Can Jesus Be Non-Miraculous?

Is it really possible to remove the miraculous element from Jesus? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Jesus is the figure that stands out in all of history. It’s really hard at times to find someone who has a bad word to say about Jesus, even from a non-Christian persepctive. Such does exist, but even a negative word is still there in an abundance of praises for his teachings and character.

However, is there any reason these should stand out? Jesus was a great moral teacher. As Lewis said, we have had enough of those. We didn’t listen to them. Why listen to Jesus? Our world right now shows us that we are not.

New Testament scholars often seek to go through the New Testament and separate the fact from the fiction. What is true about Jesus in this? Can we move past all this miraculous stuff such as the miracles that He did and the idea that He was God or some divine being of some kind? Surely that stuff got added on later.

The moment you say this, you have to ask why it was added on. First off, why was He crucified? I find many a New Testament scholar who presents a case for how Jesus lived gives me no reason to think He would ever be crucified. Their Jesus is more akin to a Mr. Rogers figure. Adolf Harnack used to say Jesus was teaching about ideas like the brotherhood of all men. Okay. Why would this Jesus be a threat to anyone? Not only is He not a threat, He’s not someone you would give the worst death sentence of all to.

The disciples were convinced He rose from the dead? Why? Even assuming He had risen from the dead, is there any reason for them to say “Jesus rose from the dead! He is the Son of God, Messiah, and God Himself!?” No one ever thought that before in Judaism about anyone they thought came back from the dead. Even if the Jews were convinced Moses came back from the dead, would they say such a thing about him?

There is a simple explanation for why they believed such things. Jesus said and indicated such about Himself. Of course, this is the claim the liberal New Testament scholar does not want to admit at all. It wouldn’t be rational to think something like that after all!

So the attempt is made to remove those miraculous elements again and yet even still, Jesus is hard to escape. Jesus makes grandiose claims about Himself. In the Q document, which has never been found and is purely hypothetical, you can still see Jesus speaking about the house built on the rock. Where does this put His view of Himself? “If you hear my words and obey them, you are a wise man.” Nothing about God in there. The very Sermon on the Mount is filled with this high view. Jesus speaks of what we call the Old Testament quoting it and then saying “But I say to you.” These are the Ten Commandments sometimes, the ones written by the finger of God, and Jesus is attempting by His own authority to speak even stronger than they are? Who does He think He is?

Despite this, we look at these claims that Jesus makes about Himself and say “Isn’t He the picture of humility?” If what He says about Himself is true, then He can be, but if it isn’t, Jesus is certainly suffering from delusions of grandeur. Jesus is the greatest narcissist who ever lived in that case. There is a real condition known as Jerusalem Syndrome where someone goes to Israel and becomes convinced they’re the Messiah. We know immediately such people are insane to that extent at least. Do we think that about Jesus? There are many ideas of who the historical Jesus was. I have not seen a New Testament scholar arguing for “Insane lunatic.”

Not only this, but we have the ethical teachings of Jesus and these are not the teachings of someone who is insane. Most everything about Jesus shows a well-balanced individual. At the same time, this individual never asks for help, never apologizes, never admits a wrong, etc. Some of you may recognize shades of Tom Gilson’s Too Good To Be False in here, which is influential, but I’m also talking about the miracle aspect as well. I definitely urge you to read that book on the character of Jesus.

Assuming this figure is somehow made up as the mythicists would like us to think, who did this making up? This puts us in an even more difficult position in many ways. People who foisted a lie on the world also gave an immensely brilliant ethical system if not the greatest one of all?

Some could say it’s not that hard to create a Jesus, such as Lewis’s Aslan as an example, but the difference is Lewis had a model to work with. That is the Jesus who is already in the New Testament. Anyone who did this originally did not have such a model. Whoever could create this figure would be someone practically worthy of worship himself or themselves.

Notice in all of this, I have not once argued that the text we have is perfectly reliable or accurate. I have no need to. I am asking even to go with the data that will be granted by skeptical scholars. If we take all of this still, can we present a coherent picture of Jesus? Can we explain His teaching, His crucifixion, what claims did He make about Himself, and why the belief He rose again?

I seriously urge skeptics of Christianity to try to do so.

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

A House On Sand

How do we treat the teachings of Jesus? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I’m almost done going through the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew!

“Wait. Are you telling me you’re a Christian apologist who has never read that?”

I have read it, but never the way I have this time. This time, I went through reading one verse at a time, except for the Lord’s Prayer, where I read it even slower. When you read through it this way, you really get a lot out of it. I am doing more to encourage people to do slow Bible reading.

So when the sermon closes, Jesus gives a final statement about His words. He says that the one who hears them and does them is like someone who builds His house on a rock. No matter what happens, the house will stand. The one who doesn’t do what Jesus says is like one who builds His house on sand. When the trouble comes, that house topples over.

