Book Plunge: Zealot

What do I think of Reza Aslan’s book published by Random House? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

My wife is an anime fan and when we go to the mall, she always wants to stop at the anime store there and see what they have. During a recent visit there, we somehow got started talking with the guy working there and the topic of religion came up. He asked me if I had read Reza Aslan’s Zealot and if so, what were my thoughts on it. I told him that what I had heard wasn’t good, but I would be willing to read it myself.

So I went to the library web site and ordered it. Aslan’s book has a generally good enough writing style to it. A difficulty is all the referencing is in notes in the back instead of properly footnoting or even endnoting what is found. I do want to make some statements about some matters early on in the book.

Aslan starts with his personal testimony (It’s like some people never get the fundamentalism knocked out of them!) and how he became a Christian before abandoning it. On xix he says “The bedrock of evangelical Christianity, at least as it was taught to me, is the unconditional belief that every word of the Bible is God breathed and true, literal, and inerrant.”

I wish I knew who it was who was teaching this stuff to him. The bedrock of evangelical Christianity should be the death, burial, and resurrection of the God-man, the Messiah Jesus Christ. Unfortunately, too many evangelicals do place a premium on Inerrancy and too many do so on literalism as well. This is largely an American phenomenon as well.

He also says on the next page that if you have a well-attested, researched, and authoritative argument for a position, someone on the other side has one just as well done critiquing yours. Of course, people on all sides do research well, but this would end up in an epistemological relativism if it was really believed. If this is the case, why should I believe Aslan instead of his opponent?

But I need to get into the meat of the work. For a surprise, much of it was well-researched, although there are a few blunders and such. It’s certainly not on the level of the zaniness of Jesus mythicism. I went through for awhile wondering what all the fuss is about.

Aslan is certainly off on Jesus being a zealot since that movement as he recognizes did not come till later. If all he meant was that Jesus was zealous for God, then He certainly was a zealot and may all Christians be. Unfortunately, Aslan takes one side of God, the side of the Conquest specifically, and then says this is the God Jesus worshipped, completely ignoring other passages in the Old Testament on love and grace.

Aslan’s book as I said starts off fine enough, but the further you go, the more strange it becomes. Aslan never offers an explanation for the rise of the Christian church or tries to explain the resurrection. In many cases, he acts like a naturalist in explaining the text, especially when it comes to miracles. Somehow people have this idea that reasonable people can’t believe in miracles. It is a wonder why this is. They do not contradict science or logic. They actually presuppose both as you must have a working order to recognize the exception.

The main stuff I want to hit on is really in the center of the book. Aslan writes about the Kingdom of God and how it was revolutionary. Indeed it was, but it was not a kingdom that would come by the will of men or by political might. As an orthodox Preterist, I believe the Kingdom of God has been established. Jesus did it by His death and resurrection. I am writing this right now in a location thousands of miles from where Jesus lived and in another language and 2,000 years later. I’d say his message spread well as did His kingdom.

Aslan does not see this as eschatology seems to play no major role in his work. It could be he has a hang-up on the literalism he spoke of earlier and reads passages like Matthew 24 in a literalistic sense instead of seeing them along the lines of Old Testament prophecies that were not to be seen as literal.

This problem shows up again when he gives references to Jesus saying He did not come to bring peace but a sword. Sure, but this is not a literal sword. Jesus knew what His kingdom would do. Jesus was the dividing line. You are either for Him or against Him. That would tear one’s very household apart. The sword is a metaphor.

On 121, Jesus also says the idea of love your neighbor applied only to a fellow Jew. Aslan leaves off interaction with the parable of the Good Samaritan where Jesus specifically addresses the question of who one’s neighbor is and goes with someone completely reprehensible to His fellow Jews. This was so much the case that in the end when Jesus asks who it was who was the neighbor, the lawyer says “The one who showed mercy.” He cannot bring Himself to say, “The Samaritan.”

Aslan also says on 122 that if one thinks Jesus is the begotten Son of God, His being Jewish is immaterial. WOW! Really? I think Jesus is that and His being a Jew is essential. That’s the only way He can be the promised Messiah and in the lineage of David. Jesus has to fulfill the promises of the Old Testament to truly be the revelation of God.

This also explains Aslan’s puzzle that the Kingdom never came in 135. The Kingdom Jesus preached is not what Aslan thinks it was since he is hung up on the literalism. Interestingly, Aslan gives no Scripture references in describing the Kingdom on this page.

Aslan writes about how the Gospel writers wanted to blame the Jews for the death of Jesus moving further and further away from the Romans, yet on 156 he’s quite clear the Romans killed Jesus and this was clear to Luke. Luke also doesn’t present Pilate as a saint in Luke 13.

Some ask why Pilate would seem to be so weak and light on Jesus when he had a reputation for being a cruel leader. Cruel sure, but that doesn’t mean he held execution parties whenever the Jews wanted someone executed. Pilate knew it was just the Jews being jealous and was thinking, “Yeah. Not going to be your person to do your bidding.”

Furthermore, there is debate on when Jesus was crucified, but it could have been around the time of Sejanus who had been executed for treason. He and Pilate had had a close relationship. Pilate could have been walking on thin ice and didn’t want to upset Rome by causing any more riots.

Aslan also makes much out of the trial of Jesus being totally out of sync with how Jewish trials were to be done. At this, most every conservative scholar wants to say, “Duh!” That’s the point. The Jewish courts were breaking laws left and right to get rid of Jesus. Something like this isn’t news if you’ve been reading scholarship.

At 166, I have to wonder if Aslan meant Daniel 9:26 instead of 7:26. On this page, he also says Peter uses Acts 2 to say it’s about Jesus when it’s really about David. Aslan ignores that in the very passage of Acts 2, Peter says it could NOT be talking about David since David was still in his tomb.

On 168-9, Aslan looks at Stephen’s vision of God and says he no longer sees the Messiah, but a God being coming in judgment. Aslan never seems to consider to ask if there was any reason Jesus would be standing instead of sitting which He was supposed to do. Perhaps there is a simple one. That simple one is Stephen is before the Sanhedrin to be judged by them, but when He sees Jesus standing, the standing is because Jesus is pronouncing judgment. The Sanhedrin is putting Stephen on trial, but Jesus has put them on trial and found them wanting for killing the first Christian martyr.

Aslan tries to deal some with the resurrection on 174 saying that obviously a man dying a gruesome death and rising again 3 days later defies all logic, reason, and sense. It does? In what way? The only way is if you rule out ipso facto miracles, but this has not been done. All that has happened is the question has been begged for naturalism. Aslan does admit that people were convinced they had seen the risen Jesus, but He gives no explanation for this.

It’s also clear that Aslan really has it in for Paul and wants nothing to do with him. Aslan doesn’t look at how the church fathers treated Paul and it is bizarre to think that Paul would be able to distort Christianity so badly and yet the people who wrote the Gospels seemed to give messages that according to Aslan would contradict Paul. One wonders what is going on here.

Aslan’s book can be interesting reading, but it is not a theory that has caught on well and for good reason. Aslan has Jesus as a zealot, but then the zealots weren’t really around, and has just begun with what he wanted to find. He also still has a fundamentalism in him found in his introduction that shapes his approach. Scholars long ago abandoned the idea that Jesus was a zealot. Aslan has not brought back the idea enough to have it be considered by scholars again.

