The Saints in Romans 16

What will we be remembered for? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Do you know who Euodia and Syntyche are?

They’re not the most memorable names out there. I honestly had to check to make sure I had spelled them correctly on this blog. So who are they? They’re two women in Philippians 4 who couldn’t get along and Paul had to ask his true companion and Clement to help them get along. We may not know a lot about them, but here’s what we can be sure of. They are forever remembered in Scripture because they couldn’t get along.

What if there was a letter written to your church in Scripture and you were mentioned and you could be remembered for your problems? “Please have Sarah to stop gossiping in the church as she’s spreading harmful rumors.” “Please let Harold know that it’s not appropriate for a married man to have a reputation of gawking at other women.” “Please let the Langstons know that not everyone needs to hear how much they’re putting in the offering plate.”

Yeah. That’d be pretty embarrassing.

I have been reading through Romans 16 at night and I am noticing something quite different. Many of us when we get to this passage kind of gloss it over. It’s just a list of names of people we don’t know and what difference does it make? (Of course, if it was our name, it would make a difference.)

Instead, I have been pausing to look at the names. Some traditions are made about some of these people and about the services that they had allegedly did for the gospel. Could they be true? Of course, but I don’t know if we have enough information to know for sure.

Let’s also keep in mind that it could be a lot of these people Paul did not know personally. These people were just doing enough at a church so far from Jerusalem where everything started and basically in the heart of enemy territory that they were still well-known all over. These were the best of the best.

So as I said, I am going through looking at the names and in the end of the reading of the night, which is normally just a verse, I look up the names. Some of these names are common names and could indicate slaves that had a high position. Some of them are uncommon names and could include people in a royal household.

Women also make an appearance including Junia, the first woman apostle, whose name caused quite a stir in church history since she was supposed to be a female apostle and some scribes tried to make her name male. It didn’t work. Paul had no problem with a female apostle. Keep in mind we learn in this letter that it was delivered by a female deaconess named Phoebe.

As the person delivering the letter, she would also have read it and not only read it, but answered questions about it. Think about that. Theologians and scholars have spent centuries trying to understand Romans. Here Paul thinks that this woman can do a just fine job of answering questions about it before the church.

Because of going through this way, I find I am getting a lot more out of this passage than I had before. It’s also important to know that we need to take time to notice these people. We may not know about them, but Paul thought they were worth knowing. We can look at this and think of what C.S. Lewis said.

““It may be possible for each to think too much of his own potential glory hereafter; it is hardly possible for him to think too often or too deep about that of his neighbor. The load, or weight, or burden of my nieghbour’s glory should be laid on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it, and the backs of the proud will be broken. It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long, we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealing with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendours. This does not mean that we are to perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously—no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption. And out charity must be a real and costly love, with deep feeling for the sins in spite of which we love the sinner—no mere tolerance, or indulgence which parodies love as flippancy parodies merriment. Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses. If he is your Christian neighbor, he is holy in almost the same way, for in him also Christ vere latitat—the glorifier and the glorified, Glory Himself, is truly hidden.” (emphasis mine)”

All of these people here we can anticipate getting to spend eternity with if we’re also in Christ. They are our brothers and sisters. If we are spending eternity with them, we might as well try to get to know them a little bit here and see what we can learn from their stories.

Next time you go through that chapter, take a moment to look through and see what you can find out about these people. They’re not just a list of names. They’re your brothers and sisters.

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)
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Book Plunge: Paul and the Language of Faith

What do I think of Nijay Gupta’s book published by Eerdmans? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Just go online to any atheist community or atheist-Christian debate and watch what is said about faith. Faith is believing without evidence. Faith is saying things you know aren’t true. When I meet these people, I ask them about the word pistis in the New Testament, which is commonly translated faith, though not always, and ask if they have any evidence for their claim that that is how pistis was understood.

Oddly enough, they have none.

I guess they believe without evidence.

So when I saw that a New Testament scholar had published a book on pistis like this, I had to get it immediately. Gupta decided to do his research after hearing students in his seminary even speak the same way. I have heard this happen before remembering one Christian responding to an atheist he couldn’t answer by saying “I have faith!”

Gupta mainly wants to focus on how faith is used in the Pauline literature, but he does explore how it is used in literature outside of the New Testament for that. The findings are entirely consistent with my own research over the years. Faith generally refers to loyalty. It is an essential that holds society together. One is expected to have good faith when making contracts and covenants. Faith refers to the reliability of something.

Faith is also an action that one does. If you have faith, you will perform in such and such a way depending on the referent of said faith. An easy-believism would not have made any sense to Paul or anyone in the ancient world. If you believe that Jesus is Lord in the true sense of faith, you should live accordingly. Yes. Even the demons in James do that. They live consistently in trembling knowing judgment is coming.

So it is in Scripture that faith is not just signing a doctrinal statement. It is saying that you are loyal to King Jesus. Now to be sure, sometimes, faith can be used in a different sense. It can be used to describe the content of what one believes, such as one who keeps the faith, but that can just as well mean that such a person has remained loyal to King Jesus.

There is a section on what is meant by the faith of Christ as it were. Does it mean Christ’s faithfulness or does it mean our trust in Christ? I won’t spoil for those who haven’t read the book. If you are interested in that debate, you do need to see this book.

Those who are atheists should consider reading this book as well, at least the section on pistis outside of the New Testament and even in Jewish writings like Josephus. Those who say faith is blind are referring to a more modern Western look at the word. They are not referring to anything that can be found in the New Testament.

If there was one thing I would change about this book, it would be to cover more of Hebrews. You might say that this book is about Paul and what he meant by pistis, but sometimes Gupta does go to Revelation and the Gospels. Should Hebrews 11:1 not have been covered at least one time in all of this? I consider this a major oversight and I hope that in future editions, this important passage will be covered.

Despite that, the book is highly educational on the meaning of faith. If you are a Christian who uses faith in the sense of blind belief even when you don’t have evidence, stop. If you are an atheist who thinks faith is the same thing, stop. Both of you are ignoring the historical context of the word.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Evidence Considered: Chapter 35

Is there a case for the resurrection appearances? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

In this chapter, Glenton Jelbert decides to take on Gary Habermas on the resurrection appearances. He says that he concedes Jesus died on the cross, but he disagrees with the empty tomb. Our last look at that found his denial of the empty tomb lacking. He says this issue, however, is the one that caused him to lose his faith.

