Is Ehrman Among The Mythicists?

What about the Ehrman quote on the lack of references to Jesus? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Last night I am browsing Facebook and see someone share this quote again.

“In the entire first Christian century Jesus is not mentioned by a single Greek or Roman historian, religion scholar, politician, philosopher or poet. His name never occurs in a single inscription, and it is never found in a single piece of private correspondence. Zero! Zip references!”

It is a real quote from Bart Ehrman. Unfortunately, the problem is too many people look at this and think that Bart Ehrman is endorsing mythicism. Hardly. Besides that, if some of the epistles in the NT are first century and mention Jesus and are private, such as Philemon, the pastorals, or perhaps some of the Johannine epistles, do these count as private correspondences?

However, to get to the point, no Ehrman is not a mythicist. He wrote a whole book to argue that Jesus did exist partly to deal with this claim that he is a mythicist. It’s a good book, but reading it, you can almost get the idea that he’s thinking, “I can’t believe I have to write this book.”

He has also spoken at the Freedom From Religion Foundation where he told mythicists that they just make themselves look stupid with that position. He has also debated Robert Price on the topic of did Jesus exist. So either Ehrman is massively in contradiction to several actions he’s done and is really a mythicist, or else the mythicists are misunderstanding Ehrman.

However, let’s also look at another approach. Let’s suppose this is the standard Mythicists give. Surely someone should have mentioned these people! Let’s see who else is unmentioned.

Hannibal was a general in the Carthaginian Empire and nearly conquered their great enemy, the Roman Empire. If anyone ever put fear into the Roman Empire, it was Hannibal. Many of us know about his crossing the Alps with his elephants on the way to conquer.

First reference? About 40-80 years later in Polybius. Think that’s not too bad? That’s also the date that would be given to the Gospels by liberal scholars.

Queen Boudica led a revolt in her time also against the Roman Empire. Keep in mind, this is a queen who did this. Contemporary references to her? None.

Arminius was a German general who in one battle defeated 1/10th of the Roman army. Where do we see him mentioned? About a century later in Tacitus.

In 79 A.D., the volcano Vesuvius erupted and destroyed Pompeii and killed a quarter of a million people. Historical references from contemporaries? One off-the-cuff remark between Tacitus and Pliny the Younger about how Pliny’s uncle died. We have some references in poetry and other places, but those are anecdotal. We don’t even learn about Herculaneum which was also destroyed until Cassius Dio in the third century.

In my debate with Ken Humphreys, he told me that he was absolutely certain Josephus existed. I asked him what contemporary references we have to Josephus. Answer? None.

These are just a few arguments and there are many more. The argument from silence is notoriously weak for something like this. It also assumes that these people should have written about Jesus, something I have written about elsewhere.

Note that I am not defending her the idea that Jesus is the Son of God who did miracles and died and rose again in the body on the third day. Affirming Jesus’s existence does not mean you have to affirm everything an orthodox Christian affirms about Him. I would think you’re wrong, but it is a more realistic position than mythicism.

When you see someone share this quote from Ehrman, put them back here. Odds are they don’t have a clue what Ehrman really believes and have never interacted with his work.

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)
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Book Plunge: Heaven and Hell

What do I think of Bart Ehrman’s latest published by Simon and Schuster? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Generally, I have enjoyed reading through Bart Ehrman books. I thoroughly disagree, but I like the books. However, when I read the one before this, The Triumph of Christianity, I found myself walking away disappointed. There just didn’t seem to be anything there like the last ones. I started reading Heaven and Hell when it came out, got caught up in other books, and it was just awhile before I came back. Perhaps it seems more like Ehrman is moving away from Jesus to an extent and going to other areas in history and philosophy and there just doesn’t seem to be as much there. I can’t say entirely.

This book is a look at the formation of the doctrine of the after-death, as I prefer to call it, in Christian thought. Ehrman starts with the way the pagans in the world viewed death. From there, he goes to the Old Testament and then to Jesus and on to Paul and looks as well at Revelation. From then on, he looks at the church throughout history and then gives some concluding remarks on how he views heaven and hell.

This also leads to questions of the nature of heaven and hell. Again, these are more theological and philosophical questions so it could be that this just isn’t Ehrman’s area and so it seems more like just personal opinion at that point. However, there are some interesting points worth noting in the book.

Ehrman does show that in the pagan world, generally speaking, resurrection was not a good thing. The body was a prison to be escaped. Thus, resurrection in the Jewish or Christian sense also did not fit in.

For many skeptics who think that resurrection was the Jews copying from Zoroastrianism, which shows up on the net at times, Ehrman cannot agree, which is refreshing. As he says:

More recently scholars have questioned a Persian derivation for the Jewish doctrine because of certain problems of dating.1 Some experts have undercut the entire thesis by pointing out that we actually do not have any Zoroastrian texts that support the idea of resurrection prior to its appearance in early Jewish writings. It is not clear who influenced whom. Even more significant, the timing does not make sense: Judah emerged from Persian rule in the fourth century BCE, when Alexander the Great (356–323 BCE) swept through the eastern Mediterranean and defeated the Persian Empire. But the idea of bodily resurrection does not appear in Jewish texts for well over a century after that.

Ehrman, Bart D.. Heaven and Hell: A History of the Afterlife (pp. 104-105). Simon & Schuster. Kindle Edition.

Also, on a humorous note, he gives the story of how in an account Jesus said people would hang by their teeth in Hell over fires. Some disciples asked “What if someone has no teeth?” Jesus would then reply, “The teeth will be provided!” This was a joke done by a professor not to be taken seriously.

Also, for those discounting the Gospels as sources for Jesus, Ehrman has the following:

Even the most critical scholars of the New Testament agree that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are by far our best sources of information for knowing about the historical Jesus.

Ehrman, Bart D.. Heaven and Hell: A History of the Afterlife (p. 150). Simon & Schuster. Kindle Edition.

Unfortunately though, at times he lapses back into his more fundamentalist days of reading the text. As commenting about Mark 9:1 where Jesus says some standing here would not taste death before they saw the Kingdom of God come in power:

Jesus is not saying that people will go to heaven. He is saying that some of his disciples will still be alive when the end comes and God’s utopian kingdom arrives on earth. Or, as he says elsewhere, when his disciples asked when the end of the world would come: “Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away before all these things take place” (Mark 13:30, emphasis added).

Ehrman, Bart D.. Heaven and Hell: A History of the Afterlife (p. 154). Simon & Schuster. Kindle Edition.

As I have argued, Jesus nowhere says when the Kingdom comes, it will be a utopia immediately. Jesus does not speak of the end of the world either, but of the end of the age. As an Orthodox Preterist, I’m convinced Jesus’s prediction was stunningly accurate.

Interesting also is what Ehrman says about 1 Cor. 15.

