Book Plunge: Retrieving Augustine’s Doctrine of Creation

What do I think of Gavin Ortlund’s book published by IVP? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Gavin Ortlund is a pastor and a scholar.

Yeah. I know. I didn’t realize that was legal either. Pastors can actually be well-educated and write scholarly books?

Thank God they can and we need more like that. This book is on Augustine and his doctrine of creation. What can we learn from him on this? After all, he did not know about Darwin and the theory of evolution. He did not know about what modern science says about the age of the Earth. He did not know about Einstein and cosmology. We also have about 1,400 years of biblical exegesis on him now.

If we think we cannot, we miss out. As Ortlund tells us, Augustine’s time was a different time and they had different issues and debates going on which can cause them to see our issues and debates in a new light. Imagine a table where you have Francis Collins from BioLogos, Hugh Ross from Reasons to Believe, and Ken Ham from Answers in Genesis all sitting together debating creation. Augustine comes and joins them. What will he add to the conversation? What will he take away from it?

Let’s start with one of the first lessons he can teach everyone at the table. Humility. Augustine did hold strongly to his positions, but when he wrote, he also said “This position that I disagree with now could be right.” He is not dogmatic in his stances and does not hold only one position on the matter of creation as the Christian position. While we debate how long it took, many might be surprised to hear what Augustine would say. Young-earthers sometimes ask old-earthers about God taking so long to create. Augustine would say the same to young-earthers since he held that creation was instantaneous and Anselm even said that was the most common view in his time years later.

The first lesson that Augustine would want to teach us I think is that we need humility to be able to listen instead of just try to respond. What are the concerns of the intellectual opponents. Why do they hold their position? Should we really be calling their faith into question over this topic? You cannot tell someone’s commitment to Christ solely based on how they answer questions on evolution or the age of the Earth.

Augustine could also tell us a lot about the literal interpretation of Genesis. He wrote a book called that and yet we today would not think his interpretations are very literal. He’s got figurative and allegorical meanings in his understanding of creation. Yet despite this, he also does pay attention to the historical matters in the book. He does tend to want to take it to be historical, but his main concern is how we see the Scriptures. Augustine would have more understanding to someone who takes the passages in a figurative or allegorical sense and yet holds to inerrancy than one who rejects them because he thinks they don’t cohere with modern science and that the Bible just got it wrong thinking the Bible requires one interpretation.

What about animal death? This is a big one and we can be tempted to think that modern science again has caused many people to think animal death was going on before the Fall and Augustine would be unfamiliar with that debate. We would be inaccurate. Augustine spoke about animal predation. He would tell us it’s unwise for us to critique the design of the universe in this area like it would be unwise for a layman to go into an engineer’s office and see many of the tools and be critical not knowing what the tools represent.

For Augustine, creation is a key doctrine and the one that gets him the most enthralled quite likely. He has endless praise for even the simple worm. He does see something beautiful in even predation. The way the system works together is amazing as he says old life needs to pass away to make room for new life. Augustine also lived in a time before the world was touched by Disney. We can automatically think hunting is evil after hearing the story of Bambi after all.

The chapter on evolution is wonderfully named. Can we evolve on evolution without falling on the fall? This chapter deals with how we should see evolution. Ortlund doesn’t take any side in this actually, but he says many of the debates aren’t new. For this one, it usually comes down to the historical Adam and there are evolutionary creationists who think Adam is historical.

Yet even before the coming of Darwin, many interpreters of Genesis were suggesting that Adam was not the only human being on Earth. When the story of Adam and Eve took place, there were other humans there. This explains where Cain got his wife, Cain building a city for inhabitants, and the avoidance of inbreeding to bring about new people.

I am not saying this is what Ortlund says happened as he admits he doesn’t know enough of the science to comment, but I think he just wants us to be more open. Even if we can’t agree in dialogue, is there a way we can have better dialogues? If all three organizations could meet at the table, have a heated debate, and in the end shake hands and leave as fellow Christians and friends though still disagreeing, I think Ortlund would be pleased and even more, I think Augustine would as well.

Those interested in the debate about creation and evolution and Genesis should read this book. Again, I think the main lesson to learn is humility. Reading Augustine could cause us to look with new eyes at creation.

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)

Deeper Waters Podcast 8/10/2019

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

Due to technical difficulties last time we recorded, this post is a repost of a prior post as we rescheduled our guest.

