Is Scripture To Be Read Literally?

Do we read the text literally? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

As we are going through the texts here to discuss the doctrine of God, one statement we will be given is that we are not taking the text literally. This is a favorite hangup of internet atheists. Many fundamentalists have the exact same approach. When I meet someone who says “We just read the Bible and believe what it says” then while I want to commend them for believing Scripture, I know they mean they interpret the text in a way they call literal.

Now you might be shocked to hear I think you should read the text literally. However, by literal, I mean according to the intent of the author, which is the true definition of literal. I call what many people today do reading the text literalistically.

The church fathers when reading the text asked what would be most fitting for the glory of God. Consider in Genesis 3, God walks through the garden in the cool of the day. Does that mean God has a literal body? Hopefully, we know that is not so. God is not limited in space and time. Some people could say this was an appearance of the pre-incarnate Christ. I could accept such a reading as well.

If we went back a little earlier even, we can read in the text that on the seventh day, God rested. Now whether you take the text as referring to a long period of time or 24-hour days or take Augustine’s doctrine of instant creation or idea of John Walton’s reading, all of these sides for the most part agree that God was not tired of creating and just needed to take a breather.

This is especially evident with some passages, especially the Psalms. God is said to be a shield and a rock in those passages. No one takes those passages to read God is literally a shield or literally a rock. The only exception might be Dake in his Dake’s Study Bible. I do not know if he went this far, but he tried to take the text literalistically and he is usually seen as holding heretical ideas.

If we went to Deuteronomy, God is described as a consuming fire. No one thinks God is a cosmic bunsen burner. Note also that none of this requires that you believe the text is true. If I approach the Qur’an or the Book of Mormon, which I do not believe, I should still try to read the text according to the intent of the author. It’s easy to read any text in any work to make something sound ridiculous, but it’s not showing charity to the author regardless, and yes, I don’t think highly of Muhammad or Joseph Smith, but I still want to try to be as charitable to their writings as possible.

Now keep in mind that I understand the followers of Islam and Mormonism respectively think that God is the ultimate author of those books. Christians believe in some way God is behind the text of Scripture, although very few hold to a dictation theory, certainly not in the scholarly world. An atheist reader will not believe that, but they still owe it to themselves to read the text fairly. If you are given a reading of the text that puts it in a bad light, but someone shows you one that puts in a better light, unless you have a strong argument against the latter argument, accept it.

A personal example of this is there is a part in the Qur’an that looks like it denies that Jesus was crucified. I was actually reading a Christian scholar of Islam on the topic once who gave a reading of that text that he thinks indicates that the Qur’an does not really argue that way. Now it would certainly be easy for me to say the Qur’an denies the crucifixion which would be a historical absurdity, but I can’t do that in good conscience. Unless I am shown a clear defeater, I will go with the kinder reading of the text. I would want them to do the same with my book.

This will happen more in the Bible when we get to passages that describe the body of God. If we take all of these in a literalistic way, God becomes quite a weird being. After all, some say if man and woman are in the image of God and that that image is physical, then God becomes a hermaphrodite.

Here’s where some people have problems. A lot of people will say, “Yeah. God doesn’t have a physical body in His nature” and read those texts accordingly, but when it comes to God having emotions, those texts are read to read God has actual emotions. I read those differently. When God is said to be angry, it means that God is acting in a way that we perceive as angry and thus can relate to and understand. I also think my position is more consistent. I don’t read either one literalistically. If you want to say one is and one isn’t, you need to give me a reason. I would actually have more respect for the person who says both are to be read literalistically, though even then I suspect they think they have to pick and choose which ones they read that way.

For atheist readers, I really hope there will be more attempts to read the text fairly. If you take a position out there and make it look absolutely absurd, odds are that you have not understood it. Most arguments against a position that are really simplistic are not well thought out and have been answered time and time again.