First off, let’s consider how seriously Jesus takes His own words here. Can you imagine any prophet of the Old Testament saying something like this? Jesus is really placing Himself on a high pedestal. What does this say about how Jesus sees His identity?

Second, what if we really took this last part seriously in connection with everything else that was said. If you obey what Jesus says, then you are building your house on a rock. If you don’t, then you are building on sand. What do we have to take seriously then?

The beatitudes at the start. We have to believe those people will be blessed. We have to believe we should be those people and live accordingly.

We must take Jesus’s words seriously on our righteousness being greater than the Pharisees and Sadducees.

We must not hate our brother in our heart and we must seek to make peace whenever possible.

We must avoid lust. This definitely includes guys that you cannot watch pornography. If you are doing that, then you are building your house on sand and you will not last.

We must honor our marriages for life. If you are not taking marriage seriously, you are not taking Jesus seriously. This is one reason I stayed in my marriage even when it was hard and yes, she initiated the divorce.

We must do as we say and let our words be true. If we say we will do something, we do it. We shouldn’t have to emphasize that we are speaking the truth. Our reputations should show we do.

We must end retaliation for the sake of retaliation. If someone gives you a personal insult privately, be the bigger man. Don’t escalate the cycle of revenge.

We must love our enemies. Anyone can love friends. Jesus tells us to go further.

We must not glorify our giving. Be humble in what we do. Give anyway.

We must pray humbly and trust God with the outcome. We must live out the Lord’s Prayer.

We must forgive those who wrong us.

We must focus on treasure in Heaven. There is no wrong in having things, but we cannot let them have us. Greed must always be avoided.

We cannot worry about anything. Tomorrow will have enough troubles. Do not worry about it today.

We must not pre-judge someone. Make sure our own house is in order.

We must believe in the goodness of God that He will bless us and if we ask for things that are truly good, that He wants to give.

We must make sure we are on the straight path and realize there are false teachers who want to take us away.

We must make sure we are being real and not just going through the motions.

Jesus doesn’t limit this. All of this is to be followed. All of it. It’s a serious call and I could have easily gone in-depth on any of these. Look through. Where are you struggling?

Keep in mind, any listener back then would have known it was fallacious to build a house on sand. What idiot would do that? If you don’t listen to what Jesus says and follow it, you are that idiot.

I encourage you to take this seriously even if you’re a non-Christian. Consider seriously the call for Jesus. Does He really have good wisdom here to follow?

For me, this has been humbling and I plan to go through the sermon in Luke the same way.

Maybe you should try this exercise of reading it slowly as well, but for now, see if you’re living wisely or foolishly.

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

 

 

Jesus and the Crowds

How did Jesus respond to the people? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I’m considering doing some research on the question of Jesus and the crowds. I started thinking about this because I was thinking more about the question of who Jesus is and not just the theological answer, but the more personal answer. What was Jesus like in His behavior? What is His personality like?

I have been going through the Sermon on the Mount in my nightly reading. I go through slowly, reading one verse every night and just thinking about it, so I decided to go right after that account to see how Jesus treated a leper. There’s something that’s easy to overlook.

Matthew 8:

When he came down from the mountain, great crowds followed him. And behold, a leper came to him and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.” And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I will; be clean.” And immediately his leprosy was cleansed. And Jesus said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer the gift that Moses commanded, for a proof to them.”

Did you notice it?

Great crowds follow Jesus, but when the leper comes forward, the crowds are nowhere to be seen. Jesus doesn’t even acknowledge them. All He cares about is the leper. The crowds could likely have been aghast that a leper would even approach Jesus. One can hardly imagine what they think when Jesus actually touches him.

Yet when do we see this crowd again? Immediately after this, we get the healing of the centurion’s servant. Here a Gentile comes forward wanting a servant to be healed and gives a great statement in the authority of Jesus. Jesus turns to the crowd, which consists not mostly if not entirely of Jews, and tells them that he has not seen such great faith in all of Israel.

Jesus doesn’t seem to care about winning over the crowds or what they think of Him.

I was intrigued and went back further. This crowd, or rather these crowds, start to follow Jesus in Matthew 4 after He does multiple healings. Then He climbs up on a mountain and gives a sermon that is one of the greatest messages of ethics the world has ever heard and yet one of the most difficult ones for anyone to follow. Jesus is not making it easy on the audience.

Naturally, I wanted to see if anyone had done anything on this that I could see. I went to Amazon and put in Jesus and crowds. Nothing. Now this doesn’t mean no one has written anything, but it means I couldn’t find anything specific. Perhaps if I look at this, it will be some of the first research done on this topic.

I still also do not want to lose sight of Jesus and divorce. Yes. That question still affects me every single day and every single day has a degree of pain to it because of that event. I was talking to my therapist about it today even and talking about some problems I have had lately and I have thought it could be boredom, but he said that could also be stemming from depression. I am sure some of that is still there.

