Deeper Waters Podcast 3/11/2017: Mike Licona

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

“It depends on which Gospel you read!” Many of us have heard Bart Ehrman talk about this in describing Gospel differences. It is a kind of unavoidable problem. Why are there differences in the Gospels? Shouldn’t we expect them to agree, especially on major events like the resurrection?

If you want to know why there are differences in the Gospels, you should talk to someone who has written on this. In fact, the very name of his book is Why Are There Differences In The GospelsThat someone is Mike Licona, a friend, a scholar, a great apologist, and my father-in-law, and he will be my guest. So who is he?


According to his bio:

Mike Licona has a Ph.D. in New Testament Studies (University of Pretoria), which he completed with distinction. He serves as associate professor in theology at Houston Baptist University. Mike was interviewed by Lee Strobel in his book The Case for the Real Jesus and appeared in Strobel’s video The Case for Christ. He is the author of numerous books including Why Are There Differences in the Gospels? What We Can Learn From Ancient Biography (Oxford University Press, 2017), The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach (IVP Academic, 2010), Paul Meets Muhammad (Baker, 2006), co-author with Gary Habermas of the award-winning book The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus (Kregel, 2004) and co-editor with William Dembski of Evidence for God: 50 Arguments for Faith from the Bible, History, Philosophy, and Science (Baker, 2010). Mike is a member of the Evangelical Theological and Philosophical Societies, the Institute for Biblical Research, and the Society of Biblical Literature. He has spoken on more than 90 university campuses, and has appeared on dozens of radio and television programs.

We’ll be talking about Plutarch in comparison with the Gospels, including not just parallel accounts, but how does the writing of Plutarch compare even with anonymity, dating, and miraculous activity? We’ll then be looking at some scenes in Plutarch that appear in more than one life that he has written, but at the same time are vastly different. We’ll be discussing how these work when carried over to the Gospels and if there are similarities in treatment.

We’ll then go to the Gospels. What are we to make of the idea of Ehrman that “It depends on which Gospel you read?” How does this research affect the doctrine of inerrancy if it does at all? What are we to do when we read the same story in different Gospels and see great differences between them? Do the differences outweigh the similarities?

I hope you’ll be listening. Mike Licona is an excellent scholar and this work is one that has been published by Oxford Press and so one can’t say it’s your regular evangelical press. I also hope you’ll be willing to go to ITunes and leave a positive review of the Deeper Waters Podcast. I always love to see how much you like the show.

In Christ,
Nick Peters



Book Plunge: Why Are There Differences In The Gospels?

What do I think of Mike Licona’s book published by Oxford University Press? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Go to any debate online about the New Testament and one idea you’ll see pop up regularly will be “It contradicts itself over and over.” Go listen to Bart Ehrman and hear him speak about these and what will he say? “Depends on which Gospel you read?” Gospel differences are something that is a cause of concern to many a skeptic and of course, many a Christian as well. Especially if you hold a high view of inerrancy, you want to know why there are so many differences in the Gospel accounts.

This question isn’t anything new. It goes back to the church fathers. This is in fact why there was even an attempt to turn the four Gospels into one Gospel, but the church didn’t really go for it. As it stands, we have four today and they do contain obvious differences, so do we just have sloppy historians or what? Should we call into question the reliability of the Gospels because of this?

Mike Licona has chosen to answer this question and has done so by doing something that many in our world could consider cheating, but hey, he did it. He actually went back and compared differences in accounts of the same event by an author close to the time of Jesus. His choice was Plutarch and he looked at some of his lives that described figures who lived at about the same time and were quite likely written close to each other chronologically.

Of course, everyone should be warned of possible bias on my part. As many know, Mike Licona is my father-in-law, but at the same time when we have our discussions, if I think he is wrong on something, I do not hesitate to tell him. He got a blunt son-in-law when I married Allie.

Mike’s approach is unique and something that had not been done before. If there is any difficulty I encounter when I am engaging with skeptics of the faith is that they assume the way we do things today is superior simply because that is the way we do them. If we do history this way, well that is the right way to do history. If we want this kind of precision in an account, well that has to be superior and that is what the ancients would want. The greatest error we often make is we impose our own time and culture and society on the ancient world and then misread them.

