Abraham and Hagar

What was the point of concubines? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Our next look will be further ahead at the life of Abraham as we study what the Bible says about marriage. Abraham is told by God that he will have a son through him he will bless the world. I had a pastor once who said you can picture Abraham going home that evening, turning on some Barry Manilow, and telling Sarah that they had to do their part in faithfulness to the promise of God.

Yet despite whatever might have happened, that promise didn’t seem to be being fulfilled. So Sarah decided she needed to help God fulfill the promise. Isn’t that nice of her? Technically, God had said Abraham would have a child. That doesn’t have to be through Sarah. Here. Take my concubine Abraham and have your way with her and let the promise come through her.

Now in the biblical account, this doesn’t end well. Some people claim that Ishmael’s descendants became the Arabs and that led to Islam, but I don’t know if we have any hard data on that one so I won’t accept it now, but there was still enmity many times between the Ishmaelites and the Israelites. The home life at the start was also disrupted as Ishmael was hardly friendly to Isaac.

But why would God allow concubines?

Something we see in Scripture is that people fell and they fell and often seemed to hit rock bottom immediately. God is a gentle teacher and sees that they are progressing so He allows certain borderline practices that He does not consider ideal as they go on their journey. I consider Israelite slavery to be better than the surrounding nations, but still a practice God tolerated but never considered ideal.

We also need to keep in mind that in those days, infant mortality was high. Not only could children die at a young age, before the advent of better medicine, but mothers could also often die in childbirth. That can still happen today, but normally, expectant mothers don’t worry that they will die in the delivery room as they are giving birth.

In those cases, it was often thought that this was a way of keeping the wife alive and increasing the number of children that could come about. Later in the history of Judah, we will see, for example, that Joash is given two wives when he becomes king, which makes sense since most of the Davidic line had been wiped out by his grandmother, even if it wasn’t ideal.

Does this constitute a change in marriage? No. You still have the man-woman unit being central. What we do see is the numerous problems that develop. Fortunately for Hagar, Sarah’s concubine, the story works out for her. After all, she is the innocent party and was just doing what she had been told, although there was the exception of her possibly being rude to Sarah. God indeed blesses her and she is actually the first person in Scripture to see the angel of the Lord specifically.

Concubines will show up later throughout the text, but there is no need to discuss their role further, though we will mention at times when they show up.

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

Book Plunge: Pulling Back The Green Curtain Part Two

What do I think of Jim Hall’s first arguments? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Jim Hall’s book begins with a list of facts that you’re not supposed to know about. Let’s start with the first one which showed me what I was getting into. The early church had female clergy.

Yeah. I get it. You all are about to apostasize right now.

Yes. The church did move much more against the direction of female leadership of any kind, but the leadership is right there in the New Testament. Nothing said here was a shock to me and I seriously doubt Hall has done any reading on the debate in Christian scholarship.

The next one is the tried and true trope of God approves slavery. God forbid that Hall ever read any sort of scholarship on the issue. He could do what I did and talk to a scholar on the issue, but that won’t happen. We eagerly await Hall’s brilliant solution on where Joe Israelite in the past was supposed to go to be able to provide for himself and/or his family, but Hall has never thought past that.

Sadly, as Mark Noll says, Hall reads the text of Scripture the exact same way the slaveowners he condemns does.

“On the other front, nuanced biblical attacks on American slavery faced rough going precisely because they were nuanced. This position could not simply be read out of any one biblical text; it could not be lifted directly from the page. Rather, it needed patient reflection on the entirety of the Scriptures; it required expert knowledge of the historical circumstances of ancient Near Eastern and Roman slave systems as well as of the actually existing conditions in the slave states; and it demanded that sophisticated interpretative practice replace a commonsensically literal approach to the sacred text. In short, this was an argument of elites requiring that the populace defer to its intellectual betters. As such, it contradicted democratic and republican intellectual instincts. In the culture of the United States, as that culture had been constructed by three generations of evangelical Bible believers, the nuanced biblical argument was doomed” – Mark Noll, The Civil War As A Theological Crisis.

The next thing to cover is Elisha and the two bears. Hall refers to this as just teasing and name-calling. Not at all. These boys were boys old enough to be wandering around on their own away from their families. They also weren’t just teasing Elisha, but they were teasing YHWH and mocking Elisha as a prophet of His and telling Him to go away just like Elijah. The text also says 42 were hurt by the bears. Bears can be fast, but they could not hurt that many unless some of them stayed around to fight. Again, this is not mere toddlers teasing someone. This has the makings of turning into assault and is outright rebellion against the covenant.

Another one to comment on is a howler about the Gospel of Andrew. Hall says there were some sixty Gospels that weren’t included and many of them were older than the ones we have. These include the Gospel of Thomas, Perfection, and Eve. Good luck finding any scholarship whatsoever that will back Hall on this. If he finds anything, it’s the fringe. We can be sure he will never pick up a work like Who Chose The Gospels? by Charles Hill either.

Naturally, we have something about believe in me or burn in hell is not an act of love but compulsion and somehow violates free-will. First off, the Christian claim is not to believe or burn in hell. Most evangelical scholars don’t even believe the flames are literal. It’s also not about demanding love. God rightly is owed our honor and if we don’t want to give it, God honors our free-will and sends us away from Him.

We also have Isaiah 45:7 with God creating evil. Hall apparently doesn’t realize that the word there refers better in this case to chaos and disaster in the lines of Hebrew parallelism. Nope. That would require Hall might have to pick up a book of scholarship he disagrees with and read it. Maybe Hall wants to avoid “cognitive dissonance.”

