What Is The Gospel?

Did Jesus preach what we preach? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Just recently I got from the library N.T. Wright’s “How God Became King” and started reading it. What Wright wants us to emphasize is that the middle portions of the gospels matter. We can skip straight from birth to cross and forget that the early church thought it was important for us to know what Jesus said and did.

Often, we want to rush on to the epistles because they’re written in the style that we usually think best in. They are logical outlines and this is the way Westerners think. It’s difficult for us to read a story like the gospels and grasp everything that is underlying them.

When we teach about the gospel, we teach the death, deity, and resurrection of our Lord. Those are all what we should teach in a salvation message, but we must remember when Jesus showed up, he said, and this is early in both Matthew and Mark, that he was calling people to believe the gospel. It could not have been to believe in the death, deity, and resurrection then. Only deity was around at that point and we don’t really see Jesus going around just saying “I’m God. Believe in me.”

It’s interesting in fact that it’s Matthew and Mark that the term gospel shows up in. It doesn’t show up at all in Luke and John. It is not that either of them would be opposed. We even call John 3:16 the gospel in miniature and yet nowhere in John 3:16 do you see anything about the cross and the empty tomb. Matthew is written by a Jew quite familiar with Jewish thought and Mark is supposed to be from Peter himself. Luke could be the most Gentile gospel of all and John is meant to show a contrast of who Jesus is. It is the most different. Why is it two gospels heavily Jewish would be the ones that mention the term gospel?

Also just as important is to realize that we are often looking at the events after the cross and tomb. However, we do believe that Jesus came and spoke a message to the people at the time and we have an accurate presentation of His words. If the gospels say He was preaching to the people to believe the gospel, then He was telling them to believe the gospel. Now we must learn to step outside of our modern western perspective. What was Jesus calling them to believe?

On the one hand, we know that the death and resurrection of the Lord fall into this somehow as Paul says in 1 Cor. 15 that this is the gospel that he preached. Yet at the same time, we know that there must be some continuity between what Jesus said then and what Paul said later. How are we to unite the two?

When we step outside of ourselves, we learn to think of a Jew in the first century and this is where we often start making big mistakes. Anyone who studies anthropology will tell you that one of the worst mistakes you can make when starting to study a different culture is to assume that that culture is like yours. The Jewish one in the Mediterranean area in the 1st century was not like ours.

This affects the way we read the text greatly. We take many writings literally. Of course some Jews did, but some they did not. We think about what the message means to us as individuals. They thought about what it meant to them as a community. We think about justification by faith. They think about the rescue of God. We think about going to Heaven. They think about being righteous in the sight of God.

Sorry to some, but you won’t understand the Jewish people in their historical and social context just by reading the Bible. You’re going to have to do your homework. Why should this be a surprise? We do this in our own culture. I’m happily married now, but in learning to love my wife, I then and now have to do my homework. When we’re out looking at a store I listen and if she says she likes something, I keep it in my memory banks knowing her love language is gifts. I have to learn to think the way she would about a situation and try to come from her perspective. If I have to do this with the person I sleep next to every night, why would I be so foolish as to think I don’t have to do that for a whole culture separated by time, space, language, etc.

If you were a first-century Jew, chances are you were awaiting the coming of the Messiah. You were tired of the Romans being in charge and dominating your holy land. You had returned from exile or so you thought, but here you were in the land and you were hostages in your own country. Sure, you were granted tolerance, but you were not your own kingdom. Rome would not stay out of your business.

Religion? Of course it was a central part of your life, but the oral tradition of the Pharisees got worse and worse. The Sadducees were dominating the Sanhedrin. The temple itself was more made by a king you considered more pagan than Jewish and you could not entirely trust what was going on in it. You knew the system was the revelation of YHWH and you would die for that system, but you also knew some changes needed to be made.

What are you wondering?

Where is YHWH?

When Jesus shows up, this is what He is saying. “YHWH is on the move.” Think of the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.” What do we hear? Aslan is on the move. Everyone is waiting for Aslan to come and deliver the people from the rule of the White Witch.

Interestingly, YHWH is far more active in Jesus than He could have been in anyone else. Jesus alone is the image of YHWH and in Him, God is acting to bring about the freedom His people long for. It will not be by the way of conquering Rome, but rather by conquering the real enemy, the devil himself. It will not be by a sword but by the cross that YHWH will conquer. In doing so, He will also bring about the full fruition of Judaism. Judaism and Christianity are not opposed. Judaism is the seed. Christianity is the flower. The Christian needs to understand Judaism to understand all the truth of his religion.

How is this connected? Jesus is telling us before the cross “See that YHWH is active in me. See that He is on the move. The good news is that redemption is coming. Trust in the promises of YHWH in me to see them brought about.” After the cross, we are told to see how YHWH has moved in Jesus and wishes to continue the movement through the church.

The message is still the same. YHWH is on the move. The gospel then is not about us. It is not about what happens to us. It is about what is happening with God. We are incidental to it. We are not necessary for God to move, but we are invited to join in. We have made it be that we want people to believe the gospel for what will happen to them. Of course, something will happen to them, but let us think not about what will happen to us, but what we will do for God.

If YHWH is on the move, we are either with Him or against Him, as Jesus Himself said. If we are with Him, then let us take up the arms described in Ephesians 6 and continue our fight. If we are against Him, then we will find we are fighting a force we cannot defeat and will be conquered by. Let us not make the silly assumption that we are neutral. No one is.

