Book Plunge: Evidence Considered Chapter 28

Can we believe miracles took place? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

In chapter 28, Jelbert decides to take on Craig Blomberg on miracles in the Gospel tradition. At the start of his response, Jelbert says that we need to avoid circular reasoning.  We can’t say that a god or a demon accounts for some miraculous events and then when we see those events, that’s evidence.

First off, this isn’t entirely accurate. Scientists do this kind of thing regularly. If such and such object existed, then we would see X take place. We see X take place. Therefore, the object exists. It’s just fine to say “If an immaterial reality exists, we can expect to see miracles take place. We see miracles take place. Therefore, an immaterial reality exists.

Second, and this is more important, circular reasoning works both ways. If there are no immaterial beings, then miracles would not take place. Then when we see something that looks like a miracle, well, it can’t be a miracle. Why? Because no immaterial beings exist. That is truly arguing in a circle.

Jelbert says that in general, it is difficult to imagine any account being sufficient to convince us of a supernatural event. First off, I question the use of the term supernatural. Second, this could be said of anything one is skeptical of. The creationist could say, “It is difficult to imagine any account being sufficient to convince us that life came from non-life.” Yet on both counts, why should we think that? Can you give an answer on both counts that is not question-begging?

On the contrary, I think it’s quite simple. Imagine attending the funeral of a dead friend. Then lo and behold, three days later you see him alive again. Perhaps you are skeptical and you go to a doctor. It’s him. The DNA is the same and everything. Would this not be sufficient?

Suppose you have a friend who is blind. You go and pray for them and then in the end pray that in the name of Jesus they be healed. All of a sudden, they open their eyes and have perfect 20/20 vision? Perhaps it wasn’t a miracle, but could you not be justified in thinking that it was?

Jelbert also says that in our modern age, there is a great lack of evidence for miracles. Search a miracle claim and at rock bottom the evidence evaporates. Naturally, there is no interacting with someone like Craig Keener whose book Miracles here I reviewed and I interviewed him here. Good luck for Jelbert disproving all of those.

That’s something else to point out. For Jelbert to be right, he has to be right on every single miracle claim there is. Are a number of them fraudulent? Sure. Are all of them in Keener’s work true? Probably not. Yet by necessity, they have to be for Jelbert. Hypothetically, they could all be false and that still would not prove that miracles cannot and have not taken place.

Jelbert also says we are told to have faith. He does not say if Blomberg says this or not, but he presents a paragraph on faith which relies on a false definition. Faith is not a way to know things but a response to known things. Those interested can see more here.

Jelbert also says Blomberg is wrong about miracless being in every layer of the tradition. After all, Paul never mentions them. For one thing, in 2 Corinthians 12, Paul tells us in verse 12 that the signs of an apostle were done including wonders and signs in the midst of the Corinthians. When you write a church questioning your reputation, you don’t make a claim like this unless you know that your opponents will agree to it.

For another thing, Blomberg, of course, knows about Paul and Jelbert should have considered that. What Blomberg is talking about is the Gospel tradition. When we study even down to the layer of Q, we find miracles. The same grounds that allow many facts to be known about the historical Jesus are the same grounds that would allow for miracles. Even skeptical scholars today admit Jesus was known as a miracle-worker and an exorcist.

He also says that Jesus telling people to not say that He healed them would explain why people did not know about the miracle accounts, but this again begs the question that they did not know. Much more likely is that Jesus is doing this so that He can avoid grabbing at honor for Himself and avoid trouble with the authorities at times.

Jelbert then says it comes down to credibility and that the birth narratives destroy the credibility. Yes. Well, I suppose if you look at accounts, don’t bother to look at counter-scholarship on them and throw your hands up in the air and say I can’t reconcile them, then yes, credibility is shot. Fortunately, most scholars don’t do things this way. If we decided an ancient author could not be believed when he got one thing wrong, we would know far less about the ancient world than we do.

This could also work against Jelbert. Let’s take our creationist who is skeptical of evolution again. He comes to Jelbert who wants to argue about fossils that support evolution. “That’s nice, but you see, Piltdown Man and Nebraska Man were thought to be real by Ph.D.s and yet now we know they were hoaxes and besides that, science changes its mind most every week so science like yours has lost all credibility with me.”