Hall also says that Jesus taught the end of the world was at hand in saying “Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” 2,000 years and we’ll still waiting. Except Jesus never mentions the end of the world. He’s talking about the Kingdom of Heaven and Hall would need to demonstrate that is what is meant. As an orthodox Preterist, I am convinced Jesus was right on in this claim.

Hall also says Christians couldn’t decide for 300 years if Jesus was created or eternal and it required Nicea. Nonsense. All of the early church held that Jesus is fully God and fully man. Nicea was there because someone was saying otherwise and that was the unheard of part. Again, Hall just demonstrates his own ignorance in this kind of topic.

Let’s also look at a list of references he gives on how fathers should murder their sons.

The first is to eat them according to Ezekiel 5:10, but the Ezekiel passage is a judgment passage. It’s not YHWH prescribing this. It’s Him saying that these are the consequences that will happen if repentance doesn’t come in line with the treaty Israel accepted in Deuteronomy. God will withdraw His hand of protection and Israel will have to live under a siege. Cannibalism happened then.

The same is happening in Lamentations 4:4. YHWH is not telling parents to not feed their children. He’s saying in a siege there’s nothing to feed them with. This can be seen just by simply reading the passage within the chapter, something Hall doesn’t do.

The next is to strike them dead referring to the angel of death in Exodus 12. Of course, this was after nine judgments had been established and a way had been told to directly avoid this one. It’s also not fathers killing children in that passage anyway. It’s YHWH, who has a right to all life, taking back a life if He chooses.

Next is stoning in Deuteronomy which we have dealt with here.

The next one is from Joshua on the conquest saying to smite them with a sword. Naturally, Hall hasn’t bothered interacting with the work of people like Copan on this question. After all, Hall has to stay in that bubble to avoid contrary thought.

Nahum 3:10 is next with kids being smashed in the streets, but this is also a judgment motif. It’s not recommending this. It’s a shame Hall needs this spelled out so much.

Next he goes to Matthew 19:29 and says that this is about abandoning children. Keep in mind Peter was said to have left everything and followed Jesus and yet has a wife later on when Paul writes about him in Corinthians. All Jesus is saying is that Kingdom loyalty comes before family loyalty.

Next is Revelation 2:23. Hall says the text says kill them with death wondering what that means. Naturally, he’s going by the KJV still sticking with his fundamentalist roots. At any rate, the passage is a judgment passage on one particular person and the children mean here followers. Again, this is basic reading comprehension that Hall fails at.

No list would be complete without Psalm 137 and dashing them against the stones. In this passage, Israel is rebuking Babylon and saying “May someone do to you what you did to us!” It is not saying they will do it at all or prescribing it. It’s a common Middle Eastern motif of trash talking with your opponent and letting all the rage out at the start.

Deuteronomy 32:24 about poisoning is also the judgment motif again. Nothing more needs to be said.

Hall goes on to say Jesus never said anything about homosexuality. Let that sink in for a moment. Sure. He also never said anything about rape or pederasty or anything like that. That’s because no one was debating these issues in Israel. The Law was clear. If anything, Jesus’s silence would indicate agreement with the moral stance.

Hall then says there are two creation accounts in Genesis and they don’t agree. Hall will not dare interact with John Walton’s work on this topic nor any of the scholarship that has come out to address this supposed problem. We can guess it’s because the books don’t contain pictures.

Hall also says that six of the Pauline epistles are known forgeries. It is true that these are debated and some scholars do think that, but Hall provides no sources and gives no arguments. He also doesn’t interact with the scholarship on the other side at all.

Hall also shows his fundamentalism with a howler about Christmas trees being forbidden. His reference is Jeremiah 10, of course. This is one that has already been dealt with ad nauseum. For someone who says there is no such thing as too much information, Hall never seems to want to go out and get that information.

This has been a lot, and really, we’re only scratching the surface. Hall’s book thus far is filled with error after error and with very little if any research. I keep thinking there seems to be a competition among atheists to see who can write the worst book and do the least research. Hall is trying to be a strong contender.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Deeper Waters Podcast 6/29/2019

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

One of the most talked about biblical movies of all time is the Ten Commandments. These ten laws have become enshrined in our culture. You can see them at the Supreme Court building and they are often seen to be the moral foundation of our civilization.

We want to say that, but then it gets confusing. Is the fourth commandment required in our society and if so, why do we observe it on Sunday instead of Saturday? What about other laws that are there? If your wife is having her period, is it wrong to have sex with her? Should we wear tattoos if we’re Christians? And geez, doesn’t the Old Testament allow for slavery?

The law is confusing.

What if we’re misunderstanding it? What if the Law, while often containing good moral principles for us, really isn’t even, well, Law? What if it is something different? What could we see about it if we compared it to other cultures in the Ancient Near East?

And if there’s any Old Testament scholar who knows how to do that, it’s my guest this Saturday. After all, this is the man who has had his hand in a continued series on this very topic. Book after book has come out opening readers to a new world in the Old Testament. Well, maybe a new world isn’t the best way to describe it. After all, every book in this series refers to a lost world. The author of this series is, of course, John Walton, and he returns once again this Saturday to talk about his book The Lost World of the Torah.

So who is he?

According to his bio:

John H. Walton (Ph.D. Hebrew Union College) is Professor of Old Testament at Wheaton College and Graduate School where he has taught for almost twenty years. Dr. Walton has published nearly 30 books, among them commentaries, reference works, text books, scholarly monographs, and popular academic works. He was the Old Testament general editor for the Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible (NIV, NKJV, NRSV), and is perhaps most widely known for the “Lost World” books (including The Lost World of Genesis One,The Lost World of Adam and Eve, and The Lost World of the Flood). His areas of expertise include the importance of the ancient Near East for interpreting the Old Testament as well as the dialogue between science and faith.

