Book Plunge: Reinventing Jesus

What do I think of this book by J. Ed Komoszewski, M. James Sawyer, and Daniel Wallace? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

I have read a number of books on the Historical Jesus that defend my own view, a conservative Christian view, but most of them are rather passe in many ways. You can hear the same old, same old, as if the writers just want to give you the mere basics of the case so you can make it. Now for some people, basics are good and necessary, but so often I really would like to read something more substantial from the conservative side and something that will give them a lot of firepower.

I picked up Reinventing Jesus not knowing what to expect, but found myself impressed thoroughly by this work. The authors lay out a powerful case and even better, they deal with the popular critics that will be mentioned in water cooler conversation. These are the ones largely quoted on the internet. Scholarship doesn’t really take their claims seriously, but such a situation has never stopped ignorant people on the internet from touting off the claims with the same degree of certainty as they condemn in a fundamentalist revival preacher.

So do you want to see Dan Brown dealt with? Got it covered! How about Acharya S.? She’s answered? Earl Doherty? Taken to task. Frank Zindler? Robert Price? Freke and Gandy? Aside from Price, who is on the fringe of scholarship, these are names not taken seriously, but that does not mean they should be ignored. It’s extremely important to show the massive ignorance that is often pontificated on the internet.

The authors start off with the case for oral tradition, which is an excellent start since the average lay reader knows little about this and can often think of modern concepts of memory which don’t really apply to an ancient society. In doing so, they show that the teachings of Christ would have lasted at least to the time of writing.

Well how about that time? Maybe the writings are wrong? That’s when we look at textual criticism and this section is an excellent tour de force. The authors have up-to-date statistics on when the NT manuscripts were written and how they were copied and deal very well with the popular criticisms that work against the idea as well as scholarly concerns. Let it never be stated they only deal with popular claims. They deal with scholarly ones as well.

What about the books that were copied? How do we know the canon was right? Again, this is an excellent topic that is not discussed often in literature. The writers put forward a presentation that demonstrates the integrity of the early church and show that they did not just blindly attribute authorship to a writer. They had the highest of standards. Much of this information I found immediately useful.

Did those books reflect the truth about Jesus? Extremely beneficial here is a look at what went on in the Council of Nicea to show that Nicea did not change everything. Also, there is abundant information to show that there was an early high Christology showing Jesus was perceived as included in the divine identity and that He Himself made such claims.

Supposing that’s the case, did the Christians not just rip off other pagan myths like Osiris and Mithra? I was extremely pleased to see a section on this! This is one of the most preposterous claims that goes around the net by people who have never read an original source on the topic. The writers have done us a service by giving a superb presentation to show that there has been no copying, unless you count copying by others of Christian claims and language.

In conclusion, I recommend this fine work without reservation. If I was to teach a class on NT apologetics, this book would no doubt be required reading.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Determining What’s True

How do we study the Bible historically? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

After my blog post on the problem with fundamenatlism, I was asked on TheologyWeb that if by chance the Bible was not inerrant, how would we know what parts were true and what parts weren’t? This is a good question to ask.

Relatedly, on the latest Unbelievable? a skeptical teenager from Australia was on the line asking about the accounts of Judas’s death in Matthew and Acts. His contention was that if one of these was shown to be unreliable then everything in the Bible was unreliable, and the impression was given that this would go down to the crucifixion itself.

Both of these show a great concern to have. A Christian can be left with the attitude of “The only way I know that Jesus rose from the dead is that the Bible says so!” Meanwhile, the atheist can come with the idea that “If I find one mistake in the Bible, I can’t take any of it as historically reliable.”

This approach is highly problematic especially since one would not use it on any other work of ancient history. If you were reading an account of Plutarch and you found that he made a historical error at one point, you would not say “Oh well. So much for Plutarch!” If we are reading Josephus and we find that he made a historical error at one part, we do not say “So much for Josephus!” If we did this with ancient historians, we would know nothing about ancient history. For that matter, we would know nothing about modern history either since modern historians make mistakes.

Some of you are saying “Surely no one would make a mistake like that!”

Frank Zindler does.

Who is Frank Zindler? Listen to Bob Price’s description of him.

“One of the most effective (not to mention hilarious) speakers for atheism and secular humanism today is Frank Zindler, author, linguist, translator, Bible scholar, and scientist—truly a Renaissance Man.

He is an advocate as well for the much-despised but increasingly hard to ignore Christ Myth hypothesis, which he has ably defended in books such as The Jesus the Jews Never Knew and articles like “Where Jesus Never Walked.” ”

Apparently, the criteria for being a Bible scholar is having an opinion. Zindler is not a Bible scholar. To say the Christ-Myth is hard to ignore is like saying loud music as you get closer to a concert is hard to ignore. Want an example of what Zindler says?

“When the author of Matthew read Mark’s version, he saw the impossibility of Jesus and the gang disembarking at Gerasa (which, by the way, was also in a different country, the so-called Decapolis). Since the only town in the vicinity of the Sea of Galilee that he knew of that started with G was Gadara, he changed Gerasa to Gadara. But even Gadara was five miles from the shore – and in a different country. Later copyists of the Greek manuscripts of all three pig-drowning gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) improved Gadara further to Gergesa, a region now thought to have actually formed part of the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee. So much for the trustworthiness of the biblical tradition.

No ancient historian would take this approach. It is an absurd all-or-nothing approach. We encourage Zindler to do the same with any other work of history and see what he winds up believing about history.

Now someone might say “Well the Bible is supposed to be the Inerrant Word of God!”

Yeah. So what?

How does one get from that to “If there is one mistake, then everything in it is wrong”? If you show an error in the Bible, this is what you demonstrate.

“The Bible has an error.”

You do not demonstrate that everything in the Bible is error by showing one thing is. Let’s do the opposite end. Let’s suppose I demonstrate Jesus was crucified. Would you take that to mean “Now everything in the Bible is true!” No. Not at all. I woul dnot want you to either. That would be dumb.

What do we do then? We do what we are supposed to do. We study the text.

It means we get scholarship on both sides. It means we weigh the issues out. It means we avoid just one approach. It requires we work. We also accept some things can never be proven or disproven. Let’s suppose we read about a skirmish between two individuals in a Roman biography. That could be hard to prove or disprove. Let’s suppose then instead we read about the conquest of a city. That is much easier to prove or disprove. For the former, it could be a position of faith, in that faith will be seen as believing something to be trustworthy and reliable. It is giving the author the benefit of the doubt where we find general reliability.

This is also the method the apostles encouraged. They gave evidence that Jesus had risen. Miracles were one kind of evidence. Eyewitness testimony was another. This was how the Gospels were written as well. Luke explicitly states that he knows of many eyewitnesses and reports and he made a thorough investigation.

Inerrancy is not a position that we assume. It is one we reason to. If the Bible is without error, we should be able to demonstrate that insofar as it is possible. If we truly think it is, we should be more than happy to have it investigated. If we think Jesus rose from the dead, we should be open to historical investigation into that matter.

For our atheist friends, they need to realize that showing one error in the Bible does not show all of it is false or suspect any more than it would for any other work of ancient history. Are they just as willing to examine both sides, such as the evidence that Jesus rose or the evidence that miracles have happened? So far, the number I’ve seen that do that are minimal.

Perhaps that’s because they’re really the ones that are people of faith.

In Christ,
Nick Peters