Book Plunge: The Resurrection of the Jewish Messiah

What do I think of Eric Chabot’s self-published book? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Resurrection apologetics when interacting with Jewish people is often an entirely different animal. I remember seeing a debate live that Michael Brown did against a rabbi. At the end, I went up to the rabbi, sadly with a crowd, and asked about the resurrection. I just got the reply, “Didn’t happen” and then he turned to answer others.

Okay. Thanks for that information. Glad we had the discussion.

A Jewish scholar like Pinchas Lapides actually believes Jesus rose from the dead and yet doesn’t see Him to be the Messiah. I am sure there are many who would not be convinced even if they knew the resurrection happened. Why? Because Israel has not been restored and the Messianic age has not been brought about.

Christians need to take these concerns seriously.

After all, Messiah means something. Christ is not the last name of Jesus and He is not the son of Mr. and Mrs. Christ. Messiah means that Jesus is the King and the King of Israel specifically. Many of us today have lost that kind of thinking.

Eric Chabot does specialize in answering Jewish objections to Jesus, a needed ministry today. While debating with Jews isn’t as prominent normally as it is with Muslims or atheists or other groups, let’s remember that these were the chosen people of God. They are the ones who gave us our Old Testament and who gave us our Messiah, King Jesus.

Chabot’s book deals with many areas that will be common to us today. What about oral tradition? Why did Paul change his mind and see Jesus as Messiah? Did Jesus really exist? Was He just a copy of pagan gods. (Although it would have been nice to have seen a bit more about the virgin birth, which I do affirm.)

He also gets into why this matters for Judaism. Why would it be that the Messiah would need to be resurrected? How does this fit within the promises of Israel? What about the question of where the Messianic age is?

If you’re looking for general information on the resurrection to help with dealing with atheist friends, there is a lot of good material in here that you can use. The book is short and can be read in a day or two. There is plenty of scholarly interaction as well.

However, it also has the bonus of being a book with information on Jewish apologetics specifically. Christians need to recognize this as we too often treat the Old Testament as an add-on to this real book called the New Testament and gloss over the story of Israel entirely. Paul told us Israel’s story is our story and they are our people as well. We need to learn from them and learn how to reach the Jewish people God loves.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Whatever Happened To Israel?

The Bible is all about Jesus, isn’t it? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out!

Many of us have heard the joke. A boy is in a Sunday School class and the teacher asks the question “What’s small, has a bushy tail, climbs trees, and eats nuts?” A little boy raises his hand and the teacher points to him and he says “Well, it sounds like a squirrel, but I know the answer has to be Jesus.”

I thought about this recently in looking through Facebook memories. I found an interaction I did with someone Jewish who told me that I would insist that Isaiah 53 had to be about Jesus. I said in fact that I have no problem with Isaiah 53 being the nation of Israel. I pondered further upon seeing this and thought that this could be a problem with our hermeneutics. It damages our giving of the Gospel and damages our witness to the Jewish people around us especially.

You see, many Christians today seem to think that everything in the Bible is about Jesus. Please don’t assume at the start that I’m disputing this. I’m not. I just want that position to be further nuanced. Another assumption we have that unless a prophecy is about Jesus specifically, then that is a prophecy about the end times and whoa! Wouldn’t you know it? We just happen to be the people that the Bible is prophesying about so hey, let’s open up the Bible and then see what is going to happen in the world next!

Both positions I consider damaging. Let’s start with the first.

I tell people that when you read the Old Testament I want you to try to cease to be a Christian, at least for a little while. Imagine you’re a Jewish person at the time of the writing who is hearing this for the first time. You have no clue about Jesus. What are you going to think about the text? How will you interpret it and understand it?

When we give our presentations of the Gospel, we often present Israel as a footnote if even that. Israel was quite central to what God was doing. We make it sound sometimes like God wanted to redeem the world and Israel failed so Jesus came as plan B. As I’ve argued elsewhere, when we give a Gospel presentation, we need to include Israel. When we include Israel, we can understand the covenants of God and the promises of God better.

“Okay, Nick. I get what you’re saying. But what about Jesus? Isn’t the Bible supposed to be all about Jesus? How can it be if it’s about Israel?”

