Book Plunge: Paul and the Language of Faith

What do I think of Nijay Gupta’s book published by Eerdmans? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Just go online to any atheist community or atheist-Christian debate and watch what is said about faith. Faith is believing without evidence. Faith is saying things you know aren’t true. When I meet these people, I ask them about the word pistis in the New Testament, which is commonly translated faith, though not always, and ask if they have any evidence for their claim that that is how pistis was understood.

Oddly enough, they have none.

I guess they believe without evidence.

So when I saw that a New Testament scholar had published a book on pistis like this, I had to get it immediately. Gupta decided to do his research after hearing students in his seminary even speak the same way. I have heard this happen before remembering one Christian responding to an atheist he couldn’t answer by saying “I have faith!”

Gupta mainly wants to focus on how faith is used in the Pauline literature, but he does explore how it is used in literature outside of the New Testament for that. The findings are entirely consistent with my own research over the years. Faith generally refers to loyalty. It is an essential that holds society together. One is expected to have good faith when making contracts and covenants. Faith refers to the reliability of something.

Faith is also an action that one does. If you have faith, you will perform in such and such a way depending on the referent of said faith. An easy-believism would not have made any sense to Paul or anyone in the ancient world. If you believe that Jesus is Lord in the true sense of faith, you should live accordingly. Yes. Even the demons in James do that. They live consistently in trembling knowing judgment is coming.

So it is in Scripture that faith is not just signing a doctrinal statement. It is saying that you are loyal to King Jesus. Now to be sure, sometimes, faith can be used in a different sense. It can be used to describe the content of what one believes, such as one who keeps the faith, but that can just as well mean that such a person has remained loyal to King Jesus.

There is a section on what is meant by the faith of Christ as it were. Does it mean Christ’s faithfulness or does it mean our trust in Christ? I won’t spoil for those who haven’t read the book. If you are interested in that debate, you do need to see this book.

Those who are atheists should consider reading this book as well, at least the section on pistis outside of the New Testament and even in Jewish writings like Josephus. Those who say faith is blind are referring to a more modern Western look at the word. They are not referring to anything that can be found in the New Testament.

If there was one thing I would change about this book, it would be to cover more of Hebrews. You might say that this book is about Paul and what he meant by pistis, but sometimes Gupta does go to Revelation and the Gospels. Should Hebrews 11:1 not have been covered at least one time in all of this? I consider this a major oversight and I hope that in future editions, this important passage will be covered.

Despite that, the book is highly educational on the meaning of faith. If you are a Christian who uses faith in the sense of blind belief even when you don’t have evidence, stop. If you are an atheist who thinks faith is the same thing, stop. Both of you are ignoring the historical context of the word.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Atheist Incredulity

Are many atheists really people of reason? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Normally if you encounter an atheist, the reigning battle cry is that of evidence. I’m not at all denouncing that request. That’s a fine request to make. What I am skeptical about is the fact that evidence is really wanted.

My problem with this is that there is many times a double-standard. Consider some statements that you can see. Richard Dawkins was interviewed by Peter Boghossian and said he had become convinced that most anything that could be seen as done by God could also be done by aliens so when asked what would convince him God exists, the answer is now nothing.

Boghossian doesn’t fare much better. In his book A Manual for Creating Atheists, he says that if he went outside and all the stars at night spelled out “I am God. Believe in me”, well, that might be suggestive. Of course, we could all be experiencing a mass delusion.

Or consider this golden piece from Jerry Coyne.

“The following (and admittedly contorted) scenario would give me tentative evidence for Christianity. Suppose that a bright light appeared in the heavens, and, supported by winged angels, a being clad in a white robe and sandals descended onto my campus from the sky, accompanied by a pack of apostles bearing the names given in the Bible. Loud heavenly music, with the blaring of trumpets, is heard everywhere. The robed being, who identifies himself as Jesus, repairs to the nearby university hospital and instantly heals many severely afflicted people, including amputees. After a while Jesus and his minions, supported by angels ascend back into the sky with another chorus of music. The heavens swiftly darken, there are flashes of lightning and peals of thunder, and in an instant the sky is clear.

If this were all witnessed by others and documented by video, and if the healings were unexplainable but supported by testimony from multiple doctors, and if all the apparitions and events conformed to Christian theology—then I’d have to start thinking seriously about the truth of Christianity.” Faith vs. Fact p. 118-119

Note that he says that this is contorted and tentative. This could just begin to suggest something. Note also that these requests are for an experience. That means that you can present all the objective evidence you want and it doesn’t matter. If you talked about your experience, it would be invalid, and yet experience is all that will convince them. Thus, unless you can command God, which you cannot, you will not convince them.

Now let’s see how they handle other situations.

Remember a few years ago when this manuscript was found claiming that Jesus had a wife? Did we know who wrote it? No. Did we know when? What we had was a few centuries after the event. Did we have any context? No. None of this stopped atheists everywhere from proclaiming that a cover-up had taken place and the truth was now out there.

Now go to the Gospels and what do we get? “They’re anonymous!” even though we have better sources on who wrote them than we did on this other finding. They’re decades later, even though that’s not much in the ancient world and it beats centuries later. We also have the entire works themselves. I haven’t even got to the positive evidence for the Gospels. At this point, there’s a double-standard going on.

A few days ago I saw someone share in a group a story that was first published years ago. It was about Joseph Atwill and his book Caesar’s Messiah. For those who don’t know, this is the guy that even Richard Carrier calls a crank with his hypothesis that Christianity was invented by the Romans to control the poor and so Jesus never existed. This atheist who shared it was so happy a Bible scholar was finally showing the truth.

Except that not even atheist Bible scholars took Atwill seriously. These are the same atheists that will commit ritual suicide before they dare read anything by a Christian scholar, but when someone they don’t even know agrees with them, he’s a scholar. For many atheists, it seems like the reasoning goes like this.

Does the claim make Christianity look bad or argue that it is false?
Then the claim is entirely true!
Does the claim defend Christianity or leave it looking good or at least neutral?
Then the claim is entirely false!

