Responding to WaPo on Moses’s existence

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

A reader sent me this old article from the Washington Post wanting my thoughts on it. Did Moses exist? Let’s say at the outset that while I think he did, the case is definitely not as clear as it is for someone like Jesus. I can understand Moses mythicism whereas Jesus mythicism is just a crackpot theory.

The article is by someone named Ishaan Tharoor and can be found here. Something I notice right at the start is that a similar argument is used against Moses as is used against Jesus. That is the argument from silence.

The reality is the record is not completely silent. One can say he’s not mentioned outside of the Jewish Scriptures of the time, but so what? Do we automatically throw out those Scriptures because they are Scriptures? If anyone would have a reason to write about Moses, it would be the Jews, and a writing does not suddenly deserve hyper-skepticism because it is considered holy by some specific faith.

Now who else would write about Moses? The Egyptians? Doubtful. What would the record say “So these ragtag Hebrews managed to escape after their God kicked our gods to the curb and we couldn’t overtake them when our soldiers drowned in the Red Sea.” Nah. Historians of the time would write about their victories, but they would not write about their defeats.

It is true that we don’t have the exact timeline on when things took place. The most common dates I hear for the Exodus are either 1446 BC or somewhere around 1290. A lot of it depends on the reference to 480 years in the book of Kings. The Pharaoh on the throne is not named, but this is also not a surprise. Pharaoh is not the main character and is a figure portrayed in a shameful light. Another great way to do that would be to not even name him.

What about the Red Sea? Again, there are people who say that what happened was a natural occurrence really, and they could be right. It could be the winds could make the sea part at times. In this case, the miracle would be that it happened when it happened. I do not know of any accuracy of reports of Egyptians and chariots being found at the bottom of the Red Sea, but sadly, even if that was true, it should not surprise us that a sea near Egypt would have dead Egyptians in it. It would be evidence for something, but it would not necessitate it.

I have seen the comparison to Sargon. My ministry partner has an article on that one so no need to reinvent the wheel. I was really amused to find a claim that this is a copy of Krishna. This is the same kind of thing that happens with Jesus Mythicism, as if the Israelites would have known about the story of Krishna and choose to use it, even if you go with a late date such as with the Welhausen JEPD hypothesis.

The author also says that:

Some researchers believe the “Hymn to the Aten,” inscribed on the walls of the ancient city of Amarna, prefigures Psalm 104 of the Hebrew Bible. Both are paeans to the power of one god. Here’s the hymn:

The earth comes into being by your hand, as you made it. When you dawn, they live. When you set, they die. You yourself are lifetime, one lives by you.

And an excerpt of Psalm 104:

You hide your face, they are troubled,
You take away your breath, they die,
And return to dust.
You send forth your breath, they are created,
And you renew the face of the earth.

As I look at this, it is extremely flimsy. The first one is describing the movement of the sun. The Psalm is not and both of these are statements that could easily apply to a supreme being.

Noteworthy also is no interaction with anyone who believes in the historicity of the accounts. Do you see any interaction with someone like James Hoffmeier? Nope. Not a bit. Of course, he could be entirely wrong, but if you give your audience only one side of the story, what a shock that most readers walk away thinking that one side is true.

Also, for Christians, one of the main evidences is that Jesus seemed to treat Moses like a historical figure. Now it could be the incarnation does not entail Jesus as a human has perfect knowledge, but many of us who are Christians tend to take Him a bit more seriously. If you’re a skeptic of the resurrection, that won’t mean anything to you. If you believe in it, it means a lot to you. I realize my point here then won’t convince skeptics, but it should give Christians something to think about.

In the end, I don’t think the article really delivers. The evidence is one-sided and arguments from silence. It doesn’t convince me with mythicism and it doesn’t do so here.

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

Deeper Waters Podcast 6/6/2020

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

When I was growing up playing games on the regular Nintendo, we were told that if your cartridges aren’t working, just blow into them. That will clear out anything and the game will work fine. Most all of us did that. The thing is, it worked. It made sense. Now years later we’re finding out that that really doesn’t work.

Also, before the days of the internet, we had numerous rumors flying around about games. I still remember trying to find the Artemis esper in Final Fantasy VI. How many Pokemon players were trying to move that one truck in an attempt to get Mew?

The age of the internet has made it easier and harder with these kinds of things. With some things that can be easily checked, it’s easy to see that some claims are just false. The claim about Mew would never get off the ground today, and this is even in an age where people can easily fake YouTube videos.

Yet some myths are harder to deal with. Many atheists think today that the idea about whether Jesus existed or not is a hot debate in New Testament scholarship. Not even among atheists is it a debate. Conspiracy theories run amok on the internet.

Even among Christians, there are urban legends. Is Jeremiah 29:11 really a great verse to use in your testimony? Does Isaiah 14 describe the fall of satan? Is Genesis 3:15 really a prophecy of the virgin birth? (Which I do affirm.)

To discuss these and other urban legends of the Old Testament. The book is itself called Urban Legends of the Old Testament. The co-author is Gary Yates and he will be my guest.

So who is he?

According to his bio:

Professor of Old Testament at Liberty University School of Divinity for the past 17 years and have taught at the undergrad and grad level for 20 years. I also currently serve as the Pastor of Living Word Baptist Church in Forest, Virginia. 
I have a ThM and PhD in Old Testament from Dallas Theological Seminary and did my dissertation on the book of Jeremiah (looking at the primarily narrative portion of the book in Jeremiah 26-45). 
I have authored or co-authored Urban Legends of the Old Testament, The Message of the Twelve, 30 Days to Jeremiah/Lamentations, and the Essence of the Old Testament and have contributed to numerous other works, including the soon-to-be released, Baker Illustrated Bible Background Commentary. I have published in multiple journals and have contributed to two study Bibles. 
My wife Marilyn and I have been married for 35 years and have three adult children. 