This is why I say Mike cheated, though in a loose sense of course. He actually went back and saw how they did history and what do you see? You see that the differences that you see in the Gospels that are so problematic are the same kinds of differences you see in Plutarch. Some will no doubt complain and say that surely the Gospel writers would not write Holy Scripture in a style that was known to the pagan world. (Yeah. The second person of the Trinity can condescend to become a human being and die on a cross, but using a certain literary style? God forbid!) Such an opinion is going against the overwhelming majority of Biblical scholarship and ignores how God has often met people where they were and if the writers wanted to write a biography of Jesus to tell about His life and teachings, there weren’t many other options.

Mike goes through the accounts and shows that Plutarch used many different techniques when writing and that the Gospel writers did the same. He has a number of pericopes in Plutarch and a number in the Gospels that give a cross comparison. If one wants to throw out the Gospels as unreliable then, one will have to do the same with Plutarch. This indeed raises the debate to a whole new level. Is the modern skeptic willing to throw out one of the most prolific writers in ancient history just to avoid the Gospels?

What does this say for we moderns as well? It tells us what I said at the beginning. We can too often assume our own standards of accuracy and throw those onto the text not bothering to ask if the ancients followed them. If they did not, then we are being anachronistic with the writers and in fact, being unfair with them. They were not moderns and we should not treat them like moderns.

This should also be taken into account when considering our modern idea of inerrancy. For instance, many of us might think inerrancy means we have to have the exact words of Jesus. What if the Gospel writers did not think that but wanted the exact voice instead? In other words, they wanted the gist of what Jesus said even if it wasn’t exact wordage? That’s okay. We just have to accept that. The ancient works were not modern works and if we impose on them what they aren’t, we will get the wrong message and also miss the true message of them.

Mike’s work has really raised the bar of debate and pushed it beyond just simple harmonization. It is harmonization based on how the ancients did it and not how we moderns do it. I fully hope that other scholars will come alongside and critique the work, both positively and negatively and that we can, in turn, come to a greater understanding of the Gospel texts.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Writing The Gospels

What do I think of Eric Eve’s book published by SPCK publishers? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

First off, my thanks goes out to Dr. Eve and the people at SPCK for publishing for being willing to place in my hands a copy of this book for review purposes. I have read Ehrman’s book and I saw a number of people I respect speaking about how they’d rather read Eric Eve on oral tradition. Trusting their judgment, I reached out and got a favorable reply.

Eve’s book really deals with a number of misconceptions we can have and this largely because of the way that we live in a text society instead of an oral one. (Although we might have even bypassed text to an extent now as we often more rely on videos.) Often, we take our modern ideas and we put them on to the ancient society and this is just an anachronism. One example Eve gives is one that we don’t think of.

We can often picture the writer of a Gospel or Paul sitting at a desk writing and having piles of scrolls all around and sifting through the material. This is false. People did not sit at writing desks and write out their materials. If they had a scroll, it would likely be just one and the rest of the time they would be working with memory. As I read this, I wondered if this could have something to do also with why many times sources were not explicitly cited as they were today. If all you have is room for one scroll and the rest is memory, you might expect people to catch allusions more than anything else.

Eve also provides good corrective on memory. To be sure, we can make a mistake of thinking oral tradition is infallible, but within a certain time frame, it is indeed quite reliable. In fact, if it wasn’t, we would really have to throw out much of ancient history. Many of the writings of Plutarch date to far after the time of the people that he wrote about.

Speaking of Plutarch, there’s plenty on him and how he did his work and what he wrote about. This is also in conjunction with the discussion of the genre of the Gospels. Readers of mine will know that Mike Licona is himself preparing to release a book on this very topic so I’m eager to see if Licona will interact with any of the material from Eve.

To get back to memory, Eve shows that memory was stressed in the ancient world. It wasn’t just the memorizing of stuff, such as we might expect for a trivia game of sorts. It was also being able to work with the information in one’s own mind. Perhaps you could quote a text backwards for instance. This showed real mastery of the material and would accrue one greater honor in the world.