Good objection. I had suggested you cease being a Christian for awhile when reading the Old Testament. After that, bring back your Christianity and then see how a Jewish Christian at the time of Jesus would read the text. Then go even further and see how a Gentile in the first century who believed in Jesus would read the text. The text is written for you, but it is not written to you.

When you see a text that could be about Israel, go with it. See what it says about Israel. Then ask yourself these questions. “Who is the true Israel?” Who is the true one who represented God to the world? Who is the true one that could be called someone in covenant with God? Who was the one who brought God to the world? The true Israel is the one who did those things. Israel was meant to do them, but Israel couldn’t because Israel was part of the problem consisting of fallen human beings. Jesus was the one who did not fall and thus can be called the true Israel. We today can also be called Israel not because we have replaced Israel, but because we have been included in the promises of God. We have been grafted into the olive tree. All who believe in Jesus are on that tree. It includes Jewish and Gentile believers.

Thus, the text can be about Israel at first, but it also points to the greater Israel, Jesus. We can be included in a sense as well as we take on the identity of Jesus. This is another motive for us to strive to be like Jesus.

What about end times stuff? Well believe it or not, a lot of prophecies have been fulfilled and not just ones about the first coming of Jesus. Much of Isaiah 12-16 describes Babylon for instance. A lot of the prophets were seen as prophets because some of what they said had happened as they said it would. Now some of you might want to go to a dual fulfillment for the end times. As an orthodox Preterist, I don’t buy into that, but if you want to use it, please do not deny the prior fulfillment. The Bible is definitely all about Jesus, but it is not all about you.

This will also help you reach the Jewish people you know. Our Christianity can often make it seem like the Jewish people have been passed over and God does not work with them anymore. Imagine what it does when we say the Old Testament itself is not about Israel.

There was an old episode of All In The Family once with Archie Bunker’s son-in-law getting after him about his antipathy for Jewish people. The son-in-law asked him about his nephew and niece having Jewish names like David and Sarah. Archie replied that those were names from the Bible, which has nothing to do with the Jews.

A funny clip and we all see it as a ridiculous statement, but do we live it in our hermeneutics? Are we just as guilty of excluding Israel? Does it damage the way we read Scripture and our witness to Jewish people?

Think about it.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Paul Was Not A Christian. The Original Message Of A Misunderstood Apostle

What do I think of Pamela Eisenbaum’s book published by HarperCollins? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I often read mythicist material so when I see a book titled “Paul was not a Christian” I immediately start to suspect that this is the kind of material I’m going to be looking at. I must say I was pleasantly surprised. She is actually a rarity in that she is a Jewish New Testament scholar and she does have a Ph.D. in the field. If someone comes here thinking they will find something along the lines of a mythicist argument or conspiracy theory nonsense, they will not find it. Instead, one will find interaction with other leading scholars in the field and a scholarly argument from Eisenbaum’s side.

And yet, if the title is an indication of the message she wants us to get, I ultimately think she fails. Before I say why that is, let’s look at what she does say.

Eisenbaum is rightly concerned about a negative view of Judaism that too many Christians have. In this, she is correct. We often have this idea that Jews were suffering under the weight of the Law and wondering how they could be holy before a God who was just demanding so much of them and would have loved any chance of grace. This in spite of the fact that the OT regularly speaks about forgiveness and grace. This despite the fact that in Philippians 3 Paul describes himself as blameless with regard to the Law. Sure, there were disputes in Judaism over who was and wasn’t a Jew and what got one to be considered a Jew, but it was not really the legalistic system that some Christians make it out to be. More power to Eisenbaum in critiquing this view.

I also agree with Eisenbaum that too often we make the central message of Paul to be justification by faith. Is this a message of Paul? Yes. Is it the main message? No. His message would have also been that of Jesus and justification by faith was an outworking of that message. Paul’s message would have centered around Jesus being crucified and resurrected. The emphasis on justification by faith assumes the point above being contested, that Paul lived in a world where Jews were struggling under the Law and that they just wanted a way to be righteous before God. Most of them already saw themselves as righteous before God. The Law was not followed so they would be righteous, but to show that they were righteous.