We are nearly caught up on old podcasts. I just really have to get around to uploading them. That blame lies with me. I hope you all are looking forward to it.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Torahism

What do I think of R.L. Solberg’s book published by Williamson College Press? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

There are many things that bring the Christmas season home to me and make the holiday so special. Getting to put up decorations, going out and looking for lights, getting together with friends and family and exchanging gifts, hearing Christians tell me that Christmas is pagan, good times. No holiday season ever seems complete without that last group showing up.

So it is that when R.L. Solberg had a friend say the same thing on Facebook, he engaged with the post and found himself caught up in something greater. As a result, he wrote Torahism asking if Christians are to keep the law of Moses? Torahism can often go beyond that as some people like this deny the Trinity and the deity of Christ and are definitely very anti-Catholic.

So looking at Solberg’s book, I’ll start with the things I liked about it and then suggest areas I’d like to see improved.

First, I’m glad that the book has been written. There are too many people who are Christians and not Torahists who also have questions about the Law of Moses. There are too many atheists that present the Law as if it was to be a perfect guide for all time and be the perfect moral system. Both need answers to their questions.

Second, the book is easy to understand. You don’t need to have a Seminary background to understand what is being said here. Solberg writes in simple language and does not use complex terminology.

Third, each chapter is stand alone so you can look at each section that is relevant to what you’re talking about and getting it from there. Of course, you could read straight through like I did, but it’s not necessary. The information is really easy to find.

So what we have is good, but there are some changes I would like to see Solberg make for future editions.

First, more engagement with the scholarship in the field, especially Old Testament scholars like John Walton, Tremper Longman, Michale Heiser, Walter Kaiser, and others. It would have been good to see what scholars in the field say about the Law. I am especially thinking about Walton’s book The Lost World of the Torah.

Second, in the section on the deity of Christ, I would have liked more answers on such questions like “How could Jesus die on the cross if God can’t die?” I would have liked to have seen more on the Trinity. With this, a work like How God Became Jesus would be great.

Third, one point I was surprised to not see mentioned was that of slavery. Would Torahists like to have some kind of system like this? Along those same lines, would Torahists be open to allowing a man to have more than one wife?

It is always good to see people filling a niche in the apologetics world. A group like the one called Torahism is one that needs some responding to. I am thankful Solberg took the time to answer them and I hope that there will be further expansion on this work.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

A Response to Daniel Miessler

What do I think of what Daniel Miessler said about the Bible? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Someone recently shared with me a post by Daniel Miessler to show the Bible is fiction. At the start, this is something even difficult to say. Everything in the Bible is fiction? Every single thing? Nothing in it happened at all? Nebuchadnezzar never conquered Babylon? No one in the New Testament who is a major character ever even existed? (I have taken enough looking at mythicism to show it’s a joke theory I think.)

Still, let’s see what Miessler has to say. He wants to emphasize Genesis and Jesus. Now my main specialty area will be Jesus, but I have a few things to say about Genesis.

First, let’s look at comparisons about the flood. To begin with, much of this is also found in Dawkins’s Outgrowing God which I am writing an ebook response to at the time. One of my main sources I am using for the Genesis part is this one.

My source, in this case, is a researcher at Cambridge who specializes in Assyriology. Now let’s consider that Miessler is an expert in cyber security by contrast. All things being equal, before we even investigate the claims, which person is more likely to know the most about an Ancient Near Eastern culture and their writings? Ding ding ding! That’s right! It’s the one who actually studies those cultures.

I leave it to you to read the article that I shared to see some of the major problems, but let’s look at what Miessler says.

“Keep in mind the level of detail in these similarities. It’s not a matter of just a flood, but specific details: three birds sent out, resisting the call to build the ark, and a single man being chosen by God to build the ark. Then consider that the first story (Gilgamesh) came from Babylon — hundreds of years before the Bible was even written.”

To begin with, I don’t recall Noah ever resisting the call to build the ark. Second, if an event was historical to some extent, we can expect some similarities. The differences will be in the secondary details, but there will still be similarities.

Nothing is said about the differences. Nothing is said about a polytheistic culture living in the great symbiosis system versus a monotheistic covenant theology system. Nothing is said about the size and shape of the boats. Nothing is said about the purpose of the flood. Nothing is said about what happens to the hero of the story afterward. For example, in Noah’s study, he builds a vineyard, gets drunk, and is sexually shamed in some way by his grandson. (The language of the Bible is very euphemistic at this point.) Hardly a way to glorify your hero in the end!

The writing of Miessler is dated to September 18th, 2019. Why did he not avail himself of a study such as The Lost World of the Flood by Longman and Walton? I suspect that it is because this writer, like many non-Christians I meet, and sadly many Christians, has a fear of contrary thought. His source material is horrendous anyway.

Second, he says that this came from Babylon centuries before the Bible was written. Neither of these points is substantiated. Nothing is said about when the Bible was written. It looks like he’s going with a JEPD date of Genesis, but he does not argue for it. He merely assumes it. It would have been nice to see some effort here.