No research is needed.

Jesus mythicism is a fine example of this. The people who decry creationists for going against the reigning opinion of biologists and other scientists will happily embrace this fringe movement and base all their hope on Richard Carrier. If anything, when I see atheists argue like this, it really convinces me they don’t know what they’re talking about.

Memes are one of the biggest culprits in this area. Atheists will often post memes meant to be one-liners or something close to show Christianity is nonsense. Normally, these are laden with hideously bad argumentation and a lack of understanding of the claims of Christianity. Memes can be fine illustrations if you have been establishing a point, but please don’t make them the centerpiece of your argument.

Please note I am not saying we Christians can never be just as bad on our own end. What I am claiming is that the party of evidence drops the idea of evidence when it suits them. I know a number of atheists that are not like this, but there are too many that are and if atheists want to be taken seriously, they should try to silence those that are like this. I think of Tim O’Neill who runs the website, History for Atheists, who is doing great work in this regard as an atheist.

And also, I don’t really try to persuade these people that Christianity is true. They’re not really listening. My debate is for the audience who is watching.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Why Christianity Is Not True Chapter 4

What is faith? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

It was with a fear of great disappointment that I read David Pye’s chapter in Why Christianity Is Not True on faith. I was getting concerned when the chapter began. David Pye starts with

The reader may for some time have been wanting to say something along these lines: “What about faith? You’re talking about Christianity, a religion, but don’t religious beliefs just come down to faith? Aren’t you missing the point by ignoring faith and talking only about evidence?”

In other words, religion and religious beliefs are seen as belonging to a different
category than most human thought, one where beliefs not based on evidence are viewed as normal and to be expected.

From here, Pye goes on to describe a pastor who says this is a misconception and the congregation chuckles. He says this might be a chuckle of anxiety as many think that this is what faith is. Sadly, I think that Pye is right in this. This kind of faith is seen as a virtue. This shows a great failure in educating the church.

The major shock to me in this chapter came when in a way, Pye gets the answer to the question of what faith is right.

Faith can be seen as trust. To have faith in someone is to trust them. We can think of faith in God or faith in the bible in this kind of way – trusting in God or trusting in the bible as the Word of God.

He goes on to say that

A word that I think captures what faith is like in practice is loyalty.

Having a religious faith in practice – and especially in the long term – may be similar to supporting a poor football team. A loyal supporter stays with his team through thick and thin. Even though his team have been relegated each of the last two seasons, have just been knocked out of the Cup in the first round and are still playing hopelessly – he still turns out week after week to support them. He is showing loyalty.

This, I think, is very similar to the outlook of religious people. There may be little evidence to support what the religious person believes. Nonetheless he is loyal. He sticks with what he believes. He has faith.

The last part about a lack of evidence I disagree with of course, but the rest of this isn’t too bad. In the ancient context, faith would be seen as a kind of loyalty to a person. Faith is not about how you know but how you live what you know. The analogy of an airplane is accurate. One can be equipped with all the knowledge that planes fly and are a safe way to travel generally. It’s when one takes the step and gets on the plane that one is acting on what they know, which is an act of faith. It’s not blind faith, but it is following through with the evidence.

Pye goes on to list some other ideas of faith. One is faith as defiance. He tells about a Catholic who doesn’t know his Bible well and is visited by JWs. When confronted with their knowledge, to which sadly they are better informed than he is, he says he does not care what they say. He was born a Catholic and he will die a Catholic and nothing will change that.

This is not true faith and this is a little problem with Pye’s earlier analogy. Faith to a sports team does not mean they are the only true sports team. Faith in an ideology should mean that ideology is true and you live according to it. If one does not have solid reason to believe it is and is confronted with unanswered defeaters and one cannot find an answer, then one should seriously consider they are wrong. Faith, properly understood, is good, but faith for the sake of faith is not.

Pye goes on to talk about faith as something to attack or destroy. He quotes Dawkins who says religious faith is put in a bubble often that dares not be questioned. I have to say I wonder what faith Dawkins is talking about. Even before The God Delusion I saw Christianity regularly being treated in such a way. It was nothing new to me. He also writes about how Alister McGrath was said to destroy someone’s faith in atheism.

Pye sees this as a bad usage of the word faith since Christians present faith as a virtue so why speak of faith in atheism? When we say something like this, we mean that if we were to take the atheistic idea of faith, then we aim to destroy it. There are people who have a loyalty to atheism and don’t really care about the evidence. They will believe anything provided it argues against Christianity. (Jesus mythicism anyone?)

Pye also talks about faith as a trump card. What do you do with a lack of evidence? Play the faith card. This is again, nothing like what the Bible means by faith. I have my own writing on what faith means. I have no patience for a Christian who speaks about faith when presented with contrary evidence.

Another instance is belief being thrown out as a nebulous claim. I agree. People are told to believe something and they’re not told what to believe or why they should believe it. Belief for the sake of belief is no more a virtue than faith for the sake of faith is.

Another case brought forward is that of blind faith. I have to agree with the criticism of Gumbel. Dawkins presents faith as belief without evidence, and he’s not alone in this, but the irony is that this is itself a claim of faith. Dawkins would be hard pressed to find a scholar of Greek in the time of the New Testament who would think that that is what is meant by pistis.

He also looks at cognitive bias. He quotes McGrath again who says that we all have this and usually it’s to conserve what we already believe. I agree that this is true and it’s true for anyone. I know of a number of atheists who I am sure would rather commit ritual suicide than actually admit something in the New Testament could be true. I also know a number of Christians who hold on to their faith for purely emotional reasons.

Pye says he suspects most Christians hold on to Christianity due to social losses if they deconverted. This could be true, but as expected, it is not true for all. Just last night, I was talking to someone about what it meant to become a Christian and told him that being a Christian won’t always make you feel good. Sometimes, Christianity feels miserable. You should become a Christian though because Jesus rose from the dead. When asked “But what if Jesus is just another Jewish rabbi who died a horrible death?” then I replied, “Don’t follow Him. You can like His teachings and live them out, but don’t believe He’s the Son of God or anything like that.” No one should ever believe something they think is untrue.

