Book Plunge: Greek Genres and Jewish Authors

What do I think of Sean Adams’s book published by Baylor University? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Not too long ago, I saw a post on Facebook arguing for Jesus Mythicism and sometimes, these guys come up with arguments I haven’t seen before. Unfortunately, they’re never good, but at least it’s something different. In this case, we have nothing written about Jesus in Hebrew. Instead, it’s in Greek.

Granting that, why would that be a big deal? As Sean Adams shows in his book, Jewish writers were regularly writing in Greek. It makes perfect sense. It was the lingua franca of the time. However, not only were they writing in Greek, they were taking the genres of the people around them and writing in those genres as well.

Those of us with a great interest in the New Testament are immediately thinking of Greco-Roman biographies, and that is true, but others were used too. Jews wrote poetry, including epic poetry, didactic literature, philosophical treatises, novels, and histories.

Some writings we don’t have examples of. We don’t have any Jewish comedies in Greek. We can only speculate as to the reasons why this is. It would be wrong to say flat out that no Jew ever wrote a comedy in Greek. They could have written it and it was just lost like a number of writings have been.

Yet all of these show that Jews were interested in what was going on in the world around them at the time. They not only knew the language, but they were educated in the writings and could put out writings that matched it. Some of these would bring knowledge of their people and their thinking to their Greek speaking neighbors.

This meant Jews had to have access to these writings and be reading them and know them. While Jews were isolationists in some regards such as making sure they kept the Law properly including Sabbath observance and circumcision, in other ways some of them freely interacted with the culture around them. It wouldn’t be across the board. There would be some disagreements, but these writings show that for some, such interaction was acceptable.

Adams has done a marvelous work cataloguing all of these. Some might be skeptical of the Gospels and the letters of Paul and others being used saying that these are Christian writings. It is understandable, but it would be a mistake to say that because a writer was a Christian, he was henceforth not Jewish. I remain convinced that if you spoke to Paul right before the axe came down on him and asked if he was a faithful Jew, he would say yes.

Anyone wanting to see how Jews interacted and what works they wrote should go and get this book. Having said that, one caveat. This book is not really layman friendly. Adams assumes you have a strong knowledge of Jewish culture at the time and of Greco-Roman writings. A layman will still get something out of it, but a lot will go over their head as well.

Either way, Adams has definitely shown an area that needs more research to it. We had a remarkable revolution in New Testament studies with the strong arguments that show the Gospels are best described as Greco-Roman biographies. If that is so, and I think it is, it’s time to study how else Jewish culture interacted with Greek culture on the literary front. Adams has done a great service with that and we should be grateful.

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

Deeper Waters Podcast 12/28/2019

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

What are the Gospels? I understand that we can say they’re the accounts that we have of the life of Jesus, but what are they? What purpose do they really serve? What did the writers want us to get out of them?

Not only that, what purpose did they serve? How did the ancient people view the Gospels? What did they expect when they read the Gospels? Did they think the authors really believed there was a historical figure who did these things or did they think this was a nice set of novels?

Let’s go even further. What were the writers of these works thinking? Did they have any ideas for the best way to go about telling the accounts of Jesus? What liberties did they have with the source material? Why didn’t they cite source material? What sources did they even use and were they right to use them?

These are questions we can ask when we approach the Gospels. We can also ask then about the reliability of the Gospels. Was memory that reliable? What about the distance in time? What about the Gospels being anonymous?

If only we had someone who had really studied all of these kinds of questions and was an excellent scholar in the field.

Oh, wait. We do have such a person, and he is my guest this Saturday for the Deeper Waters Podcast talking about his latest book (Although he’s sure to have written another one in the time it took me to write this blog), Christobiography. Returning to our show is Craig Keener.

So who is he?