There’s also a section on the Synoptic Problem. I am one who is more open to Mark Goodacre’s thesis on Q and I’m quite skeptical of it. (In fact, I was really surprised to hear in my recent interview with Richard Bauckham that he’s now skeptical of Q as well.) It still is something I have never really sat down and looked at myself, but I’ve just been suspicious of Q. Eve provides food for thought.

Sometimes I wish Eve was more conservative than he is, but for the most part, this is something that will provide good insights. It is a worthy edition to the library of any student of the New Testament. It is also something I wish more skeptics of the Christian faith would understand who critique a document from an oral-dominated society from the perspective of a textual one.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

A Brief Look at Remsburg’s List

Is there a problem when contemporary sources don’t mention Jesus? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

One of the hallmarks of internet atheism today is to hold that Jesus never even existed and there’s no evidence that He did. Now this position is one that is laughed at in the academy of New Testament scholarship, but on the internet, it’s treated as if it’s a lively debate. (These same people will be howling if you dare question evolution, which also isn’t really questioned in the scientific academy and since I am not a scientist, I do not raise up questions to it either. It makes no difference to me.) It’s quite amazing that for all the people I meet who claim to be freethinkers, they all seem to think exactly alike.

A popular tactic to use is one called Remsburg’s list. For instance, on site called Positive Atheism has a reference to Remsburg’s list by putting up chapter two of Remsburg’s own book. You can see it here. To the unsuspecting Christian, this seems like something remarkable, especially since in our day and age Michael Paulkovich has come out with a similar list with his joining the mythicist bandwagon.

To an unsuspecting Christian this list looks powerful. To an uninformed atheist, this list looks like a silver bullet.

Alas, I must say I am more skeptical than my skeptic friends apparently. You see, when I come across a claim, I actually want to question and investigate it. Let’s see the claim this way.

Jesus was a wildly popular figure in the ancient world.

Since Jesus was so popular, He should have been talked about by everyone.

Jesus was not talked about by everyone.

Therefore, Jesus didn’t exist.

To begin with, the whole thing is a total non sequitur. There are any number of reasons for not mentioning people and this would include more famous ones not noted by their contemporaries such as Hannibal, who nearly conquered Rome, and Gamaliel, who was one of the greatest teachers of Torah in Judaism. None of these were worthy of a mention by their own contemporaries. (And it’s quite odd to think that a general who nearly conquered the Roman Empire would go without a mention, but a crucified failed Messiah (In the eyes of the world) should have been mentioned. Of course, there is more to the answer than this.

Let’s first consider that Jesus was wildly popular. Not really. Jesus was a flash in the pan in the ancient world as it were. In His lifetime, many people did talk about Him, but His greatest popularity was with the peasants in the area. The educated elite saw Him as a threat and not someone they would want to talk about. This is in fact only in Judea. As I have argued elsewhere, for the rest of the world, Jesus was not worth talking about. Let’s list some reasons why those outside of Jesus and who heard about Him later on would not want to talk about Him.

He had a low honor birth. He was born in a shameful part of the world in a low-honor town and could have in fact been seen as illegitimate. His immediate parents were peasants.
Aside from Egypt as a small child, He never left the area of Israel.
He never went to battle.
He never ran for political office or held political office.
He did not write any books. (And actually, while Paulkovich considers this odd, rabbis did not write books nor did many great teachers. Their followers often did. See Sandy and Walton’s The Lost World of Scripture.
He was seen as a miracle worker. (Think charlatan. This might convince eyewitnesses, but if you weren’t there, what are you going to think? You’ll more likely treat Him like most people treat Benny Hinn today.)
He did not establish a philosophical school.
He was crucified.

I cannot emphasize that last one enough. Jesus would be seen as a failed Messiah figure. The Jews would have considered Him a blasphemer to YHWH and He didn’t even conquer the Roman Empire and set the Jewish people free like surely the Messiah would do. The Gentiles would have seen Him as someone who challenged Rome and got crushed by them. That He got crucified would put an end to any of His career and thus render Him someone not worth talking about. Add in a bizarre belief in a resurrection, which would have been shameful since most people saw the body as a prison you would want to escape, and well that’s just another example of superstitious people.

The shocking thing is not how few people talked about Jesus. The shock is that anyone did at all.