At the start, Jelbert disagrees that the resurrection is the foundation of Christianity. There are plenty of Christians apparently that deny it and maintain their Christianity. It’s hard to know what kind of Christianity they maintain. If they just like the moral teachings of Jesus, then an atheist could be a Christian by that standard. Historical Christianity has always agreed on the bodily resurrection of Jesus.

Habermas says that naturalistic explanations fail to account for the appearances of Jesus. Jelbert refers to this as an appeal to ignorance, but how it is is difficult to see. If naturalistic explanations fail, then one is justified in thinking that an extra-materialistic explanation works. Jelbert does say that if someone told you they saw someone risen from the dead, you would think there was a misunderstanding. No one is denying that. What is being denied is that if more evidence piles up in favor of resurrection and naturalistic explanations fail, one should seek more than those at that point. If Jelbert wants to say that evidence will not change his mind on this point, then evidence isn’t what changed his mind to begin with.

Jelbert also says that this was a time when miracles were readily accepted. He has provided no evidence for this claim. It could be true, but shouldn’t Jelbert make some sort of argument for that? He also says they are in a document written to persuade, much like any historical account was written to persuade. This is a reason to deny all of history. Does Jelbert think there would be people impartial about the resurrection? Isn’t Jelbert’s account written to persuade? If accounts written to persuade cannot ipso facto be trusted, then I cannot trust Jelbert.

He also says these stories were written down in an account that passed through communities orally. We could go on about the reliability of oral tradition, but at this point, there is no need to do so. The account that Habermas bases it on does not have this problem since it is the 1 Corinthians 15 passage.

Jelbert says he is surprised that Habermas did not use the Gospel accounts. He says they are irreconcilable and maybe Habermas is tacitly acknowledging that. Nothing of the sort. Habermas uses Paul because the critics love Paul and the testimony is accepted across the board and it is earlier than the Gospels.

Jelbert also uses 1 Cor. 15:44 to say that the body was a spiritual body and not a physical body. Unfortunately, Jelbert does not interact with any of the contrary scholarship on this point. There is no looking at a work like Gundry’s Soma in Biblical Greek. There is no looking at the word for raised in 1 Cor. 15 indicating rising from a position of sitting or laying down.

From here, Jelbert thinks that the argument is Paul had a vision. Yet if Jelbert’s interpretation of spiritual body is wrong, and it is, then that is not the case. After all, Paul speaks of spiritual men and rocks in the book of 1 Corinthians and none of these refer to something immaterial.

Further along on this, Jelbert says in verse 50 that flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God. It is ignored that this is not a statement of ontology, but rather a statement of the sinful nature of man. A man in his mortal and sinful state cannot inherit the kingdom. That is why a resurrection is needed to begin with.

In Philippians 2:8-9, Jelbert says Jesus is exalted with no mention of an empty tomb or a resurrection, but why should there be? We have songs about Jesus reigning today that don’t explicitly mention a resurrection. This is another modern idea that unless something is explicitly mentioned, it is not the case. Philippians 3 also has our bodies being transformed to be like Christ’s glorious body.

What this means is that for Jelbert, Jesus’s appearances were direct from Heaven, but if that is the case then why do we have an idea of bodily resurrection even in the Gospels so much so that it totally supplants the original tradition? How did this belief totally replace apostolic teaching of just divine exaltation? Jelbert does not explain this at all.

Jelbert also says Romans 1:4 says that Jesus was appointed the Son of God in power by His resurrection from the dead. Jelbert sees this as adoptionist. That is not the best reading of the text. The term better means that the resurrection revealed who it was that Jesus was. Another example of this is in Acts 2:36 which Jelbert says that this Jesus, God has made Lord and Christ. Yet this is from Luke and even in Luke 2, Jesus is referred to as Christ the Lord. This is about vindication and not declaration.

Jelbert really shows his bad exegetical skills when he says that in 1 Cor. 1:18, that Paul believed the Gospel message he taught to be foolish. Paul says it is foolish to those that are perishing. Paul is making a comparative statement about the philosophy of his day and how the philosophical minds saw the Gospel as foolishness for following a crucified Messiah. He is saying this that the world sees as foolish is what God was using to confound their so-called wisdom. Jelbert reads it to say that Paul thinks the evidence is unconvincing even to him. There is something foolish here, but it is not the Gospel.

Next he goes to the creed. Jelbert says the creed does not state time or place. This is not surprising since creeds are meant to be short and abbreviated by nature. He also says that it would not refer to the twelve, but this is an acceptable practice. Sports fans can speak of the Big Ten conference knowing there are more than ten teams involved. The twelve came to be a name for the apostles, which did have a replacement at that point if the account in Acts is accurate of Matthias being elected.  It’s interesting that he says the Gospels are clear that there were only 11 witnesses. This is not clear since we have the two on the road to Emmaus and many in Matthew 28. It’s also interesting that this is a time Jelbert wants us to trust the Gospels.

The women are also not mentioned and Jelbert says this is to be an exhaustive list since it says that last of all, Jesus appeared to Paul. Yet why should that imply the list is exhaustive? It is just saying that Paul received the final appearance.

Jelbert sees theological evolution taking place, but this is quite strange. The texts evolved from Paul having over 500 witnesses to Mark which has, well, none. This is hardly the case of evolution.

Jelbert also says about James that we cannot be sure this is the brother of Jesus since the term “brothers” is used as a familiar term and James is called “The Lord’s brother” and not “Jesus’s brother. Yet why would James be specified then? Would Peter and John and not be brothers of the Lord in that sense?

Jelbert also says that for Paul, the term Lord referred to the risen Lord and not the historical Jesus. He quotes Romans 10:9 which tells us that if you declare with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. If you can figure out how this backs Jelbert’s argument, please let me know. I have no idea.

Jelbert then returns to 1 Cor. 1 and says that Paul tells Christians to expect to be called fools.  This in conjunction with ideas like blessed are those who have not seen and believed indicate that Christians didn’t care about evidence, much like today. If they didn’t care, then why even bother writing about the creed? Why even bother having one? Jelbert does such eisegesis here that the Mormons and JWs would be amazed.

When asking about natural explanations, Jelbert also says that Christians persecuted those who disagreed. No evidence is given of this. We see nothing indicating that Strauss or Hume or others went through persecution. It also doesn’t explain why there is a lack of natural explanations today.

Jelbert also says the church has not remained the same. On the foundational issues, it has. Are there some secondary issues that have changed? Yes. The resurrection hasn’t.

