Archive for the ‘Popular Teachers’ Category

Book Plunge: Truth In A Culture of Doubt

September 26, 2014

What do I think of Kostenberger, Bock, and Chatraw’s book? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Bart Ehrman is described in this book as the rising rock star of the New Testament world. While more and more Christians are learning about him, too many are not, and sadly, the first time they often hear of him, they are unprepared for what he has to say. The tragedy is best described by the way Chatraw sums it up.

Later I was a bit surprised when I had a similar discussion with a couple of well-respected pastors in my community. These conversations helped me see once again that most people, even pastors, don’t know much about what’s going on in the world of biblical scholarship. The other authors of this book have had similar discussions.

In fact, just recently I was sharing some detail concerning the last 12 verses of Mark and a good Christian friend was concerned I might have caused some doubt for some. I understood that concern well and shared some information on textual criticism to help deal with it, but it’s a shame that that which is common knowledge is seen as detrimental to the faith of some simply because the pastors have shielded them from the academy. In fact, pastors are usually the worst culprits.

Thankfully, the lay people do have friends in the authors of this book. These authors have done the service of taking Ehrman’s popular works seriously and addressing the main concerns that are raised in some of the most well-known ones. The reader who goes through this book and learns it well will be much more equipped to survive a class from Ehrman or someone like him.

If you are familiar with the arguments, you won’t find much here that is new, but that’s okay. This is written for those who are not really familiar with Ehrman and his arguments yet. If you are familiar with them, you will find that you still have a good resource where the major arguments can be found listed together.

One important insight that the book has that I agree with and have noticed myself is that Ehrman most often is quite good at giving you one side of the argument. He ignores that which is against his hypothesis. They consider his latest book “How Jesus Became God” as a for instance. In this book, Richard Bauckham is not mentioned once. He mentions Hurtado but does not interact with his main claims. He does not interact seriously with the Shema. I’d also add that in his section on miracles, brief as it may be, there is no mention whatsoever of Keener.

Ehrman has been undermining the Christian faith of many for a long time and unfortunately he’s probably right that too many are just closing their ears and humming so they don’t have to hear what he has to say. This should not be the Christian answer. If you want to get the Christian answer, an excellent gateway to that destination can be found in this book. I highly recommend it.

In Christ,

Nick Peters

Deeper Waters Podcast 9/27/2014: Truth In A Culture of Doubt

September 25, 2014

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

Bart Ehrman is becoming a much more common name around the world and this includes even in Christian households. Unfortunately, there are still several in the church who don’t know about who he is and the reality is that if they do not know now, they will surely be knowing in the future, most likely when their children come home from college and announce that they’re no longer Christians because they don’t believe in the Bible.

To those who haven’t read the other side, Ehrman’s case can seem to be a strong presentation, but is it really? The authors of “Truth In A Culture Of Doubt” say it isn’t, and one of them will be my guest to talk about it. He’s been on here before and it’s a pleasure to welcome back to the Deeper Waters Podcast, Dr. Darrell Bock.

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“Darrell L. Bock is Senior Research Professor of New Testament Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary in Dallas, Texas. He also serves as Executive Director of Cultural Engagement for the Seminary’s Center for Christian Leadership. His special fields of study involve hermeneutics, the use of the Old Testament in the New, Luke-Acts, the historical Jesus, gospel studies and the integration of theology and culture. He has served on the board of Chosen People Ministries for over a decade and also serves on the board at Wheaton College. He is a graduate of the University of Texas (B.A.), Dallas Theological Seminary (Th.M.), and the University of Aberdeen (Ph.D.). He has had four annual stints of post–doctoral study at the University of Tübingen, the second through fourth as an Alexander von Humboldt scholar (1989-90, 1995-96, 2004-05, 2010-2011). He also serves as elder emeritus at Trinity Fellowship Church in Richardson, Texas, is editor at large for Christianity Today, served as President of the Evangelical Theological Society for the year 2000-2001, and has authored over thirty books, including a New York Times Best Seller in non-fiction and the most recent release, Truth Matters, a response to many issues skeptics raise about Christianity in the public square. He is married to Sally and has two daughters (both married), a son, two grandsons and a granddaughter.”