He also has in the footnotes that all of this is to show that God is fiction and was made up because we are scared of death and wanted to control people. If so, the plan failed miserably. In the Old Testament, you would think that if death was something that people were scared of, you’d see more explicit statements about resurrection and warnings about Hell and encouragements about the joy of Heaven. If it was to control people, it looks like that failed miserably too because in the Old Testament, the Jews are very rarely under control.

Such thinking anyway is quite fallacious. Imagine if I said, “Atheism is a system that exists because people don’t want to be under authority and they don’t want to be bound by God and live a life with the sexual freedom they want.” Could that be a motivation for some? Sure. Could some people be Christians because they fear death? Sure. Nothing in this really addresses the arguments for the beliefs.

By the way, Miessler, if you want to show that God is not real, it would serve you well to deal with some arguments for God. You do not do so in this piece. Now it could be you have elsewhere, but if you are making an argument that God is fiction, perhaps you could link to an earlier writing on your part.

It’s also worth noting that his information on Noah comes from ReligiousTolerance.org. Yep! This is first-rate research we are seeing right here!

Now let’s move to the fun part. Jesus. HIs source is Bandoli and even then, he doesn’t get the link right on his post. Fortunately, I was easily able to track it down. You can see it here.

If you go through the list, you will see that none of them have any documentation. The one exception is a book about Alexander the Great and not even a page number is cited. Everything else, the writer expects us to just take by faith, which apparently Miessler did and then the person who shared it with me. I often say that when an atheist looks at an argument, he doesn’t look to see if the argument is true. He just asks a question or two.

Does the argument argue that Christianity is false?

Does the argument make Christianity look bad?

If so, it is absolutely true and no research is needed. Now if anything is brought up contrary to atheism, that requires evidence. If anything is brought up contrary to Christianity, that requires no evidence. I, meanwhile, prefer to demolish a bad argument period regardless of if it’s against atheism or Christianity, and yes, there are plenty of bad arguments against atheism and plenty of bad arguments for Christianity.

Scholarship for the most part, even skeptical scholarship, doesn’t really take the copycat idea seriously anymore. The grand central hub of resources on the pagan copycat claim can be found here. Still, let’s go through the list and mention a few interesting ones.

Osiris is said to be the only true God, which is interesting to say since the Egyptian religions are very polytheistic. Osiris also didn’t rise from the dead. He was reconstructed by his wife, except for one particular body part she couldn’t find which she made a substitute of, and then ruled from thereon in the underworld and not the land of the living.

Horus doesn’t fare much better. Egyptologists have looked at the many claims given for him. As is said at one point in the article:

While all recognize that the image of the baby Horus and Isis has influenced the Christian iconography of Madonna and Child, this is where the similarity stops. There is no evidence for the idea that Horus was virgin born.

Of course, evidence is a small thing for internet atheists to consider. This argues against Christianity so it had to be true. Most atheists will share it without bothering to check it out.

Mithra is also amusing. We have NO writings by worshipers of Mithra. There are also three different versions. Which one is had in mind? Since we don’t have writings from his followers, our main sources are artwork and the writings of the church fathers about Mithra. So much of this is nonsense. They did not practice baptism (Not babtism) but rather the followers were put under a bull and had its blood poured out on them. That is obviously a one to one parallel with going into the water and being submerged into it.

For claims about Buddha and Krishna, Mike Licona interviewed two scholars in those fields who found these kinds of arguments far less than convincing. You can read that here. Again, there’s a reason the copycat thesis is not taken seriously.

Let’s look now at Bible contradictions. The first is about the flood. This is not so much a contradiction as a supposed falsehood. Miessler is under the impression the text requires a global flood. It doesn’t. The flood I contend was local, though the scope would be considered the known world of the time. Hence, questions about foreign animals and the like will not be something that concerns me. That means there’s nothing left.

He then says in Luke, the angel spoke to Mary. In Matthew, to Joseph. Which is it? These don’t contradict. The angel tells Mary she will give birth while being a virgin (Which I do affirm) and then tells Joseph later on when he hears the news that Mary is telling the truth and don’t be afraid to marry her. That doesn’t mean the story is true, though I affirm that it is, but this is hardly a contradiction.

He says the word for virgin is Almah and means young woman of marriageable age. In Isaiah, definitely. In the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the word is parthenos and definitely means virgin. He also says Jesus had other brothers and sisters. Most Protestants would agree and say only Jesus had a virgin birth (Which I do affirm) and the rest came the natural way. Even a Catholic or Orthodox who holds to perpetual virginity should at least have no problem seeing that this wouldn’t violate the virgin birth as held by Protestants.

As for the census, the wording in Luke 2 is quite difficult. Ben Witherington in my interview with him indicated it could mean a smaller census taking place before the great census later on. Further, if Luke was really fabricating something, I see no reason to think he would fabricate something everyone would know was false.

He says the Bible says to honor your father and mother, but Jesus says to hate your parents and call no one father. It’s incredible that people still have such a hard time reading basic instructions. No one ever took Jesus to mean that we must actually hate our parents until internet atheists came along. Jesus’s statement there is one of comparison. Your love of the Kingdom must come before even familial obligations.

He then says God says killing is wrong, yet advocates genocide. To begin with, the Hebrew word is Ratsach. There are a number of other words that refer to killing. This kind of killing is being forbidden. Killing, in general, is not. As for genocide, we are sure that Miessler will never read a work such as Did God Really Command Genocide? After all, contrary thought is way too frightening. You can listen to my interview with Matthew Flannagan, one of the authors, here.

