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

Book Plunge: Knowing Jesus Through The Old Testament

What do I think of Christopher Wright’s book? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

KnowingJesusOldTestament

My thanks first off go to IVP for sending me a copy of this work. It is the second edition that they sent me for all who are interested.

Let’s get a negative out of the way first because there is a lot that is good about this book. In fact, there is only one major negative that I find problematic and it was one the author explained at the beginning. That is that there is a lack of notes. Wright says he wants this to be most acceptable for a popular audience for easy reading, but I do think it could still be possible to have notes for those of us wanting to look up any claims. Lee Strobel after all wrote some excellent books for a popular audience and having notes and quotes of scholars didn’t slow that down at all. If a third edition comes out, I do hope it has that.

Now let’s get to the positives. The book is divided into six sections and each deals with both the New Testament and the Old Testament. If you’re getting this thinking that you’re going to get a list of passages in the Old Testament that are Messianic predictions of Jesus, you will not be getting that. What you will get is the grand panorama of the Old Testament played out and how Jesus saw Himself in relation to that.

Wright favors the Gospel of Matthew, which makes sense since Matthew is the most Jewish of the Gospels.He starts with the genealogy in Matthew and how we can be prone to just skip over that part without realizing Matthew put it in because he considered it important. Matthew is immediately connecting Jesus to the Old Testament so shouldn’t we see how this is done?

The first part is about the story of the Old Testament. What is going on in the Old Testament? Why did God call Abraham? Does this really bear any connection to the New Testament? Now you can understand the message of Jesus to a degree on its own, but if you really do want to understand who Jesus is, you must have a good and thorough knowledge of the Old Testament. Wright is certainly pointing to a problem in our churches that needs to be taken care of.

Next comes the promise of the Old Testament. What was really being promised to Abraham? Was the focus to always be on a piece of land in the Middle East, or is something more going on? It is by understanding the promises that God made in the Old Testament not just to Abraham but in all the other covenants, that we can truly see how Jesus is the fulfillment of those promises.

The third chapter is on identity. Who is Israel exactly? What are we to say their role is? How did Jesus see Himself in relation to Israel? This is of course one of many parts where we can get into some controversial issues, but throughout I found myself agreeing with the stance of Wright, who seemed to be a counterpart to the NT scholar N.T. Wright, and in fact, it was not a surprise to see N.T. Wright in the bibliography. Jesus is the new Israel living out the hopes and dreams of Israel and succeeding where the nation did not and living out for them the redemption they need.

The fourth is on the Old Testament Mission. Once we know what Israel truly is, what was their purpose? How did their purpose affect Jesus and His view of Himself? Did Jesus come without a purpose and did He act without a plan or was He deliberately working on a mission. Was the crucifixion an accident that Jesus never wanted to have happen or a last-ditch effort to pull off what He wanted, or was it what He had in mind all along?

The fifth is Jesus and Old Testament Values. Now here I would have liked to have seen a little bit more, especially as one who deals with all the supposedly problematic morality in the Old Testament. Still, Wright does bring out how much of our modern morality is really nothing new. It comes straight from the Old Testament and how this way of thinking shaped Jesus to live out His life the way He did.

Finally, what about the Old Testament God? Wright deals with a common claim in this one that says “Why didn’t Jesus just come out explicitly and say ‘I’m God!’ ” Wright points out how problematic that would be since God would be a loaded term and Jesus would have been confused with the Father. Instead, Jesus spoke by His actions and let His disciples work out the results, and indeed they did. Wright is certainly correct that the view of Jesus as being in the divine identity was extremely early.

Again, my main criticism was the lack of notes and scholarly quotations, but overall, that should not detract from the gold mine of information available here. Knowing where these claims can be easily found would make this far more helpful, but for the lay reader, they will still get plenty, as will the more academic reader, like myself, who prefers to read something quite meaty.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Deeper Waters Podcast 10/18/2014: Matthew Flannagan

What’s coming up on this week’s podcast? Let’s dive into the Deeper Waters and find out.

War. It’s a sad reality in our world and we look forward to a day when it is no more. We often take it as a sign of evil, so what a shock it can be to so many when we find God in the OT sending the Israelites into war to destroy the enemy. Aren’t we supposed to be serving a God of love? How can a God of love order the massacre of the Canaanites? Not only that, how can he allow institutions like slavery to exist? These are questions we need to have answered.

And for these questions, we need someone with a keen mind able to handle the historical and philosophical issues.