And so, for Paul, there will indeed be a resurrection. It will be bodily. But the human body will be transformed into an immortal, incorruptible, perfect, glorious entity no longer made of coarse stuff that can become sick, get injured, suffer in any way, or die. It will be a spiritual body, a perfect dwelling for life everlasting. It is in that context that one of the most misunderstood verses of Paul’s entire corpus occurs, a verse completely bungled not just by many modern readers but throughout the history of Christianity. That is when Paul insists: “Flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 15:50). These words are often taken—precisely against Paul’s meaning—to suggest that eternal life will not be lived in the body. Wrong, wrong, wrong. For Paul it will be lived in a body—but in a body that has been glorified.

Ehrman, Bart D.. Heaven and Hell: A History of the Afterlife (p. 182). Simon & Schuster. Kindle Edition.

Ehrman also thinks the beast in Revelation 17 is the same as the beast that came out of the sea in Revelation 13. I disagree with this. Looking at the passage, it talks about a great harlot and the beast himself actually attacks this harlot after a time. Who is the harlot? Look at your Old Testament. One nation is repeatedly referred to as a harlot and that’s Israel. Israel would work with the Beast for a time, (Being Nero) in killing Christians, but in turn, the Roman Empire would eventually turn on the harlot, as Israel was destroyed in 70 A.D.

Yet at the end of this look on Revelation, Ehrman gives a paragraph that aside from the opening remark could easily be said in any evangelical church. As many preachers I know would say, “That’ll preach!”

Even if parts of the vision are difficult to unpack and explain and others simply do not cohere, the author’s main points are clear. His overarching message is that God is ultimately sovereign over this world, even if it doesn’t seem like it. We may live in a cesspool of misery and suffering, and things may be getting progressively worse. But God is in charge, and it is all going according to plan. Before the end, all hell will indeed break loose, but then God will intervene to restore all that has become corrupt, to make right all that is wrong. Good will ultimately prevail.

Ehrman, Bart D.. Heaven and Hell: A History of the Afterlife (p. 230). Simon & Schuster. Kindle Edition.

In the end, where does Ehrman fall? While he rightly tells us to try to avoid emotional reasoning, it’s hard to not see this in his response.

Even though I have an instinctual fear of torment after death—as the view drilled into me from the time I could think about such things—I simply don’t believe it. Is it truly rational to think, as in the age-old Christian doctrine, that there is a divine being who created this world, loves all who are in it, and wants the very best for them, yet who has designed reality in such a way that if people make mistakes in life or do not believe the right things, they will die and be subjected to indescribable torments, not for the length of the time they committed their “offenses,” but for trillions of years—and that only as the beginning? Are we really to think that God is some kind of transcendent sadist intent on torturing people (or at least willing to allow them to be tortured) for all eternity, a divine being infinitely more vengeful than the worst monster who has ever existed? I just don’t believe it. Even if I instinctually fear it, I don’t believe it.

Ehrman, Bart D.. Heaven and Hell: A History of the Afterlife (pp. 293-294). Simon & Schuster. Kindle Edition.

Of course, this would all depend on how you view heaven and hell. I have written about my views elsewhere. Ehrman does say he doesn’t think this is what God is like. While I don’t think it’s accurate to say God is actively torturing people or even allowing it, seeing as I think torture and torment are two different things, I have to wonder that it’s incredible that Ehrman is willing to take the risk. Seriously, if Heaven is possibly there to gain and Hell is possibly there to avoid, I think it behooves anyone to seriously consider the question and when you decide, it needs to be more than “I just believe it” or “I just don’t believe it.” Some might think Christians should then read other religions as well. I have personally read the Mormon Scriptures and other of their books, the Koran, the Tao Te Ching, and the Analects of Confucius.

Overall, there is some good stuff in the book, but there seems to be something missing. I can’t help but see an Ehrman who I think after all these years is still searching. Perhaps a book on the afterdeath is coming as Ehrman is seeing himself getting older and thinking about these questions a lot more. I still hold out hope that one day he will return to the Christ he has since rejected. I am pleased when in the end he says three of his great heroes are Dickens, Shakespeare, and Jesus. He would love to get to meet them in an afterdeath.

I am sure Jesus would love to meet Ehrman also.

Hopefully, it will happen, and on good terms.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Further Responding to Jim Hall

How do we deal with common objections? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

So do you remember Jim Hall? You don’t? Yeah. His work is pretty unforgettable, but he’s the guy who wrote a book which is not worth your time to read at all and I reviewed. I shared my review with him publicly on Facebook and he has yet to respond to it at all. Instead, he has told me I am intellectually dishonest. On what grounds? Well, none have been given. Recently on someone’s wall he made a list of claims that are common I figured I’d respond to here just because I can and I know again, he won’t respond.

Objection #1:There are over 60 gospels, only four were arbitrarily added to the Bible.

Yes. Arbitrarily added. Of course, Hall will never ever dare read a book like Charles Hill’s Who Chose The Gospels? Nope. That requires research. He won’t look and say “Hmmm. Who were the ones the earliest church fathers were pointing to?” We find extremely early on Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John being put out on display. Why is this? Because these were seen to be the most reliable by the church and connected to apostles.

As for arbitrarily chosen, by who? Perhaps Hall buys into the myth that these books were voted on at the Council of Nicea. Good luck finding evidence for that. It’s a common myth, but there is nothing that has been produced from the Council itself saying it. As Ehrman says:

http://ehrmanblog.org/widespread-misconceptions-council-nicea/

Ehrman on the NT Canon and the Council of Nicea. Widespread Misconceptions about the Council of Nicea (For Members)

One of the reasons I’m excited about doing my new course for the Teaching Company (a.k.a. The Great Courses) is that I’ll be able to devote three lectures to the Arian Controversy, the Conversion of the emperor Constantine, and the Council of Nicea (in 325 CE). It seems to me that a lot more people know about the Council of Nicea today than 20 years ago – i.e., they know that there *was* such a thing – and at the same time they know so little about it. Or rather, what they think they know about it is WRONG.

I suppose we have no one more to blame for this than Dan Brown and the Da Vinci Code, where, among other things, we are told that Constantine called the Council in order to “decide” on whether Jesus was divine or not, and that they took a vote on whether he was human or “the Son of God.” And, according to Dan Brown’s lead character (his expert on all things Christian), Lee Teabing, “it was a close vote at that.”

That is so wrong.

There are also a lot of people who think (I base this on the number of times I hear this or am asked about it) that it was at the Council of Nicea that the canon of the New Testament was decided. That is, this is when Christian leaders allegedly decided which books would be accepted into the New Testament and which ones would be left out.

That too is wrong.

So here’s the deal. First, the canon of the New Tesatment was not a topic of discussion at the Council of Nicea. It was not talked about. It was not debated. It was not decided. Period. The formation of the canon was a long drawn-out process, with different church leaders having different views about which books should be in and which should be out. I can devote some posts to the question if anyone is interested (I would need to look back to see if I’ve done that already!).

