Deeper Waters Podcast 12/8/2018: Richard Shenk

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

A little over 2,000 years ago, a young Jewish woman was approached by the angel Gabriel and told that she would give birth to a son who would be named Jesus. She was told some of the great wonders about who this child would be. The woman was named Mary. What made the event so interesting was that Mary was a virgin and she conceived while she was a virgin.

So goes the story of the virgin birth, which I do affirm. This is the story that begins the account of Christmas. The story is meant to be good news for the world, but is it really? What makes the virgin birth such a big deal? Is it even an accurate account? Is the virgin birth just God pulling a neat trick to show what He can do? Was it a way to protect Jesus from unnecessary defilement?

To answer these questions, I’m bringing on someone else who also affirms the virgin birth, which I do affirm. He affirms it so much he wrote the book The Virgin Birth of Christ. He will be my guest to discuss how it is that we believe in this doctrine and then more importantly, what a difference it makes. His name is Richard Shenk.

So who is he?

According to his bio:

Wheaton College (BS – Physics-Bible; 1979)
    Engineering-Physicist at Fermi National Accelerator Lab (1979-1986)
Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (MDiv;1984)
    Pastor with Baptist General Conference; Ogallala, NE, 1986-1991); Mundelein, IL, 1992-2007)
    Pastor with Evangelical Free Church; Maple Plain, MN (2007-2018)
University of Wales, Lampeter (PhD; 2008)
    Adjunct Professor, Theology; Bethlehem College & Seminary (2009-2017)
    Assistant Professor, Theology; Bethlehem College & Seminary (2017-present)
Dr. Shenk and I will be starting with a discussion, since this is an apologetics podcast, about the case for the virgin birth, which I do affirm. Isn’t it a mark of incredulity to believe in such a thing? Is this doctrine really a doctrine that divides the lines of battle as it were? Why is it seen as such a shibboleth in the world today?
Then we’ll be discussing reasons given for what a difference it makes that are not really plausible. Was this done to avoid sexual lust conceiving Jesus? Was it done because sin passes down through the paternal line and therefore Jesus needed to not have a human male father to avoid having a sinful nature? What is wrong with these ideas?
We’ll also discuss ideas such as the prophecy of Jeconiah and how he would be childless and what a difference that makes. We’ll discuss why adoption should matter to Christians. We’ll also be talking about how the virgin birth shows that God is active in the world and we’ll discuss how God is going to bring about a new birth for us. The doctrine is far more multi-faceted than is realized.
I hope you’ll be looking for this next episode of the Deeper Waters Podcast. Please also go on iTunes and leave a positive review. You all know by now that I love to see them!
And of course, I affirm the virgin birth.
In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: The Virgin Birth of Christ

What do I think of Richard Shenk’s book on the virgin birth (Which I do affirm) published by Paternoster books? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Readers of my work and friends of mine know that one of my favorite subjects to refer to is the virgin birth and about my constant statement about affirming the virgin birth, which I do affirm. I figured it was about time I did a podcast on the topic and that I called in someone who would do that. A quick search on Amazon led me to this book by Richard Shenk.

The virgin birth, as Shenk points out, is often a shibboleth of sorts. It’s a test. It’s where the battle lines are drawn. For Christians, the virgin birth is a sort of test of orthodoxy. Once that one falls, so many other pillars will just start falling. For atheists and non-Christian skeptics, it’s a test of incredulity. The virgin birth is obviously something stupid to believe.

That last part is, of course, ridiculous. I often like to ask skeptics about this who claim we know so much better in the age of science, at what point in history did men and women realize there was a connection between sex and babies? Believe it or not, we knew it pretty early on in our history. Joseph was not a biologist and we know a whole lot more about pregnancy than they did back then, but he knew enough to know what it took to make a baby and he knew he hadn’t done that.

Shenk says that this is one of the first great gifts of the virgin birth. It blows right through naturalism if true. It shows that God has acted in the world in a unique miracle.

Yet there’s more. We want to know why a virgin birth took place. For many of the church fathers, there were two reasons. One is to avoid Jesus being born of concupiscence. Many of you might not be familiar with that word. Fortunately, he tells us what it is. On p. 33, he refers to an evil concupiscence as the fulfilling of evil desires. For some in the early church, sex was purely for procreation. To use sex for other reasons was to give heed to evil desires.

We can’t have Jesus come that way, but such a view does not find a home in the Scriptures. How can you have such a view when Paul says in 1 Cor. 7 that married couples ought not to abstain from sex for a time except for prayer and by mutual consent and even then for a short time only. Nothing at all says, “Come together and have sex only when you want children.” Sex is presented as a great good throughout the Bible to be enjoyed by husband and wife.

Well, maybe it’s to avoid original sin. Still, there’s nothing in the Scriptures that really demonstrates that sin passes down through a paternal line. It’s an interesting theory, but Shenk doesn’t think it holds up.

Yet there’s also another problem with Jesus’s birth. What about the sin of Jeconiah? He was said that he would be childless and his descendants would not rule? I personally think this applied to only his immediate descendants and that we see a reversal in Haggai 2 when Zerubbabel is given the signet ring to show ruling again, but Shenk works with this to argue a virgin birth helps bypass that. It’s a long theory and best explained by reading the book. There’s also a theory that God chose this route to hide from the devil who the seed would be in Genesis 3:15. I’m not convinced, but it is interesting.

Shenk says one real purpose of the virgin birth is to show that Jesus is fully God and fully man. If Mary had not known a man and gave birth, then this is showing that this is no ordinary child. This child can truly be said to be conceived of the Holy Spirit.