A fuller review can be found by my friend David Marshall here.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Greek Resurrection Beliefs and the Success of Early Christianity

What do I think of Dag Endsjo’s book published by Palgrave Macmillan? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I was challenged to read this book which leads to my going to the library as soon as I can and getting a hold on such a book. The author’s name here is not entirely accurate since it has a slash through the o, but I am not sure how to do that on the computer so no disrespect is intended and keep that in mind when you do a search for it at the library or on Amazon. At any rate, what are my thoughts?

Endsjo wants to challenge the idea that the body would have been seen in a negative light by early Christians. He starts with describing the Trojan War in the works of Homer and how it was horrific to have the dead left on the battlefield. For here, Endsjo says that it is because the flesh is identical with the warriors themselves. In the same paragraph, he says the souls go off to Hades. Already, I’m puzzled. If the flesh is the warriors themselves, then what are these soul things? Also, does it really follow that the horror was because the flesh was seen as the warriors themselves? Could it not be because there was no honorable burial for them?

This is something I found confusing in the book. What is his view of how the Greeks viewed a man? It’s hard to say. Sometimes it seems like the soul is dominant. Sometimes it seems like the body is dominant.

Endsjo contends that we normally think of the flesh as something shameful to the Greeks, but he wants to say that is not the case. If the flesh is shameful to anyone, it’s Paul. He rarely has anything if ever good to say about the flesh and even in 1 Cor. 15 argues that the resurrection is spiritual. I think this is one of the great weaknesses of the book. There’s plenty of great material arguing that the body must be physical. One such piece available at the time would have been Gundry’s Soma in Biblical Greek.

We go into a large number of listings of Greek gods and heroes and how many of them were seen as living in immortal flesh. This could have been very appealing, but what is ignored is all the people who die and go to Hades and even still don’t want to return to the land of the living. What of people like Socrates who die and when they do want a sacrifice to be done to the god of healing to show their true healing in leaving the body?

I have often said before that it is easy to make a case when you have the sound of one hand clapping, and I was looking for the other case. To be fair, many on the other side have not sufficiently argued with the examples that Endsjo brings forward, but that does not mean that Endsjo should do the same. Both sides need to be looked at. I look forward to seeing someone like N. T. Wright respond in the future to the work.

I said earlier that the great weakness I think is 1 Cor. 15. Endsjo contends that Paul is speaking of a spiritual resurrection. While that is a common interpretation, that does not equal a true one nor does it equal one that should be assumed. Endsjo has a church that goes to Paul and gets a spiritual resurrection and then suddenly does a 180 and goes material. It’s understandable that some people would think this, but I don’t think Endsjo makes the case.

The stories are interesting and even still the view would be a problem for the Greeks. The Greeks apparently believed that the body of a person could not be recreated. That would have been essential for the Christians. Thus, the Christians would still have a hard case to make.

Endsjo also uses the argument that the Christians were persuading the people that they believed nothing different from the Romans in some aspects. Sure, but he misses why. That’s because Christianity was seen as shameful. The Christians were trying to point out similarities to show inconsistencies to the Romans in how they were treating the Christians. Many times people will look at the text and think that there was one-to-one parallels going on. Since the persecution didn’t stop, we can think it likely that the Romans did not see those parallels.

We can also say that the Greeks might have thought immortality to be desirable, but that in itself would not be enough since some figures got immortality as a punishment, say Prometheus who was forced to have his liver regrow every day for a wild bird to eat. Many Greeks in Paul’s audience would have thought that that was reserved for the gods and their children, but not for them. Jesus was the exception.

I think more work should be done on Endsjo’s book and I’d like to see a Wright take it on. Again, there was the sound of one hand clapping. Hopefully, we’ll have the other hand join in more and see what comes of the discussion.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Dear Mythicist

What do I think when I meet a mythicist? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Okay. I get it. You’re skeptical of the Bible. You know what? That’s understandable. There are a lot of strong claims that the Bible makes. It’s not simple to believe that a man rose from the dead and that man happened to be both fully God and fully man. Those positions should be evidenced. I get that. I agree.

There is such a thing as reasonable doubt. There is also such a thing as unreasonable doubt. Your case is the latter. Let’s suppose you came to this question not knowing anything about history. What if I then told you that there is not a single professor of ancient history or New Testament or classical history teaching at an accredited university that doubts Jesus existed.

“But those are Christians so they’re biased!”

You do know that these topics are taught at secular universities? Right? Do you think that all these secular universities are hiring evangelical Christians only to teach these topics? There are more than enough non-Christian scholars in the field to teach this stuff and they don’t doubt that Jesus existed at all. In fact, if you read the scholarly literature, this kind of idea is lucky to get a footnote.

“But I do read the scholars. I especially read Richard Carrier!”

Yeah. I get it. You trot out the name Richard Carrier like I’m either supposed to be quaking in my boots or holding immediate respect. Neither is the case. Carrier doesn’t teach at an accredited university and has even been banned from Skepticon. There’s a reason I refer to him as the prominent polyamorous internet blogger. For a guy with a Ph.D., that’s pretty much all he’s doing these days.

Oh? He wrote a book on Jesus mythicism. Yeah. I read it. Hardly any scholars even bothered to review it. No doubt, it was hoped to make a big splash, but it would be interesting to know if it barely made a ripple. It just wasn’t noticed. The academy has still gone on its way. Mythicism is still a joke.

In fact, I often tell Christians we should thank God for Richard Carrier. Richard Carrier is doing so much to undermine atheism and build up Christianity. You see, he’s lowering the standards of his fellow atheists because he’s so caught up in his own perceived greatness that he thinks what he writes on any subject must be excellent. His followers have bought into that idea and have helped prolong it so lo and behold, if Carrier upholds mythicism, so will they. I know of Christians who have donated to his patreon because they want to see this keep going.

Besides, it seems rather odd that here you have the overwhelming majority of scholars on both sides of the Christian fence not doubting at all that Jesus existed and here you have a lone wolf saying otherwise. Yes. There are an isolated number of others like Robert Price, but the number of mythicist scholars are minimal and their work is not garnering attention. If you have all of that, as an outsider, what is the best route to take?

Let’s use another example. I am a heliocentrist, but I could not begin to make to you a defense of heliocentrism. That’s not because I’m anti-science. It’s just not an area I’m interested in. We do this in most every field. If you were going to court, you would hire a lawyer, but your need of one is not because you’re anti-law. You just haven’t studied it. You will likely go to your doctor if you’re sick and take whatever he tells you. You don’t know what to do on your own not because you’re anti-medicine, but just because you haven’t studied it and while you can question your doctor, if you don’t have the skill and knowledge, it would be pretty ridiculous to argue with him that he’s wrong.

So let’s suppose I come across the work of Gerry Bouw. Gerry Bouw does have a Ph.D. in astronomy and he is a geocentrist. Should I consider this a sign that heliocentrism is to be overturned? No. If Bouw is right, he will need some really good evidence, but as an outsider, when I see the academy of astronomy not paying attention to the idea, I deem it wise that I shouldn’t either.

Amusingly, this is like evolution. I get that the majority of you are atheists and have no problem with evolution. In all honesty, I don’t either. I just choose to not argue for or against it because like I said, I’m not a scientist. I could not mount a scientific defense of and I could not present an accurate scientific critique. Therefore, I will just grant it for the sake of argument.

If I jump on the internet, it looks like there’s a lot of debate on evolution. You can even go to a site like TalkOrigins and see this being debated regularly. What am I to conclude from this? Does this mean that the academy is debating evolution? Well, they are in one sense. They’re debating theories about it, but they are not debating if evolution is true or not.