If YHWH is on the move, then He is on the move and that is it. Perhaps if we realized how serious the call is on our lives, we would take it that much seriously. We Christians have a problem with Jihadists who speak of a holy war that involves taking up the sword, but they do have one aspect right. There is a war going on and we are involved. This is not a war that will be won with material weapons, but with arguments that demolish lies that keep us from being free. The truth will set us free after all.

Our good news today is related to the good news they heard before the cross. As Christians, it is to our benefit to read the gospels to see what the good news was and continue the work of our Lord today.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Abraham Lincoln Never Existed!

Did the 16th president really exist? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

I’ve been going through J.P. Holding’s “Shattering the Christ Myth” which was published in 2008. I’m on the section talking about Lord Raglan’s study of the Mythic Hero and how Francis Utley wrote a work on how Abraham Lincoln fulfilled the criteria as well for being a Mythic Hero. One aspect of the hero mentioned was how the hero had victory over a king, giant, dragon, or wild beast. Now normally, this was seen as referring to slavery or his political opponents, but reading it today, I realized that here in 2012, the truth had come out!

Abraham Lincoln was a vampire hunter! He regularly slew evil creatures then!

Now already I know your objections, but the reasons you have these objections is that you’re uninformed. It could be worse. It could be your mind has been closed by the so-called “scholars” of history who are wanting to keep alive a tradition of a great hero who let his people go.

“After all,” you say, “This is just a movie you’re talking about.” So what? James Cameron had his movies as well and these were readily accepted by audiences. Why should it be that James Cameron can do that, why not Timur Bekmambetov? Are we going to discount the information in a source based solely on the medium from which it is given?

In fact, since this is a movie, this lends more credibility seeing as that in the ancient world, the legends were told often through the medium of the plays. We do not have just plays today but we have movies and now we see that myths are being reborn and adapted for the time, as all myths are. Of course, we all know that with the recent book tour of Bill O’Reilly’s “Killing Lincoln”, that the historical fundamentalists are hard at work to make sure we all realize that Abraham Lincoln really was a historical figure. We see right through their claims however!

“But how come scholars haven’t noticed this?” Pssh. Isn’t it obvious? They just haven’t studied enough. Scholars have not spent sufficient time checking the real sources that they should check. They’re just far too ingrained in their historical fundamentalism. If they simply studied the sources that were used for “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” they would see the truth.

The reason this was not held widely was because vampires were held to not exist. Obviously, this was part of a huge cover-up by historical fundamentalists to make sure the truth was never uncovered. Why would they do this? To protect their reputation in academia! If word got out to other fundamentalists that they believed in vampires, then they would be shunned. In order to avoid that, they simply buried the evidence as far as they could. It’s no shock then that the evidence can only be found in those works scholars have neglected. Don’t give me this nonsense about the works not being scholarly and properly evidenced! There is just obviously a conspiracy!

The best aspect of this is that the historical fundamentalists will likely claim that we’re adding details that would be considered legendary to a real historical figure. Oh please. Let’s just make it all easier. The real historical figure himself never even existed. He was made up at a time of peril to the people and the idea of slavery was turned to vampires. After all, if you are a vampire, you are a slave to wicked desires within you! The vampire motif had to be turned into the slavery motif to make it believable. Let’s not forget that we know little of Lincoln’s childhood and he was supposedly slain on Good Friday as well. Our supposed savior from slavery and vampires died on the same day that the supposed Jesus died!

Fortunately, the truth is coming out to the people these days and we can free ourselves from the historical myths of supposed presidents that freed the slaves. Now we know that what happened was that the story of a vampire hunter was made into the story of a great hero and this great hero embodied what the people wanted in a president and when they wanted to accredit someone with freeing the slaves, they chose Lincoln.

If someone wants to argue against this, well that will just show how closed-minded they are and how much scorn they want to reap on everyone who just differs from the ” majority” opinion. We can rest assured that those of us who are Lincoln mythicists know the real truth about this great figure and everyone else is just ignorant.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Study To Show Yourself Approved

Is it necessary to understand someone else? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Yesterday I was involved in a dispute on a secondary matter in Christian doctrine when I asked people I was debating with how many of them who were arguing against my position had actually read anything by someone of my position. I got the reply from one of asking why should we? We have the Bible after all!

This is a reply that just irritates me to no end. It’s the very reason I left the discussion immediately.

I can already think of numerous atheists who are willing to agree. Some like Penn Jillette whose book I reviewed recently has stated that reading the Bible is one of the best ways to become an atheist. Why? Because he finds so much that is absurd and/or wicked in the Bible and therefore decides its nonsense. Now someone can say “Yeah, but you’re not properly understanding this part” (Which he is not). The place to make that appeal is by having a study of the Bible and one does not get this from just the Bible itself.

The position becomes one of arrogance. “Why do I need to hear a voice contrary to my own? I have the Word of God. I don’t need that. God will guide me Himself into the truth.”

The reality is, we all know we have huge blind spots. This is one benefit for instance of counseling. When you enter a counselor’s office, you could be wrestling with an issue and don’t know what to do about it. The counselor as one looking outside can often point out a position you have not considered because you could be too close to the situation or too emotionally invested or any number of reasons. When you read a book, you are asking the author to do the same thing to you. You are asking the author to tell you something you might not notice on your own. Hopefully, you are doing the same when you read this blog.