So why not Dr. Matthew Flannagan?

In his own words:

“Dr Matthew Flannagan is a theologian with proficiency in contemporary analytic philosophy. He holds a PhD in Theology from the University of Otago, a Masters (with First Class Honours) and a Bachelors in Philosophy from the University of Waikato; he also holds a post-graduate diploma in secondary teaching from Bethlehem Tertiary Institute. PhD, University of Otago) he currently works as an independent researcher and as teaching pastor at Takanini Community Church in Auckland, New Zealand.”

In fact, Dr. Flannagan along with Paul Copan has a new book coming out on this topic called Did God Really Command Genocide? This book is due to be out next month from Baker and will cover many of the topics that we will be discussing on our show. So what kind of topics are open for discussion on this episode?

What about the conquest of the Midianites in Numbers 31? This is one of the favorite ones to use, especially since there’s this strange idea in there that the people can keep the virgin girls for themselves. Isn’t this just a great big rape fest that is going on? Would a God of love have really ordered such an attack where the men got to keep the young women for themselves who were virgins?

What about the conquest of the Amalekites in 1 Samuel 15? Note also that Saul is told here, as God orders in other places, to completely destroy everything. Not even the animals were to be spared in this conquest. Samuel wasn’t even pleased with the idea of sparing the animals as an act of sacrifice to YHWH. Why would God order such a massacre to take place and on top of all of that, not even spare the animals in it? What did they do?

Fortunately, Dr. Flannagan is highly equipped to answer these questions and indeed they will be answered. I hope that you will be joining us this Saturday to listen. If you want to listen the show will normally air from 6-8 PM EST on the Universal Pentecostal Network with the recording taking place from 3-5 PM EST. Of course, you can also be checking your ITunes feed. I look forward to it and I hope you do too!

In Christ,

Nick Peters

Deeper Waters Podcast 8/23/2014: How To Form Your Canon with Lee McDonald

What’s coming up on the Deeper Waters Podcast this Saturday? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Canon. It’s something a lot of Christians don’t think about. You open up your Bible and those books are there. They’re just there. Yet how did they get there? Why do you have the Gospel of Matthew and not The Gospel According To The Simpsons in your Bible? Why do you have the story of Genesis but you don’t have the Gilgamesh Epic?

Some of us have thought about this. We have to face the common objections that we see. We hear that the choosing of the books of the Bible was just arbitrary. We hear for the NT that many Gospels were excluded like the Gospel of Thomas. We see series on the History Channel like “Banned From The Bible.” We also hear today commonly on the internet that all the books of the Bible were chosen at the Council of Nicea in 325.

This indicates some have thought about this, but some haven’t thought as much as others. One person who has thought a lot about these issues is Lee McDonald.

Lee McDonald

According to his bio:

 

Dr. Lee Martin McDonald (Ph.D., University of Edinburgh, Scotland) has studied at many institutions including Cambridge University (England), Heidelberg University (Germany), and Harvard University. He is a professor of New Testament studies and president emeritus at Acadia Divinity College and former dean of the Faculty of Theology at Acadia Univeristy in Nova Scotia, Canada. He has taught New Testament Studies at Acadia, Sioux Falls Seminary, Fuller Theological Seminary, was a visiting scholar and professor at Princeton Theological Seminary in 2007 – 2008, and lectured in a variety of graduate institutions in Canada, the USA, Athens in Greece, Budapest, Prague, and elsewhere. He also served for six years as president of the international Institute for Biblical Research (a community of hundreds of Old and New Testament scholars), was a chaplain in the U.S. Army, a pastor for more than twenty years, and has served on boards of directors for three graduate schools of theology. Lee McDonald has written and/or edited more than 31 books and authored more than 100 articles and essays on biblical subjects, as well as on practical issues for the church.

 

Dr. McDonald is a member of the prestigious Studiorum Novi Testamentum Societas, the Society of Biblical Literature and the Institute for Biblical Resarch. He is an American Baptist ordianed minister and has served as a pastor and in leadership positions within the denomination. He regularly focuses on how the Bible came to be and also what biblical scholars are saying about Jesus in various churches as well as academic settings. He also addresses the question of the relevance of the Dead Sea Scrolls and other ancient non-biblical resources for understanding Jesus in his context and various pasages in the New Testment as well as their relevance for canon formation. He is a specialist in the context of early Christianity and the origin of the Bible.