He also goes after slavery. Nothing is said about how Israelites in the wilderness were supposed to make their living. Slavery is never defined. He also says we all know it’s wrong, which is really a recent innovation. I would like to know how on atheism Miessler would know that slavery is wrong. Again, at any rate, he could have talked to a scholar about the topic like I did here.

He also says about the genealogy of Jesus that if Joseph isn’t the father, why give a genealogy to someone who isn’t related to you? Joseph’s is given for legal reasons. Joseph would be seen as the legal parent of Jesus. Keep in mind, an adopted son became Caesar after all.

He then asks about the Passover. Wouldn’t an all-knowing God know who was faithful and who wasn’t? This is more a judicial review of sorts. Those who were faithful were to make a sacrifice to show to everyone else they were and to make a public demonstration of their trust in the promises of YHWH.

Finally, what about Abraham being asked to kill his son? To begin with, Isaac was the child of promise and had a miraculous birth in the account. Isaac was also promised to be the one through whom Abraham’s blessings would come. When Isaac and Abraham go to offer the sacrifice, they are accompanied by others. Abraham stops them at one point and tells them they must wait. Abraham and Isaac will go alone and they will both return.

Isaac is also not a wimp here. He’s carrying the wood himself for the sacrifice. Keep in mind Abraham was well over 100. Does anyone really think Isaac couldn’t have outrun him or fought him off or something like that? Would Isaac be willing to be sacrificed? Apparently. Death wasn’t the big deal to people back then that it is today. People faced death everyday on a regular basis.

Abraham instead was trusting God’s promise. Either YHWH would stop him somehow, or YHWH would raise him from the dead. As it is, Abraham was stopped.

He asks how is Jesus’s sacrifice the ultimate one if He didn’t stay dead. That’s not a requirement though. The sacrifice is offered to God. God can do with it what He wants. The giving back of life to Jesus is saying that God approves of the offering and of the life His Son lived. Justice has been paid.

He then asks if Jesus removed our sins, why do we have to avoid sin and accept Him to avoid eternity in Hell? This is really such a simple question I can’t believe anyone is really asking it like a stumper. We avoid sin because sin dishonors God and because it goes against our own purpose in this world. We are to live holy lives. Why do we have to accept Jesus? Because in accepting Jesus, we agree with God’s verdict and seek His forgiveness. It is never forced.

He also says why does the Bible say so much about treating slaves, how to kill enemies, and how to avoid angering God, but never anything such as not to harm a child. Probably because the ways of YHWH on many things were counter-cultural and different. Not harming children is largely basic, though Israelites were forbidden from sacrificing their children unlike their pagan neighbors.

The next two assume a worldwide flood. I have no need to reply since I don’t hold to that.

The next is about the problem of evil and the suffering of children. To begin with, the logical problem of evil is no longer used as a disproof of God. The probabilistic problem of evil and evidential problem is. Evil cannot disprove God, but it can make His existence seem unlikely.

There is no easy solution to this and I recommend reading works, especially Clay Jones’s book Why Does God Allow Evil? which I interviewed him on here. What I want to know is why Miessler considers this an evil. If we are all just a cosmic accident, we have no meaning and purpose, so what difference does it make? A child dies or an old man dies. Their lives are meaningless and they will both go to nothing.

Finally, he says Wikipedia can be updated. Why not Scripture? For one thing, Wikipedia regularly gets things wrong, such as the Shane Fitzgerald incident. Second, imagine the chaos if all around the world people had different books all said to be the Bible and they were different for that culture or the manuscripts were radically differing. The system God has works now.

Miessler then tells us we have two options.

#1.

God created all these stories and characters thousands of years before the Bible in order to trick people, and then created new stories and characters that were almost exactly the same. But the version that went into the Bible—even with all the contradictions and immoral teachings—is the actual word of God. …OR

#2

The Bible was created during a time where stories were orally passed down over thousands of years. Stories constantly morphed and changed over time, and the Bible is a collection of these. This is why it has the nearly identical flood story from Gilgamesh, and why Jesus has the same characteristics as Dionysus, Osiris, Horus, Mithra, and Krishna. The contradictions and immorality in the stories are not evidence that God is flawed or evil, but rather that humans invented him, just like the thousands of other gods that we used to but no longer believe in.

Let’s go with #3.

Miessler is someone who wouldn’t recognize good scholarship if it came up to him and smacked him in the face. He is highly ignorant of the evidence for Christianity and believes anything found in atheist works without reservation. The real case is the Bible needs to be studied contextually and when this is done rightly, one can see it’s true and Jesus rose from the dead.

He then concludes:

If you hadn’t been taught Christianity since you were a young child, which of these two explanations would make the most sense to you?

Well, none of the earliest Christians were taught Christianity since they were young children and yet the faith thrived at that point. What makes the most sense to me is Miessler doesn’t ever study what he seriously disagrees with and believes anything that argues against it. Christians who study these issues don’t even blink anymore. Those who believe Miessler are just as much people of faith as he is.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Steven Anderson on Mount Athos

What do I think of Steven Anderson’s views on Orthodoxy? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

For those who don’t know yet, I am a thoroughly convinced Protestant. I have a wife who is interested in Eastern Orthodoxy and that did get me looking into issues of Catholicism and Orthodoxy. It really was something I never wanted to get into since I am one who tries to be ecumenical. Now I do have a greater understanding of both positions and still disagree, but I don’t want people speaking wrongly against my brothers and sisters on the way.