I also think I am reading the text fairly with all of this. For the Bible, there have been many different readings throughout history. I am not claiming to be conversant in all of them. I don’t think anyone really could be seeing as we have thousands of years of readings. You have pre-Christian thought like the Dead Sea Scrolls, post-Christian thought like Jewish writings beyond the DSS and the church fathers, medieval writings, Reformation writings, post-Reformation writings, etc., and then there are plenty of different cultures that have read the Bible differently. Still, we should strive to be as fair as we can with any text. It’s easy to go through something like the Book of Mormon and find anachronisms, but when I see something and I wonder if it was there or not in the new world at the time, I should be fair and look it up and if it was there, don’t mention it. It doesn’t mean I think Joseph Smith has an accurate account, but it means I’m being fair.

Keep this in mind as we look at the text. Will I interpret every text “literalistically”? No. Do I strive to be fair? Yes.

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

Thoughts On Living Biblically

What did I think of this new series? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

My wife and I DVRed the new series, Living Biblically, wanting to see what it would be like. We came in skeptical. We were thinking we would see a series making fun of Christians and any mention of religion. So what did we see?

The series involves a man named Chip Curry who suddenly has a best friend die on him and his mother is convinced her son is not in a better place because he stopped going to church. When Chip says he doesn’t go, then the mother says that he’ll see his friend again. This sends Chip into a depression. He goes to a workplace where he’s just your average guy and one of his other friends, who is married, likes to talk about his extra-marital exploits. To top it all off, Chip’s wife announces she’s pregnant, so how is Chip going to be ready to be a good father?

At the bookstore looking for a book to turn his life around, he comes across the Bible, but when about to put it up, a light just shines on him. It is one of the lights in the store, but he takes it as a sign. He tells a priest in a confessional then that he plans to live his life strictly according to the Bible.

This is one low point where the priest laughs and says that that can’t be done. Of course, there is no mention of hermeneutics or the relationship of the law and the Gospel together and how they work out. The next thing said is that Chip is wearing mixed fabrics, which is a violation of Leviticus.

Chip’s wife is concerned about this major change. She says she’s not particularly religious and asks if they will have any fun anymore. Sadly, her concern is understandable. A lot of times people who present themselves as very Christian or religious happen to be some of the most boring people you will ever meet. Lee Strobel in his book The Case for Christ wrote about how when his wife converted, he was worried she’d spend all her time in Bible studies and become a sexual prude.

Chip’s first crisis in his new life concerns his cheating co-worker. The priest tells him an adulterer should be stoned. That won’t happen because it’s 2018. Later, Chip is with his wife at a restaurant where he meets the priest and a rabbi. Chip’s friend comes in with another woman. Chip goes over to confront him and ends up throwing a rock in the guy’s face and runs out with his wife saying they will indeed still have fun.

The next day at work Chip’s co-worker confronts him and in a refreshing scene actually thanks him. He says that he and his wife are going to go to get counseling. He told her everything and they’re going to work on their relationship. Allie and I found this pleasantly surprising. You don’t often find on a TV show that one shouldn’t cheat on their spouse and that a marriage is worth working on.

There was some humor. It’s not the funniest show, but it wasn’t the worst thing that I had seen and I was pleasantly surprised. I told Allie I could see myself using this in a Sunday School class some to explain how hermeneutics really works. We should all strive to live Biblically after all, but what does that mean? Why do Americans particularly have a big hang-up over literalism?

We plan to keep watching just to see how it is. It’s important after all to keep up with the culture and see what’s going on. Hopefully we’ll keep being surprised.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Understanding The Bible

What does it take to really understand the Bible? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

We live in a day and age where most everyone thinks they can pick up a Bible, read it, and be an expert in it. You have the “prophecy experts” who think they can ignore the genre of a text and the historical setting and successfully pontificate on what is going to happen today. You have the fundamentalist atheists who think likewise that they just read the Bible and the “face value” of the text is what the author meant.

Of course, there is some level where the basic message of a text can be understood, but there is a level where it cannot. There are aspects that do require specialized knowledge. When you’re growing up, for some basic illnesses and such, your parents could pick up something over-the-counter and you could trust them with it. For a specialty condition, they would take you to a doctor.

So what are some things you should try to understand in a passage?