We’ll be discussing many of the works of Ehrman and the problems in them. This will include works such as “God’s Problem”, “Misquoting Jesus”, “How Jesus Became God”, “Lost Christianities”, “Jesus Interrupted”, and “Forged.” We’ll be talking about how Ehrman is quite a skilled communicator but he unfortunately only gives one side of the argument on a regular basis and does not interact with the best opposition against his viewpoint.

If you have a child you plan to send to college one day, you owe it to yourself to listen to this program to learn about the work of Ehrman and how best you can answer it. Ehrman will only give one side of the argument. Make sure you know the other side of the argument just as well. Please be looking for the next episode of the Deeper Waters Podcast to show up in your ITunes feed.

In Christ,

Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Truth Matters

April 7, 2014

What do I think of this work by Darrell Bock, Andreas Kostenberger, and Josh Chatraw? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

I recently got a copy in the mail of this book that I was told was written for college students or even high school students. That way, they would be prepared for what they would encounter in college. The main one that the writers want to prepare students for is someone like Bart Ehrman, who is probably the most common go-to person for skeptics of the Christian faith on Biblical matters. (Except somehow of course for “Did Jesus Exist?” Many internet atheists hold the opinion that Ehrman dropped the ball on that one.”)

The writers write to someone who has never really considered these kinds of deep questions before. There is a concern they have to make sure that the position of Ehrman is not seen as the only position there is. This is important since Ehrman usually makes it out that his position is the position of scholarship, despite their being numerous scholars who disagree. Of course, it’s easy to just write them off as “biased” or “not mainstream” even though Ehrman himself has a bias as we all do and these positions that are held by his opponents are indeed mainstream and held by a sizable number of scholars.

There is also a section on dealing with the problem of evil since Ehrman makes a case in “God’s Problem” about how the problem of evil is the best evidence against the existence of God. While I do agree with that aspect, I don’t think that Ehrman makes the case.

It’s also important to point out that Ehrman does indeed not give the whole story. The student who goes into the classroom of Ehrman or someone like him should be prepared to examine both sides of the evidence and too often, that just isn’t really allowed. A good teacher will present not just his views, but also the best reasons against his views and the best scholarship against those views. Of course, he is allowed to say what side he comes down on, but let’s make sure that the opposite side is presented in the best possible light.

Overall, this is an excellent book to prepare, but I do wish there had been a couple of changes. First, I don’t recall anywhere in the book where apologetics was even named. I am sure this must be intentional for some reason, but I wish it had been so the student who wanted to know more could have an idea of what it is he was looking for.

Also, while it’s good to help those preparing for college, nowadays, we must go younger and I hope future works are going to address that. We need to have ways of dealing with internet atheism for our youth, such as ideas that Jesus never even existed or that the story of Jesus is based on pagan myths that the early Christians copied. I understand a future work is in the works and I hope that in that one, that the writers will address objections largely held by internet atheists.

Still, I would be glad to place this in the hands of someone about to go to college. I just would hope they’d realize that what I gave them is the start of their intellectual diet. It is not the conclusion of it.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Deeper Waters Podcast 3/29/2014: How God Became Jesus.

March 27, 2014

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

Last week, my guest was Dr. Charles Hill. This week, he’s going to be back again and he’s got some friends with him. The others will not be here for the whole show but will be here for part of it. Those will be Chris Tilling and Michael Bird. Do those three names sound familiar? They should. All three of them are some of the co-authors of a book called “How God Became Jesus”, a response to Bart Ehrman’s “How Jesus Became God.”

Those wanting to learn about Dr. Hill are invited to check the link to last week’s show. So what are the details on Bird and Tilling?

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“Dr. Chris Tilling is Lecturer in New Testament Studies at St Mellitus College and Visiting Lecturer in Theology at King’s College, London. He is the author of Paul’s Divine Christology (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2012) and the editor of Beyond Old and New Perspectives on Paul (Eugene, Or: Cascade, 2014). He also runs the biblical studies blog, Chrisendom.”