Pye ends saying that he believes we can only know if something is true by the evidence. I agree. He also says Christians point to evidence when available but faith when it is not. For some, this is true, but for a number, including myself, this is not. Faith is not an epistemology. It is a response to what one knows. If one says they know the Bible is the Word of God, it is faith to live it out even when life is hard. It is not to believe the Bible is the Word of God when you are confronted with contrary epistemological evidence.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

Muhammad’s Night Journey

Does this story compare to the resurrection? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Many times when I argue for the resurrection, I get told that the accounts are just like the accounts of Muhammad’s night journey on a horse. Both of them show up in a book. That’s it. One should not be said to be more historical than the other. The evidence for both is equal.

First off, much of our knowledge of the ancient world comes from books. Archaeology provides some data, but if all we had was just archaeology, our knowledge would be far far less than what it is. If people want to say something is questionable because it’s found in a book, then they will throw out much of our knowledge of the ancient world.

Second, one should treat the Gospels better. (Although of course, the main place is still 1 Cor. 15) They are human and historical and if you treat them differently, you misunderstand and misinterpret them. Sure, these books later became documents of faith for Christianity, but that has no bearing on whether they can be used for historical purposes. It is simply unfair and unscholarly to dismiss them from the historical record.

Yeah. I get it. That sounds like the ravings of a fundamentalist seeking to defend the Gospels. If you think that, you have a problem. I have just simply paraphrased Bart Ehrman with statements he made on pages 72 and 73 of Did Jesus Exist?

Third, I offer this challenge when I meet someone who says this. It’s no doubt Christians will argue for the truth of their book. Muslims will do the same for theirs. What if we went outside of that? Let’s take claims that are in the books that skeptics will grant. What will non-Christian scholars grant about the case surrounding the resurrection of Jesus and what will non-Muslim scholars grant about Muhammad’s travel on a horse?

You see, with the Qur’an, this is the passage often discussed.

Exalted is He who took His Servant by night from al-Masjid al-Haram to al-Masjid al- Aqsa, whose surroundings We have blessed, to show him of Our signs. Indeed, He is the Hearing, the Seeing.

Now looking at this, I don’t see anything about a flying horse that’s usually talked about. Of course, the scholars of Islam know better and if they agree that the account is that of the flying horse, then I will not disagree. I also understand that this passage is explained further in the Hadith. Let’s keep in mind the Hadiths come much later, at least a century or so.

There is also the problem that there was no temple and from my understanding, the one that was built that is described in these passages did not come about until 691. Muhammad had been dead for fifty years. I could grant that the passage I see here does not mention a temple, but if the Hadith keeps getting more and more elaborate long after eyewitnesses and has anachronisms, one has to wonder.

What of non-Muslim scholarship? Now I see nothing granting that this story has any validity in any part there. They could grant the story has been handed down, but I have yet to see someone present the scholarship that non-Muslim scholars will grant.

What of the resurrection of Jesus? The first place people go to is 1 Cor. 15. This includes the death, burial, and resurrection. When we go to the Gospels, we find explicit statements of the empty tomb, although I would argue the empty tomb is explicit in 1 Cor. 15.

What do skeptical scholars of the NT grant about Jesus?

Let’s start with the crucifixion.

“The fact of the death of Jesus as a consequence of crucifixion is indisputable, despite hypotheses of a pseudo-death or a deception which are sometimes put forward. It need not be discussed further here.” (Gerd Ludemann. .”What Really Happened To Jesus?” Page 17.)

Christians who wanted to proclaim Jesus as messiah would not have invented the notion that he was crucified because his crucifixion created such a scandal. Indeed, the apostle Paul calls it the chief “stumbling block” for Jews (1 Cor. 1:23). Where did the tradition come from? It must have actually happened. (Bart Ehrman, The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings. Third Edition. pages 221-222)

 

Jesus was executed by crucifixion, which was a common method of torture and execution used by the Romans. (Dale Martin, New Testament History and Literature. Page 181)

 

That Jesus was executed because he or someone else was claiming that he was the king of the Jews seems to be historically accurate. (ibid. 186)

 

Jesus’ execution is as historically certain as any ancient event can ever be but what about all those very specific details that fill out the story? (John Dominic Crossan http://www.huffingtonpost.com/john-d…_b_847504.html)

What about his burial?

“Jesus came from a modest family that presumably could not afford a rock- cut tomb. Had Joseph not offered to accommodate Jesus’ body his tomb (according to the Gospel accounts) Jesus likely would have been disposed in the manner of the lower classes: in a pit grave or trench grave dug into the ground. When the Gospels tell us that Joseph of Arimathea offered Jesus a spot in his tomb, it is because Jesus’ family did not own a rock- cut tomb and there was no time to prepare a grave- that is there was no time to dig a grave, not hew a rock cut tomb(!)—before the Sabbath. It is not surprising that Joseph, who is described as a wealthy and perhaps even a member of the Sanhedrin, had a rock-cut family tomb. The Gospel accounts seem to describe Joseph placing Jesus’ body in one of the loculi in his family’s tomb. (Jodi Magness, Stone and Dung, Oil and Spit: Jewish Daily Life in the Time of Jesus, pg 170)

“There is no need to assume that the Gospel accounts of Joseph of Arimathea offering Jesus a place in this family tomb are legendary or apologetic. The Gospel accounts of Jesus’s burial appear to be largely consistent with the archeological evidence” ( Magness, pg 171)

How about the appearances?

“The only thing that we can certainly say to be historical is that there were resurrection appearances in Galilee (and in Jerusalem) soon after Jesus’s death. These appearances cannot be denied” (Gerd Ludemann. .”What Really Happened To Jesus?” p. 81)

“We can say with complete certainty that some of his disciples at some later time insisted that . . . he soon appeared to them, convincing them that he had been raised from the dead.” (Bart Ehrman, Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium, pg 230).

