Book Plunge: Raised on the Third Day

What do I think of Mike Licona and David Beck’s work published by Lexham Press? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Gary Habermas has done more in defending the resurrection of Jesus in scholarly work than anyone I can think of save going back to the apostle Paul. Not only that, he keeps doing more. Also, he has the character of one who is meant to be an apologist. He not only deals with the resurrection, but especially deals with doubters and will invest plenty of time on them and answers all of his own emails and phone calls.

This is a work dedicated to Gary Habermas with a range of scholars coming together, all of whom have been impacted in some way by Gary and his work. The book has some of everything. Some chapters I didn’t understand at first, such as Francis Beckwith’s chapter on legal issues involving the redefinition of marriage, until I found out that Gary has an interest in that area as well.

Want to know about substance dualism? J.P. Moreland delivers. What to know about the Shroud of Turin? Barry Schwortz is here. You can discuss the moral argument and purity in the Gospel of John in relation to the empty tomb.

Veterans and novices alike will find something in this book that can greatly help them. Those with legal challenges will find Francis Beckwith’s work fascinating. Those interested in the Shroud again will enjoy the chapter by Schwortz that discusses the history. Mike Licona’s chapter will be of interest to those who hear the argument about the authorship of the texts being in question with what he says about ancient historians.

The book also has personal looks at Gary Habermas. The two that are in this field are Alex McFarland and Frank Turek. I want to take some time to personally expound on this issue from my own personal position.

Many of you know that I know Gary Habermas personally. If I send him an email, I can normally expect that within 24 hours, he will respond to that email. There have been times that I have called him on the phone and he said that he only had ten minutes he could give, but he ends up giving an hour.

Gary’s personal investment in taking the time to meet with people he doesn’t know and invest in them, even hardened skeptics, is a testament to his character. I was never a hardened skeptic, but he took the time to invest in me once and has helped me tremendously. With the trouble that is going on in my own marriage right now, Gary has been an invaluable help to me.

When I in the past had been caught in the throes of extreme depression over the situation, Gary was right there willing to help. I could call him feeling utterly miserable and hang up feeling good. As one can expect, I would not be filled with joy, but Gary is a good listener who knows the psychology of what he speaks and knows how to talk to people who are suffering. This is fitting for him since he himself went through that with the death of his first wife, Debbie.

That having been said then, that is about the only lack in this book is a chapter on dealing with doubt. This has been an emphasis of Gary Habermas for a long time and it is something that any great thinker will deal with. I know many skeptics reading this will say it as a smear that an apologist can have doubt, but if anyone who is a serious thinker doesn’t ever have doubts about their position, I consider them NOT taking that position seriously.

Thus, if I would have changed anything about the book, I would have included one chapter on the different kinds of doubt and how to deal with them. It would have included an emphasis on emotional doubt since that is the one most common on a personal level. Such a chapter would be a benefit to many apologists and to any seekers reading the book.

Still, this is a fine book to read. It is an excellent tribute to an excellent man. Gary Habermas is a gift to the Christian apologetics community and we can be thankful for what he has done.

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)
Support my Patreon here.

Thank You, SES

Why can’t we be friends? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Many of you know years ago I was a student at Southern Evangelical Seminary. It had been a dream of mine to graduate from there one day. Then while there, I heard about a girl, specifically, Allie Licona, the daughter of Mike and Debbie Licona. That was her name then at least. Today, it’s Allie Peters.

Shortly after we got married, Mike published his big book on the resurrection of Jesus. Mike was also at the time a visiting professor at SES. However, not too long after that book came out, Norman Geisler accused Mike of denying inerrancy for his position on the resurrection of the saints in Matthew 27.

At that point, I made the decision that I had to step in and I did. Geisler had been a mentor of mine, but this was a ridiculous charge I thought and it was going after family. I decided to step into the ring and take on Geisler, which I hadn’t done before. My ministry partner, J.P. Holding, also joined in.

That meant for me leaving behind SES as well, which was very hard. Academically, I think everyone would agree I was an excellent student. However, since I took on Geisler, I was sure I would not be allowed to graduate anyway.

The inerrancy wars went on for some time but fortunately, I haven’t heard anything from them in awhile. Not too long ago, Geisler passed away also. I was not sure how this would affect the wars, but I knew something would be different. I do know SES still does the apologetics conference, but I haven’t been since the whole thing started.

So what a shock when Gary Habermas sends Mike and Debbie and I an email with announcements from SES. Gary told us to look at the sixth item listed. What do I see?