Shenk also compares old creation and new creation at this point. In Genesis 1, the Holy Spirit hovered over the waters preparing for God to act in the world. In the birth of Jesus, the Holy Spirit overshadows Mary preparing for the new birth of the Messiah in her.

Many church fathers and Catholics see the relation between Eve and Mary as well. This is a reversal in that Mary succeeds where Eve fails. The information on 2 Timothy 2:11-15 is quite fascinating at this point and worth considering for those who read it. Basically, Shenk thinks that Paul is seeing Mary as redeeming the mistake of Eve and thus restoring honor to the women.

There’s also the honor of adoption. Joseph is an adopted father of Jesus in the text and this is the method used by God to get Jesus into the royal lineage. Adoption is something that we should be concerned about in an age of abortion.

And finally, there is also our virgin birth. Oh not that we will be physically conceived without the help of a man and a woman together, but that we will be conceived spiritually not that way, but by a new birth in Christ. Christ gives us a new birth without the aid of our parents at all, though of course parents can help, but they are not essential to a child becoming a Christian. The virgin birth reminds us that a birth from above is given to all of us in Christ.

This book will give you a newfound appreciation of the virgin birth. It is also a relatively short book. There is a slight section on perpetual virginity, but aside from that even most Catholics and Orthodox I think could appreciate it.

And of course, I affirm the virgin birth.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: 26 Reasons Why Jews Don’t Believe in Jesus Part 4

Are there false Messianic Prophecies? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

As we continue our look at Asher Norman’s book, we come to a section on prophecies. I’m not going to cover everything in this one, especially when we get to matters of atonement and such that need a high knowledge of Judaism. I often tell people with that that if you don’t understand the atonement so you can’t be a Christian, that it’s a secondary matter. If you understand Jesus’s claims and that He died and rose again, that’s all you need.

The first section we’ll look at is that the Christian Bible employed a number of techniques to shoehorn Jesus into the text. The main one he looks at is the prophecy of the virgin birth. (Which I do affirm of course) The mistake is that Norman could here win the battle and lose the war.

Norman starts off saying there is no prophecy that the Messiah would be born of a virgin. With this, I agree. I know of no tradition that the Jews were expecting a virgin born Messiah. At the same time, I do not think Matthew and Luke made up the event. So what’s going on?

The oddity is that this is where Norman goes into a lot of linguistic analysis. Note that when he goes after the New Testament, looking into the languages just doesn’t really matter. He states repeatedly that this was really a young woman (And he’s right) and this was in Isaiah’s time (and he’s right) and that this was about the Syro-Ephraimite war (And he’s right).

Interestingly, one defense he has is that this was likely Isaiah’s son since Jesus was never called Emmanuel. However, if the son born to Isaiah is the one described in the next chapter, that one wasn’t called Emmanuel either. Apparently, Norman doesn’t realize that it was entirely possible to have two names. We could point out that Jacob was called Jacob and Israel both and that Moses’s father-in-law is known by two different names as well.

When we get to the claim that the Messiah wasn’t to die before fulfilling His mission, Norman doesn’t realize that this kind of thing is actually what makes the Christian argument so compelling. Jesus wasn’t a cookie-cutter Messiah. He went against the grain. If the Jews were making up a Messiah figure, they would not make up Jesus.

Norman’s first point is that Jesus said He would die to fulfill Scripture, but that there is no such Scripture. No doubt, Norman has in mind a kind of chapter and verse idea. If so, then he is badly mistaken. Jesus is speaking about more of the whole message of Scripture, the same kind of idea we see in 1 Cor. 15.

Norman also thinks there’s something impressive about the disciples not understanding. Not at all. The disciples would have thought that Jesus was to be the king of Israel without dying. Dying wasn’t on the agenda. It would be just as shocking to hear someone running for president today and talking about what will happen once he gets to office and dies. That’s never the agenda for a campaigning president.

It’s quite amusing when the cup analogy shows Jesus didn’t wish to die. Norman says that the verses make clear that Jesus didn’t want to die but would do so if the Father required it. Yeah. That’s kind of the point. The whole submitting your will to God thing.

Norman also thinks this is problematic for Christian theology. Can we say Jesus intentionally died for our sins if it was not His will? Second, if Jesus is a “member of the Trinity” and each person has the same essence, shouldn’t they have the same will? Unfortunately, Norman is a little over 1,300 years behind the times. Christianity already had this talk. It was the Monothelite controversy. It was asking if Jesus had one will or two wills. The church resolutely said that He had a human will and a divine will.

The answer to the obvious question is, no. Norman hasn’t read any real church history at all.

Norman goes on to say Jesus tried to talk Pilate out of crucifying Him. This would seem more convincing if we had Jesus begging for mercy or something like that. We don’t. At this point, Norman is just trying to use anything He can to make a case.

Finally, Norman thinks that he’s struck gold again by pointing out that Jesus says “My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me!” on the cross. Norman points out that Christian missionaries try to rationalize this by saying that Jesus is quoting a Psalm. This is dismissed by Norman without argument, which is a shock because it sounds perfectly proper for a Jew to quote a Psalm. Not only that, this Psalm is highly Messianic in the early church and while it starts with defeat, it ends with glorification and vindication. That is quite appropriate for Jesus.

Next time, we’ll be looking at what Norman has to say about Saint Paul.

And again, it only gets worse.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

I Affirm The Virgin Birth

Why is it that we affirm the virgin birth, which I do affirm? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

If you follow me at all on Facebook, you know one of the running themes on my page and wherever I go on there is to have people state that they affirm the virgin birth, which I do affirm. A lot of people wonder how this all got started and why we do it. While it is humorous, there is actually a point to the regular affirmation of the virgin birth, which I do affirm.