According to his bio:

Bio sketch: Craig S. Keener (PhD, Duke University) is F. M. and Ada Thompson Professor of Biblical Studies at Asbury Theological Seminary. He is author of twenty-eight books (thirty-three volumes), six of which have won awards in Christianity Today, plus other awards. He has also authored roughly one hundred academic articles; seven booklets; and more than one hundred fifty popular-level articles. His IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament, which provides cultural background on each passage of the New Testament, has sold more than half a million copies. Craig is the New Testament editor for the NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible, which won the International Book Award for Christianity and Bible of the year in the Christian Book Awards. In 2020 Craig is president of the Evangelical Theological Society, and he is married to Dr. Médine Moussounga Keener. His blog site is http://www.craigkeener.com/.

Now that the holidays have passed, hopefully, we’ll be able to devote the time to getting the shows back on schedule again. I hope you’ll be waiting. Be there for the next episode of the Deeper Waters Podcast.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Christobiography

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

Remember decades ago when there was a much talked about book called “Everything You Wanted To Know About Sex But Were Afraid To Ask?” Now Craig Keener has published Christobiography and it could just as well be, “Everything You Wanted To Know About The Gospels As Greco-Roman Biographies But Couldn’t Even Think To Ask.” It’s hard to imagine a more thorough treatment and yet Keener somehow did it in only 500 or so pages of content. (If you think saying only 500 is something, keep in mind his Acts commentary has four volumes of around 1,000 pages each, his commentary on John is 1,600 pages, and his two-volume Miracles is over 1,100 pages.

So what do we have in this book? We have an expounding on the work of people like Burridge and Licona and Aune and others. It is a look at what is meant by the Gospels being Greco-Roman biographies. Too often, it is thought that if they are biographies, they should read like modern biographies, which just doesn’t work. The past is a funny place after all. They do things differently there.

Reviewing a book like this is so hard because there’s just so much. At the start, Keener looks at what these biographies are and then gives a case as to why the Gospels are these kinds of biographies. He looks at other considerations like novels and other fictional writings to show that the Gospels are quite different from those kinds of works.

After looking at some biographies from the ancient world and what kinds of biographies there were, he looks at what ancient audiences would have expected from a biography. If you turn on the TV to watch a sitcom, you expect an entertaining show but nothing that will be a real drama or that gives a historical account. If the ancients thought the Gospels were Greco-Roman biographies then, what did they expect?

How did biographies approach historical information and what was expected of a history in the ancient world? Keener looks at this. Were they expected to give intricately detailed accounts? How were they to be written? How did one do the research when writing a history? Also, what sources are used? This is relevant since so many people say the Gospels didn’t cite their sources. Keener deals with this kind of objection.

He also looks at what was allowed when writing these kinds of works and how flexible one could be. In one part, he looks at three different lives of Otho to show how there were differences and similarities on key points. Then he looks at what kinds of flexibilities could be allowed in the Gospels.

There are objections that can be had? What about miracles and what about John? Keener has written profusely on both of these so he doesn’t give much here and encourages looking elsewhere, but the information here is still quite good.

Then we get to sections on memory and eyewitness testimony. This is a favorite of many skeptics, but Keener makes a good case for the reliability of eyewitness testimony and why we should trust not just memory but especially community memory. He has much to say about oral tradition as well. These sections I found incredibly helpful.

As you might have guessed, this is just being a brief summary. Why? Because there is so much in this book that anyone who wants to take the Gospels seriously needs to read it for themselves. Nothing I say can do a volume like this justice. Go get it today.

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: Can We Trust The Gospels?

What do I think of Peter J. Williams’s book published by Crossway? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

This book is a short read on the reliability of the Gospels. Don’t be deceived by its size. It is small, but it puts forward a succinctly powerful argument. Williams has written a book that is useful for the layman and yet incredibly scholarly at the same time.

It starts with just looking at bare facts about Christianity from outside of the New Testament. The information about Tacitus, Josephus, and Pliny the Younger, with an emphasis on Tacitus, is extremely helpful. Williams doesn’t spend time arguing with the idea that Jesus never existed, but he could have it in his sights.

Don’t think that means the information is light. It’s quite good and Williams still deals with popular objections, such as the spelling of the reference of Christ when it comes to the writings of Tacitus. Tacitus is probably the best extra-Biblical source we have on the base existence of Jesus and it’s quite helpful.