“Many of you know that Dr. Mike Licona and Dr. Geisler had their rather public disagreements over the nature of the inerrancy of Scripture. Dr. Licona has even debated our own Dr. Richard Howe about this important issue at our National Conference. Regardless of our differences, Dr. Licona is a dear brother in Christ whom we love. His lovely daughter is married to an SES alum, and they could really use our help to cover some very serious medical bills for some very serious and essential treatment. You can learn more about the need and how to give at the link below. Thank you.”

That link is also still up if you want to donate.

I messaged the person behind putting it up there since Mike told me who it was and I offered my thanks. I made a public post on Facebook and I want to make a more public one here. In our conversation, we both agreed that inerrancy is an important issue, something J.P. Holding and I both hold to, but that we should be willing to better discuss our disagreements.

I really hope that this will be the beginning of many conversations on how we can unite as Christians. I was pleased to see the above not only good words about Mike, but good words about me as an SES alum. Nothing was said about the disputes that we had. Not a thing. After all, if any event was worth putting aside our differences, something like this is.

As I was thinking about writing this, I thought about Peter and Paul in Galatians. Odds are, Peter wasn’t really too happy with Paul when Paul called him out to his face because he was sure Peter was in the wrong. Some scholars posit a major rift taking place between the two.

But if you read other epistles in the New Testament, like 2 Peter, it looks like things were worked out. Peter refers to Paul as a brother at that point. We may not know how they worked out the issue, and apparently that was a major issue, but they worked it out.

I am very grateful to SES for what I consider not just an act of charity, but a kind olive branch as well. This is the way that Christians are to interact with one another really. The inerrancy wars were not good for us, but hopefully the inerrancy peace that could come will be much better. Maybe in the end we still won’t agree, but we can still unite together and as Geisler once said in paraphrase, go after an anti-theist instead of a fellow Christian theist.

Thanks to SES for including us and getting the word out about Allie’s treatment.

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

On The Passing of Norman Geisler

What do we see when the time comes? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

For those who don’t know, Norman Geisler passed away today. I heard the news probably within the last hour. It is official as it is on his own Facebook page and has been confirmed numerous times.

Many of you know that Dr. Geisler and I weren’t on the best of terms. Being the son-in-law of Michael Licona, I didn’t really care for when he went after my family and made charges against my father-in-law. That being said, some of you could be surprised to see me writing something about him.

It’s easy to write about those who love us and those who appreciate us. It’s not the best way though. When my wife and I heard about him having bleeding in the brain late at night due to a tweet from Bill Roach, we prayed for him. We had already prayed for the night, but we did so again for him. I saw last night about him being in a coma and checked this morning thinking it would happen any day now. I wasn’t really surprised when I saw it today.

Many of you know my wife is exploring Eastern Orthodoxy and is going down that path. I am not going down that road, but I do think there is some wisdom there. I do know that when we’re in a service, at one point the priest says “For those who love us and those who hate us.”

I am not saying Geisler hated us. I doubt that at all. But I am saying that those people sometimes who we seem to have something against or seem to have something against us or both are still made in the image of God. They make mistakes. We all do. Do I think Geisler treated my family right? Nope. Have I always treated everyone else right? Heck, no. Should I not show the grace that has been shown to me?

I also do appreciate the contributions Geisler made to the field in his early days. Many people got their start in apologetics because Geisler carried the ball and passed it on to us. When I went to SES, it was because of Geisler and he did treat me well for the time being there, but then the event happened with Mike and things went sour.

While things weren’t the best, if anything has been being shown to me lately, it’s that any anger towards someone else like that really doesn’t do any good. I can be angry with my fellow man all day and he’ll be just fine, provided I don’t act out on him in my anger. Who will be hurt the most? It will be me. It will also be those closest to me who have to put up with my attitude.

So as we come to this time, I choose to look back on the good. Honestly, when my time comes, there will be enough bad things I have done in my life that are shameful. I would hope people would not remember me for those. As the priest told us all in a service once, we should not refer to the apostle as Doubting Thomas because if we all took a snapshot of ourselves at the lowest point of our lives, we’d all look bad. This doubter most likely died a martyr for Jesus in India. Let’s remember that.

Geisler did much good for the kingdom and most apologists today owe some debt to him. While there were disagreements, there is coming a kingdom where all of us will embrace. Every argument we had down here will seem petty by comparison.

Maybe we should start treating them that way right now.

RIP Norman Geisler.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Evidence Considered Chapter 39?

Is Jesus the only way? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

In this chapter, Jelbert takes on Mike Licona’s essay on Jesus being the only way. I do agree that this is not evidence for God, per se, but there are still matters to deal with here. So let’s get started and see what we have to say about what Jelbert said.