Over a year ago, a friend of mine and I were engaging with a skeptic on the Unbelievable? Facebook page. He kept using the same kind of argument that if Paul believed in the virgin birth (Which I do affirm) surely he would have mentioned it. We tried to point out that this was a high-context society and the oral tradition would cover that and it would be assumed that the listeners had a background where they were already familiar with the message of the Gospel and the letters of Paul were to clarify matters of debate and unless there was no debate on the virgin birth (Which I do affirm) there was no need to mention it.

To give a contrast, we pointed out that our churches, our pastors believe in the virgin birth (Which I do affirm), but they don’t have a need to mention it constantly. Then, in a bit of humor, it started becoming something that in every post we made, we stated we affirm the virgin birth. (Which I do affirm) The humor moved on from that post and now there is even a Facebook page called “I affirm the virgin birth.” (Which I do affirm.)

While humorous, it’s important to note that if it looks ridiculous to you, that’s to make the point. Christ mythers for instance are the worst in this category stating that everything had to be explicitly stated, unless of course it’s in the Gospels which just don’t count. (And they do affirm the virgin birth, which I also affirm) The argument from silence just really doesn’t cut it for historians. It’s meanwhile one of the favorite arguments of Christ mythers.

When you go to a church service, it’s normally assumed a sort of background beliefs so they don’t need to be explained every sermon. Now of course, a pastor could teach to someone assuming they have no background knowledge, but that does not mean he’ll give an exhaustive account of everything that he believes. After all, at most churches I’ve been to, I’ve rarely heard the pastor state explicitly that he affirms the virgin birth. (Which I do affirm)

Of course, there are times the argument from silence has some validity. For instance, Muslims like to point to the Gospel of Barnabas as a testament of Jesus. Unfortunately, we have no manuscripts or mentions of the Gospel of Barnabas and strangely enough, it seems to coincide well with Islamic doctrines. Where silence is expected though, the argument from silence is weak. Thus, we are not surprised when we have no explicit statements from Paul that he affirms the virgin birth. (Which I do affirm)

Humor is a great teacher and I prefer to use it whenever I can. This has been going on for a year and I see no sign of it stopping and hopefully, the point will be made to Christ mythers and others that Paul doesn’t have to explicitly mention something like the virgin birth (Which I do affirm). Silence does not mean as much as it is thought to mean.

And by the way, just in case you don’t know, I affirm the virgin birth.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Why I Affirm The Virgin Birth

Are there good reasons to affirm Jesus was born of a virgin? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

A few months ago I was on the Unbelievable? forum and someone was there speaking about the “mysterious silence of Paul” as it’s often thought to be. You would think that if there was such a reality as the virgin birth, that Paul would have mentioned it. A friend of mine and I pointed out that this is not so. After all, just because you believe in something does not mean you have to affirm it everywhere you go. I’ve written many blog posts that do not mention the virgin birth. I’ve interviewed many scholars and nowhere in our conversations do we mention it many times. I’ve heard many sermons that never mention the virgin birth.

Of course, this doesn’t say why Paul wouldn’t mention it. Aside from some times in Acts, we do not get much of the oral tradition of Paul, except for when he is quoting creeds. Paul no doubt had a strong oral tradition and preached for years in the areas he visited. It would be foolish to think that everything he taught could be found in the letters. In Paul’s world, he lived in a high-context society, which meant a strong background knowledge was assumed. There was no need to repeat in a letter much information that had already been shared save to make a rhetorical point, and Paul apparently never saw the need to repeat in a letter that Jesus was virgin born.

But we still need more.

Okay. Well one point worth mentioning is how radically different Matthew and Luke are in their birth narratives. This does not mean they can’t be harmonized, but it does present an interesting scenario. If Luke was just copying Matthew, why would he differ so radically from him? If Luke is not using Matthew, then we have the case that we have two independent accounts. Having independent accounts definitely helps out a historical claim.

Of course, we still need more.

The virgin birth would also just reek of paganism. Now I don’t think the pagans had stories of virgin births really, but they did have stories of unusual births. They did have accounts that certainly showed Zeus to be a player who wanted to have sex with every attractive female he saw. Christianity however did have its roots in Judaism, at least at the start, and Matthew is the most Jewish of the accounts. If Matthew is wanting to present the Gospel to Jews, he’s certainly not going to give something to them that they would think was borrowed from the pagans. That’s the last thing that would convince them.

In fact, Matthew would likely not want to mention this as at all much like Mark and John didn’t.

So why didn’t they?

Well John has an even more exalted beginning, but let’s look at Mark. Mark is supposed to be the account of Peter told through Mark. If so, Peter was not there at the birth of Jesus. Peter is giving an account of the ministry of Jesus and not giving a life story. Matthew and Luke are giving a little bit more. Still, this doesn’t answer why Matthew would not want to mention the virgin birth.

Probably because it would give shame to Jesus.

Yes. Seriously.

To say this would give credence to the charge that Jesus was illegitimate and that there was something odd about his birth. In a Jewish culture, this could be taken care of by stoning the woman. Mary would have been better going with most any other story. It would have been more believable to say she got raped by a Roman soldier or to say that she and Joseph just couldn’t wait until the wedding. Instead, she gives an account that she was pregnant by the divine action of YHWH. Now if you’re pregnant out of wedlock and you’re a Jew, the last thing you want to do is to instigate God in the action.

And yet this is the story that was presented.