Short story: different church communities and Christian leaders preferred different books because they (the communities and leaders) had different understandings of what the faith was and should be – even within the orthodox community there were disagreements.

The *first* author ever to list *our* 27 books and claim that *these* (and no others) were “the” books of the New Testament was the bishop of Alexandria, Athanasius, in the year 367 (45 years *after* the council of Nicea!) in a letter that he wrote to the churches under his control to whom he was giving his annual episcopal advice. And even that did not decide the issue: different orthodox churches continued to think that some books should be in, for example, that didn’t make it in (e.g. 1 and 2 Clement; the Shepherd of Hermas; the Letter of Barnabas).

There never was a church council that decided the issue – until the (anti-Reformation, Roman Catholic) Council of Trent in the 16th century!



We can also point out that when we look at the earliest opponents of Christianity, such as Celsus, what do they respond to? Yep. The four Gospels.

Finally, let’s see what Bart Ehrman says about this:

If historians want to know what Jesus said and did they are more or less constrained to use the New Testament Gospels as their principal sources. Let me emphasize that this is not for religious or theological reasons–for instance, that these and these alone can be trusted. It is for historical reasons pure and simple. (Ehrman, The New Testament, page 215)

Objection #2: None of the Bible authors ever actually met Jesus face-to-face.

Again, no evidence is given of this. It’s an assertion. Could it be true? Perhaps. Does he respond to someone like, say, Richard Bauckham with his work Jesus and the Eyewitnesses? Nope. Not a bit. No historians are cited.

Atheists like Hall often make these statements of faith. How would they establish that? Again, Hall gives us no reason to believe that.

Objection #3: The gospels were written anonymously, at least 30 years after the crucifixion.

Let’s suppose they were anonymous, although Martin Hengel disagrees. So what? Many works from the ancient world were anonymous. That doesn’t mean we have no idea about who the author is. E.P. Sanders has a reason also why they were anonymous.

The authors probably wanted to eliminate interest in who wrote the story and to focus the reader on the subject. More important, the claim of an anonymous history was higher than that of a named work. In the ancient world an anonymous book, rather like an encyclopedia article today, implicitly claimed complete knowledge and reliability. It would have reduced the impact of the Gospel of Matthew had the author written ‘this is my version’ instead of ‘this is what Jesus said and did.’  – The Historical Figure of Jesus by E.P. Sanders page 66.

Furthermore, the Pastoral epistles are not anonymous and say they are by Paul. Does that mean that skeptics immediately jump on that and say “Hey! Paul wrote those!”? No. Why should I think a name on the Gospels would be any different?

Objection #4: Luke/Acts is widely agreed upon to have been written around 80CE.

Again, no evidence for this whatsoever. Hall gives no information to believe this claim. I also find it hard to believe that the author of Luke/Acts would say absolutely nothing about the death of Paul, Peter, or the destruction of Jerusalem. Now again, I could be mistaken in my belief, sure, but Hall doesn’t give me any evidence to go by.

Objection #5: If Harry Potter was the most-studied book in history, that still wouldn’t make it true.

I don’t know anyone who is saying the Bible is true because it is the most studied book in all of history. I have no idea what Hall is trying to establish with this claim. Let’s move on to the next.

Objection #6: There is no moral teaching in the Bible that cannot also be found in much older religions’ texts.

Reply: So what? The Bible is true because it contains some unique moral teaching? Morality is common knowledge that is meant for all men. You don’t need the Bible to know it.

Objection #7: “Positive impact on the world”? It has been cited for centuries to justify slavery and the subjugation of women.

Reply: Yes. The Bible has been misused. So what? Evil people misuse good things constantly. The Bible has also been used to end slavery repeatedly and to raise up women. That is never mentioned. Hall is free to find a nation untouched by the Bible at all where he would rather live if he thinks things are so awful in places the Bible has reached.

Again, I know Hall will not respond. He can claim I’m intellectually dishonest all he wants, but that will not work as well as just responding to the claims. Show I am wrong on something and I will accept it. We’ll see if that happens, but don’t hold your breath on it.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Evidence Considered Chapter 29

Is Jesus the Son of Man? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

We return to Glenton Jelbert’s Evidence Considered to look at Darrell Bock’s work on Jesus being the Son of Man. Jelbert isn’t too impressed with this essay apparently as this is one incredibly short chapter. Just as soon as I thought I was beginning it, it was over. It’s a shame because in my thinking, Jelbert really doesn’t treat the evidence fairly at all.

Jelbert says Bock seems to take for granted the existence of God and the credibility of the Bible. On the former, yes. Bock is not supposed to give the Kalam Cosmological Argument or anything like that every time. Many Christian Bible scholars could give that, but they won’t be like a William Lane Craig and specialize in it. Still, I don’t even think theism is necessary to make the case. It could be making the case for Jesus gets us closer to the case for theism.

As for credibility, Bock has written several works on this so there is nothing that he just assumes in this. When New Testament scholars make their case, they make it based on the data they have and if they think their case requires treating a text differently or suspiciously, they say so and why. Bock is just fine with what he is doing.

Jelbert says part of the problem is that Bock says the phrase means a human being. This isn’t an immediate problem since Jesus is indeed a human being. Not only that, it’s an essential of Christian theology that Jesus is a human being. If Jesus is not a human being, then there is no Christianity. That’s another point and I won’t go on on that one for now.

Naturally, Daniel 7:13 comes up and Jelbert says that one problem is it’s a dream. So what? The text of Daniel makes it clear this dream was from God. Jelbert doesn’t believe that? Big deal. Jesus and His audience would. The Sadducees could be an exception, but most of the people in Israel would think that.

Jelbert makes much about the statement about like and the use of a. I think these are just common Biblical descriptions. If this is where your strongest argument lies, then your case is pretty weak.

Now though, we get into one of my favorite parts. It’s a topic I love to discuss. This is the best way I think to see the evidence.

Jelbert says that the usage of Son of Man shows that Jesus was an apocalyptic prophet who thought the end times were imminent. Interestingly, he points to Ehrman’s Did Jesus Exist? rather than his Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of a New Millennium. I have reviewed the latter book. Jelbert says Jesus thought this, but He was wrong. The end times did not arrive.

On the contrary, (To quote Thomas Aquinas) Jesus did think they were going to arrive and Jesus was right. The question is, what were the end times the end of? If you think the end of the world, then you are mistaken. Let’s consider Jesus speaking about the temple. The disciples want to ask Jesus the sign of His coming and the end of the age.

Odd question isn’t it?

I mean, what do they mean with His coming? Jesus is already there! Did they mean His return after His resurrection? Doubtful. These guys hadn’t even realized Jesus was going to die yet, let alone die, be resurrected, and ascend to come again later. What did they want to know?