For one, what is the genre of the passage itself? If Jesus is telling a parable, you do not want to interpret it as a historical account. It is historical that Jesus told the parable, but the parable itself is not historical. If you were ever told that the story of the Good Samaritan never happened, that should not cause you to panic about the reliability of Scripture.

But then, what is the grander genre of the book itself? The Gospels, for instance, are Greco-Roman biographies and when you realize this, your reading of them will change. The book of Revelation is apocalyptic and so one of the last things you want to do is read it at face-value. The Law in the Old Testament is written not as iron-clad but more of a teaching tool showing the limits of what could be done in a situation, but giving judges freedom to decide. Of course, there are also cases like the first eleven chapters of Genesis that are real hotbeds of debate.

You also need the original languages. It’s better if you know them yourself, but if you do not, then you can use a site like BlueLetterBible and look them up. Even still, there is a limitation here. You can only look in the Bible itself. My wife asked me today about the verse where Paul uses the word Skubalon. If you want to know what that word means, just the New Testament will not help you. It’s only used once. You will need to look at usages outside the NT, if there are any, and then if you can’t do that, look up the work of scholars who know the language and see what they say.

And yet, there’s still more. You will want to know the historical context. What was going on in a book of prophecy? So many people badly misunderstand the prophets because they think everything is about our time instead of about the time of the prophet or his relatively near future. When Jesus does something in the Gospels, is there any particular historical situation that explains His actions more? When Paul wrote about marriage in 1 Corinthians 7, was there anything going on at the time that explains what he said better?

And still there’s even more! What about the social context? We often think the people in the world of the Bible were much like ourselves. In some ways they were, but not in all. We are a guilt-based culture. Were they? We value individualism. Did they? What was marriage like for them? What was the economic status of the people involved? How did they all relate to one another?

It is not being said that you have to understand all of these or you’re completely in the dark, but if you are struggling with a passage, try to understand some of these even more. What definitely needs to be moved past is a simplistic approach that practically assumes that God will make everything easy for us to understand if He wants to. He is under no obligation to do that and those who are seeking truth will not care if it takes work. If you do care, then you are not really seeking.

When someone is reading a passage and you think they could be misunderstanding it or if you think you are misunderstanding it, consider these steps. Look at them and see what all can be learned. Go and check the best scholars in the field and see what they have to say. To understand any ancient text, one must have the humility to be willing to let it speak for itself as it were and work to understand it.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

The Hang-Up Of Literalism

Can literalism be  danger? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Often times in debate, I am charged by atheists with ignoring the literal meaning of the text. Many Christians meanwhile think it’s a virtue to take very text as literally as possible. It’s ironic that both groups read the text the same way. All that differs really is the allegiance.

When we say literal, most often, people mean a straightforward idea. The text means what it says and says what it means. Of course, there are texts like that out there. There are also texts that are not like that. You know what other work of literature out there contains some pieces that are straightforward literal and some that are not?

Nearly every single other one that exists.

When I spoke of the Christian and the atheist above, both of these groups often forget the Bible is literature. Whatever else you think it is, be it you think it’s the Word of God or be it you think it is the “Buy-bull” as some atheists say, it is still a work of literature and should be treated as such. That means you will use many of the same techniques you use when reading other works of literature to read the Bible.

I once wrote a blog post where I went through the Gospel of John and showed that Jesus had immense difficulties with people who interpreted his text literally. Given that this was such a problem, perhaps we should not read Scripture that way. Yet as soon as I say that, there rises up an immediate question.

“How do you know which pieces are literal and which are not?”

Well, how do you do that with other literature?

There’s no magic bullet rule. Really. There isn’t. Most writers assume that their audience does not consist of fools. In fact, most of us assume some background knowledge on the part of the author. For instance, in my writing this series, for the most part I have not defined a single word. That might seem like a blatantly obvious point, but I also haven’t gone through saying “This is literal” or “This is hyperbole” or “This is a metaphor” or anything like that. I tend to leave it to you, the reader, to find out because I frankly don’t want to assume you don’t know how to read.

