Book Plunge: Knowing Jesus Through The Old Testament

What do I think of Christopher Wright’s book? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

KnowingJesusOldTestament

My thanks first off go to IVP for sending me a copy of this work. It is the second edition that they sent me for all who are interested.

Let’s get a negative out of the way first because there is a lot that is good about this book. In fact, there is only one major negative that I find problematic and it was one the author explained at the beginning. That is that there is a lack of notes. Wright says he wants this to be most acceptable for a popular audience for easy reading, but I do think it could still be possible to have notes for those of us wanting to look up any claims. Lee Strobel after all wrote some excellent books for a popular audience and having notes and quotes of scholars didn’t slow that down at all. If a third edition comes out, I do hope it has that.

Now let’s get to the positives. The book is divided into six sections and each deals with both the New Testament and the Old Testament. If you’re getting this thinking that you’re going to get a list of passages in the Old Testament that are Messianic predictions of Jesus, you will not be getting that. What you will get is the grand panorama of the Old Testament played out and how Jesus saw Himself in relation to that.

Wright favors the Gospel of Matthew, which makes sense since Matthew is the most Jewish of the Gospels.He starts with the genealogy in Matthew and how we can be prone to just skip over that part without realizing Matthew put it in because he considered it important. Matthew is immediately connecting Jesus to the Old Testament so shouldn’t we see how this is done?

The first part is about the story of the Old Testament. What is going on in the Old Testament? Why did God call Abraham? Does this really bear any connection to the New Testament? Now you can understand the message of Jesus to a degree on its own, but if you really do want to understand who Jesus is, you must have a good and thorough knowledge of the Old Testament. Wright is certainly pointing to a problem in our churches that needs to be taken care of.

Next comes the promise of the Old Testament. What was really being promised to Abraham? Was the focus to always be on a piece of land in the Middle East, or is something more going on? It is by understanding the promises that God made in the Old Testament not just to Abraham but in all the other covenants, that we can truly see how Jesus is the fulfillment of those promises.

The third chapter is on identity. Who is Israel exactly? What are we to say their role is? How did Jesus see Himself in relation to Israel? This is of course one of many parts where we can get into some controversial issues, but throughout I found myself agreeing with the stance of Wright, who seemed to be a counterpart to the NT scholar N.T. Wright, and in fact, it was not a surprise to see N.T. Wright in the bibliography. Jesus is the new Israel living out the hopes and dreams of Israel and succeeding where the nation did not and living out for them the redemption they need.

The fourth is on the Old Testament Mission. Once we know what Israel truly is, what was their purpose? How did their purpose affect Jesus and His view of Himself? Did Jesus come without a purpose and did He act without a plan or was He deliberately working on a mission. Was the crucifixion an accident that Jesus never wanted to have happen or a last-ditch effort to pull off what He wanted, or was it what He had in mind all along?

The fifth is Jesus and Old Testament Values. Now here I would have liked to have seen a little bit more, especially as one who deals with all the supposedly problematic morality in the Old Testament. Still, Wright does bring out how much of our modern morality is really nothing new. It comes straight from the Old Testament and how this way of thinking shaped Jesus to live out His life the way He did.

Finally, what about the Old Testament God? Wright deals with a common claim in this one that says “Why didn’t Jesus just come out explicitly and say ‘I’m God!’ ” Wright points out how problematic that would be since God would be a loaded term and Jesus would have been confused with the Father. Instead, Jesus spoke by His actions and let His disciples work out the results, and indeed they did. Wright is certainly correct that the view of Jesus as being in the divine identity was extremely early.

Again, my main criticism was the lack of notes and scholarly quotations, but overall, that should not detract from the gold mine of information available here. Knowing where these claims can be easily found would make this far more helpful, but for the lay reader, they will still get plenty, as will the more academic reader, like myself, who prefers to read something quite meaty.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

How To Not Make A Messiah

If you were to create an account of a Messiah for the people of Israel, what would you not do? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Many times we’re told about how Jesus was a made-up figure meant to inspire the people of Israel and to be a challenge to Caesar. All manner of motives have been given for this great hoax to take place, but I’d like to consider this idea. What kind of Messiah would you make if you wanted one just to win a popularity contest and get the people to follow you? I think it’s easier to talk about what you would not do.

First, you would not have anything that would indicate that the birth of such a person was illegitimate. That is, you would want him to be a descendant of his father and his mother. Some might think it would be good to have a deity bring the child into existence in a more direct way, but for a Jew, this would seem too close to paganism. Therefore, you will have them come from a family of high honor.

You also would make sure that this family would be a wealthy family. This would fit the scene of your Messiah. After all, in the ancient world, poor people were not trusted. Rich ones were the ones that had the favor of the gods and the poor were the ones who were more prone to deceive you because you have something they want.

