Has the Bible been betrayed? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.
John Tors isn’t happy. He just doesn’t like my last response to him. Not too much of a shock, but yet he has written a long diatribe in response. I don’t really plan at this point in addressing everything since Tors has spent so much time on this that one wonders if he’ll be publishing an Ebook on the topic soon. At this point, I also plan on this being my final response. Tors is too much of a time drainer and honestly, not worth it, but I figured it could be fun to go after this one.
Tors gives off the impression of one saying that if anyone doesn’t interpret the Bible the way he does, they are a liberal bent on betraying evangelicalism. As much as I have a problem with Geisler, it could be said Tors goes even further than Geisler and if Tors was in Geisler’s position, one can picture the nightmare that would be hanging over the Evangelical world. Tors has not only a fear of everything else being “liberal” but is also convinced he knows better than the experts in the field and I mean the ones who are working out of their specialty.
It’s amazing that right off, Tors, like Geisler, acts like anyone who disagrees does not hold to the Correspondence Theory of Truth, which I do hold to. Tors says that:
First, truth is what corresponds to reality. Something that does not correspond to reality is not true. It is not true, for example, to say that George Washington issued the Emancipation Proclamation or that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote Tarzan of the Apes. It is true to say that Donald Trump is currently the President of the United States of America.
Why is this important? Because if you suggest anything different in the accounts, then you’re going against the truth! Unfortunately, one doesn’t have to look hard at the Gospels to know that they are quite different. If you mean every story has to be exactly the same in every detail, then no, the stories cannot all be true. Consider the story of the centurion’s servant. Who came? Matthew says the centurion was the one who engaged Jesus and spoke the whole time. Luke says elders of the town came to Jesus and then says the centurion sent others to talk to Jesus on his behalf. Which is right? The stories are obviously the same story, but they are obviously not identical.
Most of us realize that the centurion sending servants to act on him would be seen as if he himself came since they were acting on his behalf. When the Press Secretary makes an announcement, no one shouts “error” when it’s said later “The President today said that….” Of course, I have picked a minor example. Others could be found. What did Peter say at the Great Confession of faith? Did the voice at the baptism of Jesus speak to Jesus or to the crowd? How many times did the rooster crow at Peter’s denial? If you want more, just go look up your favorite skeptical website and see all the “Bible contradictions.”
Most of these are of course minor deals. They rely on ancient practice and such. Was it an error that Jesus said three days and three nights He would be in the belly of the Earth? After all, if Jesus died on Friday and He rose on Sunday, then that’s two nights and just one day. It’s when you realize that for the ancient Jews that a part of the day would be sufficient that you realize that Jesus did speak accurately by their standards. That is what is often missed. Why should we judge an ancient work by modern 21st century standards?
Second, an error is “a mistaken opinion or belief” (OED, p. 847), “mistaken” being “having a wrong opinion or judgment, being under a misapprehension” (OED, p.1795), and “wrong” being “incorrect, false, mistaken” (OED, P.3732). If this is still not clear, “incorrect” is “of a state, description etc.: erroneous, inaccurate” (OED, p.1342) and “false” is “of an opinion, proposition, etc.: not in accordance with the truth or the facts; erroneous, untrue” (OED, p.912).
Again, no objection, but we have to wonder how far will this go? Did Jesus give the Sermon on the Mount twice and just use second person and third person both? Again, for many of us, it’s not a problem to say that one writer could have adapted what was said to apply it better to the audience. It’s also not unlikely that Jesus would have given this talk more than once. I am a speaker. This Monday night, I’m giving a talk for the third time on life with Aspergers and raising awareness at Why Should I Believe? I have given this talk before, so I know what I will say, but it will also be different. One highly doubts that Jesus was the only speaker in history who only gave every sermon or parable one time.
“Inerrant,” then, means “in accordance with the truth and the facts, not untrue, true.” It is regrettable that we have had to go to such lengths to establish the meaning of “inerrant,” which should be axiomatic, but, as we will see, it is necessary to do so, lest anyone attempt to pass off as inerrant that which manifestly does not meet this definition.
I don’t think anyone is disputing any of this. What is being disputed is what standards will we use? For instance, when I encounter someone who says we need to go by the plain meaning of the text, I ask plain to who? To a 21st century American? A 19th century Japanese man? A 17th century Chinese man? A 13th century Frenchman? An 11th century Englishman? An 8th century German? A 5th century Italian? A 3rd century Greek or Roman? A 1st century Jew?
Who determines what is the plain meaning? It would be the author ultimately and that author wrote according to 1st century standards. Will those standards be different from ours? Absolutely. It’s not right of us to force him to follow our rules. We must look at his and see how closely he followed them. I have regularly pointed out that we are following Western standards way too often and those cause us to badly misread the text.
Tors starts in on Wallace here with:
New Testament scholars who work on determining the wording of the original Greek New Testament are functioning at the level of the deepest integrity when they argue that the original read “in Isaiah the prophet.” This is because they are arguing for wording that seems to communicate a mistake. They argue this in spite of their own feelings about the biblical author’s accuracy …. the vast majority do have sufficient respect for a biblical author that they will not impute to him an ostensible inaccuracy unless the manuscript testimony compels them to do so. At all points, textual critics are historians who have to base their views on data, not mere theological convictions. The rule that almost all textual critics follow is: Choose the reading that best explains the rise of the others. This means looking at the external and internal evidence in an effort to trace out both history and psychology.
Wallace is right here. We want to get to what the original text said and not what is easier for us. The rule is all things being equal, if you have two readings, the more difficult one is to be preferred. It’s more likely that a scribe would try to smooth out a reading than to make it more difficult. Of course, Tors lunges in on “Wording that seems to communicate a mistake” and immediately, there you have it. Wallace does not concede a mistake. I pointed Tors to Ehorn’s work on composite quotations which includes Jewish sources to show that the practice that was done was a Jewish practice. We can be quite confident that Tors will likely never read it.