The Biblical writers were the same way with an important difference. First off, most anyone who could read their text had to be educated since literacy was not as abundant as it is today. Second, many of their texts would be read by the readers and would also be read to an audience. Often times, especially in the NT, this could include having commentary. When Phoebe delivers the letter to the Romans, chances are, she explained it as well.

Unfortunately, we in the West often think the Bible was written to us in our time and culture and language and place and can be totally separated from its own time and culture and language and place. No. It can’t. That background is different from ours very often. We can have a tendency to read our own ideas into the text.

One key example of this is when the Old Testament talks about slavery. Most people over here in the West today will think of the Civil War. Is that what the writer had in mind? Maybe. Maybe not. If you want to know what he had in mind, you have to study slavery in the Ancient Near East. That requires work. I’m not going to go into detail on it now. That will leave some work for you to do, but if you care about what the text means, it’s something you’ll likely do.

In fact, literal is itself misunderstood. The word really means “According to the intent of the author.” It requires work to try to get into the mind of the author, but that is work worth doing. As we continue looking at hermeneutics, we’ll learn some questions to ask and how to do the research.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

What is Hermeneutics?

What on Earth is hermeneutics? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Hermeneutics is a big word to a lot of people. If you have grown up in the church. chances are sadly that you’ve never heard it. Sadly, many of today’s popular preachers don’t have a clue about it, such as in how we like to share this joke meme concerning someone like Joel Osteen.


The word is a strange one still and we need to know what it is. The Collins English dictionary lists it as the art of interpretation, but especially of Scripture. As to the word origin, it has the following:

from Greek hermēneutikos expert in interpretation, from hermēneuein to interpret, from hermēneus interpreter, of uncertain origin

In Greek mythology, Hermes was known as the messenger of the gods. They had a message and he would take it to the recipient. In other words, he would be an interpreter.

Today, when we read any document, we are engaging in hermeneutics. In fact, this isn’t just reading. If you hear a message or if you even see body language taking place, you are trying to interpret it. Many a woman has been stymied by the way that a man does not catch on when she is flirting with him. My own wife has told me about two times specifically she was trying to flirt with me while married and I did not catch on. (Excuse me while I go and mourn thinking about those two times.)

Some of you have a mindset that when we approach the Scripture, we should do it literally. Properly understood, this is true. Improperly understood, this is a disaster. Properly understood, a literal interpretation means an interpretation done according to the intent of the author. Improperly done, it means that you just read everything as if it was straight forward without anything like metaphors, similes, figures of speech, hyperbole, etc. In fact, we often use the word literally when we don’t mean literally. For instance….

How do you get to the intent of the author? Is there some magic formula? Well, no. This can often be a problem in dialogue because it’s thought by some that there’s some magic technique you can use to automatically tell. There’s no more some magic technique for Scripture than there is for Shakespeare and there’s no piety in taking everything in Scripture as if it was written to 21st century Americans.

So over the next few times as we continue our look at basic apologetics, I’d like to give some rules of hermeneutics that I try to follow. These will largely focus on Scripture, though you can use them for various other texts that you come across throughout the day. (This also includes messages that are not written.) Hopefully in the end, you’ll also be paying attention to the words that others use much more and you’ll be paying much more attention to the way that you use your own words. Your own words can dig you into a hole very easily if you’re not careful with them.

Hope to see you as we continue this journey!

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Slaves, Women, and Homosexuals

What do I think of William Webb’s book published by IVP? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Many of us like to think of the Bible as the moral guidebook. Now to be sure, there are a lot of good moral lessons in the Bible. Hardly anyone would contend that “Love your neighbor as yourself” is a bad idea, but there are some ideas that we just don’t do today. There are some matters explicitly commanded that we don’t do today. There are some commands that we think are even not good for us to do today. How do we differentiate?

William Webb’s book is an excellent reference on this looking at three issues as examples. First is slavery, which is pretty much agreed to that we do not practice. Next is women, and this is an area of some debate as there are complementarians and egalitarians. Finally there’s homosexuality as most evangelicals today still condemn homosexual practice, although that number is starting to change.