In the end, it’s a shame Jelbert lost his faith over this because his explanations are just weak. He has some of the worst interpretations out there of the text and has not done proper research. We’ll see next time what he has to say about the claim that the appearances were hallucinations.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Evidence Considered Chapter 27

Did Jesus exist? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

We return to the work of Glenton Jelbert with his book Evidence Considered. We are done with the science section, but he still has some more things to say about science. I choose to forego commenting on those. I have said enough and again, science is not my main area. We’re getting into the stuff I do enjoy, the history.

Let’s start with the really good news. This chapter is on if Jesus existed and looks at the work of Paul Maier. Good news here is also that Jelbert is not a mythicist. He does agree that Jesus existed.

So that’s the end of the review of this chapter. Right? We can all go home. Jelbert and I agree. Let’s move on to 28.

Not quite. There are a few arguments on the way I find problematic. There are also ways of doing the research I question.

Maier argues that the real debate is not did Jesus exist, but who was He? Jelbert says to say He was God is an extraordinary claim and requires unassailable evidence. If that is not given, it is rational to assume it is not true until otherwise shown. The problems are many with this.

For one thing, extraordinary claims are subjective. I consider atheism an extraordinary claim. Could I go to Jelbert and then say, “Unless you present unassailable evidence of atheism, then theism is true?” I could, but that would not be a valid argument at all.

Keep in mind I am not saying that Jesus is the Son of God in the Christian sense is a mundane claim. It is not. It is a serious claim that needs evidence, but it needs sufficient evidence to be believed. Without a standard as to what counts as extraordinary, then too often it becomes “That which is extraordinary to an atheist.” Many a creationist would say life from non-life is an extraordinary claim and until it can be shown how that happened we are all justified in believing in creationism.

Jelbert also says the atheist position says that other religions present equally unconvincing evidence would be agreed by Christians, but it isn’t. We think Christianity does have the unique evidence of history. We would give a religion like Judaism much more credibility since it’s essential to us. This also doesn’t answer the evidence for Christianity, which I am sure we will get into in these chapters.

Jelbert does say that Paul is silent on many biographical events in the life of Jesus. Of course, he is. He’s not writing a biography. He’s writing to deal with situational events that knowledge of the life of Jesus, which would be background knowledge for his audience, would not help. The Corinthian church has to deal with meat offered to idols. How does saying Jesus performed miracles help answer the questions?

Jelbert is also willing to concede the Gospels may be attempts to historically write the life of Jesus. He presents us with a version of the telephone game. There is no looking at how stories are told in ancient societies. Such could be found in a work like The Lost World of Scripture. The stories would be told in groups. A few would be gatekeepers of knowledge as it were to make sure the story was told accurately. There could be variation on minor details, but the whole thrust of the message had to get through.

Two events in Matthew are worth mentioning. The first is the slaughter of the infants. There is no outside mention of this in Josephus or anywhere else. Josephus would likely be the only one to record this, but we have no reason to think Josephus is exhaustive in everything that Herod did. Second, this would be a minor event. At most, about a dozen children would die. This would be par for the course for Herod. It’s also strange that the Bible seems to be the only work I know of that if something doesn’t show up outside of it, it must be seen as suspect.

The second is the prophecy that Jesus would be called a Nazarene. Jelbert says no such prophecy exist. My answer is that this is the only time Matthew speaks about a fulfillment of the prophets, plural. I think he’s saying the general message of prophecy is that the Messiah would grow up in a humble and shameful state.

There’s also nothing he says about a census as in Luke. Jelbert presents nothing on the other side that acts as positive evidence. I point the reader to the interview I did with Ben Witherington especially.

Jelbert also asks if both birth narratives could be cobbled together to form a unit. He doesn’t see how with any integrity. Let’s stop there. The problem is this is the same kind of thinking he accuses IDists of. “Could this organism come about through purely naturalistic processes? I don’t see how.”

Second, he says the only reason you would do this is because you think the Bible is the Word of God which presupposes God exists. Not necessarily. Now suppose I do think Jesus rose from the dead on other grounds and I think the Bible is the Word of God and I have good arguments for God’s existence. Is it reasonable to think there’s an explanation even if I don’t know one? Yes. Just like it’s reasonable for the atheist to think there’s a way life came from non-life even if it is not known now.

But besides that, couldn’t some people want to resolve these accounts because they want to try to figure out what happened and if a way exists, go with it? That is the nature of historical investigation. We can look at differing accounts and try to reconcile them.

I could just as easily turn this on Jelbert too. Why doesn’t he want to investigate to see if the accounts can be reconciled? Because he is an atheist and he doesn’t want the Bible to be the Word of God and for Jesus to have risen from the dead. Is that true? I can’t say. Could it be plausible to some? Yep. This is why pointing to motives is really kind of pointless.

In the end, Jelbert and I agree on the conclusion, which is refreshing. He does say this doesn’t give evidence for God, which is true, but this is also a cumulative case. It’s hard to have Christianity if Jesus never existed after all.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Atheist Manifesto Part 3

What does Onfray have to say about Christianity? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

It’s clear we have no reason to be surprised by Onfray at this point. It is said that the ignorance in the atheist community has got to the point not where I am surprised, but where I expect it. I am most often surprised when I meet the atheist who does know what he’s talking about. He is sadly the exception.

Onfray is not one who knows what he’s talking about. He starts with the statement of course that Jesus never existed. Yeah. We all saw this one coming. No contemporary documentation and no archaeological proof. Somehow, the Pauline epistles and the Gospels within a generation and in the time of eyewitnesses don’t really count. Were we to go with this rule, we would rule out figures like Hannibal, for instance, from the historical record.

But what about Josephus and Tacitus and others? Intellectual forgeries! A monk copying them saw there was no mention of his story and so he decided to put one in without any shame whatsoever. Therefore, Onfray says “Nothing of what remains can be trusted.” One wonders if Onfray is ready to throw out all history copied down by Christians just to uphold his mythicism.

Keep this in mind because in the very next section Onfray tells us about a number of madmen at the time. Judas the Galilean, Theudas, Judas’s sons Jacob and Simon, and Menahem. Then he tells us about the Jewish war in the 70’s.

Little problem here.

What would be his source? Well, we have one source for Messiah claimants other than Jesus. Just one.

Josephus.

You know, that guy whose writings can’t be trusted.

Onfray points as well to Bible contradictions and improbabilities. Naturally, there’s no bothering to look at any commentaries on the topic to see what they have to say. Nah! Too much of a hassle! Again, the problem is that Onfray also has no bibliography so there’s no way of knowing where he gets his bogus information from.