I hope you’ll be listening as we discuss the Old Testament Law and how we are to understand it. What does it mean for us as Christians? Do we apply it across the board or not? If it’s not in effect, does that mean we can totally ignore it? What moral principles can we get if any from the Law?

I am working on getting the shows for this month updated. We are having some problems with the web site. Please be patient as I am working on things and in the meantime, you can check to see some of them on YouTube. Please also leave a positive review of the Deeper Waters Podcast on iTunes.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Deeper Waters Podcast 3/16/2019: Harold Felder

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

I have grown up in the South and lived here all of my life. My community was largely a white community. I did not have black classmates until I went to Middle School. Church was the same way. That’s just saying a statement of fact.

When I read the Bible, I read it as a white person. Yet could my perspective be different if I had read it as a black person? For example, would I read passages about slavery differently? It’s understandable as a child to read the Bible and assume everyone looked and thought just like you, but when you do more study you know it’s not like that. Most of our movies depict Jesus walking around Jerusalem as someone white. I don’t think He was black, but I don’t think He was white either.

What if you do grow up in the black community. Will you be told sometimes that Christianity is the white man’s religion? Will it affect you when you hear about the way Christianity was sometimes sadly involved with the slave trade. What about the Southern Baptist Convention and slavery? It’s a mark of shame on Christianity today that we have been involved with that, but how can a man of color embrace such a religion?

Why not do what should be done? Talk to such a man. Talk to someone who knows what life is like in that community. Talk to someone who takes race seriously. Talk to someone who wants to reach his fellow African-American community with the truth of Christianity. Talk to Harold Felder.

Who is he?

According to bio:

Dr. H.C. Felder is a former atheist and NASA Software Engineer. After becoming a believer and being exposed to the truth of Christianity, he has dedicated his life to sharing that truth with others.  He has an undergraduate degree in Computer Science, and both a Master and Doctorate degree in Apologetics from Southern Evangelical Seminary.  Dr. Felder is the author of multiple articles in scholarly journals on race and the Bible.  He is also the author of the book “The African American Guide to the Bible.”  

 

Dr. Felder has been married to his wife Tina for eleven years. They have a blended family of four children & six grandchildren.

We will be talking about race and the Bible. What is race? What about slavery? Were there any people of color in the Bible or was it really that Jesus was walking around Jerusalem just as white as His clothes were in the Transfiguration. What about ideas that Christianity is the religion of the white man? Is someone like Dr. Felder a traitor for embracing Christianity?

I hope you’ll be listening to this episode of the Deeper Waters Podcast as this is the kind of topic that we haven’t covered before. Please also consider going on iTunes and leaving a positive review of the Deeper Waters Podcast. I look forward to getting to bring this next episode to you.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Christian Delusion Chapter 8

Is YHWH a moral monster? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Chapter eight brings us the first chapter by Hector Avalos. Much of the material I think is adequately covered in my review of his book on slavery here. I see no reason to reinvent the wheel.

The chapter might as well be a diatribe against Paul Copan and everything he says. I do think Copan is working on another book along these lines so we will see if there is any reply to Avalos there. I intend to really just hit on some highlights.

For one thing, Avalos looks at how Jesus interprets the Old Testament Law and says that Copan assumes Jesus’s stance is correct. In this case, Copan is entirely accurate to do so. It could be Jesus’s stance is incorrect, but Copan is seeing if Christianity is internally coherent within itself. He doesn’t have to prove everything he believes about Christianity in such a case. If he did, then his book Is God A Moral Monster would need to include arguments for God’s existence, the reliability of Scripture, the process of canonization, the existence of God, the case for the deity and resurrection of Jesus, etc. Such is not needed when Copan is really trying to address one question. We might as well say in a chapter by Avalos that he assumes that evolution is true without giving an argument. He has no need to do so when arguing from the perspective of atheism.

He does the same again when Copan argues that YHWH has the prerogative when it comes to life. Avalos says this assumes God exists. If it’s Allah, doesn’t He have the same? Indeed, He would! Yet once again, this is about internal coherence. We don’t need another chapter on why Islam is false.

Yet despite Avalos’s ranting throughout this chapter on how evil YHWH is, the humor and true gold of this essay comes at the end.

As an atheist, I don’t deny that I am a moral relativist. Rather, my aim is to expose the fact that Christians are also moral relativists. Indeed, when it comes to ethics, there are only two types of people in the world.

  1. Those who admit they are moral relativists.

  2.  Those who do not admit they are moral relativists.

It’s just really so amusing. We have a whole chapter arguing that YHWH is a moral monster and then, in the end, we are told there are no moral monsters because relativism is true. What has Avalos been complaining about this whole time? He doesn’t like killing Canaanites. YHWH does. So what?

While the book Copan wrote with Matthew Flannagan does advocate Divine Command Theory, there are other explanations. Avalos doesn’t even bother with any of them. He ignores that some of us of the more Thomistic variety have another way of determining morality and that’s by determining goodness. For all his talk about assuming, Avalos, in this case, does assume that there can be only one way to establish moral principles.

Avalos goes on to say that atheism offers a much better way to construct morals. Really? How could you tell? Do you produce better morals? That can’t be because of relativism. Better results? Same problem.

In the end, Avalos says that we still find God to be a moral monster who endorses slavery, genocide, and infanticide, as only a moral monster could. Upon what grounds? He has told us all of this is relative and then returns quickly to being an absolutist. He tells us that what is frightening is that Copan can say that killing women and children is sometimes good. That frightening ethos, Avalos says, makes the New Atheism more attractive all the time.

Except how could it? Copan supposedly says it’s good. Avalos disagrees. So what? Those are just relative differences. They don’t really matter. Again, Avalos is just confusing. He says that morality is relative and then complains about moral wrongs.