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

Christianity has had a rich tradition for 2,000 years. That tradition has included several great thinkers as well. Contrary to what many people think, it’s not the case that church history began with your pastor.

It’s also not the case that church history began with the Reformation. It did not happen that the apostles died and then the gospel was lost and then the Reformers restored it. This is not to say the Reformers didn’t do a great work that I think was important and needed, but it is to say that Christianity did not cease to exist.

Another great tragedy is that if you tell people there have been great Christian thinkers throughout history, they will likely think that such is antithetical to Christianity. You can see that and think “Well, yes Nick, there are plenty of atheists out there who think Christianity and sound thinking don’t go together at all.” Unfortunately, I’m talking about Christians as well. There are too many Christians who are anti-intellectual in their approach.

We ignore this great intellectual heritage we have to our own downfall. Those who do not learn from history are condemned to repeat it. We should be seeking to learn from these people who went before us. Many of the battles that they fought are being fought today and we can learn from how they won those battles so we can be better prepared today.

Not only that, many of their spiritual struggles can be ours today. Could you find something you can relate to in Augustine’s Confessions? Would you be like Martin Luther and struggle with the idea that God is always ready to punish you? Can you be a person with a fervent imagination like C.S. Lewis?

To discuss these great thinkers and others, I am bringing on someone who recently wrote the book Classic Christian Thinkers. This is someone who is a thinker himself being a philosopher. He is also a Christian who will be guiding us on how we are to look at this issue? His name is Ken Samples from Reasons To Believe.

So who is he?

According to his bio:

Philosopher and theologian Kenneth Richard Samples has a great passion to help people understand the reasonableness and relevance of Christianity’s truth claims. He is the senior research scholar at Reasons to Believe and the author of several books, including Christian Endgame7 Truths That Changed the World, and God Among Sages

Dr. Samples and I will be discussing nine great Christian thinkers in history. These are people generally recognized across the board. We will be seeing what we can learn from them and why we should really care about these old dead guys so some would see them today. What difference do they still make in our culture today?

Please be watching for the next episode of the Deeper Waters Podcast. Also, please consider becoming a partner with us in this work by making a donation to Deeper Waters and also leaving a positive review of our podcast on iTunes. It means so much to us!

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Classic Christian Thinkers

What do I think of Ken Samples’s book published by RTB Press? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

For some people, to think of a Christian thinker sounds like a contradiction in terms. Sadly, some of those people are also Christians. After all, aren’t Christians supposed to be people of faith? This assumes that faith is something anti-intellectual when it isn’t. Our Christianity has a rich heritage of great thinkers and we should embrace them.

It would be too much to list all the great Christian thinkers, but in this book, Ken Samples has chosen to give nine. Each chapter covers one thinker and is a brief portrait of their life and how they contributed to apologetics and philosophy. He also lists the best books to read by these thinkers and works to go to to understand their life and impact all the more.

He also goes across traditions for this. There are people in this list that Protestants, Catholics, and Orthodox are likely to admire. Perhaps not all of them, but anyone from any of these traditions will find someone they can support. So who are the people he covers?

He starts with Irenaeus and then Athanasius. Next in line are the big free of Augustine, Anselm, and Aquinas. A lot of people in Catholic and Orthodox circles might not be happy with Martin Luther and John Calvin next, but each were great thinkers who have shaped the Christian world. After those is Blaise Pascal and then to top it all of is a great mind who has found support from all three branches and that is C.S. Lewis.

Samples’s book is also easy to read and understand. The reader will walk away with a greater appreciation of who the person is. Also, any reader can just read each chapter on its own if you want to get a brief overview of a certain figure in church history.

The book is also good for group discussions. This is a book that small groups could get together and read about the life of one thinker and then discuss the impact of that thinker with the discussion questions. I am sure Samples would love to see this happen and I know that I definitely would.

The book is also really trying to be more ecumenical than one might think. Martin Luther will not be the favorite of Catholics and Protestants, but Samples does not go after Catholics or Orthodox in the chapter. He also gives us the interesting idea that it could be that more works have been written about Martin Luther than about any other figure in history apart from Jesus Christ.

The real goal of the success of this book will be seen in one way. That will be in how many people go to these great writers themselves and at least read some of their works. Samples would be disappointed to know readers used his book to learn about the thinkers without going to the thinkers himself. As Lewis said, “Read Plato. Not books about Plato.”