Jelbert again says that since Licona says the resurrection is the prize puzzle in an earlier chapter, that means that the resurrection is not yet established. If he means established to the satisfaction of everyone, sure, but on those grounds evolution is not yet established and even Intelligent Design is somewhat established. What I take Licona to mean is that this is the topic that is the hardest to tackle in historical Jesus scholarship.

Next, Jelbert says Jesus is saving us from Himself, though considering the horrid understanding he has of the Trinity, I suspect Jelbert really means the Father. Jelbert tells us that if an earthly father locked his daughter up unless she said she wasn’t better than Hitler, we would not regard that as generous salvation. If he went on to say that she needed to pay for her sins, but he was going to smash his hand with a hammer instead, the result would be horrification.

None of this is an accurate picture. For one thing, not all of us are children of God in the sense of part of the family yet. We all come from Him, but some of us are rebels. There’s also the idea on Jelbert’s part that the children are presumed innocent and the only problem is they don’t stroke God’s ego.

Also, forgiveness is really the paying of debts to some extent. In that case, it is entirely fair for someone else to pay the debt for someone else. This happens regularly today still.

Jelbert also says that he found a problem going through Evidence for God in that he would be told he has a conscience which is evidence of God, but when it comes to doctrines like Hell and Christian exclusivism, then we don’t listen to that conscience. Fortunately, I don’t use that argument. I realize we all have a sense of right and wrong, but that has been seared as it were and is not infallible. Our ideas are more impacted by culture than we realize.

Jelbert moves on to saying that if you do believe in hell, you are obliged to try to convert people. Licona says that anyone is free to say “No thanks.” Jelbert says this ignores plenty of times of forced conversion and such in church history. It also ignores Christianity trying to force its way into the public school system. Jelbert is making too much out of one statement. It is ridiculous to think that Licona is supposed to speak on behalf of all of Christian history. As for science education, I do not support ID, but I have no problem with them wanting to get their ideas into the public marketplace. Why not bring them in and discuss them? Are atheists afraid they cannot expose them?

Jelbert also brings up Deuteronomy 13:6-15 where people who try to convert Israelites are to be killed. That’s also because Israel was under a Suzerainty covenant where loyalty to the sovereign was to be expected and anything contrary would be rebellion and in a society where communal thinking was the norm, a little leaven would work through the whole dough. We are the weirdos in this regard. Our individualism is the outlier. To some extent, we still have this. When we have people who promote disorder in the society, we lock them up in prisons away from the general population.

Licona also says those who complain about exclusivism being intolerant are themselves being intolerant. Jelbert says that a person can be tolerated while their beliefs are not. This is true, but I suspect Licona is talking about a much more modern view of ideas where holding a disagreeing opinion is considered intolerant. Jelbert is right on a classical definition of tolerance. Licona is right if he is going with the modern notion, which I think he is.

Jelbert also says the Christian beliefs aren’t much comfort in general in times of pain. Perhaps sometimes they are not. Sometimes they are awful. So what? Sometimes, they are a help. I could just as well ask what help is an atheist belief in time of pain? This is just the way reality is? Get used to it? Life is a pain and then you die and it never mattered anyway? The hope of the resurrection for me, as a Christian, is a very real hope.

Jelbert also tells us a lot about himself in that when he realized he didn’t believe in God, he first thought of hell and what if he was wrong. Then he says that if God wants him to believe, God will convince him. Yes. After all, it’s God’s job to do the work. I have written about this before in God being treated like a trivia question.

In closing, I would like to explain why Jesus is the only way. Jesus is the only way because He is the only one who did anything about the problem, which is sin. He is the only one who comes from the only true God and can represent us. No other religious figure did anything about the problem. Hence, Jesus is the only way.

Some might be wondering about those who never heard. That will be dealt with later on. When it comes up, we will deal with it.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Evidence Considered Chapter 36

Were the resurrection appearances hallucinations? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

It’s been awhile since we looked at Glenton Jelbert’s work. Let’s get back into that. This time, we’re looking at his response to Michael Licona’s chapter on the appearances. Thankfully, there is no denial that the appearances happened. The difference is still based on what they are.

Jelbert quotes Licona who quotes Dale Allison saying that the topic of the historicity of the resurrection is the prize puzzle of New Testament scholarship. Jelbert tells us that this sentence succinctly concedes atheism and shows the presuppositional nature of the research. The quote shows that even conservative scholars agree more evidence is needed.

I have looked over this time and time again and wondered how Jelbert has arrived at this conclusion. Jelbert seems to have this tendency to make grand leaps without showing he’s really understood what has been said and is assuming a conclusion thinking everyone else will see how obvious it will. No. We won’t.