That kind of inconsistency is making Christianity more attractive all the time.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: The African-American Guide to the Bible

What do I think about Dr. H.C. Felder’s book published by Christian Faith Publishing? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Let me say at the start that I am not an African-American. I am very much white. However, I know there are many people in the black community that do struggle with the Bible due to issues in it such as slavery and how it has been seen as a white man’s religion. When I lived in Charlotte, I used to hear some of Felder’s shows on the radio and so I wanted to get his book to see what he would say from his experience about these kinds of issues.

There was also another concern of mine. I had a fear that the approach would also somehow demean other races throughout and I had a hope that that would not happen. I am happy to say that Felder’s book does not do that. I did not feel at all attacked as a white person reading this book.

Let’s start with some nitpicky issues and such I disagreed with on the way and get those out of the way. As one who defended Mike Licona when Geisler went after him, I did think at times there was too much dependence on Geisler in the work. I would have liked to have seen interaction with scholars who specialize in the Bible more.

One such indication of that influence is on p. 145. In speaking of Genesis 2 and the reference to Cush, Felder says there is no reason to take the reference as symbolic. That right there is a pretty big assumption. Maybe there is. Can we be absolutely certain we know so much about the text that we can rule that out? I’m not stating that I think it is symbolic, but if someone can make a case, let’s be open to it. From there, Felder goes on to say that if we start taking those places as symbolic, how do we determine what is and isn’t symbolic? Maybe all of the creation account is. Maybe then the fall of man is negated and there’s no need for a savior and Christianity is false without a literal understanding of Genesis.

Which would mean that we have a strong case from the New Testament that Jesus was resurrected from the dead in the body and was fully God and fully man, but we might not be sure because Genesis isn’t literal? Not buying it. I don’t need a fully literal (Whatever that means) Genesis to know that man is fallen. I can see that turning on the evening news or just looking in myself. Felder even speaks in this paragraph of the slippery slope and it’s the one Geisler raised as well.

On p. 42, Felder also says that the disciples became martyrs for their faith. Some of them did, but in all honesty, we don’t have the best historical testimony for all of them. Sean McDowell spoke of this well in his book The Fate of the Apostles, a book I interviewed him on on my own show.

I also found the section on prophecy lacking as an orthodox Preterist, particularly the idea that the return of the people to Israel in 1948 was a fulfillment. Last I checked, that was supposed to be preceded by national repentance, not followed by it.

So now, let’s go to the positives. Felder does look at the issues very seriously. The discussions about race and such are all interesting. He shows that there were people of color, not necessarily black, but people of color, all throughout the Bible. We have had a tendency to “whitewash” the Bible as it were when we make movies and the like.

The discussion about race is quite eye-opening as Felder spends a good deal of time looking at what race is. This involves a look at it in ways I had never thought about before. It’s not a really cut and dried question and I leave that for interested readers.

There is good material on slavery as well. Those who are concerned about the issue I think will find good support here. Felder naturally speaks with a heart on this being from a people that in the past 200 years experienced slavery in this country.

Felder also answers objections such as why is it that the white man seemed to thrive while the black men didn’t? Don’t blacks routinely score lower on IQ tests? Aren’t there differences in the races since blacks are more prone to getting certain diseases? Felder does leave food for thought in all of this.

Still, I think overall as I’ve indicated, the Biblical looks are the most interesting. Felder goes through the testaments and shows who could be seen as people of color in the passages. He goes to great lengths to show that racism has no place in the life of any Christian. What is good about this is that it is clear no race as we put it is superior. Blacks, whites, Asians, Indians, Eskimos, whatever race you want to talk about, none are superior and none are inferior.

While this book is meant for the African-American community, I think it will benefit those of all races. Those who are white like myself could read it and get a perspective on what it is like to be of another race and see how the Bible is seen from that perspective. In the end, I appreciated the read and I hope you will too.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Deeper Waters Podcast 12/22/2018: Richard Averbeck

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

If there’s any dark spot in the history of America, it’s slavery. When we think about the Civil War, we think about slavery. While it was defended and sadly, even an organization like the SBC was founded to defend it, today, you will have a hard time finding anyone who supports the practice.

Yet we find so many people talking about it today for one reason. It’s in the Bible! When we read the Bible, it looks to many people like God approved slavery. Does that mean what went on in the Civil War had his stamp of approval? How are we to understand texts in the Bible about slavery?

After all, the text says at times that you can beat your slave if he is disobedient. It says that a person who leaves his master will not be able to take his wife and kids with him. It says that slaves can be bought from the surrounding nations and they are slaves for life.

Can we defend any of this? Is this what we can expect from the supposed loving God revealed in Jesus Christ? Surely God could have given us a better system than this couldn’t He?

To discuss these matters, I’m bringing on a specialist in slavery in the Bible with an emphasis on the Old Testament. We’ll be talking about the Bible and slavery. Did what happen in the Bible match the New World scenario? What was life like in the Ancient Near East? Does that make a difference when it comes to slavery? To discuss these questions, I’m bringing on Richard Averbeck to discuss them.

So who is he?

According to his bio:

Richard (Dick) grew up on a dairy farm in Wisconsin and came to know the Lord when he was 18 years old at the University of Wisconsin, River Falls. About two years later (January, 1972) he transferred to Calvary Bible College in Kansas City where he began his academic study of the Bible, theology, and the biblical languages (Greek and Hebrew). It was there that he met his wife, Melinda.  

 

After his graduation from College in 1974 Richard and Melinda were married and moved to Grace Theological Seminary in Winona Lake, Indiana. In 1977 Richard completed the Master of Divinity program at the Seminary and they moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to pursue the Doctor of Philosophy program in ancient Near Eastern Studies and biblical Hebrew at the Dropsie College for Hebrew and Cognate Learning (now known as the Annenberg Research Institute of the University of Pennsylvania).