And if this is the end of the world, why point to just the temple? Won’t that be the case with everything? A lot of what Jesus says doesn’t make sense if He means the end of the world. “Flee to the mountains!” Because, you know, the mountains will be totally safe if the world comes to an end. Pray that it not be in the winter on a Sabbath. After all, if the world comes to an end, let’s hope it’s in the summer on a Thursday.

Could there be some other way to understand this? Why yes there is. It’s in the sense of what is meant by a coming. A coming refers in the Old Testament many times to judgment. Consider Isaiah 19:1. The Lord rides on a swift cloud and is coming to Egypt. So is the Lord going to be like kid Goku riding on a nimbus cloud in judgment? No. Coming and clouds are both tied in. Clouds for deity and coming to refer to judgment.

In Revelation 2:5, Jesus tells the church at Ephesus that if they do not repent, He will come to them and remove their lampstand. Whoa! The second coming is going to take place if this one church doesn’t get their act right? Nope. This is about judgment.

One of my favorite passages on this is in 2 Samuel 22.

1 David sang to the LORD the words of this song when the LORD delivered him from the hand of all his enemies and from the hand of Saul. 
2 He said: “The LORD is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; 
3my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation. He is my stronghold, my refuge and my savior— from violent people you save me. 
4 “I called to the LORD, who is worthy of praise, and have been saved from my enemies. 
5 The waves of death swirled about me; the torrents of destruction overwhelmed me. 
6 The cords of the grave coiled around me; the snares of death confronted me. 
7 “In my distress I called to the LORD; I called out to my God. From his temple he heard my voice; my cry came to his ears. 
8 The earth trembled and quaked, the foundations of the heavens shook; they trembled because he was angry. 
9 Smoke rose from his nostrils; consuming fire came from his mouth, burning coals blazed out of it. 
10 He parted the heavens and came down; dark clouds were under his feet. 
11 He mounted the cherubim and flew; he soared on the wings of the wind. 
12 He made darkness his canopy around him— the dark rain clouds of the sky. 
13 Out of the brightness of his presence bolts of lightning blazed forth. 
14 The LORD thundered from heaven; the voice of the Most High resounded. 
15He shot his arrows and scattered the enemy, with great bolts of lightning he routed them. 
16 The valleys of the sea were exposed and the foundations of the earth laid bare at the rebuke of the LORD, at the blast of breath from his nostrils. 
17 “He reached down from on high and took hold of me; he drew me out of deep waters. 
18 He rescued me from my powerful enemy, from my foes, who were too strong for me.
You can search all you want through the life of David in 1 and 2 Samuel. You will never find a passage with YHWH hitching up on Gabriel and Michael and riding through playing Green Arrow. You will never find a massive event where the valleys of the sea are exposed and we see the foundations of the Earth. Yet here David says all of this took place.
Why?

Because for David, as for other Jews, political actions and such were depicted often using cosmic imagery. We do the same when we refer to an event as earth-shaking, without necessarily speaking about an earthquake. The great mistake is to take apocalyptic imagery as if it was literal.

So what was Jesus talking about?
He tells you. It was the destruction of the temple. Jesus says the temple will be destroyed and all the things He speaks of will take place. (By the way, for those who think this is the same event as 1 Thess. 4 or 1 Cor. 15, where is the resurrection? What timeframe does Jesus give? This generation will not pass away.
The temple was destroyed in 70 A.D.
Jesus was right.
Of course, some might be wondering about interpretations. I recommend looking up the position I have given, Orthodox Preterism, and see how the passages are interpreted. Even if you don’t agree, realize it is an acceptable view within Christianity.
Jelbert then goes on to say that sometimes Jesus refers to someone else as the Son of Man. This isn’t as momentous as Jelbert thinks. There was a common practice to refer to oneself in the third person. Paul does the same in 2 Corinthians 12 when writing about the man he knew who had an experience of heaven. Paul is speaking about himself. He says Ehrman makes a case that Jesus would have thought a future figure would be this Son of Man.
Ehrman does make such a case, but I think Michael Bird has a better one. Bird has pointed to a passage like Matthew 19:28-30. This passage is after the rich young ruler comes to Jesus and Jesus tells His disciples that when the Son of Man comes, they will sit on twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel. So what’s the big deal? Maybe Jesus is talking about another man coming in the future.
Doubtful. For one thing, this passage is quite likely an authentic one by skeptical standards since it refers to the twelve apostles judging the twelve tribes. A later writer would not have that since that would imply Judas. Yet if this is what happens to the apostles, where is Jesus? Is Jesus just slinking in the background somewhere? If the apostles get this great honor, doesn’t it fit that Jesus would have the glory of the Son of Man?
Furthermore, Son of Man is not a title the early church would make up. It doesn’t show up in Paul and it doesn’t normally show up in the Fathers unless they’re quoting Scripture. It’s quite an anachronism unless Jesus said it. The only times it shows up are in places like Acts 7 and the stoning of Stephen, and in my view, Stephen says that referring to Daniel 7 and the Son of Man standing in judgment. Hebrews tells us that Jesus sat down next to the right hand and Psalm 110:1 which says “The Lord said to my Lord, ‘sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.’ ” (By the way, that’s the most quoted Old Testament verse in the New Testament.) Why is Jesus standing then? I think it’s because Jesus is judging the nation of Israel there as sealing their fate for stoning the first Christian martyr.
Also, another passage that Jelbert points to is the one that before the transfiguration has Jesus saying that some listening to Him would not taste death before they see the Kingdom of God come in power. Jelbert again thinks this is about the end of the world. It’s not. It’s about the kingship of Jesus being vindicated in A.D. 70 with the destruction of the Jewish temple showing the age of the Law was ended and the age of the Messiah had come.
Some Christians think this is referring to the transfiguration, but if so, it’s a weak prophecy. Imagine if I went to my church next Sunday and gave a sermon and said, “Some of you will not taste death before next Sunday comes!” I would not be heralded as the most awesome prophet of all. 99.9999% of the time I am sure I would be correct. Even with a higher mortality rate in the past, it wouldn’t be that great.
The transfiguration was a revelation of who the king is, but His rule would be established in the destruction of the temple. Jelbert thinks we have to redefine terms. No. We just have to abandon a Western literalism and go with a more Jewish approach to the text. If Jelbert wants to say I’m wrong, he’s free to engage me on my exegesis, but what he thinks is a passage showing a great weakness in Christianity is one that I think shows one of its great strengths. If I wanted to show a great proof that Jesus was a true prophet, I would go to these passages that Jelbert thinks are such a problem.
In the end, I have every reason to think Jesus spoke of Himself as the Son of Man and He spoke truly. He truly was an apocalyptic prophet and He truly was right. I am not waiting for Jesus to be the King. Jesus is the King right now and His enemies are being made a footstool for His feet.
In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: In Defense of the Gospels

What do I think of John Stewart’s book published by Intelligent Faith Press? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

John Stewart is a lawyer who works with Ratio Christi and has written a book on defending the Gospels. Stewart goes through several questions very thoroughly and point by point. He also introduces you to many methodologies and explains why he accepts the answers that he accepts.