Not only this, if we did throw out Matthew and Luke, we still have Mark and John and Blomberg would say even Q has miracles. How is Jelbert going to avoid them? Does he want to keep using this all-or-nothing thinking? Down that road lies mythicism.

Jelbert also relies on Wells who relies on Strauss. Wells is kind of scraping the bottom of the barrel though at least he has changed his mind on mythicism. Why do we have these miracles that are like the Old Testament? Because the authors are trying to depict Jesus as superior to Old Testament prophets.

Yet even if we went with a time of 70 A.D. for Mark, there would still be people around who knew these did not happen if they were false. What we have to assume for Jelbert is that everyone suddenly had total amnesia about what Jesus did and an entirely new story was created and totally replaced what really happened within a generation. Good luck with that.

Going along the path of Wells quoting Strauss, we get the old chestnut of not knowing who the Gospel authors were. Well, I suppose if you have books and all our earliest sources closest to the time say the same thing about authorship and these writers saying these claims of authorship being in different places, it’s really difficult to figure out.

Why would the early church choose Matthew, a name not well-known in the Gospels and a tax collector? Why Mark, who was a sissy boy who ran back home to his mama in the first missionary journey and caused a rift between the first two great evangelists? Heck. You could have named it after Peter who Mark was supposed to be the interpreter of? Why Luke, a Gentile not even mentioned in the Gospels. Interestingly, the only figure you could understand is John, and that is the one disputed the most. Was it John the apostle or John the elder? Many other works from the ancient world are anonymous. What methodology does Jelbert have to identify them?

He also says Luke used Mark and at times edited him so Luke doesn’t see him as completely reliable. First off, no one is arguing for complete reliability. Second, that a source edits some of what is said doesn’t mean the original is seen as unreliable. There could be any number of reasons. Luke might just want to stress something differently than Mark does.

Finally, Jelbert says we do not know how well the Jesus in the Bible reflects the historical Jesus, but we do know that no miracle anywhere has sufficient evidence to accept it. We should all marvel at the wonder of Jelbert with this one. What a remarkable man. Somehow, he knows that all miracles all over the world do not have enough evidence. Somehow, he has investigated all of them. Perhaps there were new miracles said to take place today. Worry not dear readers. Jelbert knows the evidence is insufficient!

That, my friends, is circular reasoning.

Jelbert in all of this nowhere gives any argument against miracles at all. He can say there is no argument for theism (Though he never counters the way of Aquinas), but even so, miracles are an argument for theism. It would have been good for Jelbert to follow his own advice and avoid circular reasoning, but alas, that is not done.

We shall continue next time.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Atheism: The Case Against Christ Chapter 5.

What are my thoughts on chapter 5? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

If you want any hard evidence that McCormick is uninformed on Biblical scholarship, chapter 5 is exhibit A.

To begin with, McCormick talks about the oral tradition and says that many scholars point to how reliable it is. It’s noteworthy that in all of this, he nowhere cites a scholar of oral tradition. There’s a good reason for that. None of them would support the nonsense that McCormick has in this chapter. McCormick acts as if oral tradition was just used by the Jews in order to pass down the laws of God.

This is just wrong. Oral tradition was used by the Jews to pass down the sayings of the rabbis as well, but even more, it wasn’t just used by the Jews. Every society at the time relied more on oral tradition than they did on written tradition. That McCormick treats this as if it was just a Jewish phenomenon shows us that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. While there was writing of course, the main way of transmitting information and what was seen as the most reliable was the oral tradition.

At Loc. 1645 McCormick says “The Christian who would corroborate the resurrection in this fashion cannot ignore the fact that Jews, rabbis, Talmud scholars, and modern Jewish experts on the Jewish oral tradition emphatically reject the claim that Jesus’s resurrection was incorporated into Judaism in this way.” and “If Jesus’s resurrection and other essential Christian doctinres that overturn Judaism were preserved by a time-honored and hallowed Jewish method, why does Judaism persist and deny the resurrection and those doctrines?”

Yes. He actually says these.

For the first part, of what relevance is this? Jews don’t believe Jesus rose from the dead for the most part. Okay. And? That somehow demonstrates that oral tradition, which isn’t exclusively Jewish, is unreliable? A modern Jewish expert on oral tradition (Which McCormick cites none) could uphold that the traditions of Jesus were reliably recorded in the New Testament but that they were wrong beliefs. That’s not a problem.