So what are we to do? Jesus told us to love our neighbor as ourselves, but he also told us to wash one another’s feet. We are told in Exodus that we should not murder, but we are also told that we are to keep the Sabbath. Is this just random arbitrariness that is deciding what we do and do not follow?

Naturally, I can’t tell everything Webb says, but his book is a joy to read on this. Webb lays out eighteen different criteria on various themes. He also has what he calls a redemptive hermeneutic. This means that as the story of the Bible progresses, you start to see change. For instance, slavery (While never like Civil War slavery) was a staple at the time and could be called a necessary evil, much like God allowed divorce for the hardness of the peoples’ hearts. They weren’t ready for the advanced lessons yet. Still, even with slavery, the seeds of its destruction were planted early on.

One example is the case of the runaway slave. If a slave ran away from his master, he was supposed to be given safety. He was not to be returned to his master. As we go through the story of the Bible, we see this progressing further with more and more freedom until we get to a book like Philemon where it’s implied in a burning epistle (And yes, Paul is calling out Philemon incredibly in this epistle) that Philemon is to set Onesimus free.

How about women? Women do seem to get a low regard in the Old Testament where they can often be seen as property, but again, the change is right there. You have dynamic women like Deborah, Ruth, Rahab, Huldah, and Esther showing up in the text. When you move to the New Testament, you see more women like the witnesses to the empty tomb who first saw Jesus, Junia, Phoebe, Priscilla, Lydia, and others.

Now this is one part where I wasn’t as forward as Webb is. I am still more of a complementarian, but I think Webb would likely not have much of a problem with my own style since I think that if a man is the king of his castle, his wife gets treated like a queen.

Finally, you have homosexuals. In the Old Testament, the charges are pretty strict. Leviticus I think is a very clear statement. So is this changed in the New Testament? No. Paul in Romans 1 argues that homosexual practice is a shaming practice that is a horizontal example of what has already happened vertically.

What does this tell us? Some practices move forward redemptively and so we are justified in our lifestyles in moving along that route. The Bible has set the standard for us in itself. Some are more negative, so we ought not switch them because the Bible is consistent throughout with how it deals with them.

Unfortunately, I can’t go into a lot of detail, but this is a book that’s a joy to read to see how the author weaves his way through the texts and deals  with challenges to his position. There’s also a section at the end in humility where Webb answers “What if I’m wrong?” This mainly centers on issues involving 1 Tim. 2 and the section dealing with women there.

I think this book is an excellent read. There are issues on hermeneutics that are extremely necessary. If internet atheists would interact with a book like this, perhaps many of our debates could be better. Perhaps they could be even better still if more Christians interacted with it.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Do We Need A Bible 2.0?

If God wants us to know His truth, why doesn’t He just give us a new Bible?

Yesterday I wrote on the importance of hermeneutics, and this because the Bible is so hard to understand for so many people. So then the question comes up “Well why doesn’t God just give us a new Bible?” This sounds like a simple concept at first, but let’s consider it further to see some problems.

First off, most of us might think this should be in English, but which English? I live in the South (You know, where English was perfected) and we have a different way of speaking English. If you go to England, there are terms used over there that mean something entirely different than what they do over here. Now you might say “Well each of these different forms of English would get their own Bible. Okay, but even then we still have differences of interpretation. What happens when I communicate with someone who lives in England over what the Bible says? He will interpret his text a still different way than I do.

And this is only in one language! What happens when we add in multiple languages? What happens when we have multiple languages in German, French, Spanish, Japanese, Italian, Chinese, and other languages? Keep in mind I’m speaking about languages that most of us know well. There are languages that we do not even have the Bible as it is today translated into yet. What about those languages? If you think the battles that can take place over which translation should be used in a church are intense today, what’s going to happen when there are many different Bibles and each one is supposed to be directly from God?