He starts off with asking when the Gospels were written. He establishes reasons for His dates but points out that often even on the worst case scenario of a date, the date could still be within the lifetime of the eyewitnesses. He points out that this is important and compares this to other works of history as well.

Stewart goes on to use similar methodologies on other questions such as if the Gospels are anonymous or if they’ve been changed or if they’re biased. Many of the objections dealt with are the ones that most people will encounter when they engage with internet atheists. If you are often involved or know someone who is involved with those debates and wants an extra resource, this would be a good one.

The work is also short and easy to understand without using technical language. It can be read in a short time and would be ideal for college students on campuses. No doubt, this is because of years that Stewart has spent with Ratio Christi.

There’s also a brief section on Jesus Mythicism in one of the chapters. This will be helpful for those who regularly encounter this crazy idea that seems to keep popping up its head. While the material there is basic, it is enough to help you out with the average mythicist.

I also like the argument dealing with the question of if the Gospels are anonymous. This is a common one that shows up on the internet, but it is one I do not see professional scholars dealing with, mainly because most scholars don’t use “The Gospels are anonymous” as a reason to think that they are automatically untrustworthy. Stewart rightly points out that it does help us if we can have good reasons to name an eyewitness behind a Gospel, but it is not a necessity to know if the Gospel is reliable or not.

If there were some criticisms I would give, the first one is that the book does need an editor. There would occasionally be seen typos that were distracting. One in particular was to hear about how to respond to Bark Ehrman. This is a slip of the keyboard of course, but it can damage one’s reputation.

I also would have liked to have seen a lot more specifics on ideas that have been overturned in the past 100 years about the Gospels due to archaeology. Mythicism was addressed, but that has never been a reigning theory among scholars. There have been very few isolated individuals who have held that position, although the number today could be greater due to the rise of the internet and the fast spread of false information.

Still, there is much to commend in Stewart’s book. It is a good opening defense one can have in the case of the Gospels and the author does make sure to focus there. He does have a short section on the Pauline epistles, but that is not what the book is about so he does rightly stick with the Gospels. I recommend this one for your college student, especially one who wants to better defend the Gospels.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

Deeper Waters Podcast 5/5/2018: J.P. Holding

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

Today, we live in a world that has largely been Christianized. While there are still many people that have never heard the name of Jesus, there are billions that have. Christianity is the major dominating force in the world today. Jesus Christ has had more impact on the world than anyone else who ever lived.

How did we get to this point? What is it that made Christianity survive? It’s easy to say Constantine and blame him for everything, but how did Christianity even get to Constantine? It was a highly persecuted faith and a very shameful one.

Bart Ehrman has a theory and he recently discussed his theory in the book The Triumph of Christianity. As readers of this blog know, I was not impressed with this one and found it severely lacking. Ehrman never even touched on many significant issues.

However, there are other theories about how Christianity came to survive. One that is anathema to Ehrman would be that Christianity is true. Even still, how did it survive? What made it difficult to survive? Would Christianity have even been seen as appealing by the people at the time?

One of my favorite explanations for the rise of Christianity comes from my ministry partner. He has talked about it in his book The Impossible Faith. This is that if Christianity was false, it should have died out and it should have died out easily. That Christianity survived is in reality a testimony to its truth. He’s J.P. Holding and he’ll be returning to the Deeper Waters Podcast this Saturday.

So who is he?

J. P. Holding has a Masters’ Degree in Library Science and is a contributing writer to the Christian Research Journal. He has also written for the publications of Creation Ministries International.

I also want to give a special update. A kind fan of Deeper Waters has donated to us a webcam and some web editing software. Hopefully, we will be able to make videos soon. We will be doing this episode on Facebook live so you can hear the interview live and if you have questions, you can feel free to ask those. It’s up to my discretion if a question gets on the air or not, but it will be good to see your interactions.

We will be talking about the problems of Bart Ehrman’s book and where he goes wrong and anything he might get right as well. We will be talking about his approach to the Gospels and to ancient evidence. One aspect I definitely hope to touch on is why is it that honor and shame get no real traction in his book? Does Ehrman still not understand how the ancient world worked?

I hope you’ll be watching for this latest episode of the Deeper Waters Podcast. We can be sure of Facebook Live, but we could also try for YouTube Live. It’s a great way of branching out. Please go on iTunes also and leave a positive review of the Deeper Waters Podcast.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

My Question To Bart Ehrman

Why does someone believe or not believe in miracles? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Recently, my father-in-law Mike Licona debated Bart Ehrman on Gospel reliability right here in Atlanta. I went to it with my wife and when the Q&A started, I rushed to the microphone to be the first to ask Ehrman a question. I had been thinking about what to ask and nothing in the debate changed my mind.

I asked Ehrman about a claim he made in Misquoting Jesus where he said that by definition, a miracle is the least probable explanation of an event. I wanted to know if this was something one would say before examining the evidence, which I could understand, or after. If it was after, isn’t one then saying that no amount of evidence will change one’s mind on a miracle? After all, you could show all the evidence in the world and it wouldn’t change the likelihood of a miracle being the true explanation of what happened, or if a miracle is the true explanation, one has a historical methodology that rules them out from knowing the truth.

One aspect I definitely remember of Ehrman’s answer is that believing in miracles is based on faith. If you’re a believer, you believe in them. If you’re a non-believer, you don’t. Seems simple enough. Right?

Not exactly.

First off, I don’t think this answers the question. When is a miracle thought to be the least probable explanation by definition? Who made this definition and how could it be changed? if it has to be that, then it would seem that no amount of evidence can ever change the situation to make a miracle more likely. (Although interestingly, I suspect it can somehow be made less likely!)

Second, this isn’t just a case of faith. This implies that believers themselves aren’t interested in evidence. If I want to judge if a miracle happened, I look at the evidence. Some claims have better evidence than others. Last night my wife and I were at a Bible study and someone told us privately about how they know someone who became a Christian and is convinced that God told them that Jesus would return before their mother passed away.

Now do I believe in the return of Christ in the future? Absolutely. Do I believe that God can speak to people today? Yes, though I think it’s extremely rare. Do I think this happened in this case? Not a bit. I have seen enough people make crazy claims about when Jesus is returning and I have no reason to think God told this one guy.

On the other hand, consider a New Testament scholar like Pinchas Lapides. He was a Jew who never believed Jesus was the Messiah and never became a Christian and his Ph.D. is in the New Testament. What does he conclude about Jesus? Jesus rose from the dead. What’s that based on? The evidence.

Some of you might think I am only open to miracles in my own religion. Not at all. My basis is always the same. Whatever the miracle claim is, just present the evidence. If it’s sufficient evidence in my opinion, I should believe it. My Christianity is not threatened by a miracle on the outside.