Also, some people might argue that today, we happen to know that virgins don’t give birth. Well check this out. They knew that back then today. There has not been a time since the supposed rise of science that we have made the new discovery that it takes sex to make a baby. This is nothing new. Everyone knew it. Jewish parents would just as much talk about the birds and the bees as any other parents would today. We can say that the account is miraculous, but let us not say that it was based on ignorance and today we know better. The ancients knew quite a bit about sex and its connection with babies.

If the virgin birth was not true, then we would have an account that would be shameful and would be seen as a direct affront on YHWH Himself. Why is it the account is in there? I think David Instone-Brewer sums it up well in The Jesus Scandals. It’s in there because it’s true and something had to be said to answer charges of illegitimacy.

In the end, I conclude that the virgin birth is a true account and matches with the life of Jesus. This is why I affirm the virgin birth.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

A Response To Richard Hagenston

Is your pastor really not telling you some truths about the Bible? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Richard Hagenston is an ordained United Methodist minister and a former pastor who has written a book called Fabricating Faith: How Christianity Became A Religion Jesus Would Have Rejected. Now to be fair, I have not read the book yet, but someone sent me a link to the blog of Hemant Mehta, the “friendly atheist”, where he has a guest post by Mr. Hagenston.

Now I’d like to start with a sad statement. I think the reason many of these issues will never come up from pastors is that frankly, most pastors don’t even think about them. I have said several times that too many pastors are unequipped. I am not saying all pastors should specialize in apologetics, but all pastors need a basic knowledge at least of apologetics, they need to have at least one “Go-to” person in the church on apologetics, and they need to be able to emphasize the importance of apologetics to their flock. The sad reality is too many people in the flock have no clue what apologetics is, including myself for a long time, and this could be because many pastors don’t know either.

The result of this will be in the increasing amount of misinformation put out. On the one hand, Christians who apostasize from the faith will go out and share all this information that they never knew about, most of it coming from bogus sources on the internet. The second is that there will be too many Christians who will follow in kind because their pastor never protected them. Unfortunately, those who stay in the faith too often live in their secluded bubbles and ignoring the outside world, which kills any chance of their fulfilling the Great Commission.

That having been said, let’s look at the truths that will not be told.

The first is that the apostles did not know of a virgin birth.

The problem with such a claim is the same as illustrated by Christ-mythers. It relies on an argument from silence. If X never mentioned an event, then he didn’t know about it. We could only guess from something like this that a large population of the world at the time knew absolutely nothing about a volcano that destroyed Pompeii and Herculaneum. Because we deem something as important does not mean that the people of the time would have really wanted to talk about it.

Let’s consider the virgin birth. If the first Gospel written was Mark, why would Mark not mention it? It’s really quite simple. Mark is an inclusio document that is based on the eyewitness of Peter. Peter would most certainly have not been present for a virgin birth. Despite this, some think there could be a veiled reference in describing Jesus as the son of Mary instead of of Joseph in Mark 6:3.

Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him.

In fact, it could be the virgin birth would not be something that the writers would want to mention. As David Instone-Brewer points out in The Jesus Scandals. the virgin birth would have also been seen as an embarrassment. Not because if it was true that that would lower Jesus. It is because it would be seen with skepticism and in a Jewish culture, it would admit one sure fact about Jesus.

Jesus had a birth that was not normal.

Why would that be shameful? Because that could easily lead to the charge that Jesus was a mamzer, that is, a child born illegitimately. That might not be as big a deal here in modern America, but in the Jewish culture, that would really call into question your status as a righteous man of God. A writer like Matthew could have heard the rumors and think he had to say something and grasp onto Isaiah 7:14, which was admittedly not seen as Messianic at all. (Were Matthew making up a story, one would expect him to use passages that were seen as Messianic.)

Another danger of this is that unusual births (Not virgin but unusual) was part of the system of pagan gods at the time. Jews were quite resistant to paganism at the time. Now they could accept some cultural aspects, but their religious aspects were by and large kept. Excellent information on this can be found in Jesus and His World by Craig Evans and The Jesus Legend by Greg Boyd and Paul Eddy. For a brief example, we see in the garbage of the Jews in Jerusalem few if any pig bones before 70 A.D. After 70 A.D., we see them. Why 70 A.D.? That’s when Jerusalem was destroyed and the Romans would have taken over the area and observance would not be practiced as much.

Why would Luke mention the virgin birth? Luke could quite likely have had Mary as one of his sources while he was in Jerusalem, which I suspect at this point happened when Paul was on trial as described in Acts and Luke had plenty of time. Luke wanting to show Jesus’s relation to all men could have shown that this happened this way to say Jesus is not just for the Jews. He’s for the Gentiles as well and his unique birth pictures that.

For John, John goes way beyond the virgin birth and has the fullest statement of pre-existence in the Gospels. If John is also the last to write, it could be that he would know what was covered in the others and feel no need to repeat that ground.

As for Paul, why would Paul really need to mention it? Now it could be mentioned in Romans 1 and possibly in Galatians 4, but is it really important to the message of Paul? In a high context society, this is what would have been known already. Paul is not writing a life of Jesus. He is trying to deal with problems in the church and there’s no need to interrupt an argument on whether Christians should be circumcised or not with “Oh by the way, Jesus was born of a virgin.”

For more on this, listen to my interview of Ben Witherington in the second hour of my podcast here and to my interview with David Instone-Brewer here.

Now could it be that the other apostles didn’t know of a virgin birth for arguments’ sake? Sure. You need more than silence to show that.

The second myth is that Jesus offered nothing for the Gentiles. The first two pieces of evidences are that first off, Jesus’s healing of Gentiles was limited, such as the healing of the Centurion’s servant, and second, the way Jesus treated the Syrophoenician woman.

It is interesting that the centurion’s servant is used as an example because in the story, Jesus says many will come from the east and the west to dine with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, while the sons of the kingdom will be cast out.