We should also point out that Tors refers to me next as good old Nick Peters and soon drops the “good.” It’s not escaped my notice that the Old Nick was a name given to the devil. As I have said, Tors has upped the ante of Geisler. Tors is unfortunately the kind of person an apologetics approach like Geisler produces. It’s one that says that if you stand up for inerrancy, then you cannot possibly be wrong. You’re not just correct in your conclusions, but in all of your actions.
In my look at what Wallace says about inerrancy, I point out that Wallace goes after a magic wand approach that treats the Bible like a science book. Tors won’t have any of that! Inerrant means the Bible is without error! That’s it! He writes that
Peters actually says, “He went after a view of what that is,” and already we can see that he is off the rails. As we have pointed out, there is only one definition of “inerrancy”, and that is what the word actually means: without error, in accordance with the truth and the facts, not untrue, true. Inerrancy is not a matter of opinion, such as which is the best sport or the most flavourful food. It has a specific definition, so there is no other “view of what that is”; any other “view” of it is not inerrancy.
Nice to know we have the word from Sinai here. At any rate, the question becomes, what constitutes an error? Is it an error by our standards or by their standards? You see, it was treating the Bible like a science textbook that led to many of our problems. Does Tors think that the sun goes around the Earth? That was what some people argued and they did it based on the Bible. Does that mean the Bible was wrong or our interpretation was wrong because we treated it like a science textbook? (This is also why I disagree with a concordist approach and trying to do things like read the water cycle into Job.)
As an example, Norman Geisler looks at Martin Luther. I am a Protestant, but of course, Luther was not infallible. We did not replace one Pope with another one. Luther was wrong on some matters. Geisler at his website puts up some statements that he himself would not agree with.
D. Scientifically Authoritative
There was mention of a certain new astronomer who wanted to prove that the earth moves and not the sky, the sun, and the moon. This would be as if somebody were riding on a cart or in a ship and imagined that he was standing still while the earth and the trees were moving. [Luther remarked,] “So it goes now. Whoever wants to be clever must agree with nothing that others esteem. He must do something of his own. This is what that fellow does who wishes to turn the whole of astronomy upside down. Even in these things that are thrown into disorder I believe the Holy Scriptures, for Joshua commanded the sun to stand still and not the earth [Josh. 10:12].
Because we are not sufficiently able to understand how these days occurred nor why God wished to observe such distinctions of times, we shall rather admit our ignorance than attempt to twist the words unnecessarily into an unnatural meaning. As far, therefore, as St. Augustine’s opinion is concerned, we hold that Moses spoke literally not allegorically or figuratively, that is, the world and all its creatures was created within the six days as the words declare. Because we are not able to comprehend we shall remain disciples and leave the instructorship to the Holy Ghost..??
Let’s give one caveat here. There are a number of Luther scholars who don’t hold to the accuracy of all in the Table Talk. Okay. for the sake of argument though, Geisler does. In fact, someone like Jason Lisle would argue that since Geisler denies a young Earth, that he denies inerrancy. It’s amazing to me that Mike Licona uses ancient writing techniques to interpret the Bible and that’s disallowed, but Geisler uses modern science to interpret that the ancients had no access to, and that’s okay! Still, the look at Luther gets worse.
Though this Epistle of St. James was rejected by the ancients, I praise it and regard it as a good book, because it sets up no doctrine of men and lays great stress upon God’s law. But to state my own opinion about it, though without injury to anyone, I consider that it is not the writing of any apostle. My reasons are as follows:
First: Flatly in contradiction to St. Paul and all the rest of Scripture it ascribes righteousness to works and says that Abraham was justified by his works in that he offered his son Isaac, though St. Paul, on the contrary, teaches, in Romans 4, that Abraham was justified without works, by faith alone, before he offered his son and proves it by Moses in Genesis 15. . . . Second: Its purpose is to teach Christians, and in all its teaching it does not once mention the Passion, the Resurrection, or the Spirit of Christ (Ibid., p. 24).
So apparently, in this paradigm, it’s okay to question the authority of James and even say that he disagrees with Paul on justification, and you’re not denying Inerrancy, but question the resurrection of the saints in Matthew 27 and you’re in trouble now.
If we read the Bible in the way the author did not intend us to read it, then we are going to misread the text. The author did not have 21st century Western Americans in mind. With the New Testament, the author had first century Jews and Gentiles in mind, varying of course on the book being read.
When we get to Daniel Wallace recommending we treat the Bible like any other work of history and study it according to that method, Tors has a lot to say. I will quote what he says about my looking at it here.
Old Nick Peters really gets his shorts into a knot on this one, carping, “Just say ‘It’s God-Breathed.’ Okay. How does that deal with the writing? Are we to think God just breathed one day and ‘Poof!’, here is the Gospel of Luke!” Then, in response to Wallace’s view that the Bible should be held to the same standards as other ancient historians such as Livy, Tacitus, Suetonius, and Josephus, I pointed out that “Josephus, Livy, Tacitus, Suetonius, and ‘any other ancient historian’ were not divinely enabled by the Holy Spirit. The Bible was, however, so it is in a completely different category from ‘any other ancient historian’s writings.’” Peters responds,
If you want to see what’s wrong with this kind of approach, just consider if Tors was saying the same about the Koran or the Book of Mormon. Is Wallace treating the Bible like any other book? In a sense, yes. That’s the wonderful truth about the Bible. When you treat it like any other book, you see that it is not like any other book.
The mind certainly boggles at this. Peters actually mocks the concept of Scripture being God-breathed (“Are we to think God just breathed one day and ‘Poof!’, here is the Gospel of Luke!”), griping, “How does that deal with the writing?” He makes no effort to find the answer to this question, it should be noted; he just seems to use this as a pretext to ignore the issue. Indeed, he intimates that saying that the Bible is God breathed carries no more weight than saying it for the Qur’an or the Book of Mormon. (This shows, perhaps better than anything else, where the type of evangelical Peters is defending is coming from, and should really put paid to any credibility old Nick may ever have had.)
Yes. Because I asked a queston, I actually mocked the idea of the text being God-breathed. At this, we wonder what color the sky is in Tors’s world. Does he see an enemy behind every bush. I hold the text is God-breathed. What I deny is saying that “God-breathed” answers every objection. It doesn’t.