I do find this question interesting. Jesus doesn’t seem to be a crowd-pleaser and He seems to care more about the individual in these matters instead of the people at a large who He doesn’t think are truly committed to the cause. There are sociological implications to this, but also as a Christian in daily living, gives me some thoughts on how Jesus sees us on an individual level.

Stay tuned. We’ll see what happens.

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

No. Jesus Was Not Predicting The Transfiguration

Is the Transfiguration a prophecy fulfillment? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

The Transfiguration shows up in each of the Synoptic Gospels. Before each of them comes another passage.

Matthew 16:

27 For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done.

28 “Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”

Mark 9:

1: And he said to them, “Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see that the kingdom of God has come with power.”

Luke 9:

26 Whoever is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.

27 “Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God.”

It makes sense to a lot of people to say that this is predicting the transfiguration. Unfortunately, both internet atheists and Christians often have the same problem. This verse is read in a literal sense often due to modern dispensationalism, but does it really fit to say this event is the fulfillment?

No.

Okay. See you next time!

Oh?

You want more than that?

Okay.

Let’s start with the fact that this event takes place a week later in the Gospels. By that, it’s usually not a great prophecy to predict something happening a week from now. Let’s suppose even if we went with something like the 2024 presidential election which at this point is in the future. Make a prediction a week before it happens and all things being equal, you likely have a 50% chance of being right. Predict something no one thinks is even possible and you might be on to something.

Not only that, but it’s hard to see how this event is the Kingdom of God coming in power. I would have no problem saying that this is a hint of what is coming. I suspect that this is part of the reason these passages are closely tied together.

Another problem with this is saying “Some here will not taste death until they see this.” Not only is it hardly a prediction to say “Some people here will not die before a week passes”, but it’s also not really a lot of some if that some consists of just three people.

This passage is also not about the return of Christ. No one had any thought really of Jesus leaving let alone returning at this point. This is something internet atheists often think is being talked about, yet they never do show where that is in the passage. It’s read into it.

As an Orthodox Preterist, I think the Kingdom of God coming into power being demonstrated was at 70 A.D. with the destruction of the temple. That would make sense also with the prediction of some would not die. It is something to say some would still be alive around 40 years later, especially in an age where most people had short lifespans.

Christians need to realize Jesus is talking about something deeper than the Transfiguration and something that should have given His listeners, and us today, pause. Internet atheists need to realize this is apocalyptic language and not read it so woodenly. If someone thinks it’s about the return of Christ, it’s on them to show it.

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

 

A Response to Ben The Amateur Exegete

Is Matthew an eyewitness account? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

A friend of Deeper Waters a few weeks ago shared a video wanting my response to it. I just recently took the time to watch it. I found it interesting, and in some ways more informed than other skeptics, but also lacking. It was a response to J. Warner Wallace on eyewitness testimony and can be found here.

So let’s start with something minor. In the video, he shows Wallace saying he thought before his conversion that the Gospels were second century works. Ben, the person making the video response, says “Really?” and that’s it. I see no reason to think Wallace is lying on this point and if Ben thinks there is, he really needs to demonstrate that.

Ben does make a statement about how good something like Wallace sounds if you believe in inerrancy. I have no idea why inerrancy is made an issue here, other than the usual that it’s treated as an essential to Christianity and if you destroy it, you destroy Christianity. This is not at all the case and yet too many skeptics do have this kind of approach.

However, Ben chooses to look at Matthew. He has three points to what he says ultimately. I find all of them lacking. Let’s look at the first. The first is that the writers do not use a 1st-person in their work. You don’t see Matthew saying “Jesus said to me, follow me.” Jesus instead speaks in third person. Isn’t this unusual?

Sounds good, but really, this is an old objection. It goes all the way back to the time of Augustine even.

Contra Faustum 17.1

 

  1. Faustus said: You ask why we do not receive the law and the prophets, when Christ said that he came not to destroy them, but to fulfill them. Where do we learn that Jesus said this? From Matthew, who declares that he said it on the mount. In whose presence was it said? In the presence of Peter, Andrew, James, and John—only these four; for the rest, including Matthew himself, were not yet chosen. Is it not the case that one of these four—John, namely—wrote a Gospel? It is. Does he mention this saying of Jesus? No. How, then, does it happen that what is not recorded by John, who was on the mount, is recorded by Matthew, who became a follower of Christ long after He came down from the mount? In the first place, then, we must doubt whether Jesus ever said these words, since the proper witness is silent on the matter, and we have only the authority of a less trustworthy witness. But, besides this, we shall find that it is not Matthew that has imposed upon us, but some one else under his name, as is evident from the indirect style of the narrative. Thus we read: “As Jesus passed by, He saw a man, named Matthew, sitting at the receipt of custom, and called him; and he immediately rose up, and followed Him.” [Matthew 9:9] No one writing of himself would say, He saw a man, and called him; and he followed Him; but, He saw me, and called me, and I followed Him. Evidently this was written not by Matthew himself, but by some one else under his name. Since, then, the passage already quoted would not be true even if it had been written by Matthew, since he was not present when Jesus spoke on the mount; much more is its falsehood evident from the fact that the writer was not Matthew himself, but some one borrowing the names both of Jesus and of Matthew.