Second, how are these Bibles going to be sent? Are we going to have to have different people write them again and if so, will we not have the exact same problem we have now where so many people will say that this is the Word of man instead of the Word of God? Are we going to go with the fax from Heaven idea where a Bible will fall from the sky? If so, will this not lead to the possibility of idolatry, or perhaps even certain people absconding with these Bibles and then telling everyone else what they supposedly say and taking advantage of those who do not have Bibles who have fallen from the sky?

Third, are these claims really going to be believed? Let’s suppose one fell from the sky that said “Around 2,000 years ago my Son came to the Earth, was crucified, buried, and rose again to bring about my kingdom on Earth.” How many skeptics are going to say “Great! Now we know?” We could again have the same charges of “These are aliens doing this” or “This whole thing is a fraud anyway.” We’re not going to be able to bypass just simply doing research.

And therein lies the problem. Too many of us today, Christians and skeptics both, are people that want everything just spelled out for us and made simple. Most things worth doing are not going to be easy. They’re going to take hard work, and work is a dirty word to many Americans today. Few of us bother with any kind of struggle whatsoever. We want to have what we want immediately or we don’t want it at all and surely God should make things easy for us. Reality is He very rarely does. Christ wants disciples and disciples are people who are willing to work for the truth and don’t expect it to be delivered to them.

If you want to know if Christianity is true, it will require work on your part if you have hard questions.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

What is Hermeneutics?

Is hermeneutics a way to avoid accepting what the text says? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

There is often a rabid fundamentalism that takes place in America and other Western societies. Because we are so individualistic, we think everything is about us and so when it comes to a text, such as the text of Scripture, well that is about us. Since this is also God’s Word to us supposedly, God would obviously write it in a way that is easy for us to understand. I mean, if we were God, we would do that. Right? Surely we wouldn’t deliver a message that is essential for our eternal salvation and then have it be hard to understand? No. The text must be understood easily and we absolutely then must read it literally. By literally, I do not mean according to the intent of the author, but in a more wooden sense of “The text says what it means and it means what it says.”

The ironic thing is there are Christians and atheists who both agree on this and they are both fundamentalists. The fundamentalist Christian believes everything in the Bible is absolutely true and usually does so on just “faith.” If it says six days, it means six days and keep that science stuff away from me. We’re going to go with what the Word of God says. The atheist meanwhile looks at the text and says “If the text says slavery, it means slavery. I don’t need to hear anything about historical context.” The atheist will tend to disbelieve everything in the Bible. Both approach the text with the same mindset in many ways.

And both of them resist any notion of hermeneutics.

So what is hermeneutics?

In ancient Greece, the gods were way up there and we humans were down here below. Who would be the go-between? Quite often, Hermes was the messenger of the gods. His name is behind the word. Hermes was the one who interpreted the message of the gods for us. The word Hermeneutics comes from that and it means the art of interpretation. Some of you might be tempted to say that that applies only to the Bible. It doesn’t. It applies everywhere. You’re using hermeneutics right now to interpret what I say. You use it to interpret body language or oral communication as well. Let’s go with the example of a newspaper.

When you open the newspaper, you expect most stories you read in there will be at least attempts to write out truthful accounts. Yet even in these accounts, you could expect to read some metaphorical language. For instance, if you go to the Sports team and you read about a game that was played where one team massacred another, you don’t expect that you’ll find that on a page talking about crime. You know it’s metaphorical language. If you turn over to the comics, you’ll suddenly find you’re reading the language differently. If you go to the advice column, you find still something different. If you go to the letters to the editor, you will find different language and perhaps even opinions that disagree with the perspective of the newspaper as a whole.

All of this is hermeneutics.

Keep in mind in all of this, I am assuming the text has a meaning. The words on the page really mean something and some interpretations are right and some are wrong. It’s important to realize also that just because you think a text means something, that does not mean that what it says is true. You could be a Muslim for instance, and interpret the NT to teach that Jesus died by crucifixion. You’d agree that the text is teaching this, but you would just say the text is wrong. You could be a pluralist and say that the text teaches that Jesus is the only way to salvation. You’d disagree with this, but you’d say the text teaches this. You could be an atheist and say the text teaches Jesus did actual miracles. You’d disagree, but this would be what the text is saying.

