Deeper Waters Podcast 7/6/2017: M. James Sawyer

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

The Trinity. It’s one of our core central doctrines as Christians and yet one of the most misunderstood. Many of our church members are confessing Trinitarians and yet practicing Arians. When it comes to their discussion of the Trinity, they top it off by becoming modalists for the time.

Does the Trinity really matter? Is it just this esoteric doctrine for the theologians to debate back and forth but makes no difference to us? Do we only need to think about it when Jehovah’s Witnesses show up so we can show them that they’re wrong on a doctrine that we don’t understand the point of ourselves?

My guest this Saturday says no. The Trinity is a gift to us and it is a doctrine we all need to understand. In many Eastern churches, the Trinity is essential to them and their practice. If the Trinity was wrong, everything would be changed. If you can abandon the Trinity in your Christianity and nothing or little changes, then that shows you how much the Trinity really means to you. My guest is coming on to hopefully help us all appreciate it more. His name is M. James Sawyer.

So who is he?

M. James Sawyer got his B.A. from Biola in 1973. He got a Th.M. from Dallas Theological Seminary in New Testament in 1978 and went on to get a Ph.D. from there in 1987 in Historical Theology. He has published numerous books and articles and contributed to them as well and is the author of the book Resurrecting The Trinity.

This Saturday, we’ll be talking about that last book. M. James Sawyer wants the church to wake up to the doctrine of the Trinity. It is not something that just needs to be brought out when Jehovah’s Witnesses come by. We need to really study the Trinity and learn what a difference it makes in our faith and practice. I have long been an advocate of the idea that our churches are sadly way too shallow. Part of that is that we don’t really do theology much anymore. It’s all application. Part of that theology includes the doctrine of the Trinity.

We’ll be discussing defending the Trinity, the history of the Trinity, and we will also get into personal application. There is nothing wrong with personal application after all, but there is something wrong if that is all that you have. We will have a show on not only about how the Trinity is true, but also what difference it makes. Hopefully in the end, you will have your eyes greatly awakened to the truth of the doctrine of the Trinity and know why it matters.

I hope you’ll be listening to the next episode of the Deeper Waters Podcast. I also hope that you’ll go on ITunes and leave a positive review. It lets me know that you appreciate the show and it makes it easier I understand for others to find it so please consider doing that.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Resurrecting The Trinity

What do I think of M. James Sawyer’s book published by Weaver Book Company? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

The Trinity is something that many people do not really pay attention to in Christianity. Sawyer is certainly right that for many Christians today that if the Trinity was proven false, their church services and worship style would be little changed if any. We are often mere monotheists, confessing Trinitarians but practicing Arians.

Of course, we do lip service to the Trinity, but that’s where it usually ends. The only other time we open up the Trinity box is when Jehovah’s Witnesses come by so we can beat them up with it and win in a battle that we don’t often see the importance of and then the Trinity goes back on the shelf. Sawyer wants us to see the Trinity as a life-changing doctrine.

In our modern secular world, we can often view God through a scientific lens where He often plays no active role in our universe except for an occasional miracle. This is why deism is such a possibility for so many people. The universe can run on its own power with laws of nature being active. God is not really necessary. The universe is just a big machine.

Go back to the past and in fact to many other traditions today like the Orthodox church and the Trinity is a living reality to them. We can make many statements about God that would be easily agreed to by a Muslim or a Jew. To some extent, this is understandable. There is no philosophical argument that can prove the Trinity. If we have just reason alone, we can get so far, but the problem is we often act like reason alone has got us as far as we can go.

Instead, the Trinity is to show us what God is like mainly through Christ. Christ doesn’t appease an angry side of God. Christ shows us what the Father Himself is like. If we think the Father is eager to judge us, then we have to ask why Jesus doesn’t seem the same way. There is no dark side of God. What you see is what you get. When you look at Jesus, you see what God is like.

Sawyer also shows that we can have those false views of God such as the kind of name-it, claim-it God or the God who is eager to smite us all. To some extent, we all have these ideas of God at some time in our lives I suppose. It has been rightly said that whatever your idea of God is, it is inadequate. Still, we should strive for as truthful a view as possible.

Sawyer also says that this has often led to a certain moralizing in our walk. Holiness can become a burden when it needn’t be because we are trying to appease the angry God. There is no problem with being moral, but the issue is did Jesus really come to establish a new morality, or did He come to give us God? By all means, He showed us a better way, but did He not show God as well?

When we look at our theology, it is too easy to not have it really be informed by Jesus. The God of the philosophers is tempting to stick with, but the God revealed in Christ is a huge step forward. Too many of us are too tempted to stick with all the omni traits, which we should not deny, and just leave it at that instead of interacting with the whole theological picture.

There isn’t as much in defense of the Trinity here against objections, but that’s fine. There is some grounding of the idea and how it contrasts with Rabbinic thought and about what happened in the Arian controversy, but I think the whole of the work doesn’t seek to defend the Trinity as much as it seeks to show why the Trinity matters. This is indeed something that we need restored to the church today.

The only major area I think I’d disagree with is that Sawyer does seem to hold a higher view of The Shack than I would like. It’s quite interesting that one of the main reasons I didn’t like that book was because of the way it treated the Trinity. If you are like me, you can still get a lot out of this as it doesn’t play a major role in the book.

I hope a book like Sawyer’s is appreciated. The church needs to reclaim the revelation that has been given in Christ. Our doctrine has become largely about morality and such instead of really about a revelation of who God is so that He can often seem just as distant to us as He would have been before the revelation of Jesus. There is a better way.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Deeper Waters Podcast 2/25/2017: Matthew Bates

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

The Trinity is seen as one of the great unique qualities of the Christian faith. Some see it as a great theological weakness. Some see it as a truth that shows the truth of Christianity due to its power to answer questions. Where did the idea come from? Groups like Jehovah’s Witnesses will try to tell us that the idea is from paganism. What if a different reading of Scripture can show otherwise? What if we saw the Trinity coming right from the Scripture where we saw passages where the throne room was essentially opened up and we saw conversation going on between the Trinity?

You could be saying “I don’t know many passages like that” but my guest thinks he does. He’s one who says we can read Scripture with this kind of theological reading where we see at various points one of the persons of the Trinity speaking. When we do that, then we get some insights into the throne room of God, and that this was an entirely acceptable kind of reading in the time of Jesus. Who is this guest? His name is Matthew Bates and we’ll be discussing his book The Birth of the Trinity.

IMG_4240 (cropped, face)

Matthew W. Bates is Assistant Professor of Theology at Quincy University in Quincy, Illinois. Bates holds a Ph.D. from The University of Notre Dame in theology. His area of specialization is New Testament and early Christianity. His books include Salvation by Allegiance Alone (Baker Academic, forthcoming), The Birth of the Trinity (Oxford University Press, 2015), and The Hermeneutics of the Apostolic Proclamation (Baylor University Press, 2012). He also hosts a popular biblical studies podcast called OnScript.