 

In 1980 Richard completed his class work for the Ph.D. degree and they moved back to Grace Theological Seminary where he took a position as a professor of Old Testament Studies and taught until 1990. During that time Richard and Melinda became the parents of two boys, Nathan and Micah. They now have two grandsons: Jaycob 17 and Levi 4 ½. He finished his dissertation on the Gudea Cylinders, a long Sumerian temple building hymn (from about 2100 BC), and received the Ph.D. degree from Dropsie in 1987.

 

From 1987 to 1989, while continuing to teach full-time in Old Testament Studies at Grace Theological Seminary, Richard engaged in the study of biblical counseling under his colleague at the Seminary, Dr. Lawrence J. Crabb, Jr. He received the Master of Arts in Biblical Counseling (MABC) degree in 1989, and is presently a “Licensed Professional Counselor” in the State of Wisconsin. From 1990 to 1994 Richard taught full-time at Dallas Theological Seminary in the fields of Old Testament Studies and Biblical Counseling, and carried on a part-time private counseling practice. In 1994 the Averbecks moved to Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin for Richard to take-up his present ministry as a full-time professor in the Old Testament and Semitic Languages Department at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (TEDS), Deerfield, Illinois. In 2010 he also took on the Directorship of the PhD program in Theology Studies at TEDS.  

 

Richard was the Director of the Spiritual Formation Forum for about ten years from 1997 to 2007. The major concern of the Forum was to assist in the development of spirituality and spiritual formation ministries in Evangelical Christian institutions such as Seminaries and Graduate Schools, Colleges, International Ministries, Campus Ministry Groups (on secular campuses), and Church Denominations as well as individual local churches. Richard continues to preach, teach, and publish in the field of Spiritual Formation.

 

Richard has published numerous articles in the fields of ancient Near Eastern Studies, especially Sumer and Sumerian literature, the relationship between ancient Near Eastern Studies and the Old Testament, the Old Testament Law, especially the ritual law and priestly theology of the Old Testament (Leviticus, the tabernacle, the sacrificial system, etc.), the latter in Walter Elwell’s Dictionary of Biblical Theology (Baker, 1996); Willem VanGemeren’s New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology and Exegesis (Zondervan, 1997); and David W. Baker’s and T. Desmond’s Dictionary of the Old Testament: Pentateuch (InterVarsity Press, 2003). He was Chair of the Biblical Law Section of the Society of Biblical Literature from 2004 to 2010, and serves on several other professional society committees. Richard also co-edited and contributed to Crossing Boundaries and Linking Horizons: Studies in Honor of Michael C. Astour on His 80th Birthday (Bethesda, Maryland: CDL Press, 1997), he was the main editor and a contributor to Life and Culture in the Ancient Near East (Bethesda, Maryland: CDL Press, 2003), has published on the Gudea Cylinders and Sumerian Creation Texts in The Context of Scripture volumes 2 and 4 (the latter forthcoming), and has published numerous other articles in these fields.

 

In recent years, Richard has become engaged in the renewed scholarly discussion about the early chapters of Genesis. He was one of the five main speakers at the Bryan Institute symposium on reading Genesis 1-2, September 29-October 1, 2011, Chattanooga, Tennessee, along with Todd Beale, C. John Collins, Tremper Longman III, and John Walton. Richard’s chapter is entitled: “A Literary Day, Inter-Textual, and Contextual Reading of Genesis 1 and 2,” in Five Views on Genesis 1 and 2, ed. Daryl Charles (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, forthcoming 2013). He is also the author of “The Three ‘Daughters’ of Baal and Transformations of Chaoskampf in the Early Chapters of Genesis,” in Chaoskampf in the Bible and the Ancient Near East, ed. JoAnn Scurlock (Winona Lake, Indiana: Eisenbrauns, forthcoming 2013). Most recently he has been appointed a co-director of the “Evangelical Theology and the Doctrine of Creation Project” funded by the Templeton Religion Trust through the Henry Center for Theological Understanding at TEDS.

 

Richard is currently committed to several book writing projects including: A Priestly Theology of the Old Testament; The Old Testament Law and the Christian; A Rest for the People of God: Reading the Old Testament for the Christian Life; and commentaries on the books of Leviticus (in the Evangelical Exegetical Commentary forthcoming from Logos Research Systems) and Numbers (in the Biblical Theology for Christian Proclamation Commentary Series forthcoming from Broadman & Holman).

I hope you’ll be looking forward to this episode. If you’ve done any internet discussions on Christianity, you’ve probably come across this topic. May this episode equip you to better understand the Bible and slavery. Please also go on iTunes and leave a positive review of the Deeper Waters Podcast.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Why I Don’t Take Internet Bible Critics Seriously

Should you really pay attention to that critic? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Let’s be fair. There are some skeptics out there that do their homework. They do try to really find out what scholars in the world of the Bible are saying and make reasonable cases. I disagree, but at least they are doing their due diligence.

The majority are not.

For the past couple of weeks or so, I’ve been going through a big book. It’s Behind The Scenes of the Old Testament and it’s about 512 pages and most of these pages have plenty of lines on them. It’s the kind of book that these same skeptics will not even read. It would be practically a miracle if they even skimmed it and looked at the pictures.

And yet, these same people will think they can speak with authority on the events in the Bible. They will speak on slavery in the Old Testament and all they have is their knowledge of the Civil War in America and the fact that they are offended and think that is sufficient. Never will they dare ask questions like, “What is slavery in the ancient world? What was the purpose of it? What other alternatives did they have?”

