Book Plunge: Armageddon Part 5

Why is the book of Revelation so violent? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

We’re continuing our look at Ehrman’s latest book talking about the violence in the book. At the start, he does say a statement about the Old Testament that is worth repeating.

Many Christians admit they are just not that interested in the Old Testament because its teachings have been surpassed and even superseded by the coming of Jesus and because, well, they find it boring. I wonder what its author would say about that.

There is a lot of truth here. We need to remember the Old Testament is just as much Scripture as is the new. It was the Scripture of the original church and it’s still our Scripture today.

But to the Old Testament we go to talk about the violence. if you expect interaction with people like Flannagan and Copan, you will be disappointed. Walton is not mentioned either. If you want to see Ehrman interact with the other side, it’s not here.

Ehrman paints the picture as if the Israelites were going to these cities and they were just peacefully living out their lives and the Israelites show up and say “God wills it!” and destroy everyone involved. He uses the example of Jericho, which is fitting since this is the most graphic, but it is also not representative. It needs to be established what Jericho was.

For one thing, it could not be that big since Israel could walk around it seven times in one day. Most of these cities were not cities but forts. These would be where the military would be and not the places of women and children. Also, from Rahab, we see that the people knew what had happened and this wasn’t exactly a sneak attack. They encamped outside the city for a week. Anyone could leave if they wanted.

He also brings up the account of the Moabites and the Midianites. In this, the Moabite women come and seduce Israel into sexual immorality. Moses responds by having the leaders of the people killed. Ehrman depicts this as human sacrifice, but this is not what it is. Even if it is done to stop the wrath of God, it is done out of justice in that the people who did the wrongs are put to death for what they did in accordance with the Law.

We are told 24,000 Israelites die and just those who did the wrong but the innocent. The problem is the text doesn’t say that. It just says 24,000 died. It doesn’t say who they were. Even if they did not participate, this is a collectivist society and each person was responsible not just for himself, but for his neighbor as well. The sin of one could be seen as the sin of all.

Ehrman also speaks with horror about the way that Phineas put a spear through Zimri and Kosbi. What is left out is that this is after judgment had started and the people were weeping. This wasn’t done in private, but was done publicly as the man brought her with him publicly and the text is unclear at least in English, but it looks like they went into the Tent of Meeting, which is a holy place. This is an act of open defiance. Phineas is praised for killing both of them with one thrust of a spear while they were having sex. Violent? Yes, but sin is violent and destructive.

Ehrman is one who complains about evil, but when God does something about evil, he complains about that as well.

Of course, this gets to Numbers 31. I have already written about that here and here.

He also talks about the wrath of God in Hosea and how infants will be dashed to pieces and pregnant women ripped open. Why is God doing this?

Answer: He isn’t. God has laid out the stipulations of the covenant with His people. If they do not obey His covenant, He removes His protection. What happens then? Their enemies have their way and this is what their enemies do. Is God supposed to overrule them somehow so they can do everything else but that? Should the children be made invincible and the pregnant women’s stomachs be indestructible? Ehrman doesn’t answer such questions. Outrage is enough.

Ehrman tells us that when people read the Bible, they tend to see what they want to see. This is true, but it includes Ehrman as well. He wants to depict God as violent. Easy to do. Just cherry pick some passages and ignore everything to the contrary. It would be just as easy to do the opposite.

He says this is true of laypeople, but it is also true of Christians scholars who see nothing wrong with God destroying people forever in a lake of fire.

Well, it’s Ehrman’s responsibility to show this. Outrage is not enough. Now I don’t think the lake of fire is literal, but is it wrong for God to judge and take life? Why? On what basis? What is the moral code that God is obligated to follow? I can also assure Ehrman Christian scholars have wrestled with these issues. Unfortunately, we can’t say if Ehrman is aware of these claims since he never cites them. Has he considered Jerry Walls’s dissertation on Hell, for instance?

God is above our understanding of ethics and right and wrong. Whatever he does is right by definition. It would certainly not be right for my next-door neighbor to inject scorpion venom into someone’s veins and allow them to suffer in anguish for five months, refusing to put them out of their misery when they begged to die. And no one could justify a tyrant who chose to torture his people and then throw them into a vat of burning sulfur. But God is not my next-door neighbor or an earthly tyrant, and so he cannot be judged by human standards. If God does such things in the book of Revelation, who are we, mere mortals, to object? We simply cannot judge the Almighty.

But this is an important distinction. We are moral agents put in a universe where we have rules of right and wrong to follow. God is not. There are things God can do that I cannot do. God owes no one life and has all right to take it if He wants to. I do not.