He then moves to an overview of the Gospels. This discusses what they are, why they are, and when they were written. Each of these chapters is short enough to read on its own, though reading the book as a whole will be more rewarding.

Then we move into Gospel reliability. In this, Williams leans heavily on Bauckham, and for good reason. This is the longest chapter, but it also contains a number of charts to help catalog the information. Williams looks at details like names, geography, finances, and even botany, to show that the Gospel authors did not make things up and were not writing from a standpoint where they were unfamiliar with the area.

Williams also looks at the idea of undesigned coincidences, made especially famous by the recent work of Lydia McGrew. This is not an extensive look, but it is a sufficient look. You could say this chapter is meant to pique your interest and if it succeeds, you could look into the research of McGrew on this.

From there, we get more into if we have the words of Jesus and if the text has been changed. Again, these chapters are short, but they contain a lot of really good information on the subject. I really encourage you to consider reading this even if you are knowledgeable on the subject. Williams has material that you won’t find in your regular apologetics book.

There is a brief chapter on contradictions and then one asking why this stuff would be made up. This last one ends with a powerful appeal to consider really recognizing who Jesus is and taking Him seriously. Naturally, that includes an argument for His resurrection.

This book is a gift to the church and one that skeptics will also need to take seriously. The layman will greatly appreciate how helpful and scholarly it is. The experienced apologist will appreciate having a brief guide to several key facts on the Gospels. Bottom line is to get this book and read it.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Deeper Waters Podcast 6/30/2018: John Stewart

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

Are the Gospels reliable? Can they stand up to scrutiny? We often hear about challenges to them. One that you can hear is about if they would stand up in a court of law. If a jury had to decide on the Gospels, what would they conclude? Could a lawyer make a case for the Gospels?

Many have, and they’ve done a good job of it. We’re going to be talking about that again this Saturday with another guest. We are going to put the Gospels under the microscope and see how they stand up to scrutiny. To do that, we’re going to have on John Stewart with Ratio Christi.

So who is he?

Education: A.A., Santa Ana College B.A. in Biblical Studies, Biola University M.A. in Theological Studies, Talbot School of Theology J.D., Western State University College of Law

Professional Experience: Professor of Law and Apologetics, Simon Greenleaf University, Anaheim, CA, 1980-1987 Assistant Dean of the Law Program, Simon Greenleaf University, Anaheim, CA, 1986-7 Co-Host, The Bible Answerman Nationally-Syndicated Radio Show, 1986-88 Host, John Stewart Live, KKLA-Los Angeles, 1988-92 Attorney-at-Law, Partner, Stewart & Stewart, Orange, California 1990 to present Host, John Stewart Live, USA Radio Network and CBN Radio Network, 1992-93 Lecturer, New Life for All, Jos, Nigeria, 2014 to present Visiting Professor, Vineyard Academy, Jakarta, Indonesia, 2014 to present Visiting Professor, Maranatha Christian University, Bandung, Indonesia, 2014-2017 Visiting Professor, Kuala Lumpur Methodist College, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, 2017 Executive Director, Ratio Christi International, 2011-2017 Scholar-in-Residence, Ratio Christi, 2018 Visiting Scholar, Multnomah Biblical Seminary, Portland, Oregon, 2014 to present

How does a lawyer mount a case? Can we really trust the Gospels? Do we know who wrote them? Do we have reason to believe they’re transmitted accurately? Are they really eyewitness documents?

Naturally, we will discuss the charge of hearsay which often comes up. All that you have in the Gospels is late information that would not be accepted in a court of law? Would it? Would the Gospels pass muster or would they be regarded as serious accounts of the life of Jesus that should be taken seriously?

What about charges of bias? The Gospels are supposedly by people who are Christians already. Don’t those people have a vested interest in the story that they are writing? Since they do, can we really trust them to pass on accurate history? Shouldn’t we look for sources about the life of Jesus that aren’t so biased to learn about Him?