All Allison is saying is that the question of Jesus is the great topic of controversy in New Testament Studies. A number of New Testament scholars on both sides don’t even touch it. I still have no idea how Jelbert arrived at the conclusion that he did, but even if he does arrive at that conclusion, he should tell his readers how he arrived at it.

Jelbert quotes Licona speaking about the possibility of one person saying “I see Jesus here” and then another saying something else and hysteria developing. There is a great problem with this. I say this as a man married to a woman who has hallucinations. Normally, these hallucinations are all realized quickly. The only exception would be an extreme case of schizophrenia like that in A Beautiful Mind.

Of course, for this to follow, this must mean that of all the people Jesus chose to be His disciples, all of them had to have this kind of schizophrenia or something similar. After all, normally once a hallucination is done, while there can be some fear associated with it, it is realized to be a hallucination and one moves on. For the disciples, there is no indication that they moved on. They were convinced this was real.

Licona then quotes Gary Sibcy who says that there is no record in the peer-reviewed journal of a documented case of a group hallucination. Jelbert responds that the apparitions of Mary, including the famous example of appearances to six children in 1981 in Medjugorje suggest otherwise.

Yet here, Jelbert is assuming what he needs to prove. Let’s consider some points. First off, it could be the children are playing and that they are the only ones claiming to see something, but if playing, this is not a mass hallucination and if all we have are children seeing this while doing this and adults there claiming to believe them, that is a mass delusion and not a mass hallucination. I am not saying this is what happened. I am saying this is a possibility.

Second possibility, it could be the Catholics are right and this is an appearance of Mary. Again, as a non-Catholic, I am skeptical, but it would explain the data. If so, then this is not a hallucination.

Third, it could be that there was something there, but that this was a demon posing as the Virgin Mary. Again, I am not saying this is what happened but presenting all possibilities. Again, if there really was something there, then this is not a mass hallucination.

What Jelbert needs to do is demonstrate that there was no external referent. Since I doubt he was at the event, I don’t think he can do this. Further, the only way to establish there was no such referent is if he says there was no referent because such appearances by demons or the Virgin Mary do not happen and we know this because these things don’t exist. In this case, he is the one arguing in a circle.

When we get to Paul, Jelbert says Paul watched Stephen get stoned and heard Stephen talking about heaven opening and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God. He says it’s not hard to imagine such an emotional and traumatic experience impressing even an “enemy.” Well, yes, if you want to do psycho-history and assume people in the ancient world thought just like we do. There’s no indication that Saul had any guilt whatsoever in what he was doing and was still going through it. This is just an account given to explain data away without any real support. This seems to be a common ploy in atheist critiques of events.

  1. Take an event hard to explain.
  2. Give a story that you think explains the situation without any hard data to back it.
  3. Assume the problem is dealt with.

He also tells us that the appearances traditions contradict. If we just go with the ones in 1 Cor. 15, which are sufficient, we don’t have a problem. Still, Jelbert’s work is sloppy here. He says that Luke has the ascension at the end of his first book and then forty days later. Let’s start with a basic assumption. Luke is not an idiot. He knows what he’s doing. He is just condensing a large portion of material into a small space.

He also says John 21 is plainly the same story as Luke 5. It’s just moved to the end. Again, why should I think that? Could not Jesus have done this again to remind the disciples of a past event where He showed who He was?

Jelbert also says that Ehrman points out doubt in the appearances. One verse is in Matthew 28:17, but I don’t think this is doubt about Jesus’s resurrection, but doubt about if they should worship Him or not. That Jesus gave many proofs isn’t a problem either. We don’t know for sure what He was doing, but apparently Ehrman is sure He knows why. Could He not be showing them the wonders of the resurrected body that they will have some day?

He also looks at Luke 23:43. He sees a problem in Jesus saying that the robber would be with Him in paradise today. Why? Jesus goes to a waiting intermediate state before His resurrection with the robber. That’s not a problem. Yet Jelbert says that maybe the comma is in the wrong place and it’s Jesus just saying that He’s saying this today.

First off, what’s the point of saying He’s saying it today? When else will He tell it? This explanation doesn’t fit.

Second, most Greek experts think the placement of the comma is just fine. What evidence does Jelbert have otherwise? Let’s see. The United Church of God. The UCG is not considered an orthodox Christian demonination at all. Why not go to a New Testament scholar instead?