You will also make sure this Messiah comes from a town that is well-known and honorable. You’d avoid a no-name town that no one cares about such as, oh, Nazareth. The birthplace of your Messiah will be a determining factor of his future after all.

You will also seek to have him come from a region that is not looked down on in the world, such as the area that we call Palestine today. Claims from that part of the world were not taken seriously by the populace as a whole so while this might impress Jews, it would certainly not impress Gentiles.

You would make sure this person has a great career. They would likely be a king or a military leader. For the Jews, this would mean someone in the line of David, who the Messiah was to be a descendant of. For Gentiles, a powerful warrior would earn their respect, especially for those who were not happy with the Roman Empire.

You would not have this person be a miracle man. Why? Because people like Lucian and others made it a habit to debunk miracle claims and the world was full of people who were skeptical of miracles. Adding miracles would make your messiah seem like the modern equivalent of a televangelist.

You would make sure his followers were the best of the best. That would mean people who fully understood his teachings and embraced the reality of who he was. Not having your Messiah be understood would be an indication that your Messiah was not a good teacher. He would also be known by the company of his closest followers.

You would make sure his immediate family accepted his claims as well. After all, if one’s own family doesn’t accept one’s unique claims about oneself, then why should anyone else do so? Having the recognition of your family is important in this field.

You would have him travel abundantly. This is the Messiah who is to save the world after all. There’s no need to limit him to one country or people. Go out and spread him with all the world and make sure he has a worldwide reputation.

You would have him be embraced by all his people. After all, why should anyone think that a person is the Messiah of the Jews if it turns out the Jews themselves do not accept such a claim? How could someone proclaim such a message with confidence.

You would certainly not have him die a shameful death. Now for a shameful death, I can’t think of any more shameful than crucifixion. This was the humiliation given to dissidents of Rome who were seeking to be their own kings. Such people would be branded as traitors to Rome and defeated by the Roman Empire. For a Jew, they would be seen as under God’s curse. In any way, following such a person would mean identifying with him, something that would dissuade people from following him.

If this Messiah figure died, you would make sure he had an honorable burial. That would mean that all the people would come immediately to mourn him. He would be mourned by his family and he would be buried in the tomb of his ancestors and near the place where he lived. Anything else would be dishonorable.

This person if dead would be divinely exalted. This would mean this person was immediately ushered into the presence of God and received vindication that way. Any other way, like a bodily resurrection, would be far harder to explain after all and be the route that could be most easily disproven, which is not helpful if you’re making up this claim. You want something that cannot be disproven at all. Besides, this is what happened to the emperor and you’re wanting to rival the emperor. Who wants a bodily resurrection anyway? That returns you to a prison.

You would also make sure your belief was not exclusive. Your messiah would be a divine figure indeed, but he would be one among many. This would be someone that your Gentile friends after all could worship along with all their other deities.

Now these ideas are important to follow, but it would be difficult to follow all of them, though possible. Still, one should be absolutely certain that any belief that went against all of these would have to be doomed to failure. That would be the last kind of Messiah that anyone would make up and follow.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: How Jesus Became God

What do I think of Bart Ehrman’s latest book? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

There is an increasing pattern in Ehrman’s books. He is more and more hesitant to interact with that which disagrees with him and goes more on his own pronouncements or only the people who agree with him. I refer to this as an argument with just one-hand clapping. Naturally, if one is a scholar one can and should speak with one’s own authority and one should cite those who agree with you, but one should also have extended argument with those who disagree. No Ph.D. dissertation would be accepted without interacting with opposing views, yet Ehrman writes books where he does not deal with the best that disagrees with him.

Consider for instance that he asks the question about miracles and history on pages 147-8. Does he interact with Keener, who wrote the massive two-volume work “Miracles”? Not a bit. The reader who never knew about Keener will leave this work not knowing about Keener. He writes about the burial customs in Israel. Does he interact with someone like Craig Evans? No. Evans is never interacted with in the book. He writes about the idea of a spiritual body in 1 Cor. 15, but he never interacts with the work of Licona and Wright where both address this as an extended length. This is most revealing since he refers to both of these books for those who want to read a defense of the resurrection. His whole book is on Christology and yet, Hurtado and Hengel are barely mentioned. Bauckham is never once mentioned.

Ehrman also comes at this from a heavily fundamentalist standpoint. He has the view that if Jesus really thought that He was God, shouldn’t He have mentioned this?” Well, no. Not really. Had Jesus gone and done something explicit like that, it would have led to further confusion. What does He mean? Is He saying He is God the Father? After all, Jesus was often interacting with the common man and not the trained theologian, and even those would have a hard time with the concept, as we still do today.