 

Augustine replied: What amazing folly, to disbelieve what Matthew records of Christ, while you believe Manichæus! If Matthew is not to be believed because he was not present when Christ said, “I came not to destroy the law and the prophets, but to fulfill,” was Manichæus present, was he even born, when Christ appeared among men? According, then, to your rule, you should not believe anything that Manichæus says of Christ. On the other hand, we refuse to believe what Manichæus says of Christ; not because he was not present as a witness of Christ’s words and actions, but because he contradicts Christ’s disciples, and the Gospel which rests on their authority. The apostle, speaking in the Holy Spirit, tells us that such teachers would arise. With reference to such, he says to believers: “If any man preaches to you another gospel than that you have received, let him be accursed.” [Galatians 1:9] If no one can say what is true of Christ unless he has himself seen and heard Him, no one now can be trusted. But if believers can now say what is true of Christ because the truth has been handed down in word or writing by those who saw and heard, why might not Matthew have heard the truth from his fellow disciple John, if John was present and he himself was not, as from the writings of John both we who are born so long after and those who shall be born after us can learn the truth about Christ? In this way, the Gospels of Luke and Mark, who were companions of the disciples, as well as the Gospel of Matthew, have the same authority as that of John. Besides, the Lord Himself might have told Matthew what those called before him had already been witnesses of.

Your idea is, that John should have recorded this saying of the Lord, as he was present on the occasion. As if it might not happen that, since it was impossible to write all that be heard from the Lord, he set himself to write some, omitting this among others. Does he not say at the close of his Gospel: “And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written”? [John 21:25] This proves that he omitted many things intentionally. But if you choose John as an authority regarding the law and the prophets, I ask you only to believe his testimony to them. It is John who writes that Isaiah saw the glory of Christ. [John 12:41] It is in his Gospel we find the text already treated of: “If you believed Moses, you would also believe me; for he wrote of me.” [John 5:46] Your evasions are met on every side. You ought to say plainly that you do not believe the gospel of Christ. For to believe what you please, and not to believe what you please, is to believe yourselves, and not the gospel.

  1. Faustus thinks himself wonderfully clever in proving that Matthew was not the writer of this Gospel, because, when speaking of his own election, he says not, He saw me, and said to me, Follow me; but, He saw him, and said to him, Follow me. This must have been said either in ignorance or from a design to mislead. Faustus can hardly be so ignorant as not to have read or heard that narrators, when speaking of themselves, often use a construction as if speaking of another. It is more probable that Faustus wished to bewilder those more ignorant than himself, in the hope of getting hold on not a few unacquainted with these things. It is needless to resort to other writings to quote examples of this construction from profane authors for the information of our friends, and for the refutation of Faustus. We find examples in passages quoted above from Moses by Faustus himself, without any denial, or rather with the assertion, that they were written by Moses, only not written of Christ. When Moses, then, writes of himself, does he say, I said this, or I did that, and not rather, Moses said, and Moses did? Or does he say, The Lord called me, The Lord said to me, and not rather, The Lord called Moses, The Lord said to Moses, and so on? So Matthew, too, speaks of himself in the third person.

And John does the same; for towards the end of his book he says: “Peter, turning, saw the disciple whom Jesus loved, who also lay on His breast at supper, and who said to the Lord, Who is it that shall betray You?” Does he say, Peter, turning, saw me? Or will you argue from this that John did not write this Gospel? But he adds a little after: “This is the disciple that testifies of Jesus, and has written these things; and we know that his testimony is true.” [John 21:20-24] Does he say, I am the disciple who testify of Jesus, and who have written these things, and we know that my testimony is true? Evidently this style is common in writers of narratives. There are innumerable instances in which the Lord Himself uses it. “When the Son of man,” He says, “comes, shall He find faith on the earth?” [Luke 18:8] Not, When I come, shall I find? Again, “The Son of man came eating and drinking;” [Matthew 11:19] not, I came. Again, “The hour shall come, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God, and they that hear shall live;” [John 5:25] not, My voice. And so in many other places. This may suffice to satisfy inquirers and to refute scoffers.

Xenophon does the same in Book 3, Chap. 1 of Anabasis.

“There was in the army a certain Xenophon, an Athenian, who accompanied the army neither as a general nor as a captain nor as a private soldier; but Proxenos, an old acquaintance, had sent for him.”