For the second claim, again, this isn’t a Jewish method but a method used by Jews. Every society used oral traditions and many non-Jewish societies today still use oral tradition. Why is it denied? Because Jesus was seen as a crucified criminal who failed the prophecies. Again, this doesn’t overturn the historical evidence.

McCormick wants to also paint the tradition in the story of a money bag being used as evidence. One cop passes it off to another and then to another. A corrupt cop can take some money out of the bag and then just change the amount that it’s said to hold and pass it off to the next. Isn’t this how oral tradition works?

No. Not at all. McCormick should have read some scholars like Vansina or Bailey or Sandy or Dunn or Small or anyone else. I have no reason to think that McCormick is really doing research when he doesn’t even consult sources for his claims.

Usually, oral tradition is compared to telephone, but this isn’t how it is. Instead, the stories would be told in groups. In those groups, there would be people who would be in charge of the tradition ultimately who were the gatekeepers. They would oversee the process and make sure the stories didn’t stray too far. Some minor changes were allowed for minor details, but the main thrust of the story had to stay the same.

In the telephone game, a story is whispered once to one person who cannot hear it again and they have to tell the same story to the next. That’s not at all what was happening. Stories were told in groups and kept in check in that way.

McCormick can then go on all he wants about what are the odds that one person did X in the chain, but this still assumes that individuals are involved in the chain and not groups and that there can be no back-checking. Again, it would be nice if he would reference some scholars of oral tradition. Perhaps I should comment on evolutionary theory and how it works and not cite any scientists who write on evolution. It would be about as effective. This kind of thing sounds convincing if you’re an atheist who has never studied the issue. If you’ve spent any time studying whatsoever, you’re being convinced, but of the opposite viewpoint.

Of course, McCormick says that between the events and the first recording, 30 to 100 years have passed and we only have two copies from two centuries later.

Well if he means complete copies, that could be. That number is quite likely changed now though as we’re constantly finding new manuscripts. However, we also do have partial manuscripts and quotations from the church fathers and writings in multiple languages all over the Empire. Does McCormick think all of them were somehow altered? Note also there is a difference between first writing and first copy that we have. For most other manuscripts, it’s several centuries between the writing and our first copy and yet they are viewed with far less suspicion.

Now someone might be saying “But Bart Ehrman says”. Yes. Let’s see what Bart Ehrman says.

If the primary purpose of this discipline is to get back to the original text, we may as well admit either defeat or victory, depending on how one chooses to look at it, because we’re not going to get much closer to the original text than we already are.… At this stage, our work on the original amounts to little more than tinkering. There’s something about historical scholarship that refuses to concede that a major task has been accomplished, but there it is. Novum Testamentum Graecum Editio Critica Maior: An Evaluation: TC: A Journal of Biblical Textual Criticism, 1998, a revision of a paper presented at the Textual Criticism section of the 1997 Society of Biblical Literature in San Francisco. http://rosetta.reltech.org/TC/vol03/Ehrman1998.html

And

In spite of these remarkable [textual] differences, scholars are convinced that we can reconstruct the original words of the New Testament with reasonable (although probably not 100 percent) accuracy. Bart Ehrman, The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings 3rd ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003), 481.

McCormick then goes on to say at 1715 that when the story gets written down and then adds “Which we would think would be an even more reliable method of recording” and then goes on from there. Well unfortunately, because we would think it would not mean that they would. In fact, the oral word was more reliable to them than the written word. As Papias said

“I used to inquire what had been said by Andrew, or by Peter, or by Philip, or by Thomas or James, or by John or Matthew or any other of the Lord’s disciples, and what Aristion and the Elder John, the disciples of the Lord, were saying. For books to read do not profit me so much as the living voice clearly sounding up to the present day in (the persons of) their authors.”

Teachers would often not like to write down their teachings because students could misunderstand them apart from their tutelage. All McCormick has done is show some cultural favoritism. Not only that, writing would reach far fewer people. Oral tradition was something everyone could understand and evaluate and keep in check. Writing was also costly and timely and would only reach readers and those who they would be read to. For a look at costs, consider this.