Jelbert also says that shifts in doctrine could occur easily at the start where oral tradition was the main way of communicating. There are problems here of course. The first is that the best place for evidence is 1 Cor. 15 and that’s at the start of the oral tradition. Second is that oral tradition is really a great way of communicating information and Jelbert has done no research into how it is done or at least hasn’t shown it.

In the end, I find Jelbert’s case extremely lacking. If he would rather believe in a mass hallucination that we have no data for, then it reminds me that once again, an atheist will often choose to believe anything rather than to believe the resurrection happened. Any port in a storm will do.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Does It Matter If The Resurrection Is A Metaphor?

Does it matter if the resurrection was literal? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Wednesday night, I was at the debate between my father-in-law, Mike Licona, and John Dominic Crossan about who the historical Jesus was and how he saw himself. I hate to say it, but it really wasn’t much of a debate because I don’t think anyone really understood what Crossan was arguing. Crossan was putting practically everything into the world of metaphor and saying that the message was a metaphor and that he would die for a metaphor and if the resurrection is literal, what difference would it make? The real question is are we living resurrected lives.

When I got up to ask a question, I said my wife and I enjoy being married. Still, we wonder what will happen when our time comes. Will we be together forever? I replied that a literal resurrection can assure us that we will be. What hope can a metaphor give us?

The reply was something along the lines of how the message was not the resurrection of individuals but that the human race would overcome. The violence of Rome would be overthrown by non-violence. This is supposedly the good news of Jesus.

There are a number of things I wonder about this, such as how this Jesus got crucified. Despite that, there is one thing I want to focus on. The resurrection. Does it make a difference if it’s a metaphor or literal?

I’m not going to go into making a whole case for the resurrection. That has been done plenty of times elsewhere. I am going to be emphasizing the difference it makes and to be fair, it is easy to miss this many times.

One big difference is that we live in a world where death is a reality. We see it all around us. We know that when the game over comes for someone, it really is game over barring a miracle. It’s a sad reality. When we bury a loved one, they are dead, and the relationship is not the same.

Will it ever be? Is that it?

We live in a world of injustice. Recently here in Atlanta, we had a police officer shot who died from that and his killer was found within 48 hours and also died when he pulled out a weapon on police officers. There are many crimes that take place and sadly, the culprit is never found. Some people seem to go free.

Will there ever be justice?

Sometimes people die from disease. Our friend, Nabeel Qureshi, died from stomach cancer at an extremely young age. Just today in my Facebook memories I saw something about a friend who passed away last year. She was an older lady, but it’s still hard to see.

Will this ever be righted?

What about our universe itself? Some of you out there I am sure believe we are responsible for some climate change. We live in a world there does seem to be a lot of destruction. We want to colonize other planets, but even if we do, the universe is destined to die a cold death and take us with it.

Is there any point?

What about our bodies themselves? Do they matter? Are human beings just objects. Does it matter what I do with my body? Does it matter how I behave sexually or how my diet is?

What difference does it make?

This is why the resurrection matters? Will we live again and see each other again? Yes. Will evil be judged and good rewarded? Yes. Will lives be redeemed that died from tragic disease? Yes. Will the Earth and the universe be renewed and made eternal paradises? Yes. Do our bodies matter and how we treat them? Yes.

The resurrection matters.

It matters that it’s literal.

I think I’ll stick with the literal resurrection. That’s the good news that overcame the Earth. Christianity isn’t just a nice story. It’s a reality about the world and everything in it.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Those interested in the debate can listen to it here.

Book Plunge: Evidence Considered Chapter 30

What do we make of Jesus being said to be the Son of God? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

We continue our look at Glenton Jelbert’s work with him taking on the first part of Ben Witherington’s work on Jesus. In this chapter, it is about Jesus being the Son of God. Son of God did not equate to divinity in Judaism. For the pagans, it would have done that, but it certainly would not be in a monotheistic sense.

Witherington does say that Mark quotes “You are my Son” and leaves out “Today I have become your Father” to show that this is not adoptionism. It is recognition of who Jesus is by the Father. Witherington also argues that Jesus did have a unique relationship to God in praying to Him as abba, a term of endearment. Jesus also saw Himself as central to a relationship with YHWH for those estranged from Him.

Witherington also looks at the Johannine thunderbolt. This is Matthew 11:27. In this, Jesus sees Himself as the unique conduit of knowledge between God and man. The only way to know God is through Jesus.

Witherington also offers the parables. In the parable of the tenants, Jesus makes a strong implication to being the Son of God. Jesus understood that in some way, He had a unique connection to God.

Jelbert responds that looking at the argument, it’s clear these were not strong divinity claims. I disagree. Jelbert doesn’t say anything beyond his claim so one could say I don’t have to say anything more.