When saying that the Bible needs to be interpreted, this is because it is from a different time, culture, place, and language. In fact, if you want to go with what the text says, unless you read the original languages, you’re not reading what the text says. You’re already reading an interpretation. Even in the same language, there can be difficulties. Many of us could not read Shakespeare as he wrote it. For an illustration of this, just consider the KJV. It was just fine for the time it was written in, but many words have changed meaning since then and there are figures of speech that we no longer use. It is for this reason that translations have to keep being updated. Languages do not stay static like that.

Now is this an exact science? Can you reach a point where you say it is absolutely definitive that this is what the text means? No, but if we follow those standards then science itself is not an exact science. Any interpretation of the scientific data could be overturned. It is not written in stone. The more we study it, the more likely it looks that a certain viewpoint is correct. For instance, the huge majority of biologists today agree evolution best explains our origins. That means that if this is overturned, there must be some powerful evidence otherwise that evolution did not occur. That does not mean that such is impossible theoretically.

In the same way, there are many interpretations we can be quite sure of. There are also many Biblical passages that will leave us scratching our heads and wondering what the heck is going on in them. It would be a mistake to hang your Christianity on every single issue in the Bible and on every one of your interpretations being correct. It requires work. If you want to say your interpretation is correct, you need to give a reason why you think so and then leave it to others to respond. Unfortunately, with the fundamentalist mindset, we’ve grown lazy and prefer that the text should do all the work for us.

But in interpretation, there is no excuse for laziness.

Hermeneutics is not a dirty word. We all do it everyday without realizing it. The question is not are you going to interpret the text. You will. The question is if you are going to do a good job or not.

And if you take the fundamentalist attitude, you’re already saying you’re not going to do a good job.

And if you’re not willing to study a text, don’t bother debating it. There’s no reason to take anyone seriously who has not studied the issue.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Apostles’ Creed: The Third Day

Why does the text talk about the third day? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Christians have long held that Jesus died and rose again and when He rose again, He rose on the third day. What exactly does this mean? Why does the text phrase it this way? Note how 1 Cor. 15:4 phrases it.

“that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,”

According to the Scriptures.

Now this has often been followed by our modern prooftexting idea where we will go and find the one text that Paul has in mind and see what we can get. Many people think they’ve found it in Hosea 6:1-2.

“Come, let us return to the Lord.
He has torn us to pieces
but he will heal us;
he has injured us
but he will bind up our wounds.
2 After two days he will revive us;
on the third day he will restore us,
that we may live in his presence.”

Except that this refers to Israel in a different context. Now of course, this could apply in a dual-fulfillment later on to Jesus as the true Israel, but I am doubtful that Hosea had Jesus in mind when he wrote this passage. So what is it that is really being referred to by Paul?

The best explanation I know of is to go and do a search like I did through a tool like Bible Gateway. My results can be found here. I looked for the exact phrase, third day. Now some times it could mean purely chronology, like the third day of the creation week, but it’s interesting how often the third day is referred to in the Bible.

Now another objection can be raised that Jesus said He would be in the belly of the earth for three days and three nights. Evan Fales, an atheist, in fact in “Debating Christian Theism” writes an essay on the passage and goes into a long long piece explaining his opinion on the matter missing one simple piece that never occurs to him throughout his whole work.

This is a common idiom in the Middle East.

It does not require that Jesus be buried on Wednesday night. All it requires is one understand the social context. In fact, look at the references to the third day in the Scripture and see how many of them have three days and three nights and then talk about what happened on the third day. The Pharisees say the same thing about guarding the tomb of Jesus in the end of the Gospel of Matthew itself.

So what do we conclude? This is not classical prooftexting going on that we do today such as finding a chapter and verse. This is looking at a general theme that takes place in the Scriptures and saying that Jesus fits into the paradigm. What the ancients saw was an entire tapestry of Scripture of themes that could be readily reproduced and reenacted as it were. Perhaps we should learn something about much of our modern hermeneutics today because of this?

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Is Evolution a Problem?