The cost of writing and rewriting was not free. A secretary charged by the line. Like anyone whose living depended on billing customers, the secretary kept up with how many lines he wrote each time. Although we do not know the exact charges for making drafts and producing a letter, we can make some educated guesses. A rough, and very conservative, estimate of what it would cost in today’s dollars to prepare a letter like 1 Corinthians would be $2100, $700 for Galatians, and $500 for 1 Thessalonians.” Richards, Capes, and Reeves, Rediscovering Paul p. 78

Of course, we have a quotation from Ehrman which ends with the classic “We have more variances in the manuscripts than we do words in the New Testament.” This sounds convincing again to an atheist who hasn’t studied it, but the reason we have so many differences is we have a large work and we have a large number of manuscripts. Ehrman elsewhere does show that most of these variants are inconsequential.

“It would be a mistake, however, to assume that the only changes being made were by copyists with a personal stake in the wording of the text. In fact, most of the changes found in our early Christian manuscripts have nothing to do with theology or ideology. Far and away the most changes are the result of mistakes, pure and simple — slips of the pen, accidental omissions, inadvertent additions, misspelled words, blunders of one sort or another. Scribes could be incompetent; it is important to recall that most of the copyists in the early centuries were not trained to do this kind of work but were simply the literate members of their congregations who were (more or less) able and willing. (p. 55) (Misquoting Jesus by Bart Ehrman)

McCormick then says that we know some works were not canonized and deliberately excluded. Indeed. A good researcher at this point would want to know what these manuscripts were and why. McCormick doesn’t, because McCormick is not a good researcher. Just tossing out a sound bite is enough.

McCormick doesn’t know apparently that documents included were to have apostolic authority in believing to be from an apostle or the close associate of an apostle, they were to be in line with the oral tradition, and they were to be accepted by the majority of the church instead of a few isolated communities. I invite McCormick to read some of these later writings and then he should know why they weren’t included.

McCormick also has something to say about the miracles at Lourdes in that the accounts don’t stand up to outside scrutiny. Is he not aware that miracle claims always call for outside scrutiny? It’s not just Catholics working in isolation and they error more on the side of caution.

At 1813, McCormick tells us that the Gospels and Q are the only early written sources we have. Completely absent is any mention of Paul which contains the earliest and best material on the resurrection. Again, exactly how out of touch is McCormick with scholarship today?

He concludes the chapter saying it is true the histories and transmission of the information is much more convoluted than the simplified model he has given. No. In reality, the way of tradition as stated is quite simple as I have argued. It is McCormick’s story that is convoluted. Of course, he would know this if he bothered to read any scholars on oral tradition. Unfortunately he does not, and yet he wants us to somehow treat him as an authority.

I don’t have enough faith for that.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

McCormick’s Gaffe

Book Plunge: Writing The Gospels

What do I think of Eric Eve’s book published by SPCK publishers? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

First off, my thanks goes out to Dr. Eve and the people at SPCK for publishing for being willing to place in my hands a copy of this book for review purposes. I have read Ehrman’s book and I saw a number of people I respect speaking about how they’d rather read Eric Eve on oral tradition. Trusting their judgment, I reached out and got a favorable reply.

Eve’s book really deals with a number of misconceptions we can have and this largely because of the way that we live in a text society instead of an oral one. (Although we might have even bypassed text to an extent now as we often more rely on videos.) Often, we take our modern ideas and we put them on to the ancient society and this is just an anachronism. One example Eve gives is one that we don’t think of.

We can often picture the writer of a Gospel or Paul sitting at a desk writing and having piles of scrolls all around and sifting through the material. This is false. People did not sit at writing desks and write out their materials. If they had a scroll, it would likely be just one and the rest of the time they would be working with memory. As I read this, I wondered if this could have something to do also with why many times sources were not explicitly cited as they were today. If all you have is room for one scroll and the rest is memory, you might expect people to catch allusions more than anything else.

Eve also provides good corrective on memory. To be sure, we can make a mistake of thinking oral tradition is infallible, but within a certain time frame, it is indeed quite reliable. In fact, if it wasn’t, we would really have to throw out much of ancient history. Many of the writings of Plutarch date to far after the time of the people that he wrote about.