Onfray does say the crucifixion is improbable since the crime Jesus did would involve stoning. Not only that, Pontius Pilate would not likely bother to get involved with someone like Jesus. This is all shown to be nonsense when one realizes that it was the Passover time and Jesus had done two remarkable events, namely the Triumphant Entry and the cleansing of the temple, and stoning would not be enough as the Jews wanted to make a mockery out of Him and shame Him so they would have Him stoned. Pilate would get involved because you don’t want a would-be king rising up at the time of Passover when the city has a huge population of faithful Jews.

He also says the burial account is unlikely. After all, no cleansing is mentioned, but does it really need to be spelled out? The main point is the tomb. Onfray also says the name Arimathea means “After death.” Odd. Carrier has said it means “Best disciple town.” Can these guys get their story straight?

From here Onfray turns to Paul. Paul is a raving hysteric forcing his neuroses on the world. Onfray goes to the thorn in the flesh and how everything has been suggested for this. Then he says, except sexual problems. No doubt, he has not done any real reading on this. When I saw him going there, my first thought was he would say something about Paul secretly wrestling against homosexual temptation, which I hear all too often.

He also says one sign of Paul having a deep-seated pathology is that he fails to acknowledge it. Well, this is interesting then. I surmise that Onfray has a deep emotional wound that causes him to have an intense hatred of anything Christian whatsoever and the best way to deal with his neuroses is to force them on the rest of the world by writing a book like this and getting everyone to agree with him. My great evidence of this is that nowhere in this book does Onfray acnkowledge any deep-seated pathologies!

From there we go on to Constantine waging war on pagans and such. That part I really have no interest in and want to leave for those familiar with church history more than I am. For now, I will just say I am suspicious entirely of his history based on what I’ve seen thus far.

We will continue another time.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Review of Paul: The Apostle

What are my thoughts on this movie? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Warning! Possible spoilers ahead!

So last night, my in-laws took Allie and I with them to see this movie. As far as Biblical movies go, I actually thought this one was very well done. I cannot really comment on the acting and such because I really just don’t normally notice that kind of thing. I pay more attention to the story.

The story is set in Rome with Paul being held as a prisoner and Luke coming to see him and staying with the Christians in the area. They are often hiding because Rome wants to kill them, especially since this is set at the time of the fire of Rome which Nero was more than happy to blame on the Christians. Christians were regularly lit on fire to provide light for Nero’s games and for any other events he had going on.

Luke meets up with Paul and encourages him to tell his story in an account, which will be the book of Acts. My question at this point is why is it that if this was meant to be Paul’s story that Luke would include so much information at the start that is not about Paul? This is a question that scholars will be debating on why Luke wrote what he wrote. Still, that is a bit nit-picky, but it’s just something I wonder.

Paul will regularly then recount events that happened prior to his coming to Rome and being a prisoner. You can see events like the stoning of Stephen and the road to Damascus. Sadly, there wasn’t much beyond that. It would be fascinating to see Paul at Mars Hill or in Ephesus casting out demons opposite the failed exorcists there or in the Philippian jail cell or in the raging ocean of Acts 27. Perhaps a fuller movie will come out sometime.

Luke also deals with the Christians in Rome who often have different attitudes with what to do. Some Christians want to take up arms and fight against Rome themselves. Some want to flee the city thinking there’s more good to be done outside. Some want to stay in the city thinking that they can still stay inside.

At this point, I find another problem I have as each person decides to do what they think God is revealing to them to do. This is common terminology in modern Christian circles today, but I don’t think it’s the way the ancients thought. It’s more of our individualism seeping through.  I always get bothered when I see something like this in a Biblical film.

The other major character is a Roman soldier who has a sick daughter and the struggles he and his wife have as the gods seem to be silent and each blames the other. This is the same soldier who also has to regularly deal with Paul. It is quite interesting how it all turns out. I leave it to you to go and see it for yourself.

Many times, Paul and Luke and others do quote Scriptural passages in the film. If you have a good Biblical knowledge, you’ll be able to recognize a number of them. Paul is seen as someone who is willing to suffer for Christ greatly. A great theme in the movie is that suffering is temporary. Eternal joy awaits instead.

Biblical movies have normally been a miss for me, but I think after Risen and now with this one, we’re getting more of a step in the right direction. I’m also thankful that a lot of the sappiness of Christian films was left out of this one. There is much suffering in the film and it should be clear to all that the Christian walk never promises freedom from it.

So yeah, I recommend going to see this one. It is an enjoyable film.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Zealot

What do I think of Reza Aslan’s book published by Random House? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

My wife is an anime fan and when we go to the mall, she always wants to stop at the anime store there and see what they have. During a recent visit there, we somehow got started talking with the guy working there and the topic of religion came up. He asked me if I had read Reza Aslan’s Zealot and if so, what were my thoughts on it. I told him that what I had heard wasn’t good, but I would be willing to read it myself.

So I went to the library web site and ordered it. Aslan’s book has a generally good enough writing style to it. A difficulty is all the referencing is in notes in the back instead of properly footnoting or even endnoting what is found. I do want to make some statements about some matters early on in the book.

Aslan starts with his personal testimony (It’s like some people never get the fundamentalism knocked out of them!) and how he became a Christian before abandoning it. On xix he says “The bedrock of evangelical Christianity, at least as it was taught to me, is the unconditional belief that every word of the Bible is God breathed and true, literal, and inerrant.”

I wish I knew who it was who was teaching this stuff to him. The bedrock of evangelical Christianity should be the death, burial, and resurrection of the God-man, the Messiah Jesus Christ. Unfortunately, too many evangelicals do place a premium on Inerrancy and too many do so on literalism as well. This is largely an American phenomenon as well.

He also says on the next page that if you have a well-attested, researched, and authoritative argument for a position, someone on the other side has one just as well done critiquing yours. Of course, people on all sides do research well, but this would end up in an epistemological relativism if it was really believed. If this is the case, why should I believe Aslan instead of his opponent?

But I need to get into the meat of the work. For a surprise, much of it was well-researched, although there are a few blunders and such. It’s certainly not on the level of the zaniness of Jesus mythicism. I went through for awhile wondering what all the fuss is about.

Aslan is certainly off on Jesus being a zealot since that movement as he recognizes did not come till later. If all he meant was that Jesus was zealous for God, then He certainly was a zealot and may all Christians be. Unfortunately, Aslan takes one side of God, the side of the Conquest specifically, and then says this is the God Jesus worshipped, completely ignoring other passages in the Old Testament on love and grace.