The problem with saying faith is that one is ultimately saying it’s not a matter of evidence. If that is one’s position, then we have to ask who is really living by faith? If your methodology has already ruled out miracles a priori, then if a miracle has happened, you will never know what did happen. If you assert one has never happened, then you have to show that, and if your methodology again won’t allow that, then we are arguing in a circle.

I conclude with a summarization of the thought of Chesterton.

The Christian believes in the miracle, rightly or wrongly, because of the evidence. The skeptic disbelieves in the miracle, rightly or wrongly, because he has a dogma against them.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: The Triumph Of Christianity

What do I think of Bart Ehrman’s latest published by Simon and Schuster? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

When I first heard about The Triumph of Christianity coming out, I was quite excited. The survival and eventual triumph of Christianity is something I consider to be a great argument for the truth of Christianity, especially since Christianity did not spread through force and was spread in a society that would want to eliminate it and that it was a very shameful faith. I was quite looking forward to seeing if Ehrman would either add to that thesis or challenge it.

This book sadly was disappointing in that regard. As I go through, I don’t find many clear answers. I do thankfully find that Constantine is not the reason the faith succeeded, although he might have made it’s eventual triumph faster. Sadly, Ehrman doesn’t seem to have much of an idea why it did. You get a basic answer of people talked to one another and each time someone became a Christian, paganism lost. Pagans would still be pagans if they worshiped a different god. They wouldn’t be if they worshiped Christ.

Ehrman also has the positive of talking about the things that Christianity has done. The Roman Empire at the time of Jesus was one marked by dominance. Slavery was unquestioned. Men had to be the leaders. War and conquest seemed natural. (p. 5)

Christianity changed that. We all think it’s natural to want to care for the sick and the poor. That’s because of Christianity. Without Christianity, we might never have had the realities of health care that we have today. Ehrman says we have simply assumed that these are human values, but they’re not. (p. 6)

This I can support definitely. So many times when atheists argue today, they point to the claim that the Bible condones slavery supposedly. It is taken for granted that everyone knows that this is wrong because we’re all humans. Go back to the Roman Empire in the time of Jesus and it would more likely be the opposite. You would be the oddball not for approving slavery but for condemning it.

One of the first places Ehrman goes to is talking about Constantine. I find this quite odd seeing as Constantine is about 300 years later. It’s important to get to, but why go there so quickly? I want to know how Christianity even got to that point.

Ehrman does have some interesting points here. He is right that pagans were fine with you worshiping another god provided you were not excluding others with that. The Christians would not have really been a problem had Jesus been presented as one other deity in the pantheon to be worshiped. That is not what the Christians did. The Christians said God had revealed Himself in Jesus and that was the only way to worship Him. All other gods were false gods.

One author who has brought this out well is Larry Hurtado in his book Destroyer of the Gods. One would hope that Ehrman’s not interacting with that book is because it came out after the manuscript was done, but it’s hard to say since Ehrman can be good at giving the sound of one hand clapping and not interacting with the best of his critics.

Hurtado points out that by a gentile becoming a Christian, he was putting himself on the outs socially. It could be compared to someone leaving a cult today, and I mean a bona fide cult. If you have left the Jehovah’s Witnesses or the Mormons, that would be such an example. A Gentile would go into the home of a friend and all of a sudden, he couldn’t honor the household gods. He couldn’t go to the meetings of the gods at work. He was on the outs with his society entirely. He was risking everything.

A Jew could be given a free pass because the Jewish beliefs were ancient and thus, they were seen as something that could have been a valid path to God. For the ancients, those that came before them were even closer to the gods and knew how to get there. A religious idea that was new was viewed with suspicion. Hence, one of the early apologetic works was called “Neither New Nor Strange.”

A great work on this is Robert Louis Wilkens’s The Christians as the Romans Saw Them (Yet another work that Ehrman never interacts with). One who became a Christian was embracing a religion that was shameful. Your entire reputation and even identity was being put on the line in the Roman world by becoming a Christian.

Speaking of being a shameful religion, this is something Ehrman also never interacts with. He never looks at how the ancient world was a world of honor and shame. This permeated everything. Having honor in the ancient world meant more to them than paying our bills means to us. You won’t get this reality one iota from Ehrman’s book. It never enters the equation when it should be central to the equation. This is a glaring problem to me in the book.

To get back to Constantine, Ehrman does admit that Constantine wasn’t a perfect Christian, but he was at least a Christian. He did take his conversion seriously. Much of this material will be troublesome to people who are of the mythicist variety and think that Constantine is the only reason Christianity survived. (Again, I still want to know how the religion survived until Constantine.) Also, speaking of sources never interacted with, there is no mention of Peter Leithart’s Defending Constantine in all of this.

Ehrman then goes back to Paul, who I think would have been a much better start for the book, and in here actually says that in the life of Jesus some people did believe He was the Messiah. I am quite thankful to see this said from Ehrman. It’s also stated that the resurrection is what confirmed that Jesus was the Messiah. (p. 48)

It’s important to note how that works. Jesus isn’t the Messiah because God raised Him from the dead. God raised Him from the dead because He is the Messiah. The resurrection confirmed what Jesus had already demonstrated with His life and teachings.

Ehrman also will irritate the mythicist crowd by pointing out that while Paul never mentions the message he gave to potential Christians in his letters, that’s because he doesn’t need to. That message was given in person. The letters were to deal with other matters.

Something else interesting about Ehrman’s thesis, and yet confusing from his perspective, is that Christianity spread because of the belief in real miracles. Ehrman even admits that Paul says at times in his letters, such as in Romans 15, and I would add in 2 Cor., that he did miracles himself before his audience. Something important about this is that it’s easy to make a claim like that to people who already believe you’re the apostle to the Gentiles. Try saying that to the church in 2 Corinthians who is questioning your status because of the super-apostles. Paul is trying to get his opponents to remember what was done. You don’t point to what your opponents will remember unless you’re sure they will remember it and not dispute it.

But Ehrman doesn’t believe in miracles! That’s right, but he does say people did believe they had seen miracles or that the stories were reliable about miracles somehow. He thinks most often it happened because the people heard about miracles.

As a Christian, I do believe miracles happened, but Ehrman never interacts with skeptical ideas at the time. What about Lucian who seemed to make a habit of exposing miracles? Ehrman seems to take it for granted that this was an age that believed in miracles very easily. Maybe it was, but I’m not so sure, and that is something that Ehrman should argue. Still, there’s something odd about someone who doesn’t believe in miracles arguing that belief in miracles was the reason that Christianity gained converts.