You see, this is the danger of the internet. Anyone can put up an idea and have it seem smart. After all, if you make a presentation that draws people with a fascinating web site or an interesting YouTube video and you can cite names of people who agree with you, then it sure looks like you’re an informed person. You can also write a book on the topic and well, that surely means it’s a serious idea. Right?

But again, let’s go to the evolution example. You can find plenty of people doing just this with evolution. In fact, I can find some Ph.D.s in science that dissent from Darwin. Again, I am not agreeing or disagreeing with them here. I’m just acknowledging their existence. If you say “Yeah, but those are the outliers” then I say “As is the case with mythicism.” In fact, if you think we need to take mythicism seriously, then I, in turn, would say based on that standard you need to take young-earth creationism seriously, and no, I am not a young-earth creationist. By the standards you have set, young-earth creationism should be considered a serious worldview. I know many of you consider that a horrendous thought, but that’s just the way it is.

Of course, let’s not leave out the best part of the presentation. The memes! Once again, you have people like myself who read books written by scholars and yet we see a meme and we’re supposed to topple over immediately. Not at all. The memes often convince me further you don’t know what you’re talking about. The arguments are just hideous.

Now you could say a lot of scholars don’t answer the arguments. You could be right there. It’s also the same reason a lot of scientists don’t answer arguments for young-earth creationism. They’re not serious ideas to the scientists and the scientists want to engage with serious ideas. In fact, many specialists in the field would have a hard time with YEC arguments not because they think they’re so powerful, but because they’re so unusual. These deal with isolated claims and such that most scholars don’t bother to study.

Nevertheless, let’s look at some of the claims. We’re often told for instance that Jesus was supposed to be God in the flesh who did the most important event in human history and no one wrote about it. Does that not sound strange?

Not at all.

I could tell you right now that there are claims of people being healed at places like Lourdes. There are people who are absolutely certain the Virgin Mary is appearing to them. There are people who are convinced that they have been healed at a Benny Hinn Crusade. Question. Are you going to go and start investigating all these claims immediately?

Odds are no. You’re just going to discount them. Note that I’m not saying all these claims are valid. Still, you are a skeptic and the possibility doesn’t seem like a real option to your worldview, so you discount it. This is something we all tend to have. We all think skepticism really means being skeptical of that which disagrees with our worldview. Anything that agrees normally gets a free pass. If you are a true skeptic, you are skeptical of arguments against your worldview AND for your worldview.

You see, I am a political conservative. I’m sure many of you disagree with that, but it doesn’t matter here. The point I want to make is that during the Obama presidency, when someone shared something that was false about Obama, I made sure to correct it if I found out. Why? Because I wanted to take him down, but not with lies. You can see the same thing here in my response to Reclaim America with them misrepresenting a Muslim scholar. My point is I try to be skeptical of arguments for or against.

So let’s get back to Jesus. If you’re a Roman writer in the first century, you’re among the educated elite. You hear a story about a man claiming to be God who died and rose again and it’s all the way in this area called Judea. You think the people already have strange beliefs. I mean, they don’t even honor the gods! Now you hear also that this man was crucified. Well that settles it. The gods would not be with someone who was crucified. No person worthy of being considered a deity or a king or anything like that would be crucified. Do you investigate the claims? Not at all. This group is a marginal sect and they will disappear. In the long run, for them, Jesus is not worth talking about.

You should also know this, the argument from silence is really the weakest of the arguments. It’s sadly the biggest one that mythicists have. It’s expected that everyone should have been talking about Jesus and when they weren’t, well that just proves it.

Let’s also talk about this whole thing about contemporary eyewitnesses. Let’s consider it with another man. This guy is Hannibal. No. I don’t mean the guy from The Silence of the Lambs. I mean the ancient general of Carthage. This is a man who was their greatest general. He was the hero of heroes. Kids would have pictures of him on their lunchboxes. If movies had existed back then, you would see movies about Hannibal in Carthage. This guy defeated Roman army after Roman army. Keep in mind the Roman army was the most powerful empire the world had seen. In fact, he nearly conquered Rome itself. He was defeated, but he got the closest for his time. This was someone all the world would have known about.

What contemporary eyewitness do we have of him?

None. Not a one. Nothing.

Now I could play the mythicist game. You see, it’s obvious that what happened is that Rome had got into a sense of complacency and people thought that Rome wasn’t all that great. I mean, they’re only where they were because of luck. It’s not like they had to strive to get there. So what happened? Roman officials decided to create a figure that in the past beyond the time of eyewitnesses decided to go after Rome and nearly won, but Rome defeated him. Therefore, Rome overcame great odds to be where it was and we should not grow lax in our military in case another Hannibal shows up.

Do I think that’s likely? Not at all. It’s preposterous. The simple thing to do is realize that Hannibal existed despite lack of eyewitness testimony.

In fact, in my debate with Ken Humphreys, I caught him in such a contradiction. I asked him if he was certain that Josephus existed. I was told he was absolutely certain Josephus existed. I then asked if we have any first century testimony to Josephus. This caught him flatfooted. We don’t.

Now some of my fellow Christians are saying “We do have contemporary evidence of Jesus. It’s the Gospels and Paul!” To this, the mythicist likes to respond that this source is biased and can’t be trusted! I really hate to have to tell you this, but every source is biased. The only exceptions would be people writing about something they care nothing about, but then if they don’t care about it, why write about it?

The reality is you’re treating the Bible like the fundamentalist you condemn. The Christian fundamentalist will say the Bible stands on its own. God said it and you believe it! There’s no need for all this apologetics stuff. You just trust the Bible! The Bible is in a special category immune to historical research.

How is your response different? Only in the conclusion. The Bible says it and therefore we should be hyper skeptical of it. All of this apologetics stuff is bunk. You just question the Bible! The Bible is not open to historical research because all the authors were biased!

For Christians like myself, our request is simple. Treat the Bible like any other book in the ancient world. We’re not asking you to treat it like the inerrant Word of God. If you conclude that that is what it is, act accordingly. Until then, treat it like any other book from the ancient world claiming to give a historical account.

Let’s also say a word about Paul. Paul apparently doesn’t say much about the life of Jesus. Indeed. Why should he? His letters were occasional letters. They were written to deal with specific circumstances in the life of the church. Issues that told stories about the life of Jesus were apparently not necessary.

In fact, if you were to visit Facebook and see me and my friends, you would find we often make a big deal about affirming the virgin birth, which I do affirm. Why do I do this? Because of this argument about the silence of Paul. If you want to see how that works, just consider this post on why I affirm the virgin birth, which I do affirm.

In the long run, if anyone wants to convince me that they’re absolutely clueless on ancient history, there’s an easy way to do it. Just affirm mythicism. I will sometimes answer you for a little while, but I honestly consider it like pushing a slinky down the stairs. It seems kind of fun at first, but after awhile it’s the same old stuff. It’s nothing new.

What do I recommend you do? Pick up some more scholarship than what you’re doing. Use sources other than Wikipedia. If you think mythicism is a serious option, just pick up books on the historical Jesus, even books by non-Christians, and see how seriously they treat mythicism if they do at all.

Then wake up and join reality. Jesus existed. You can believe He existed without believing He’s the Son of God or rose from the dead or did miracles. In fact, as I often say, many atheists admit a historical Jesus existed and go on to lead happy and meaningful lives.