That’s why it’s good to study the other side on issues that matter to us. The issue I was debating was a secondary issue but when I prepared to speak on my position on it at my former church, where my view was in the minority, I contacted a professor who holds to the contrary side and said “What are the best books from the other side you can recommend to me?” He told them to me and I went to the library and got them. I wanted to make sure I was giving the other position a fair hearing.

Some of the opposite school who think such is ridiculous would say “But the Bible is the Word of God. God’s Word should be simple for the common man to understand.”

Serious question here. How many of you really think God is a simple concept to understand? I hope the answer is zero.

But when He speaks, you’re going to assume that that is easy to understand. You’re going to assume that the book He wrote for all of us is one that needs no serious study. “Well yeah! Doesn’t God want believers?” No. He wants disciples, and disciples are those who are willing to wrestle with something and learn it. If the Bible was a simple book to understand, we wouldn’t have all these commentaries and books on it and have to hear sermons or attend schools to know more about it. In fact, this kind of thinking is quite prone to producing not believers, but unbelievers.

It is in fact a position of arrogance. Do you really think that you will understand it all without any aid from those who came before you? If you are Christian, you hold to the Trinity, for instance. Aren’t you glad you don’t have to reinvent the wheel? Aren’t you glad you don’t have to go back and wrestle through everything and come up with the doctrine of the Trinity on your own? Instead, you can see what the early church said and look at Scripture and decide “Well they got it right! That is a fine answer!”

If you’re a Calvinist, aren’t you glad that you don’t have to go back and invent TULIP on your own? You can just look at the Scriptures and see if you think they got it right. You can be thankful if you’re an Arminian that you don’t have to redo the work of Arminius or Wesley. If you’re a dispensationalist, you don’t have to redo what Darby did. The reality is the positions we have are also learned positions that could start from Sunday School but hopefully have more serious engagement. The views we have should also be subject to change. There are views I hold today I never would have thought I would ever hold and there are views I’ve abandoned that I look back and say “I can’t believe I once believed that!”

The apostle Paul said to study to show yourself approved. This shows knowing what you believe and what your opponents believe. If you think a position is serious enough to argue for, you should think it’s serious enough to have done some study on. If you haven’t studied it, by all means have an opinion, but do not think that you can grasp the opponent’s view without studying it. You do not just him but yourself a disservice that way.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Biblical Words

Does your Bible come with a glossary? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Today, I happened to view a remark someone made to me in a Christian debate on the meaning of a certain word in the Bible as stating that it was very interesting that I was going outside of the Bible in order to find the meaning of a biblical word. A lot of people have a similar position looking at this as something scandalous to the faith. The question that needs to be asked is “What about this is so terrible?”

Let us go back to say, Moses, although Job is supposedly our oldest book in the Bible. He begins to write the words of Scripture. Can we picture him saying “Lord. Please show me a list of words that I am allowed to use!”? No. Not at all. Moses used the words that his people used and that would be understood by the culture. It is the same thing we all do. It is what I try to do every time I sit down and write a blog.

When we come to the NT, do we really think Paul was going around with a glossary of “Accepted words to use when writing Scripture”? No. Paul did the exact same thing. He spoke and wrote like a man of his time. In fact, if it is the case that we can’t use outside sources, we will be in a quandary when it comes to hapax legomena. What are those? Those are words that only occur one time in the writings of a writer. Paul has a few of these. The only way we can really tell what they mean is by seeing them used in other works or comparing them to other words.

Let’s suppose we go through the NT and we find Greek word X. Now let’s suppose we go through the writings of Josephus and find the exact same Greek word. Then, we go through the writings of another Greek writer and find the exact same word. Are we to assume right off that the word when used in the Bible has a totally different meaning? No. It would make sense to study this word as it shows up in other texts and see if that can tell us anything about how it would be used in the biblical text.

The position that is held here is one that is a kind of Gnosticism in fact that says that no study should be done. God will just tell you what the word means and you need not defile the text by looking at the meaning of words outside of the Bible. Now of course the Bible is more than just a book of words, but it is certainly not less. It is a book and it has words and we should use the basic rules of understanding and word meaning that we would use anywhere else.

If we are to be diligent students of Scripture, we should seek information about the words of Scripture wherever we can find them. To do otherwise is to isolate the Bible not just from other texts, but ultimately from being the revelation it was meant to be. The original hearers of the Bible would all hear words that they knew in every day language that they used or at least could determine the meaning of. It does not require any super secret ability to understand the words of Scripture. If we want to say God spoke to the populace of the world in the 1st century, we need to realize He spoke in their language. If He spoke in their language, we can go to that language to find out what the words mean. If He did not speak in their language, then it would seem that they received a message of nonsense. Do we really want to say the apostles were going around speaking words that could not be understood and the epistles did the same?

Such would be a kind of unthinking that is too common in evangelicalism. Let us treat the Bible highly as we should, but let us remember to not deify it at the same time and treat it like a Gnostic work.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Heaven Is For Real

Heaven is for real, but is the book? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

“And a little child shall lead them!”

Ah, but where shall he lead them?