Absent is one other possible explanation. Maybe people investigated the claims and decided Jesus rose from the dead. How would this happen? A group of people or one high honor wealthy person would send an investigator or a number of investigators to Jerusalem and the surrounding area. These people would talk to eyewitnesses and gather facts and report them back. Note that someone with high honor would have the most to lose by joining Christianity and so they would want to make sure the facts were right. There had to be such people since 1 Cor. 1 says that not many were in an honorable position, which means some were. Also, the church had to have some financial backing for the extensive letter writing and Gospel writing that went on. Those were not cheap.

Ehrman never seems to consider this idea. For him, word of mouth is sufficient, but that is a lacking idea. People would join a movement without checking where they would put their entire identity on the line by identifying with a crucified man? I don’t think Ehrman really understands the social consequences of becoming a Christian in that world.

On a positive note on the other hand, Ehrman does say that Paul did not invent Christianity nor did he invent the idea that the death and resurrection of Jesus brought salvation. (p. 71) This is not original to Paul as it was part of the package he came to believe. Paul had to have known what he was persecuting and how to recognize a Christian.

Ehrman also will not be a friend to the mythicist crowd when he says Mithraism could not have overtaken the empire. (p. 81) Mithraism was not exclusive like Christianity was. Exclusivism made it risky to become a Christian.

Ehrman is also right that people did not believe in life after death. What is not right about this is that that would have made Christianity a plus. For many, it would be like returning to a prison again. The body was something that you wanted to escape. A spiritual resurrection would have been much easier to accept. Teaching a resurrection to a body of flesh would not have been.

For this, Ehrman often thinks that Heaven and Hell were great motivators, but why should this be? If you don’t believe the person who makes the threat, why take the threat seriously? People speaking about hell would have likely been seen as wild-eyed fanatics.

Ehrman is also right about how the Romans were generally tolerant, but that’s because other religions weren’t stepping on any toes. Saying you shouldn’t worship the gods of the state or worship the emperor was going against that. Another movement Ehrman says was attacked by Rome was the Bacchanalia movement due to licentious practices. Christianity would have been seen as treasonous due to their being no separation of church and state. To deny the Roman gods was to deny Rome itself and a Gentile could not get away with that because we all know Gentiles are not Jews.

Ehrman does have his statement about other Christianities being around, but there is no reason to think any of them were close to dominating. Ehrman regularly does this kind of thing sadly. He will speak of a church that used the Gospel of Peter, but it was only for a short time and it was one particular area. There is nothing about how Egypt was even the most heterodox area and yet when we look at what we find there, orthodox manuscripts of the Bible outweigh the heretical works greatly. This is in Charles Hill’s Who Chose The Gospels? (Another work that there is no interaction with)

On p. 143, Ehrman does say that many people believe in miracles today not because they have seen them, but because they’ve heard about them, and eventually they just believe that they are possible and then true. Why should we think that our society will mirror the ancient one? People would risk everything again just because they hard a story and didn’t bother to check it? It looks like Ehrman hopes his readers are just as gullible as he thinks the ancients were.

On p. 181, in writing about 1 Peter, Ehrman does say they were facing opposition for their faith, but we don’t know what it was. It wasn’t an empire wide persecution. What could it have been? It never enters Ehrman’s mind apparently that it was shaming from their society. This is again the glaring blind spot in the book. Ehrman does not interact with what the culture was truly like.

When we get to the end of the book, we find Ehrman going on a different track, and one that is very mistaken. This is talking about intolerance, and this largely in the context of later Christian emperors opposing paganism. Ehrman says that intolerance is “the principled rejection of other beliefs and practices as wrong, dangerous, or both.” p. 256.

It doesn’t take much thinking to see the problem here. By this definition, anyone who thinks they are right in anything is automatically intolerant because all contrary beliefs have to be false. If Ehrman doesn’t even think that what he is presenting in a book is right, why should I bother listening to him? Apparently, Ehrman thinks it’s intolerant for Christians to think they are right. Is Ehrman intolerant then if he goes out and argues for his case as he does in debates and tells his opponents why he thinks they are not right?

He also has a section on the death of Hypatia which he says was at the hands of a Christian mob. The reality is despite what he thinks, we are not most fully informed. Every side tries to claim Hypatia and use her as a weapon against the other. A good source on her is here.

Oh. All this intolerance? It started with Jesus Himself. Jesus was not tolerate of the beliefs of the Pharisees. (How dare Jesus disagree! Rabbis never ever did that with each other!) Ehrman plays the card again about the Jews being addressed in John 8, not realizing that doesn’t mean all Jews of all time but would refer to a specific group of people. A good look at that can be found here. It’s interesting that Jesus and Paul are the intolerant ones, when they were the ones being put to death by their opponents.

Ehrman also says Paul was intolerant with issuing a divine curse on anyone who preaches a different Gospel. Yes. Paul does that. The stakes are high for him. Note that he never says though that he is applying the curse himself or to go out and kill the people of a different persuasion.

Ehrman on p. 285 says that tolerance was encouraged and freedom of religion was embraced. This tolerance was lost with the triumph of Christianity. Note that Ehrman says this in a country founded on Christian principles where he’s allowed to freely write as an agnostic and publish books arguing against Christianity. Yes. That is truly an intolerant society.

Note also pagans reveled in diversity to a point. There was no reveling in the new Christian movement at all. The Christians did not have the freedom to worship. Now do I think it is wrong when Christians get the power to use it to force Christianity on the populace. Still, it is quite bizarre to say the pagans were tolerant. It’s easy to be tolerant when those who disagree with you only disagree on what you consider a minor point and aren’t a threat at all. At least Ehrman acknowledges again the positives he stated at the beginning such as caring for the poor and the sick, but this tirade on intolerance is not really fitting and Ehrman always says on the one hand he wants to be neutral as a historian, but when he says something like this, he is hardly neutral.

In the end, I find this book just lacking. It’s almost like Ehrman is writing a book just to write a book and get something out there. You can see him picking out a few favorite source repeatedly and relying on them. I know Christianity triumphed and I have some good ideas why, but I don’t see why Ehrman thinks it did.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Jesus, The Eternal Son

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

I should point out at the start that the copy I am reviewing is an unproofed and unedited review copy sent to me courtesy of Eerdman’s. I thank them for their generosity. This was done in advance so I could interview Dr. Bird as soon as possible on this book.

There are some ideas that are tossed around so often that most of us accept them without going back to check the evidence. Did Christopher Columbus believe that the Earth was round in contrast to people who thought it was flat? Obviously. Did the Spanish Inquisition kill millions of people? Definitely. Many of us heard these ideas growing up so much that it never occurred to us to question them.

It’s not just the man on the street that has this. Scholars can have this as well. There’s often no need to reinvent the wheel after all. There have been landmark works written to argue that the early Christology of Christianity was adoptionist in Jesus, that Jesus was chosen to be the Son of God at His baptism. So the scholars are referred to, it’s an idea set in stone, and we move on.