Be one of them.

In Christ,
Nick Peters


A Response To Bob Seidensticker on oral tradition

Were the Gospel stories corrupted before writing them down? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Recently in a discussion on oral tradition I was given a link to an article by Bob Seidensticker. Now this is someone that as soon as I saw the name, I decided to move on at the time. I’ve responded to his stuff before and found it incredibly lacking, but in the interest of being thorough, I’ll take the time now.

Bob asks us to begin with a story about being a merchant and a traveler stops and asks for some lodging. You have him in and tell him about Jesus. He likes the story and asks you to repeat it. You instead ask him to repeat the story. You all go over it a few times and then make any necessary corrections and the next day he’s on his way to share the story himself.

It’s a nice story, but sadly, that’s all it is. A story. Bob has not consulted any works on scholarship to find out if this is how it would come about in the ancient world. There is no looking at the groundbreaking research of Perry and Lord. There is nothing from Bauckham, Bailey, or Dunn. At the least he could have cited Bart Ehrman with Jesus Before the Gospels, but no.

So at the start, I’m wondering why I should take this account seriously. These stories were not told in isolation but in group settings. This is still the way things are done in the Middle East. These stories were told repeatedly and this in a culture where people had far better memories.

We’ll see why this matters soon.

Bob is willing to grant twenty years of history before the Gospels are written down for the sake of argument. He notes that this is a pre-scientific culture. Of course, we’re left wondering what this has to do with the price of tea in China. That a culture does not have science does not say anything about the reliability of oral transmission. We might as well say textual transmission isn’t reliable today because your newspaper can still have the horoscope in it.

He also says the account is about the creator of the universe coming to Earth. Of course, scholars have different responses to the idea of early high Christology, though it is interesting that Bob is probably unknowingly siding with the conservatives. What has to be asked is how this changes the content of the stories or the means of memorization.

Let’s state some aspects that need to be stated.

To begin with, Jesus was an itinerant speaker. I do public speaking. Many people do. If you’re a public speaker, you often tell the same story many many times. If I was asked to speak at a church some Sunday and it was Saturday night, I would go with a stock sermon that I have. Jesus was in many towns and cities and spoke to many different people. Are we to think that every great story He had, He only told once?

Second, many of Jesus’s sayings were aphorisms. These were simple sayings that were easy to remember. Some of them could go on a bumper sticker today. It is better to give than to receive. Turn the other cheek. What does it profit a man to gain the world and lose his soul?

Third, Jesus often told parables. These stories were easy to remember. Many of us could tell the parable of the prodigal son. The stories were not long and had “gotcha” endings many times. We could relate it to how many of us can tell jokes after hearing them just once.

Fourth, Jesus did live in an orally-based culture. In this culture, memorization was taken far more seriously. James Dunn has this in his great work on the topic Jesus Remembered. Jesus sent out his own disciples two by two and they were to pass on His teachings. Obviously, He would make sure that they knew these teachings.

Fifth, many of the events of Jesus’s life would be what we call flashbulb moments, such as are described by Robert McIver. Many of you remember where you were when you first heard about 9/11. Those who are older remember when they first heard that JFK had been shot. This would be the same for if you were suddenly healed of leprosy or paralysis or something like that. There’s a huge gap between giving an encouraging pep talk to a blind man and opening the eyes of a blind man.

Of course, Bob says nothing about any of this. The rule apparently is that if you’re an atheist on the internet, reading on a topic isn’t necessary and definitely you don’t need to read anything that disagrees with you. Just tell a story about how you think it probably was, and that’s enough.

Bob then compares the accounts to Bernadette in 1858 who had visions that were investigated and concluded to be true a year and a half later. One wonders what the parallel here is. I do not know if the accounts are true or not, although I would say an interesting look can be found in the second section of this book.

From there, we have numerous references to Wikipedia and alleged copycats. Wikipedia is, of course, a bastion of scholarly research where the best minds go to for their information. Perhaps Bob should also read The Death of Expertise and learn a little bit about why Wikipedia should not be trusted on something like this.

If it’s not Wikipedia, he refers to only himself. With the copycat claim, he admits in the article that he does not possess the expertise to comment. He also points out that there is a Christian web site that will offer $1,000 to anyone who can prove that the lists of parallel gods is actually true. Obviously, Bob hasn’t cashed in because he doesn’t think it is, but apparently that doesn’t stop him from spreading the claim anyway. Naturally, you won’t see any interaction with scholarly material like this.

The next is about how Paul doesn’t tell the Gospel story, to which the question has to be asked why should he? This would be covered in the oral tradition. Paul wrote to churches to deal with issues in their midst. The truth of the story of Jesus was never an issue. What was an issue was the outworkings of what that meant.

We’re not at all surprised to see that the only real source he has on this is the prominent polyamorous internet blogger Richard Carrier. It’s as if skeptics have an allergy so often to anything that disagrees with them. Instead of getting a scholar that actually teaches at an accredited university, they go for Carrier. Carrier is often the alpha and omega of Biblical scholarship to a skeptic.

Bob will later say that it is often said that people in the first century had better memories. He says that there is no reason to imagine that this is how it was. Indeed, there isn’t. We should instead consult the best scholars in the field. Apparently, it’s okay for Bob to imagine a just-so story about a merchant, but if you say something different about how things went in the ancient world, well you’re just imagining.

He also brings up the canard of perfect accuracy. Perfect accuracy assumes there is one original story. While there was an original event, the story would be told differently. For the parables and such, there could be variation depending on the audience and setting much like any itinerant speaker today. For a story, ancients were fine with the gist of the story being the same even if some secondary details were a bit different. The problem so often is that many moderns approach the ancients and expect them to tell stories according to modern standards instead of ancient ones.

In the end, we conclude that there is no reason to take Bob seriously on this topic. He has not taken modern scholarship seriously and instead relied on Wikipedia and Richard Carrier. In turn, he is not going to be taken seriously. Why respond to this then? Because sadly some people do take this seriously so it is necessary to have something for them.

Hopefully, Bob will crack open a book next time.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: 26 Reasons Why Jews Don’t Believe In Jesus Part 5

What are we to make of Paul? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

If you had thought we were into flights of fancy before with Asher Norman in his book, we have reached new heights with this one. Norman presents some of the worst eisegesis that you will come across. I do realize that there are many Jews who are opposed to Christianity and do want to read anti-missionary material. Please do consider another source. This chapter on Paul will leave a lot of Christian readers stunned at the way Norman twists the New Testament. (Of course, he has nothing but condemnation if he thinks we do that with the old, but it’s okay to do that with the New.)

Let’s start with the idea that Paul believed the ends justifies the means. Norman gives us some Scripture for this. He starts with Romans 3 with verses 5 and 7-8:

But if our unrighteousness brings out God’s righteousness more clearly,what shall we say? That God is unjust in bringing his wrath on us? (I am using a human argument.)

Someone might argue, “If my falsehood enhances God’s truthfulness and so increases his glory, why am I still condemned as a sinner?” Why not say—as some slanderously claim that we say—“Let us do evil that good may result”? Their condemnation is just!

Let’s look at the whole passage. We’ll go with verses 1-8:

What advantage, then, is there in being a Jew, or what value is there in circumcision? Much in every way! First of all, the Jews have been entrusted with the very words of God.

What if some were unfaithful? Will their unfaithfulness nullify God’s faithfulness? Not at all! Let God be true, and every human being a liar.As it is written:

“So that you may be proved right when you speak
    and prevail when you judge.”