 

“That Jesus’ followers (and later Paul) had resurrection experiences is, in my judgment, a fact. What the reality was that gave rise to the experiences I do not know.” (E.P. Sanders, The Historical Figure of Jesus, pg 280)

Now does this mean that these scholars believe in the resurrection of Jesus? No. Does it mean that they accept the data that we use? Yes. The only exception would be some are not as sure of the empty tomb. Bart Ehrman doesn’t even think Jesus was buried for instance.

So compare this to the case for Muhammad’s night journey. Do we have the same? No. Does that mean the account of Muhammad is necessarily false? No. It does mean the evidence is not the same. Does it mean the resurrection of Jesus is true? No. It does mean the evidence is not the same.

Of course, anyone can show up here and show scholarship from non-Muslim sources if they think I’m wrong. I would welcome that. The ball is now in their court.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

 

Should God Appear To Me?

What if an atheist requires a personal appearance? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Many times when I ask someone who is an atheist or an agnostic what it would take to get them to change their mind, they tell me that God would need to appear to them. This sounds like something that makes sense on the face of it. After all, doesn’t God want people to come to know Him? Why wouldn’t He do this?

Unfortunately, the problems with this are legion. First off, when I encounter someone like this, they are telling me that an argument would not convince them. It would take a personal experience. Therefore, any arguments that I make are ineffective to them. Somehow, these people expect me to be open to argument at the same time, which I am.

Second, God owes us nothing if He is real. It is a presumptuous height to think God owes anyone a personal experience. God could do it, but He could just as easily strike someone with a lightning bolt. That doesn’t mean that He would do it or that He should do it.

“But doesn’t God want to see me saved?”

Yes. That doesn’t mean that God will do anything to cater to you. It doesn’t mean that God treats His existence like the answer to a question in Trivial Pursuit. God is not looking for people who will believe that He exists. He is looking for people who are willing to believe the truth about Him and want to know the truth about Him not just to answer an academic question, but because He really matters.

If you are a wife, imagine a husband who says he loves you, but when he does so, he is just going through the motions. It doesn’t really mean something to you. If you are a husband, you want your wife to want to have sex with you, but husbands don’t really enjoy duty sex. They’ll take it because some sex beats no sex, but what they want the most is to be wanted.

God is looking for disciples. Disciples are people who care about truth claims. They are willing to investigate. If someone is not willing to investigate, then they are not willing to be a disciple.

Also, this would ultimately lead to chaos. For one thing, it would destroy much of free-will en masse. Not only that, imagine any number of people wanting to claim something because God told them in their personal appearance. What would a dictator do with this kind of claim? We have enough denominational differences without these appearances. How many more would we have with? Would we become an even lazier culture?

“But Nick. You believe that in eternity, we will all have a personal appearance of God and this won’t go on.”

Right. We will also be living in a world where we do not have sinful natures. As long as we have those, we will often twist everything we can to our advantage. This includes the truth of God. We have abundant evidence of people using anything to their own advantage today. How much more so with personal appearances of God being known around the world and the fact of personal appearances not in dispute?

If you want to know if God exists, God could show Himself to you, but it’s not to be expected. Granted, it has been happening to Muslims in dreams and to people like Paul, but if God isn’t appearing to someone, if He is real, He has a good reason for it. It doesn’t invalidate the arguments at all.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

 

Can Your Christianity Be Disproven?

Are you open to the possibility of being wrong? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Let me state it right at the start. I am not doubting Christianity. I am not writing from a position of doubt. I am convinced that God exists and that Jesus rose from the dead. Despite that, I should always be open to being wrong. This hit home again for me reading Zondervan’s Five Views On Biblical Inerrancy.

Al Mohler has the first chapter and in it, he pretty much equates inerrancy with the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, or CSBI. For Mohler, it seems difficult to imagine inerrancy that does not conform to this statement and if Jesus and Paul or anyone else is an inerrantist, then they would have signed on entirely with the CSBI. That is too much of an assumption I think to make, but a major problem came when I read his response to problem passages that Zondervan asked each person to write on.

In the Kindle version at location 772, I read the following:

Archaeologists will disagree among themselves. I am not an archaeologist, and I am not qualified to render any adequate archaeological argument. The point is that I do not allow any line of evidence from outside the Bible to nullify to the slightest degree the truthfulness of any text in all that the text asserts and claims. That statement may appear radical to some readers, but it is the only position that is fully true and trustworthy. Any theological or hermeneutical method that allows extrabiblical sources of knowledge to nullify the truthfulness of any biblical text assumes, a priori, that the Bible is something less than the oracular Word of God.

Well, yes. This position is very radical. Naturally, if the Bible is inerrant and is true in all it claims and teaches, then if it says X, then X is true. Yet at the same time, if God is the God of reality and has written two books as it were with nature and Scripture, then we should expect that nothing outside of Scripture will contradict Scripture.

The problem is that this is the very claim under question. How do we know the Bible is inerrant? Do we start with that as a presupposition or do we reach it as a conclusion? If we say the former, why do this with the Bible and not the Koran or the Book of Mormon?

Let’s picture Al Mohler in a discussion with a Mormon. This Mormon holds to the position on the Book of Mormon that Mohler holds to on the Bible. Mohler goes and points out many archaeological difficulties with the Book of Mormon. The Mormon does not change his position. Why? Because he says he won’t allow any line of evidence from outside the Book of Mormon to conflict with the Book of Mormon.

Now Mohler goes to a Muslim. The Muslim is convinced that the Koran says that Jesus did not get crucified or die on a cross. Mohler goes to several lines of evidence to show that Jesus was crucified, but the Muslim is unconvinced. After all, no line of evidence outside of the Koran is allowed to contradict the Koran.

Are the Muslim and Mormon being unreasonable here? Yep. The sad thing is, so is Mohler. What is being said is a way of saying the double-theory of truth is true. By this, something could be true in the world outside of the Bible and something else contradictory true in the Bible. May it never be!