Let alone do these people really have an understanding of the Law for Christians. Many think that the Law was meant to lead us to some kind of Utopia and everything in it is a moral principle for all time. It’d be kind of hard for a Christian to say this since Jesus in the New Testament said that Moses permitted divorce to the people because their hearts were hard. This is not to say there are no moral truths in the Law, but the purpose of the Law is not to produce perfect people.

Too many critics of the Bible read the Bible from a modern Western perspective and then look back on the dumb and unenlightened culture they see in the Bible thinking they’ve made a powerful critique. Argument from outrage is a favorite. God did XYZ! What kind of God would do this? The conquest narratives are a favorite. Lately, I’ve seen David’s baby dying as a result of David’s sin as an example of this. (Strangely enough, these same people will also defend abortion. Go figure.)

My advice to Christians on this is to first off not take such critics seriously. If someone is not willing to read and study life in the Ancient Near East, they shouldn’t comment on it. If they do, we shouldn’t take their comments seriously. I say the same thing about Christians who want to go and critique evolution, but will never ever pick up a book on science in their lifetime. Reading your favorite Christian who argues against evolution without studying science yourself and just repeating what they say is just as bad as reading a new atheist on the Bible and repeating what they say without studying it yourself.

Let me make a caveat here. If you are a Christian and you do read the science and you do want to argue against evolution, have at it. It’s not the route I take as evolution is a non-issue to me. I just don’t repeat the arguments. Someone could be making powerful arguments against evolution or talking nonsense. I don’t know.

Also Christians, if I go after the atheists for doing this, I want to be fair and go after us. Too many of us who are Christians don’t bother to study the context either. We take one little section out of a prophecy and either make it about the end times in a dispensational paradigm (As if the prophets never ever said anything about their own culture) or they make it about themselves.

Let’s go with an example. In Jeremiah 29:11, God tells the people that He knows the plans He has for them, plans to prosper and not harm and to give them a hope and a future. Great passage. It’s used so many times in cards for college graduates and such. Horrible interpretation right there.

Jeremiah is making this point to Israel as they are going to Babylon. If you are sending a card to a college graduate who’s part of a covenant people and is being shipped off to Babylon, then that’s okay. If not, you might want to rethink it.

“Great. So are you saying this verse is useless aside from historical information?”

Not at all. We could apply this to us today. Picture a pastor saying this.

“The children of Israel had received a promise from God. They were about to face suffering and that suffering would make them wonder about the promise. They would doubt it and think God had failed them to let this happen. God assures them that is not so. In the same way, we today are recipients of the promises given to Israel and in Christ. We can often go through hardship and suffering still where we wonder if God has abandoned us. Hebrews tells us that God will never leave us or forsake us. As there was a purpose for the children of Israel going into Babylon, so there is a purpose for our suffering and Romans 8 tells us that God will work all things for good to those that love the Lord. Whatever you are going through in your life, realize that God is in control. As He did for the children of Israel in being with them in their suffering, so will He be with you.”

There. If anything, this is a richer understanding I think because it is connected to the New Testament. In the passage in Jeremiah, we can know that some of the people who went to Babylon never came back. After all, the return was about 70 years later. In the New Testament, some promises are individualized, such as Romans 8. We will all in Christ be resurrected in new and glorified bodies and each of us will give an account of what we have done and each of us will be treated accordingly. At the same time, we are a community in Christ and should live that way.

Studying the context of the passage goes a long way and will help us. Critics of the Bible need to really work to study the text instead of thinking that outrage is an argument. Christians need to study it because we think it comes from God and we need to treat it seriously and not misapply it. Will we always interpret it properly? Of course not, but we should always seek to bring the best information to the table that we can.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

Book Plunge: Why Christianity Is Not True Chapter 5

Can we trust the Bible? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

We’re continuing through David Pye’s book. This chapter is on the Bible and I was really looking forward to dealing with something more meaty. Much of what I have seen so far seems to be much more experience oriented. I came here hoping to get a lot more.

I hate to say that I did not get that.

So let’s go through and see what I did get.

Pye starts with the canon. In this, he asks some good questions Christians should ask. The problem is, that’s all he does. He asks the questions. The only scholarship he goes with is Elaine Pagels. There is no hint of interacting with Michael Kruger or Lee McDonald. Both of these scholars have written well on canonicity and the forming of the canon, but their works are absent. A good basic look can be found here.

Generally, a book had to be by an apostle or an associate of an apostle, it had to be received by the majority of the church as a whole, and it had to be in line with the tradition known to everyone that went back to the historical Jesus. Pye instead quotes Pagels who says

Contemporary Christianity, diverse and complex as we find
it, actually may show more unanimity than the Christian
churches of the first and second centuries….Before that
time, [the end of the second century] as Irenaeus and
others attest, numerous gospels circulated among various
Christian groups, ranging from those of the New
Testament, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, to such
writings as the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Philip,
and the Gospel of Truth, as well as many other secret
teachings, myths, and poems attributed to Jesus or his
disciples.

She goes on to say that

We now begin to see that what we call Christianity – and
what we identify as Christian tradition – actually
represents only a small selection of specific sources,
chosen from among dozens of others. Who made that
selection, and for what reasons?

For the latter, as said, these are good questions. Unfortunately, no answers are apparently sought for them. For the former, I challenge Pye to find me one time where these other Gospels were accepted on a major basis by the early church. You can find an isolated church that used something, such as the Gospel of Peter, but these are the exception. There was never any doubt about the four Gospels we have today.

In response to all that Pagels says, Pye answers that

I shall not here be pursuing answers to this question. I’m simply flagging up that there were many writings about Jesus, but only some of them were included into the New Testament. Christians may assert that it was the hand of God that determined this – that is, it was God Himself who ensured that only those writings that He had inspired were included in the New Testament. But we may reasonably speculate that in fact it was “power struggles” in  the early Church and/or historical accident that determined what was included and what
excluded.