See also Anabasis 1.8.15; 2.5.40; 3.1.10, 47, etc.

Ben says that Thucydides refers to himself in the first person. Look at chapter 26 of Book 5.

I certainly remember that all along, when the war began and until it ended,
there were many who prophesied that it must last thrice nine years. I lived
through all of it when I was of an age to comprehend and had my mind
engaged, in order to know with some exactness; it also happened that I was
exiled from my city for twenty years after the command at Amphipolis
and, being present at the activities of both sides, especially the Peloponnesians, unoccupied because of my exile, I understood these all the more.
Accordingly, I will relate the disagreement after the ten years and violation
of the truce and how the war was fought from then on.

That sounds good. However, let’s look earlier in that section.

The same Thucydides, an Athenian, has recorded these events as
well, in the order that they occurred according to summers and winters,
up to the point when the Lacedaemonians and their allies overthrew the
empire of the Athenians and captured the long walls and the Peiraeus.

In the Jewish War account by Josephus in 2.20.4, he does the same thing.

4. They also chose other generals for Idumea; Jesus, the son of Sapphias, one of the high priests; and Eleazar, the son of Ananias, the high priest; they also enjoined Niger, the then governor of Idumea, who was of a family that belonged to Perea, beyond Jordan, and was thence called the Peraite, that he should be obedient to those fore-named commanders. Nor did they neglect the care of other parts of the country; but Joseph the son of Simon was sent as general to Jericho, as was Manasseh to Perea, and John, the Esscue, to the toparchy of Thamna; Lydda was also added to his portion, and Joppa, and Emmaus. But John, the son of Matthias, was made governor of the toparchies of Gophnitica and Acrabattene; as was Josephus, the son of Matthias, of both the Galilees. Gamala also, which was the strongest city in those parts, was put under his command.

And in book 7, chapter 1, of the Gallic Wars by Julius Caesar, we find the same thing.

When it was reported to Caesar that they were attempting to make their route through our Province he hastens to set out from the city, and, by as great marches as he can, proceeds to Further Gaul, and arrives at Geneva. He orders the whole Province [to furnish] as great a number of soldiers as possible, as there was in all only one legion in Further Gaul: he orders the bridge at Geneva to be broken down. When the Helvetii are apprized of his arrival they send to him, as embassadors, the most illustrious men of their state (in which embassy Numeius and Verudoctius held the chief place), to say “that it was their intention to march through the Province without doing any harm, because they had” [according to their own representations,] “no other route: that they requested, they might be allowed to do so with his consent.” Caesar, inasmuch as he kept in remembrance that Lucius Cassius, the consul, had been slain, and his army routed and made to pass under the yoke by the Helvetii, did not think that [their request] ought to be granted: nor was he of opinion that men of hostile disposition, if an opportunity of marching through the Province were given them, would abstain from outrage and mischief. Yet, in order that a period might intervene, until the soldiers whom he had ordered [to be furnished] should assemble, he replied to the ambassadors, that he would take time to deliberate; if they wanted any thing, they might return on the day before the ides of April [on April 12th].

(All of these are cut and paste and so I have not made any changes to the texts cited.)

E.P. Sanders is not wanting to give a defense of Christianity, but when writing about why a first person is not used in the Gospels says:

The authors probably wanted to eliminate interest in who wrote the story and to focus the reader on the subject. More important, the claim of an anonymous history was higher than that of a named work. In the ancient world an anonymous book, rather like an encyclopedia article today, implicitly claimed complete knowledge and reliability. It would have reduced the impact of the Gospel of Matthew had the author written ‘this is my version’ instead of ‘this is what Jesus said and did.’  – The Historical Figure of Jesus by E.P. Sanders page 66.

Ben will need to tell why these other writers didn’t follow the same pattern or didn’t always. For now, let’s move on to the second crack supposedly. What about events for which Matthew was not an eyewitness.

Are we at best dealing with knowledge that is secondhand for those accounts? Yes.

And the problem is?

No one is claiming that Matthew was an eyewitness for everything in the Gospels by saying the Gospels are eyewitness accounts any more than Josephus could possibly be an eyewitness for everything in his account of the Jewish War or Thucydides and eyewitness for everything in the Peloponnesian War. This would be all-or-nothing thinking if done this way. Matthew certainly would not have been an eyewitness of the virgin birth, which I do affirm, but some examples Ben gives are odd. How would Matthew know what was said in the Sermon on the Mount?

For one, no one thinks the whole of the sermon is recorded in the account, save perhaps diehard fundamentalists. For another, if you are a speaker, you know you give a talk you know well more than once. Finally, this was a public event. There were numerous people who could corroborate. How did Matthew know about what happened with Judas giving the money to the priests or the account of the Sanhedrin trial? He could very well have relied on Joseph of Arimathea or any of the priests and Pharisees who we hear came to faith in Acts. Again, if you think everything Matthew reported had to be firsthand, then that is your problem. I do not share it.