 

 

Dr. McDonald is quite the authority on the canon and not just the New Testament canon! It would be a treat to discuss just that even, but no, you’re going to get two canons for the price of one! We’re going to be talking about the formation of the Old Testament canon as well. Why is it that in both canons we have the books that we have and not the other ones? Is there any controlling conspiracy going on? Are Christians just trying to hide ideas about Jesus that they just don’t like?

In the end, it could realize that the truth is something far greater. It could actually be that we have the very books that God intended us to have and we do have a reliable source of information on the history of the people of God and the life of Jesus the Christ.

So please be watching your ITunes feed soon for the latest episode of Deeper Waters discussing the formation of the canon of Scripture with Dr. Lee McDonald.

 

In Christ,

Nick Peters

Deeper Waters Podcast 7/19/2014: Is God A Moral Monster?

What’s coming up on this Saturday’s episode of the Deeper Waters Podcast? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

One of the most common charges today leveled against Christianity is the God of the Old Testament. One of the most memorable lines against Him comes from Richard Dawkins in “The God Delusion.”

“The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”

Is this really the case?

In order to investigate this question, I’ve decided to invite on the show a Biblical scholar who has written a response directly to such a claim and shown how the battles in the OT do not show that God is in fact a moral monster. He should know since he wrote the book “Is God A Moral Monster?” I of course mean none other than Dr. Paul Copan.

PaulCopan

According to his bio:

“Paul Copan (Ph.D. Philosophy, Marquette University) is Professor and Pledger Family Chair of Philosophy and Ethics at Palm Beach Atlantic University, and he has served as president of the Evangelical Philosophical Society. He is author and editor of thirty books including The Rationality of Theism, The Routledge Companion to Philosophy of Religion, Philosophy of Religion: Classic and Contemporary Issues, The Gospel in the Marketplace of Ideas, An Introduction to Biblical Ethics, Is God a Moral Monster? and “True for You, But Not for Me.” He has contributed essays to over thirty books, both scholarly and popular. Paul and his wife, Jacqueline, have six children, and they reside in West Palm Beach, Florida. His website is www.paulcopan.com.”

Paul Copan has been writing several excellent books aimed at a general audience to deal with popular objections, a much-needed niche if there ever was one. This started largely with his book “True For You But Not For Me” and has progressed all the way to his book “When God Goes To Starbucks.” I have never been disappointed by a Copan book and “Is God A Moral Monster?” is no exception.

So we’ll be spending our time talking about the charges that God does in fact inflict genocide in the Old Testament as well as getting into other issues that seem to paint the God of the Old Testament in a highly negative light. We could also be discussing the critiques that Thom Stark has brought towards Copan based on the book and see what he thinks about them.

Also, this will include a lesson on how we are to read the Old Testament. Is it really a straight forward narrative every time or does it use terminology that would have been recognizable to an ancient reader but is not so recognizable to us today?

And of course, is it really justified for God to take life in this way? Surely there could have been something else to be done besides using the Israelites as a force of war. Right?

I really look forward to having Dr. Copan come on to discuss this important topic and I hope you’ll be listening. Remember, we’ll have the link up on ITunes as soon as possible for you.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: On The Reliability of the Old Testament

Can we trust the Old Testament? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

The Old Testament is an important aspect of the Christian story. After all, we say Jesus is the solution to the problem, but in order to understand the solution, we need to understand the problem. After all, hearing that the answer to the question is 42 doesn’t help until you know what the question is. Many of us spend much time studying the NT since the resurrection is absolutely essential to Christianity after all, but we should not neglect the Old Testament. Yet there is much literature to read in that area as well. Is there any resource that can tremendously help us with that?

There is. It is Kenneth Kitchen’s book “On The Reliability of the Old Testament.” Kitchen is a fine scholar in the field who wrote this to be a parallel to the work on the reliability of the NT. There are some 500 pages worth of content and it is fully packed. Hundreds of pages go to notes.

The book starts off in a spot I found odd, that of the divided kingdom of the OT. It is my suspicion that Kitchen starts here because this is where most of the archaeological evidence is. He goes on throughout the book to the rest of the OT and is quite blunt in his argumentation. He does not hesitate to refer to a position as poppycock or nonsense. He definitely has a strong antagonism to the JEPD hypothesis.

It is important to note that this book mainly focuses on people and places and shows that they were realities, although Kitchen readily admits when the case is that we do not have enough evidence in somewhere yet. Kitchen’s defenses include that of David, the patriarchs, the Exodus, and even the long lifespan of the people in Genesis 5. If Kitchen is using a hypothesis instead of something far more backable, he lets it be known.