I will say more. I will say that Jesus approached God in a unique way not seen by any other teacher of His day. Jesus’s statements would be blasphemous on the lips of anyone else. These were the kinds of statements that led to His being crucified and also to nearly being stoned several times.

Jelbert says that in the last essay we were to look at the unquoted context about the Son of Man and assume it applies to Jesus. Here, we are to ignore it and assume it does. I am puzzled as to what is meant by unquoted context. Context of a passage normally isn’t quoted period. It’s just assumed.

Jelbert says that a plain reading shows terms weren’t linked to divinity. Witherington has quoted 1 Timothy 2:5 about one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus. Jelbert tells us the verse specifically cited says Jesus is a man.

I am sure Witherington would be extremely grateful for this. No doubt, in all of his reading of the text, he had never noticed that. We can expect a strong retraction of his usage of this verse any moment now.

Except Jesus being a man has always been a part of Christian theology. What would we say? The God Christ Jesus? That would lead to something like polytheism.

Jelbert also says we can’t be sure that Jesus said these things because it was written down later while the theology was evolving. Naturally, there is no interaction with scholars like Hurtado, Bauckham, Bird, Tilling, etc. who make up the early high Christology club. Jelbert also lives in a strange world where apparently before a scholar quotes any text he has to make a strong case for it going back to Jesus.

On a side note, Jelbert also talks about Jesus referring to the Canaanite woman as a dog in Matthew 15. In this case, I think Jesus is playing along and showing the disciples where their own hostility towards outsiders led them. Sadly, the text cannot convey tone of voice or anything like that. There was something in Jesus’s statement to the woman that indicated that she should press harder, and she did. Jesus does end up healing her daughter.

Jelbert goes on to talk about the evolution of the person of Jesus. Paul and the early Gospels do not see Jesus as God. It would be good to see some backing of this claim. Philippians 2 and Romans 9:5 and other such passages come to mind in Paul. There’s also the Christianization of the Shema in 1 Cor. 8:4-6.

For Mark, I think it’s all throughout. Jesus, in the beginning, is given a divine title compared to Caesar and then John the Baptist shows up preparing the way of the Lord and lo and behold, there’s Jesus. In the next chapter, Jesus claims to be able to forgive in the name of God and to be the Lord of the Sabbath and such. Perhaps Jelbert lives in a world where you have to come out and explicitly say “I am God” to be seen as making such a claim.

Jelbert says that this also shows a move from monotheism to the Trinity. Absent is any notion that even in Jewish monotheism, there was a question about the possibility of plurality in the person of God. One could see the work of How God Became Jesus for examples. It also ignores that the Trinity is monotheistic.

Jelbert then says that in the words of the immortal Alan Bennett, “Three in one, one in three, perfectly straightforward. Any doubts about that see your maths master.” It took awhile to find who it was, but apparently Bennett is a playwright who wrote a play called Forty Years On. Well, that’s a great place to go to get your scholarship!

Jelbert says that Witherington’s essay shows that Jesus did not teach the Trinity. Of course, it would have been relevant if Witherington had argued any such thing. We might as well say Jesus didn’t teach the Pythagorean Theorem. I don’t think Jesus would have had much success teaching the Trinity to the local people in Israel and it would have only led to confusion. He planted the seeds instead in His own person.

John 10:30, I and the Father are one, merely defines a special relationship. Well, unless you ignore that Jesus said that no one can snatch believers out of the Father’s hand and out of His own hand just before this and you ignore that the people picked up stones saying Jesus claimed to be God. No doubt, Jelbert understands things better than the immediate listeners did.

Jelbert says that it’s unlikely Jesus said the Great Commission since Jesus’s followers didn’t go to Gentiles immediately. Yet why think this? Could they not have thought to go into all nations telling all the Jews in the diaspora about Jesus? Jelbert also draws a distinction between baptizing in Jesus’s name and the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but Jesus is not giving a baptismal formula here that must be followed. Peter says Jesus’s name in Acts 2 due to Jesus needing to be the new one to recognize as Lord.

Jelbert will also try to explain the rise of Christianity. He brings up Mormonism and scientology as counter-examples. Never mind that these were based in modern individualistic cultures with a more tolerant live and let live attitude. Never mind that these were cultures that more readily accepted new ideas. Never mind that these built on, especially in the case of Mormonism, previously successful ideas.

So what does Jelbert say made the religion successful? For one, it upheld church authority and gave them control, which would be absolutely worthless as a matter of appeal. All religious people had that authority in a culture that didn’t have separation of church and state. This would also only appeal to people who wanted to be in control and then, why be in control of such a small movement that would be opposed to Rome?