Also, the evangelists never name themselves, but what of it? Plutarch doesn’t name himself either. Perhaps this was something done in Greco-Roman biography. It would be fascinating to see if any research has been done on that. However, that there is at least an exception in Plutarch should give us pause on making a big deal about this, as well as E.P. Sanders’s quote. Also, just because the author is not named in the body of the work does not mean he would not be named in some other way on a scroll being delivered to be read. (And keep in mind, Paul is named in several letters that skeptics insist he did not write.)

Finally, what about the relationship between the book of Matthew and Mark? The case for Marcan priority in Mark being the first Gospel is that most scholars hold to this. That is certainly a good point, but it is not by any means final. I myself have not really looked at the Synoptic Problem yet, but I do know enough to know that it is not a done deal. There are those who do hold to Matthean priority.  So what about similarities between Matthew and Mark?

What of it? Why should we think none of the Gospels ever used another Gospel. Why would Matthew use Mark if he did? Because Mark includes accounts from Peter that Matthew would not be present for and could use. Furthermore, why reinvent the wheel? If Matthew likes how Mark has phrased a matter, why change it? If the situation is reversed, the same applies. This really isn’t troubling.

Finally, Ben says if the edifice falls, everything falls, but most scholars do not build their case on inerrancy even if they focus on the Gospels and many use the epistles of Paul instead. The accounts are still safe.

I also find it disappointing that Ben nowhere interacts with Richard Bauckham’s work on this topic, a real scholar who has the most in-depth research on this. Another good read would be Keener’s Christobiography. I do appreciate he does give some citations, but I find the case again lacking.

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

Book Plunge: Jesus’s Resurrection in Early Christian Memory

What do I think of David Graieg’s dissertation? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

As far as I know, this isn’t published yet nor is there an official name, but the title i have put is something found in the heading of the dissertation. I saw on Facebook that Graieg had done his dissertation on the resurrection from a perspective of memory and I asked if I could see it. He sent it to me and I did tell him I would write a review.

I have now finished it and for my thoughts, well, it’s certainly thorough. If you go through a dissertation, pretty much everything has to be backed, save for when you’re doing your conclusion on the matter, and the bibliography makes up about a third of the writing itself. This would be something for many of our atheist friends to keep in mind who think we just blindly believe matters about religion.

The emphasis in this paper is on the creed in 1 Corinthians 15 and the memory of Jesus’s resurrection event. As we know, the letter was written between 55-60 AD, but the creed comes much earlier. Most scholars will place it no more than five years after the event in question. Most place it at a very early timeframe. Some have placed it within a few months of the event.

Yet the earliest record we have of it is this letter. Perhaps somehow matters changed. Can we be sure that this is accurate? We have Paul’s word on it, but can we trust his memory stood the test of time? Doesn’t memory change? We’ve all experienced remembering something that didn’t happen or filling in details or telling a story and have it change based on the audience.

This is the basis of Graieg’s work. Early on, he has a look at the chapter as a whole exegeting it. I thought this was interesting, but if there was one part of the dissertation I didn’t see fitting in, it was this part. I could understand some parts like the idea of a spiritual body being worthy of discussion, but not the entirety of the chapter as a whole. It was unclear to me how this related to memory studies.

However, from there, nearly every question that can be asked about memory is asked. This includes how memories are shared and how they last and flashbulb memories and what kinds of memories fade. One concern of people who haven’t read this might be that this could be seen from an individual basis. Nope. Graieg spends time looking at the aspects of communal sharing and notes that this would be a communal memory that would be not just shared, but rather performed, several times.

Such factors even as Paul’s age is looked at. We don’t have a biography of Paul, but Graieg goes on the best information we have and he sees no reason to think that Paul would have his memory sufficiently altered to make the creed radically different from what it was originally. Like I said, it’s very in-depth.

This also includes look at how reliable testimony is. Hasn’t eyewitness testimony been called into question a few times? Graieg looks at the ways in which memory is reliable in these situations and in the ways in which it is more prone to error.

In the end, Graieg concludes that there is no reason to believe that there is an error in memory taking place sufficient to overcome that Paul really believed this event happened. That does not mean that it did, but it does mean critics of the resurrection need to be careful before making such an argument. They also need to contend with the evidence and realize perhaps Paul really remembers what happened because it really did happen.

If there was one other area though I would like to have seen covered, it would have been cognitive dissonance. This is a favorite magic word of skeptics who have never ever read anything on the topic, but it is thrown out to make it look like they know what they’re talking about. I consider it a weak objection, but I would have liked to have seen Graieg talk about it.

Keep an eye out for this author. If you’re interested in resurrection studies, this is worth it.