Speaking of Plutarch, there’s plenty on him and how he did his work and what he wrote about. This is also in conjunction with the discussion of the genre of the Gospels. Readers of mine will know that Mike Licona is himself preparing to release a book on this very topic so I’m eager to see if Licona will interact with any of the material from Eve.

To get back to memory, Eve shows that memory was stressed in the ancient world. It wasn’t just the memorizing of stuff, such as we might expect for a trivia game of sorts. It was also being able to work with the information in one’s own mind. Perhaps you could quote a text backwards for instance. This showed real mastery of the material and would accrue one greater honor in the world.

There’s also a section on the Synoptic Problem. I am one who is more open to Mark Goodacre’s thesis on Q and I’m quite skeptical of it. (In fact, I was really surprised to hear in my recent interview with Richard Bauckham that he’s now skeptical of Q as well.) It still is something I have never really sat down and looked at myself, but I’ve just been suspicious of Q. Eve provides food for thought.

Sometimes I wish Eve was more conservative than he is, but for the most part, this is something that will provide good insights. It is a worthy edition to the library of any student of the New Testament. It is also something I wish more skeptics of the Christian faith would understand who critique a document from an oral-dominated society from the perspective of a textual one.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: The Gospel of the Lord

What do I think about Michael Bird’s book The Gospel of the Lord published by Eerdmans’s?

gospelofthelord

Michael Bird is really just a treat to read. Whenever I read him, I wish more scholars could write like him. Sometimes, we seem to have this idea that scholarly writing should be dry and serious. Yet, I can’t help but think that Chesterton said years ago that funny and serious are not opposites. The opposite of funny is just not funny. I say this because Bird is definitely a serious writer who knows his stuff well having an extensive bibliography in the material he produces, and yet as you are reading focusing on the subject, he will wow you with some funny joke or illustration to make his point.

As an example of this, Bird says that some think Jesus did not preach a Gospel. Instead, this was something added in by the later church and is an anachronism. Bird realizes that this is a prominent position and says of it

“Yes I think that such a scholarly view, dominant and durable as it has been, is about as sure-footed as a mountain goat on a very steep iceberg.”

Yes. Seeing classic lines like that throughout the book give it an excellent approach as you can see that Bird is serious in his stuff and he enjoys it as well. It would be wonderful if many other NT scholars followed the same line. Many of us can see Jesus used humor in his teaching. Why not do the same in our writing?

But let’s get to the book focus itself. If you want to come here and find out what the Gospel of the Lord is and what an impact it will have on your life and what it means to be a Christian, you won’t find much of that here. What is being written about is the idea of the Gospel and how it came to be. What was meant by Gospel? What about the oral tradition? Why was it recorded the way that it was recorded? What about questions like the synoptic problem or the reliability of the Gospel of John? How much of this really traces back to Jesus and how much of it is just material the early church added in?

Bird does rightly state that the Gospels are giving the story of Jesus becoming Lord. This is classic N.T. Wright as well. God is becoming king in Jesus and restoring His Kingdom. Jesus is the agent that God is acting through and acting through in a much more unique way than any past prophet since Jesus is more than a prophet, but God Himself visiting His people. This is the message that rocked the world and it wasn’t some “I met Jesus and He makes me happy and gives me fulfillment and He’ll do the same for you.” Paul’s would have been “I’ve seen Jesus and He’s the risen King of this universe and you’d better get in line because Caesar is no longer in charge.” Paul did not use those exact words, but that is certainly the sentiment there when he proclaims that Jesus is Lord.

We also discuss the question of why the biographical information of Jesus is there. It seems odd that if the early church wasn’t interested in the historical Jesus, that they would put so much into this historical figure. Why not just go with a sayings Gospel that would be revealed much like the Gnostics got their revelations? We could also ask why the early church would invent a Jesus who said nothing about what they were struggling with at the time. The Jesus of the Gospels says nothing about if we should eat meat offered to idols or how church services are to be conducted or how much of the law a Gentile must follow, particularly with regard to circumcision.

Why also would the issues of Jesus be a pre-Easter narrative? Wouldn’t it be better to have the authoritative teachings on the lips of a post-resurrected Jesus? This is something interesting about the Gospel accounts of the resurrection. They’re so lacking in theology. Now you might say God raises Jesus from the dead in them, true enough, but you don’t see any statement really about ramifications. You don’t see any talk about salvation by grace through faith being explained. Jesus does not say “Because I have been raised, it means that God is doing X, Y, Z.” We go to the epistles for that.