This is also one reason why I don’t say something like “Show me the bones of Jesus and I’ll abandon Christianity.” If we were to hypothetically say that Jesus never rose from the dead, it seems strange to think that not only would His bones be here, but that we could tell they were His bones. I instead ask people to give me a better explanation for the rise of the early church than the one that the church itself gave that explains the data agreed to by critical scholars.

If we want to evangelize people, it is disingenuous for us to tell them that they must be ready to abandon their worldview and accept ours upon conflicting evidence, but we are not doing the same. Some might think that that is a risk. It is only a risk if you think that Christianity could be false. If you are convinced you are right, it is not a risk. Even if you turned out to be wrong, you should be thankful. After all, who wants to believe something that is false?

I cannot go with the position of Mohler. I am convinced it is a blind faith and it makes inerrancy the central doctrine when the resurrection is. I believe in the Bible because I believe in the resurrection. I do not believe in the resurrection because I believe in the Bible.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Special Edition Deeper Waters Podcast: Sean McDowell

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

Evidence. It’s a favorite word of the apologist. Many skeptics think we don’t want to talk about evidence, but in reality we do. We would love it if more conversations revolved around evidence. The question is, do we have the evidence that we need?

Josh McDowell’s books on Evidence That Demands A Verdict has long been a staple for many. Now, he has a new updated one out that he has done with his son Sean. Recognizing the need, I asked to be part of the launch team and so I have indeed gone through most of it and this Friday, in a special edition of the show, I will be interviewing one of the authors, Sean McDowell, on this book.

So who is he?

According to his bio:

Dr. Sean McDowell is a gifted communicator with a passion for equipping the church, and in particular young people, to make the case for the Christian faith. He connects with audiences in a tangible way through humor and stories while imparting hard evidence and logical support for viewing all areas of life through a Biblical worldview. Sean is an Associate Professor in the Christian Apologetics program at Biola University. And he is the Resident Scholar for Summit California.

Sean still teaches one high school Bible class, which helps give him exceptional insight into the prevailing culture so he can impart his observations poignantly to fellow educators, pastors, and parents alike. In 2008 he received the Educator of the Year award for San Juan Capistrano, California. The Association of Christian Schools International awarded Exemplary Status to his apologetics training. Sean is listed among the top 100 apologists. He graduated summa cum laude from Talbot Theological Seminary with a double Master’s degree in Theology and Philosophy. He earned a Ph.D. in Apologetics and Worldview Studies from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in 2014.

Traveling throughout the United States and abroad, Sean speaks at camps, churches, schools, universities, and conferences. He has spoken for organizations including Focus on the Family, the Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview, Backyard Skeptics, Cru, Youth Specialties, Hume Lake Christian Camps, Fellowship of Christian Athletes and the Association of Christian Schools International. Sean has also appeared as a guest on radio shows such as Family Life Today, Point of View, Stand to Reason, Common Sense Atheism, and the Hugh Hewitt Show. Sean has been quoted in many publications, including the New York Times.

Sean is the author, co-author, or editor of over eighteen books including The Fate of the Apostles (Routledge, 2015), A New Kind of Apologist (Harvest House, 2016), The Beauty of Intolerance (Barbour 2016), Same-Sex Marriage: A Thoughtful Approach to God’s Design for Marriage, with John Stonestreet (Baker, 2014), Is God Just a Human Invention? with Jonathan Morrow, and Understanding Intelligent Design along with William A. DembskiSean has also written multiple books with his father, Josh McDowell, including The Unshakable Truth, More Than A Carpenter, and an update for Evidence that Demands a Verdict (2017). Sean is the General Editor for The Apologetics Study Bible for Students. He has also written for YouthWorker JournalDecision Magazine, and the Christian Research Journal. Follow the dialogue with Sean as he blogs regularly at seanmcdowell.org.

In April, 2000, Sean married his high school sweetheart, Stephanie. They have three children and live in San Juan Capistrano, California. Sean played college basketball at Biola University and was the captain his senior year on a team that went 30-7.

We’ll be having an hour-long discussion about this book, the impact the series has had through the years, and why you should get the new version. Sean has been a great guest before and I look forward to having him back on again. This will not cancel out the Saturday show. We will still have that. Please also consider going on ITunes and leaving a positive review of the Deeper Waters Podcast.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Your Facebook Isn’t Helping My Skepticism

Is what you’re sharing making it harder for someone to come to Christ? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Why should you be cautious about what you share on Facebook? Could it affect someone long-term? What would someone say to us if they could speak to us about this?

“Dear Christian,

I have been your friend for awhile and I see you post sometimes on Facebook. I like you posting pictures of your family and such and some of those funny videos. I understand you will also post from time to time on things that we disagree on and that reasonable people can disagree on. You can post on politics for instance and even if I don’t share your views, I understand that someone can be reasonable and still have them.

I also understand that you have a right to be skeptical of claims as well. If you’re skeptical of evolution, well I don’t share that, but I can understand it. Yet at the same time, I worry that you claim skepticism here, but when it comes to something that agrees with you, you’re not skeptical. I also do not see you as really investigating claims.

Why? Because when I see you post something on Facebook sometimes, it’s something that I not only know is false, but I can readily demonstrate it’s false. I can tell that it’s a story that has been made up and has no factual basis. I can understand getting caught from time to time. We all make mistakes. I am talking about regularly doing this kind of thing. Why should I trust you to be posting the truth when I can see that what you shared is false in just a couple of minutes of looking it up?

You see, you make this claim that to me is incredibly bizarre. You claim that God lived among us as a man 2,000 years ago and died on a cross and rose from the dead. I’m sure you’d agree with me that that’s a strong claim. You say that you base your entire life on this claim. You say that this is the most important belief that you hold.

The problem is that this isn’t a belief that I can as easily check. I will have to do a lot of reading and study on the topic and decide what to believe. Yet when you share readily stories that are false that I know to be bogus or can easily show to be bogus, why should I trust you on the matters that I cannot reasonably check so easily? How do I know that you aren’t just as gullible when it comes to religion as you are when it comes to a story you read on the internet?