And of course, miracles. We can’t trust the Gospels because they contain accounts of miracles. Would we trust any other account that has miracles? We can regularly be asked if we would believe a miracle outside of Christianity. How should we then approach the question of miracles?

I hope you’ll be looking for this next episode, especially if you’re interested in legal apologetics and if you’re interested in the defense of the Gospels. Please also go on iTunes and leave a positive review of the Deeper Waters Podcast. Thanks for listening!

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Deeper Waters Podcast 3/24/2018: Edward Wright

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

The Gospels are the greatest source we have on the life and teachings of Jesus. These four books have changed the world since the time they have been written and they have been tremendously debated. Christians and non-Christians for a long time have not known exactly how to classify them.

For the most part, the verdict is in. The Gospels are Greco-Roman Biographies. We owe a great deal to Richard Burridge for his excellent work in this area. It would be nice to say that answers a lot of questions. As a fan of the show Monk I can’t help but think of when the captain met Adrian’s brother and said it was nice to meet him and “It answers a whole lot of questions. Raises about a 100 more.”

So we do have a lot of questions now about the Gospels and what it means for them to be Greco-Roman biographies. How does this impact our study of the Gospels as Christians? What does it mean to have the Gospels be of the same style of literature as the pagan writers of the day? Does this do any damage to the doctrine of inerrancy?

Fortunately, a volume has been presented looking at many of these questions. Dr. Keener is one of the main editors of this volume, which alone is enough to tell you it’s excellent, but we are having the other editor on our show today. He will be telling us about the research behind the book and what we can get from it. His name is Edward T. Wright.

So who is he?

According to his bio:

I grew up in Austin, TX and attended Baylor University for my undergraduate work. I majored in Business Administration w/ a specialization in Management. I worked in the private sector for a few years in the steel industry before deciding to attend seminary. I did my M-Div at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. Upon completion of that I was accepted into Asbury where I am currently a candidate in the dissertation phase of the PhD in Biblical Studies w/ a specialization in New Testament. I am studying/working under Dr. Craig Keener as his TA/mentoree. My dissertation is on the historical reliability of ancient biographies and I hope to complete this work by the fall of this year.

We’ll be talking about the Gospels as Greco-Roman biographies. Does this change the way that Christians approach the text? How should we study them? Does it really make a difference to say that the Gospels fall into this genre and why should anyone really think they’re in this genre beyond “scholars think so” to begin with?

I hope you’ll be watching for this episode of the Deeper Waters Podcast. The nature of the Gospels is an important one for study. Also, if you have not done so, I urge you to please go on iTunes and leave a positive review of the Deeper Waters Podcast. I look forward to your feedback!

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Deeper Waters Podcast 11/11/2017: Richard Bauckham.

 

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

Can we trust the Gospels? One of the questions that this comes down to often is the question of who their sources are. Were they written by eyewitnesses? Did they use eyewitnesses? Can we really trust anonymous sources like the Gospels? Did the Gospels even cite their sources?

Even if the Gospels are eyewitness testimonies, can we still trust them? Can’t eyewitnesses get things wrong? Why should we treat the Gospels as if they are serious historical works and their information is something that we can base our lives on?

In order to discuss this, I decided to have come on a second time a scholar who has done in-depth research on this. He has done so much that he has updated his great work on this topic. The work is Jesus and the Eyewitnesses and the author and scholar is none other than Richard Bauckham. So who is he?

I am a biblical scholar and theologian. My academic work and publications have ranged over many areas of these subjects, including the theology of Jürgen Moltmann, Christology (both New Testament and systematic), eschatology, the New Testament books of Revelation, James, 2 Peter and Jude, Jewish and Christian apocalyptic literature, the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, the New Testament Apocrypha, the relatives of Jesus, the early Jerusalem church, the Bible and contemporary issues, and biblical and theological approaches to environmental issues. In recent years much of my work has focused on Jesus and the Gospels. Probably my best known books are Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony (2006), God Crucified: Monotheism and Christology in the New Testament (1998), The Theology of the Book of Revelation (1993) and Bible and Ecology (2010). As well as technical scholarship and writing aimed at students and those with some theological background, I have also written accessible books for a wider readership, of which the best known is At the Cross: Meditations on People Who Were There (1999), which I wrote with Trevor Hart. A recent book is Jesus: A Very Short Introduction (2011), published in Oxford University Press’s Very Short Introduction series, and providing a historical account of Jesus for the general reader. Various of my books have appeared in translation in Italian, Japanese, Chinese, Russian, Korean, Spanish, Portuguese, French and Farsi.