Bird also talks about the oral tradition and how it would have been shaped by eyewitnesses. This did not rise up in a vacuum. These people were not just passing around sayings and claiming they came from revelation. They were claiming in the face of those who would have known better, that Jesus really did live at such and such a time and did say such and such a thing. Now this is going to seem foreign to many on the Internet who happen to think the idea that Jesus never even existed is all the rage among scholars. (It isn’t. It’s more like talking about people who believe the Earth is flat.) Yet this is the material that we are dealing with. Richard Bauckham has also done a magnificent job on this in Jesus and the Eyewitnesses. Of course, this is going to be presented to a crowd that will first say “The Gospels were written late and were not contemporary” and then when you show that say “Eyewitness testimony is unreliable.” You have to keep moving that goalpost!

movingthegoalpost

Also definitely worth highlighting is this statement by Bird that I think should be written in gold and passed on to everyone on the Internet and elsewhere who debates about Christianity any.

“There are two approaches to the Gospels that I ardently deride. First, some über-secularists want to read the Bible as nothing more than a deposit of silly ancient magic, mischievous myths, wacky rituals, and surreal superstitions. They engage in endless comparisons of the Bible with other mythic religions to flatten out the distinctive elements of the story. Added to that is advocacy of countless conspiracy theories to explain away any historical elements in the text. This approach is coupled with an inherent distaste for anything supernatural, pre-modern, and reeking of religion. Such skeptics become positively evangelical in their zealous fervor to prove that nothing in the Bible actually happened. Second, then there are those equally ardent Bible-believers who want to treat the Bible as if it fell down from heaven in 1611, written in ye aulde English, bound in pristine leather, with words of Jesus in red, Scofield’s notes, and charts of the end times. Such persons regard exploring topics like problems in Johannine chronology just as religiously affronting as worshiping a life-size golden statue of Barack Obama. Now I have to say that both approaches bore the proverbial pants off me. They are equally as dogmatic as they are dull. They are as uninformed as they are unimaginative. There is another way”

If only this could be written in gold and plastered on the mirror of every debater anywhere of the historical Jesus. How much better off we would be! I have so often met the former who would think that if you have to admit to a historical Jesus, you might as well go on and commit ritual suicide. I like to tell such people that many atheists admit the existence of a historical Jesus and go on to lead happy and meaningful lives. On the other hand, there are people who put a doctrine like Inerrancy on a pedestal. (We surely don’t know anyone like that around here) Some followers of this school of thought are so convinced that if you show one contradiction in the Bible, the whole thing is false. Unfortunately, this has led many skeptics to think the exact same thing, hence there are some books where the authors actually think they disprove Christianity just by showing Bible contradictions.

Bird treats this study of the historical Jesus so seriously that he goes on to say

“Second, we need to get our hands and feet dirty in the mud and muck of history. Jesus is not an ahistorical religious icon who can be deciphered entirely apart from any historical situation. On the contrary, he could not have been born as Savior of the world somewhere in the Amazon rainforest or in the Gobi Desert. He came to Israel and through Israel, to make good God’s promises to save the world through a renewed Israel. So, whether we like it or not, we are obligated to study Jesus in his historical context. I would go so far to say that this is even a necessary task of discipleship. For it is in the context of Israel’s Scripture and in the socio-political circumstance of Roman Palestine that Jesus is revealed as the Messiah and Son of God. So unless we are proponents of a docetic christology in which Jesus only seems human, we are committed to a study of the historical person Jesus of Nazareth in his own context. That means archaeological, social-historical, and cultural studies of the extant sources as far as they are available to us. It requires immersing ourselves in as much of the primary literature of the first century as we can get our hands on — Jewish, Greek, and Roman — so that we can walk, talk, hear, and smell the world of Jesus. It entails that we go through the Gospels unit by unit and ask what exactly Jesus intended and how his hearers would have understood him. It equally involves asking why the Evangelists have told the story as they have and why they have the peculiarities that they do. Third, we have to explore the impact that the Gospels intended to make on their implied audiences and how the four Gospels as a whole intend to shape the believing communities who read them now”