Also, it’s worth pointing out that Ehrman regularly says we shouldn’t read Revelation in a literalistic fashion, but when he wants to depict God as violent, that’s exactly what He does.

It is somewhat ironic that so many readers of Revelation think, as I did, that the God portrayed there is above all human sense of right and wrong. Most of these same readers also believe that our own sense of right and wrong has been given to us by God. This , as you probably know, is a commonly invoked “proof” that God exists. According to this argument, if there were no superior moral being who created us, we could not explain why we have such an innate knowledge of what is good and bad behavior. Our morality, it is argued, must be rooted in the character of God, given to us as creatures made in his image, whether we choose to follow our God-given sense of morality or not.

It is worth pointing out that first off, Ehrman speaks of this as a “proof” of God, but He never shows where it is wrong. He never shows where our ideas of good and evil come from. I also want to say that is not the way I make the argument. I do not say a superior moral being made us. I said a superior good being made us. God is good, but He is not moral. Morality is doing what you ought to do, but God has no ought. God just does what is good. If something is moral, it is good, but just because something is good, that does not mean you have an obligation to do it. It might be good to sell all you have and give it all to the poor (Or it might be foolish), but that doesn’t mean you are morally obligated to do it. It might be good to leave a generous tip that is double what the waitress served you, but you are not morally obligated to do it. It might be good to pay the widow’s electric bill, but you are not morally obligated to.

But if our own sense of right and wrong reveals the character of God, what if God’s moral code requires him to torture and destroy those he disapproves of, those who refuse to become his slaves? (“Torture” is not too strong a word here: Remember those locusts.) 7 If God is like that, and we are told to be “godly” people — told to imitate God in our lives — then surely it follows that we should imitate him in how we treat others. If God hates those who refuse to be his slaves and hurts and then destroys them, shouldn’t we do so as well? Are we to act “godly” or not? And what does it mean to be Christlike if Christ’s wrath leads to the destruction of nearly the entire human race? Are we really to be “imitators of Christ”? Should we, too, force our enemies to suffer excruciating pain and death?

It’s amazing how wrong someone can be in an argument. For one thing, God does not have a moral code. Ehrman will never define what is meant by good and evil. Good then simply becomes that which Ehrman likes and evil, that which Ehrman doesn’t like.

However, I also want to know what is the context in which we are told to be godly and Christlike. I can be told to be godly, but surely I am not supposed to be able to create a universe. I can be told to be Christlike, but that doesn’t mean that I can claim divine prerogatives for myself. I can say I have a mentor I want to be like, but I would not be justified in sleeping with his wife and raising his children.

He also says Jesus is seeking vengeance on those who had nothing to do with his death, but this is embracing the futurist paradigm that Ehrman said is NOT the way to read Revelation. In my Preterist understanding, this took place as judgment on the Roman Empire and especially Jerusalem in 70 AD, which were involved in the death of Jesus and had not repented. Of course, Ehrman has no inkling shown that he is aware of such a view.

In the end, I find this still confusing. Ehrman condemns a futuristic reading of the text and treating it literalistically, but when he wants to condemn the text, that is exactly what he goes to. Ehrman still gives us the sound of one hand clapping. He presents a strong case, but rather a largely emotional one, but shows no indication he has interacted with the best of his critics.

We will continue next time.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

We Have Two Swords

What is meant by this passage in Luke? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I was talking with someone yesterday who was curious what I thought of the passage in Luke 22:36-38. I figured I wouldn’t have time for a sit-down conversation so I would write a blog on it. If you don’t know, this is the passage.

36 He said to them, “But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one. 37 It is written: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors’[b]; and I tell you that this must be fulfilled in me. Yes, what is written about me is reaching its fulfillment.”

38 The disciples said, “See, Lord, here are two swords.”

“That’s enough!” he replied.

Often times, this passage is brought up in the context of answering questions about pacifism or self-defense. The problem is this is a really difficult passage to understand for many what is going on. Usually if you want to argue for a position, you start with passages that are more clear.

So at the start, I do not hold to a pacifist interpretation. I think Jesus is more often talking about private situations and these are situations involving personal insults. He’s not talking about how a government should be run.

I also contend that if you see someone in danger and you are capable of doing something, if that means physical confrontation, then you do that. If you can’t, you at least alert those who can, such as by calling the police. (And really since I don’t want to encourage us all becoming vigilantes, generally if you have time always try to call the police first.)

So what is going on in this passage?

