learn about it either and miss some of God’s message for us today.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

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

Book Plunge: Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible

What do I think of Emanuel Tov’s book published by Fortress Press? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

When I was recently reading through Asher Norman’s book Twenty-Six Reasons Why Jews Don’t Believe In Jesus, I came across a claim of his about the Old Testament with no backing. In critiquing the textual criticism of the New Testament, he says that after Israel was established in 1948, several scrolls from all over were brought and aside from some in Yemen, they were all accurate. I knew enough about textual criticism to know a statement like this had to be bogus, but I wanted to find a good source.

My thanks then goes to Daniel Wallace first off for answering my question by referring me to Rick Taylor. Taylor told me to get Emanuel Tov’s book on the topic. I went and ordered it and it certainly is the resource to use. While I do think the Old Testament is reliable, had Norman read a book like this, he might not have been so ready to compare the New and the Old Testament like this.

A few brief statements at the start should suffice.

The Biblical text has been transmitted in many ancient and medieval sources which are known to us from modern editions in different languages: We now have manuscripts (MSS) in Hebrew and other languages from the Middle Ages and ancient times as well as fragments of leather and papyrus scrolls two thousand years old or more. These sources shed light on and witness to the biblical text, hence their name “textual witnesses.” All of these textual witnesses differ from each other to a greater or lesser extent. p. 2 Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible. Fortress Press, Minneapolis 2nd edition 1992, 2001.

More importantly, the Masoretes, and before them the soferim, acted in a relatively late stage of the development of the biblical text, and before they had put their meticulous principles into practice, the text already contained corruptions and had been tampered with during that earlier period when scribes did not yet treat the text with such reverence. Therefore, paradoxo, the soferim and Masoretes carefully preserved a text that was already corrupted. ibid. p. 9

The term Masoretic Text is imprecise for another reason too, for m is not attested in any one single source. Rather, m is an abstract unit reflected in various sources which differ from each other in many details. Moreover, it is difficult to know whether there ever existed a single text which served as the archetype of m. ibid. p. 22-23.

All these differences within the m group point to a certain amount of textual variation at an early stage of the development of m, in contrast with its later unity. ibid. p. 27.

Tov in this work goes into great detail on the history of the text and the many resources we have on the text such as the Masoretic text, the Septuagint, and the Samaritan Pentateuch. He points out that there have been some changes that have taken place and I would think a lot of these are for innocent reasons. The exception might be the Samaritan Pentateuch which was designed to displace mainstream Jewish ideas.

Our manuscript tradition also only goes back so far, but we can be sure that when it was taken seriously, it was quite serious. The Masoretes were indeed very skilled at passing on the text. I should point out however that if you know Hebrew, which I do not, you are quite likely to get more out of this text than otherwise.

Tov’s work is quite thorough yet even as a non-specialist in Old Testament textual criticism, it was amazing how much of the material in there is still quite reliable. There weren’t any massive areas of doubt presented. I think we have better for the New Testament, but the Old is still quite good.

If you want to learn about the textual criticism of the Old Testament and the manuscripts we have, this is the one to read. It is a massive tour de force. We can be thankful for Tov for providing it for us.

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: Gospel Fictions

What do I think of Randel Helms’s book published by Prometheus books? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I have heard numerous skeptics recommend reading this book. That alone could have told me enough about it, but I’m always one up for reading a disagreeing book so I ordered it at my local library. It was a rather quick read, thank goodness, but one that had I took a note of every item that I thought was just hideously wrong, the notes would have been the size of an average blog post.

I was also seeing Gary Habermas at the time who happened to tell me in emphatic terms about how bad a book this one is. He was right. The book is very badly researched and like many others, gives the sound of one-hand clapping. Helms doesn’t show interaction with modern scholarship and has a standard of historicity for the Bible that would not be applied to any other ancient text.

So what are these fictions? Well let’s look at some categories here.

If two texts disagree on something seemingly, then the texts are a fiction. If the text has any parallel in the Old Testament, then the text is a fiction. If the text has any parallel in pagan literature at the time, then the text is a fiction. If the text just seems strange and bizarre, then the text is a fiction.

The whole of the book could be summarized that way.

Do you find any indication that the Gospels are actually Greco-Roman biographies? Nope. Not a bit. Do you find any interaction with the fact that the events took place in an honor-shame culture? Don’t count on it. Do you have interaction with great archaeological findings that have confirmed some details in the New Testament? You already know the answer to that.

It seems as if Helms never considers with events that have Old Testament parallels that these could be purposeful. If Jesus is showing that He is the greatest prophet of all and the Messiah and Lord, He will show Himself in ways that are superior to the greatest of the Old Testament. If God is behind the story as well, as we believe, then God Himself could be involved to show Jesus is greater by contrast.

Of course, the best critics of his position will not be argued with. Instead, Helms takes more of a shotgun approach with showing as many supposed problems as he thinks he can with a text and then moving on. Nothing is treated in-depth. Certainly, no better explanation for the resurrection event is given to explain the data agreed to by critical scholars without having to say Jesus actually rose from the dead.

There are works by actual scholars that you can read that will actually engage with the material well and still be non-Christian. Sure, I disagree with their conclusions, but they are much better books. A skeptic wanting to learn about the New Testament would be better served by reading books by people like Ludemann, Crossan, Ehrman, Casey, Vermes, and others.

In Christ,
Nick Peters