This is the question and this is the problem that we have. In “Heaven Is For Real” we have the supposed account of a little boy when he was around 4 years old of going to Heaven. This review is not to say anything about all near-death experiences. I will also say some of my information comes from Gary Habermas in my personal communication with him on near-death experiences. Unfortunately, I was unable to reach him prior to this blog for his specific opinion on this account.

One point that Dr. Habermas has made about near-death experiences is that one wants to find out the details of that experience as soon as possible. This did not happen in the case of Colton Burpo, the little boy who purportedly had the experience. It was only months after his surgery that we start hearing anything whatsoever about the details of his visit. While the parents can remain skeptical of where some information could come from, we must remember this is a ministry household and such information that Colton had could have been found.

There are some problems with the account of Colton (He will be referred to by first name and his Dad as Todd to avoid confusion). To begin with Jesus is described as having the marks from the cross in his hands. Yet those who know about the crucifixion know that Jesus had the nails put in his wrists instead of in his hands. Had they gone in his hands, then Jesus would have fallen off of the cross.

We also have the Holy Spirit being seen as incarnate in Heaven. The only instance we have of someone who is a member of the Godhead becoming incarnate is that of Jesus. It is likely we have a dangerous precedent being encouraged here and one that could quite easily lead to a sort of tritheism. Some information that Colton also gives would have been easily known just from reading the Bible. We don’t need a heavenly vision to know that Jesus really loves the children.

What is most dangerous about all of this is that a child is being given the authoritative power to tell us what Heaven is like and rather than interpreting his experiences by the Scriptures, we find that we are interpreting the Scriptures by his experiences. Colton in the book becomes an authority to people on what Heaven is like all based on a vision. If we are to follow visions like this, perhaps we should also follow that of Joseph Smith or any other number of people who have visions.

What really happened to Colton? I cannot say. It could be that he did have some sort of experience but it kept being added to. I don’t really know. Some might say “Maybe God gave a vision that would be fitting for a child.” While this is possible, the problem is much of this information would have been deceptive for a child and given not an incomplete view but rather given an inaccurate view. Of course one can speak to children, but we will still try to be accurate.

Note I am also not giving any view to Colton that would imply something immoral necessarily on his part. I do not know what happened, but I know that there are problems with this book. I do not question that Heaven is real in a sense, but I do question the validity of what Colton has said. There are problems with a near-death experience when events only come out months later rather than immediately as there is plenty of time for elaboration.

Readers are invited to stick to more authoritative sources.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: God, No.

What’s my reaction to Penn Jillette’s book. Let’s talk about it today on Deeper Waters.

Ironically, this title aptly describes my reaction to this book. I had read it thinking I might actually find some kind of argument. Going through this was a labor of love. I beg my readers to please not bother. After reading a book like this, I feel like I need to take a shower to wipe the dirt off of me. There is rampant profanity throughout and some parts I would label as soft porn. Instead of an argument about God, you will more often than not just find Jillette describing his life. You can be sure you will at least get a lesson on total depravity.

Of course, there are parts where Jillette talks about his relationship with his family, and it is touching, and I did think some of the political theorizing was interesting, but more than anything else, there is nothing in this book that is really argumentation. The book was written in response to Glenn Beck’s challenge to write an atheist ten commandments, but one wonders what the heck the atheist ten commandments have to do with each of the sections.

Definitely, going through this and finishing it was a labor of love.

We get a revealing statement on the page xv where Jillette talks about how he will get in touch with Richard Feynman, a famous physicist, and ask for some quick tutoring on physics so he can pretend to say he’s read his books. Unfortunately, this seems to be the usual tactic that atheists have when it comes to understanding Christianity. Rather than read the material, just read what a fellow atheist said about it, hence Bart Ehrman, Dan Barker, and John Loftus, being representatives of biblical knowledge.

So on the start of page Xvii, Jillette asks what humility there is in being a theist. Jillette says none, because that is to claim to know, and the only way one knows is faith. It’s this repetitious meme that keeps going between new atheists. They seem incredulous to the idea that theists have reasons often for what they believe, regardless of how many debates that take place. Now an atheist could say that the theist has bad reasons. Okay. That’s another line. I’d say it’s false, but it’s something different. What will it ever take to convince the new atheists of this belief that they simply hold without evidence all the while condemning believing something without evidence?

And in fact, I don’t think it’s prideful at all. What is prideful is to claim that no one can know. There is nothing prideful about claiming to know something necessarily. There would be in claiming to know everything if you did not, but it is not humble to deny something that is true about yourself. Humility rests in being content with who you are. It is realizing your place in the universe. It is not downing yourself.

On page xviii, we read Jillette on morality. Politically, Jillette is a libertarian and thus says “And if you’re a libertarian atheist, there can be no commandments. There can be no edicts. It’s all down to the individual. No one knows what’s best for other people. I don’t even know what’s best for myself.”

Although it’s apparently best for people to be humble and not claim that God exists.

Scary thing is that I believe Jillette’s opinion is fully consistent with atheism. This does not prove atheism false of course, but it should be seen as something that is a logical conclusion. If good and evil cannot objectively be said of anything, then there’s no sense telling about what is best for everyone or even for oneself, the concept ultimately just makes no sense. If you’re someone like myself who does believe that there are some objective goods in the world, then you should be concerned about this.