Bates’s book is published by Oxford, which is no small feat, and a look at reading the text in a way that he calls theodramatic. Bates not only looks at the text itself, but he looks at the culture and the history of the text and interacts with many great scholars of the text. It will be a shock to many that Bates says that the seeds of the Trinity were even present before the time of Jesus. Scholars like Hurtado and others have claimed that the earliest Christology is the highest Christology. Could it be because they already had a reading of Scripture that allowed for Jesus the Christ to fit in and be represented as the Son of God par excellence?

The Trinity is always a great topic of conversation. Muslims, atheists, and Jehovah’s Witnesses often stumble over it and many Christians are in fact thoroughly confused by it, but for we Christians, it is the very nature of God we are discussing and we ought to give our best to understand this, even if we will never do so entirely. I’m looking forward to hosting Matthew Bates on this topic and I hope that you will be looking forward to listening. Please also go on ITunes and leave a review of the Deeper Waters Podcast.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

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

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

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

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

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

Ezra 7:1-5

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

1 Chronicles 6:3-15

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

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

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

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

1 Samuel 6:10-13

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

1 Chronicles 2:13-15

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

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

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

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

Titus 3:9

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

1 Timothy 1:4

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

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

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

2 Samuel 7:12-16

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

1 Chronicles 17:11-12

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

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

The third is bringing the people back to Israel.

Isaiah 11:12

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

Isaiah 27:12-13

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

Jeremiah 33:7

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

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

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

The fourth is that the Messiah will rebuild a Temple.

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

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

Micah 4:1

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

Isaiah 2:2-23

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

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

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

Ezekiel 37:26

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

Micah 4:3

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

Isaiah 2:4

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

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

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

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

Isaiah 11:9

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

Isaiah 40:5

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

Zephaniah 3:9

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

Jeremiah 31:33

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Deuteronomy 4:39

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

Deuteronomy 32:39

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

2 Kings 19:19

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

1 Chronicles 17:20

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

Isaiah 44:6

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

Isaiah 45:5-6

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

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

Proverbs 8:22-31

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

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

Why does Norman leave this out?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

At least, I wanted to.

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

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

It’s not going to get much better.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

 

 

Book Plunge: 26 Reasons Why Jews Don’t Believe In Jesus Part 2

Is there a bad relationship between Jesus and the Torah? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

We’re continuing the book 26 Reasons Why Jews Don’t Believe In Jesus today. I have to tell you as I am nearing the end of the book, that this is a horrible book. There are people who can critique Christianity who I naturally disagree with, but they know how to do research and do present arguments worthy of consideration. Asher Norman is not one of them. If I was to give a demonstration to a class in apologetics on how NOT to go after Christianity, Norman’s book would be an excellent example.

At the start of this section, on page 28 in describing how Jesus answered the rich young ruler with “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone”, Norman says this directly undermines the doctrine of the trinity because it implies Jesus did not believe He was God. Actually, no. In Jesus’s culture, to accept a compliment in public was to put oneself in debt to the person who gave the compliment. The compliment would be redirected.

For instance, in Luke 11:27-28, we read this after Jesus has refuted the Pharisees.

27 As Jesus was saying these things, a woman in the crowd called out, “Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you.”

28 He replied, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.”

Or look at this in Philippians 4.

10 I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it.11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

14 Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles. 15 Moreover, as you Philippians know, in the early days of your acquaintance with the gospel, when I set out from Macedonia, not one church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you only; 16 for even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me aid more than once when I was in need.17 Not that I desire your gifts; what I desire is that more be credited to your account. 18 I have received full payment and have more than enough. I am amply supplied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent. They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God. 19 And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.

20 To our God and Father be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

Wow. Paul has just received a gift and he didn’t thank them? Instead, he turned it over to God? What’s going on?

In both cases, receiving a compliment or a gift and just taking it puts you in a reciprocal relationship where you’re in debt to the person who said it. Everything came with strings attached. Had Paul accepted the gift, he would have been bound to help the Philippians in anything. (Hey guys. We’re having a convention and Paul’s in town. You know he’ll be a guest speaker for us.) Had he accepted the compliment from the woman, it would have been seen as grabbing honor and thus shameful.

So what about the rich young ruler? Jesus deflects the compliment and sends it back to God, but at the same time, he is testing the ruler. He is saying “If you think I am good, you are putting me on the level of God. Are you ready for that compliment?” Jesus never denies that He is God and He never even denies that He is good.

Now I have no desire to get into issues of Jesus and Torah. I plan to save that for those who are more learned in that area, but I have to say something on Jesus being a false prophet. This is one of my favorite issues to deal with and entirely predictable.

The first prophecy Jesus gets wrong according to Norman is that Jesus would be in the Earth three days and three nights. Jesus was buried on Friday and raised on Sunday. How is that three days and three nights?

It’s at times like this I know that Norman is not a good researcher. This is even shown regularly in the Old Testament.

Genesis 42:16-18.

16 Send one of you, and let him bring your brother, while you remain confined, that your words may be tested, whether there is truth in you. Or else, by the life of Pharaoh, surely you are spies.” 17 And he put them all together in custody for three days.

18 On the third day Joseph said to them, “Do this and you will live, for I fear God:

1 Sam. 30:12-13.

12 and they gave him a piece of a cake of figs and two clusters of raisins. And when he had eaten, his spirit revived, for he had not eaten bread or drunk water for three days and three nights. 13 And David said to him, “To whom do you belong? And where are you from?” He said, “I am a young man of Egypt, servant to an Amalekite, and my master left me behind because I fell sick three days ago.

Esther 4:16-5:1

16 “Go, gather all the Jews to be found in Susa, and hold a fast on my behalf, and do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my young women will also fast as you do. Then I will go to the king, though it is against the law, and if I perish, I perish.” 17 Mordecai then went away and did everything as Esther had ordered him.

On the third day Esther put on her royal robes and stood in the inner court of the king’s palace, in front of the king’s quarters, while the king was sitting on his royal throne inside the throne room opposite the entrance to the palace.

In all of these cases, something is done for three days and yet takes place on the third day. What is going on? In Jewish thought, part of a day would count as a whole day. This is a consistent reading of even these passages. Had Norman just done some basic looking he would have found this. Most any commentary on the passage in question could have included some statement on this.

Of course, Norman goes on to give his great understanding of the Trinity by asking “How can the prophet be the messenger of God and God Himself?” Of course, no reference to a passage like Genesis 18, but Norman misses a simple answer. The Son can be a messenger on behalf of the Father. Whew! That was difficult!

Still, my favorite is the one that is always gone to. Jesus was wrong about the time of His return. We wish to ask Norman where it is in the text that Jesus says anything about a return. Keep in mind, Jesus was alive and with His apostles who were not expecting a death much less a death, resurrection, and then absence. They were expecting Jesus to take His throne and the destruction of the temple would be a good sign that God was active. What did they ask for? The sign of His coming. Coming where?