Aslan’s book as I said starts off fine enough, but the further you go, the more strange it becomes. Aslan never offers an explanation for the rise of the Christian church or tries to explain the resurrection. In many cases, he acts like a naturalist in explaining the text, especially when it comes to miracles. Somehow people have this idea that reasonable people can’t believe in miracles. It is a wonder why this is. They do not contradict science or logic. They actually presuppose both as you must have a working order to recognize the exception.

The main stuff I want to hit on is really in the center of the book. Aslan writes about the Kingdom of God and how it was revolutionary. Indeed it was, but it was not a kingdom that would come by the will of men or by political might. As an orthodox Preterist, I believe the Kingdom of God has been established. Jesus did it by His death and resurrection. I am writing this right now in a location thousands of miles from where Jesus lived and in another language and 2,000 years later. I’d say his message spread well as did His kingdom.

Aslan does not see this as eschatology seems to play no major role in his work. It could be he has a hang-up on the literalism he spoke of earlier and reads passages like Matthew 24 in a literalistic sense instead of seeing them along the lines of Old Testament prophecies that were not to be seen as literal.

This problem shows up again when he gives references to Jesus saying He did not come to bring peace but a sword. Sure, but this is not a literal sword. Jesus knew what His kingdom would do. Jesus was the dividing line. You are either for Him or against Him. That would tear one’s very household apart. The sword is a metaphor.

On 121, Jesus also says the idea of love your neighbor applied only to a fellow Jew. Aslan leaves off interaction with the parable of the Good Samaritan where Jesus specifically addresses the question of who one’s neighbor is and goes with someone completely reprehensible to His fellow Jews. This was so much the case that in the end when Jesus asks who it was who was the neighbor, the lawyer says “The one who showed mercy.” He cannot bring Himself to say, “The Samaritan.”

Aslan also says on 122 that if one thinks Jesus is the begotten Son of God, His being Jewish is immaterial. WOW! Really? I think Jesus is that and His being a Jew is essential. That’s the only way He can be the promised Messiah and in the lineage of David. Jesus has to fulfill the promises of the Old Testament to truly be the revelation of God.

This also explains Aslan’s puzzle that the Kingdom never came in 135. The Kingdom Jesus preached is not what Aslan thinks it was since he is hung up on the literalism. Interestingly, Aslan gives no Scripture references in describing the Kingdom on this page.

Aslan writes about how the Gospel writers wanted to blame the Jews for the death of Jesus moving further and further away from the Romans, yet on 156 he’s quite clear the Romans killed Jesus and this was clear to Luke. Luke also doesn’t present Pilate as a saint in Luke 13.

Some ask why Pilate would seem to be so weak and light on Jesus when he had a reputation for being a cruel leader. Cruel sure, but that doesn’t mean he held execution parties whenever the Jews wanted someone executed. Pilate knew it was just the Jews being jealous and was thinking, “Yeah. Not going to be your person to do your bidding.”

Furthermore, there is debate on when Jesus was crucified, but it could have been around the time of Sejanus who had been executed for treason. He and Pilate had had a close relationship. Pilate could have been walking on thin ice and didn’t want to upset Rome by causing any more riots.

Aslan also makes much out of the trial of Jesus being totally out of sync with how Jewish trials were to be done. At this, most every conservative scholar wants to say, “Duh!” That’s the point. The Jewish courts were breaking laws left and right to get rid of Jesus. Something like this isn’t news if you’ve been reading scholarship.

At 166, I have to wonder if Aslan meant Daniel 9:26 instead of 7:26. On this page, he also says Peter uses Acts 2 to say it’s about Jesus when it’s really about David. Aslan ignores that in the very passage of Acts 2, Peter says it could NOT be talking about David since David was still in his tomb.

On 168-9, Aslan looks at Stephen’s vision of God and says he no longer sees the Messiah, but a God being coming in judgment. Aslan never seems to consider to ask if there was any reason Jesus would be standing instead of sitting which He was supposed to do. Perhaps there is a simple one. That simple one is Stephen is before the Sanhedrin to be judged by them, but when He sees Jesus standing, the standing is because Jesus is pronouncing judgment. The Sanhedrin is putting Stephen on trial, but Jesus has put them on trial and found them wanting for killing the first Christian martyr.

Aslan tries to deal some with the resurrection on 174 saying that obviously a man dying a gruesome death and rising again 3 days later defies all logic, reason, and sense. It does? In what way? The only way is if you rule out ipso facto miracles, but this has not been done. All that has happened is the question has been begged for naturalism. Aslan does admit that people were convinced they had seen the risen Jesus, but He gives no explanation for this.

It’s also clear that Aslan really has it in for Paul and wants nothing to do with him. Aslan doesn’t look at how the church fathers treated Paul and it is bizarre to think that Paul would be able to distort Christianity so badly and yet the people who wrote the Gospels seemed to give messages that according to Aslan would contradict Paul. One wonders what is going on here.

Aslan’s book can be interesting reading, but it is not a theory that has caught on well and for good reason. Aslan has Jesus as a zealot, but then the zealots weren’t really around, and has just begun with what he wanted to find. He also still has a fundamentalism in him found in his introduction that shapes his approach. Scholars long ago abandoned the idea that Jesus was a zealot. Aslan has not brought back the idea enough to have it be considered by scholars again.

A fuller review can be found by my friend David Marshall here.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Greek Resurrection Beliefs and the Success of Early Christianity

What do I think of Dag Endsjo’s book published by Palgrave Macmillan? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I was challenged to read this book which leads to my going to the library as soon as I can and getting a hold on such a book. The author’s name here is not entirely accurate since it has a slash through the o, but I am not sure how to do that on the computer so no disrespect is intended and keep that in mind when you do a search for it at the library or on Amazon. At any rate, what are my thoughts?

Endsjo wants to challenge the idea that the body would have been seen in a negative light by early Christians. He starts with describing the Trojan War in the works of Homer and how it was horrific to have the dead left on the battlefield. For here, Endsjo says that it is because the flesh is identical with the warriors themselves. In the same paragraph, he says the souls go off to Hades. Already, I’m puzzled. If the flesh is the warriors themselves, then what are these soul things? Also, does it really follow that the horror was because the flesh was seen as the warriors themselves? Could it not be because there was no honorable burial for them?

This is something I found confusing in the book. What is his view of how the Greeks viewed a man? It’s hard to say. Sometimes it seems like the soul is dominant. Sometimes it seems like the body is dominant.

Endsjo contends that we normally think of the flesh as something shameful to the Greeks, but he wants to say that is not the case. If the flesh is shameful to anyone, it’s Paul. He rarely has anything if ever good to say about the flesh and even in 1 Cor. 15 argues that the resurrection is spiritual. I think this is one of the great weaknesses of the book. There’s plenty of great material arguing that the body must be physical. One such piece available at the time would have been Gundry’s Soma in Biblical Greek.