The same happened with Jesus’s claims to be the Messiah. It is extremely rare that we see Jesus explicitly say that He is the Christ, and this is not before a public audience. He does actions however to show that this is how He sees Himself. These include actions such as the triumphant entry. Why would He go this way? Because had He come right out and said “I’m the Messiah” we would expect people would be ready to lead a revolt against Rome and not to be people who would be His disciples seeking to grow in holiness.

Ehrman also thinks something like the virgin birth should have been mentioned by other writers. Yet why should it? We consider it fascinating, but the ancients, especially Jews, not so much. For Jews, it would be close to paganism and it would in fact implicate YHWH in Mary being pregnant outside of marriage. That would also lead to charges of Jesus being illegitimate, not something you want to announce about your Messiah. David Instone-Brewer even includes the virgin birth in his book “The Jesus Scandals” as something the evangelists would prefer to avoid talking about. He also ignores that Mark is an inclusio account giving the testimony of Peter, who would not have been present for the virgin birth. As for John, well He has quite an exalted intro for Jesus already. It’s hard to think how a virgin birth could improve that.

This is a constant problem for Ehrman. He thinks everything needs to be mentioned explicitly, but why should it? In the synoptics, we are even told that Jesus did not speak plainly. He spoke in parables. He was giving a message that those who were true seekers would find it. Ehrman’s view relies on an approach of the Bible as a fax from Heaven that will spell out for us what we want to know. It is highly fundamentalist and shows Ehrman never got past his fundamentalist background that he grew up with.

For Christology, Ehrman never has prolonged interaction with the Shema. He does cite 1 Cor. 8:4-6, but you’d never see the connection with the Shema, the great statement of monotheism that shaped Jewish culture. The only extended argument he has is with Phil. 2:6-11. His main focal point to start off with is in fact Galatians 4:14. It’s an oddity that when Paul calls Christ “God” in Romans 9:5, Paul agrees, but thinks he doesn’t mean Jesus is ontologically God, despite later texts having the same implication in Romans 10. Thus, when Paul speaks most explicitly, Ehrman reinterprets it to suit his own viewpoint. When Jesus doesn’t speak explicitly, Ehrman asks why He didn’t do so.

As for church history, there is just as much absent. There is no extended argument with Irenaeus and Athenagoras for instance. Again, this is the constant flaw in Ehrman. He is extremely selective with what he cites. Now of course, one cannot cite everything, but one should cite the main figures.

It’s also tragic because of so much that Ehrman gets right. He is right that Jesus believed He was the Messiah. He is in fact right when He argues that Jesus said much that could get Him to be seen as the Wisdom of God. He is right that Jesus was an apocalyptic preacher. It is as if Ehrman is right on the edge but then wants to step back by just saying “Well He doesn’t say anything that is explicit!”

This is the sad aspect of it. Ehrman does know how to do scholarship and yet the ignoring of the best against him leaves one wondering why is this the case? IF Ehrman’s case is as strong as he thinks it is, why does he hesitate to point out those who disagree with him? Perhaps he should in fact mention them more explicitly than he normally does? (Odd for someone isn’t it who wants to hear truths expressed explicitly so much.) The tragedy will go both ways as there are too many atheists who read Ehrman as the last word just as there are too many Christians who read their side as the last word. Interact with both.

I have earlier written a review of “How God Became Jesus.” After reading Ehrman’s book, I do stand by that review. I encourage those wanting to study this issue to read both books.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

The Apostles’ Creed: Christ

What difference does it make to say Jesus is the Christ? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

When we say Jesus is the Christ, we mean that He is the long awaited Messiah of the Jewish people. Christ is the Greek rendering of the word for Messiah after all. Yet what difference does this make to those of us who are not Jews? Does it really matter? Is this just a nice little add-on for the Christian faith?

Considering that it’s called “Christian” which includes Messiah in it then, we should be thinking it might be important that Jesus is the Messiah.

In the Old Testament, we see a story talking place. Things are good at the start, and then there’s a problem. Sin enters into the world through Adam and the rest of the Old Testament is dealing with this problem. God’s chosen means of dealing with it is to call out a people and He starts with a man named Abraham. From there, we really start seeing the prophecies of a future redeemer.

The Jewish people then were waiting for that ruler to come and many times might have tried to make such a ruler, but none could be that person. King Uzziah, for instance, though he could be a priest as well as a king. No can do. Only the Messiah can be a priest and a king. David was a righteous man, but never tried to be anything more than a king, though he was a prophet also.

As time went on, the wait grew more and more. In the intertestamental literature with the writings of Second Temple Judaism, we find even more hope for the coming Messiah. We see more and more about what the Messiah is predicted to be. Since there writings are not Scripture, naturally some things get wrong, but not all of them.