Tors also says I make no effort to find out the answer to the question, this one being the census in Luke. You see, if I’m writing a response, I’m meant to deal with every single objection. Well, no. I’m not. I was dealing with a dangerous view of inerrancy instead. I’d like to point out now that Tors says nothing here about the question of the feeding of the 5,000 or the synoptic problem or a multitude of other “contradictions” that are presented. Sauce for the goose after all…
However, if Tors wants to know about what I’ve done on the question, well this is the beauty of having a podcast. I have interviewed Ben Witherington on the birth narratives and if anyone wants more on Luke, I interviewed Darrell Bock on that as well. After all, these scholars are much more specialized than I, so why not listen to them?
Tors goes on to say that
Now, it should be obvious that the question “How does that [i.e. that Scripture is God breathed] deal with the writing” is not an excuse for ignoring the fact that Scripture is God breathed and if and when the Qur’an or the Book of Mormon can show ancient prophecies that were fulfilled or advanced knowledge that people at the time of writing could not know, and when either is endorsed by a man who claimed to be Deity and proved His claims by rising from the dead, then we can consider whether either is God breathed. Until then, the Bible remains sui generis. It is difficult to see how this would not be obvious to any Christian – unless he actually believed the Bible has no more evidence for being God breathed than does the Qur’an or the Book of Mormon.
But notice this! As soon as Tors brings up other points about the Bible, then saying “God-breathed” is no longer sufficient to make the case. The Bible is true because of XYZ. I fully agree that this cannot be done with the Qur’an or the Book of Mormon. Tors is actually arguing my point. With advanced knowledge though, Tors makes the mistake that I have pointed to earlier of concordism in this article.
Even if we granted the point, there are still other passages that we would not take literally, such as Proverbs saying the Earth sits on pillars. What of Joshua and the sun? Does Tors agree with Martin Luther or not? Tors is in fact reading the Bible as a science textbook. The problem is if you take Job’s saying and read it as a science statement, you’ll miss the real statement he wants to make. What that is I leave to the scholars of Job.
Consider that we do this with Genesis. We make the debate about the age of the Earth, as if that was the real concern in the author’s mind. He wanted us to know how old the Earth is. I agree with John Walton that the passage is about the creating of sacred space. Once you get that, it beautifully fits into the Gospel and bypasses the whole debate as the point of the text is not the age of the Earth but the why of the Earth then.
Tors goes on to say that
As to how does the fact that the Bible is God breathed “deal with the writing,” Peters might want to study 2 Peter 1:20-21; he might want to notice that what is written by men is explicitly stated to be spoken by God Himself (e.g. Acts 1:16, 4:25, Hebrews 3:7-11); and he might want to take Jesus’ promise seriously, wherein He said in John 14:26 “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you.” Note to Wallace: The Holy Spirit is better than a “tape recorder.”
Then if this is the case we have to ask why do the Gospels have different things being said? Sure, the content is virtually the same, but the wording is not identical. Note also that if we want to take John 14 literally, well it only says that what Jesus said would be brought to recall and says nothing about his deeds. How about events one was not a witness of? Luke and Mark used eyewitnesses but were not themselves eyewitnesses. (Mark could have seen some things possibly and could be the fleeing naked man in Mark 14, but there’s no hard proof of that.) Mark and Luke would never have received Jesus’s promise. Also, it’s hard to see how Tors can avoid a dictation theory.
As to Peters’ enthusiastic statement that “That’s the wonderful truth about the Bible. When you treat it like any other book, you see that it is not like any other book,” as we explained in the previous article, “logically it is lunacy, for if treating the Bible like any other book leads to the conclusion that it’s not like any other book, that means the initial working presupposition that it’s like any other book is wrong and inapplicable and therefore invalidates any conclusion reached when using that presupposition.” That is simple and obvious enough that even a reasonably intelligent child can understand it; why Peters apparently cannot is hard to understand.
Except it doesn’t, and I argue that many people who deny this use a different standard. Just yesterday I was in a Twitter war involving mythicists saying we have no contemporary records of Jesus. Now of course we do, such as the epistles and Gospels, but I want to take their standard. My question to them is what about Hannibal, Queen Boudica, and Arminius? All of these were very well-known figures at their time who did amazing things and yet no contemporaries said a peep about them. I get told “Well they weren’t supposed to be the Son of God doing miracles and rising from the dead.” Do you see that?! The standard has changed!
One such standard is the inerrancy standard which means inerrancy according to modern Western ideas of inerrancy. These differences show up in different accounts of any ancient event. Mike Licona in his recent work shows that even the same author has different accounts of the same event.
Another problem is that many people come with a viewpoint that says miracles can’t happen. Of course, no evidence will be persuasive if you rule out any possibility of being wrong right at the start. For these people, saying that “magic” (And magic and miracles are not the same) is in the text rules it out ipso facto. The standard here being that the Bible must adhere to the rules of natural law. The problem is not the Bible, but false standards brought to it.
Now I approach this without fear. If the skeptic wants to say he will test the Bible like any other book, my reply is simple. “Do it.” I say that because I am convinced the Bible can stand up to scrutiny. I don’t just sit back and say “God-breathed!” and think that answers all the questions.
As for what is said about infallibility and inerrancy, I got my information from Derek James Brown, who did his dissertation on ICBI. He supports it, but thinks there needs to be changes. He pointed out that infallibility is the basis because if God cannot error, then he cannot produce a text that will have errors in it. In that sense, because God cannot error, a text that He is behind will not error. It is not the other way around. Hence, I said Tors has it backwards. Tors wants to point to what Wallace and others say. I’m quite sure that if Wallace read my assessment on this matter, he would have no problem with what I’m saying. Of course, we do have to ask if God did indeed do this with the Bible, which is another question, and one that I think the answer is yes, God did produce such a text, but it is not a hill I’m willing to die on either.
We move on:
“You obviously have a high view of scripture,” I observed. “Why?”
“Because Jesus did,” he said matter-of-factly.
“How do you know?” I asked.