Yes. Answers will not be pursued, but let us speculate sans history and make the judgment. I wonder if I would be allowed to do the same thing with the sciences. Perhaps sans evidence, I should say people who embrace atheism are just wanting to live sinful lives without having to face a judge one day. It is a reasonable speculation on my part, so why not?

Pye then goes on to say picking and choosing is a problem. Some people choose what they want to accept and what they want to reject. Absent is any consideration on looking at hermeneutics and how to examine a case and apply it properly or the relationship between the two testaments or even examining the cases historically and choosing to use that which holds up historically. Pye goes even further saying that even if you go with 100% in the Bible, you’ve still trusted your own fallible judgment.

Heads he wins, tails you lose. So apparently if you don’t believe everything, you’re picking and choosing. If you do, you’re also picking and choosing. Absent is any notion that someone could choose to believe the Bible because they have studied it and seen that it holds up.

From there, Pye goes on to talk about moral problems. He treats the Bible as if it was an instruction book on how to live the good life. It contains instructions on that, but that is not the purpose. The ultimate purpose is how to know about Christ and His Kingdom. Living a good life is tied into that, but the Bible is much more than that.

Pye then gives us Deuteronomy 21:18-21

When a man has a son who is rebellious and out of
control, who does not obey his father and mother, or take
heed when they punish him, then his father and mother are
to lay hold of him and bring him out to the elders of the
town at the town gate, and say ‘This son of ours is
rebellious and out of control; he will not obey us, he is
a wastrel and a drunkard.’ Then all the men of the town
must stone him to death, and you will thereby rid
yourselves of this wickedness.

So how many people have applied this to their lives? Pye says this thinking that the rules of a political nation in a covenant relationship with YHWH as their king and set apart from the rest of the world as a political institution and as an old covenant must surely apply to us the exact same way. It doesn’t. Today, there are great works to read on this like William Webb’s Slaves, Women, and Homosexuals or John Walton’s Old Testament Theology For Christians here. It’s understandable Pye did not read these if they were not yet written. It is not understandable that it appears that nothing was read. My own response to this can be found .

Sadly, Pye continues with listing some other passages. All he gives is the references. It strikes me more as “This offends me and therefore it’s wrong.” There’s no attempt to understand the culture. There’s no attempt to show that Israel was supposed to be a utopia on Earth for all time. Nothing.

I can happily say Israel was not the perfect society. It was not meant to be. It’s a stepping stone. Slavery, for instance, was a reality for everyone in the ancient world. If you go to someone today and tell them you support slavery, much of the world will look at you aghast. If you go to the ancient world and say that, they will do the same.

One wonders what people like Pye expect. Was God supposed to create a Wal-Mart immediately for everyone to work at? The reality was that in the ancient world, if you didn’t have money or resources, you had to serve someone who did. Actually, if we thought about it, that’s still the way the world is.

Still, let’s humor him. First, Exodus 21:7-11.

If a man sells his daughter as a servant, she is not to go free as male servants do. If she does not please the master who has selected her for himself, he must let her be redeemed. He has no right to sell her to foreigners, because he has broken faith with her. If he selects her for his son, he must grant her the rights of a daughter. If he marries another woman, he must not deprive the first one of her food, clothing and marital rights. If he does not provide her with these three things, she is to go free, without any payment of money.

Today, a woman can often work for herself and doesn’t have to marry. Not so in the ancient world. A woman would be provided for by a man and one of the best ways also was making sure she had descendants. A man who sold his daughter was not getting rid of her. He was trying to assure a better life for her by giving her to someone who could provide for her and to unite two families together. In this case, the man must provide for her. He is not to deprive her even of marital rights, a good way to make sure she can still have children. This is a system to protect the woman in that society.

Exodus 21:20-21

Anyone who beats their male or female slave with a rod must be punished if the slave dies as a direct result, but they are not to be punished if the slave recovers after a day or two, since the slave is their property.

This is again a society that out in the wilderness does not have a jail and also since slaves were day-wage earners, depriving them of financial income would mean starvation of some kind. Physical discipline was what was done. Why is the slave owner given the benefit of the doubt? Because the slave is his property. The slave represents his income. The owner wants to keep his income. Note also as we see later that if even a tooth is knocked loose, the slave goes through. This is set up to put limitations on things and protect the slave.

Deuteronomy 7:1-2

When the Lord your God brings you into the land you are entering to possess and drives out before you many nations—the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites,seven nations larger and stronger than you— and when the Lord your God has delivered them over to you and you have defeated them, then you must destroy them totally. Make no treaty with them, and show them no mercy.

Again, this is common in acts of war and also hyperbolic. One only needs to go through Joshua and find out that the land is described as having the inhabitants driven out and lo and behold, there they are. Pye could see this as a contradiction. It’s not. It’s hyperbole. Ancients spoke this way. Keep in mind also these people knew Israel was coming. If they wanted to escape, just pack up and move. Again, Pye could bear to read people like Copan, Flanagan, and Walton.

Joshua 6:20-21

When the trumpets sounded, the army shouted, and at the sound of the trumpet, when the men gave a loud shout, the wall collapsed; so everyone charged straight in, and they took the city. They devoted the city to the Lord and destroyed with the sword every living thing in it—men and women, young and old, cattle, sheep and donkeys.

This is more of the same and we need not say more. We could say that these acts of war are not mandated for all people in all times and all places. They are for a specific people in a specific place at a specific time in a specific situation.