Fortunately, there are scholars like Michael Bird who think that even old ideas need to be examined and perhaps it could be that the emperor of adoptionism really has no clothes. Dr. Bird has made it his goal to show this in a book that is relatively short, but don’t let the size fool you. What is said in a smaller number of pages should have enormous impact.

Bird looks at the classic texts used and raises powerful questions about them. For the start, these includes Romans 1:3-4 and Acts 2:36. I know the latter is one I have also seen unitarians and Jehovah’s Witnesses use to argue their viewpoint. It looks sadly like many scholars have the same kind of misunderstanding that these people do.

From there, we go to the book of Mark. How does Mark present Jesus? If one looked at the baptism in isolation, perhaps one could get an adoptionist viewpoint, but then one needs to consider the introduction, the conclusion, everything in between, the Jewishness of the author, the culture it was written in, you know, the little things like that.

Bird takes a look at the way YHWH was seen in Israel along the lines of the creator/creature divide. Then the question has to be how does Jesus fit in. There’s much more than just the pre-existence of Jesus as Mark regularly shows Jesus in a unique position in relation to YHWH. One other such example is the forgiveness of sins in Mark 2. Bird realized that too often he was looking at that and thinking in a post-Christian sense where for instance, in many traditions, including Protestant, a priest can pronounce forgiveness. I attended a Lutheran church in Knoxville. The pronouncement of forgiveness was common.

This might be common for us, but it was not for Jews of the time. Jesus did something incredibly unique in that. Bird goes on to look at other instances like Jesus walking on the water and what the Olivet Discourse means for Jesus and the introduction of Mark. I could go on, but you get the idea.

He then looks at how adoptionism arose looking at key suspects in the second century like the Shepherd of Hermas and the Ebionites. He’s still not convinced either of these is the key. Somehow though, the belief obviously did arise.

Bird’s work is excellent and I must quote the very last paragraph in full.

A Christology that presents us with a mere man who bids us to earn our salvation is an impoverished alternative to the God of grace and mercy who took on our flesh and “became sin” so that we might become the “righteousness of God.” I prefer a Christology where the Son was crucified on the cross for us, was glorified in the resurrection for us, and was exalted to heaven for us—so that on the appointed day, we all would attain adoption as children of God and the redemption of our bodies in the new creation.

If I had one criticism, it would be this, and I do have an unedited and unproofed version so that could change, but I missed something in this book. Bird usually writes with a lot of his Australian humor thrown in that makes me laugh regularly and I was looking forward to more of that. I do hope a final release will have all of that. It’s become iconic for Bird’s writings and makes his much more of a joy to read than others.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

Has The Bible Been Changed A Lot?

Is the text vastly different than it was? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

It was recently brought to my attention that Business Insider decided to celebrate Christmas with a video on why the Bible isn’t trustworthy. Normally, I prefer to celebrate with presents and time with friends and family, but to each his own I suppose. So do we really have anything new here?

Of course not.

That doesn’t mean it doesn’t need to be addressed. After all, a lot of people will never bother to study what it is they believe and why. (You know how it is, we live in a society where people will learn about their favorite sports team, TV show, video game, etc. but won’t dare to really consider maybe they should think about the belief that they base their entire life on.) Sadly, this will also apply to many skeptics who will take a faith that makes strong claims and decides ipso facto that since those claims involve miracles they must be nonsense and never examine the claims seriously.

So let’s dive into this video. The speaker starts with talking about the Bible being the most sold book of all and that many think it contains the actual words of God. What many people don’t realize according to him is that the Bible has been changed, A LOT. So what are these evidences?

To begin with, no first edition exists. All we have are copies of copies.

This sounds scary if you’re someone who doesn’t know about manuscripts in the ancient world, until you realize that we don’t have the first writing of ANY ancient work that I know of. If there is one, I will be quite surprised. We have copies in every case. How much we can trust the account depends on a number of factors.

How soon is the earliest copy to the date of the original writing?
How many copies do we have?
Can we check these copies back and forth?

So how does the New Testament measure up?

manuscript copies

As you can see, Homer comes closest and it’s not even a contest really. Now if the speaker wants to make a big deal out of this, we ask that he be consistent. Please be extremely skeptical of all the other books on the list as well.

The speaker then says that this all took place many years after the events supposedly took place. It would be good to know how much skepticism he has. Would he go all the way to being a mythicist? Inquiring minds want to know! He also points out that many of these copies weren’t made by professionals but were made by laymen.

Naturally, we can’t expect someone busy enough to make a video for Business Insider to go out and read some of the scholarship on this issue and actually inform himself. While he cites a couple of scholars, there’s no in-depth looking at what they say and providing context for the issue. He could do what I did and interview Charles Hill on the Early Text of the New Testament and issues of canonicity or interview Daniel Wallace. (And if he can’t interview at least listen to what they have to say.)

The speaker goes on to talk about how this lead to many errors and omissions.

No. It’s not a typo on my part. He’s the one who said “This lead to many,” Who knows? Maybe he differed from the original script at one point.

If he wants to talk about these kinds of omissions and errors, he’s free to examine the texts. We will have a little bit more on this, but we have so many texts in so many languages that it’s easy to cross-check. When we do, we find that in fact the Bible does hold up, but again, a little bit more on this later.

We go to the three biggest changes. The first is the woman caught in adultery. It’s a shame that this is news to so many Christians, but such it is. We live in a time of great Biblical ignorance.

The next is the Gospel of Mark. (It’s amazing how predictable these are.) This change is the ending of the Gospel and how it has no narrative of Jesus rising and appearing. The speaker then tells us that in original manuscripts, this story is nowhere to be found.

Wait a second.

What original manuscripts?

Our speaker has gone on and on about how there are no original manuscripts and now is saying this is not to be found in the original? In what way does he know? Could it be that we can tell because we can actually check the texts back and forth and see what they say and compare them? Has our speaker undermined his own case?

The third is that in Luke, Jesus makes a dying plea to forgive the executioners, but it was not intended to refer to the Romans but to the Jews. This was taken out and then added centuries later to appear to be about the Romans. This is one many haven’t heard of, but notice something.

Apparently, we don’t have a clue what the text said, but we can tell what the originals somehow said, that a change was made, and that said change was later corrected. We can discuss why it happened and how, but that doesn’t change what the original said. Even his source on this, Bart Ehrman, says it is likely to be found in the originals.

While we’re at it, what else does Bart Ehrman, this non-Christian New Testament scholar say about the New Testament?

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

 

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

Sadly, too many Christians won’t be prepared for something like this because, well, all those sermons on how to be a good person and how much God loves you won’t really matter when the text that all that is based on is called into question. Even worse, these kinds of objections are not the crisis that many people think that they are. With some serious study, instead of focusing only on one’s personal hobbies, it’s amazing what one can learn.

Hopefully Business Insider from now on will stick to business instead of going to Biblical studies.

In Christ,
Nick Peters