Did I read that right? Making studying the historical Jesus necessary for discipleship. Yes. Yes you did. And that includes studying him in his historical context. That means not imposing our 21st century ideas on to Jesus. It means doing real work. Again, look at the two groups Bird talked about above. The group of skeptics won’t because they say “If God wanted to reveal this to me, He would have made it clearer to me” as if God is just looking for your intellectual agreement to what He has to say. The second will say “If it’s the Word of God, it will be understandable by the Holy Spirit.” Both groups are just lazy. The first refuses to do any work and prefers their arrogant atheistic presuppositionalism. The second group is just as arrogant and thinks it’s God’s job to make the text clear to them.

Bird also talks about delivering such information on university campuses. While students expect to hear Jesus is a bunch of nonsense, Bird points out that much of their information comes from The Simpsons more than real historical study. This is becoming increasingly a problem when those who argue the most on this topic can quite often do the least reading. If they do any reading at all, they are only reading what agrees with them. That is assuming that they will even read a book. Too many of them will just read what they find on the Internet and treat that as Gospel.

Bird writes throughout the book on oral tradition and the forming of the Gospels and yes, the genre of the Gospels, something I’ve had some strong reason to write on due to certain people having a strong position that the Gospels cannot be Greco-Roman biographies. Bird does place them firmly within this category. However, the information in the Gospels is entirely from a Jewish viewpoint. These works are saturated in the Old Testament and in fact assume a thorough background with the Old Testament and with the area of Israel often times as well. This would show that the early church was also already treating the Old Testament quite seriously.

While I could go on, I think enough has been said at this point. Those wishing I had said more I hope will realize that I leave that to you in getting this book and learning the magnificent information in it. Bird is a wonderful writer with excellent humor and I look forward to reading more by him.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Deeper Waters Podcast 2/1/2014: Mark Goodacre

What’s coming up on 2/1/14 on the Deeper Waters Podcast? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters!

045513_goodacre001

The Gospel of Thomas is a work that most date to the second century in NT studies, but there are some exceptions. If you picked up a book made by the Jesus Seminar called “The Five Gospels” you’d find that that fifth Gospel is Thomas. John Dominic Crossan, for instance, dates the work to the first century.

What is the Gospel of Thomas and does it really date that far back? Should it really have been in the canon or is the Jesus Seminar getting something wrong here? For this, I decided to talk to someone who has recently written a book to show that in fact, Thomas depends on the synoptics Gospels.

That’s Dr. Mark Goodacre. Goodacre studied at the Exeter College at the University of Oxford in the U.K. earning a B.A. in theology followed by a Master’s and PH.D. in NT Research. He currently is professor of NT and Christian origins at Duke University in North Carolina and is the host of the NT Pod and runs the NTWeblog that can be found here. More on Goodacre can be found here.

Dr. Goodacre will be telling us about his reasons for thinking that the Gospel of Thomas depends on the Synoptics which would both lead to an early dating possibly for the Synoptics as well as a late dating for the Gospel of Thomas.

While he’s here, I also plan on having us discuss Goodacre’s theory of Q. Much of NT scholarship places great emphasis on a source for the NT called Q. Q is short for Quelle, the German word for source, and is supposed to be a source that was used by the writers of Matthew, Mark, and Luke.

There is a problem however.

We have never once found a document that is Q.

Despite this, numerous theories have been built on Q and what it looked like. Some scholars like Burton Mack have even made layers that are supposed to be within Q and have made claims about different communities that have different levels of those layers and what they believed about the historical Jesus.

Goodacre’s position is definitely in the minority, but it is one that I think we should all be listening to. After all, if the majority in this case is wrong, we want to know it. If Goodacre’s case is not right (And I’m quite skeptical of Q myself so I’m open to it), then those who hold to the Q theory can get to see some of the best objections to their theory getting us closer to what the truth is in any case.

So please be sure to be joining me this Saturday for a fascinating conversation with Dr. Mark Goodacre. The show will be airing from 3-5 PM EST on Saturday, 2/1/2014. As always, if you want to call in and ask a question, you can use the number 714-242-5180 to do so.

The link to the show can be found here.

In Christ,
Nick Peters