He also says it undermines self-worth making us question our own senses and reasoning abilities. No examples of this are given. Could it be Jelbert is revealing something more about his own psychology than Christianity itself?

It also promoted wishful thinking with ideas of eternal life and eventual justice. Unfortunately, this kind of thing is only appealing if you believe the promises can be delivered on. If you don’t, then it doesn’t appeal. It’s a nice story. Also, it’s worth noting that our emphasis on Heaven and such is absent in much of the New Testament, such as the Pauline epistles.

Finally, it exhorts its members to proselytize, which is surely a great draw! Go out and tell your neighbor who could report you to Rome about your new faith! One wonders why Jelbert thinks this way.

Jelbert then says it’s easy to imagine that a religion with these characteristics would be successful. Of course, it’s hard to imagine a religion with a crucified Messiah, a belief seen as new, radical exclusivity, and a bodily resurrection that would be seen as shameful being successful, but hey, details. Who needs them?

Thankfully, Jelbert doesn’t say that this speculation is accurate. It’s a good thing, but apparently it’s a good just-so story to justify atheism. Could it be Jelbert is engaging in his own wishful thinking?

Jelbert also says on a side note that the burden of proof is on the one making the claim. If the claim is unpersuasive, then atheism is justified. Well, that’s only if atheism is seen as the lack of belief which I do dispute, but what about the problem of who decides if something is unpersuasive? I find the arguments persuasive. Jelbert doesn’t. Why should his view be the rational one? Maybe he’s the irrational one and doesn’t know how to recognize a persuasive argument. Maybe I am. How could we know?

Next time we’ll look at a second essay by Witherington on Jesus as God.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Evidence Considered: Part 25

Is ID qualifying as a science? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

It’s been awhile since we’ve looked at Jelbert’s book, but now it’s time to do so again. In this chapter, we’re looking at his response to Bruce Gordon. Gordon has contributed a chapter on the scientific status of inferences to design.

I am not a supporter of the ID movement, but at the same time, I wish to try to remain fair. Are some criticisms of it invalid? As we will go through this chapter, I will demonstrate that I think that while ID hasn’t made its case, neither has Jelbert with his criticism.

One big problem is Jelbert is talking about methodological naturalism, but this is never defined. What is meant by this? The term can be difficult to talk about. Also, we don’t want to confuse methodological naturalism with metaphysical naturalism. If we say that absolutely nothing miraculous can happen in history, then we are begging the question. This doesn’t mean that we just throw in a miracle every now and then when we can’t explain something. It does mean that we remain open.

Jelbert also says that some sciences do look for an agent, but these are not agencies in the abstract. I don’t think this follows. We can find in anthropological studies an artifact and know it was designed. Perhaps and most likely it was designed by humans, but maybe, though I am skeptical, it was designed by an extraterrestrial agent. This is a pure hypothetical, but either way, we could tell it was designed.

Furthermore, would Jelbert says it was suddenly valid if I said the agent I was looking for was the Trinity of Christianity? Doubtful. All ID is saying is to look for signs of design. Even if we don’t know who the designer is, we can know that there is design.

At the end, Jelbert says that Gordon has not shown anything and his argument about who designed the designer and such leads to some problems with ID I have. If you make science king, you will never answer the God question yea or nay. You have to go to metaphysics so why not just start with metaphysics?

If we ask about who designed the designer, it first assumes the designer is complex, whereas if you talk about the God of Christianity, universally it has been held that ontologically God is simple, in that He has no parts. If that is the case, then He needs no designer.

Second, if complex things need a designer, then we can say the universe is complex so it needs a designer. If Jelbert wants to then say complex things don’t need one, then we could say if God is complex, which He is not, then He doesn’t need a designer. Jelbert can’t have it both ways.

This is also why I find Jelbert’s closing arguments weak. When I follow a good Thomistic metaphysic, I get to an eternal being who doesn’t change and so asking if He died at one point doesn’t work. It also does get past the problem of the infinite regress. I would really recommend Jelbert read some of the writings of Edward Feser at this point.

So I don’t agree with ID, but I can’t say Jelbert has provided a killing blow to it either.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Rappers And The Resurrection

What does making a music video have to do with the resurrection? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

A week or two ago I was driving through our town and heard a news story in the morning. Two rappers had been out on a public bridge for cars to drive across making a music video when they got hit by a driver. The driver was not charged with anything since the performers should not have been in the middle of the road. I do not think there were any deaths involved and the rappers were charged for creating a disturbance of sorts.