On page 41, Jillette starts a chapter about growing up in the United Church of Christ and having a lesbian pastor. At this, several people in the church disagreed, which stopped his family from going to that church. It seems totally foreign to Jillette’s thinking that such a thing could be wrong. Of course, he knows some people thought that, but that some people would actually seriously think that he does not seem to be able to believe.

This, of course, after being told we cannot tell what is best for anyone. If there is nothing that is objectively good, then the church’s stance on lesbianism is just as valid as the stance on what color the carpet should be. Neither really make a difference. All we can gather is that a personal preference is being disagreed with.

When we get to the chapter on the start of page 59, we actually do get a breath of fresh air. Jillette does think people should proselytize. If you really believe God exists and people are going to Hell, you ought to be out there evangelizing. It is annoying he thinks, but it is the proper behavior to do. As an indictment of the church, he does admit how he said this in a video and before too long, churches everywhere were playing it. Only one organization wrote to him for permission to use the video and that was Campus Crusade for Christ. He agreed with it. Jillette had a problem with others not bothering to check rights to intellectual property, and frankly, who can blame him? We Christians should be doing better.

With the chapter that starts on page 75, Jillette goes after agnostics who say not just that they don’t know if God exists or not, but that they don’t know what they believe. Now I am more lenient here in that I can think someone can honestly say they’re really not sure which way they’d lean at this time. Jillette again uses the same canard of faith saying that unlike God, when it comes to the people he believes in, he can show photographic evidence. Generally, we accept that people have families today, but it is not because of photographs. After all, my wife and I like to watch “Fact or Faked” and if you’ve seen it, one thing you know is that just because you have a photograph or video of something does not prove it is real. Many people today say that it’s convenient Jesus did not come in an age of video tape. Well of course, but as soon as a video came up, people would say “Faked!”

On page 128, he starts a chapter to atheist parents. How do you keep them from believing in God? It sounds odd that the position that is common sense is something that has to be repeatedly enforced. Jillette says you have to remind your children every chance that you get that there is no God. Why do you have to do this? If it is so obvious and there is so little evidence, one would think that this would be much of a problem. Now I have no problem with atheist parents wanting to do this, but Jillette is clear that if this is not done, the other side will win.

The next chapter on page 132 is about Santa Claus. Jillette gives the same argument about Christmas being based on pagan holidays. See the link at the bottom for a response to that. Also, we find more of how his emotionalism comes in. Jillette writes that atheism was a real comfort when his mother and sister died. He could never have understood that as part of an all-powerful God’s plan. To begin with, this assumes that everything that happens is God’s direct will and plan and he is the cause of it all. The worse problem with this is that it assumes that the truth will automatically be what we agree with.

The Mrs. and I are in a tough financial situation right now. Would it do good to go to the bank and say “I don’t care how much you say we have in our accounts. Let’s take a look at what I want to be true.” If God exists and does something you don’t like, well He did something you don’t like and that’s it. You have to deal with it. Now that does not mean that I don’t think the gospel is good news. I do. The first question to ask is not “Is this good news?” It is “Is this true news?”

Finally, in the last chapter, we have talk about people of faith and while Muslims are the ones Jillette focuses on doing the crimes, he believes all religions that claim to be Abrahamic are the problem. Jillette says that if you believe something is true because you feel it, then what can you say to Charles Manson? Indeed, what can you say, but this would only be a problem if all one had was feeling, which would be a problem for a moral relativist. Think back to the statement at the beginning about not knowing what is best for everyone else.

Of course, there is the statement on page 227 that Jillette is not even sure that Jesus ever lived. That alone should tell us all that we need to know.

In conclusion, one will not find anything in here in the way of sustained argument. One will in fact find total depravity, if one bothers, but I simply recommend my readers go elsewhere, unless you want more evidence of total depravity.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

For the origins of Christmas, see here.

Are Outside Sources Allowed?

Do we approach the text with just the text? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

I was in a debate today that got to the point that my viewpoint can only be held by someone who is familiar with Jewish culture. The Bible is written so that the common man can understand it. There are a number of problems with this. First off, who is this common man? For those in America, I believe this is part of our Americentrism where we think that our culture is the epitome of civilization and that all of it revolves around us.

Now, it could be that as far as history goes, our civilization is the greatest so far, and that’s a debatable point, but that does not mean that we are the focal point. If so, several other cultures of the past would have said the exact same thing. Ancient Greece would have seen itself in such a way. So would Rome.

Yet why should it be that the way an average American views the text would be the way the text was meant to be viewed? Why not a 14th century Japanese person? Why not an 11th century German? Why not a 5th century Chinese? Maybe we should also look to the future and consider that maybe a 24th century Frenchman will be who really brings out the text. Maybe some other nation we don’t know of is who should be considered the common man.

Yet somehow, in our arrogance, we’re convinced that we are the ones!

Now the next point to make is to say that we don’t need to study the culture. If we have the Holy Spirit, we have all we need to understand the Bible.

Let’s take someone who has never read Greek for an example and let’s give them a copy of John in Greek. I understand John is pretty simple Greek. If this person has the Holy Spirit, then they should be able to see the text and study the text and know what it says. Right?

Wrong. In fact, the only reason you have the text of the Bible in English today is because men actually studied the language of the Bible and translated it and it was not the Holy Spirit who did the translating. Now you can say these men were guided by the Holy Spirit, although you could get in the dangerous spot of saying one tradition is infallible, but you would still be realizing that they used other tools to bring about the text.