I encourage anyone interesting in Christian thinking to read this book. Those interested in church history should read it as well. Remember to use it as a stepping stone though to get to the other books that Samples would say are far more important.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Thought, Choice, Action

What do I think of Ron Sandison’s book published by Electio Publishing? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I want to thank Ron Sandison for sending me his book. He and I share that we are both on the Autism spectrum seeing as I have Aspergers and we both have a love of apologetics. I think I am one of the first to get this book seeing as I couldn’t even find it on Goodreads when I started reading it.

Yet as I started going through, I think if anything, the word that described my reading was, confused. You see, the book is supposed to be about decision-making that releases the Holy Spirit’s power. Yet as I read through, I did not really see anything that I considered major guidance on how to make decisions.

The book centers around what is called the tripolarity theory. It says three agents are involved in any event. The devil, the human free-will, and God. I wonder though about other things still and where they fall in, such as external circumstances that have no direct cause from any agent.

I also get concerned with too much being made of the devil. I think that the devil is already bound and his activity is severely lacking. That does not mean that there is no demonic activity going on, but it means it is severely limited, especially wherever the Kingdom of God spreads.

So I go through many chapters and I wonder what the point is. The material can be interesting, but why is it here? Why do I have a chapter about Sully and the miracle on the Hudson? Why do I need to know about the origins of the devil and the operations of Judas? Reading about the death of Madalyn Murray O’Hair was fascinating and enjoyable due to hearing about how the mystery was solved and all that led up to it, but what was the point of it?

I also found that Ron and I disagree on many areas. For instance, I don’t think that all death began at the Fall or that all creatures were herbivores. Did mayflies live forever? Why did a porcupine have quills? I honestly do not find young-earth creationism to be a defensible position, but even if I did, what does that have to do with decision making?

My biggest disagreement would probably be on eschatology. Readers of my work know that I am an orthodox Preterist and I think a future antichrist, rebuilding of a temple, one-world government, etc. have no basis. I have to ask also that if we can interpret Rev. 13 as saying the devil rose the beast from the dead, what is to help us when our Jewish friends who say that Jesus is a false prophet say the same thing about the resurrection of Jesus?

This isn’t to say that there isn’t some good advice in here and some noteworthy quotes and such, but overall, I found myself confused. I was wondering why I was reading what I was reading much of the time. I also don’t really see any reason to tie decision-making in with non-essentials, such as eschatology or the age of the Earth.

If this book is redone, I would like to see more focused on decision making. The material can be interesting, but it doesn’t seem relevant. That makes it a distraction too often.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

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

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

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

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

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

Ezra 7:1-5

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

1 Chronicles 6:3-15

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

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

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

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

1 Samuel 6:10-13

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

1 Chronicles 2:13-15

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

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

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

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

Titus 3:9

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

1 Timothy 1:4

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

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

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

2 Samuel 7:12-16

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

1 Chronicles 17:11-12

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

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

The third is bringing the people back to Israel.

Isaiah 11:12

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

Isaiah 27:12-13

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

Jeremiah 33:7

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

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

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

The fourth is that the Messiah will rebuild a Temple.

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

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

Micah 4:1

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

Isaiah 2:2-23

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

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

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

Ezekiel 37:26

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

Micah 4:3

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

Isaiah 2:4

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

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

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

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

Isaiah 11:9

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

Isaiah 40:5

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

Zephaniah 3:9

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

Jeremiah 31:33

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Deuteronomy 4:39

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

Deuteronomy 32:39

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

2 Kings 19:19

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

1 Chronicles 17:20

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

Isaiah 44:6

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

Isaiah 45:5-6

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

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

Proverbs 8:22-31

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

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

Why does Norman leave this out?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

At least, I wanted to.

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

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

It’s not going to get much better.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

 

 

Book Plunge: Language for God in Patristic Tradition

What do I think about Mark Sheridan’s book published by IVP? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

How do you interpret a text of Scripture? The ways it’s done throughout history have changed and this book by Mark Sheridan is a fascinating look at the earliest interpreters. Today, we often have an idea that we have to get at the “literal” meaning of the text, but a look at the church fathers shows they were quite different. In fact, it looks like many times the last thing they wanted to do was to take the text “literally.” The first point was to take the text in a manner that was fitting to God. This would mean that you had to avoid things that would seem like emotional outbursts on the part of the deity. If the text said God was angry, you had to interpret that differently because the deity does not get angry. While I agree with that point, it is irrelevant to the thesis of the book as well. You can say that fathers were wrong in that belief, but the reality is that is still how they interpreted the text.