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

Sharing My Debate

Where can you find a debate? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Just wanting to quickly plug this debate I did for today’s blog. You can watch it here. Please leave a comment on the video as well and I appreciate any feedback.

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

Why Good Friday?

Why did this day happen? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

When I was married, my ex and I were watching the series on TV about Jesus that was made by Roma Downey and her husband. This one took some liberties with the text including a great line from Pilate upon the announcement that Jesus would be crucified. “He will be forgotten within a week.”

And you thought two weeks to flatten the curve were a long two weeks.

Here it is 2,000 years later and the world has been totally transformed by Jesus. Many of us do not notice the impact Christianity has on our lives. Art, literature, science, medicine, morality, philosophy, music, etc. All of these have been influenced by Jesus. More books have been written about Jesus than anyone else and more art and music has been done about Him than anyone else.

All of this started though that fateful day when Jesus was crucified, so what brought about that day? It’s beyond dispute that Jesus died by crucifixion. (No. I’m not at all going to treat those Jesus mythicists seriously.) The question to ask at this point is, “Why?”

Now a Christian could respond and say, “Well, Nick. Haven’t you been to church to hear? Jesus was crucified for the sins of the world.” Yes. That is why God allowed it, but is that the same as why it happened? No. Pilate was not standing there saying “This guy is innocent, but we have to crucify Him for the sins of the world.” The chief priests and Pharisees weren’t saying, “Jesus is a pretty good guy, but remember, we have to crucify Him. God needs it done to save the world.”

The question is simple, and yet it is not. Jesus is crucified. We all know that. How did He get up on that cross anyway? Perhaps an example will explain. In Five Views on the Historical Jesus, John Dominic Crossan writes on how Jesus saw John the Baptist get beheaded for having an apocalyptic message, so Jesus shifted course. He was more into such talk as the love of God and the brotherhood of men then. That sounds all good and well until you ask a simple question. “Why was He crucified then?”

A Jesus going around and teaching just about the love of God is not going to get crucified. This Jesus is not a threat to anyone. This is like calling Barney the Dinosaur or Mr. Rogers a threat. This Jesus is harmless and note that Jesus is not just killed, He is crucified, a treatment designed to shame and humiliate, not just kill.

As a Christian, my answer is that Jesus was teaching about His rule in the Kingdom of God and what it would be like and taking power away from those who had it and challenging their right to dictate the way of God to men. Jesus was a threat because He kept humiliating His opponents in conflict over and over and He was doing so many miracles and wonders that the hand of God was undeniable on His life. Crucifixion would be a way of silencing everything as surely that would be the end of it all and no one would want to follow a crucified failure.

But yet, He wasn’t.

All that is being asked here is about a basic fact in history. Jesus was crucified. Why? What was He doing with His life that was so dangerous He had to be crucified? It is common for those of us who are Christians to press skeptics on the evidence for the resurrection. We should do the same with the crucifixion.

Today, we will celebrate that God did take this evil event and use it for the greatest good possible. I also hope we will think some on why this happened. Anything that helps us understand the life of Jesus better will help us live the life of Jesus today.

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

Book Plunge: 7 Things I Wish Christians Knew About The Bible

What do I think of Michael Bird’s book published by Zondervan? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I have to say that every time I read something about Michael Bird, I get a treat. Michael Bird is an author with keen insights and a pastoral heart as well, but he also has a great touch of humor and will say so many statements that make you laugh all throughout the book. I would be thrilled to see him team up with Andy Bannister to write a book.

This is a book written for Christians, though I think it can be helpful for non-Christians as well. In it, he gives seven different statements that many of us might think are old hat, but in reality, there are people who treat the Bible this way even if they know it’s not literally so. For instance, the first one is that the Bible didn’t fall out of the sky.

Really, even if we don’t know how the Bible came about, somehow, we all know that it didn’t. In reality though, we do often treat it that way. The Bible is a divine book to be sure, but it is also a very human book. That’s actually the second, This gives us more of how the Bible was written by people and has their own personality styles in the text.

Third is that the Bible is normative and not negotiable. In this, he wants us to realize that Scripture is the place of authority. We don’t just pick and choose. Too many “churches” today have the idea that the Bible is authoritative when it speaks properly, which by the way, happens to be the times that it agrees with them. Amazing!

Next is that the Bible is for our time, but it’s not about our time. This is especially the case with modern prophecy experts who think everything going on is talked about in Scripture, they are shown to be wrong, but then a year or two later, the exact things happen again. I am not just talking about so-called prophecy experts. I am also talking about laypeople who read the Bible this way. (Sometimes, they sadly commit the unpardonable sin of calling the final book “Revelations.”)

The fifth is that the Bible should always be taken seriously, but not literally. Somehow, we live in a time that thinks that literal interpretation is the best way to read the Bible every time. The early church really enjoyed allegory, for example. Too many atheists also make a big deal about literal interpretation.