But if our unrighteousness brings out God’s righteousness more clearly,what shall we say? That God is unjust in bringing his wrath on us? (I am using a human argument.) Certainly not! If that were so, how could God judge the world? Someone might argue, “If my falsehood enhances God’s truthfulness and so increases his glory, why am I still condemned as a sinner?” Why not say—as some slanderously claim that we say—“Let us do evil that good may result”? Their condemnation is just!

Norman has been outright dishonest by removing the sixth verse which shows that Paul disagrees thoroughly. Romans is often seen as a sort of dialogue epistle with Paul interacting with an interlocutor throughout and quoting what he thinks his opponent will say. These are not the views of Paul. It’s rather funny that Norman accuses Christians of doing to the Old Testament the very thing he does to the New Testament.

Next we go to 2 Corinthians 12:16:

Be that as it may, I have not been a burden to you. Yet, crafty fellow that I am, I caught you by trickery!

Again, the whole passage, 11-21:

11 I have made a fool of myself, but you drove me to it. I ought to have been commended by you, for I am not in the least inferior to the “super-apostles,” even though I am nothing. 12 I persevered in demonstrating among you the marks of a true apostle, including signs, wonders and miracles. 13 How were you inferior to the other churches, except that I was never a burden to you? Forgive me this wrong!

14 Now I am ready to visit you for the third time, and I will not be a burden to you, because what I want is not your possessions but you. After all, children should not have to save up for their parents, but parents for their children. 15 So I will very gladly spend for you everything I have and expend myself as well. If I love you more, will you love me less? 16 Be that as it may, I have not been a burden to you. Yet, crafty fellow that I am, I caught you by trickery! 17 Did I exploit you through any of the men I sent to you? 18 I urged Titus to go to you and I sent our brother with him. Titus did not exploit you, did he? Did we not walk in the same footsteps by the same Spirit?

19 Have you been thinking all along that we have been defending ourselves to you? We have been speaking in the sight of God as those in Christ; and everything we do, dear friends, is for your strengthening.20 For I am afraid that when I come I may not find you as I want you to be, and you may not find me as you want me to be. I fear that there may be discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, slander, gossip,arrogance and disorder. 21 I am afraid that when I come again my God will humble me before you, and I will be grieved over many who have sinned earlier and have not repented of the impurity, sexual sin and debauchery in which they have indulged.

Norman apparently hasn’t learned about something called “sarcasm.” Does he really think Paul is going to confess to openly tricking the Corinthians in a letter trying to regain favor with them in light of the super-apostles? Not at all. In fact, he’s saying just the opposite. He was good to them always and was never a burden to them. Obviously, he had to be up to something!

Finally, Philippians 1:18:

But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.

Again, starting at verse 15 and going through 18 shows a different picture:

15 It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. 16 The latter do so out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. 17 The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. 18 But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.

Paul is acknowledging that some people preach Christ in an attempt to cause trouble for Paul. Paul can’t do anything about this but instead turns it back on them. “What do I care? I’m not doing this for me. I’m doing this for Christ and you all are proclaiming Christ so thank you very much!”

Norman is also convinced Paul lied about being a Pharisee since he worked for the high priest and was never a student of Gamaliel since Paul opposed the Law. (Which he really didn’t, but that thing called the Damascus Road experience did change some views) He also speculates that Paul was a failed convert to Judaism. Will you find any scholarly backing for any of this? Nope. Just Norman’s imagination. In fact, his main source is the Ebionites later on who wrote about Paul wanting to marry the daughter of the high priest. He got turned down and in a rage turned on Judaism.

Evidence for this? None.

We move on to Paul’s Damascus Road experience and here, we are not shocked that Norman thinks that he’s surprised us all by saying there are three different accounts of what happened. Yes. Sometimes the story has some differences in it based on who is telling it and who the audience is. One fact to be sure of is Luke is no fool as he writes this. He knows what has happened. It’s quite likely he’s going for some variety. Of course, there are any number of commentaries Norman could have checked and any number of explanations for this, but no. Norman only saves that research for the Old Testament.

If this wasn’t enough, Norman thinks he’s caught Luke plagiarizing. Why? Because the experience account contains the saying “kick against the goads.” Why that also shows up in The Bacchae of Euripides! Luke is a plagiarizer!

Or maybe Luke is quoting a common idiom which was referring to resisting the will of the deity. Suppose I’m a pastor of a church about to send missionaries to an unreached part of the world. I could get in a pulpit and say “For Jesus, we are about to boldly go where no man has gone before!” No one would accuse me of plagiarizing Star Trek. They would understand the theme that I am pointing to.

Norman goes on to say that Paul was lying about being with Gamaliel because, hey, look at how Paul describes himself in Titus 3:3.

At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another.

First off, since Paul has several Gentiles with him in the writing of the letter, this isn’t a shock. He doesn’t say “I.” He says “We.” Second, Paul is speaking more about spiritual understanding. Christ did indeed add something to Paul.

If you think this is something unbelievable, it gets worse. This next one is so bad that I nearly threw the book up in exasperation when I read it. Let’s give the text first. It’s Galatians 2:19-20:

19 “For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God. 20 I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Followed by 6:17:

17 From now on, let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus.

Norman’s conclusion? Paul sees himself as the alter ego of Jesus.

No. I’m not making that up. Really. I’m not. He really says this.

What Norman misses is that Paul lived in a world where individualism was not the way. Paul would identify himself with his group. In this case, Paul chose to identify with Christ. Paul had his identity wrapped up in Christ and was to live imitating Him. His life was to be for Christ and when he got persecuted, He was just following in the footsteps of Jesus. Despite this, Norman thinks this is better seen as Paul showing mental instability. The instability here is Norman with scholarship about the Greco-Roman world.

Norman then goes on to make the case that Paul didn’t get the Gospel from the apostles. This is hardly a shock to anyone who has read Galatians. Of course, he leaves out that the apostles added nothing to him when he presented himself to them.

Norman goes on to argue that Jesus’s disciples didn’t accept Paul. He goes to Acts 9:26 for this:

26 When he came to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple.

A brief thinking on this will show the problem. Disciples means anyone who followed Jesus in this context. It does not mean one of the twelve. To show this, let’s plug in the definition for the twelve here.

“When he came to Jerusalem, he tried to join the twelve, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was one of the twelve.”

“Hey Peter. Can you remind us again? We’ve been together for at least four years here. Was this guy always one of us? I don’t remember.”

Also, let’s not be surprised that the followers of Jesus were surprised that Paul said he was a follower of Jesus. This would be like a Christian church in the Middle East being suspicious of that known ISIS member wanting to join the church saying he’s become a Christian. It’s not a shock that Norman leaves out that Barnabas changed their minds. We know Norman’s game now. Evidence that doesn’t suit his case is thrown out and treated as non-existent.

Norman also says that the apostles had to have appointment letters from James to show they are an apostle. His source for this is a rejected Gospel called the PseduoClementine Recognitions. Norman doesn’t point out that this isn’t a Gospel, that it was written by those the church held were heretics at the time, and that it dates to the fourth century. After all, fourth century documents are far better at judging first century events.

Norman then goes on to quote 2 Corinthians 3:

Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, like some people, letters of recommendation to you or from you? You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everyone.