Has Norman never read Daniel 7?

13 “In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. 14 He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.

Take a look. Where is it that the Son of Man is coming to? The Ancient of Days is not on Earth. He’s in Heaven. The Son of Man is not coming to Earth in the Olivet Discource. He’s coming to the Father. This is about Jesus’s vindication. The great sign of this was the destruction of the temple which happened in 70 A.D. The language of the account is written in Jewish apocalyptic language such as Isaiah 13 where earthly political events were described in cosmic terminology.

All of this happened within one generation.

Norman also asks why Mark refers to Zechariah 13 which he says is about a false shepherd being struck and identifying Jesus as that shepherd. Unfortunately, Norman is not familiar with Jewish methods of Biblical interpretation in the time of the apostles. (I find it incredible that I, a Gentile, have to point this out to someone described as an expert in Jewish-Christian polemics.) This would have been acceptable to take one part, even a part that didn’t seem to fit the context, and find a parallel in one’s own time. Still, it’s important to note that Zechariah 13 ends in restoration. The shepherd is struck now, yes, but in the end, the people of God will be restored.

Finally, we’ll look at the section on Jesus not being a good person. The first one is that Jesus misquoted the Torah and got his facts wrong. In Matthew 23, he refers to Zechariah, son of Barchiah. Norman replies that he was the son of Jehoida. The problem is that there are a number of solutions. If any of these could work, then the problem is resolved and one gives the benefit of the doubt to the writer with the principle of charity.

Is this the Zechariah in the Old Testament? Maybe not. Perhaps there was another Zechariah killed. Is this Matthew skipping generations? That could be. That was acceptable in his time. Could Jehoida be another name for Barchiah? That’s also possible. There are even more solutions than this.

There’s also the error of Mark supposedly in referring to high priest Abiathar. Unfortunately, neither Abiathar or Ahimelech are described as high priests. Jesus is instead speaking about the great priest Abiathar, who is a much better known figure than Ahimelech.

Norman also says John 7 is in error since no Scripture mentions living water. This is true, and irrelevant. Jesus is not necessarily giving a chapter and verse like we do. He is instead making a paraphrase of a general theme He finds in Scripture.

Norman also looks at passages where God is said to not be a man or a Son of Man. These include Numbers 23:19 and 1 Samuel 15:29.

Numbers 23:19: God is not human, that he should lie,
    not a human being, that he should change his mind.
Does he speak and then not act?
    Does he promise and not fulfill?

1 Samuel 15:29: 29 He who is the Glory of Israel does not lie or changehis mind; for he is not a human being, that he should change his mind.”

These are statements about the moral character of God in that God is trustworthy and reliable. It’s not saying anything about the incarnation. I find it odd that God is infinite to Norman, but incapable of taking on human nature at all. It’s also important to note that the divine nature never became a human nature. The Son took on another nature in addition to His divine one.

In John 18:20, Jesus said He spoke openly and said nothing in secret when questioned by the high priest, but in Mark 5:43, He says that no one should know about what happened with Jairus’s daughter. First off, the latter isn’t an example of teaching. It’s Jesus again avoiding honor-grabbing. Second, the whole point is about the style of teaching. Jesus was a teacher who spoke openly in the synagogues and the Temple. You didn’t have to do something like pay to be a part of a secret class.

Norman also brings up the account of the Syro-Phoenician woman who was begging for her daughter to be healed of a demon. His reply is the story is not “godlike.” (One wonders what he has to think about what God has to say about the pagans in the OT. Perhaps YHWH isn’t very godlike.)

My suspicion is that Jesus is testing the prejudice of His own disciples and then seeing how far the lady is willing to go. How much does she want this healing? A much fuller look at this can be found here.

Norman then goes on to say that much of Jesus’s Wisdom and teachings, isn’t original with Him. It can be found elsewhere.

And?

Wow. Jesus, who was a Jew, spoke teachings from the Jewish Bible. Details at 11 everyone!

Norman also points to morally problematic statements about Jesus. Noteworthy is Luke 19:27 with the instruction to bring those who didn’t want Him to be king and kill them before Him. Is that really what Jesus said? I don’t think any better answer can be given than the one that David Wood gave to Sam Harris.

A couple of these statements He finds problematic are the ones about “He who is not for me is against me” and such. These I will just say that as the initiator of the covenant of God, Jesus is the breaking point. If you do not accept God’s covenant, then you are against Jesus. It’s really an incredible statement from Jesus showing how He viewed Himself but only a problem if He was wrong.

Norman goes to Luke 22:36 where Jesus instructed his disciples to sell their garments and buy swords. One would think if this was literal, when presented with two swords Jesus would not say “It is enough” but would say “What?! Are you crazy?! Every single one of you needs one!” I have looked at this passage here.

What about Matthew 10:34 where Jesus says He came not to bring peace but a sword? Norman says this is not allegorical since one of Jesus’s disciples did have a sword. Yep. One of Jesus’s disciples acting in a way Jesus immediately condemned shows that this has to be a literal message.

You can’t make this kind of stuff up.

Finally, let’s look at a great favorite. Luke 14. We are to hate our father and mother. Norman acknowledges that some see this as a comparative statement saying that everything else must be secondary to Jesus, but just dismisses it without an explanation. It is said to be a dubious claim. I find the claim dubious that Norman knows what he’s talking about.

Norman also says that Jesus taught others to turn the other cheek, but He didn’t do that in John 18. The difference is Jesus is talking about a personal insult and saying end the cycle of retaliation. He’s not saying to literally turn immediately and ask for another slap. He’s saying to reply peacefully.

Jesus also apparently did not bless His enemies, as in the cursings on Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum. Jesus’s listeners would have understood Him not as speaking personally, but as pronouncing the judgment of God as a prophet. If Norman wants to condemn this, then He needs to explain since Jesus’s teachings came from the Torah why most prophets who did the same would be including in the Old Testament since they violated Torah.

When we get to the issue of the fig tree, I have to say I find a new one here entirely. Norman says Jesus sinned by destroying the fig tree. Why? Deuteronomy 20 condemns it. Let’s look at verse 19 that Norman points to of the passage.

When you lay siege to a city for a long time, fighting against it to capture it, do not destroy its trees by putting an ax to them, because you can eat their fruit. Do not cut them down. Are the trees people, that you should besiege them?

So unless Jesus was participating in a siege, there is no condemnation in the passage against Him killing a fig tree. How is it that Norman, who should be more familiar with the OT, can misinterpret His own Bible so badly?

Jesus also sinned against the Pharisees by making publicly true negative statements about them. Again, one would have to wonder what Norman would do with much of the OT that makes publicly true negative statements about the Jews, many of them coming from God Himself. Perhaps God is not very godlike.

Jesus also sinned by ordering disciples to not bury their father and mother. The problem is that in this case, the father was still very much alive most likely. The would-be disciple was saying “Once I take care of my family duties, I’ll serve the Kingdom of God.” Jesus is saying God’s Kingdom has to come first.