10 When Jesus heard this, he marveled and said to those who followed him, “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith. 11 I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, 12 while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

What the author misses is that Jesus’s first focus was Israel. He was coming to them to offer Himself to them as their king. It never meant He never saw anything beyond, but it meant that His message started with Israel.

So what about the Syrophoenician woman? Here we have a case of Jesus using sarcasm and I’d say in fact, pointing out the problems with the attitudes of the Disciples who most likely would certainly have seen this woman as a dog. Let’s look at the story.

21 And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon. 22 And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” 23 But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, “Send her away, for she is crying out after us.” 24 He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” 25 But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” 26 And he answered, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” 27 She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eatthe crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” 28 Then Jesus answered her,“O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly.

Jesus in the Gospels regularly challenges the assumptions of people around him. “Why is He with a Samaritan woman?” “Which one of these men is a neighbor?” “If this man was a prophet, He would know what kind of woman this is.” “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors, sinners, and prostitutes?” John the Baptist as well did this. “God can raise up children of Abraham from these stones.” Could Jesus be doing the same here?

Note that Jesus doesn’t complain about the presence of the woman. It is the disciples who do. The disciples are the ones who have no compassion for the woman and want Jesus to send her away. Jesus doesn’t go out directly since he’s trying to escape the crowd and rest for now along with his disciples. This woman must have sought him out then and Jesus’s first words in the dialogue are not to the woman, but are to the disciples.

Jesus in fact points to a schedule in His ministry to the woman. He never says “No.” He instead points out that His first priority is Israel. The woman in fact never disagrees. She never asks specifically to be made a focus. All she asks for is crumbs from the table. Pets in the house would traditionally be fed later, but surely she can get a little something for now. Jesus commends her on her faith which would no doubt have shamed the disciples who were supposed to be part of faithful Israel. Jesus in fact was being the true Israel by being kind to a foreigner and acting as a priest for a foreigner.

Let’s consider also another passage in Matthew. This is 21:43.

43 Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits.

This is part of the Parable of the Vineyard and we must realize how shocking this statement is. This would be like saying in our country that much of our financial abundance and our land would be given to a third world country outside of us. Many of us in America still have this idea that we are central in the story of history and everything revolves around us. Now I do love our nation, but we are not the focal point of history. Empires come and empires go.

If you were a Jew and heard this, it would mean the covenant promises were being violated by your people and God would leave you abandoned. The Jews had experienced that in the Babylonian exile and did not want to go through it again! They were the special nation. They were the ones chosen by God. How could they miss out on the blessings? Jesus’s words are absolutely shocking.

And of course, Matthew is the one that has the Great Commission in His Gospel as well ending out his own inclusio account. Jesus is said to be God with us in the virgin birth and he is God with us even to the end of the age.

The other piece of evidence is that Paul experienced resistance from the Gentiles. This is the passage used.

11 But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. 12 For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. 13 And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. 14 But when I saw that their conduct was not in step withthe truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?”

Yet in this passage, we see nothing about how Peter responded to Paul. Instead, we find the way that Paul responded to Peter and pointing out that Peter was acting out of line with the Gospel by living as though righteousness would be declared by following the food laws rather than through faith in Christ. What evidence do we find that Peter accepted Paul?

Now we could point to 2 Peter, but that is not usually accepted and since our writer later on writes about forgeries, I doubt he would accept it. So let’s go with Galatians itself.

In Galatians 1, we read the following:

18 Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and remained with him fifteen days. 19 But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord’s brother. 20 (In what I am writing to you, before God, I do not lie!) 21 Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia. 22 And I was still unknown in person to the churches of Judea that are in Christ.23 They only were hearing it said, “He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” 24 And they glorified God because of me.

No resistance here.

And from those who seemed to be influential (what they were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality)—those, I say, who seemed influential added nothing to me. On the contrary, when they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been entrusted with the gospel to the circumcised (for he who worked through Peter for his apostolic ministry to the circumcised worked also through me for mine to the Gentiles), and when James and Cephas and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given to me, they gave the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and me, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. 10 Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do.

No resistance here either.

In fact, if tradition is true and Clement was the disciple of Peter, then we could see what Clement says about someone his teacher would have supposedly opposed.

We read the following in 1 Clement 47:1

Take up the epistle of the blessed Paul the Apostle.

Again, not real resistance.

So thus is the second secret dealt with.

For the third, how about Jesus never claiming to be God in the synoptics?

The first major mistake here is that the only way to many people to claim deity is to go around saying “Hey! I’m God!” In reality, in the ancient world, like much of today, actions spoke louder than words and Jesus regularly pointed to His actions. This would be His claim to forgive sin, and this apart from the temple itself, His claim to be the Lord of the Sabbath, and His claim to send out the angels in Mark 13 as well as His strong claims about sitting by the right hand of God and coming with the clouds (Language of theophany) in response to the high priest.

While more passages could be listed, let’s look at what Hagenston says.

In fact, all of those first three gospels show Jesus scoldingly saying that he should never be thought of as God. Mark 10:18 depicts Jesus as saying, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.” Obviously, he took offense at the mere thought that he might be considered to have the same righteousness as God. He is shown making the same point in Luke 18:19 and Matthew 19:17.

Obviously? No. Not obviously. It might seem that way to a modern Western reader, but in the ancient world, Jesus would have known this man was trying to butter him up as it were. How will He respond to a compliment of an exalted type? Does He deny that He is good? Then why should anyone listen to Him? Does He affirm His own goodness? Then what kind of person is He claiming to be? Jesus instead deflects the comment without once denying it. “Okay. You want to say I’m good? That applies to only God. Are you ready for that level of commitment?”