Eisenbaum is certainly also right that we should take Paul’s identity as a Jew seriously, especially since he himself said he was one. Paul should be seen as a Jew who was well-learned in the Hellenistic culture of the time. One of the great realities that has had to be learned in the quest for the historical Jesus is that Jesus was a Jew. The same needs to be said about Paul as well. Paul was a Jew. It’s important also to note that while Eisenbaum wants to make sure Paul is not seen as anti-Jewish, and he is not, Eisenbaum herself is not anti-Paul. Nothing in the book is meant to put Paul in a negative light. In fact, Paul is highly respected throughout Eisenbaum’s work and she seriously wrestles with what he says.

Eisenbaum does say that the social context Paul wrote in was not monolithic or homogeneous due to multiple writings going around and the canon was a fourth-century development, but this could be a kind of all-or-nothing thinking. Were there disputes and factions and such? Yes. Were there however unifying beliefs that we find? Yes. We could be sure Paul would not include anyone in the body who did not believe in the resurrection of Jesus in a bodily sense. After all, in 1 Cor. 15 if Jesus has not been raised then our faith is in vain, which has the assumption that the faith of all of us is that Jesus has been bodily raised.

Eisenbaum is also right that Paul does not use the language of conversion. Does he speak of a call of Jesus and the appearance of Jesus to Him? Yes. Eisenbaum is certainly right that this does not mean that Paul ever ceased to be a Jew and too often we have used the language of conversion. In fact, Richards, Reeves, and Capes in their book Rediscovering Paul also agree and say we should speak more of the call of Paul than we should speak of the conversion.

I also agree with Eisenbaum that Romans 7 is not an autobiographical account of Paul’s personal struggles. I see it more at this point as a description of Adam who was the last named character. Paul would not have described himself as alive apart from the Law for instance and when we read his account in Philippians 3, we see no such idea of a struggle with Paul. This is something in fact that Westerners have read into the text.

Throughout the book then, the reader will find relevant material on the new perspective on Paul, what makes a Jew a Jew, and the early Christian view of Jesus. Now there were some points I did disagree with. I disagree with her view on Christology and I think the work of scholars like Bauckham, Tilling, Hurtado, and others have definitely shown that the earliest Christology is the highest Christology. I also disagree with her that the crucifixion would not necessarily have been seen as falling under the Deuteronomic condemnation of those who were hung on a tree. I think Evans has made an excellent case in his latest book, though to be fair this definitely came out after Eisenbaum’s writing.

So in all of this, why is it then that I disagree with Eisenbaum’s claim that Paul was not a Christian? There’s a very simple reason.

Nowhere did I see Eisenbaum state what a Christian is.

It could be tempting to say that of course we all know what a Christian is, but that still needs to be addressed. For instance, if being a Christian means citing the Nicene Creed and affirming a formulaic view of Trinitarian theology, then would we say that it could be there were no Christians and no Christianity until later in church history? This sounds like an absurd position to take. If we say that a Christian for Paul would be someone who saw Jesus as the resurrected Messiah and Lord of all, then we could definitely say that Paul was a Christian. The problem is that Eisenbaum argues throughout that Paul never ceased to be a Jew so he would not have been a Christian, but this makes it be that if one is a Jew, one cannot be a Christian, and vice-versa. Ironically, Eisenbaum who is arguing that Christianity does not mean opposition to Judaism has herself created an opposition to Christianity in her work. That one cannot be a Jew and a Christian both would certainly be news to many Messianic Jews today.

This is the main problem then I find. Eisenbaum has written that Christians have imposed a split and she herself has that exact same split the other way. This should not detract from the excellent material in her work and we should take the views of Judaism from such a scholar seriously and we should learn to read Paul as a Jew, but we should still also read Paul as a Christian and in fact, because he was a Christian, he was exceptionally Jewish. After all, if Jesus is the Jewish Messiah, and He is, what could be more in line with being a Jew than believing in the Messiah of the Jews?

So by all means go out and read this work for the scholarly insights within, but the main point is still not established. Much of what Paul said has been misunderstood due to what our culture has imposed onto the text, but the dichotomy is not really there and we as Christians should embrace the Jewishness of our Christian brother Paul.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: The Chosen People

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

As an IVP reviewer who has a passion for the NT and thinks that our modern individualism so often misreads the text, I took notice when I saw a book come out about election in Second Temple Judaism. I try to avoid the Calvinism/Arminianism debate with everything I have and have surprised a lot of friends by not jumping onto the middle ground of molinism. Thornhill’s book then sounded like something right up my alley.