It’s a shame Norman disagrees with the Kingdom of God coming first.

Norman also has Jesus being baptized as an example that He was a sinner. This is supposed to be a problem for the Trinity since God would have to be sinless, but Norman says the Gospel engaged in damage control by having John say Jesus should baptize him. (One would think the best way of damage control would be to not even mention the story altogether.) This is really simple. Jesus got baptized as a public statement of His devotion to serving God.

Jesus also said that if you call your brother a fool, you are in danger of hellfire, but Jesus called the Pharisees that in Matthew 23. Again, does Norman not read? The Pharisees are not the brothers of Jesus. He is starting His own in-group with Israel centered around Him. The Pharisees are outsiders.

Our next look will be the claim that Jesus was not the Messiah or deity.

But please, if you want to be an anti-missionary, be one. I disagree, but that’s your choice. Just please don’t be as bad a researcher as Asher Norman.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tomorrow, we shall go to part two.

Many Prophets, One Message on the Trinity

Does the Trinity have pagan origins? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I had planned to write a book review again today, but then in a discussion on if Christianity copied from pagans, someone shared this to respond to my claim that they did not. What we saw from the last election cycle in our country is sometimes it’s tempting to get people to move away from a candidate by claiming they’re racist, sexist, homophobic, etc. (Didn’t work too well this time.) In religion, it can be tempting to label something as pagan and think everyone will back away. Of course, labeling is not the same as being able to demonstrate.
The post under question is from Many Prophets, One Message and can be found here. The post is from a Muslim so I won’t be commenting on everything. For instance, when we start talking about the Muslim belief, I won’t be saying anything. Islam is not a specialty area of mine and when I dialogue with Muslims, I stick to what I know, the New Testament. Others who have studied Islam more might want to say something about that part.

So let’s see what they say.

In order to understand the influence of paganism on the doctrine of the Trinity, we need to first understand the world into which Christianity was born and developed. The disciples, the first believers in Jesus, were Jews. In fact Christianity started out as a movement within Judaism. Like Jews since the time of Moses, these first believers kept the Sabbath, were circumcised and worshiped in the Temple: “One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the time of prayer—at three in the afternoon.” [Acts 3:1] The only thing that distinguished the early followers of Jesus from any other Jews was their belief in Jesus as the Messiah, that is, the one chosen by God who would redeem the Jewish people. Today, many Christian scholars agree that authors of the New Testament such as Matthew were Jewish believers in Jesus. The influence of Judaism on the New Testament is important because it helps us to correctly understand its message. The New Testament is full of terminology like “son of God.” Such language is interpreted literally by Trinitarians to mean that Jesus is God the Son, but is this correct? What was the intention behind the Jewish writers of the New Testament when they used such language? What did these terms mean at the time of Jesus?

I’m pleased that there is some right stuff here, such as the authors of the New Testament being Jewish believers in Jesus, though I’d say it’s quite a good possibility that Luke was a Gentile believer. Still, the claim that the first believers kept the Sabbath, were circumcised, and worshiped in the Temple is flimsy. All we have is one verse and it only describes the Temple.

I meet many Seventh-Day Adventists who think that Paul had to worship on Saturday because he went into the synagogues on Saturday to speak to the Jews so he was still observing the Sabbath. If he was, it will need to be established on other grounds. Why would Paul go on Saturday? He went on Saturday because that is the day the Jews were there. If he had gone on Sunday, no one would have been there to hear the message, or at least if some were there, it would not be the usual crowd.

In the same way, when the first believers went to the temple, this is only the believers in Jerusalem and they went there because that was a central meeting place to spread the message of Jesus. Of course, we learn later in Acts 12 about them meeting in the homes of believers as well. As for circumcision, if they were Jews, they were indeed circumcised, but as we learn in Acts 15, circumcision was not seen as essential for Christianity. This was the first great debate. (And aren’t we men all thankful for how it turned out?)

Our writer also says “Son of God” in interpreted literally by Christians. Unfortunately, He does not state what this means. For instance, if I say Jesus is the Son of God, I don’t mean in a literal sense such as God having sex with Mary. I also realize it can be used in a figurative sense as it has been used of angels and of great men and yes, the pagans used the title for their kings. Our author, unfortunately, cites no Trinitarians who are doing what he claims.

In fact, I would argue that Son of God is not the greatest claim to deity Jesus made. Son of Man is far more persuasive. With this, Jesus is consistently pointing to the figure in Daniel 7. This is the figure that will rule alongside the Ancient of Days and whose Kingdom has no end.

When we turn to the Old Testament we find that such language permeates its pages. For example, Moses calls God “Father”: Is this the way you repay the Lord, you foolish and unwise people? Is he not your Father, your Creator, who made you and formed you? [Deuteronomy 32:6] Angels are referred to as “sons of God”: Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan came also among them. [Job 1:6] The Old Testament even goes so far as to call Moses a god: “And the LORD said unto Moses, See, I have made thee a god to Pharaoh: and Aaron thy brother shall be thy prophet.” [Exodus 7:1] The Israelites are also referred to as “gods”: “I said, ‘You are “gods”; you are all sons of the Most High.’”  [Psalm 82:6] What we can conclude is that such highly exalted language was commonplace and is intended figuratively; it is not a literal indication of divinity.

The problem here is that this is not enough to make a case and it can be cherry picking. Just pick verses that agree with your position and hey, you’ve got it! The reference to Moses is one that is being seen as a metaphor and not a claim about what it means to be the son of God. As for Psalms 82, I interpret this as sarcasm. The rulers of Israel prided themselves as being favored since they were the leaders and got to judge Israel, but God says they’re not gods, they’re mere men. Jesus used this passage to back His claims in John 10. If the title can be used of sinful men, how much more the righteous one? Note He used it to back His claim to deity and not to lessen it.

Even as late as the end of the first century, when the New Testament writers started penning their accounts of the life of Jesus, Jewish people were still using such language figuratively. In a conversation between Jesus and some Jewish teachers of the law, they say to Jesus: “…The only Father we have is God himself.” [John 8:41] The Gospel of Luke calls Adam a son of God when it recounts the lineage of Jesus: “the son of Enosh, the son of Seth, the son of Adam, the son of God.” [Luke 3:38] Jesus even says that anyone who is makes peace is a child of God: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” [Matthew 5:9] If the New Testament writers understood such language to be a claim to divinity, then they would have used it exclusively in relation to Jesus. Clearly, it denotes a person that is righteous before God and nothing more.

So we can see that such language, in and of itself, does not denote the divinity of Jesus. So where did such ideas come from?

Again, Son of God depends on the context. It’s not the same meaning every time, and our writer makes the mistake of thinking that it is. Note that passages like John 10 are ignored. Still, he asks a good question. Where does the idea that Jesus is divine come from?