Unfortunately as the story shows, the man was not ready for it.

For more on this and how the church perceived Jesus early on, see my interview with Charles Hill, Michael Bird, and Chris Tilling on How God Became Jesus . For a look at how the ancients would have viewed Jesus from their perspective, see my interview with E. Randolph Richards here. For a defense of the incarnation and Trinity, see my interview with Rob Bowman here. 

The next objection is that the Gospels have irreconcilable differences in the resurrection accounts.

Let’s suppose that’s true.

So what?

Most scholars today defending the resurrection don’t even go to the Gospel accounts to do so. They go to 1 Cor. 15 and Galatians 1-2. Inerrancy is not a requirement for the Gospels to be true or even reliable. (Although one could find in commentaries several ways to reconcile the resurrection accounts.) So what does Hagenston say?

To add to the confusion, the Gospel of John shows Jesus appearing in both Galilee and Jerusalem. The actual appearance of a resurrected Jesus would have been so stunning that it raises the question of why there was not even one record of such an event that made a deep enough impression to be passed down in all the gospels.

Once again, the problem is the argument from silence. There are any number of reasons why such an appearance would not be mentioned, including it not being really needed. One account with more than one witness would have sufficed in a Jewish court of law. Of course, for an excellent defense of the resurrection, the best work now is Michael Licona’s “The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach.” You can hear my interview with
him here. You can hear my interview with Gary Habermas on the same topic here.

Next is the claim that Jesus opposed public prayer. Did he?

“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.

“Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

“And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

How is it you are not to pray publicly? You are not to pray publicly to be seen by others. Jesus would have known about several public prayers in the history of Israel, such as Solomon at the temple ceremony in thanking God for it. This was in fact proper for someone acting as a priest to the people. Jesus condemned instead showman prayers, prayers done just to receive glory for oneself.

The next claim is that some books of the Bible are forgeries and this is most notably, the pastoral epistles. Hagenston does bring up some reasons why they are thought to be forgeries.

However, there is wide agreement among many Bible scholars that they differ so much from Paul’s vocabulary, style, and teachings that they could not be by him.

It’s interesting that he talks about the teachings being so different and then in the next paragraph compares 1 Cor. 14:34-35 to 1 Tim. 2:11-15. Of course, he does say 1 Cor. 14 is likely a later insertion. It is quite possibly an interpolation. Also possible is that Paul was quoting the words of the Corinthians to them. We know earlier in the epistle he has women taking part in worship in chapter 11.

But to look at the earlier argument, yes, there are differences, but this can also be expected depending on who is being written to. For instance, these letters are personal letters. The only other example we have of this from Paul is Philemon. If I write an email to a friend, it will be quite different in all of those ways from an email I could write to my wife.

This would be easier of course to reply to had Hagenston given more concrete examples. He didn’t. For a look at the teaching on women however, see my interview with Lynn Cohick here. For the question of forgeries, see my interview with Andrew Pitts here.

Next is that some contradictions in Scripture are intentional. The first example is Psalm 51. What does Hagenston say?

An Old Testament example is found in Psalm 51. That psalm was written after Babylonia destroyed Jerusalem (and its Temple that had been built by Solomon) and led the city’s inhabitants off to exile. Since the Temple was no longer available for sacrifice, the author of Psalm 51 offers comfort in Verses 16 and 17 by saying God does not even desire sacrifice but only a contrite heart.

But then, in a clearly intentional contradiction, someone who disagreed with that came along and added, immediately afterward, Verses 18 and 19 saying that God would be delighted by sacrifices that would follow a rebuilding of Jerusalem.

Hagenston sees a contradiction between offering up the sacrifices of a broken and contrite heart and then switching to offering bulls. This is only a contradiction if you hold to a view that is a legalistic one of Judaism. Judaism instead more often saw the sacrifice of bulls and other animals as something done not so much to earn forgiveness but to show forgiveness. The proper response to forgiveness was to offer something of value to you.

Since God pronounced David righteous by his contrite heart, David would respond by offering up bulls on the altar.

Hagenston goes on to say.

In the New Testament, we see an example in what the gospels say about the message of John the Baptist. The gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke all depict John the Baptist as saying he was offering a baptism for the forgiveness of sin through repentance alone. But, writing later, the author of the Gospel of John didn’t like that at all. He wanted to say that forgiveness comes only through sacrifice, the blood sacrifice of Jesus himself. So, in contradiction to the other gospels, he says that the message of John the Baptist was to proclaim Jesus as a pending sacrificial Lamb of God.

Once again we have the same kind of scenario going on here. As I read the texts, I do not see repentance alone. In the texts themselves, John says to bear fruit in keeping with repentance. We know from elsewhere in the Gospels that John’s disciples fasted, for instance. Jesus is seen as walking out of lock-step with the tradition. We see John saying nothing about sacrifices. He doesn’t commend them and he doesn’t forbid them.

The final is that apostles taught by Jesus insisted Paul was wrong about His Gospel. What does Hagenston say?

As for the identity of Paul’s opponents, in 2 Corinthians 11:13 he calls them “false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ.” But who were they? In 2 Corinthians 11:5 he sarcastically calls them “super-apostles.” In that time, “super-apostles” could have meant only one thing: the original apostles.

Is this possible? Sure. Some commentators are open to it. Is it a done deal? Not at all. Hagenston gives no argument for it. There are not scholarly authorities cited. It is only an assertion.

Hagenston will need to make an argument and do so interacting with the best scholars in the field. Until he does so, there is really nothing that can be said.