You see, I want to know that you check all the claims you make to the best of your ability. If you’re not, then maybe you’re not with this claim, and there are plenty of Christians out there I meet who give me no reason to believe their story beyond what they feel and their personal testimony. They have no idea whatsoever about historical research. Maybe you’re just like them.

In fact, I can tell you’re being objective if there’s an argument that would help your conclusion and you reject it because the argument just doesn’t work, even if you agree with the conclusion. It shows me you’re interested in more than just a goal. Truth is what matters to you.

If truth does matter to you, please show it. Take the time to look up a story before sharing it. If I cannot trust you with the stories that I can check, why should I trust you with the stories that are much harder to check?

Your skeptical friend.”

 

 

To be fair, there are far too many skeptics who will fall into this boat as well and many skeptics are just like Christians when it comes to this. My main problem is with Christians doing this since we are supposed to say that we are people of truth and committed to the truth. Many skeptics will not be as reasonable as the person that I have role-played and it is a rare exception when I meet one who is willing to read the literature.

I have said it many times but it often needs to be said. Please check on what you share Christian. Every time you share something easily shown to be false, you destroy your credibility in the eyes of unbelievers out there. Why should they trust you on the major things when they can’t trust you on the minor things?

In Christ,
Nick Peters

A Reply On Jesus’s Existence To World Future Fund

Is there evidence for Jesus? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

So yesterday, someone posted on Facebook asking about this article. It was material that they had never come across before. I can sympathize because people who don’t buy into conspiracy theories and such will ever come across Jesus mythicism. If all you read was the best scholarly literature on the historical Jesus, you’d never catch it.

Yes. I know so many atheist fanboys are screaming Richard Carrier, but no. He’s not the best. He doesn’t teach at an accredited university and his book he wanted to have an impact is hardly known anywhere. That’s not meant to be an insult. It’s just reality.

We’re told that the time Jesus lived is one of the most heavily documented in ancient history. That could be debated, but let’s just go with it. What of it? We are told there are no contemporary records. Of course, this is excluding the New Testament because, you know, if it’s in the Bible it’s automatically thrown out, a rule not followed by critical non-Christian scholars of the New Testament, but hey, who cares about consistency?

Unrealized of course is that if you went by this standard, you would have to deny many figures in ancient history such as Hannibal or Queen Boudica or the German Arminius. Are we going to see any Hannibal mythicists who will tell us the Punic Wars were a story made up by Rome to increase their reputation of defeating a great opponent to show how awesome in battle they were? Doubtful, but it would be the consistent outcome.

We’re also told a reign of terror was started when Christianity seized power and Eusebius was asked to write a church history. Little problem. Christianity was only legalized under Constantine. It was over 60 years later before it “seized power” as it were. Naturally, we’re also told Christianity was responsible for the Library of Alexandria being destroyed. Oh! What sources are cited for this? Gibbon is in the sources, but there’s no correspondence above to the note. At any rate, I recommend someone like Tim O’Neill for this.

At this, I suspect some skeptics reading might say I’m referring to another Christian so why bother? Well let’s see what O’Neill says about himself in the article where he takes Gibbon to task.

As an atheist, I’m clearly no fan of fundamentalism – even the 1500 year old variety (though modern manifestations tend to be the ones to watch out for). And as an amateur historian of science I’m more than happy with the idea of a film that gets across the idea that, yes, there was a tradition of scientific thinking before Newton and Galileo. But Amenabar has taken the (actually, fascinating) story of what was going on in Alexandria in Hypatia’s time and turned it into a cartoon, distorting history in the process.

Also, how do these people think we have works from the pagan world at all? Do they want to take a guess who was copying them? Was all of it done secretly by closet pagans for well over a thousand years? Do they not realize it was Christians preserving all these works from being destroyed?

Of course, they don’t.

The next source we get is Josephus.

This brief piece of evidence which supposedly contributed the best “proof” of Jesus’s existence has actually been proven to be a fraud. It has been demonstrated continuously over the centuries that “Testamonium Flavium” was a forgery manufactured by the Catholic Church, and was inserted into Josephus’s works. The Testamonium Flavium account is so thoroughly refuted, that biblical scholars since the 19th century have refused to refer to it, unless to mention its false nature.

Odd. I read Bible scholars regularly and never do I hear them saying that this is a fraud. Note that World Future Fund. I read scholars. I don’t read people on the internet who like to claim to be scholars but aren’t. The Testimonium is no doubt said to have some parts that are interpolation, but much of it still stands as accurate. There is also the second reference to Jesus in Josephus which largely depends on the first. That isn’t even questioned by WFF. My friend James Hannam has looked at several of the scholarly works as well and written an article here.

We continue.

Most written accounts of the life of Jesus did not exist until a couple decades after his purported existence. These accounts were presented by a number of different authors and had somewhat conflicting stories about his existence. These written accounts are known as the Gospels. Also, it is worth knowing that not all of the gospels that were written even made their way into the bible. Only four gospels became the canonical writings for the church. The rest were burned, destroyed or lost. Historians estimate that the first written gospel, the gospel of Mark, was written sometime after 70 C.E, which means that at the earliest, it would have been written 40 years after the alleged crucifixion of Jesus.

Nothing is said about the epistles which contain our earliest references to the historical Jesus. Naturally, WFF goes with a conspiracy theory of sorts. If they want to know why other Gospels weren’t included, there’s a good reason. For one thing, they didn’t have apostolic authority. A Gospel needed to be by an apostle or an associate of an apostle. The early church worked to trace the origins of the Gospels they had and found them to come from those in the Jesus tradition. This wasn’t so with the later Gospels. This is one topic I discussed with biblical scholar Charles Hill here.

As for dating, there’s no links here so we don’t know what scholars are being relied on. Decades later is hardly a problem in the ancient world. As for conflicting accounts, we also have two conflicting accounts on how Hannibal tried to conquer Rome. By the standard of these writers then, Hannibal never existed.