“One criterion that scholars use for determining authenticity is called ‘dissimilarity.’ If Jesus said or did something that’s dissimilar to the Jews of his day or earlier, then it’s considered authentic,” he said. “And he’s constantly ripping on the Pharisees for adding tradition to scripture and not treating it as ultimately and finally authoritative. When he says that scripture cannot be broken, he’s making a statement about the truth and reliability of scripture.”’
Peters then says, “Tors quotes multiple parts of this multiple times each time with incredulity, because, you know, incredulity makes a great argument.” It is difficult to ascribe this comment to Peters’ general incompetence; it smacks of intellectual dishonesty. Arguing from incredulity, which is a logical fallacy, by the way, is to say that something cannot be true because one personally finds it difficult to believe, and I did no such thing.
My argument against Wallace’s claim here was to point out that
How does the ridiculous criterion of “dissimilarity” show that Jesus had a high view of Scripture? Oh, that’s right; it doesn’t. This is a non sequitur. Wallace did not answer Strobel’s question but simply jumped to another topic ….
So according to these scholars, if a 1st-century Jew says something that sounds like what we’d expect a 1st-century Jew to say, that indicates it’s not authentic, and if the founder of Christianity said things that Christians believe, then that indicates it’s not authentic. Authenticity is determined by dissimilarity! Only a madman or a Biblical scholar could assert such arrant nonsense as this with a straight face, for it is more than obvious that Christians, as followers of Jesus, would base their beliefs on what He said, so of course it would sound similar, and that 1st-century Jews said things that sounded like what 1st-century Jews said – because they were 1st-century Jews.
No. By argument from incredulity, I simply mean that Tors takes a response that he will not accept it and then argues from there. Tors ignores Wallace’s point about how the criterion of dissimilarity shows the case. Jesus is different from the crowds of his day as he rips into the Pharisees for adding Scripture to tradition. Jesus argues that Scripture alone is sufficient and cannot be broken and if tradition contradicts Scripture, tradition is wrong. That is how it makes the case. Jesus was speaking outside of the cultural standards for rabbis of the time by lambasting the Pharisees and his argument against them depended on his having a high view of Scripture.
Peters continues to embarrass himself. I quoted Wallace saying, “The Gospels contain a summary of what he said. And if it’s a summary, maybe Matthew used some of his own words to condense it. That doesn’t trouble me in the slightest. It’s still trustworthy,”and I pointed out that “Actually, if the writers are making stuff up and mixing the historical with the non-historical, then it is not trustworthy, as there’s no way to know what in the Bible is true and what isn’t.”
Now, what I have said is axiomatic and so obvious that even a child could understand it. But not old Nick Peters. (Either that, or there is a whiff of intellectual dishonesty here also.) He sniffs,
It is a mystery how one goes from ‘Saying something in one’s own words’ to ‘Making stuff up.’ Apparently, Tors can make these kinds of leaps. He then says there’s no way to know that something in the Bible is true or isn’t, but this is just ridiculous. We can know this by studying history.
Let us look at this point by point, and we will get a good understanding of where old Nick is coming from.
First, he said, “It is a mystery how one goes from ‘Saying something in one’s own words’ to ‘Making stuff up.’ Apparently, Tors can make these kinds of leaps.”
Let us clear up the mystery for him: I did not make a “leap” of any sort. I said, Actually, if the writers are making stuff up and mixing the historical with the non-historical, then it is not trustworthy.” “IF the writers are making stuff up.” IF. Perhaps Peters should open up a dictionary and perhaps a textbook of English grammar and learn the meaning of the word “if” and how it is used. If he does that, he should come to understand that my statement is not a “leap”; it is axiomatically true.
By the way, it’s worth pointing out that Tors cries foul if anyone dares to insult him, but he has no problem with it. I’m not whining about this. I actually find it amusing. I quite loved the part about how I “sniffed” something. I easily picture Tors as a red-faced preacher pounding the pulpit and screaming out every line.
Tors’s point is highly false. There is nothing about making stuff up when you say things in your own words. It’s called paraphrasing. The writers of the Gospels had to do this to some extent anyway since Jesus for the most part was speaking Aramaic. That would be translated into Greek by them and they would have to put the saying in the words they thought best captured what Jesus said. Again, they weren’t interested in word-for-word. The gist is what was important.
It still boggles the mind how that means “Making stuff up.” Now if Jesus never told the parable of the prodigal son and Luke just made up the parable and put it in the words of Jesus, that would be making stuff up. If instead the parable was told in Aramaic and Luke put it in his own words in Greek, that would not be making stuff up. Besides, we can be sure that much of what Jesus said was a lot longer than what we have. The Sermon on the Mount can be read in about twenty minutes. I am sure Jesus spoke a lot longer. Matthew is just giving us the main points of the message.
Second, while condensing people’s words is not necessarily problematic when done by a reporter, nor is using one’s own words to describe the situation, claiming that someone said something when in fact he did not say it is an error. And while other ancient writers may not have been able to avoid such errors, in the case of the Gospel writers, Jesus’ actual words were brought to their memory by the Holy Spirit (John 14:26), such errors were not unavoidable, nor did the writers make them. Why so many evangelical scholars want to ignore John 14:26 is, as we have indicated, difficult to understand.
With this then, I contend that Tors’s view is unsustainable. As soon as we have different words taking place, then inerrancy will have to go. My version of inerrancy is just fine. I don’t go by errors by modern standards, but by ancients where the gist of what was said is sufficient. Again also, John 14:26 would not have anything to say to Mark and Luke and nothing to say about Jesus’s actions.
Third, and this is the most disturbing, Peters says, “He then says there’s no way to know that something in the Bible is true or isn’t, but this is just ridiculous. We can know this by studying history.” And there you have it, folks. According to Peters, you can’t know that the Bible is historical, unless you study external sources of history. The fact that little of the Biblical narrative can be proven “by studying history” doesn’t seem to bother old Nick. The problem of explaining why the Biblical narratives, unsupported, cannot be known to be historical, but secular historical sources can be is something he does not address (nor is there any indication he has even thought about it), though he is doing a good job of uncritically following Wallace into this morass.