In the end, I find many of Hagenston’s criticisms lacking. While he says he is still a Christian, and that could be the case until he starts denying Christ rose from the dead as I do not see inerrancy as an essential of the faith, he seems to have come from a more modern perspective and is not interacting with the scholarship in the field. As is too often the case, he gives a one-sided presentation.

I conclude the way I started. This is precisely why more education and awareness of apologetics is needed in the field.

In Christ,

Nick Peters

Apostles Creed: Born of the Virgin Mary,

Was the Bible truly talking about a virgin birth? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

“The virgin shall be with child.” So reads the passage in Isaiah 7:14 and immediately many Christians see this as talking about Jesus. Is this the case? Well, no.

So Matthew got it wrong?

Also, no.

Then how can both of those be accurate?

In Isaiah, Isaiah was telling King Ahaz that the king should not join a group of other nations in uniting against the enemy of Assyria. He was so insistent that the king should not do this that he even told the king to ask God for a sign, something that would not normally be encouraged. Ahaz seeks an excuse then and says “I will not put God to the test.” Isaiah then tells Ahaz that he’s going to get a sign anyway. What is that sign? The virgin will be with child!

What does he mean by virgin?

The Hebrew word is Almah and yes, it does mean a young woman. It does not necessitate that the woman is a virgin, but in many cases the woman actually is a virgin. Isaiah at this time is referring to a woman who was known and is saying that that woman will give birth to a child. It is quite likely someone who Isaiah himself would be marrying. The sign would be that by the time this child was old enough to choose right from wrong, in other words, an age of moral accountability, the team of nations together would have already fallen.

Indeed, this is what happened. Therefore, we have a fulfillment of prophecy.

So no, this is not talking about Jesus.

Yet when the Scriptures are translated into Greek, when the translators got to this verse, they chose to translate Almah as Parthenos, which is the word for a virgin. Therefore, when Matthew uses the word, it does indeed a woman who has not had sexual intercourse and when he writes out his Gospel, he sees the virgin birth of Jesus as a fulfillment of this prophecy.

But how can this be?

Remember, for other objections to the virgin birth, one is encouraged to go here. What Matthew is doing is taking an event in the past and saying that he sees a reenactment as it were of what happened in the past. This is actually a way of giving honor to the account. It was important to find past precedent for current events.

An example in Matthew’s Gospel is when Jesus tells the Pharisees that Isaiah was right when he prophesied about them saying “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.”

What was going on? Jesus was looking at an event in the prophet’s time and seeing a reenactment of that same event in his time. For the Jews, Scripture was always speaking and it was honorable to find parallels to past events being going on in the lives of the people of the time.

So was Isaiah prophesying about Jesus? No.

Was Matthew wrong in using this passage? No.

What was right is how a fulfillment was going on.

Those interested in seeing more are recommended to check Richard Longenecker’s “Biblical Exegesis in the Apostolic Period” and Sandy and Walton’s “The Lost World of Scripture.”

In conclusion, Matthew saw the event in his time and thought of the passage in the past. Even if it was not what Isaiah had in mind, it would have been perfectly acceptable to exegetes of his day to interpret Scripture in this way.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Apostles Creed: who was conceived by the Holy Spirit

What does it mean to say Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Was Jesus the natural son of Joseph? This would change a lot if he was. The Christian claim has been that Jesus is the unique Son of God and even His incarnation is unique. His birth was brought about not by sexual action on the part of a man, but a divine action on the part of the Holy Spirit.

Now there are many today who will claim that virgin births were common in the ancient world. Unfortunately, many of these times, the birth really isn’t a virgin birth. Sometimes, unique births happen to women who have already had children, such as the mother of Krishna.

Many times, it is actually some kind of sexual intercourse on the part of the gods, such as in the case of Zeus and his many lovers. Other claims to having a virgin birth are stretching it. Mithras, for instance, was born out of a rock in a cave carrying a knife and wearing a cap. I suppose we could say technically that the rock was a virgin.

Christ is a unique case in that Jesus would have been seen as illegitimate in his birth somehow, a shameful occurrence. Now how would be the best way to explain your Messiah was illegitimate? In a Jewish culture, it would hardly be best to do something that would implicate YHWH in the process! “Why yes. Our Messiah is illegitimate. It’s YHWH’s fault too!”

I wager in fact that this is why only two Gospels mention the circumstances of Jesus’s birth. It really would not have been something they’d want to draw attention to. First, people would be skeptical of it. Second, it would lead to the charges of illegitimacy. David Instone-Brewer takes the same stance in his work “The Jesus Scandals“. That this was explained somehow would show that there was something that needed to be explained.

Someone could also ask how it is that if Jesus is the Son of God that the Holy Spirit is the one who did this. Does this mean the Holy Spirit is the Father? Not at all. What it means is that the Holy Spirit is often the manifest way God acts in the world. It is the same as God acting by His Wisdom. (I take His Wisdom to be Jesus by the way.) There is still one God who is the source of all and yes, this one God still exists in three persons.

Of course, there is more that can be said about the virgin birth. Those who are wondering why I have not said anything about a passage such as Isaiah 7:14 need only wait until next time when we discuss the status of the Virgin Mary.

Until then, there are sufficient reasons for realizing that the birth of Jesus was different from births that he was supposedly copied from and also that there are reasons why it would be the case that the other Gospel writers would not want to mention the virgin birth.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Deeper Waters Podcast 12/7/2013: Christmas Beginnings

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

Christmas is coming and so it’s time to have a series of shows where we’re going to talk about just Christmas! As has often been said about stories, the most important part of them is to begin at the beginning. Thus, we’ll start with looking at the birth narratives!