The turning point in history came when Christianity ceased being a small movement within Judaism and Gentiles (non-Jews) started to embrace the faith in large numbers. We need to look to the pagan world of the Gentiles in order to understand the mindset of the people that received the New Testament message. Since the time of Alexander the Great, Gentiles had been living in a Hellenistic (Greek) world. Their lands were dominated by Roman armies, with the Roman Empire being the superpower of the world at the time. The Roman Empire itself was heavily influenced by Hellenistic religion, philosophy and culture. Greek gods and goddesses like Zeus, Hermes and Aphrodite, as well as Roman gods and goddesses like Jupiter, Venus and Diana, dominated the landscape. There were temples, priesthoods, and feasts dedicated to the patron god or goddess of a city or region; statues to the deities dotted the forums of the cities. Even rulers themselves were frequently worshipped as gods.

Aside from the first sentence, I really don’t have a problem with what is said here. We do need to understand the Gentile world and the pagan world to understand the New Testament. Much of what is said here about the pagan world is in fact accurate.

Gentiles from such a polytheistic background would have naturally understood Christian preaching about the “son of God” in light of a Greek or Roman god having been begotten by another. We can see this mindset manifested in the New Testament. In the Book of Acts there is an incident where the Gentile crowds think that Paul is Zeus come among them when he heals a crippled man:

When the crowd saw what Paul had done, they shouted in the Lycaonian language, “The gods have come down to us in human form!”

Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul they called Hermes because he was the chief speaker.

The priest of Zeus, whose temple was just outside the city, brought bulls and wreaths to the city gates because he and the crowd wanted to offer sacrifices to them. [Acts 14:11-13]

In checking this, I found something interesting. When I went to the book of Acts, I did a search for the words “son” and “God.” Only two places do I see references to Jesus being the Son of God. One is in Acts 9:20.

“And straightway in the synagogues he proclaimed Jesus, that he is the Son of God.”

Note that here we have Paul in a Jewish synagogue and saying “He is the Son of God” about Jesus. The question to ask is how would the Jews understand this? In light of the resurrection, it would mean the claims of Jesus were true, and I would include deity in that. Acts 13:33 is the next and could in fact contain early creedal material.

that God hath fulfilled the same unto our children, in that he raised up Jesus; as also it is written in the second psalm, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee.

This would include the idea that as the resurrected Son, Jesus is the rightful king of this world. He is the one meant to rule. Already, we have exalted language of Jesus. This isn’t counting what we find in the Pauline epistles that leads us to conclude that the earliest Christology is indeed the highest.

Still, what about Acts 14? As our writer goes on to say:

It is worthy of note that Paul and Barnabas did not take this opportunity to explain that it was not they but rather Jesus who was God come in human form. Such a clarification is what you would expect, if Trinitarian beliefs about Jesus are correct. Instead, they argued against such pagan beliefs and practices:

But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of this, they tore their clothes and rushed out into the crowd, shouting:

“Men, why are you doing this? We too are only men, human like you. We are bringing you good news, telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made heaven and earth and sea and everything in them. [Acts 14:14-15]

Here we see that the Greco-Roman peoples that Paul and Barnabas were preaching to were in the habit of taking humans for gods. Despite Paul protesting that he was not a god, the people persisted in their belief: “Even with these words, they had difficulty keeping the crowd from sacrificing to them.” [Acts 14:18] From this example we can see that according to Christian history, it was a common practice for people to attribute divinity to other humans. In spite of Paul openly denying being a god, the people continued to worship and sacrifice to him. We can conclude that even if Jesus himself rejected being God at that time, the mindset of the people was such that they would still have found a way to deify him. This is not an isolated incident, as we read elsewhere that Gentiles believed Paul was a god because he survived a bite from a venomous snake:

It is actually not at all surprising. For one thing, I think Luke is speaking in a mocking tone about the people of Lystra. Yet why would Paul not be out spouting full Trinitarian theology at once? One problem is that a lot of people think that if the Trinity is true, that the earliest believers needed to be quoting the Nicene Creed. Not at all. They grew in their understanding like we all do. Paul himself spent three years in the wilderness rethinking everything he knew when he found out Jesus was the Messiah, and in many ways actually understood the ramifications of that better than the others.

Why would Paul not say Jesus was God in human form? Because the people of Lystra would be thinking of Zeus or some other polytheistic deity. Paul would start with where they were. We don’t know for sure what arguments he made as we’re given a picture and a paragraph, but all our writer has is a picture and a paragraph. You need more than that.

He also claims that since people were easily deified, it’s not a shock to think of that happening to Jesus. However, as has been shown, the claims of deity that we’ve already seen aren’t made to a pagan audience but a Jewish one. Jews would not be the ones to do that unless they had really good reason to believe that there had been an incarnation that had taken place. We also have to ask still “How did the idea that Jesus is deity ever come about?” Many people had risen from the dead in the Bible. None were said to be deity. Why Jesus? This is indeed a central question.

Let’s go on.

Once safely on shore, we found out that the island was called Malta.

The islanders showed us unusual kindness. They built a fire and welcomed us all because it was raining and cold.

Paul gathered a pile of brushwood and, as he put it on the fire, a viper, driven out by the heat, fastened itself on his hand.

When the islanders saw the snake hanging from his hand, they said to each other, “This man must be a murderer; for though he escaped from the sea, the goddess Justice has not allowed him to live.”

But Paul shook the snake off into the fire and suffered no ill effects.

The people expected him to swell up or suddenly fall dead; but after waiting a long time and seeing nothing unusual happen to him, they changed their minds and said he was a god. [Acts:28:1-6]

With this background in mind, it’s easy to see how Judaic phrases like “son of God” took on a different meaning when transported out of their Jewish monotheistic context into pagan Greco-Roman thought. The Trinity doctrine arose neither in a vacuum, nor strictly from the text of Scripture. It was the result of the influence of certain beliefs and attitudes that prevailed in and around the Church after the first century. The Church emerged in a Jewish and Greek world and so the primitive Church had to reconcile the notions they had inherited from Judaism with those they had derived from pagan mythology. In the words of the historian and Anglican bishop John Wand, “Jew and Greek had to meet in Christ”

Except the Gentiles never claimed Paul was a son of God. They were claiming he was a god. The Jews were the ones using the Son of God claim. Note that already our writer is claiming the church received ideas from pagan mythology. All we’ve seen so far is that some pagans thought Paul was a god. We have seen no evidence that the Jews received these ideas or that the early church did and if Luke is indeed mocking the people, then it is quite likely they did not.