Keep in mind as well that this text was written in a society that was largely illiterate. These people heard the words of the Bible rather than read them. They did not have the tools we have. If you want to know where a word occurs in a text, today, you can go to a web site and look up Strong’s and find it from there. You could not do that in those days. You would have to search the available texts you had then and see where you could find the word.

Okay. So what about outside sources?

The reality is, everyone brings in outside sources. If you have any biblical commentaries, then you have used an outside source. If you take notes during your pastor’s sermon, you have an outside source. If you are part of a small group or internet discussion board where you discuss the Bible, you are using an outside source. If you are reading this blog, quite often you are using an outside source.

In fact, a number of people who decry outside sources still use them. For instance, many people today believe the Earth is old and what is often brought in is that we have scientific data. This is data that a Jewish person at the time would not have, and yet it is used to make a statement about the text. I have no problem with this really as if something is scientifically true, it will not contradict Scripture. If someone thinks the science is wrong, they need to show it is scientifically.

But don’t groups like the Watchtower and the Mormon church use extra sources?

Yeah. They also believe Jesus is the Messiah, try to live holy lives, etc.

The problem is not the outside sources but the nature of those outside sources.

For the Mormons, you cannot get the full gospel without the extra revelation of Joseph Smith. For the Watchtower, you cannot understand the Bible unless you have the Watchtower. Now for someone like myself, I would say that to an extent, you most certainly can understand the Bible. There are many things that you will not be able to understand however.

Now when I speak of a source, I am speaking of the Jewish culture that the people lived in. This is not anything that is foreign to the text. This is the very culture the text was written in and anyone in the culture would have understood that. The Bible is what is called a high-context document. It is written in one where the background information is assumed to be understood.

Thus, to have a more informed view of the text, you need to have an understanding of the Jewish world and once you understand it, you can greatly have your view of the Bible enhanced. Our understanding of the Bible has been greatly helped by Second Temple Judaism and by understanding the Dead Sea Scrolls. When we look at the usage of words in documents outside of the Bible that are found in the Bible, our understanding is greatly enhanced.

The problem again with so much of our refusal is in fact a modern-day hubris that we have. If we are the focal civilization, then we don’t need to study. God gave us the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit should not be an excuse for sloth. If we want to know what the text says, we will need to study the culture that it came from. We would do this from any other work in the ancient world but somehow when we get to the Bible, we change the rules and say all you need is the Holy Spirit at that point.

The reality is students to understand the Bible need to be students of language, culture, society, etc. This will require work, something the Christian church needs to get used to.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

On Widows

What about those who are single through no fault of their own? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Recently, someone commented on my last blog on the benefits of marriage on what the book “The Case for Marriage” had to say about widows. Let it be noted that widows are to some extent the main involuntary group in the book described. The closest would be singles who don’t want to be married and yet are having a hard time finding a partner and settling down. Widows meanwhile have through no fault of their own lost a spouse and are now in a single state.

In some ways, this can be a much more difficult state to be in I’m sure than a single state. You have already lived a life having given your heart to someone and now that someone is gone and only if they were a Christian and you are one too do you have hope of ever really getting to see that person again. You can never get to feel their touch and embrace again. If you have sexual desire, you have to just look back on fond memories. There is also the financial strain as having two people can make finances easier as well as possible difficulties if children are left behind.

Of course, there are difficulties whatever path you have in life. If you are single, you will have difficulties in life. If you are married, you will. No matter what your sexual status is with another person, you can be guaranteed that you will have troubles in life so when I describe the state of being a widow like this, let the mistake not be made that I am saying it is all gloom and doom. I am just wanting to draw some realities from it to show why the experience I could imagine to be difficult.

The Bible has a unique approach to widows compared to society. In the Old Testament, widows and orphans were those who were specifically to be cared for and God would hear their pleas for justice. Consider that in the story of the unjust judge in the NT, Jesus describes the lady who comes forward as a widow. It would be interesting to go through the Bible sometime and just see how often widows are mentioned and how God cares for them.

In the NT, the church was to care for the widows. In the book I’m about to finish now, Tim and Kathy Keller’s “The Meaning of Marriage” they bring out the point that the church did not look down on the life of the widow. Under Augustus, a widow could be fined if she did not remarry within two years. For the Christian, one’s future did not ride on whether they had a large family with descendants or not, but on rather they were in union with Christ. Christ is the future of the person in the church.

The Christian church saw being single as a valid lifestyle, and this in a world where marital union was considered the absolute norm. Of course, marriage is still seen as common today, but we have learned to accept that some people are single. The sad difference for us is that too often single people are still having marriage pleasure, that is sex, without having marriage commitment. For the Christian, to not have a spouse is the same as to not have sex. Any widow that that takes that upon themselves must be willing to face that. If they can, that is their choice and they can do so. If they cannot, then I agree with Paul that they should seek to marry.

What we should not do is to look down on people who are widows. For my friend who is a widow, I would often encourage her on dating, but I did receive a message one day just really explaining her stance, how she got to it, and how she is fine with it. Since then, I have had no problem. This is sadly something we can do in the church today where we look at people who are single and think that they are automatically leading an incomplete life somehow. This we say while ignoring that Jesus in all His life was single and quite likely so was the apostle Paul. Who wants to say they led incomplete lives?