Thornhill writes to help us see what election would mean for Paul and what would it mean to be a Jew and how would you be included within the spectrum of Judaism. It’s often been said that it was not Judaism that existed at the time of Paul but rather Judaisms. We could compare it to many Christian denominations today. There are some who will have an incredibly wide umbrella and accept most anyone in. There are some who will make incredibly small. I’ve heard the joke many times about Saint Peter welcoming someone to heaven and having them go by a room where they’re told to be quiet and when asked why is told “Those are the (Southern Baptists, Presbyterians, Methodists, etc.) and they’re somber because they think they’re the only ones here.

This is why Thornhill goes to the Jewish writings of the time to look and see how the Jews identified themselves. What were negotiables? What were non-negotiables? What did it mean to be elect and how did one maintain one’s role in the covenant with YHWH? Many times we have in the past thought that the law was this system put on Jews that they slaved under and struggled to follow and were just hoping that they were in the grace of God, but this really isn’t the case. Jews had quite different views and while no one would really say being born a Jew was a free pass, most were not trying to find a new way of salvation. Paul himself definitely wasn’t. After all, in Philippians, he writes that with regards to the Law, he was blameless.

Thornhill’s main thesis in all of this is that election is not about individuals but about rather a group and whether one is in the group or not. Today, we could say that there is only one who is truly elect in Christianity and that is Jesus and those who are elect are those who are in Jesus. For the Jews, it would have been recognizing who is truly in Israel and who isn’t. Our debates on free will and soteriology might in fact be a surprise to Jews if they were here today. Could it be that many of them would say “God is sovereign and man has free will and we just don’t know how that works out but that’s for God to do.”?

Thornhill does not speak on the Calvinism/Arminianism issue directly, but he does give food for thought. Could it be that perhaps we will move past this debate by realizing that our focus on individualism is something that we are reading into the text itself and try to approach it more the way the ancient reader would have read it, or dare I say it, more the way the apostle Paul would have been thinking when he wrote it?

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Blood Moon Lunacy

What do I think of Holding’s book on the blood moon theory? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

In the interest of full disclosure for a review, J.P. Holding who wrote “Blood Moon Lunacy” is my ministry partner. I am always one of the first to get a copy of his book so that I can review it as well. In this one, Holding looks at the theory propagated by people like John Hagee. The idea is that when there is a tetrad, that is, a group of four blood moons, that take place on Jewish holidays, then that means there is something about to happen with the Jews. These blood moons are also accompanied by a solar eclipse which means they’re not really tetrads, but we’ll let that slide.

So is there any credibility to it?

Nope.

Holding points out that Hagee knows that there are seven times that this kind of occurrence has taken place, yet he only tells about three of them, which is awfully convenient. Just do your best to ignore the data that doesn’t suit your theory. Also, note that many times where one would have expected something like this, it never happened, such as 70 A.D., 135 A.D., or the holocaust.

Hagee also neglects to mention that many of these eclipses would not have been visible in Israel or even worldwide. Some of them would even be visible in only the arctic areas. Hard to imagine this being Hagee’s sign for the world if the world cannot even see them.

Unfortunately, Hagee has had this kind of reputation before. Holding points out that in past books he has predicted many events would take place and in fact, they haven’t, but shortly thereafter a new book will come out and it will use the same arguments and this time for a different event. There will be no apology or admission of fault for the past mistake.

This is something that always makes me wonder about these “prophecy experts.” No matter what, they are consistently wrong, and yet we still keep referring to them as experts. Why is that? Would you consider going to a doctor who was consistently wrong? Would you want a lawyer to argue your case who consistently lost? Would you follow the advice of a stockbroker who was consistently mistaken? Yet people are often willing to support even global policy on the words of people who are wrong regularly.

Of course, my answer to this is to suggest people look at the futurist hermeneutic with suspicion. That is one reason I accept a Preterist hermeneutic where I interpret prophecy based on ones that have already been fulfilled, which means to not read them in a wooden and literal sense.