If you’re going with Norman, you won’t find this verse. He lists it as verse 6. (Honestly, I wonder if Norman has ever read the New Testament or just read about it.) What he doesn’t realize is that letters of recommendation were all about status in those days with a higher honor person giving a recommend for a lower honor one. It’s not about a secret club the apostles had. He gives other verses as well, but none of them show what he wants them to show.

Norman also says Paul did miracles, but since he taught a different God, then this means he was a false apostle. Norman has not shown that this is a diffferent God. Throughout, we’ve shown his understanding of the Trinity is dreadfully lacking.

Norman also says that Paul taught a different Gospel and a different Jesus. We start with 2 Corinthians 11 and verses 4 and 13.

For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the Spirit you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough.

For such people are false apostles,deceitful workers, masquerading as apostles of Christ.

Of course, all of this depends on these apostles being the same as those of the twelve. This has not been shown. Many people were called apostles who were not of the twelve. Norman gives no evidence that what he asserts is the case.

1 Corinthians 4:15-16:

15 Even if you had ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel. 16 Therefore I urge you to imitate me.

Are you wanting to know how this shows Paul taught a different Gospel?

So am I.

Norman gives no explanation.

Galatians 1:6-9:

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse!

As expected, Norman ignores entirely that in this very chapter, Jesus’s own apostles have no problem with the message that Paul is preaching. If anyone wants to check Norman’s claims, just go back and read the verses he gives. It’s easy enough to make any case when you just cherry-pick. I once again shudder to think that this man is a lawyer.

We already looked at Norman’s claim that Paul believed the end justifies the means. There’s one more passage he adds to that. It’s one commonly used and that’s 1 Corinthians 9:19-23:

19 Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.

No doubt, Norman would be outraged at missionaries visiting Japan who take their shoes off in someone’s home even though they never do that at home! How deceptive! How dare you actually live like the people you are trying to reach! This is all Paul is saying. He does say he’s under the law of Christ so he can’t do everything he wants to do, but he does say that if he wants to reach Jews, he abides by the Law. If he’s with Gentiles, he lives more freely.

Many passages Norman quotes also with Paul’s statements about the law also come from Hebrews. While some think Paul was the writer of Hebrews, there’s no hard proof of this. Norman also thinks that Paul was wrong when he said the law can’t make anyone perfect. Apparently, Norman thinks there were sinless people walking around in the past. King Solomon disagreed but hey, Norman knows better.

Norman also says that Paul lied about his opposition to Torah. (His supposed opposition.) For this, he goes to two passages. First, Acts 24:14:

However, I admit that I worship the God of our ancestors as a follower of the Way, which they call a sect. I believe everything that is in accordance with the Law and that is written in the Prophets,

Norman leaves out the first part of this verse, but what’s the problem? I could say this as a Gentile. I have no problem with it. No Christian should. It doesn’t mean we follow the Law, but we realize the purpose of it and agree with it.

Acts 25:8:

Then Paul made his defense: “I have done nothing wrong against the Jewish law or against the temple or against Caesar.”

Again, the problem? It’s not like Paul brought a pig and sacrificed it in front of the temple. Paul abided by the Law in Jerusalem.

Norman also thinks Acts 21 is a clincher. James, after all, has Paul take a purification vow.  This isn’t James giving orders to Paul. It’s James being the middleman. James is in the position of trying to tell Jews they don’t have to be Gentiles to be Christians. Paul is doing the opposite. He’s telling Gentiles they don’t have to be Jews. Now Paul has shown up with a lot of money due to the collection being taken among the churches for Jerusalem and with some Gentiles in tow. Paul is to show his solidarity with his fellow Jews by taking part in this ritual, which he agrees with.

Norman also argues that the Jews thought Paul was a heretic. Again, no major point to make here. Not much of a shock.

Finally, we conclude with the idea that Paul was a Roman agent still in his ministry. Evidence of this? Well in Romans 16, he greets Aristobulus who could have been the grandson of Herod. Naturally, that would mean that he had to walk in lockstep with Herod for Norman. The same with the greeting of Herodian. Paul also greeted all the Christians in the household of Caesar in Philippians. It’s ignored that the city of Philippi was a Roman colony and Christians there could be of the household of Caesar.

Norman also points out that Paul was protected by 470 Roman troops when being transported in Acts. Paul must have been someone important! Norman isn’t aware that the roads back then weren’t known for safety and that with mass riots just having taken place in Jerusalem and forty known men being in a conspiracy to kill Paul with the possibility of even more that is unknown, the Romans didn’t want to take chances.

Paul also taught submission to Roman authority, but this is hardly a shock either. Would Norman have preferred that Paul taught open revolt? What’s so awful about saying to be a good citizen insofar as you can?

Norman’s arguments are woefully lacking and we haven’t even got to the worst in the book. We’ll see more next time when Norman looks at the New Testament itself.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

End Times Evangelism Messages

What is our focus in evangelism? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Last night, Allie and I were looking for a Christian movie to watch. (To which when she asked why we don’t have a lot, I replied that most of them are just awful.) We had been watching The Gospel of Matthew put up on YouTube by The Two Preachers and so after looking for another movie there, we went to their channel to see what they had. One video was about Christmas, to which they gave the right answer. The overwhelming majority were all about end times.

The ones that we saw began with usually reading a verse. Of course, no context was given to this verse. It was just assumed that this verse had to be fully literal and had to be about our times which would have to be the end times and could have no prior fulfillment. (The prophets obviously weren’t interested in the present needs of the people. They just wanted to tell them about events over 2,000 years later.)

Then there would be some sensational story which was meant to back the event. The last video we saw talked about how important this was because so many people are converting because of these end-times warnings. In fact, many of the skeptics have to be believing it somewhere because they keep watching the videos.

By this logic, I must be believing atheist books since I read them so often.

We were also given the challenge that if these aren’t signs of the end times, then give what the signs are, using passages like Matthew 24. Of course, I would ask why Matthew 24 couldn’t have already been fulfilled. You know, the whole “This generation will not pass away” thing. The futurist paradigm should not be assumed. It should be argued for, much as I would gladly argue for my orthodox Preterism viewpoint.

Something that did catch me (Allie caught something else that she can write about if she chooses) was the claim that they are seeing many people convert to Jesus through end-times warnings. That could very well be true, yet I wonder is that truly the goal? I have my own problems with the idea of conversion. Making getting conversion to be the goal is like getting people to be married is the goal. Getting married is easy. Having a marriage is work. Getting converted can be easy. Being a disciple is difficult.

First off, I have this big concern about so many end times predictions being made because they can so easily be found to be false. Anybody remember 88 reasons Jesus will return in 1988? Yep. That took the world by storm and now, it’s an embarrassment to Christianity. What about people like Harold Camping and John Hagee and others? The response could normally be “Well yeah, all those people got it wrong, but we’re the ones who have it right!”

After all, you know, our generation is just so awesome that surely Jesus has to return for us!

Second, let’s look at an authoritative list of sermons that we have. How about the book of Acts?

“Are you sure you want to do that? Don’t you know that Peter’s first sermon in the book is about the last days?”

Yes. And those days were his own times right there. It wasn’t some time off in the future. The same is found in Hebrews 1 as well. What does Peter go on to say? What is the sign of the last days? God has raised up His Son Jesus. The resurrection was the focus of the message. Because Jesus was resurrected, He is Lord and Christ. Peter didn’t stay on the experience. He used the experience to get to Jesus.

You can find a list of Acts sermons here. Go through. See how many times Paul spoke about the end times or anyone else. No. They spoke about the resurrection. One heading here even is “Paul proclaims his righteousness and judgment to come.” That has to be it!” Well, no. You go there and Paul talks about the resurrection.