Jesus is getting ready to go to the cross and He knows from this point on that it’s going to be much harder for His apostles, and indeed it is. Persecution will be coming. Thus, he tells them to sell their cloak and buy a sword.

The sword here is not exactly first-rate military gear. It’s said to be a small sword as distinguished by a large sword. It could be used for cutting animals and a number of Jews typically carried one around. Hence, it is not surprising to hear that in the Gospels, the apostles do have at least two of them.

Despite that, it is not likely that Jesus meant this to be taken in a literal sense. After all, if they were trying to defend themselves, two swords are not going to be enough to defend twelve people. Jesus’s exasperation then would be because His disciples were again misunderstanding Him. Jesus has a recurring theme when He is taken literalistically when He doesn’t mean to be.

So in the end, what this is saying is simply Jesus knows hard times are coming and some changes are going to take place. Like the advice given to a scout troop, they need to be prepared.

We still need that advice today.

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

We Don’t Need No Stinking New Philosophy

Do we need something new? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Over the weekend, I saw somewhere on Twitter that Elon Musk had said that people are losing hope in the future and we need a new philosophy. Unfortunately, I have not been able to find that tweet again. I agree with Musk on the first part, that people are losing hope. I disagree with the second part that we need a new philosophy.

By philosophy, I suspect Musk means a new way of living and a new way of seeing the world. It’s understandable, but it’s unlikely we’re going to uncover a grand new truth of reason that hasn’t been discovered already. The main foundations have already been laid and we are simply building on them.

I do question that we need something new based on the maxim of C.S. Lewis. If you find yourself traveling the wrong direction, the way of progress is to turn around. If we look at where our “progress” is taking us, it really doesn’t look good. The humanist dream has always said that Utopia is just around the corner, when Utopia usually turns out to be a nightmare.

What we need is not a new philosophy but a new embrace of the old philosophy and that is to return to Christianity. It is in Christianity that we have an embrace of the family, the essential building block of our society. It is in this system that we have an emphasis on morality and the good and love of your fellow man.

As for hope, Christianity gives us hope, and this is hope not just in the future, but hope for the present. We have a real message of forgiveness and that justice will be done for all. That can be both good and frightening as well. Justice sounds good when we think about evil people and we think about people who have wronged us. It doesn’t sound as good when we realize we have to sit at the same seat.

Christianity does give us hope that death has been defeated. It means that no weapon formed against us will prosper. It tells us that we should do our best, but that everything doesn’t depend on us. This is our Father’s world and He is watching over it. This message gives us something to live for. It’s not just about collecting the most stuff or having the most pleasure. It’s about seeking a greater kingdom and the best way to bring it about.

Christianity is a message of hope to people. It was something that changed the world of its time and whenever it is preached and lived, that same change begins again. Christianity tells us that everyone is worthwhile and everyone is in the image of God. Christianity tells us that God cares enough about us that He Himself lived among us and He is a security that we can put our hope in.

The way to change society around us today is not by anything new. It is to undo the damage that has been done, I contend principally by the sexual revolution, and return to the truth of Christianity, an ethic not dependent on circumstances or feelings, but on eternal truth. Some could think that hope is just for the future, but I will contend another time, perhaps tomorrow, that this hope is for the present life as well.

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

Why Doesn’t God Just Forgive?

Couldn’t He just say it’s all good? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

One objection that seems to be pretty common is asking why can’t God just forgive? It seems to work in Judaism and Islam. Right? Islam actually has never had to have a system of sacrifices in place. Jews today without a temple have other means of forgiveness open to them they say.

Christians have never needed animal sacrifices, but it seems we have gone a step further. Apparently, we need the Son of God to come and offer Himself as a sacrifice for us. Doesn’t that seem bloody and grotesque? Why would God have to have something like that?

Something to point out is that there are plenty of atonement theories. Sometimes when people ask me how it works, I try to focus also on the more important issues. Let’s say Jesus really did die on the cross and that He did rise from the dead and thus demonstrate His claims about who He was were true. We have that, but we’re not sure just how we are forgiven based on that.

Would that lead anyone to believe Christianity was false?

However, this is a question I have thought about and yes, I do have a response to it. To start off, everything is going to be going on the assumption that the basic Christian account is true. If you do not believe that, then accept it for the time being because this is a hypothetical scenario. It’s testing to see if Christianity is internally coherent and not if it lines up to the external world. If Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, this is just trivia. If He did, then this definitely matters.

If Christianity is true, then God is the greatest good in the universe. Nothing can top Him. Nothing can go beyond Him. God will also be consistent and treat Himself as the greatest good. If He does not, then He is denying His own nature.