Widows can also be a great blessing. As I prepared for marriage, the one I am thinking about was a real boon to me in giving me wisdom on how to live life and telling me about her own past with her husband. She was also one who was at our wedding and it was a joy to have her there. Widows in the church have much that they can teach others about marriage, about suffering, and about knowing that your true identity lies in Christ even if trouble comes to the one on Earth you value more than any other.

I do believe marriage can bring much happiness in life, but one does not have to be married to lead a full life and one can even go through marriage all the way and get to the “Til death do us part” and keep living a full and happy life and we can pray that those spouses will be re-united when God reigns on Earth as He does in Heaven. Until then, let us honor and celebrate those in our lives and show them the love of Christ where they are as they show it to us where we are.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Benefits of Marriage

What does saying “I do” do? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Currently, I’m reading a book by Maggie Gallagher and Linda Waite called “The Case for Marriage.” It was written before much of the same-sex debate today and is basically outlining why it is that marriage is beneficial for people. This is in contrast to the case of cohabitating couples, singles, divorced, and widowed.

I find it quite revealing and as I had been debating the topic often lately, I figured I would write from a personal perspective. Does marriage make a difference to a person?

I have said before that my wife and I both have Asperger’s. As a result, social relationships can be difficult for us, including marriage, and we have sought the advice of many counselors. This was before and after marriage. For myself, before I was married, I was constantly seeking advice from a good friend who has been married for a long time and whose marriage I wished to emulate. He and others gave me constant pearls of wisdom and our own counselor who did our counseling said he had so rarely seen a couple he thought was a match made in Heaven.

So where to begin?

An interesting place is diet. Aspies have unusual diets, something I don’t think I’ve gone into here. The only vegetable I eat for instance is raw cauliflower. My old roommate could testify that I would buy Tombstone pizzas or the equivalent and fix some every night. One pizza could last me four nights. I kept myself stockpiled. My diet was extremely limited to a small amount. I did not really have any fruits in my diet. In fact, I was and am scared of new foods. (Yes. I know it’s totally ridiculous. Being logical does not mean you are logical in all you believe. We all have places were emotion can tend to overwhelm us.)

My wife has problems with diet as well and I realized that if she is going to change and I am to encourage her to, then I must be the man and lead by example. As it stands, I am now at the point where usually I am having some kind of seafood most every night. Instead of just going to pizzerias for restaurants, we can also go to Mexican restaurants as I can eat quesadillas now which leaves my friends and family who have known me the longest wondering “What on Earth is going on?”

With leading, I’ll also tell you that my wife has led me some in a good way. We went on our honeymoon to Ocean Isle Beach. I have been terrified of water all my life. I still am. I do not know how to swim a lick. When I am in a pool, I am on the shallow end and near the edge. (I did start trying to learn to walk across a pool before the wedding to overcome my fear for my wife.) When we were on our honeymoon, my wife did take me into the pool and we were in the five foot section. I could always touch the floor, but I won’t deny I was scared still. There was a part of me saying “She’s trying to kill me.” Still, I trusted her. When it came to the ocean, she managed to get me out into waist high water. Right now we have a deal going that she’ll join me in the corn maze even though she’s claustrophobic as long as I join her on a ferris wheel though I’m scared of heights. (There are some rides she knows I should not try due to my back as I have scoliosis.)

Confidence is a great plus now. I used to be very skeptical about my own ability in apologetics. We all know that when we get compliments we can be tempted to think “They’re just saying that” or something of that sort. I found shortly after I got married that I was able to do much more in apologetics. It wasn’t because at the time I was studying more. In thinking about it, I believe I have come to the answer. In the past, I got my validation from my apologetics largely and my identity hung on it. It’s still a major part of me of course, but now my validation comes from my wife. She is a constant reminder of who I am. Because of her, I am more secure in myself and able to perform better. I notice it more when I debate now. I am able to handle criticisms much better and feel more in charge in debates.

Speaking of study, I am spending more time with that. There’s still time for gaming some still, but by and large, I am making it a point to read at least 100 pages a day now. Sometimes that can be difficult. Bluntly put, some books are boring. Still, I want to make sure to do the best that I can. (I also seem to have the problem of walking to the library and saying “I won’t order any more books. I have books at home to read.” I’m not doing a good job of following through with this.)

Marriage has taught me much about sacrifices. We have so much income for the two of us. What am I to do with what I have? I will often avoid getting something for myself because I know I want to get things for my wife. If I go without, I figure that’s fine. I have enough other stuff in my life that I can be satisfied and learn to find joy in them even more. Sacrifices are worthwhile if I know they bring joy and benefit to the Mrs.

Also, I have learned much more about holiness. The command to love as Christ loved the church is one that is serious and terrifying both. It requires that I stop and compare the way I treat Christ to what happens in my life. After all, none of us marry perfect people and none of us marrying are perfect people. I have told people that even if Jesus was married, and I don’t think He was, he would not have had a perfect marriage because he would have been married to an imperfect woman.

So if I get upset by something my Mrs. does, I can just say “How am I to Christ?” It is a good time that I can really examine myself and when I do, I often find much in me that I do not like. There will always be problems with me that I need to work out, but I am in the process of working them out.

Trust is built up as well in marriage. I am more confident in myself overall. A lot of this can be due to marriage being the place God designed for sexual intimacy. Those who know me know that I am hardly a fine specimen of fitness and strength. However, my Mrs. accepts me so what do I care what the rest of the world thinks? I am not out to please anyone else physically. I am only out to please her and her constant affirmation is a great benefit.