We go into a large number of listings of Greek gods and heroes and how many of them were seen as living in immortal flesh. This could have been very appealing, but what is ignored is all the people who die and go to Hades and even still don’t want to return to the land of the living. What of people like Socrates who die and when they do want a sacrifice to be done to the god of healing to show their true healing in leaving the body?

I have often said before that it is easy to make a case when you have the sound of one hand clapping, and I was looking for the other case. To be fair, many on the other side have not sufficiently argued with the examples that Endsjo brings forward, but that does not mean that Endsjo should do the same. Both sides need to be looked at. I look forward to seeing someone like N. T. Wright respond in the future to the work.

I said earlier that the great weakness I think is 1 Cor. 15. Endsjo contends that Paul is speaking of a spiritual resurrection. While that is a common interpretation, that does not equal a true one nor does it equal one that should be assumed. Endsjo has a church that goes to Paul and gets a spiritual resurrection and then suddenly does a 180 and goes material. It’s understandable that some people would think this, but I don’t think Endsjo makes the case.

The stories are interesting and even still the view would be a problem for the Greeks. The Greeks apparently believed that the body of a person could not be recreated. That would have been essential for the Christians. Thus, the Christians would still have a hard case to make.

Endsjo also uses the argument that the Christians were persuading the people that they believed nothing different from the Romans in some aspects. Sure, but he misses why. That’s because Christianity was seen as shameful. The Christians were trying to point out similarities to show inconsistencies to the Romans in how they were treating the Christians. Many times people will look at the text and think that there was one-to-one parallels going on. Since the persecution didn’t stop, we can think it likely that the Romans did not see those parallels.

We can also say that the Greeks might have thought immortality to be desirable, but that in itself would not be enough since some figures got immortality as a punishment, say Prometheus who was forced to have his liver regrow every day for a wild bird to eat. Many Greeks in Paul’s audience would have thought that that was reserved for the gods and their children, but not for them. Jesus was the exception.

I think more work should be done on Endsjo’s book and I’d like to see a Wright take it on. Again, there was the sound of one hand clapping. Hopefully, we’ll have the other hand join in more and see what comes of the discussion.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Dear Mythicist

What do I think when I meet a mythicist? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Okay. I get it. You’re skeptical of the Bible. You know what? That’s understandable. There are a lot of strong claims that the Bible makes. It’s not simple to believe that a man rose from the dead and that man happened to be both fully God and fully man. Those positions should be evidenced. I get that. I agree.

There is such a thing as reasonable doubt. There is also such a thing as unreasonable doubt. Your case is the latter. Let’s suppose you came to this question not knowing anything about history. What if I then told you that there is not a single professor of ancient history or New Testament or classical history teaching at an accredited university that doubts Jesus existed.

“But those are Christians so they’re biased!”

You do know that these topics are taught at secular universities? Right? Do you think that all these secular universities are hiring evangelical Christians only to teach these topics? There are more than enough non-Christian scholars in the field to teach this stuff and they don’t doubt that Jesus existed at all. In fact, if you read the scholarly literature, this kind of idea is lucky to get a footnote.

“But I do read the scholars. I especially read Richard Carrier!”

Yeah. I get it. You trot out the name Richard Carrier like I’m either supposed to be quaking in my boots or holding immediate respect. Neither is the case. Carrier doesn’t teach at an accredited university and has even been banned from Skepticon. There’s a reason I refer to him as the prominent polyamorous internet blogger. For a guy with a Ph.D., that’s pretty much all he’s doing these days.

Oh? He wrote a book on Jesus mythicism. Yeah. I read it. Hardly any scholars even bothered to review it. No doubt, it was hoped to make a big splash, but it would be interesting to know if it barely made a ripple. It just wasn’t noticed. The academy has still gone on its way. Mythicism is still a joke.

In fact, I often tell Christians we should thank God for Richard Carrier. Richard Carrier is doing so much to undermine atheism and build up Christianity. You see, he’s lowering the standards of his fellow atheists because he’s so caught up in his own perceived greatness that he thinks what he writes on any subject must be excellent. His followers have bought into that idea and have helped prolong it so lo and behold, if Carrier upholds mythicism, so will they. I know of Christians who have donated to his patreon because they want to see this keep going.

Besides, it seems rather odd that here you have the overwhelming majority of scholars on both sides of the Christian fence not doubting at all that Jesus existed and here you have a lone wolf saying otherwise. Yes. There are an isolated number of others like Robert Price, but the number of mythicist scholars are minimal and their work is not garnering attention. If you have all of that, as an outsider, what is the best route to take?

Let’s use another example. I am a heliocentrist, but I could not begin to make to you a defense of heliocentrism. That’s not because I’m anti-science. It’s just not an area I’m interested in. We do this in most every field. If you were going to court, you would hire a lawyer, but your need of one is not because you’re anti-law. You just haven’t studied it. You will likely go to your doctor if you’re sick and take whatever he tells you. You don’t know what to do on your own not because you’re anti-medicine, but just because you haven’t studied it and while you can question your doctor, if you don’t have the skill and knowledge, it would be pretty ridiculous to argue with him that he’s wrong.

So let’s suppose I come across the work of Gerry Bouw. Gerry Bouw does have a Ph.D. in astronomy and he is a geocentrist. Should I consider this a sign that heliocentrism is to be overturned? No. If Bouw is right, he will need some really good evidence, but as an outsider, when I see the academy of astronomy not paying attention to the idea, I deem it wise that I shouldn’t either.

Amusingly, this is like evolution. I get that the majority of you are atheists and have no problem with evolution. In all honesty, I don’t either. I just choose to not argue for or against it because like I said, I’m not a scientist. I could not mount a scientific defense of and I could not present an accurate scientific critique. Therefore, I will just grant it for the sake of argument.

If I jump on the internet, it looks like there’s a lot of debate on evolution. You can even go to a site like TalkOrigins and see this being debated regularly. What am I to conclude from this? Does this mean that the academy is debating evolution? Well, they are in one sense. They’re debating theories about it, but they are not debating if evolution is true or not.

You see, this is the danger of the internet. Anyone can put up an idea and have it seem smart. After all, if you make a presentation that draws people with a fascinating web site or an interesting YouTube video and you can cite names of people who agree with you, then it sure looks like you’re an informed person. You can also write a book on the topic and well, that surely means it’s a serious idea. Right?