Paul was a guy for whom the resurrection of Jesus was central. He built his faith on that. He built it on it so much that in 1 Cor. 15 he said that if Jesus was not raised, we above all men should be pitied. It was the resurrection that established the end times doctrines and what was that end times doctrine? Oh yes. Resurrection.

When we make the focus be on something other than the resurrection, we are treating that as the foundation of our faith. You should believe in Jesus because of this end times doctrine. No. You should believe in Jesus because He rose from the dead. All the strange phenomena in the world doesn’t matter if Jesus is not raised. It’s just strange phenomena then.

My challenge to the Two Preachers then is to focus on the resurrection. Go through the videos and see how many are about the end times and how many are about the resurrection. See if that seems to be a problem or not. It’s also what I would recommend to other Christians. Some Christians major so much on end times that they have their charts and graphs all filled out, but they know nothing about how to show Jesus rose from the dead.  I’m not saying the Two Preachers couldn’t make a case. I hope they could. I’m saying we have a problem in our church when more people know about the end times than they do about the resurrection.

Some of you will disagree with me on my view of the end times. God bless you. I have no problem with futurists as people. Why would I? I’m married to one. I have a problem with futurism being the focus. (I would have a problem with Preterism being the focus instead of Jesus in fact.) I would say the same with YEC or OEC or inerrancy or any other doctrine.

Focus on the resurrection. That’s your foundation.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Paul Behaving Badly

What do I think of Randy Richards’s and Brandon O’Brien’s book published by IVP? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Paul can be a very polarizing figure today. Some Christians have the idea that Jesus is really awesome (And they’re right), but we don’t know about that Paul guy. He wasn’t even one of the original twelve. He didn’t meet Jesus in person. Why should we listen to him? Some skeptics will claim that it was Paul who really invented Christianity and took the good message of Jesus and turned Him into a deity and lost sight of His message.

For those of us who do like Paul, we do have to admit there can be difficulties. As the authors ask “Was Paul a jerk?” Sometimes, it looks like he was. They bring this up in a number of areas. First, the general question of if he was a jerk. Then they ask if he was a killjoy, a racist, a supporter of slavery, a chauvinist, a homophobe, a hypocrite, and finally a twister of Scripture.

Each chapter starts with the charges against Paul and they do bring forward an excellent case. You can look at the claims and if you are not familiar with the debates it is easy to ask “How is Paul going to get out of this one?” The authors also grant that Paul is not one behaving according to 21st century Western standards, but he was still just as much behaving badly to his own culture as he was just as radical to them. Paul is kind of in an in-between spot sometimes. Many times he’ll push the envelope further and leave it to us to keep pushing it. The question is are we going to do that.

Many of these questions need to be addressed for the sake of many people you will encounter who raise these objections. (Why didn’t Paul just demand the immediate release of slaves?) I enjoyed particularly the chapter on Paul being a killjoy. O’Brien gives his story in this one on how anything wasn’t to be done because we are to abstain from the appearance of evil so let’s make sure we all go see only G-rated movies and are teetotallers. (While I personally abstain from alcoholic beverages, I don’t condemn those who drink and control their alcohol.)

Some insights I thought were interesting and added perspective. Why did Paul seem to take contradictory stances on meat offered to idols? Why did he have Timothy circumcised when Timothy was from the area of Galatia and Paul had made it clear that if you let yourself be circumcised, then you are denying the Gospel. (If you want the answers to those questions, you know what you need to do.)

I would have liked to have seen a little bit more on the honor and shame aspect of the culture of the time. There is some touching on this, such as talk also about the client/patron system, but a quick refresher would have been good for those who don’t know it. Of course, I definitely recommend that anyone pick up their excellent book Misreading Scripture With Western Eyes.

This book is a great blessing that we need today. Paul, like I said, is one of the most controversial figures even among Christians. To deal with his critics and to help those who would like to support him, you need to read this book.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Deeper Waters Podcast 12/17/2016: Jeffrey Weima

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

We had some recording problems with a past show so once we get that taken care of, we will be uploading again. This could also be the last show of the year. I’m not sure, but I don’t think many people care for a new podcast on Christmas and New Year’s Eve both. So if this is it, let’s see how this year will end.

Letter-writing is today seen as a lost art. It’s certainly not one I partake in. It was done in the ancient world and one of our most prolific writers was Paul. Have we ever stopped to think not just about the content of what he said but the way he generally worked his letters? What is the style of Paul? What does he intend to do with openings and closings and everything in between?

We may not have, but someone has. That someone is Jeffrey Weima. He is the author of Paul: The Ancient Letter Writer: An Introduction to Epistolary Analysis. We will be talking to him about what all went into Paul writing his letters and recognizing the various parts of his letters, but who is Jeffrey Weima?


According to his bio:

Dr. Jeffrey Weima is Professor of New Testament at Calvin Theological Seminary, where he has taught for the past 25 years. He is a sought-after speaker who is able to communicate well the truths of the Bible in an interesting, contemporary and practical manner. Jeff has published five books (Neglected Endings: The Significance of the Pauline Letter Closings [1994]; An Annotated Bibliography of 1 and 2 Thessalonians [1998]; 1 & 2 Thessalonians [2002]), recently completing a major commentary on 1 and 2 Thessalonians (Baker Books: 2014). His fifth and latest book, Paul the Ancient Letter Writer: An Introduction to Epistolary Analysis, appeared in the fall of this year (Baker Books: 2016). Jeff is also the author of numerous scholarly articles, academic essays and book reviews. He has taught courses all over the world: Hungary, Greece, Italy, South Korea, Kenya, Taiwan, The Philippines, and South Africa. Jeff is an active member of several academic societies, lectures overseas, leads biblical study tours to Greece,Turkey, Israel/Jordan, and Italy, conducts intensive preaching seminars for pastors, and preaches widely in the Christian Reformed Church as well as many other churches in both the USA and Canada.
Jeff and his wife, Bernice, have been married for 33 years. They have four children and five very cute grandkids.

Many of us have studied the writings of Paul and read about them, but how many of us have studied the style of Paul and the importance of every single part of his letters? Is there really something significant in the introduction to Galatians for instance? You might be surprised. In fact, I hope you will be. Weima’s book is a fascinating work that I recommend greatly.

I hope you’ll be looking forward to this new episode of the Deeper Waters Podcast. Please consider going on ITunes and leaving a positive review. You know I love to see them!

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Paul The Ancient Letter Writer

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

Writing letters nowadays is a lost art. Very few people do anything like that with email being available now. In the digital age, it’s hard to think about what it was like in prior ages, especially in an oral age. When you wrote a letter, you had to use few words and say much with those words. It was timely and expensive.

Paul in writing would have to be a master and demonstrate masterful rhetoric to get his point across. Unfortunately, in our society we see that as a negative where rhetoric has in fact become a word to refer to talk without substance. In Paul’s day, it would mean making a great substance for a talk using keywords.

Also, we have to understand the mood of the day. Was Paul engaging in emotional blackmail to Philemon? Were Paul’s greetings or closings just throwaway material? Can there really be anything in a simple benediction or introduction? What difference does it make to list the names of people you were with as you start or introduce a letter?