The reader of this work will be benefited highly by Kitchen’s expertise. Nevertheless, there are some ways I would like to see the work improved.

I would not mind seeing more on the transmission of the text and how we know the text has been handed down accurately. Much of this has been written on the NT, but we have very little said about the OT in comparison.

I would also like to see more moral issues dealt with. There are times Kitchen does talk some about the conquest of Canaan and what happened morally, but not many, and I don’t recall much on the concept of slavery in the Ancient Near East.

Also, much of this is not written in language readily accessible for those of us who do not study archaeology and it would be nice to see some more explanations and perhaps even a small section on how the archaeology is done and what can be expected to be found through archaeology.

Yet these downsides do not outweigh the positives. Anyone wanting to defend the OT owes it to themselves to get a copy of this book and read it. The reader who finishes will definitely walk away better equipped than when he came.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

The Old Testament Matters

Do Christians really need to read the Old Testament? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Imagine that you go into a movie such as Avengers, the one that came out not too long ago. When you walk in, you get to the part where you see all of the Avengers fighting off the alien invaders in New York. Now you could sit down at this point and quite likely figure out who the bad guys are and who the good guys are and a general idea of why the good guys are fighting the battle and still enjoy the movie. You would also see afterwards a spoiler of what’s to come in a sequel. Yet would anyone say you have really taken into account the whole film?

Too many Christians do the same thing with Christianity. We turn quickly to the New Testament and we see the story of Jesus and we gather quickly that Jesus is the hero of the story and the devil is the villain and sin is the problem and we get in the apocalyptic parts of the New Testament the hints of what is to come.

Now you will be a Christian if you do just this. If all you have is the New Testament, you can get the message of salvation, but you will miss so much more. You will not understand the world Jesus came into, you will not understand the back story, and you will not understand why Jesus is the solution to the problem.

How do you get that information? You read the Old Testament and we Christians need to read it and really think about it. For instance, what role does Abraham play? We look at a passage like Romans 4 and say “Abraham is an example.” Not at all. Abraham is not listed as the way we ought to live, although we certainly should follow his footsteps of faithfulness. Abraham is more the prototype. How is it that we are justified? We look at how Abraham was.

There is no one else that could have been used in Romans 4 but Abraham and the only way you understand that is if you know your Old Testament. How will the promise to Abraham come about? What is it that God is seeking to do by calling out Abraham? Does the story of Israel play any role in the New Testament?

Is Israel just this failed experiment and God moved on past it? When we say Jesus is the Messiah, does that really matter? Paul and the other NT writers certainly thought it was important to say Jesus is the Messiah. Why? Does it really make a difference if you know what the prophets said or what the history of Israel is?

If you go to the book of Revelation, it certainly does. Revelation is a book in the Bible that rarely rarely quotes the OT, which is a shock for such a long book. Yet Revelation assumes you have a thorough thorough knowledge of the OT. Remember that in the days of Jesus, most people had the OT well-grounded in memory and would recognize allusions constantly. In fact, the early church that read Paul’s epistles would have as well, and these would be churches that included Gentiles. Already, Paul was quoting the OT to them knowing they would find it authoritative.

In fact, one of the first major heresies was that of Marcion who sought to remove the OT God from the message of Jesus. Now we today will not say what Marcion said or do what he did. (Although some internet atheists would make the same claims about God in the OT) Still, we behave the way that he did by cutting the NT away from the OT.

I simply urge you to really think about the OT and make sure you read it like you read the NT. It is just as much Scripture as the NT is and essential for your understanding of the gospel. I’ve found lately at night that in going to sleep I will think about the OT and try to understand it for itself. I don’t mean just “What does this mean about Jesus?” I want to know first “What does this mean?” If I had been an Israelite living in the time of Moses as he was writing, what would Genesis mean to me?

We often look at the gospels and realize some writers chose to include some things and others chose to not include some things. Moses and the other biblical writers would have done the same thing. Moses surely had much information he did not include. Why did he choose to write what he wrote? What purpose was there in the story that Moses wanted the children of Israel to get? We can afterwards then ask, “And what did the divine author intend for us?”

If you want to understand the fullness of the Scriptures, you must understand the Old Testament and treasure it like the Scripture that it is. If you don’t, you can still have salvation, but you’ll be missing the deepest truths that can come from the knowledge of who Jesus is based on the story that came before Him and a deeper knowledge of what is to lie ahead in our own future.

In Christ,
Nick Peters