Unfortunately, too many Christians will be paying attention to blood moon theories instead of paying attention to Scripture itself and not looking into the claims of people like Hagee who are misleading the church and filling them with fear.

I have said this before and I’ll say it again. When people like Joel Osteen, Joyce Meyer, and John Hagee are no names in the Christian community and people like Mike Licona, N.T. Wright, William Lane Craig, and others like them are household names in the Christian community, we will experience the growth that we should in the church.

I highly recommend Holding’s book for showing the errors of John Hagee.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

The Apostles’ Creed: Christ

What difference does it make to say Jesus is the Christ? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

When we say Jesus is the Christ, we mean that He is the long awaited Messiah of the Jewish people. Christ is the Greek rendering of the word for Messiah after all. Yet what difference does this make to those of us who are not Jews? Does it really matter? Is this just a nice little add-on for the Christian faith?

Considering that it’s called “Christian” which includes Messiah in it then, we should be thinking it might be important that Jesus is the Messiah.

In the Old Testament, we see a story talking place. Things are good at the start, and then there’s a problem. Sin enters into the world through Adam and the rest of the Old Testament is dealing with this problem. God’s chosen means of dealing with it is to call out a people and He starts with a man named Abraham. From there, we really start seeing the prophecies of a future redeemer.

The Jewish people then were waiting for that ruler to come and many times might have tried to make such a ruler, but none could be that person. King Uzziah, for instance, though he could be a priest as well as a king. No can do. Only the Messiah can be a priest and a king. David was a righteous man, but never tried to be anything more than a king, though he was a prophet also.

As time went on, the wait grew more and more. In the intertestamental literature with the writings of Second Temple Judaism, we find even more hope for the coming Messiah. We see more and more about what the Messiah is predicted to be. Since there writings are not Scripture, naturally some things get wrong, but not all of them.

When Jesus shows up and claims to be the Messiah, it means that God has come to His people in His person. It means that God is going to reign as king and Jesus will be the king through whom He reigns. It means that the problem of sin is finally being taken care of and that Jesus is ruling once and for all.

To remove Jesus as Messiah is to remove the connection with the promises of Israel and to have Jesus be a figure who just seems to show up suddenly and happens to be God. Too many Christians are really unfamiliar with their Old Testament and think only the New Testament is important. This is a grave mistake. The Old Testament was in fact the Bible of the early church. From Paul’s repeated references to it as authoritative even in Gentile churches, we should understand that Gentiles were quickly learning the Old Testament. From the obscure references that Paul makes at times, we should understand that they understood it well. We should sadly understand that they likely paid more attention to it than we do.

This should also remind us that anti-semitism has no place in a Christian lifestyle. Christians are not to hate Jews at all and sadly, many times in church history they have. Jews and Gentiles alike need a redeemer, but it would be tragically wrong to label Jews as Christ-killers. Only one generation killed Christ. Unless the Jew you’re talking to is around 2,000 years old and lived in Israel at the time and participated in the desire to kill Christ and has not repented, avoid the Christ-killer claim.

Instead, Christians should love the Jews. They gave us the Old Testament that we use today and they gave us our Messiah as well. Many readers know that I do not support Israel today for theological reasons but rather for political and economic reasons, but that does not mean that I do not care for the Jewish people over there. They are our friends against the onslaught of Islam over there and I have no problem with missionaries reaching out to the Jewish people. (Or the Muslim people, or any other people, for that matter.)

When we see Jesus as the Jewish Messiah, we see what He came to do and why that it matters. We see an emphasis then on His being the current king. We often talk about what a friend we have in Jesus, but we dare not treat Jesus like any other relationship. Too often I think we have crept into a kind of “Buddy Jesus” mindset. Jesus is the sovereign Lord of the universe and you are to treat Him with respect and awe.

The word Gospel is meant to convey good news, and indeed we do have good news. It’s not just that you can be forgiven of your sins, which is good news enough in itself, but it’s also that Jesus is king of the universe right now and based on His resurrection, we can be sure that one day He will deal with evil once and for all.

Messiah is not an add-on for Jesus. It is an essential.

In Christ,
Nick Peters