For those who don’t know, Steven Anderson is this crazy pastor who thinks that we should kill all the homosexuals or that they should kill themselves. This is not to say that I think homosexuality is fine. I think Scripture is clear on the wrongness of homosexual practice. It’s also clear to me that we’re not in an Israelite theocracy based on the Old Testament Law.

I also find it interesting that the video we’ll be looking at has a description that says the real way to get to Heaven. It’s a shame that Pastor Anderson thinks that the whole point of Christianity is to get to Heaven. That is part of it, but the goal of the gospel is to bring honor to God and has an impact for this life and not just the next one.

In this video, Pastor Anderson says that he is told that he needs to look into Mount Athos. Some of you might not know that for Orthodox people, Mount Athos is one of the most holy sites out there. I don’t claim to fully understand that, but I know when I’m at the Orthodox Church and hear Mount Athos mentioned, it’s a really big deal.

The first thing he talks about is the idea of vain repetition. I understand the concern with saying the Jesus Prayer over and over and I do agree that some people could get into this being a rote thing that they do without any real motivation behind it, but the constant repetition does not equal vain repetition. Jesus condemns a certain kind of repetition, but He does not condemn all of it.

The Jesus Prayer in my understanding is meant to change the person praying more than be a constant plea for mercy. It’s meant to make them think about who Jesus is. It’s up to the person to determine if they’re being vain in their repetition or not.

Next he mentions praying to Mary. Now I do disagree with this practice, but at the same time, I’m not ready to say everyone who has done such is being thrown into hell or is outside of the body. I would find it hard to condemn Christians across the centuries who have been doing this since whenever it started, and any Orthodox person who wants to convince me it started early had better bring some really good historical evidence to the table.

The same will be said with praying to the saints. While I disagree with this, I am not one who thinks that there were no true Christians after the apostles died until Martin Luther showed up again. I actually think most Catholics while disagreeing with Luther would agree that the Catholic Church needed some reformation and change in it and there were corrupt practices going on. Any material about practices like this then I will not say further on but just point back to these sections.

He also says something about the drinking of alcohol. He is right that the Bible condemns drunkenness, but it does not follow that it condemns alcohol, any more than the Bible condemning gluttony means that it condemns eating. The Bible condemns extramarital sex, but it thoroughly commends it between husband and wife in marital union. Jesus did not turn the water into grape juice at Cana.

I want to say at this point also that I do not say this as one who drinks alcohol. My wife has come to accept that I am willing to change my diet in many areas, but I just never want to drink alcohol. If you can control it, I have no problem with you drinking it, but I will abstain.

He then goes on to a monk carving a crucifix and says it is the making of idols even though we are told to not make any graven images. To begin with, if images are the problem, then what is going on behind Pastor Anderson in his own church video with watching a service live? Would we really say the problem with the image is that it is graven instead of that it is an image?

The first person to be explicitly said to be filled with the Holy Spirit in the Bible is a man named Bezalel. Who was he? An artist. He made images that he was ordered by God to make. Now it could be that the Bible contradicts itself in such an obvious way, or else the prohibition is not against images, but rather against the use of images to worship.

This is a point the Iconophiles brought up against the iconoclasts in the debates about the use of icons. At the same time, I want to be aware that yes, some people could treat icons and relics as if they were magic charms which is just as bad. The misuse of an object does not point to a lack of a proper use.

He also says that the Bible says it’s a shame for a man to have long hair and every priest and monk on Mount Athos has that. Samson also had it as that was part of the Nazarite vow. What is going on in 1 Corinthians is Paul is addressing practices of the day. How men and women wore their hair said something to their culture then. Were I to visit Anderson’s church, would he want me to greet his wife with a holy kiss? That’s what Scripture tells me I am to do.

Pastor Anderson said that Jesus said to beware of the ones who go around in long clothing. Jesus was speaking more of the tassels on the garments and those were used to show a special kind of holiness. In other words, Jesus was against wearing clothes for the purpose of showing off your holiness. It’s not as if Jesus would have no problem with the scribes and Pharisees if they suddenly switched to shorts and T-shirts.

He also has a statement about the prohibition of calling people Father. Now at this time, I also do not call priests in the church by the name of Father. At the same time, I recognize there are some ridiculous extremes that can be taken, such as the video my wife and I saw once about the man who called his parents by their names instead of Mom and Dad even to avoid breaking the commandment of Christ.

He also looks at collections of skulls and femurs and other bones they have and says that the Bible says to bury the dead out of sight and to not touch dead bodies. It’s really a shame a pastor has such a poor understanding of Israelite Law and its relation to Gentiles today in light of the new covenant. My understanding is that these are gathered to remind the people of the resurrection that is coming.

There’s a part here where in what is apparently an aside he says that the monks are dressed like warlocks. I am sure in movies and TV shows and video games warlocks dress in these robes, but I am also sure that in real life, they could dress just like everyone else for the most part. As I say this, it is still morning and I am wearing my Legend of Zelda robe. I suppose Pastor Anderson is convinced I’m a heathen then.

He also says that the Bible says that all those who hate me love death. He doesn’t say who says this, but it is Wisdom in the book of Proverbs. This is said about the skull collecting, but does that equal a love of death? Does someone who grows up wanting to be a mortician then hate Jesus? This is not done to worship the dead but to honor the dead.

He then goes and says there is no monastery or monk in the Bible. True. There’s also no such thing as a pulpit or a pew in the Bible as well. I wonder if Pastor Anderson’s church has a parking lot and heating and air system in it since those aren’t in the Bible. His services are recorded, even though the Bible says nothing about that. If he wants to go the argument from silence route, I expect him to be consistent.