It’s interesting to note that the Greco-Roman religions were filled with tales of gods procreating with human beings and begetting god-men. The belief that God could be incarnate, or that there were sons of God, were common and popular beliefs. For example, the chief god in the Greek pantheon, Zeus, visited the human woman Danae in the form of golden rain and fathered Perseus, a “god-man.” In another tale Zeus is said to have come to the human woman Alcmena, disguised as her husband. Alcmena bore Hercules, another “god-man.” Such tales bear a striking similarity to Trinitarian beliefs of God being begotten as a man. In fact, the early Christian apologist Justin Martyr, considered a saint in the Catholic Church, said the following in response to pagan criticisms that Christianity borrowed from their beliefs about the sons of God:

Well, not really. That a god could take on a human guise is one thing. That they would take on a human nature is entirely different. This is the claim about Jesus. Jesus entered into every aspect of human life, the good, the bad, and the ugly. (Not that Jesus Himself did anything bad of course.) That is in no way a similiarity to the Christian claims. Gentiles would be quite horrified by the thought of the gods doing something as shameful as actually becoming human. Still, let’s look at what our writer has to say about Justin Martyr.

When we say that the Word, who is our teacher, Jesus Christ the first born of God, was produced without sexual union, and that he was crucified and died and rose again, and ascended to heaven, we propound nothing new or different from what you [pagans] believe regarding those whom you consider sons of Jupiter.

And the comment on this is:

According to ancient Roman myth, Jupiter was the king of all the gods. Here Justin Martyr is telling Roman pagans that what the Christians believe about Jesus being the son of God is nothing different than what they believe about the sons of the god Jupiter. That the Church Fathers’ conception of the Trinity was a combination of Jewish monotheism and pagan polytheism can be seen in the testimony of Gregory of Nyssa, a fourth century bishop who is venerated as a saint in the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches. He also happens to be one of the great figures in the history of the philosophical formulation of the doctrine of the Trinity. He wrote:

We’ll see what comes from Gregory next, but let’s look at what Justin Martyr is saying. What is he defending? He is trying to defend the claim that the Christian religion is NOT shameful. Justin thought the parallels were there because the devil in the myths of the pagans was trying to imitate…..what was he trying to imitate?

The prophecies of Moses.

In fact, I find Justin’s parallels to be stretches. Why would he do this? To get the emperor to stop persecuting the Christians based on their believing something new and strange. In Justin’s time, new beliefs were viewed with suspicion so you tried to connect your beliefs to something old. That’s why Justin points to the Hebrew prophecies. (Get that. Justin believes that all about Jesus is prophesied in the Old Testament, not taken from pagans.) He is wanting pagan audiences to see parallels, indicating they probably didn’t see them before. Note also that there is no indication that the Christians took this on to be more hospitable to pagans. After all, here we are about 100 years later and if that was the plan, it has failed miserably.

I also want to be clear I don’t agree with Justin’s argument, but just because I don’t agree doesn’t mean I think we should misunderstand it. It can only be disagreed with truly if one truly understands it. Let’s make sure we are interpreting Justin rightly.

Now moving on to Gregory:

For the truth passes in the mean between these two conceptions, destroying each heresy, and yet, accepting what is useful to it from each. The Jewish dogma is destroyed by the acceptance of the Word and by belief in the Spirit, while the polytheistic error of the Greek school is made to vanish by the unity of the nature abrogating this imagination of plurality.

The Christian conception of God, argues Gregory of Nyssa, is neither purely the polytheism of the Greeks nor purely the monotheism of the Jews, but rather a combination of both.

There’s a little bit of error mixed in with the understanding here. The Trinity that Gregory accepted is montheistic, but it is not a unitarian monotheism. In fact, this is one of the first mistakes made in Trinitarian discussions. There’s an assumption that God must be one in person. In fact, Jews in the time of Jesus were open to a plurality in the Godhead and even afterward. Afterward, look at figures like Metatron. Before, look at figures like Wisdom and the Logos and sometimes the Son of Man as well.

Even the concept of God-men who were saviours of mankind was by no means exclusive to Jesus. Long before Jesus was born, it was not uncommon for military men and political rulers to be talked about as divine beings. More than that, they were even treated as divine beings: given temples, with priests, who would perform sacrifices in their honour, in the presence of statues of them. In Athens for example, Demetrios Poliorcetes (Demetrios the Conqueror of Cities, 337–283 BCE) was acclaimed as a divine being by hymn-writers because he liberated them from their Macedonian enemies:

How the greatest and dearest of the gods are present in our city! For the circumstances have brought together Demeter and Demetrios; she comes to celebrate the solemn mysteries of the Kore, while he is here full of joy, as befits the god, fair and laughing. His appearance is solemn, his friends all around him and he in their midst, as though they were stars and he the sun. Hail boy of the most powerful god Poseidon and Aphrodite! For other gods are either far away, or they do not have ears, or they do not exist, or do not take any notice of us, but you we can see present here, not made of wood or stone, but real. So we pray to you: first make peace, dearest; for you have the power…

Note that there is a difference between being a divine being, and being seen as ontologically equal to one supreme God. What is the claim of Jesus? Was Paul just preaching that Jesus was a divine being? Note also that you can show all day long other humans were turned into divine beings. That does not show that when it was done to Jesus, that it was done falsely. That would be like saying “Other Jews thought other figures were the Messiah, so when they thought it about Jesus they thought wrongly.” It doesn’t work.

The Athenians gave Demetrios an arrival that was fit for a god, burning incense on altars and making offerings to their new deified king. It must be pointed out that as time passed by, he did some other things that the Athenians did not approve of, and as a consequence they revoked their adoration of him. It seems that in the days before Jesus, divinity could be stripped away from human beings just as easily as it was granted. Perhaps the best known examples of God-men are the divine honours bestowed upon the rulers of the Roman Empire, starting with Julius Caesar. We have an inscription dedicated to him in 49 BCE discovered in the city of Ephesus, which says this about him

Descendant of Ares and Aphrodite

The God who has become manifest

And universal savior of human life

What of it? Claims were made of Caesar like this. Again, our writer will have to show that the claims were made falsely about Jesus. This has not been done. In fact, as we saw earlier, the claims were first made in a Jewish context. I plan on showing more of that later on.

So Julius Caesar was God manifest as man, the saviour of mankind. Sound familiar? Now prior to Julius Caesar, rulers in the city of Rome itself were not granted divine honours. But Caesar himself was – before he died, the senate approved the building of a temple for him, a cult statue, and a priest. Soon after his death, his adopted son and heir, Octavian, promoted the idea that at his death, Caesar had been taken up to heaven and been made a god to live with the gods. There was a good reason that Octavian wanted his adopted father to be declared a God. If his father was God, then what does that make him? This deification of Caesar set the precedent for what was to happen with the emperors, beginning with the first of them, Octavian himself, who became “Caesar Augustus” in 29 BCE. There is an inscription that survives from his lifetime found in the city of Halicarnassus (modern Turkey), which calls Augustus

…The native Zeus

and Savior of the human race

There’s something interesting about all of this. It does indeed sound familiar, but not for the same reasons. Let’s consider what is said by a Bart Ehrman blog which can be found here. If you will look through, the exact same references are used and many times, the same language is used. Ehrman is also a favorite of Muslims, so this doesn’t surprise me, but again, can the writer show that this happened with Jesus in a Jewish context?