The sixth is that the purpose of the book is to give us faith, hope, and love. Now here, I would have liked to have seen Bird say something about the fake view of faith as belief without evidence or something similar. Still, Bird’s point is entirely valid. As much as an academic like myself wants to gain a lot of knowledge and as much as some people might go to the Bible wanting to get personal advice on how to live, and neither of those are bad in themselves, the main goal is to produce the character of faith, hope, and love.

Finally, Christ is the center of it all. However, saying that, he wants us to be careful to not forget the Father or the Spirit. He also wants us to make sure we don’t just read Christ into everything without first understanding what the text says in itself. Also, he thinks we should be able to teach Jesus as Messiah from the Old Testament, which I agree with.

Bird’s given us a great gift in this one. I highly encourage you to go and read this one. You’ll laugh a few times and you’ll learn something.

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

 

Book Plunge: The Gospel Precisely

What do I think of Matthew Bates’s book published by Renew? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I want to thank Matthew Bates for his friendship as I was one of the people he contacted in order to promote his new book. It’s an honor to be in that circle. I find Matthew Bates to be a highly informed scholar, but I am super thankful that he is not just staying in an ivory tower, but is taking advanced New Testament studies and breaking them down for the layman to understand the gospel in a whole new way.

Too often, our idea of the gospel is way too shortsighted, which is a tragedy because what we have is really good already and yet we miss that there’s so much more. We are more content with making mudpies when a day at the beach awaits us. We are pleased with what we understand of the gospel, and we should be, but we miss that there is a lot more.

So let’s start with what is the gospel. Most of the time, we make the gospel about ourselves. This is what God is doing to forgive us. With that, we are ultimately the subjects of the gospel. It is about us. The gospel is not about us. It is about Jesus. We are the ones that are being used for the glory of God. God is not to be used for the glory of us.

One aspect that we miss is the gospel is Jesus becoming king. I remember hearing once that John Dominic Crossan said about Mark 1:1 that talked about the beginning of the good news of Jesus, the Messiah, the Son of God. It’s a short little verse, but Crossan said it could be translated as “In your face, Caesar.”

If he said that, he’s not wrong.

Jesus is coming and declaring Himself to be the king who will rule on God’s behalf. This is part of the gospel. This is one of the reasons He was crucified. You don’t get crucified for just teaching good ethics and sharing parables. Jesus was a majorly political figure as well as a religious one.

Why does this matter? Because we were created to be the rulers of this world on God’s behalf. Unfortunately with sin, we all failed at that one. Jesus was meant to be fully human and fully God so that He could rule and reflect God perfectly but also be a man ruling like God intended. Part of the good news is also that not only are we forgiven, but we are to be rulers of the new creation with Jesus Christ. God saves us so we can serve.

This is however also good for non-Christians for the time being. The world is meant to be a better place with the coming of Christianity and where Christians aren’t being what they were supposed to be. Most people, Christians or not, do support the life and ethics of Jesus. I still remember a non-Christian friend saying on my Facebook wall that life would be a lot better if we all tried to live like Christ.

Oh. Let me explain something with that. When we speak of Christ, we shouldn’t treat Christ as just a name. Some people actually think that he was the son of Mr. and Mrs. Christ. I wish I was joking. I can still remember years ago someone asking “Why would a Jewish guy have a Greek last name?”

The closest idea we have to Messiah is King. In our country, that’s something that seems foreign to us, but we might not be too far from us. A friend of mine thinks we might naturally move as a society towards monarchy. Every four years, we are having “The most important election of our lifetime” which should show that we place way too much emphasis on the president, no matter who he is.

Of course, if we’re servants of God, we need to know who this God is. The Trinity is not just an add-on. If Jesus is not fully God and fully man, the Gospel is completely changed. Christians need to learn how to understand to some extent the Trinity and how to defend it.

I’m only giving snapshots here because honestly, i want you to read the book yourself. Some of you might be concerned with reading a whole book on this. Good news. The book is only about 100 pages. You could easily read it in a day or two, and it would be a day or two well-spent.

Finally, how do we share the gospel? This is where it might get difficult as Bates lists ten items that he thinks we need to remember and share. Those complaining about this might want to think about what they have memorized about sports teams, TV shows, music, or video games.

So final opinion? Get this book. It’s a great one to understand the gospel and will show you how much you are missing. It has five chapters and while I said you could read it in a day, if you wanted to read one chapter a day, you could do so easily and read it in a week and you would be blessed for doing so.

Matthew Bates is a gift to the church that keeps on giving and thanks to him for his work and being considered part of his team to help share his material. It’s material worth sharing and it’s an honor to be a part of it. And oh yes, there is one part where he does show that he does believe Jesus was born of a virgin so he does affirm the virgin birth, which I do affirm, the obvious important sign of anyone wanting to share the gospel.

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