So now we have people who sin. One problem could be we treat sin as such a nonchalant word. Imagine a doctor coming to you and telling you you’re sick. That’s not good, but you’re not going to be panicking. Now imagine the same doctor telling you you have cancer. Are you sick if you have cancer? Yes. The two are quite different. A fender bender is a car accident, but so is a total collision. The two are quite different.

So what is sin? It’s not a slip-up or an accident or a mistake. Locking yourself out of your house is a mistake. Breaking into your neighbor’s house is an evil. Sin is really an act of divine treason. It is an implicit statement that you oppose God and all He is and stands for and desire to sit on His throne. It is the same even for those of us who are forgiven Christians. Somewhere, we all still doubt God and think we can do better.

So if God just forgives us, then what does that say? It says that He values our good above His own good, which is also goodness itself. There is something greater than the good. The creation is more important than the creator. In a sense, God becomes an idolator.

Now can He just let us go and not provide any means of forgiveness to us? He can, and He would be just in doing so. God owes us all nothing. Whatever you think of Hell, be it real or be it annihilation, God does not have to save any of us from it. He is under no obligation to free anyone from sin and under no obligation to forgive.

But suppose He wants to anyway. God is just. Sin must be punished, but there is no way that we can pay that price, that price of death. After all, money and good works could never overcome what has been done and if they could, it would require an infinite amount, which we can never pay.

Who can pay an infinite amount? An infinite being could. That would mean Jesus. His sacrifice pays the need for justice and for mercy and still shows the love God has in being willing to go through this for our sakes. God is still the greatest good out there and humanity is shown goodness and love.

That’s my understanding of it at least. Hypothetically, even if this cannot be proven, I at least see it as coherent and thus the question is answered. Even if it wasn’t, that doesn’t show Christianity is false. It just shows we lacked understanding in something, which should shock no one.

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

Jesus and Moral Issues

Can you separate Jesus from morality? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

As I said yesterday, I have been reading Machen lately and something he said in a work of his was about how we have pulled away from what he calls the “supernatural Jesus.” Now I have said before about my beef with the term “supernatural“. However, I do know what he’s saying. This is a Jesus who is seen as more or less just a great moral teacher, perhaps highly enlightened, but He certainly wasn’t divine in any way and definitely didn’t rise from the dead.

However, as we have moved away from this kind of Jesus, so with that has gone much of our moral standards in society. Many people even today do not want to speak ill of Jesus. Of course, some people do, but Jesus is still by and large a respected figure in our history. (Setting aside the crackpot position that says Jesus never even existed.) Few would want to ascribe malicious intent to Jesus.

A lot of people do like the morality of Jesus to some extent, which is quite odd when one thinks about it since really, His morality is often quite difficult. I would find it easy to go through life and not commit adultery with a woman. I find it extremely difficult to go through life without looking at another woman with lust. It would be easy to go through life without murdering a brother of mine. It is far harder to go through life without anger toward him.

Jesus did change this and so you had a society soon that was changing rapidly with a people who were practicing sexual chastity, love for their fellow man, and tremendous self-sacrifice. When a plague came through the Roman Empire, the physicians fled, but the Christians stayed and tended to the sick. The Christians didn’t have the science to know how a plague worked, but they were unintentionally giving themselves some immunity to the sickness by staying and facing it to help the sick.

We have been trying an experiment to take the teachings of Jesus and somehow exclude the man of Jesus from them. Yes. This teaching is quite quaint and we like it, but we don’t need that extra baggage with it. We don’t need all this nonsense of miracles and resurrections obviously. Let’s just go with the teachings and live by them.

This experiment has been a failure.

Inevitably, Jesus’s teachings are bound up with His person, authority, and character. It’s not just that Jesus taught great truths, but He also lived them and lived them perfectly. Jesus didn’t teach these as great suggestions either. He taught them as commands and He insisted that it was only by His power that one could live them out.

Naturally, we all have strengths and weaknesses. Some of us could be very generous by nature and yet struggle with a temper. A man could be extremely peaceful and wouldn’t hurt a fly, but he struggles with the sight of the beautiful women who he passes by regularly. In our society, we have often said that we like the idea of tolerance and non-judgmentalism, which are really not the message of Jesus, but we don’t really care for messages on sexual chastity. (Isn’t it funny how those two go together also?)

However, virtue is not a buffett where you take what you want and reject the rest. You have to take all of it. Try to separate one part of Jesus’s teachings from the whole and you have the overemphasis of one trait with the neglect of another. Part of this is because of the separation of Jesus from His lifestyle as if Jesus is just incidental to His teachings.

