Book Plunge: Killing Jesus

What do I think of the latest in the series from Bill O’Reilly? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

I used to like Bill O’Reilly. Really. I did. I’m extremely conservative after all and I like having a voice that seems conservative, but my respect for O’Reilly has dwindled to non-existent, especially with regards to how he handles the topic of religion.

Now I understand that not everyone can be a religious expert. This includes not just people on Fox, but CNN, MSNBC, NBC, ABC, etc. Pick any news station you want. You might be able to speak authoritatively on politics and other matters, but that does not necessarily mean you can do the same with religion. You can be an expert on politics and religion, but being an expert in one does not entail being an expert in the other.

I read Killing Jesus at the request of my parents wanting to know what their son who does study the topic of Christianity in-depth would think about it. I was admittedly approaching with great hesitancy.

One other factor of this was Killing Lincoln. My mother had started to go through the book from the library and asked me if I wanted to. She just couldn’t finish it. It wasn’t interesting to her. I agreed because I read nearly anything I can get my hands on. I hate not finishing a book so I finished the whole thing and had to agree sadly. It was simply a boring read.

And I thought the same about Killing Jesus.

I have thought often about why this is. I have a number of theories.

The first is that he’s trying too hard. I suspect he’s trying to make the story exciting instead of just telling the story. Of course, there is historical fiction that might paint in some details, but O’Reilly just really seems to detract from the story.

Second, it’s like combining a textbook with a novel. It doesn’t work. The story is interrupted constantly by O’Reilly wanting to explain historical data. Unfortunately, many in our society don’t know the basic history and need it explained so one goes back and forth between history and story instead of letting the history be the story.

Third, if these are true, then it really doesn’t bring much success as history and story both since there can be too much speculation on what was said and done that is not really historical, such as what people were thinking and saying at the time. Much of this is unfortunately ideas in an individualistic society pushed over onto an agonistic society. It is a way of thinking foreign to the people of the Bible.

There are also concerns that lead me to question O’Reilly’s historical research, although I do give some bonus for referencing my father-in-law Mike Licona’s “The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach.”

At the start, we are told on page 1 that we have the four gospels, but they are written from a spiritual perspective rather than a historical chronicling. Now it could be this is the case, but why assume it? The Gospels in fact are Greco-Roman Biographies, with the possible exception of Luke which is a historiography perhaps with tendencies towards such a biography.

On p. 14, we are told prophecies that are fulfilled in Christ. I doubt that O’Reilly can find such a list in Jewish understanding. We interpret Isaiah 7:14, the virgin birth passage, as a prophecy, but is there evidence that Jews at the time were saying “The Messiah will be born of a virgin!” Such an understanding I think will lead to problems in dialogues with Jews.

p. 74 contains a claim that the spot of the temple was also where Adam was created. I am quite dubious of such a claim and would like to see some documentation for it.

On p. 90 among other places, O’Reilly makes the claim that Mary Magdalene was the prostitute who came to Jesus in Luke 7. This is not held today by biblical scholarship and is a false reading by one of the Popes in church history. There is no biblical basis for the equation between the two.

p. 98 says that John the Baptist was speaking about the end of the world. The end of the world is an idea that is really foreign to the Biblical text. It talks about the end of the age. For the Jews, God was acting in this world and living in it and would bring it about to its original purpose. He would restore the creation and not destroy it.

I wonder about the dating of the gospels. O’Reilly says they were written as many as 70 years after Jesus’s death. Mark is the early 50’s, Luke between 59 and 63, Matthew in the 70’s, and John between 50 and 85. At the latest, this would mark 55 years after the death of Jesus.

On p. 131, O’Reilly says of the preaching of Jesus in the synagogue in Luke 4 that the message was Elijah and Elisha were rejected by Israel. O’Reilly leaves out the most important part. Jesus specifically said that blessings went to Gentiles instead of to Jews. The message of rejection was well-known already and while disappointing, would not lead to the desire to stone. To say the blessing went to Gentiles instead would.

On p. 255 O’Reilly gives us the myth that Hitler sought the holy lance that was supposed to have been used on Jesus. This is a historical myth however. It is largely popularized by Trevor Ravenscroft.