We go on.

There is widespread belief that Nero blamed the burning of Rome on the Christians; however, there are many holes in this theory.

This belief comes from the account of the Roman historian Tacitus (56-120 CE) about how Emperor Nero (37 – 68 CE) blamed the burning of Rome on “those people who were abhorred for their crimes and commonly called Christians.” The passage then states that the fire agitators were followers of “Christus” who “was put to death as a criminal by the procurator Pontius Pilate.” The passage then also states that Christians constituted a “vast multitude at Rome” and goes on to discuss the ghastly ways in which they were persecuted.

However, there are many troubling details about the historical accuracy of this passage. Some critics call into question whether Tacitus wrote this account at all, or if it was yet another forgery. Around the date of Nero’s Fire, 64 AD, there were no “multitude of Christians” in Rome. At this time, there was not even a multitude of Christians in Judea. Therefore, it is highly doubtful that Nero would refer to Christians in this way.

It would be interesting to know who these critics are who say Tacitus is a forgery. Certainly no scholars of Tacitus. The text also speaks of Christians in such abhorrent terms that it’s nothing that the Christians themselves would make up. As for a multitude, the problem is that this is a term that is vague. A multitude does not have to have any set number of people. It just has to have a crowd that is deemed sizable enough to make a difference in some way. Again, this isn’t a problem for scholars in the field.

This is also the only mention of Christians in the work of Tacitus, despite the fact that he wrote several volumes

This is also the only mention of Pontius Pilate in the work of Tacitus, despite the fact that he wrote several volumes. What of it? I’m surprised frankly that Tacitus even mentioned Jesus once.

Also, the supposed persecution of the Christians by Nero is not recorded by any other historian of Nero’s time. If the persecution of Christians were really that widespread, wouldn’t other historians be writing about it?

No. The eruption of Vesuvius in 79 A.D. was wide-known and killed 250,000 people and destroyed two cities yet for historians writing about it, you need to wait until Cassius Dio in the third century. You have allusions to it elsewhere and an off-the-cuff remark between Pliny and Tacitus, but no. Historians weren’t writing about it. Obviously, it was a myth. The Christians were more of a nuisance group. Why write about them?

In addition to the Testomonium Flavianum, there exists another tenuous piece of evidence that some have tried to use as proof for the existence of Jesus. The Roman Historian, Pliny The Younger (62-113CE), wrote a letter to the Emperor Trajan in 110 CE requesting his assistance in the proper punishment of a group of “Christiani” who were causing trouble and would not bow to the image of the emperor. According to Pliny, these Christiani would meet before daylight and sing hymns with responses to “Christ as God.”

However, this letter does not provide concrete evidence for the existence of Jesus as a person since it makes no direct mention of “Jesus of Nazareth,” nor does it refer to his life. Also, there are many critics who have argued that this letter is a forgery.

It should be noted that the most oft given source here is Acharya S.’s Truth Be Known web site. Again, hardly a scholarly source and perhaps one should see the other myths Acharya has embraced before jumping wholeheartedly on the bandwagon. At any rate, there is no reference to Jesus of Nazareth. Well if the WFF wants to name another Jesus that would seem to match the account in Pliny, they’re welcome to try! Also, I know of no scholar who thinks this letter is a forgery.

And finally,

The last piece of questionable historical evidence we’ll discuss here is the passage in Suetonius’s Life of Claudius, dating around 110 CE. There is a reference in this work to a figure named “Chresto” who caused the Jews to riot in Rome. First of all, if Jesus Christ did exist, it is not possible that he would have been in Rome at this time. Claudius reigned from 41-54 CE, this is at the time of Christ’s alleged crucifixion.

The reference is to Chrestus and some think Suetonius was just confused here. It doesn’t mean that the Chrestus was in Rome (Yes folks. Biblical scholars and historians had never figured out until now that Jesus never went to Rome.), but that the riots were about him. This is one source I would be more hesitant on using, but I still lean towards it being one to Jesus.

Naturally, we saw no scholarly evidence being cited in this reference and instead just speaking of conspiracy theories. Jesus mythicism is a conspiracy theory for atheists. I have to admit honestly I’m a bit thankful for it. The more mythicism spreads, the more Christians can build up real scholarship and corner a future market and the more atheists can destroy their own intellectual credibility. I know many atheists have not jumped on this bandwagon and are more open to evidence, but we see in mythicism that even atheism has a fundamentalism.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

Dear Freethinkers

What do I have to say to those espousing freethinking? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Dear Freethinkers,

I want to write to you today because I’m frankly confused by what I see of you. You see, you claim to hold to no statements of faith. You claim that by being a skeptic, the only position you have to have is to not affirm the existence of God. You claim that there are no doctrines to your position. Despite all of this, most all of you seem to think remarkably exactly alike.

You all come right out of the gates often with one of your favorite mantras. “No evidence.” Are you really thinking this? Are you thinking that every theist and Christian in history has just never considered that they have no evidence for what they believe? Sure, you might meet a layman like that, but do you really think everyone is like that?

When it comes to talking about God, we are told there is no evidence. Is that really supposed to convince us? You see, some of us read these things called “books.” We don’t rely on Google, YouTube, and Wikipedia. We also read books that disagree with us. When we say we believe in God, we do so because we are convinced that that is where the arguments lead. In fact, while we agree on the conclusion, we can disagree on the arguments. Some people like the ontological argument. I don’t. I like the Thomistic arguments. Some don’t. Some people think scientific apologetics works well. I disagree. That’s okay.

In fact, this is what real thinking is all about. Real thinking is not just seeing if you find a conclusion that agrees with you. Real thinking is asking if the argument really does have evidence for it that leads to the conclusion. Just because I agree with the conclusion that God exists, it doesn’t mean I agree with the argument given for it. In fact, I daresay I have gone after more Christian apologists using bad arguments than many of you have.