Perhaps we can’t dispense with the miraculous Jesus after all.

Now if you have a resurrected Jesus who speaks with authority and can forgive one’s own sins so one can live out love and forgiveness in others, the system works a lot better. Jesus did not come just to teach us all how to get along. Yes. He wants us to live well and have life, but He wants us to be forgiven and free as well.

Ultimately, you have to accept the bad news of Jesus, you are a sinner in need of salvation, before you can truly live out the teachings. If you do not realize how much you are forgiven, you will be incapable of loving the way He wants you to. This can be a struggle for many of us. I see myself as the guy who grew up avoiding pornography, drugs, alcohol, staying chaste until I was married, etc. It is easy to look and say “I’ve lived a good life and don’t really have major sins to deal with”, but I need to realize that in many cases, I struggle with pride and other inner sins that could be far worse in a sense and yet, I am forgiven.

Every sin after all is ultimately divine treason. It is denying one or more attributes of God and saying that you should be on the throne. I am one who has excessive worrying and anxiety and it’s tempting to want to be in control of my own life and panic about even seemingly minor decisions. If I am guilty of divine treason, which I am and which you are as well, isn’t it a wonder we are forgiven? What person says to someone else “I forgive you for wanting me dead and acting on it.”?

If we don’t go by the strength of Christ and the Holy Spirit, then we have to do that from within. Now this does not mean that non-Christians cannot be loving people. They can be. It means that this is a struggle for all of us because our natural tendency is to love ourselves more than others. Even the suicide loves themselves more despite their thinking of how awful they are. They seek their good above that of others though trying to tell themselves everyone else will be better off without them.

The early Christians were able to love greatly because they knew that they had been loved greatly. Take that away and it all falls apart. They knew they were loved greatly not because Jesus was some nice man who was really enlightened and said they were special. It was because Jesus was the divine man who had risen from the dead and had the authority to forgive them for all they had done.

Christianity cannot be reduced to just a set of ethics. It is an entire worldview. Removing the miraculous Jesus removes the batteries and the system doesn’t work.

If our culture is to recover, the only way to do that is to return to the original system which worked fine. That is the real miracle-working Jesus who rose from the dead and forgives sins. Any other Jesus won’t do.

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

Book Plunge: On The Incarnation

What do I think of Athanasius’s classic work? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I had been doing some thinking on the incarnation and was looking for a book to read and I thought “Why not Athanasius?” After all, since it’s an older work I can get it immediately on Kindle and it will be cheaper as well. Thus, each night I read a chapter of On The Incarnation before I went to bed. This is also one way you can recognize theological nerds. Our devotional reading is something like Athanasius. (I am also reading the complete church fathers on Kindle.)

As I got further into this work, I did begin to realize not what I was seeing, but what I was not seeing so much. I was not seeing a response to Arius. Arius isn’t even mentioned. I even did a check to see if the book was written after the Council of Nicea and lo and behold, it was.

Keep in mind as I say that that none of that is said to attack the book or say one shouldn’t read it. I don’t want to attack it and I think people should read it. It’s just to express an honest surprise to me. I came expecting to find such replies to questions like “Why didn’t Jesus know the time of His return?” (For the record, I don’t think He’s talking about His return there, but the question still stands) or “Don’t you know God can’t die?”

What is found instead is indeed much more devotional literature. There are claims in there that I am sure the skeptics of Christianity in the day wouldn’t accept just like those same claims would not be accepted by ours today. However, I am sure that there are some claims even skeptics would accept and it would lead to greater appreciation. Athanasius’s work is not so much about the how of the incarnation as it is about the why of the incarnation and then about the facts of the results.

When the results are talked about, it’s not so much the incarnation as it is along the lines of the books we have today talking about how the world has been changed for the better since the coming of Jesus. Many of these we may not be as able to verify being far away from the times, but the people back then could probably look at the world around them that had really just gone from being largely pagan influenced to now more and more if not largely Christian influenced.

So if you come to this book and you’re expecting a defense of the incarnation, you’re going to be let down on that front, but you should not be let down overall. After all, a book should not be faulted for not doing what it was never meant to do. Athanasius is wanting to use a likely new position he has to draw those under him into the worship of God and after just winning a major battle on the nature of the incarnation is wanting to show what a difference that makes. On this, He succeeds and how cannot really be shown best in this blog, but just by picking it up yourself and reading. If you want to, you can do what I did and read a chapter a night. There are 57 of them and they’re all short.