Yes people. Let this keep you awake at night. If you want to know about the reliability of the Bible, you might actually have to *Gasp* study! Horror of horrors! Those who want to defend the Bible and show it to be true will need to study history! It might not be enough to just stand up and shout “God-breathed!” and let that be it.
As for the problem, once again, Tors expects me to address everything. Well let me explain it to you Tors. I give the Bible the benefit of the doubt largely because Jesus rose from the dead. I believe in the Bible because I believe in Jesus, not the other way around. Many areas I have found have been corroborated by study in archaeology and secular sources. Where there is no evidence either way, I am willing to grant the benefit of the doubt to the Bible. It’s proven reliable in areas I can check. I will trust it where I can’t. Tors naturally assumes that since not every post contains my every thought, I must not have thought about something. It’s amazing how arrogance and ignorance often go hand in hand.
It doesn’t even seem to occur to old Nick that the Gospel books are, even at a minimal view, historical documents that must be given the same prima facie credibility as any other historical documents. And, given the fact that there are four Gospel books, that they are all based on eyewitness testimony (and two were written by apostles), that they were written close to the time of the events described therein, and that their manuscript attestation is considerably better than anything we have for any other ancient writing, the Gospel books are far better historical evidence for the life and career of Jesus than we have for any other ancient personage, including Augustus and Tiberius, the two Roman emperors contemporaneous with Jesus. They are more than adequate to tell us about Jesus, and we have no need for inferior ancient documents to verify them; “Now beyond all contradiction the lesser is blessed by the better” (Hebrews 7:7), not the other way around.
Well considering that I’ve done podcasts on these topics interviewing scholars and written on them myself on my blog and debated them, yes, I do know about these. One wonders if Tors is just trying to flaunt some intellectual superiority or something here. He does seem quite obsessed with himself after all.
In fact, although Peters claims that “inerrantists do engage with history, and I speak as one of them,” neither he nor his fellow travelers do any such thing; indeed, old Nick shows no indication of even understanding how the application of historiography is to be done. He seems to think that “apply[ing] historiography to the Bible” is opening a reference book or two written by the sort of people described in our original article and uncritically passing on whatever one finds there. That is not “apply[ing] historiography to the Bible”; it is more in the nature of chanting a mantra.
Tors seems to think he knows what I’m talking about here. My thinking on the matter is to critically study the books. Even the ones written by my father-in-law I question. When he told me about something Ehrman said once, I thought it was a powerful quote, but I asked where it was and looked it up myself to make sure the quote was right. I also do go and get out the primary sources often and see what they say. I have to do this with modern history with all manner of false quotes put up on the internet. The same applies to ancient history.
The intellectual gallimaufry of Peters becomes even more clear with his next statement: “He also asks how could readers of the Gospel assume any of it was historical? Answer. They wouldn’t. This would also be something that skeptics could look at. Want to know if it’s historical? Just send a servant or two to the area of Judea. Have them ask around. Do an investigation. This is what historians did.”
One wonders why eyewitnesses of events cannot be trusted in what they say, but “historians” can be trusted when they tell us whether these eyewitnesses should or should not be trusted; it should be obvious to anyone who thinks that eyewitness testimony is preferable to the testimony of one who is not an eyewitness.
Looking at this, it’s as if Tors rode into town to skeptical Gentiles who did not believe in resurrections and to Jews who had a zeal for their text and said “Jesus is risen!” and everyone converted. If a skeptic got his hands on a Gospel, he would not assume it was true. He would investigate it. You could say it was from eyewitnesses all day long and that it was God-breathed. That would not be enough. He would want to verify it, and who could blame him? Christianity by social standards was a shameful belief system and one would lose their honor by embracing it.
I also didn’t say historians could be trusted the same way. On mundane claims, one would have no problem, but when it came to claims that put one at an area of risk, one wants to double-check. This is what any wealthy high-honor person would do if they were skeptical.
Beyond that, I don’t think the Gospels were largely written to convince skeptics. It was more for the edification of the church in passing down the life of Jesus, especially as the apostles were getting older and dying. No doubt there was some persuasive effort to them, but that wasn’t the main point. A preacher in a church will often be speaking to the audience of Christians present, but could include enough for a skeptic with questions.
And, more important, while there should be little doubt that people around the mid-1st century AD did “send a servant or two to the area of Judea” (1 Corinthians 15:1-7) who could check personally with eyewitnesses, we live a good 1,900 years too late to use that method ourselves – and according to what old Nick just said, it is the only way we can believe the Bible is historical. So we cannot believe it. Game over. One wonders if old Nick is even listening to himself before he makes his assertions.
Sure. We live at a downside with that. Does that mean we’re lost entirely? No. We can study the sources that we do have and the more we study those, the more we see how incredible a book the Bible is. Tors seems to be like someone eager to make a point saying “Did you think of that? Did you? Huh?! Huh?! Huh?! I bet you didn’t!” No, Tors. I did. Sorry, not game over.
I also objected to Peters’ ludicrous assertion that Dr. Paige Patterson (Th.M, Ph.D) is not qualified to comment on issues of New Testament scholarship and exegesis, though Peters (B.Sc.) obviously believes himself qualified to make such comments. It is strange that he does not realize that most reasonable people would not agree with him about this, but may well see Peters as a coxcomb.
Sorry Tors, but unless Paige Patterson has kept up with the latest in NT scholarship, then no. They shouldn’t speak on the matter. Mike Licona is fine on NT scholarship, but if he speaks on evolution, test that with a better source. I also do not claim that I am a better authority in my person alone. I claim that I am relying on the best scholars in the field. By all means, check everything I say.
Characterizing my objections as “go[ing] after[Peters] and Holding,” old Nick sets about trying to vitiate my claims. He begins by averring that “I do not think the Bible does have historical or scientific errors. I guess Tors knows my view better than I do. I have no problem with the statement that the Bible is without error.”