But again, let’s go to the evolution example. You can find plenty of people doing just this with evolution. In fact, I can find some Ph.D.s in science that dissent from Darwin. Again, I am not agreeing or disagreeing with them here. I’m just acknowledging their existence. If you say “Yeah, but those are the outliers” then I say “As is the case with mythicism.” In fact, if you think we need to take mythicism seriously, then I, in turn, would say based on that standard you need to take young-earth creationism seriously, and no, I am not a young-earth creationist. By the standards you have set, young-earth creationism should be considered a serious worldview. I know many of you consider that a horrendous thought, but that’s just the way it is.

Of course, let’s not leave out the best part of the presentation. The memes! Once again, you have people like myself who read books written by scholars and yet we see a meme and we’re supposed to topple over immediately. Not at all. The memes often convince me further you don’t know what you’re talking about. The arguments are just hideous.

Now you could say a lot of scholars don’t answer the arguments. You could be right there. It’s also the same reason a lot of scientists don’t answer arguments for young-earth creationism. They’re not serious ideas to the scientists and the scientists want to engage with serious ideas. In fact, many specialists in the field would have a hard time with YEC arguments not because they think they’re so powerful, but because they’re so unusual. These deal with isolated claims and such that most scholars don’t bother to study.

Nevertheless, let’s look at some of the claims. We’re often told for instance that Jesus was supposed to be God in the flesh who did the most important event in human history and no one wrote about it. Does that not sound strange?

Not at all.

I could tell you right now that there are claims of people being healed at places like Lourdes. There are people who are absolutely certain the Virgin Mary is appearing to them. There are people who are convinced that they have been healed at a Benny Hinn Crusade. Question. Are you going to go and start investigating all these claims immediately?

Odds are no. You’re just going to discount them. Note that I’m not saying all these claims are valid. Still, you are a skeptic and the possibility doesn’t seem like a real option to your worldview, so you discount it. This is something we all tend to have. We all think skepticism really means being skeptical of that which disagrees with our worldview. Anything that agrees normally gets a free pass. If you are a true skeptic, you are skeptical of arguments against your worldview AND for your worldview.

You see, I am a political conservative. I’m sure many of you disagree with that, but it doesn’t matter here. The point I want to make is that during the Obama presidency, when someone shared something that was false about Obama, I made sure to correct it if I found out. Why? Because I wanted to take him down, but not with lies. You can see the same thing here in my response to Reclaim America with them misrepresenting a Muslim scholar. My point is I try to be skeptical of arguments for or against.

So let’s get back to Jesus. If you’re a Roman writer in the first century, you’re among the educated elite. You hear a story about a man claiming to be God who died and rose again and it’s all the way in this area called Judea. You think the people already have strange beliefs. I mean, they don’t even honor the gods! Now you hear also that this man was crucified. Well that settles it. The gods would not be with someone who was crucified. No person worthy of being considered a deity or a king or anything like that would be crucified. Do you investigate the claims? Not at all. This group is a marginal sect and they will disappear. In the long run, for them, Jesus is not worth talking about.

You should also know this, the argument from silence is really the weakest of the arguments. It’s sadly the biggest one that mythicists have. It’s expected that everyone should have been talking about Jesus and when they weren’t, well that just proves it.

Let’s also talk about this whole thing about contemporary eyewitnesses. Let’s consider it with another man. This guy is Hannibal. No. I don’t mean the guy from The Silence of the Lambs. I mean the ancient general of Carthage. This is a man who was their greatest general. He was the hero of heroes. Kids would have pictures of him on their lunchboxes. If movies had existed back then, you would see movies about Hannibal in Carthage. This guy defeated Roman army after Roman army. Keep in mind the Roman army was the most powerful empire the world had seen. In fact, he nearly conquered Rome itself. He was defeated, but he got the closest for his time. This was someone all the world would have known about.

What contemporary eyewitness do we have of him?

None. Not a one. Nothing.

Now I could play the mythicist game. You see, it’s obvious that what happened is that Rome had got into a sense of complacency and people thought that Rome wasn’t all that great. I mean, they’re only where they were because of luck. It’s not like they had to strive to get there. So what happened? Roman officials decided to create a figure that in the past beyond the time of eyewitnesses decided to go after Rome and nearly won, but Rome defeated him. Therefore, Rome overcame great odds to be where it was and we should not grow lax in our military in case another Hannibal shows up.

Do I think that’s likely? Not at all. It’s preposterous. The simple thing to do is realize that Hannibal existed despite lack of eyewitness testimony.

In fact, in my debate with Ken Humphreys, I caught him in such a contradiction. I asked him if he was certain that Josephus existed. I was told he was absolutely certain Josephus existed. I then asked if we have any first century testimony to Josephus. This caught him flatfooted. We don’t.

Now some of my fellow Christians are saying “We do have contemporary evidence of Jesus. It’s the Gospels and Paul!” To this, the mythicist likes to respond that this source is biased and can’t be trusted! I really hate to have to tell you this, but every source is biased. The only exceptions would be people writing about something they care nothing about, but then if they don’t care about it, why write about it?

The reality is you’re treating the Bible like the fundamentalist you condemn. The Christian fundamentalist will say the Bible stands on its own. God said it and you believe it! There’s no need for all this apologetics stuff. You just trust the Bible! The Bible is in a special category immune to historical research.

How is your response different? Only in the conclusion. The Bible says it and therefore we should be hyper skeptical of it. All of this apologetics stuff is bunk. You just question the Bible! The Bible is not open to historical research because all the authors were biased!

For Christians like myself, our request is simple. Treat the Bible like any other book in the ancient world. We’re not asking you to treat it like the inerrant Word of God. If you conclude that that is what it is, act accordingly. Until then, treat it like any other book from the ancient world claiming to give a historical account.

Let’s also say a word about Paul. Paul apparently doesn’t say much about the life of Jesus. Indeed. Why should he? His letters were occasional letters. They were written to deal with specific circumstances in the life of the church. Issues that told stories about the life of Jesus were apparently not necessary.

In fact, if you were to visit Facebook and see me and my friends, you would find we often make a big deal about affirming the virgin birth, which I do affirm. Why do I do this? Because of this argument about the silence of Paul. If you want to see how that works, just consider this post on why I affirm the virgin birth, which I do affirm.

In the long run, if anyone wants to convince me that they’re absolutely clueless on ancient history, there’s an easy way to do it. Just affirm mythicism. I will sometimes answer you for a little while, but I honestly consider it like pushing a slinky down the stairs. It seems kind of fun at first, but after awhile it’s the same old stuff. It’s nothing new.