This is yet another example of a divine saviour of mankind. Now Octavian happened to also be the “son of God” by virtue of his divine father Julius Caesar. In fact Octavian became known as ‘Divi filius’ (“Son of the Divine One”). These, of course, are all titles widely used by Christians today to describe Jesus. We must realise that the early Church did not come up with these titles out of the blue, they are all things said of other men before they were said of Jesus. For early Christians, the idea was not that Jesus was the only person who was ever called such things, this is a misconception. The concept of a divine human being who was the saviour of mankind was a sort of template that was applied to people of great power and authority. We’ve seen that the history of paganism is littered with such examples, and Jesus was just another divine saviour in a long list of divine saviours that had preceded him.

And this is it. There is no interaction with the divine claims found in the New Testament. There is no indication that pagans believed in a Trinity. Instead, we have the idea of “Pagans turned humans into deities so the same happend with Jesus.” That needs to be shown on all counts and not just asserted. Let’s look at some divine claims about Jesus.

Chris Tilling has a wonderful book called Paul’s Divine Christology. I have reviewed it here. Tilling’s hypothesis is that if there was something that set YHWH apart as deity it was His position as being in covenant relationship with Israel. When we go to the New Testament, we see this same language, but it’s not so much YHWH and Israel as it is Jesus and the church. The parallel is that Jesus is seen as the one the people of God honor in the New Testament in the way that God is honored in the Old Testament.

Another work worth reading is that edited by Michael Bird called How God Became Jesus. I have also reviewed that here and interviewed three of the authors here. You can get an excellent lesson on Christology there.

I regret that I haven’t read Larry Hurtado’s massive work Lord Jesus Christ yet, but I have read How On Earth Did Jesus Become A God?. Hurtado points to some of our early creedal traditions. Jesus is spoken of as the Lord. The language is saying “Anathema, Maranatha.” It refers to the coming of the Lord and is in Aramaic, something Gentiles were not known for speaking. This is high language of Jesus referring to the coming of the Lord. Romans 1:3-4 referring to the divine nature of Jesus fits in this as well as this is also a creedal statement.

The writer might also be interesting in my talk with Rob Bowman on the Trinity. For John, there is my talk with Paul Rainbow on Johannine theology. There are plenty of other authors that could be read like Bauckham and O’Collins and others. Our writer did not interact with any and it’s very easy to make a case if you ignore all the best arguments against your position.

Also, I point to statements such as Paul’s of Jesus being in the divine nature in Philippians 2 and then the language of Isaiah that was applied to God alone. Revelation has all creation in chapter 5 worshiping Him who sits on the throne and the Lamb. Note that the Lamb is separated from all creation. In fact, a fascinating way to study Revelation is to go through and see not what it says about whatever your view is of end times, but what does it say about Jesus?

Matthew also begins with early on having Jesus being seen as Immanuel, meaning “God with us.” In the end, Jesus says He has been given all authority and says “I am with you always.” These are bookends. In the middle, He also says that when two or three are gathered, He is in their midst, which is a reference to what was said about YHWH in the study of Torah by the Jews.

We could go on and on with Jesus forgiving someone in the book of Mark and Mark 1 having Scripture that applied to YHWH being applied to Jesus, with Hebrews, a thoroughly Jewish book, having an opening chapter that is a massive tour de force on Jesus being fully equal with God, and with Jesus saying that all must honor Him as they honor the Father in John. The person wanting to know more about this is invited to go to the best scholars on both sides and study the issue.

In conclusion, I find that the writer just hasn’t made his case. He has spent so much time looking at the pagans, that he has not looked at Jesus at all really. What happened in the life of Jesus? What is the evidence? A suspicion is not the same as an argument. The same arguments made could be used to argue that Jesus wasn’t really the Messiah, which Islam would not want to say.

If the writer wants to show true pagan influence, I hope they do better next time.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

Book Plunge: The Birth of the Trinity

What do I think of Matthew Bates’s book published by Oxford press? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

How did we get to the Trinity? Of course, the Trinity was never born, per se, but how did the early church come to the idea? Was it in the Old Testament and we just hadn’t seen it all these years? Could it be they read Scripture in a way today that we’re not familiar with?

“Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me.

With burnt offerings and sin offerings you were not pleased.

Then I said ‘Here I am. It is written about me in the scroll — I have come to do your will, my God.”

When the writer of Hebrews has this passage, he says that this is what Christ said. If we go back to where it comes from, Psalm 40, we don’t see Christ saying this at all. It looks like what the Psalmist is saying. How do we get to Christ saying this? Are we just reading into the text?

As good Christians, we don’t want to say that. After all, do we want to accuse the writer of Hebrews of eisegesis? In fact, we can go further and say that our Lord Himself used this kind of reading. Did He not ask the Pharisees whose son the Messiah is only to be told the Son of David. Christ responds with Psalm 110:1 “The Lord said to my Lord.” How can He be David’s son if David calls Him His Lord?

Bates says this is called prospological reading where the text is read from the perspective of a divine conversation going on. Sometimes, the Psalmist or prophet seems to give us a peek behind the curtain, perhaps unknowingly, to conversations that have taken place long in the past. (Well, at least to us. Since all of God’s actions are eternal these are eternally happening.)

The early church engaged in this and in fact, so did the early opponents of Christianity. This doesn’t mean that every reading like this is valid, but Origen and others did lay down some ground rules. Those are quite helpful for many who will think that this is an approach that can just lead to chaos and anything can mean anything.

Bates throughout this book that is incredibly inspiring seeks to enter us into a divine drama taking place and how the early church saw the text. Numerous texts are explored in-depth including countering various ideas, such as a popular adoptionist idea as has recently been argued for by Bart Ehrman. Bates also wants to return us to the idea of not divine identity but divine persons thinking we’re losing something of the idea of how we should speak of God when we don’t speak of persons.

Bates’s argument then is that when Christ came, the readers of the Old Testament indeed looked back in hindsight to see if they could see Christ speaking there, and they saw several passages. These they fit into the divine drama that had been taking place behind the scenes. This can also make us go back and read the Old Testament with new eyes. We’ve all known about this kind of reading before as we see it in the New Testament. We just never knew how seriously it was undertaken and what an impact it had.

If there was something I’d say I would like to see better, I think the title can be misleading. Every now and then there’s something about the Holy Spirit, but really very little. The book emphasizes more on the deity of Christ I think than the whole of the Trinity. Perhaps that can be saved for another work.

This is still an excellent book to read. If you want to see a fresh new reading of the text, try this one out. This is definitely an area that New Testament scholarship needs to further study.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

Book Plunge: Paul’s Divine Christology

What do I think of Chris Tilling’s book published by Eerdmans? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

For some time, names like Bauckham and Hurtado and others have been dominant in discussions of Christology as we have seen more and more movement to what is called an early High Christology. In fact, this Christology is so early and high that it has been said that the earliest Christology is the highest Christology. Jesus from the resurrection is said to be seen as within the divine identity and is fully God and fully man. This alone is a powerful argument for the reality of the resurrection as it would take something quite remarkable to convince devout Jews that a crucified Messiah figure was not only really the Messiah, but God incarnate.