Unfortunately, Peters’ avowal here seems at odds with his book’s insistence that “the perception of ‘inerrancy’ offered by the old guard is dangerous, misleading, and obscurantist in that it will result in a view of the Bible that is not defensible or respectable.” It seems possible to reconcile the two statements only if what old Nick means by “without error” here is actually different from inerrancy as believed by the “old guard.”
It’s quite easy to reconcile and the overwhelming majority of evangelical scholars would understand my view and be behind it. When I say the Bible is without error, I mean according to the rules and standards of writing at the time and not ours. Why should our time be so special that we get to determine what should and should not have been written? We are not that special.
This becomes much clearer, in fact, when Peters goes on to say, “I have a problem with a more wooden inerrancy approach that is bent on literalism and 21st century ideas rather than writing styles of the ancients.” What he derides as “a more wooden inerrancy approach that is bent on literalism” (you know, the Bible means what it actually says) is actual inerrancy, and he has “a problem” with that. So whatever old Nick may mean by believing the Bible is without error, it is not inerrancy.
The literalism is the problem and again we have to ask about the clear meaning of the text as I indicated above. For instance, I think when Jesus said “This generation will not pass away” in Matthew 24, He meant that generation. Much of the language He described is figurative. Dispensationalists would disagree and take those parts literally and read Jesus talking about a different generation or the Jewish people.
Everyone recognizes that the Bible has different usages of language. It has hyperbole, sarcasm, irony, metaphor, parable, simile, poetry, etc. A literalistic approach is not always the best approach to the text. When Jesus says that the high priest will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds and sitting on the right hand of God, are we to say that Jesus is literally going to ride a cloud while sitting at God’s side the whole time? Not at all. Tors is applying a Western hermeneutic of literalism.
Incredibly, old Nick tries to defend Licona’s drivel, saying, “This might sound like an odd notion, but to refute someone’s interpretation, you have to show the text does not mean what they take it to mean.” It is no surprise that Peters has it backwards yet again. Since this is not Wonderland, an “interpretation” does not get an initial presumption of validity simply by being put forward; it is the one who says that a statement in the midst of a historical narrative and indistinguishable in style from the surrounding passages is not historical who has the onus probandi – and Licona has not come even remotely close to meeting it. Had old Nick stayed with philosophy longer, he might have understood that.
Except he has. He spends a number of pages in his book and gave a talk later on at a conference on it. Has he proven it? No. That’s a far more difficult thing to do with history. Has he given a justification? Yes. Am I entirely convinced? No. My thinking is that we should still investigate the claim and see what the text says. When I first heard of the interpretation, I just marked it down as an interesting idea to consider. I hold to the opinion that it is better to debate a question and not settle it, than to settle it and not debate it.
Peters is still not done. I mentioned in my original article that Peters “is married to Mike Licona’s daughter” – which full disclosure should require. Old Nick objects, saying, “Why yes, I am married to Mike’s daughter. Apparently, this is being waved around to promote the ‘Bias’ charge.” Yet again, Peters shows himself to be careless with facts, as I never accused him of bias.
Directly, no. Yet still I never said several things or argued several things and Tors has no problem making assumptions about those. Again, do as he says, not as he does. If not bias, then one wonders what the point of bringing this up is. Even if I am wrong in why it was brought up, can I be blamed for wanting to cut off a possible objection in advance? Apparently, I can be.
In fact, old Nick protests a little too loudly, saying, “All Tors needs to do is contact Mike and be assured from Mike that we have many disagreements, even on the New Testament, and I do not walk in lockstep with him.” That does not, of course, prove that Licona does not influence Peters’ thinking, as in the selfsame article, Peters tells us that he changed his major from philosophy to New Testament – and he did it “when Mike Licona told me he thought my stuff on NT was really good.”
And this seems to prove my point about bias. To begin with, my point about my major is one that Tors could have seen by doing the research. Tors is talking about the Ebook I wrote that explicitly says what my major is in it. Did he not read it? This calls into question for me Tors’s ability to do research. Note also there’s nothing about “Oh sorry. I got that wrong.” Tors is practically incapable of admitting an error.
And yes, Mike influences me. I do take his words seriously, but I can also question them just as much. Would Tors prefer that I be the son-in-law of a great New Testament scholar and not heed his words? Sorry, but I prefer the path of humility, which I think Tors left long ago as we will see.
Old Nick does not seem to be at all aware how ludicrous his attack on Dr. Patterson is seen to be by any thinking person. Dr. Patterson, who has done such great work defending the Bible, is being told by a small-time blogger with a “Bachelor of Science in Preaching and Bible from Johnson Bible College” that he is not qualified to comment on the issue of inerrancy, though the small-time blogger with the bachelor’s degree obviously feels that he himself is qualified to comment on this issue, for he freely does it. Any thinking person would find the hubris of this small-time local blogger to be repugnant.
For those interested in hubris, wait till the end. For now, if anyone wants to know about my ability and such, just read my blogs and other written material and listen to the podcast I present. When I interview someone, see if I ask informed questions that show that I know the subject matter. Feel free to check the endorsements page of my website as well to see what scholars in the field say about my work.
But not to Peters, and it may be his hubris that prevents him from thinking straight. He actually says, “Does Patterson publish regularly in journals of New Testament scholarship? Is he cited by New Testament scholars? If not, then he’s stepping out of his field” but then goes on to say, “I also am quite sure that the evangelical scholars will go with my work far more than Geisler’s, particularly since I’m the one who interviews them.”
Think about it, folks; according to old Nick, Dr. Patterson (Th.M, Ph.D) has no cachet on inerrancy because he does not “publish regularly in journals of New Testament” and is not “cited by New Testament scholars,” but “evangelical scholars will go with [Peters’] work far more than Geisler’s,” even though he himself does not “publish regularly in journals of New Testament” and is not “cited by New Testament scholars” – and holds only a Bachelor’s degree, and not in New Testament studies.
Yes. I am not cited by them. No problem. My claim is whose opinion they will think is more accurate. I interview the scholars. I know what they think. We have enjoyable conversations, much like Daniel Wallace and I had together one night after an ETS meeting where we went out with a bunch of guys. We talked some about New Testament scholarship, and then went on to talk about our wives.