Another favorite one of mine is when you say that there’s no evidence Jesus ever existed. Now perhaps in some cases, atheism could be understandable, such as with the problem of evil, though I do not see that as a defeater at all, but this one really takes the cake. You know what makes this even funnier? So many of you naturally agree among yourselves that creationism is nonsense and we need to listen to the consensus of modern science. Fair enough, but you do the exact opposite with history. You don’t listen to the consensus of modern historians and mock Christians for not listening to the consensus of modern scientists.

You see, your position is even more of a joke because I can find you a list of scientists who dissent from Darwin. Are they right? Beats me. I don’t argue that issue. If you want to find historians who dissent from the base existence of Jesus, you can count the number on two hands at the most. Note that by historians, I mean people with Ph.D.s in a field relevant to NT studies. I don’t mean just any Joe Blow you can find on the internet.

You may not like it, but as soon as you start espousing mythicism, I immediately have no reason to take you seriously anymore.  I know I’m dealing with someone who doesn’t read the best material. I know this will be a shock, but outside his internet fanbase, Richard Carrier just isn’t taken seriously. You can guarantee you won’t be by hanging on his every word. In fact, as a Christian apologist, I thank God for Richard Carrier. He’s doing a great service by dumbing down his fellow atheists to accept the conspiracy theory of mythicism, and yes. That’s all it is. It ranks right up there with saying the moon landing is a hoax or that 9/11 was an inside job.

Since we briefly spoke about science, let’s go on with that topic. You all seem to think that if something cannot be demonstrated by science, then it is nonsense. It’s as if mankind had no knowledge whatsoever and never knew anything until science came along. This gets even funnier when you talk about miracles. “We know today that virgins don’t give birth, that people don’t walk on water, and that people don’t rise from the dead.” You really think people didn’t know that stuff back then? You think they were just ignorant? Sure, they weren’t doing experiments and such, but they knew basic facts that we wouldn’t disagree with. You don’t have to be a world-class scientist to know that when someone dies, you bury them, or that it takes sex to make a baby. They all knew this.

The fact is that we don’t really have a beef with science. We might disagree on what is scientific and what isn’t. There are Christians who have no problem with evolution. There are Christians who do. There are Christians who think the world is billions of years old. There are Christians who don’t. We debate this amongst ourselves. None of us though say that science is bunk and should be disregarded. Perhaps we are misinformed on what is and isn’t science, but we are not opposed to science.

In fact, you never seem to think about what you say about the scientific method. You never pause to ask if the claim that all truth must be shown by the scientific method is itself shown by the scientific method. You don’t even consider that science is an inductive field. Sure, some claims might have more certainty than others, but none of them are absolute claims proven.

I also find it so amusing when you talk about the Bible. You all have the hang-ups that fundamentalist Christians that you condemn do. You think that the Bible absolutely has to be inerrant. Many of us hold to inerrancy, but some of us actually do not, and we debate that. Still, even many of us who hold to inerrancy do not see it as an essential and think Christianity can be true and inerrancy false. For you, the Bible is an all-or-nothing game. Either everything in it is true or none of it is. This is remarkably similar to your position on Jesus where either He was the miracle-working God-man Messiah who rose from the dead or He never existed. Your positions are entirely black and white. There is no shade of gray.

You then throw out 101 Bible contradictions and expect us to keel over immediately. We don’t. Many of these, you’ve never even studied yourself. You’ve just gone to a web site, got a list, and then suddenly thought you were an authority. It never seems to occur to you that in thousands of years of studying the Bible no one has ever seen these before.

When it comes to interpretation, you have a big hang-up on literacy. You think that everything in the Bible has to be “literal” although you have not given any idea of what that means nor have you even bothered to tell us why that must be so. The Bible is a work of literature like many other books and it uses all manner of ways of speaking. It uses metaphor, simile, hyperbole, allegory, etc.

You also seem to think that the Bible has to be immediately understandable to 21st century Western English speakers. God should be clear. Well, why should He? It’s as if you think you are part of the only people who ever lived and God should have made things clear to you immediately without having to do any work whatsoever.

In all of this, you’re just like the fundamentalists you condemn. The difference isn’t your mindset. It’s only your loyalties. You think everything in the book is wrong. They think everything in it is right. None of you really give arguments. It’s just a personal testimony and faith.

And yes, you do have personal testimonies. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve heard “I used to be a Christian, but”. I mean, do you want me to break out a chorus of “Just As I Am” at that point? It’s like all you used in your Christian days was a personal testimony and today, that’s still all you have. All I normally see is you went from an uninformed Christian to an uninformed skeptic.

As for faith, you never seem to understand it. You’ve bought into all the new atheist gunk that says that faith is believing without evidence. You never bother to consult scholars of the Greek and Hebrew languages to see what the Bible means by the term. What we mean is a trust that is based on that which has shown itself to be reliable.

You would be greatly benefited by going to a library sometime. You see, if all you read are the new atheists, you’re not going to make a dent. You might get some of what is called low-hanging fruit, in that people as uninformed as you are will be convinced, but not people who actually do study this kind of stuff seriously. You think that Google is enough to show you know everything. It isn’t. You don’t know how to sift through information and evaluate it. All you do is look and see if it agrees with you. If it makes Christians or Christianity look stupid, it has to be 100% true.

You should also know this doesn’t describe all atheists and skeptics out there. There are atheists and skeptics that do actually read scholarly works that disagree with them. I can have discussions with them. We can talk about the issues. They can agree easily that Jesus existed without thinking they have to commit ritual suicide at that point. They can have no problem discussing scholarly works. Many of these would even say that while they disagree with Christians, that a Christian can have justification for his belief and is not necessarily an idiot for being a Christian. You could learn a lot from them. Be like them. Don’ live in the bubble of just reading what agrees with you and buying everything you read on the internet. Study and learn.

Until you do this, freethinkers remind me of a slogan someone used years ago that I have taken. It’s not original to me, but I like it. With freethinking, you get what you pay for. Why not pay the price of being an informed thinker by reading and studying. You’re not hurting us by your actions. You’re only hurting yourself and your fellow skeptics.

In Christ,
Nick Peters