What do I recommend you do? Pick up some more scholarship than what you’re doing. Use sources other than Wikipedia. If you think mythicism is a serious option, just pick up books on the historical Jesus, even books by non-Christians, and see how seriously they treat mythicism if they do at all.

Then wake up and join reality. Jesus existed. You can believe He existed without believing He’s the Son of God or rose from the dead or did miracles. In fact, as I often say, many atheists admit a historical Jesus existed and go on to lead happy and meaningful lives.

Be one of them.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

A Response To Bob Seidensticker on oral tradition

Were the Gospel stories corrupted before writing them down? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Recently in a discussion on oral tradition I was given a link to an article by Bob Seidensticker. Now this is someone that as soon as I saw the name, I decided to move on at the time. I’ve responded to his stuff before and found it incredibly lacking, but in the interest of being thorough, I’ll take the time now.

Bob asks us to begin with a story about being a merchant and a traveler stops and asks for some lodging. You have him in and tell him about Jesus. He likes the story and asks you to repeat it. You instead ask him to repeat the story. You all go over it a few times and then make any necessary corrections and the next day he’s on his way to share the story himself.

It’s a nice story, but sadly, that’s all it is. A story. Bob has not consulted any works on scholarship to find out if this is how it would come about in the ancient world. There is no looking at the groundbreaking research of Perry and Lord. There is nothing from Bauckham, Bailey, or Dunn. At the least he could have cited Bart Ehrman with Jesus Before the Gospels, but no.

So at the start, I’m wondering why I should take this account seriously. These stories were not told in isolation but in group settings. This is still the way things are done in the Middle East. These stories were told repeatedly and this in a culture where people had far better memories.

We’ll see why this matters soon.

Bob is willing to grant twenty years of history before the Gospels are written down for the sake of argument. He notes that this is a pre-scientific culture. Of course, we’re left wondering what this has to do with the price of tea in China. That a culture does not have science does not say anything about the reliability of oral transmission. We might as well say textual transmission isn’t reliable today because your newspaper can still have the horoscope in it.

He also says the account is about the creator of the universe coming to Earth. Of course, scholars have different responses to the idea of early high Christology, though it is interesting that Bob is probably unknowingly siding with the conservatives. What has to be asked is how this changes the content of the stories or the means of memorization.

Let’s state some aspects that need to be stated.

To begin with, Jesus was an itinerant speaker. I do public speaking. Many people do. If you’re a public speaker, you often tell the same story many many times. If I was asked to speak at a church some Sunday and it was Saturday night, I would go with a stock sermon that I have. Jesus was in many towns and cities and spoke to many different people. Are we to think that every great story He had, He only told once?

Second, many of Jesus’s sayings were aphorisms. These were simple sayings that were easy to remember. Some of them could go on a bumper sticker today. It is better to give than to receive. Turn the other cheek. What does it profit a man to gain the world and lose his soul?

Third, Jesus often told parables. These stories were easy to remember. Many of us could tell the parable of the prodigal son. The stories were not long and had “gotcha” endings many times. We could relate it to how many of us can tell jokes after hearing them just once.

Fourth, Jesus did live in an orally-based culture. In this culture, memorization was taken far more seriously. James Dunn has this in his great work on the topic Jesus Remembered. Jesus sent out his own disciples two by two and they were to pass on His teachings. Obviously, He would make sure that they knew these teachings.

Fifth, many of the events of Jesus’s life would be what we call flashbulb moments, such as are described by Robert McIver. Many of you remember where you were when you first heard about 9/11. Those who are older remember when they first heard that JFK had been shot. This would be the same for if you were suddenly healed of leprosy or paralysis or something like that. There’s a huge gap between giving an encouraging pep talk to a blind man and opening the eyes of a blind man.

Of course, Bob says nothing about any of this. The rule apparently is that if you’re an atheist on the internet, reading on a topic isn’t necessary and definitely you don’t need to read anything that disagrees with you. Just tell a story about how you think it probably was, and that’s enough.

Bob then compares the accounts to Bernadette in 1858 who had visions that were investigated and concluded to be true a year and a half later. One wonders what the parallel here is. I do not know if the accounts are true or not, although I would say an interesting look can be found in the second section of this book.

From there, we have numerous references to Wikipedia and alleged copycats. Wikipedia is, of course, a bastion of scholarly research where the best minds go to for their information. Perhaps Bob should also read The Death of Expertise and learn a little bit about why Wikipedia should not be trusted on something like this.

If it’s not Wikipedia, he refers to only himself. With the copycat claim, he admits in the article that he does not possess the expertise to comment. He also points out that there is a Christian web site that will offer $1,000 to anyone who can prove that the lists of parallel gods is actually true. Obviously, Bob hasn’t cashed in because he doesn’t think it is, but apparently that doesn’t stop him from spreading the claim anyway. Naturally, you won’t see any interaction with scholarly material like this.

The next is about how Paul doesn’t tell the Gospel story, to which the question has to be asked why should he? This would be covered in the oral tradition. Paul wrote to churches to deal with issues in their midst. The truth of the story of Jesus was never an issue. What was an issue was the outworkings of what that meant.

We’re not at all surprised to see that the only real source he has on this is the prominent polyamorous internet blogger Richard Carrier. It’s as if skeptics have an allergy so often to anything that disagrees with them. Instead of getting a scholar that actually teaches at an accredited university, they go for Carrier. Carrier is often the alpha and omega of Biblical scholarship to a skeptic.

Bob will later say that it is often said that people in the first century had better memories. He says that there is no reason to imagine that this is how it was. Indeed, there isn’t. We should instead consult the best scholars in the field. Apparently, it’s okay for Bob to imagine a just-so story about a merchant, but if you say something different about how things went in the ancient world, well you’re just imagining.

He also brings up the canard of perfect accuracy. Perfect accuracy assumes there is one original story. While there was an original event, the story would be told differently. For the parables and such, there could be variation depending on the audience and setting much like any itinerant speaker today. For a story, ancients were fine with the gist of the story being the same even if some secondary details were a bit different. The problem so often is that many moderns approach the ancients and expect them to tell stories according to modern standards instead of ancient ones.

In the end, we conclude that there is no reason to take Bob seriously on this topic. He has not taken modern scholarship seriously and instead relied on Wikipedia and Richard Carrier. In turn, he is not going to be taken seriously. Why respond to this then? Because sadly some people do take this seriously so it is necessary to have something for them.

Hopefully, Bob will crack open a book next time.

In Christ,
Nick Peters