Fortunately, we have Jeffrey Weima’s book to help with this. Weima goes through each section of a letter wrestling with the implications of what is meant. Of course, no thorough analysis of long letters like Romans or 1 Corinthians are available and we can only touch some of the letters like Galatians or 2 Thessalonians. Still, what there is dealt with should be grabbed onto.

There is also looking as I said at the introduction and closings. For instance, Galatians 1 starts with saying “And all the brothers and sisters with me.” Is Paul just being friendly here? Nope. Paul is pulling weight. He is saying he is not just a lone wolf apostle. He is saying that he is backed by all of the brothers and sisters there. Not just some. All of them. Immediately the Galatian hearers would know that if they challenged Paul back, it would be a challenge against not just him, but several others.

When Paul lists who he is with, is there something to this? Yes. In his closings, Paul often makes some final appeals and usually has his autograph statement to show that it is his letter. Compare the names in Colossians with those in Philemon. Is Paul again pulling weight?

We often look at the body and can miss some of the main points Paul makes because we don’t think the way Paul did. We miss ideas like chiasms for instance, such as Paul speaking about sending Timothy in 1 Thessalonians. We also miss that if he sends Timothy, it’s a big deal, since Timothy is practically his right-hand man. We can miss that in the correspondence in 2 Thessalonians, Paul seven times refers to his audience as “brothers and sisters.” Let’s not get so caught up in the argument that we miss underlying points.

Weima wraps this up in the end by looking at Philemon as a case study. It’s a good and short letter and everything he mentioned is in it. When you finish it, you’ll get more out of Philemon than you ever did before.

This work will give you plenty to think about. I would have liked seeing some more interaction with the idea of secretaries. If we say Paul wrote the letter, just how much did he write. Was this the master craftsmanship of a secretary or of Paul? After all, we know some of his letters, and quite likely all, were written with the help of secretaries. Just how much did Paul influence?

This is a good book still that you will want to add to your library. It’s a wonderful look at the Greco-Roman rhetorical style for writing. Your reading of Paul’s letters will never be the same.

In Christ,
Nick Peters


Atheism and the Case Against Christ Chapter 6

What do I think of chapter 6 of McCormick’s book? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Chapter 6 further brings us home just how uninformed McCormick is in Biblical scholarship. This is amusing since he talks about other people holding an emotional commitment to a worldview and thus finding it hard to really examine it properly. One wonders if McCormick is not somehow talking about himself. After all, while one can have a deep emotional investment to Christianity, one can have the same to atheism.

He has a story where someone comes up to you who is a stranger and calls himself Matthew. Matthew wants you to believe a story, but he didn’t see any of it and it’s not clear whether he met or spoke with anyone involved in the story. It was something that took place long ago and passed through a long list of people. He’s still sure they’re all honest and trustworthy.

Matthew then tells you that it actually happened 100 years ago but it wasn’t written until decades later and we don’t have originals of the writing but copies of copies. These original writings were all based on tellings and retellings of the story. Still, he’s convinced everyone involved was trustworthy.

Matthew’s story is about a man named Jones and Jones was abducted off of the face of the Earth. There are many people who sincerely believe the story. It’s not hard to see what the parallel is.

It’s also not hard to see that McCormick doesn’t know for a moment what he’s talking about.

McCormick has cited no references on Biblical scholarship. He has no references on oral tradition and he has no idea how textual criticism works. Instead, he’s gone with a lot of atheist pet slogans and hasn’t bothered to research or questioned them. You can’t help but wonder if he has an investment in these kinds of slogans since they agree so well with what he already believes.

Of course, McCormick says this could change if some crucial differences were shown. Perhaps McCormick should have looked to see if there were any differences. McCormick strikes me as someone who has only really read what agrees with him and disavowed the rest. He does not interact with the best critics of his position at all in these chapters.

It’s also worth noting that Paul is added to the mix and we are told that Paul could be someone who learned about this because he heard a voice when he had a powerful seizure and vision while going to work and before that, he was a famous skeptic with a TV show debunking alien-abduction stories. One can’t help but be impressed with the creativity of certain skeptics. It is apparent they will believe in anything before the resurrection.

So let’s start. First off, McCormick has as we have shown earlier not bothered to understand oral tradition. He also has a problem with written tradition as he assumes a true account would be written down immediately. Does McCormick see this happening with any other book in the ancient world? Or is it rather that McCormick will treat the Jesus story differently? Keep in mind if he does this, he is being hypocritical since he is accusing Christians of treating the Jesus story different from every other claim such as Salem, Islam, alien abductions, etc. If McCormick is going to talk about equal standards, he needs to apply them himself.

Second, we are talking about different cultures. The world of the Bible was an honor-shame culture. In this world, you would not want to share a story that would put you on the outs with society, but that is exactly what happened. The resurrection was a story that would be seen as deviant in nature.

Third, McCormick doesn’t really bother to interact with arguments about authorship or date of writing. Are these not important? Is it the case that obviously Bart Ehrman is right and everyone else is wrong because Bart Ehrman is the skeptic? All of these are important issues. All of them are ignored.

McCormick also says the martyrdom argument won’t work. After all, that people died for a belief doesn’t mean it’s true. If we apply it consistently, we have to conclude that the dedication of Heaven’s Gate proves that there was a spaceship at the tail of the Hale-Bopp comet. This is such a hideous twisting of the claim that it should be embarrassing to McCormick to have it in print.

No. What it is is an indicator that the person is convinced it’s true. If some of the apostles willingly died for their conviction, we can’t be sure that Jesus rose, but we can be sure that those apostles believed he rose. With the Heaven’s Gate cult, we can deny there was a spaceship on the tail of a comet, but we can be convinced that the people sure thought there was one.

All of this thinking is lost on McCormick.

At 1945, McCormick tells us that he thinks the hypothesis that there are other material beings with physical powers unlike our own and in another part of the universe fits more readily with what we know of the rest of the world than magica,l transcendent, supernatural beings. Of course, no doubt, this we refers to materialistic atheists who also share his view. We won’t say anything on God yet, but there is a later chapter looking at the concept of God and yes, McCormick handles it just as abysmally as he handles this.

McCormick has an even worse scenario. Imagine being on trial for a murder committed decades ago that you did not commit. The prosecution rests on the testimony of Mike, Monty, Larry, and Jacob. None of them saw you commit the crime and have never met you, but they heard stories from others that say they saw you commit the murder. This murder happened 30 years ago.

Also, Mike and Larry got a lot of their story from Monty. Not only that, another man shows up named Perry who says you did it, but he didn’t witness it and just had a powerful vision saying you did it. Does this sound like fair grounds to convict you?

Of course not, and it also doesn’t sound like a fair treatment of the NT. We could get into some wonderful discussions on how Paul got his information and who he was and how reliable he was and we could talk about the synoptic problem and archaeological evidence for the NT. Well, we could talk about these things, but they might have the sad consequence of increasing the reliability of the New Testament. It’s best to not touch them.

In the end, McCormick gives yet another weak performance. Only those thoroughly unfamiliar with scholarship will think he has said anything remotely convincing. This is quite amusing since our next chapter will be about counter-evidence, something McCormick regularly avoids.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Chapter 1 can be found here.

Chapter 2 can be found here.

Chapter 3 can be found here.

Chapter 4 can be found here.

Chapter 5 can be found here.

Chapter 7 can be found here.

Chapter 8 can be found here.

Chapter 9 can be found here.

Chapter 10 can be found here.

Chapter 11 can be found here.

Chapter 12 can be found here.

Chapter 13 can be found here.

McCormick’s Gaffe