Also, there is a strong emphasis on Jesus’s claims to be God. This was not the message Jesus went around preaching. I do fully uphold the deity of Christ of course, and we should defend that, but the main message of Jesus was the Kingdom of God and God acting through Him as that King. O’Reilly gives the impression the gospels were written to show the deity of Christ. They were written to show the life and message. Deity is a part of that, but not the message entire.

My conclusion is that the history in here is at best mediocre at times and readers would better be served by picking up scholarly books, such as Craig Keener’s on the Historical Jesus, and going through those. Another read they could consider is Gary Habermas’s “The Historical Jesus” and works by N.T. Wright like “Simply Jesus” and “How God Became King.”

In Christ,
Nick Peters

The Religious Excuse

Does it matter if an opinion is religious? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Last night on Bill O’Reilly, Greg Gutfeld filled in for O’Reilly and had as his last guest a lawyer from the ACLU. They were discussing abortion and in the midst of it John Flannery, the lawyer, says “You see by inches how people have made the religious notion that conception is the beginning of personhood as the standard which challenges both contraception and a woman’s right of choice to have an abortion.”

Did you notice it? Let’s take a look at it, except this time I’m going to take out one word. Try not to look back and see if you notice the difference.

“You see by inches how people have made the notion that conception is the beginning of personhood as the standard which challenges both contraception and a woman’s right of choice to have an abortion.”

What’s the difference?

The difference is that in the second one, I left out the word religious. Go back and look if you have to. How does that change it?

In the second one, you see a notion has been made and this is believed then to be a notion that can be challenged by the evidence. If you don’t know the source, you will study the claim or you will give arguments against the claim if you already believe that the claim is false. You will point to scientific arguments if you have them or philosophical and metaphysical arguments. This is a point that can be debated.

What happens when it’s made a religious notion?

Because of this, we have something called poisoning the well taking place. At this point, one does not need to challenge the claim then. One needs to just point out that the source is supposedly biased and therefore cannot be trusted. A huge number of people that oppose abortion in this country are religious. Of course, there are people who oppose abortion who are not. I do know of atheists who oppose abortion and I thank God for them. Still, even they I’m sure would agree most of the opposition comes from people of faith.

What do you do then? Simply. You just disregard them all at once.

The religious people don’t have any real reasons after all for thinking abortion is wrong other than that their holy book says so. Since we no longer take that as an authority in the public square today, then we can dismiss with that. Now if they don’t want to follow just what the Bible says, well that is their choice, but the problem is that a large number of people who are religious do not use just the Bible. We also have scientific, philosophical, and metaphysical arguments for why we believe what we believe about what is in the womb.

How do you know if the argument is religious or not? It’s simple. You just ask if you can take it out of the mouth of the religious person and put it in the mouth of an atheist and see if it is the exact same argument. Suppose I give scientific data for why I believe life begins at conception. Could an atheist not give the exact same data? If so, then the argument is not religious. It is scientific.

Of course, someone could reply that the reason someone wants to ban abortion is because of a religious reason. Certainly that could be the case, but that is also irrelevant to the argument. Let us suppose that someone committed a crime against some that I love, such as my wife. I give a testimony at a trial on why this person should be locked up and have the key thrown away. Will it damage the data I present to just say “Well of course you want that. It was your wife that was victimized?” No. The data stands or falls on its own. If you think i have bias that is causing me to misread the data, you must show that by looking at the data itself. If there is a misreading taking place, it can be demonstrated.

This is taking place in many of our debates today including the debate on redefining marriage. It is just assumed that the data that is presented cannot be correct. Why? Because it is being made by people of religion and we all know that because they are biased, they are to be discounted.

This allows the person who holds the position opposed to the person of faith to ignore the only question that matters. That question is “Is the position true?” There is no mention of the reason behind it any more. There is no mention of the data. There is no talk about having an argument. All that needs to be said is that the person who holds to the position is religious and automatically, it is assumed to be fallacious. (Do note this all fellow people who hold to a religion. This is also an insult as it implies the only reason you believe X is because your holy book says so and if it said otherwise, you would say otherwise.)

When a person brings up religion then, tell them to get on the subject. When you argue against abortion or against redefining marriage, you are not arguing to convert someone to your worldview concerning religion. You are arguing for an ethical position. Of course, those of us who are Christians will have no objections to someone becoming a Christian, but let’s be clear each time on what battle it is that we are fighting.

In Christ,
Nick Peters