It wasn’t just them. They got this also from Philo who before Christianity followed the same kind of path with looking at the work we call the Old Testament today, even to the point of thinking philosophers like Plato had read Moses. Philo wanted to make sure the text was also being read in a way that was fitting to God and this would often mean a strong allegorical interpretation. The church fathers followed in suit with the allegory and sometimes, it looks quite amazing. We can look at what the church fathers said in their day and wonder how it could be that someone would come to that interpretation.

For instance, consider Psalm 137 where we are told about Babylon that happy is he who takes your infants and dashes them against the rocks. It’s not just moderns today who have a hard time interpreting the passage. The ancients did too. Their viewpoint was that the children of Babylon are the sins that we struggle with. The rock that the babies then were dashed against was Christ. The message the Psalmist was giving then was that we should take our sins and dash them against the rock of Christ so that they could be destroyed. Most of us today look at that and say “Huh?”, but in the time of the Fathers, this would have been seen as a valid interpretation.

Other passages were also troubling to them. What about what Abraham did with Hagar? What are we to do with that? What about the imprecatory Psalms? What are we to do with those? What about the conquest of Canaan? How do we handle that? The ancients struggled with this just like we do. Sheridan takes us through many of the church fathers to see how they interpreted these passages. In the end then, he takes us up to our modern era to show how we handle them today. Do we necessarily have a clear interpretation? Maybe not, but it is important to see how this has gone on throughout history and to realize that our hang-up on literalism is really a more modern one than anything else.

I do encourage those interested in the history of interpretation to read Sheridan’s book. You’ll quite likely disagree with your Christian ancestors, but it will be well worth the read.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Neither New Nor Strange

What do I think of Albert McIlHenny’s book on Jesus Mythicism? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Albert McIlHenny is a friend of mine who has been writing a series of short Ebooks on Jesus mythicism and this, Neither New Nor Strange, is the first one I know of that went to Amazon first. If you missed the chance to get it free on the first day, you missed a treat. I’ve read all the others and frankly, they’re some of the best material I’ve read on the subject. Those who want to see a sampling of his material are invited to go to his website at Labarum. McIlhenny goes through the subject material step by step at a meticulous level in order to make sure his readers don’t miss anything.

This book is no exception, and yet it is quite short compared to many others in the series. Why is that? It’s frankly because of the mythicists themselves. Mythicists as a whole tend to avoid real research and just quote one another regularly instead of seeing what the real scholars have to say. Had they gone back and actually checked the original sources for these quotes, many times they would have seen the errors of their ways. There were a number of times a reader would think all McIlhenny needed to do was just show the original context of the quote and no commentary was really needed.

The book goes through the most important ones. It starts with Eusebius and if anyone is made to be the villain in church history, it’s Constantine. Right behind him would be his fan Eusebius. Of course, McIlhenny does not say that these were perfect men. Saying that does not mean that we make everything they do to be evil and showing they had some nefarious plot in mind, which could include not just knowing that Jesus was a myth supposedly, but also being people who are willing to encourage lying. McIlhenny takes it all on and removes and doubt whatsoever that the mythicists just don’t know what they’re talking about.

Another important figure is Justin Martyr, who is usually seen as trying to explain away parallels that supposedly existed between Jesus and pagan religion. McIlhenny points out that Justin is in fact not doing that. No one has come to Justin and said “Don’t you see Christianity is a copy of pagan religions?” and then he’s trying to explain that. Instead, he’s writing to the emperor who is condemning Christians for their beliefs. What Justin is doing is saying “Isn’t this similar to this other thing you believe?” He doesn’t think there are exact parallels, but he does hold that there are some ideas that can be said to be similar. Justin’s explanation was that the devil knew the prophecies and tried to fulfill them in advance. Do I buy Justin’s argument? No. The argument he made is really irrelevant however. What’s relevant is why he was making it. It was not to explain away parallels as if he was on the defensive. Justin is taking charge and writing to the emperor. The emperor did not ask Justin to write to him.

There are other fathers covered but in the end, the point is still the same. Mythicism just relies on bad history. If you want to be an atheist, be an atheist. You’re wrong, but that’s another matter. Just don’t go to a completely ridiculous position like mythicism. Mythicism should be seen as right on par with thinking that the Earth is flat or that the holocaust never happened. Atheists today should scorn their fellow atheists who go the mythicist route. Instead, they too often celebrate them.

In Christ,
Nick Peters