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

 

 

Can Jesus Be Non-Miraculous?

Is it really possible to remove the miraculous element from Jesus? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Jesus is the figure that stands out in all of history. It’s really hard at times to find someone who has a bad word to say about Jesus, even from a non-Christian persepctive. Such does exist, but even a negative word is still there in an abundance of praises for his teachings and character.

However, is there any reason these should stand out? Jesus was a great moral teacher. As Lewis said, we have had enough of those. We didn’t listen to them. Why listen to Jesus? Our world right now shows us that we are not.

New Testament scholars often seek to go through the New Testament and separate the fact from the fiction. What is true about Jesus in this? Can we move past all this miraculous stuff such as the miracles that He did and the idea that He was God or some divine being of some kind? Surely that stuff got added on later.

The moment you say this, you have to ask why it was added on. First off, why was He crucified? I find many a New Testament scholar who presents a case for how Jesus lived gives me no reason to think He would ever be crucified. Their Jesus is more akin to a Mr. Rogers figure. Adolf Harnack used to say Jesus was teaching about ideas like the brotherhood of all men. Okay. Why would this Jesus be a threat to anyone? Not only is He not a threat, He’s not someone you would give the worst death sentence of all to.

The disciples were convinced He rose from the dead? Why? Even assuming He had risen from the dead, is there any reason for them to say “Jesus rose from the dead! He is the Son of God, Messiah, and God Himself!?” No one ever thought that before in Judaism about anyone they thought came back from the dead. Even if the Jews were convinced Moses came back from the dead, would they say such a thing about him?

There is a simple explanation for why they believed such things. Jesus said and indicated such about Himself. Of course, this is the claim the liberal New Testament scholar does not want to admit at all. It wouldn’t be rational to think something like that after all!

So the attempt is made to remove those miraculous elements again and yet even still, Jesus is hard to escape. Jesus makes grandiose claims about Himself. In the Q document, which has never been found and is purely hypothetical, you can still see Jesus speaking about the house built on the rock. Where does this put His view of Himself? “If you hear my words and obey them, you are a wise man.” Nothing about God in there. The very Sermon on the Mount is filled with this high view. Jesus speaks of what we call the Old Testament quoting it and then saying “But I say to you.” These are the Ten Commandments sometimes, the ones written by the finger of God, and Jesus is attempting by His own authority to speak even stronger than they are? Who does He think He is?

Despite this, we look at these claims that Jesus makes about Himself and say “Isn’t He the picture of humility?” If what He says about Himself is true, then He can be, but if it isn’t, Jesus is certainly suffering from delusions of grandeur. Jesus is the greatest narcissist who ever lived in that case. There is a real condition known as Jerusalem Syndrome where someone goes to Israel and becomes convinced they’re the Messiah. We know immediately such people are insane to that extent at least. Do we think that about Jesus? There are many ideas of who the historical Jesus was. I have not seen a New Testament scholar arguing for “Insane lunatic.”

Not only this, but we have the ethical teachings of Jesus and these are not the teachings of someone who is insane. Most everything about Jesus shows a well-balanced individual. At the same time, this individual never asks for help, never apologizes, never admits a wrong, etc. Some of you may recognize shades of Tom Gilson’s Too Good To Be False in here, which is influential, but I’m also talking about the miracle aspect as well. I definitely urge you to read that book on the character of Jesus.

Assuming this figure is somehow made up as the mythicists would like us to think, who did this making up? This puts us in an even more difficult position in many ways. People who foisted a lie on the world also gave an immensely brilliant ethical system if not the greatest one of all?

Some could say it’s not that hard to create a Jesus, such as Lewis’s Aslan as an example, but the difference is Lewis had a model to work with. That is the Jesus who is already in the New Testament. Anyone who did this originally did not have such a model. Whoever could create this figure would be someone practically worthy of worship himself or themselves.

Notice in all of this, I have not once argued that the text we have is perfectly reliable or accurate. I have no need to. I am asking even to go with the data that will be granted by skeptical scholars. If we take all of this still, can we present a coherent picture of Jesus? Can we explain His teaching, His crucifixion, what claims did He make about Himself, and why the belief He rose again?

I seriously urge skeptics of Christianity to try to do so.

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

The Humility of the Incarnation

What did the Son undergo? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the incarnation lately, mainly for future Ph.D. research. Even though I’m working on the Master’s, there’s no reason I can’t think about the Ph.D. now. Anyway, what has been striking to me about this lately is the humility of it all.