Until 2007 I was Professor of New Testament Studies at the University of St Andrews, Scotland. I retired early in order to concentrate on research and writing, and moved to Cambridge. For more information about me, see my Short CV. On this site, you will find complete lists of my publications. You can find out about my forthcoming books. You can read unpublished papers, lectures and sermons. You can find out about the More Old Testament Pseudepigrapha project (directed by myself and James Davila).

You can also read some of my poetry, and two story books written for children (adults also enjoy them) about the MacBears of Bearloch.

I hope you’ll be watching for this episode. We’re going to get a good in-depth look at this important book that every student of the New Testament needs to know about. Please be watching for this one and go on iTunes and leave a positive review of the Deeper Waters Podcast.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

NYC Terrorism And Gospel Reliability

Can we really know what happened? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

On Halloween afternoon and early evening, there was a news story broke about a radical Islamic terrorist that killed multiple people in New York. My wife and I go to Celebrate Recovery on Tuesday nights at our church, so we only got to hear bits and pieces, yet as it turns out, I did hear different things. That evening on the news, I had heard that he got shot in the abdomen. Another report said he got shot in the stomach. Still, another said he got shot in the buttocks.

Yesterday, my wife and I had the news on and heard even more different stories. This time, we heard that he had been shot in the leg and then it was more specifically, the thigh. We could say that this is a later story that is more clear, but as an outsider, I can’t really know. I could hypothetically go to the hospital and see for myself, but that’s not really an option right now.

So what do I gather from all of this? If we were in the area of New Testament studies, there are some things that some people would conclude. For instance, there are some who would be consistent and conclude that there never was a shooting or even that there never was a terrorist. After all, shouldn’t there be agreement?

Some will point to the idea of eyewitness testimony being unreliable. To an extent, it can be, but there are cases where it isn’t. In a time of chaos when people are dying around you and you could be looking out to save your own life, you might not remember everything that happens well. There will be some things you would not be at all mistaken about. You would not be mistaken about being at the scene or seeing a terrorist mowing down people in a vehicle and you would likely remember the peace that came when he was taken down.

I also often think that if we want to see how reliable testimony is over time, we need to check with people whose lives were significantly impacted by the event in question. Consider 9/11. Who is more likely to remember and relive the events in their mind over and over? Is it someone who was a passerby on the street and knew no one who worked in the towers, or is it someone who lost a spouse on that day? I don’t know of any such study like this, but it would be good to see it done.

When we compare this to the Gospels, there can be times that there are supposed contradictions that do differ on minor details. I am not saying all differences are like this, but many are. These are differences much like the shooting of the terrorist. It might be unclear to those of us on the outside without direct proof to know where the terrorist was shot, but we all know that he was. (Well, aside from perhaps some fringe conspiracy theorists who are no doubt convinced this was all staged, but then that is an apt comparison with the mythicist community.)

Minor differences do not do anything to change the fact of the major events. Someone might be tempted to say that it’s different when we talk about the New Testament. It’s supposed to be the Word of God isn’t it? At this point then, one is treating the New Testament with an entirely different standard. You’re not doing history so much as you’re doing religion. There is no reason to have a position where either all of it is true or none of it is true.

Instead, one can approach it much like any other document. Sure, there might be a few differences, but does that detract from the major points? Note I am not saying you have to sacrifice Inerrancy at all. I am saying you do not have to make it everything.

So what happened in NYC? A radical Muslim terrorist killed several people and was stopped when he was shot. Do I know the minor details beyond that? No. Do I have any reason to believe the major ones are false? No. Do I have justification to believe they are true? Yes.