I do not think any scholar who is not related to old Nick will “go with [his] work,” though they may appreciate having him as a cheerleader and for providing a platform through his podcasts. Peters seems to be living in a fantasy world of his own.
Then Tors is simply wrong, as Dan Wallace says in his review of my Ebook co-written with James Patrick Holding, Defining Inerrnacy,
Defining Inerrancy: Affirming a Defensible Faith for a New Generation, by J. P. Holding and Nick Peters, published by Tekton E-Bricks on 22 May 2014, is intended to be a response to Norm Geisler and Bill Roach’s Defending Inerrancy—and so much more. Both have a similar cover and similar title. Defining Inerrancy, however, is a gloves-off defense and affirmation of a version of inerrancy that many are not acquainted with. That is, many except those who are Old and New Testament scholars.
Translation: The material in the Ebook is not news to Old and New Testament scholars. Wallace knows them and knows them even better than I do. Tors can keep talking about the fantasy world, but he ignores that I do meet with these scholars and talk with them. I count Dan Wallace as a friend of mine as I do many other scholars through my work on my podcast.
In sum, old Nick can be safely ignored by all. His approach is damaging to the church. Fortunately, he is a small-time blogger and podcaster, and it is unlikely that he will have much influence, and certainly not on those who are not already inclined to follow the destructive path outlined in our original article.
Time will tell what will happen. As it is, I think my reach is getting better and better, but again, time will tell. As for Tors, I am confident that he will keep marginalizing himself more and more and staying in his insulated circle. As I told people I was responding to him, the response I got was “Who?”
Of course, it’s bizarre to say Mike is the next Bart Ehrman. In fact, the more likely scenario is someone in Geisler’s camp would be the next Bart Ehrman since Ehrman was one who put too many eggs in the Inerrancy basket and not just Inerrancy, but a literalist Inerrancy. If Geisler thinks that that is not a problem, I’d like him to meet the several ex-Christian atheists that I’ve met online who in large part left Christianity because they had the Inerrancy doctrine called into question when they in reality held to a modern view of Inerrancy, like Geisler’s.
It doesn’t seem to occur to Peters to wonder what would have happened to these “ex-Christian atheists” had they come across an apologist who accepted inerrancy and gave them solutions to their difficulties, instead of coming across the type who said, “Yeah, there are errors in the Bible, but don’t worry about it. Yeah, the Bible is wrong about creation but, hey, trust it on the resurrection anyway.”
The problem is that this approach leads to more difficulties. When I meet an atheist who wants to argue creation, I take them to the resurrection. Why? Because you could argue until you’re blue in the face and you might convince them their objections don’t hold wait, but it won’t get them to the cross. I also don’t do the game that I call “Stump The Bible Scholar.” This is where a Christian is presented with a list of 100 contradictions in the Bible. Suppose this Christian goes and researches all of them and answers them all. Will the skeptic convert? Not a chance. He’ll just get 100 more contradictions. It also continues the idea of the all-or-nothing game. As Wallace says in his above review
In Defining Inerrancy, the authors note that they have known many evangelicals who have abandoned the faith precisely because they started out with such a hardening of the categories. This rings true: I get countless emails from people who have either jettisoned their beliefs (or have friends or family members who have) because their starting presupposition was that it’s inerrancy or nothing. Such people would throw the proverbial baby out with the bathwater! And it is this very problem that one of the architects of modern evangelicalism, Carl Henry (who could hardly be condemned as being soft on inerrancy!), addressed in his book, Evangelicals in Search of Identity. It seems that many evangelicals are still not listening. And yet Henry saw, forty years ago, that the evangelical church was making inerrancy the litmus test of orthodoxy to its discredit. Yet again, I digress. Holding and Peters are not in the least denying inerrancy; they are simply rejecting a rigid form of it that they see as dangerous to the health of the evangelical church.
Note also I do not say the Bible is wrong on creation, but when it comes to the science of the matter, I’m more than happy to tag another friend of mine who knows the science far better. It is a mistake to think one must be an expert in everything. I am happy to let someone more knowledgeable in that area than I deal with the question.
Perhaps the best way to illustrate the completely wrongheaded and dangerous approach adopted by old Nick Peters is to look at his handing of Genesis 1. He says:
This is why when it comes to evolution, I stay out of the debate. I am not a scientist and I do not speak the language. If you think evolution is false and want to argue it, here’s what you do and I don’t think even the staunchest evolutionist will disagree with me on this point. Go do your study and preferably a degree in a science that is related to the field, such as biology, and study the arguments for and against and make your own arguments and present a case from the sciences that refutes evolution. If evolution is bad science after all, the way to refute it is with good science.
And there you have it, folks. You are a Christian – you believe that Jesus is who He claimed to be, God the Son and Saviour; you follow Him and you know that He proclaimed Scripture to be the word of God (Matthew 4:4), that it cannot be broken (John 10:35), and that it must be fulfilled (passim) – but if you want to know about origins, don’t bother to study the word of God, to investigate it with your knowledge of Hebrew and exegesis, because none of that matters. You need to get a degree in science so that you can assess the indirect inferences of secular men and decide about origins. What is the authority here: the word of God or secular science?
Here’s the problem Tors. If you go to a skeptic who doesn’t accept Scripture and tell him evolution is false, he will discount what you say immediately. I follow the following advice:
Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and the seasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he hold to as being certain from reason and experience. Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn. The shame is not so much that an ignorant individual is derided, but that people outside the household of faith think our sacred writers held such opinions, and, to the great loss of those for whose salvation we toil, the writers of our Scripture are criticized and rejected as unlearned men. If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods and on facts which they themselves have learnt from experience and the light of reason? Reckless and incompetent expounders of Holy Scripture bring untold trouble and sorrow on their wiser brethren when they are caught in one of their mischievous false opinions and are taken to task by those who are not bound by the authority of our sacred books. For then, to defend their utterly foolish and obviously untrue statements, they will try to call upon Holy Scripture for proof and even recite from memory many passages which they think support their position, although they understand neither what they say nor the things about which they make assertion.