If macroevolution was true, would that destroy Christianity? Let’s discuss it today on Deeper Waters.

On the Facebook page supporting Mike Licona, there has been discussion about the work of Peter Enns. I do not know enough about that at this moment to comment on that. However, in discussing all of that, the question has been raised about the role of science in interpreting Scripture and what it would mean if macroevolution was true.

Please note in all of this that I am not stating whether macroevolution is in fact true or false. Frankly, I am not a scientist and do not know enough about the scientific study to make a proper assessment of the data. What I simply wish to ask is if it would be a defeater for Christian theism if it was found to be true. Note what it would take is to prove that Jesus did not rise from the dead.

I think much of the problem is that we moderns read Genesis in a way the ancients would not have. We are so scientific that we read it as if it was a scientific account. This is a mistake old-earth and young-earth creationists both make. The question we should be asking is why did God include it and why would the ancients care?

To begin with, is God telling us something just to satisfy our intellectual curiosity? No. The Bible is a book meant to tell us about Jesus and not to tell us superfluous truths. In all of this, the creation account is meant only secondarily to tell us something about creation but primarily to tell us about God.

For the people, knowing the time it took to create would not help them in their debates with pagans. Then what? Could it be that the accounts were written more to show the purpose of creation? If so, then God is using something like storytelling in a unique way to us, but something ancients would have understood.

But what if I am wrong and in fact the Bible is wrong? Well my being wrong would not be the first time, but a lot of Christians would have a problem with the Bible being wrong. I do not think that it is, but as a believer in Inerrancy, I would have to certainly rethink some matters, but I would not throw out the baby with the bathwater. More on this in a bit.

What if someone presumes evolution and comes to the Genesis text and interprets it in that light? The reality is we all do something similar. We come to the text that speaks about the four corners of the Earth in Revelation, but due to knowing the world is not flat, and knowing that the ancients knew that, we know it means something else. We know of texts that seem to teach that the Earth cannot be moved, but due to our knowledge of heliocentrism, we know that that understanding would be false.

If we want to know if evolution is true, then the place to go is a science lab. Let us suppose you say “We have Scripture and Scripture teaches it is not.” Fair enough. Then you should want to open the doors to the science lab and be able to say “Do your best research and in the end you will find that it does not hold up.” If you take a stance of not wanting to examine the evidence, then I would question how much faith you really have that the Scripture is true.

If on the other hand, you are evangelical and believe macroevolution is true, you should also be willing to say “Bring forth your toughest objections!” After all, if your belief is true, it will stand up to scrutiny. If you do not want to open yourself up, then the same question applies though to your science instead.

Now we return to this. Let us suppose for the sake of argument that macroevolution is true. Furthermore, let us suppose for the sake of argument that Scripture is incompatible with this, thus demonstrating that Scripture has an error. Again, I do not think this. I am merely taking the worst-case scenario.

Even here, Christianity is safe.

Why? One mistake does not prove it all false. For instance, Scripture teaches that Jesus existed. Are we going to deny what all scholars of the NT and ancient history would affirm just because the Bible would not be inerrant? Well then you ask, “How do we know what’s true in it?”

Let me ask you. How do you know what’s true on the internet? How do you know what’s true on TV? How do you know what’s true in that book you’re reading? If the answer is “Well I examine the evidence and I go where it leads,” then congratulations on answering your own question. We’d study the Bible the same way we do Tacitus, Josephus, or anything else.

Thus, we can believe that the Pauline epistles do contain a strong case based on the 1 Cor. 15 creed that Jesus rose from the dead alongside the information we have in Galatians. Because Genesis would be wrong, it does not follow that Paul has to be wrong. We also need to realize that people were arguing for the resurrection before any epistles or gospels were written.

In conclusion, this leaves Christianity in a powerful position. We can take what is assumed to be a defeater for our faith and show it is not. We could even for the sake of argument grant contradictions in the Bible and still demonstrate that Jesus rose from the dead. After all, we do believe for a great miracle, God left great evidence. Indeed He did, even if it was through fallible men who made mistakes.

In Christ,
Nick Peters