Chris Tilling is also a voice in this debate. Tilling was one of the people who contributed to Michael Bird’s project of How God Became Jesus. Tilling is an enjoyable scholar to read who I think is serious in everything he does. Why? Because when you see his Facebook page and his own blog, he is often quite humorous and there is no contradiction between being humorous and being serious. Yet when it comes to the New Testament, Tilling is a force to be reckoned with and knows the material very well. In fact, a look at his argument for an early high Christology is a way of saying that we have missed the forest for the trees.

One of my favorite shows that unfortunately has not only gone off the air now but has had the book series come to an end was the series Monk about the obsessive-compulsive homicide detective. My parents always wanted me to see if I could solve the case before Adrian Monk. The episodes can be enjoyable to watch again and when you do, you can look back at the cases that are solved and see all the clues you missed the first time through and think “Why didn’t I see that the first time?” Reading Tilling’s book can be like that. It can make you think about passages in the NT and say “Why didn’t I think of that the first time?”

Tilling relies not on a philosophical idea such as the God of the philosophers, but notes that the identity of God in Jewish thought was based on His covenant relationship with Israel. Only God was said to be in that covenant. If that is the case, then what about seeing if someone else suddenly shows up in this relationship and has a similar relationship to Israel? What if they have a similar relationship to the church, which is pictured as in the covenant of Israel as well. What if we find analogies from the OT that are used of YHWH and Israel and yet when we find their counterparts in the NT, it’s Christ and the church?

It really is a simple idea, and yet it’s a remarkable one as the Christ-relation shows up all throughout the NT. Just look and see how Paul, who Tilling is focusing on, speaks so highly of Christ and never even really a hint of holding back. You never see Paul giving a warning about saying to not go too far in your adoration of Christ. Instead, Paul speaks as if it was his natural language of his devotion of Christ and His role in salvation history. We have phrases like “To live is Christ”, “I sought to know nothing other than Christ crucified”, and “Live to the Lord” with Christ as the Lord. This is not even counting the references that seem to explicitly make reference to the deity of Christ like Romans 9:5 or the maranatha in 1 Cor. 16.

In fact, thinking along these lines, just recently I was pondering marriage as it’s a topic I read up on a lot more now that I have my own Mrs. and was pondering the idea of how Christ loved the church and then thought along the lines of Tilling about why Paul says that. Paul could have easily said “As God loved Israel”, but he didn’t. He chose to use Christ and the church and in effect is saying that Christ is the supreme example of love and it’s not the love of God, but just the love of Christ. The Christ-relation is indeed a huge impact and it should be one that the scholarly world is looking at for some time.

Now for some criticisms. There were times in the book that I thought it looked like Tilling was going more for quantity than for quality. You’d have a shotgun approach I thought of several different passages but they weren’t engaged with as much depth as I would like. There were times I would have liked to have seen a few passages explored in greater depth and then you could find several analogous passages that are like that one.

Also, there are times a layman could get lost at a few passages. It would be good to see something like this reproduced on a more popular level especially for those laymen in the field who will be meeting groups like the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Christadelphians. An argument like Tilling’s would be an invaluable reference for the furtherance of the Gospel and answering those who wish to challenge the deity of Christ and the fact that the argument is simple and powerful and has loads of verses in support of it is extremely helpful.

Overall, this is a book well worth your time to read and I suggest you do so.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Anybody Catch That Last Apocalypse?

How was the latest global event for you? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

So another blood moon has come and gone and how is the world radically different? Well, not too much. Of course, don’t leave it to people like John Hagee to be deterred by this. As he says on the Facebook page of his ministry:

Thank you Joe Pags for participating in our “Four Blood Moons” projects, and for helping us to share this great message that something is about to change! God is sending a message that (even though no man knows the day nor the hour) we need to prepare for Jesus’ return. We need to live a righteous life as unto the Lord.

One would think the Almighty would have planned these kinds of events better and would have also thought that an event like the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. or the Holocaust would be worth something, but alas, apparently not. We can be confident that two people will not be bothered by nothing happening with the blood moons. The first will be John Hagee himself. The second will be his followers. Even today if you go to the page, you can see plenty of them. The fact that this caused so much excitement in the Christian church really shows that we have a great case of Biblical illiteracy going on.

While I certainly agree with Hagee that we need to be living righteous lives, part of that righteousness would be owning up to the mistakes that you make and especially so if you have a loudspeaker to what you say and proclaim yourself to speak what you think Scripture says. Events like this only give further credibility to the idea that Christians are gullible and will believe anything that comes along and if we give that kind of impression to people, why on Earth should we think that they will treat the Gospel of Christ seriously? Of course you believe that story! You also believed in blood moons because someone on TV said it.

So here’s my bizarre pipe dream.

I have this hope that Christians will really drop their end times madness. I get tired of hearing constantly that we all know we’re living in the last days and that the end of the world is coming and we are that generation. Every other generation has been wrong, but we are the exception! The good thing is these end times people can be disproven pretty quickly as they don’t usually make predictions about events hundreds of years from now, but rather events due to happen soon. The bad part is that when they are disproven, no one calls them to repentance and they keep going. I have said before it must be nice to be a prophecy expert. You can write whatever you want and just say it’s in the Bible by whatever bizarre hermeneutic you want, you can be taken as a serious authority, sell books all around the world and be a bestseller, be absolutely wrong in all you say, and yet you still qualify as an expert.

Second, I have a dream of Christians being experts in other areas. I meet so many Christians who say they want to study end times prophecy and know all about that. How rarely do I meet Christians who want to say “I want to learn all I can about the Trinity.” One reason is end times prophecy is often about us and we love ourselves. We love thinking that we are so special as a chosen generation. The Trinity is not about ourselves. Oh it has implications for us of course, but it is largely about God. Of course, if one wants to study end times prophecy, go ahead, but please make sure it does not take the place of more important doctrines. If you know all about end times prophecy and have your charts and graphs of Revelation and Daniel all filled out, but you have no clue how to argue Jesus rose from the dead, there’s a problem.

Third, let’s hold our leaders accountable. We would want them to be held accountable if they spent money we donated in tithes in a wrong way. We would want them to be accountable if they were caught in sexual misconduct. Yet people spread untruths about Scripture on a serious level that produces embarrassment for the church as a whole and we don’t want to do anything? Hagee’s book has the subtitle of “Something’s About To Change.” What that something should include is the fact that he is still broadcast on television and that he still has a leadership position in the body of Christ.

As many of us predicted, nothing happened with the latest fit of end times madness, except for the usual. Christians ended up looking foolish to the rest of the world. Let’s start holding up our speakers and leaders as accountable and even making sure we’re careful about who we choose to have those positions. The credibility of the Gospel is at stake.

In Christ,
Nick Peters