When we come to the New Testament, we need to do the same. Let’s first see what the major outline of the story is. Then we can work on the minor details. Maybe we won’t even resolve them all, but we can still trust the major points.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, Second Edition

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

I want to think Eerdmans and Bauckham himself for making sure I got a review copy of this book. The first edition was indeed a classic and something all interested in the reliability of the Gospels should read. The second one is no exception and expounds further than the last one did.

Something that is striking to me about this book as I read through it is how different the argument is from most works. Most works will start with dating the Gospels and then argue from there by pointing to events like archaeological findings. Bauckham doesn’t do that, well not in the exact sense. Archaeology I think is only mentioned once that I recall and this concerning the destruction of Jerusalem and Josephus. The closest you get to dating is by looking at the names that show up in the Gospels.

Why would anyone do that? Because when we look at the Gospels, we see the names used in them match the commonly used names at the time and the ones that are exceptions match that same ratio as well. This is not the kind of thing that a later writer would easily produce. We can tell the common names today because we have a whole catalog available to us of all the names being used. Back then, you couldn’t jump on Google and see what popular names were so a writer would not know about that.

Interestingly to me, much of the time Bauckham spends examining Mark and John. Not much is said about Luke or Matthew, though some is of course. I find this surprising since for many of us, the place we’d go to the most for eyewitness testimony is Luke. He specifically mentions eyewitness testimony and there’s much archaeological evidence for Luke and Acts.

Meanwhile, John is usually seen as highly unreliable. Bauckham argues that the Gospel is likely from the perspective of the beloved disciple. He doesn’t believe this to be John, the son of Zebedee, but he does say that this person was part of Jesus’s entourage and was an eyewitness of what he reported. If this is so, then scholars really need to rethink how they see John.

But isn’t eyewitness testimony unreliable? You can see stories about how people got facts wrong about 9/11 when interviewed later about it. How can this be? These people were eyewitnesses. Bauckham does make a case for eyewitness testimony being reliable in many many cases.

Still, as I thought about this, I thought that many of these “eyewitnesses” were really “TV witnesses.” If we really wanted eyewitness testimony about an event like 9/11, what would be best would be to interview people like survivors who worked in the building, people who lost loved ones on that day, and firefighters and police officers who went in and got people out. These are all people who had skin in the game.

This would be the closest parallel perhaps to Jesus. If you want to know who to talk to about the life of Jesus, talk to the people who were active participants in it and not just bystanders. Sure, bystanders can get some things right, but they won’t remember long-term details. A college student watching 9/11 on TV won’t know as much about it as someone who had a loved one in the towers wondering if they would get out.

Speaking of this, many people like Carrier and others often talk about how the Gospels didn’t cite their sources like other writers did. One thing to say about this is there weren’t exactly many written materials to cite. A second thing to say is that ancient writers didn’t use footnotes and endnotes like we do and did not cite all their sources. A third thing is that if Bauckham is right, they did. When they named someone in the Gospels who was not a famous figure, this was a method of citation. Names could drop out then because that person had died and was no longer available.

One example I can think of immediately with this is the resurrection of Jesus in John. In his Gospel, only Mary Magdalene is named, but in the story she uses the word “we” to describe going to the tomb. Could it be that there were other women there, but only Mary is named because only she was still alive?

One other point worth mentioning is that according to Bauckham, form criticism is dead. One can certainly hope so. We have learned so much since the time of Bultmann and others that we should discard an ideology if it is no longer being used. Unfortunately, we do live in the day and age of the internet where an idea being dead doesn’t mean it can’t be used. (Those of you who argue Jesus never existed and is a copy of pagan gods? I’m talking to you especially.)

This book is full of many in-depth arguments, many of which are too in-depth to go into here. Anyone wanting to discuss the reliability of the Gospels owes it to themselves to check out this work. Bauckham is no slouch in the field and his reputation should not be taken lightly. I hope this study will be the start of many many more such studies.

In Christ,
Nick Peters