Finally, in criticism, he says that Orthodoxy is closer to Eastern practices and he gives Buddhism as an example. The thing is, he’s right and also wrong. I don’t think it’s like Buddhism, but it is closer to Eastern practices. What else is closer to that is the culture of the Bible itself. Pastor Anderson probably knows nothing about the eastern dynamics of honor and shame and agonistic societies. The Bible is itself not a Western book. It is a Middle Eastern one.

He encourages people to come to the real Jesus and the real gospel. I encourage that, but I have many friends who are Orthodox and Catholic. We disagree on many things, but there is something we don’t disagree on. We agree on who Jesus is.

I am sure Pastor Anderson’s motivations for this are noble, but his criticisms are way off the mark. I encourage healthy dialogue between Protestants, Catholics, and Orthodox on our differences, but let’s make sure they are informed criticisms. I also encourage that we try to recognize that others are Christians as well. Not all Catholics and Orthodox and Protestants are Christians, of course, but for the most part, the doctrines all agree on the centrality of Christ and His work in salvation.

Let’s try to focus first on what we agree on. Alright?

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Deeper Waters Podcast 6/29/2019

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

One of the most talked about biblical movies of all time is the Ten Commandments. These ten laws have become enshrined in our culture. You can see them at the Supreme Court building and they are often seen to be the moral foundation of our civilization.

We want to say that, but then it gets confusing. Is the fourth commandment required in our society and if so, why do we observe it on Sunday instead of Saturday? What about other laws that are there? If your wife is having her period, is it wrong to have sex with her? Should we wear tattoos if we’re Christians? And geez, doesn’t the Old Testament allow for slavery?

The law is confusing.

What if we’re misunderstanding it? What if the Law, while often containing good moral principles for us, really isn’t even, well, Law? What if it is something different? What could we see about it if we compared it to other cultures in the Ancient Near East?

And if there’s any Old Testament scholar who knows how to do that, it’s my guest this Saturday. After all, this is the man who has had his hand in a continued series on this very topic. Book after book has come out opening readers to a new world in the Old Testament. Well, maybe a new world isn’t the best way to describe it. After all, every book in this series refers to a lost world. The author of this series is, of course, John Walton, and he returns once again this Saturday to talk about his book The Lost World of the Torah.

So who is he?

According to his bio:

John H. Walton (Ph.D. Hebrew Union College) is Professor of Old Testament at Wheaton College and Graduate School where he has taught for almost twenty years. Dr. Walton has published nearly 30 books, among them commentaries, reference works, text books, scholarly monographs, and popular academic works. He was the Old Testament general editor for the Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible (NIV, NKJV, NRSV), and is perhaps most widely known for the “Lost World” books (including The Lost World of Genesis One,The Lost World of Adam and Eve, and The Lost World of the Flood). His areas of expertise include the importance of the ancient Near East for interpreting the Old Testament as well as the dialogue between science and faith.

I hope you’ll be listening as we discuss the Old Testament Law and how we are to understand it. What does it mean for us as Christians? Do we apply it across the board or not? If it’s not in effect, does that mean we can totally ignore it? What moral principles can we get if any from the Law?

I am working on getting the shows for this month updated. We are having some problems with the web site. Please be patient as I am working on things and in the meantime, you can check to see some of them on YouTube. Please also leave a positive review of the Deeper Waters Podcast on iTunes.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament

What do I think about John Walton’s book published by Baker Academic? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

For some time, John Walton has been one of my favorite Old Testament scholars if not my favorite. When I see a book from him coming out, I make a request for it immediately. Going through his book that he wrote now on thought from the ANE and the Old Testament, I was not disappointed.

To be fair, portions of this book seem to cover material that exists in his other books, which isn’t too surprising. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel. If you’ve read the series of books for his Lost World ideas, then you will see a lot of material repeated.

You will also see material that you haven’t seen before. For example, I have not seen a work from Walton dealing very much with the concept of death and the afterdeath, as I prefer to call it, in his other books. You will find that here. Overall, the aim of the work is to give you a look at how the world was for Israel and its neighbors.

Some ways of thinking were similar. Some were different. Israel was much more focused on the idea of a covenant. Other societies couldn’t do that as much coming from a polytheistic background. One individual god might make a covenant, but no other people had one god that made them an everlasting covenant and refused any other gods.

Walton goes through to show what the similarities and differences are. This comes through in five different sections that include comparative studies, literature, religion, cosmos, and people. The third one might be misleading to some as it is the section that focuses on religion as religion, but all the other sections definitely had something to do with religion as the deities were involved with everything.

The book is also written in a layout whereby you don’t have to go straight through. If you want to study just one section, you can do that and not be missing out because you didn’t read earlier chapters. There are several sidebars that give interesting information that you can read if you want to, but I would not think they are required. The book is also easy to understand for the layman so you don’t need specialized knowledge to get at what Walton is getting at.

Christians who are wanting to understand the Old Testament better in light of the surrounding culture and how Israel saw its place in the cultural stream will want to read this book. I would also encourage skeptics to read this so they can have better informed disagreements instead of trotting out the usual concordist approach to the Old Testament. Frankly, just anyone wanting to understand the Old Testament should read this book.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Deeper Waters Podcast 4/13/2019: Jonathan Greer

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

Those who do not learn from history are often condemned to repeat it. At the very least, they are condemned to misrepresent it. In our day and age, it’s incredibly easy for internet atheists to proclaim themselves experts on the Old Testament because they can read it.