Picture God for all eternity and then comes the time somehow where the Son, the second person of the Trinity, has to take on humanity. Perhaps we could accept that, but notice how it even begins. It starts with the virgin birth, which I do affirm, and we could look and think “Couldn’t you have bypassed the baby stage?”

No. Our Lord came as a baby and grew up naturally with no rapid aging or anything like that. He had to be fed and put to sleep and everything else. Did He cry when He was hungry or sleepy? Did He have to be burped? Did He ever stumble when He was learning to walk?

As He grows up into adulthood, I think of all the attributes that He took on when we think about becoming a human. We all have some aspects of being a human that we like, but there are aspects that we don’t like. Christ took on all of them.

For one, we have a God who had to poop. Muslims will often present this as an argument against the deity of Christ since that would be unclean and God could not do that, but we have a God who was willing to stoop low enough to take on all of our characteristics. Jesus had to go to the bathroom like anyone else.

Jesus could work up a sweat when He was traveling or even growing up doing manual labor under Joseph. Did you ever think about it in that terminology? Jesus with body odor. Is there any indication Jesus would not have to bathe at times?

Could Jesus belch and sneeze and everything else? He got tired and had to sleep. He got hungry and had to eat. Did He ever have bad breath after eating a meal? Did He ever have morning breath in the morning?

Jesus was also fully a man and thus fully had sexual organs that a man has. I do not think Jesus was ever married, but was there any physical reason He couldn’t have? Did Jesus ever experience any desire? It sounds practically risque to say, but Jesus was fully a man and there is nothing sinful about the desires of a man in themselves as Adam in his pre-fall state definitely desired Eve.

Yet in all of this, consider the ultimate humility. Jesus came as someone who could die. Not only did He die, He died the most shameful death. He died naked and exposed in agony on a cross. Of course, He rose again after that, but He still went through it.

I really find this amazing about Christianity. We have a God who was willing to stoop. As I have thought about this at night, I have been amazed. Jesus took on humanity including those aspects of myself that I don’t really care for a lot. We might consider some things above Jesus, but He didn’t in many ways. He didn’t even consider giving up His life to be something that He should not have to do. This God was willing to stoop.

Take some time today and think about that. If you’re a Muslim reader, consider that this is what Christianity offers. If you’re an atheist, ask if you would really make up a God like this. If you’re a Jew, consider if you think YHWH would do this. If you’re a Christian though, I hope you’ll worship.

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

A House On Sand

How do we treat the teachings of Jesus? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I’m almost done going through the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew!

“Wait. Are you telling me you’re a Christian apologist who has never read that?”

I have read it, but never the way I have this time. This time, I went through reading one verse at a time, except for the Lord’s Prayer, where I read it even slower. When you read through it this way, you really get a lot out of it. I am doing more to encourage people to do slow Bible reading.

So when the sermon closes, Jesus gives a final statement about His words. He says that the one who hears them and does them is like someone who builds His house on a rock. No matter what happens, the house will stand. The one who doesn’t do what Jesus says is like one who builds His house on sand. When the trouble comes, that house topples over.

First off, let’s consider how seriously Jesus takes His own words here. Can you imagine any prophet of the Old Testament saying something like this? Jesus is really placing Himself on a high pedestal. What does this say about how Jesus sees His identity?

Second, what if we really took this last part seriously in connection with everything else that was said. If you obey what Jesus says, then you are building your house on a rock. If you don’t, then you are building on sand. What do we have to take seriously then?

The beatitudes at the start. We have to believe those people will be blessed. We have to believe we should be those people and live accordingly.

We must take Jesus’s words seriously on our righteousness being greater than the Pharisees and Sadducees.

We must not hate our brother in our heart and we must seek to make peace whenever possible.

We must avoid lust. This definitely includes guys that you cannot watch pornography. If you are doing that, then you are building your house on sand and you will not last.

We must honor our marriages for life. If you are not taking marriage seriously, you are not taking Jesus seriously. This is one reason I stayed in my marriage even when it was hard and yes, she initiated the divorce.

We must do as we say and let our words be true. If we say we will do something, we do it. We shouldn’t have to emphasize that we are speaking the truth. Our reputations should show we do.

We must end retaliation for the sake of retaliation. If someone gives you a personal insult privately, be the bigger man. Don’t escalate the cycle of revenge.

We must love our enemies. Anyone can love friends. Jesus tells us to go further.

We must not glorify our giving. Be humble in what we do. Give anyway.

We must pray humbly and trust God with the outcome. We must live out the Lord’s Prayer.

We must forgive those who wrong us.