So I’m hearing this story and thinking in some ways it’s kind of amusing. There are a couple of people making fools of themselves out in the middle of the street and fate kind of happens to them. Hopefully, they have learned their lesson and they won’t do it anymore.

Later on still, I was driving and I heard more of the story. It turns out I was wrong about what was going on in my mind’s eye. I had pictured two guys out in the road making a disturbance when a car comes through and doesn’t have time to stop. Apparently, I had it wrong, but I think it was justifiable based on how the story was described.

As it turns out, there was a group of people in the middle of the road. I am not sure how many, but only two of them were hit. This wasn’t just a couple of guys then, but a whole entourage. Listening to the earlier story, I would have been sure it was a couple of guys only because that’s all that were mentioned.

What does this have to do with the resurrection? In the resurrection stories, we often hear differences on how many women or angels were present. The authors can mention different numbers. They can do this while knowing more were present. In John 20, Mary Magdalene is seen going alone to the tomb, but when she gets to the disciples to tell them about the body being gone, she uses the word we saying that “We don’t know where they put him.”

It’s my personal theory that each Gospel writer mentioned the women who were his sources for the story and/or were still alive to talk about the story. Of course, it could also be just at times highlighting the ones who did something, such as the case of the angels at the tomb. If only one speaks, that is the one focused on. In his research, Mike Licona calls this spotlighting.

We still do this today in many of our own accounts and I would contend that the original news story I heard was doing just that. The whole group didn’t need to be talked about because they weren’t relevant in the mind of the reporter to what took place. The two stories do not contradict, but rather they complement one another and one brings out fully what happened more.  The same goes for the resurrection accounts.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

My Question To Bart Ehrman

Why does someone believe or not believe in miracles? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Recently, my father-in-law Mike Licona debated Bart Ehrman on Gospel reliability right here in Atlanta. I went to it with my wife and when the Q&A started, I rushed to the microphone to be the first to ask Ehrman a question. I had been thinking about what to ask and nothing in the debate changed my mind.

I asked Ehrman about a claim he made in Misquoting Jesus where he said that by definition, a miracle is the least probable explanation of an event. I wanted to know if this was something one would say before examining the evidence, which I could understand, or after. If it was after, isn’t one then saying that no amount of evidence will change one’s mind on a miracle? After all, you could show all the evidence in the world and it wouldn’t change the likelihood of a miracle being the true explanation of what happened, or if a miracle is the true explanation, one has a historical methodology that rules them out from knowing the truth.

One aspect I definitely remember of Ehrman’s answer is that believing in miracles is based on faith. If you’re a believer, you believe in them. If you’re a non-believer, you don’t. Seems simple enough. Right?

Not exactly.

First off, I don’t think this answers the question. When is a miracle thought to be the least probable explanation by definition? Who made this definition and how could it be changed? if it has to be that, then it would seem that no amount of evidence can ever change the situation to make a miracle more likely. (Although interestingly, I suspect it can somehow be made less likely!)

Second, this isn’t just a case of faith. This implies that believers themselves aren’t interested in evidence. If I want to judge if a miracle happened, I look at the evidence. Some claims have better evidence than others. Last night my wife and I were at a Bible study and someone told us privately about how they know someone who became a Christian and is convinced that God told them that Jesus would return before their mother passed away.

Now do I believe in the return of Christ in the future? Absolutely. Do I believe that God can speak to people today? Yes, though I think it’s extremely rare. Do I think this happened in this case? Not a bit. I have seen enough people make crazy claims about when Jesus is returning and I have no reason to think God told this one guy.

On the other hand, consider a New Testament scholar like Pinchas Lapides. He was a Jew who never believed Jesus was the Messiah and never became a Christian and his Ph.D. is in the New Testament. What does he conclude about Jesus? Jesus rose from the dead. What’s that based on? The evidence.

Some of you might think I am only open to miracles in my own religion. Not at all. My basis is always the same. Whatever the miracle claim is, just present the evidence. If it’s sufficient evidence in my opinion, I should believe it. My Christianity is not threatened by a miracle on the outside.

The problem with saying faith is that one is ultimately saying it’s not a matter of evidence. If that is one’s position, then we have to ask who is really living by faith? If your methodology has already ruled out miracles a priori, then if a miracle has happened, you will never know what did happen. If you assert one has never happened, then you have to show that, and if your methodology again won’t allow that, then we are arguing in a circle.

I conclude with a summarization of the thought of Chesterton.

The Christian believes in the miracle, rightly or wrongly, because of the evidence. The skeptic disbelieves in the miracle, rightly or wrongly, because he has a dogma against them.

In Christ,
Nick Peters