Sadly, Christians can do the same thing. It’s easy to just lift up a text from somewhere and treat it as a prooftext. It’s easy to confuse law and gospel and the relation between the two. Even worse, it’s easy to make a Gospel presentation where you have the fall of Adam and Eve take place and then jump straight to the story of Jesus because, you know, the history of Israel really has absolutely nothing to do with Christianity. Right?

The Old Testament is a difficult work to understand because it takes place in a time and a culture that is so foreign to what we live in. When they wrote the text, they assumed that the culture was understood by the readers. For us, it isn’t. We don’t know many of the places and many of the terms or the language or the culture.

In order to better understand the culture then, we need the work of those scholars who have invested in the culture. Fortunately, there are several of them who are also committed to Jesus. Even better, many of them have worked together in a volume that has been compiled by three such scholars to help us. The work is Behind The Scenes of the Old Testament and one of those editors is joining us tomorrow and his name is Jonathan Greer.

So who is he?

According to his bio:

Jonathan S. Greer is Associate Professor of Old Testament and Director of the Hesse Memorial Archaeological Laboratory at Grand Rapids Theological Seminary, Cornerstone University. He holds M.A. degrees in Old Testament and Biblical Languages from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and a Ph.D. from The Pennsylvania State University where he focused on Hebrew Bible, ancient Near Eastern studies, and archaeology. He is also the Associate Director of archaeological excavations at Tel Dan, Israel, and has published a number of works on the relationship of the Bible to the ancient world.

We will be discussing the way the Old Testament world was and why it matters to us. We too often understand the Old Testament just through the lens of the New Testament instead of understanding the Old Testament on its own entirely. We need to approach the work on its own. The book covers so many of the minor details of life in the Ancient Near East, far too many to cover in even two hours. This is how massive the world is and hopefully, you will get a better understanding of it.

I hope you’ll be looking forward to the next new episode. We’re working on others. We have had some issues, but they are being worked on. Please also go on iTunes and leave a positive review of the Deeper Waters Podcast.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: The Lost World of the Torah

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

Several years ago, Weird Al came out with a song called “Everything You Know Is Wrong.” One could say that if the Waltons are right, everything you know about the Law is wrong. The Waltons come with a new way of reading the Torah that is not without controversy, but those who disagree will still have something to think about.

The book starts the usual way with the idea that Torah is an ancient document. This seems like something so simple and obvious, but it is easily missed. Too many times, we take the text and then thrust it into our modern context and assume the writers of the Old Testament were writing from the same cultural context that we are.

What is important in understanding any ancient work is not just what is said, but the world in which it is said. The background knowledge of the text makes all the difference. There are some things my wife and I can say to each other that will make each of us laugh that you are not likely to understand as an outsider. The reason is the simple word or words bring out memories that are funny based on our background knowledge.

Getting into the meat of the matter, the first major section is that the law codes are not legislation. If we took just one law in America in all of its fullness, it could very well be longer than the Torah itself. We cover every possible rule and scenario we can think of. Not so in the ancient world. It was more guidelines there. It could be seen as wisdom literature. One scenario I was surprised was not mentioned at this point was Solomon. Solomon wanted to know how to rule over the people. He never figured, “I have the Law so I have everything that I need.” No. He asked for wisdom and in his famous scenario of the two prostitutes and the baby, that wisdom won the day.

The next is that other cultures had rituals serving to meet the needs of the gods. The gods needed food and everything else and man was meant to supply them in exchange for blessings from the gods. Not so with YHWH who needed nothing. Israel was chosen for entirely different reasons.

Instead, Israel was chosen and rituals were done to maintain covenant order, which is the next major point. We should read the Law as a covenant. In this, the recipients of the covenant would swear loyalty to the sovereign and in exchange, the sovereign would give them blessings. Covenant is so huge in understanding the Law that we will go wrong if we do not see it that way. If we see it as just a random set of rules to be followed, we miss the point.

From there, we get to the ongoing usage. For one thing, the New Testament quotations of the Law do not show how it was necessarily understood by its first recipients. The purpose of the Law was also not to provide salvation. It also should not be divided into different kinds of law such as ceremonial and cultic. Most challenging today perhaps is that we should not go and get prooftexts to settle moral disputes today. We should read it as it was written.

There is also a very helpful section at the end dealing with the Ten Commandments. It’s a quite thorough look that can actually deal with many atheistic statements about the Ten Commandments one encounters today. The Waltons show how the Ten Commandments fit into a covenant system.

I thought it would have been helpful to have more examples of how the Torah should be read. Perhaps take a section and show how we read it today and then give an explanation from there on how they would have understood it. There is much in the book that will be debated and I can’t say I’m entirely sold on it yet, but there is certainly a lot of food for thought to consider.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Slavery, Abolitionism, and the Ethics of Biblical Scholarship

What do I think of Hector Avalos’s book published by Sheffield Phoenix? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

In scholarship, there are people who have strong positions on both sides. Many of them come with a lot of passion and that can be a good thing. Sometimes, they come with a passion that unfortunately taints what they say too much. Hector Avalos is one such person. When reading this one, it’s pretty clear that he’s practically dripping with venom against Christianity on every page.

This book called have been called a response to Rodney Stark, who seems to be the major villain in the piece. While Avalos questions Stark’s research, which is just fine, I often suspect Avalos has fallen into the same trap. If Stark gives the impression that Christianity brought sunshine and puppies and can do no wrong, Avalos treats it like a universal acid that eats through everything it touches.