Who said that? A modern liberal? Nope. Augustine centuries ago. It’s still true today. If evolution is false, it will be false because it will be bad science and can be shown scientifically. If you want to argue evolution, you actually need to study science. Tors again falls for the idea of the Bible as a science textbook, as if God’s main concern in Genesis 1 was giving us science.
Now, Walton denies that God created the Earth in six 24-hour days, as the Bible clearly teaches; “The Genesis account , he claims, refers to a literal seven day period in history, sometime after the material creation, when God assigned the cosmos its real intended functions, prior to his taking up residence in it as his temple.” But Walton does not have a degree in science, the prerequisite Peters demanded, so why does he accept his view over the plain meaning of the Biblical text? Why is Walton qualified to proclaim on this issue without that all-important science degree? By Peters’ own standards, he should not “hold more to John Walton’s view on Genesis 1.”
Because Walton’s approach is a hermeneutical one. I have argued you could hold to Walton’s approach and be a YEC, an OEC, and a theistic evolutionist. Tors also assumes the plain meaning of the text is one to a modern Western person. Perhaps he should read Walton’s book on the topic. Since Geisler is not a YEC, does he want to also argue that Geisler is denying inerrancy by going against the “plain meaning” of the text and using science to interpret the text? Walton does nothing like that. Walter Kaiser would also agree as he has said that Genesis tells you that it happened in the beginning. It’s the science that tells you how old the Earth is.
In his blog post,Nick Peters made various claims and charges that require responses, but some did not fit into the flow of our main article, so they are addressed herein. Peters’ comments are prefaced with “Re:” and are italicized; my responses are in regular type.
Re:“My ministry partner, J.P. Holding, has updated his page on Mark 1:2 in response to some of what Tors says. I will thus not be responding to criticisms of Holding unless they involve me directly.”
Holding’s update to his page utterly fails to rebut anything I said. His update has been demolished, as can be seen at our article “Mark 1:2 Revisited: A Response to James Patrick Holding”, at http://www.truthinmydays.com/mark-12-revisited-a-response-to-james-patrick-holding/.
Demolished so well that Tors started stopping Holding’s comments because he didn’t want to embarrass him. Right. Of course, in Tors’s world, as soon as he says something, the opposition is demolished.
There are certainly differences in wording among the Gospel books, but that does not mean the words of Jesus were replaced by the Gospel writers who “recorded the gist of it.”
First, as Peters notes, Jesus spoke mostly in Aramaic, while the Gospel books were written in Greek. But old Nick does not seem to realize that when translating from one language to another, it is possible in many cases to make different choices of wording so that they are different in the target language, but all of them accurately portray the original language.
Absolutely, but they won’t be word for word. They will be different. There is also a difference between “before the cock crows” and “before the cock crows twice.” The gist of the saying is what mattered.
Furthermore, there is no reason to think each conversation is recorded in full. In conversations, questions may have been asked more than once, in different words, and answered more than once, in different words. The different Gospel writers might have recorded different parts of the conversation.
So Tors can say that the writers condensed something and yet, that’s okay. Wallace says the same thing and he’s denying inerrancy. Gotta love it. We also have “might have”. Does Tors not know? The text is God-breathed! Does He want to cut out the words of God?!
The utter silliness of old Nick is shown in his apparently-meant-to-be-sarcastic question, “Are we to think Peter said radically different things when he made his great confession of faith to Jesus?”
Here is Peter’s great confession in the various Gospel books:
Simon Peter answered and said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (Matthew 16:16)
Peter answered and said to Him, “You are the Christ.” (Mark 8:29)
Peter answered and said, “The Christ of God.” (Luke 9:20)
These are all different, but a skeptic could point out the “evolution” in the text. Matthew takes Jesus from being the Christ to being the Son of God as well. I have no problem saying the content is the same, but the wording is different each time, but there’s no dispute at what is at the heart.
Re:“We have to wonder what Tors is thinking here. Does he think someone would come up to Matthew and say “Hey Matthew. What are you writing?” “I don’t know. It’s in Greek.” Is it just awful to think that Matthew told a story in his own words? Perish the thought!
It seems that this unutterable genius that is Nick Peters does not realize that Matthew, as a tax collector, had to know Greek and had to be good at it. He really needs to do his homework.
Sarcasm is lost on this one. It’s something you notice about fundamentalists. They don’t really have a sense of humor. I have in fact spoken elsewhere saying that Matthew was one who was definitely literate in the apostles being a tax collector. Tors really needs to get a sense of humor.
Re: “I seriously doubt Dan Wallace will want to spend much time with Tors so I will take them on for him.”
“If so, then either of [Geisler and Patterson] are free to respond to the criticisms that I have made of their approach. Nothing has been said by them so far. Geisler ignored a challenge that was put on his wall by someone else from Holding and banned the person who put it up.”
Interesting; in old Nick’s fantasy world, scholars of course rightly ignore me but naturally should not ignore old Nick (or his friend Holding) but should respond. The possibility that Geisler does not respond to Holding for the same reason that Wallace does not respond to me does not seem even to occur to him.
In fact, I have no reason to think that Wallace has any idea that I wrote about him; he is no doubt a very busy man. But if he will not “want to spend much time with Tors,” he has been well advised; it is another maxim of strategic warfare not to enter into a battle one cannot possibly win. And he cannot win this one.
Tors again misses the point. Does Geisler owe us a response? No. But, if someone puts up a challenge and that person is blocked and the post deleted, then it is clear that someone is ignoring counter-evidences. Also, with my defense of Mike Licona, I would easily be seen as the one most representative of Mike and speaking on his behalf. Geisler also has referred to my defense, but he has never addressed it. That’s a big difference.
By the way, with what I said earlier about hubris, consider Tors is confident that he could best Wallace on this one. Not counting on Wallace taking up the gauntlet, but it would be amusing. Apparently, the lesson on humility is for everyone else.
In closing, I plan on this being my last response unless something drastic happens. Tors is like a tar baby that will take up too much of my time, when I have speaking jobs to do, books to read for my show, and a beautiful Princess to treasure. Further responses I will leave to others.