We must focus on treasure in Heaven. There is no wrong in having things, but we cannot let them have us. Greed must always be avoided.

We cannot worry about anything. Tomorrow will have enough troubles. Do not worry about it today.

We must not pre-judge someone. Make sure our own house is in order.

We must believe in the goodness of God that He will bless us and if we ask for things that are truly good, that He wants to give.

We must make sure we are on the straight path and realize there are false teachers who want to take us away.

We must make sure we are being real and not just going through the motions.

Jesus doesn’t limit this. All of this is to be followed. All of it. It’s a serious call and I could have easily gone in-depth on any of these. Look through. Where are you struggling?

Keep in mind, any listener back then would have known it was fallacious to build a house on sand. What idiot would do that? If you don’t listen to what Jesus says and follow it, you are that idiot.

I encourage you to take this seriously even if you’re a non-Christian. Consider seriously the call for Jesus. Does He really have good wisdom here to follow?

For me, this has been humbling and I plan to go through the sermon in Luke the same way.

Maybe you should try this exercise of reading it slowly as well, but for now, see if you’re living wisely or foolishly.

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

 

 

Jesus and the Centurion

How did Jesus treat the centurion? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I had said I would do some talking on Jesus and the crowds. I wish to now speak a little bit more on the story of Jesus and the centurion in Matthew. To begin with, we need to try to see this from the perspective of a Jewish person living in Israel.

This centurion is said to be a good man as he paid for a synagogue for the people, but even today, in a similar situation we would be suspicious. “Of course that politician paid to get a new hospital put up! Look at how much press coverage he gets over it!” This centurion could have very well been noble in what he did, but some people will look with suspicion. Some won’t, but some will.

What was inescapable however was that this centurion is a reminder that the Israelites don’t own their own land. Who provided the synagogue? An outsider. What outsider? One that represents the ruling power in the world that hopefully, the Messiah will deliver us from.

Even if this guy has done a lot of good, Israel would by and large prefer to not have him around. They would prefer to have the land to themselves. They were still waiting on the deliverance of God.

So now here comes Jesus and how many could already be wondering if this guy is the Messiah? If so, well surely He’s going to deal with this centurion. He’s going to tell him he’s an intruder and needs to get off the land. Those who think in such a way will be highly disappointed.

This centurion has a simple request. He wants one servant healed. When he asks, he tells Jesus that Jesus doesn’t even have to enter his house. This centurion, a man or honor and prestige in Rome, is not worthy to have Jesus in his house. All Jesus has to do is say the word. The centurion illustrates this by explaining how he says a word to a servant and they do it.

This centurion is understanding that as he has authority over the realm of his servants, Jesus has authority over the realm of at least sickness. Who knows for sure how far this goes? Keep in mind this is a pagan gentile giving this statement. (He could have been a God-fearer, but we have no explicit data showing otherwise. Either way, he would have been seen as outside of the covenant.)

After the healing, Jesus turns to the crowd of people and what does He do? The exact opposite of I’m sure of what many people were expecting. He tells them He hasn’t seen a faith like this in all of Israel. Sorry guys, but this gentile here has you beat!

Not only this, but he pulls this over to the next world. He says that many will come from all over the world to join the feast of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but many of the Jews themselves in Israel will be cast out and not entering. If you are a Jew in the audience sick of Rome and wanted to see Jesus lay down the law on these guys, you got the exact opposite of what you wanted.

This is not a good day for you.

Something we can think about here is that Jesus did not say something to please the crowd. If anything, He said something extremely offensive to the crowd. Jesus in all His talks never apologizes. He never takes back anything that He says. He says it and it’s out there and that’s it. If you don’t like it, He’s not responsible for your feelings.

I am not saying we need to be needlessly offensive, but if Jesus was not afraid of offending His audience with the truth, why should we? A huge problem in our Western society today is that offensive statements are deemed unallowable because someone’s feelings could be hurt. Everyone’s feelings will get hurt sometime and the more we coddle this, the more we make it that we can’t handle anything. As a pastor I was talking to yesterday said, “The early church was willing to face death for Jesus Christ and we breakdown if our air conditioning goes out.”

Not only this, but Jesus is considered one of the greatest personalities and speakers of all time as well as one of the holiest and best men who ever lived. Now as a Christian, I think he’s the best of all time period, but even non-Christians can praise the life of Jesus in these areas and often do. Aside from the crazy position of mythicism, most everyone would tend to agree that Jesus is a figure that is admirable in many ways.

Jesus did not sway to popular opinion.

Perhaps we should be the same way.

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

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