At the start, Avalos says his book is the critique of the idea that the Bible should be the basis for modern ethics. I wonder who exactly is saying that. Most Christian apologists I know of argue from the basis of natural law theory on issues of morality. The Bible gives good and true information, but we also realize our secular friends won’t hear it, so we try to establish truths on grounds they do accept. We also realize the natural law is something known to all men even without explicit revelation, which I think even the Bible teaches.

Avalos also admits that even non-Christian scholars have high praise of Jesus. They say that Jesus can do no wrong. This is a good admission I like to see. Avalos doesn’t seem to share it (And in the text actually says he’s agnostic on the historicity of Jesus.), but it shows once again what a unique figure Jesus is.

On p. 7, we are told “slavery is a socioeconomic system centering on the use of forced laborers, who are viewed as property or under the control of their superiors for whatever term was determined by their masters or their society.” This could be fine insofar as it goes, but it still raises questions. What exactly is meant by property? What does it mean to be under control? How does this differ from indentured servitude or even employment today? These are questions unanswered. Avalos does admit that slavery is a hard term to define, but it doesn’t help to just arbitrarily make a definition.

On p. 12, Avalos has a paragraph about literalism and how the anti-slavery position went against the plain sense of the text. Yet at this point, we have to ask what is the plain sense? The plain sense differs from person to person. Part of the problem was thinking there was a plain sense that should have been immediately known by every reader. As Mark Noll says

“On the other front, nuanced biblical attacks on American slavery faced rough going precisely because they were nuanced. This position could not simply be read out of any one biblical text; it could not be lifted directly from the page. Rather, it needed patient reflection on the entirety of the Scriptures; it required expert knowledge of the historical circumstances of ancient Near Eastern and Roman slave systems as well as of the actually existing conditions in the slave states; and it demanded that sophisticated interpretative practice replace a commonsensically literal approach to the sacred text. In short, this was an argument of elites requiring that the populace defer to its intellectual betters. As such, it contradicted democratic and republican intellectual instincts. In the culture of the United States, as that culture had been constructed by three generations of evangelical Bible believers, the nuanced biblical argument was doomed” – Mark Noll, The Civil War As A Theological Crisis.

It’s worth noting that when Avalos talks about the American abolitionists and such, he doesn’t really say anything about Noll’s work. It’s referenced a few times, but serious engagement is lacking. I suspect there’s a reason for this.

On p. 16, he talks about the moral foundations and how they’re best found in secularism. One must base them on verifiable individual and group interests. Absent is any question of how to verify them or even tell that these interests are good and which individual or group? I seriously doubt Avalos wants to take into consideration the will of “religious” people, after all.

For finding the practice of caring for the poor, Avalos asks why we go to Deuteronomy instead of Job when the term in question is used in Job more times. Probably because Deuteronomy is our command on how we should live. Job while providing good wisdom, is not that kind of work.

On p. 30, Avalos talks about how we often don’t have enough information to know what an author meant. In some cases, this is true, but it’s interesting to me that when it comes to a text that someone else is interpreting, Avalos plays this card. When it comes to text like Jesus saying He came not to bring peace but a sword or that we must hate our parents, all of a sudden, those texts are clear and there’s no hint of authorial intent. This is a huge double-standard on Avalos’s part. I am not exaggerating. Avalos says Martin Luther King Jr. said Jesus had a love ethic, but Avalos contends that Jesus taught us to hate our parents in Luke 14:26 and therefore He was preaching hate. Statements like this really make Avalos lose credibility with me.

More and more of this shows up in the text and while I could list numerous more problems, I don’t wish to do so much of that. I want to hit on some major points. For one thing, Avalos spends a good deal of time talking about slavery in the ancient world in both testaments. One question is never answered. Why did slavery exist to begin with?

Most readers won’t think of this kind of question, but it’s an important one. You couldn’t just walk down to the street and go to Wal-Mart and get a job. If you wanted to pay for your family to have food on the table, you had to work for someone else and slavery was the system. Does that mean slavery was all sunshine and rainbows? Not at all.

Does it mean slavery was endorsed for all time? Of course not. Some things were granted for hardness of hearts, such as divorce. God started with the people where they were. There’s also the important question on the relationship between the two testaments and what applies to just Israel at a specific time and place and what applies to all people for all time. Avalos doesn’t touch these questions.

Any reference that can put God in a negative light is used. If God is portrayed as a king, that’s negative. If someone claims they are a slave of Christ, like Paul did, then Jesus is a wicked imperial ruler. Even in the parable of the owner of the vineyard who chose to give everyone a day’s wages even if they worked an hour, Jesus is still a villain. If evangelicals think Jesus can do no wrong, Avalos thinks he can do no right.

Avalos goes throughout history and I don’t honestly know enough about the accounts to say anything on those. Still, considering how he has acted throughout the book, I take things with a grain of salt. For Avalos, Christianity never did anything good except for fellow Christians. I am not at all claiming that everything Christianity has done throughout history has been wonderful and the church has no innocent blood on its hands, but I am claiming we have done a lot of good still.

Avalos also asks why the New Testament never commanded the release of slaves. There’s a quite good reason. I think such would have led to insurrection and Christianity would have been a movement about freeing the slaves largely and thus shut down so it could do no good. Christianity worked from the bottom up and not the other way around.

In conclusion, I found this book highly lacking. If other historians have gone through and documented errors in other parts, I would be interested. The parts I do know about, I found to be incredibly lacking and Avalos is just as much fundamentalist I suspect as the opponents he critiques. He just has a different loyalty.

In Christ,
Nick Peters