But aren’t those confusing? Look at what’s in them? We have the slaughter of the infants at Bethlehem that is recorded by no other historian at the time! We have these genealogies that can’t even seem to get themselves straightened out! What on Earth is going on with this census here? Can that be historically verified in any way? And of course, all of this centers around a virgin birth! What’s going on with that?!

And to discuss such issues, we need a scholar who really knows his stuff. Fortunately, I have just such a guest. Now he’s only able to give an hour of his time and that will be the second hour of our program, but what a guest we have for you!

My friends, Ben Witherington will be our guest for the Deeper Waters Podcast!

Ben Witherington is one who has contributed much to biblical scholarship and is a force to be reckoned with. Mike Licona has in fact told me that Ben Witherington has an excellent memory for the many materials that he has read. Of the books that I have read by Dr. Witherington, they are lively and engaging. He has well surveyed the field and has a serious devotion to Christian truth.

As something that makes it especially important with me, Witherington is very well familiar with the social context that the NT was written in and many of his writings have been centered around looking at the NT from a socio-rhetorical perspective. It is my understanding that this is in fact what he talked about at the recent ETS conference that was built around the topic of Inerrancy.

For those who are not familiar with the work of Witherington, I hope this will surely open your eyes to a scholar who is someone that you must read in the field. The birth narratives are an excellent way to demonstrate this as these are some of the accounts that are the most challenged in the life of Christ. Our look at these chapters will be brief and cannot be exhaustive, but I hope it will give people a little taste of how the Christian can answer the challenges that are given.

The show will be at our usual time from 3-5 PM EST on Saturday, December 7th. Our call-in number is 714-242-5180. As I’ve said, Dr. Witherington will only be joining us for the second hour of the program so I ask that if you do decide to call in tomorrow, that you try to be as brief as you can as we have much to discuss and little time to do it in.

I hope you will join us!

The link can be found here.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

The Virginity of Mary

How many objections can be raised about this story? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

We’re looking at the Christmas story in Matthew and right now I’m going to be jumping ahead a little bit to look at the idea of Mary being a virgin before dealing with the response of Joseph. To begin with, the word for virgin in Matthew is “parthenos.” In the NT, this does refer to a virgin, but those who know the language better than I do tell me that this isn’t necessarily the case outside of the NT. Not being an expert on the area, I will not comment beyond that, though I do recommend that those interested check various commentaries. Some say that in Hebrew, “Betulah” unequivocally refers to a virgin, but this is not so as even a widow can be called a Betulah, such as Job 1:8. However, it could be the case that this refers to a woman pledged to be married and before the marriage can be consummated, something happens to the man in a plague. Almah, another word meanwhile in Hebrew, often refers to a maiden, and that is the word used in Isaiah 7:14.

In Isaiah, Ahaz is told to ask for a sign, and he does not. Interestingly, Isaiah does not give a prophecy then to Ahaz, but rather to the whole house of David. This indicates a far greater reach. There is something astounding about what is going to happen. Further, there is no present fulfillment that really matches. Yes. There was a child that was born shortly afterwards, but how is this child shown to be a fulfillment? The text never says so. The child’s name is a name of disaster rather than encouragement. The child’s mother is known whereas in the case of Isaiah the child’s mother is not known. The child is never called Immanuel. We can go on and on.

It could be that the child born in Isaiah, Maher, for short, does show a partial fulfillment, but there is another fulfillment. There will come a child who will be born and in his time, kings will be made desolate. This does happen in Jesus who by His coming and being made the King of the Jews and sitting on the throne of David renders any other claim of kingship by anyone else to be ineffective.

Did Matthew misquote this then? No. He saw Jesus as a fulfillment of what had been promised to the house of David and is entirely in line with the text.

Something else that can speak about this is that a virgin birth would not be made up. Now some say that there were virgin births in pagan mythology, but in many cases the women involved were not virgins but those that a god like Zeus seduced. Furthermore, what happens was a physical interaction between the god and the woman that would hardly be like what is described in the biblical text, which is Luke in this case.

It also would not benefit the church. Jesus would have been seen as illegitimate in the culture he lived in. It would not be seen as a good counter to that to say “He was virgin born!” Picture if you’re a skeptic of the NT. If you are and you are told that Jesus is virgin born, what’s your response?

“Yeah, right.”

Why think it was really different back then?

“Because everyone was gullible and didn’t know better.”

A thought like this always amazes me. We can say that we live in an age of science and know better. Little fact here. Even back then, everyone knew that it takes sex to make a baby and that is sex between a man and a woman. If someone thinks that this is not the case, then could they tell when it was in the history of science that it was established that it takes a man and a woman to make a baby? If it was not known before science, I’d really like to know about the scientist that established this mystery of pregnancy that no one else understood beforehand. Now I don’t doubt we know more about pregnancy than they did, but they certainly knew the basics!

So why did they say it?

Because they had to.

They had to?

Yes. They had to. They had to say what really happened even if it would bring disrepute.

What disrepute?

It would mean that Jesus not being the son of Joseph and Mary biologically would be stated upfront. It would mean that some would still see a relation to pagan stories and discount Jesus for the same reasons. It would mean that some would think that Mary was likely cozy with a Roman soldier beforehand and was making up a story and that if this is the kind of woman who is the mother of Jesus, then who needs Him? Either way, it would not win friends and influence people.

The main objection is still the objection of miracles. Of course, if one does not believe in miracles, one will not accept the virgin birth or more importantly, the resurrection. For the one skeptical of that, I recommend this.

I conclude that I have no reason to not accept the virgin birth due to believing in miracles and because of the criterion of embarrassment.

In Christ,
Nick Peters