But now let’s consider some of the people on the list. Many of them were not people who would mention Jesus anyway. Ptolemy was writing about astronomy. Why would he mention Jesus? Why would Philostratus write about Jesus? He was trying to promote his own guy and a great way to shame the Christians would be to not even mention Jesus. Why would Epictetus? These were teachings on stoicism and personal philosophy. Martial wrote poetry and satire. Why would any historian of Rome need to mention a failed Messiah?

So let’s go into some other figures.

Philo is often mentioned, but we need to see evidence Philo had a great interest in writing about failed Messiah figures. It’s also not accurate to say that Philo was in Jerusalem at the time of Jesus. He wasn’t. Even if he had been, a crucifixion would have ruled Jesus out as someone worth talking about. Of course, if he had seen him and believed he was resurrected and wrote about that, then skeptics would count that testimony as biased and not accept it.

Plutarch wrote about lives of virtue to be emulated, but they were not Jewish figures. Furthermore, to have Jesus be crucified would immediately put him down as a list of people to not emulate.

For Justus, we do not possess his work. We just have a Christian much later saying Justus did not mention Jesus. Again, why should he? Justus from what we gather was interested in political figures. Herod would be included. Jesus would not be.

Figures like Josephus and Tacitus did mention Jesus but lo and behold, these are interpolations. (Read that as “Idea difficult for my viewpoint so I have to say it’s questionable.) These ideas are not popular with actual scholars of Tacitus and Josephus, but then again, keeping up with scholarly work has not been a favorite pastime of mythicists.

In conclusion, looking at the list, there are several people who would have had no interest and the position ignores the ones who did mention him. Arguments from silence are notoriously bad arguments and if your position hangs on it, you might need to seriously question it.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Deeper Waters Podcast 7/12/2014: Talking About Plutarch

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

First off, for all interested, the podcast is now up on ITunes! All interested can find a link to the podcast here. Please be sure to leave a good review of the podcast so that others will be encouraged to listen to it as well. So now, let’s get to what we’re going to be talking about.

We’re going to be bringing back one of our favorite guests to the show, at least considering that so many people wanted to call in and ask him a question last time he was on! In fact, this is a guest that I can call family and mean it. My guest is going to be my father-in-law, Mike Licona, and we’re going to be talking about the works of Plutarch and how they relate to the study of the Gospels.

Some of you might not know who Mike is, so let’s get some introductions in.


According to his bio:

Mike Licona (Ph.D.) is associate professor of theology at Houston Baptist University and president of Risen Jesus, Inc. He has a Ph.D. in New Testament Studies from the University of Pretoria, which he earned with distinction and the highest mark. Mike was interviewed by Lee Strobel in his book The Case for the Real Jesus and appeared in Strobel’s video The Case for Christ. He is the author of numerous books including The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach (IVP Academic, 2010), Paul Meets Muhammad (Baker, 2006), co-author with Gary Habermas of the award-winning book The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus (Kregel, 2004) and co-editor with William Dembski of Evidence for God: 50 Arguments for Faith from the Bible, History, Philosophy, and Science (Baker, 2010). Mike is a member of the Society of Biblical Literature, the Institute for Biblical Research, and the Evangelical Philosophical Society. He has spoken on more than 60 university campuses and has appeared on dozens of radio and television programs. For more on Mike’s ministry, visit

Mike’s latest studies have been of Plutarch to see how Greco-Roman Biographies were written at the time and how that can help us understand the Gospels better, especially when dealing with the idea of “contradictions.” This of course will spark some inevitable questions.

Are the Gospels really in the genre of Greco-Roman biography? Why should we study something like Greco-Roman Biographies? Why think the Gospel writers would use a form of literature that could be considered pagan to get the message of Jesus across? Can studying something from the culture really help us to understand what is going on in the Gospels themselves?

Then of course, we’ll be looking at some favorite “contradictions” and seeing how it is that studying the Gospels as Greco-Roman Biographies can in fact help us to figure out what the solutions to these contradictions are. Mike is a thorough scholar and one who you will appreciate getting to listen to so I hope that you’ll be looking for this podcast to show up in your ITunes feed as we talk about the study of Plutarch.

In Christ,
Nick Peters