When Jesus shows up and claims to be the Messiah, it means that God has come to His people in His person. It means that God is going to reign as king and Jesus will be the king through whom He reigns. It means that the problem of sin is finally being taken care of and that Jesus is ruling once and for all.

To remove Jesus as Messiah is to remove the connection with the promises of Israel and to have Jesus be a figure who just seems to show up suddenly and happens to be God. Too many Christians are really unfamiliar with their Old Testament and think only the New Testament is important. This is a grave mistake. The Old Testament was in fact the Bible of the early church. From Paul’s repeated references to it as authoritative even in Gentile churches, we should understand that Gentiles were quickly learning the Old Testament. From the obscure references that Paul makes at times, we should understand that they understood it well. We should sadly understand that they likely paid more attention to it than we do.

This should also remind us that anti-semitism has no place in a Christian lifestyle. Christians are not to hate Jews at all and sadly, many times in church history they have. Jews and Gentiles alike need a redeemer, but it would be tragically wrong to label Jews as Christ-killers. Only one generation killed Christ. Unless the Jew you’re talking to is around 2,000 years old and lived in Israel at the time and participated in the desire to kill Christ and has not repented, avoid the Christ-killer claim.

Instead, Christians should love the Jews. They gave us the Old Testament that we use today and they gave us our Messiah as well. Many readers know that I do not support Israel today for theological reasons but rather for political and economic reasons, but that does not mean that I do not care for the Jewish people over there. They are our friends against the onslaught of Islam over there and I have no problem with missionaries reaching out to the Jewish people. (Or the Muslim people, or any other people, for that matter.)

When we see Jesus as the Jewish Messiah, we see what He came to do and why that it matters. We see an emphasis then on His being the current king. We often talk about what a friend we have in Jesus, but we dare not treat Jesus like any other relationship. Too often I think we have crept into a kind of “Buddy Jesus” mindset. Jesus is the sovereign Lord of the universe and you are to treat Him with respect and awe.

The word Gospel is meant to convey good news, and indeed we do have good news. It’s not just that you can be forgiven of your sins, which is good news enough in itself, but it’s also that Jesus is king of the universe right now and based on His resurrection, we can be sure that one day He will deal with evil once and for all.

Messiah is not an add-on for Jesus. It is an essential.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Deeper Waters Podcast 12/14/2013

What’s coming up this Saturday on the Deeper Waters Podcast? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

You all know that on the Deeper Waters Podcast, I strive to bring you the best in Christian scholarship. I also want to share the work of others who are coming up in the field and are quite able apologists themselves, such as when I interviewed my friend Chris Winchester on dealing with Mythicists.

But every now and then I make an exception and get a guy like Eric Chabot to come on.

Naw! Eric is a good friend of mine and his specialty is in Messianic apologetics, which means this week we talked about Jesus and Judaism, something relevant for Christmas time as we talk about the incarnation and the fact that this happened for the Jewish people.

The show was recorded earlier today. It’s not the pattern that I normally follow, but I did it this time to work with our schedules. Therefore, anything I tell you about in the show is something that we already discussed. Unfortunately, this also means we were unable to take your calls, but it is a topic that is important and will be coming up again.

The incarnation is a stumbling block to Jews because they have the idea that God is not to become a man. This gets into for them what they consider to be idolatry and polytheism. Is this the case? Is this what we see in the NT? Do the Jews who wrote it ever think for a minute that they are engaging in idolatry or polytheism? How do we answer the charge that that is in fact what they are doing?

This will get us into the OT interpretation. Does the OT teach the deity of the coming Messiah? If it doesn’t right at the start, does it anywhere? Does the doctrine of progressive revelation play any role in the Jewish understanding of the OT?

Also, what about Judaism at the time of Jesus? How would Jesus have been viewed in light of Second Temple Judaism? What in fact is Second Temple Judaism? What categories did they have for the Word, the Wisdom, and the Shekinah glory of God? Did Jesus make any claims about Himself that would relate to the understanding of Second Temple Judaism of those topics?

Why is it that someone can be an atheist and be accepted just fine by several Jews, but when someone becomes a Messianic Jew who believes in Jesus, they can be rejected? Why is it that to believe in Jesus is seen as being tantamount to denying one’s Jewish identity?

And of course, what role does the OT have to play for Christians today? Is it irrelevant to us, or should we instead view it as the Bible that Jesus, Paul, and the early church all used? How ought we to read the OT today?

It was a fascinating show and I ask that you listen in. I am counting on the CYI staff to be playing it from 3-5 PM EST this Saturday. You could if you want listen to it early and do so here.

In Christ,
Nick Peters