Sharing a bed with someone sexually is enjoyable of course, but there are other ways to share a bed that are significant. There is something special about praying with my wife every night before we go to bed. There is something special about knowing someone will be there when I wake up in the morning and any touch in the evening or early morning is a great way to end or start a day. If I can feel her hand, then I can relax a lot easier. (I am convinced one of my love languages is physical touch.)

Last night even, I had an awful night with one of the worst cases of sinus congestion I’ve had where I could not breathe at all lying down and was repeatedly getting up going to our linen closet finding any cure that I could. My wife was patient all the while. If anything, her only complaint she really had with me about the whole thing was that I didn’t wake her up to let her know everything that I needed.

Marriage is a source of great benefit and as a man, I think it especially with learning how to live with a woman. It is quite mind-boggling for us to go to the bathroom and think “What are all these things for?” I have to think outside my natural paradigm. When my Princess has a problem, my male side wants to logically tell the solution to it when she just wants to be heard and the best thing to do could be to not say anything but simply give an embrace. These are all things that are being learned, but the differences bring us closer together.

When it comes to intellectual stuff, my wife is more the emotional and artistic type. This makes it interesting for me when I explain a theological concept. I know to watch my terminology but many times, I also notice that my wife is picking up on the strange way I understand language at times in that I can interpret what people say very literally to make a humorous point about it.” I see this happening more and more. On the other hand, I’m developing a taste for artistic beauty, learning what it means to love, and becoming more emotional. These differences balance out again.

In closing, marriage is indeed great and a benefit. I hope hearing how mine has benefited me helps you to see how yours could be a benefit and if you have some thoughts on how it is, please share!

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Is The Fig Tree Israel?

Has a common interpretation been incorrect? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

I have a nightly practice where I will read a short passage of Scripture right before I turn out the lights and ask myself questions about it as I go to sleep. Bizarre, but my mind is one that is always running and I want it to have something concrete to run on. I have been going through the gospel of Mark and I read last night about the cleansing of the temple in Mark 11. If you know the passage, it is sandwiched in between the cursing of the fig tree and the death of the fig tree.

A common interpretation of the passage has been that the fig tree represents Israel, and there are reasons for understanding that. The fig tree was by all appearances one that would have fruit on it, and yet its appearance was deceitful. It did not have the fruit that Jesus expected. So was it with Israel as Jesus came to Israel expecting to see the fruit and when it came, he found that that fruit was not there. There could be some passages where the fig tree does represent Israel, but let’s consider that in Mark, it surrounds the cleansing of the temple.

What if the fig tree was not the symbol of Israel in this instance but was rather a symbol of the temple itself?

Earlier in the passage, Jesus has just entered Jerusalem in the triumphant entry and He did go to the temple and looked around and saw everything but since it was late, he left. The next day He is heading to the temple. What we can infer from this is that Jesus had seen what was going on in the temple and thought about it throughout the night and knew what it was that He was going to do. On the way, He sees a fig tree and the fig tree reminds Him of what is going on with the temple.

The temple was meant to be the place where God was supposed to dwell and share the blessings of YHWH with the world. The reality is that the temple had not done that. Israel had essentially kept YHWH to themselves. Places of the temple were such that Gentiles could not enter. This in spite of how Israel was said in Isaiah to be a light to the Gentiles. How could they be a light if they were keeping the light from them?

Instead, the temple was used to support the lifestyles of the religious people. This is something seen as well in the fact that Israelites had a way from the Pharisees to avoid taking care of their parents when instead they could just give the money to God. This can be seen as service to God, but there was a commandment given to honor parents and it is not holy to disobey such a command as if God had not considered the idea you have.

The Israelites were in a good place in many ways. They wanted to be free from Rome, but at the same time, they were allowed a good deal of freedom that other countries were not and they did not want to really rock the boat yet, the way Jesus was. When the Messiah shows up, great. Let him do that. It was important to maintain the status quo, but the sad reality is that the status quo was abhorrent to YHWH and keeping Israel from fulfilling its mission.

One aspect was the temple. It was believed that when the Messiah came he would either cleanse the temple or rebuild the temple. The reality is that Jesus did both. Jesus cleansed out this temple and it was abandoned. (Note when he leaves the Temple in Matthew He says to the Pharisees that “YOUR house is left desolate.”) It was no longer the house of YHWH. It was the house of the Pharisees.

So did Jesus rebuild the temple? Yes. The temple is in fact right here on Earth now. Where? It’s in the church. Paul in 1 Corinthians tells the people that they are God’s temple. This is an extraordinary statement for Paul to make especially considering that when he wrote 1 Corinthians, the Jerusalem temple was still standing. For Paul, it was already obsolete.

Going back to the fig tree then, we can see that when Jesus prepares to go to the temple, he curses the fig tree. When he leaves, the fig tree is indeed dead. Could Mark be drawing a parallel saying that Jesus is going to the temple and pronouncing it dead and after he has done that, the disciples get a vivid reminder that His action in the temple does indeed show that the current temple apparatus is of no use?

I am certainly more prone to see it this way and if you think that it could be or see a reason why that’s probably wrong, then let me know. We all should want to know what the Scripture itself says after all.

In Christ,
Nick Peters