Pye goes on to list contradictions. He gives two. How did Judas die and what about the genealogies of Jesus? I will happily grant the genealogies of Jesus is one that has had much wrestling done with it. The early church itself had a number of solutions to the problem. For Judas, many say that Judas hung himself and later the rope broke and his body fell and burst open. Even if this is not what happened, it is still something possible and plausible. Finally, none of this shows Jesus did not rise from the dead. Christianity does not depend on inerrancy.

Pye also brings up the whole “Dear Dr. Laura” letter. My ministry partner has a great video on that. By the way, just on the side here, I think the lady who does the voice work for the main female character in the video sounds totally hot!

But now, Pye comes to what he thinks is the most important section of the chapter and one of the most important ones of the book. This is where he is going ot show the Trinity is unbiblical. As one who has interacted with cults in the past, I came here hoping for a great metaphysical argument.

Instead, I got a question.

Where does the Bible say to worship the Holy Spirit?

That’s it.

No. Really. That’s it.

So because this command is not there, then it doesn’t matter if the Holy Spirit is called God, speaks as God, is personal, and does everything else. The Bible has to explicitly say that you are to worship the Holy Spirit. Without that, every other piece of data can be there, but it’s somehow incomplete.

The only reference he makes here is to Billy Graham. Billy Graham was indeed America’s pastor, but he would have been one of the first to tell you he wasn’t an academic. There are a number of scholarly works on the Trinity that are available to be read and these by academics. Why weren’t they sought out?

Pye goes on then to say that

The absence of authority in the Bible for worship of the Holy Spirit should be a cause of disquiet for all Christians. And for those Christians who are adamant that the Bible alone is their authority the problem is enormous. Such a Christian faces the following choice:-

1. He must find a passage in Scripture in which the Holy Spirit is worshipped (ideally several – to avoid reliance on a single “proof text”)

or

2. He must stop worshipping the Holy Spirit given that there’s no authority for this in the Bible

or

3. He continues worshipping the Holy Spirit – but thereby accepts that the Bible is not his sole authority for what he believes.

To begin with, a Catholic or Orthodox Christian would say the Bible is not the sole authority and have no problem. Do Protestants have one? Not at all. Pye has confused Sola Scriptura with Solo Scriptura. No Reformer ever said the Bible was the only authority. None of them said the church fathers or tradition were irrelevant.

What Pye is doing is taking the position of the Bible as the ONLY authority. Anyone who has ever attended a church service and heard what the pastor said would have already violated that rule. The Reformers said that nothing could be accepted as Biblical if it contradicted Scripture.

Does worshiping the Holy Spirit do that? No. The Holy Spirit is shown to be God and it is proper to worship God. That would not even be saying the Bible does not say that. Look at it this way.

We are to worship God.
The Holy Spirit is a person of the Trinity with the full nature of God.
Therefore, it’s okay to worship the Holy Spirit.

Pye goes on to say that anyone then who believes in the Trinity is doing something unbiblical because we are never explicitly told to worship the Holy Spirit. Again, this is not a big problem. It is also a false understanding to say that any Christian says the Bible is the sole authority. Even from the beginning of the church, some were given to be teachers.

The next chapter is on narrative formation, but I find this one still extremely weak and wish Pye would have interacted with more real scholarship.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Paul Behaving Badly

What do I think of Randy Richards’s and Brandon O’Brien’s book published by IVP? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Paul can be a very polarizing figure today. Some Christians have the idea that Jesus is really awesome (And they’re right), but we don’t know about that Paul guy. He wasn’t even one of the original twelve. He didn’t meet Jesus in person. Why should we listen to him? Some skeptics will claim that it was Paul who really invented Christianity and took the good message of Jesus and turned Him into a deity and lost sight of His message.

For those of us who do like Paul, we do have to admit there can be difficulties. As the authors ask “Was Paul a jerk?” Sometimes, it looks like he was. They bring this up in a number of areas. First, the general question of if he was a jerk. Then they ask if he was a killjoy, a racist, a supporter of slavery, a chauvinist, a homophobe, a hypocrite, and finally a twister of Scripture.

Each chapter starts with the charges against Paul and they do bring forward an excellent case. You can look at the claims and if you are not familiar with the debates it is easy to ask “How is Paul going to get out of this one?” The authors also grant that Paul is not one behaving according to 21st century Western standards, but he was still just as much behaving badly to his own culture as he was just as radical to them. Paul is kind of in an in-between spot sometimes. Many times he’ll push the envelope further and leave it to us to keep pushing it. The question is are we going to do that.

Many of these questions need to be addressed for the sake of many people you will encounter who raise these objections. (Why didn’t Paul just demand the immediate release of slaves?) I enjoyed particularly the chapter on Paul being a killjoy. O’Brien gives his story in this one on how anything wasn’t to be done because we are to abstain from the appearance of evil so let’s make sure we all go see only G-rated movies and are teetotallers. (While I personally abstain from alcoholic beverages, I don’t condemn those who drink and control their alcohol.)

Some insights I thought were interesting and added perspective. Why did Paul seem to take contradictory stances on meat offered to idols? Why did he have Timothy circumcised when Timothy was from the area of Galatia and Paul had made it clear that if you let yourself be circumcised, then you are denying the Gospel. (If you want the answers to those questions, you know what you need to do.)

I would have liked to have seen a little bit more on the honor and shame aspect of the culture of the time. There is some touching on this, such as talk also about the client/patron system, but a quick refresher would have been good for those who don’t know it. Of course, I definitely recommend that anyone pick up their excellent book Misreading Scripture With Western Eyes.

This book is a great blessing that we need today. Paul, like I said, is one of the most controversial figures even among Christians. To deal with his critics and to help those who would like to support him, you need to read this book.

In Christ,
Nick Peters