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“Michael F. Bird (PhD, University of Queensland) is lecturer in theology at Ridley Melbourne College of Mission and Ministry in Melbourne, Australia. He is the author of Jesus and the Origins of the Gentile Mission, The Saving Righteousness of God: Studies on Paul, Justification, and the New Perspective, Evangelical Theology, Bourgeois Babes, Bossy Wives, and Bobby Haircuts: A moderate Case for Gender Equality in Ministry and editor of The Apostle Paul: Four Views. He is also a co-blogger of the New Testament blog ‘Euangelion.'”

As readers of this blog know, I have already read and reviewed this excellent book and that review can be found here. This is going to be a must-read for those who want to answer the latest from Ehrman. After all, as I indicated earlier.

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Of course, this doesn’t apply to just atheists. Muslims are likely to jump at this as well as groups like Jehovah’s Witnesses. Fortunately, a work such as this one can introduce the layman to the Early Highest Christology Club, that says that the earliest view of Jesus was the highest view of Jesus and it was not an evolution of Jesus into deity.

So on the show, we’ll be discussing all these topics. Bird largely deals with concepts like the deity of Christ found in Second Temple Judaism. Tilling deals with many of the hermeneutical issues in the writing of Ehrman and the kind of methodology he uses to interpret the data. Hill is the main authority on the patristics and the history of the doctrine throughout the life of the church.

I really hope you’ll be joining me for this. It’s been awhile since we’ve had a group discussion on the Deeper Waters Podcast and this will be the work that people will be talking about for some time. I highly recommend that you go to Amazon or your local bookstore and get a copy of the book, but also to listen to the show. It airs from 3-5 PM EST this Saturday, 3/29/2014. If you have a question, you can call in at 714-242-5180.

The link can be found here.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: How God Became Jesus

March 17, 2014

What do I think about the latest response to Bart Ehrman? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

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It’s time for your regular book due out around Easter that will silence the Christians once and for all. This time, it’s Bart Ehrman who has written “How Jesus Became God.” Fortunately, a group of Christian scholars were allowed to have a copy of the manuscript and have already written a response. Doubtless, the response will not be read by internet atheists who are never interested in reading both sides of an issue and all the scholarly data that they can, nor will it even be read by new atheist leaders. Instead, as I made this image a few days ago, I want to give people a preview of what they can expect after Ehrman’s book comes out.

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I was sent a copy in advance courtesy of Zondervan seeing as Charles Hill, one of the writers of this book, had agreed to be on my podcast for an interview and apparently in talking about that, it was decided that it would be good to have a show based on this book. It is amusing to hear Michael Bird’s description of Ehrman’s book that I was sent and can be found in the introduction of “How God Became Jesus.”

“While Ehrman offers a creative and accessible account of the origins of Jesus’ divinity in Christian belief, at the end of the day, we think that his overall case is about as convincing as reports of the mayor of Chicago, Rahm Emanuel, sitting in a Chick-Fil-A restaurant, wearing a Texan-style cowboy hat, while reading Donald Trump’s memoire—which is to say, not convincing at all.”

Yes. As far as I’m concerned, Michael Bird stole the show. Michael Licona has called Michael Bird a new rock star in the New Testament world. I can see why. Since his chapters in the book are first, it is apropos to start with him. I actually found myself laughing a number of times throughout reading what Bird says. How do you beat hearing someone say that Ehrman’s view of Jesus is so low that it could win a limbo contest against a leprechaun?

Bird has excellent information as well on what was and wasn’t considered divine in the world of Second Temple Judaism and about the view that Jesus had of himself. Throughout what the reader sees is what Craig Evans, the next writer in the book, says about Ehrman. Ehrman is simply on a flight from fundamentalism. He still has the same mindset as to how Scripture should be that he had as a fundamentalist. His loyalty has just changed.

Bird points out that too often, Ehrman gives into a parallelomania, a condition where he sees ideas that he thinks are related but really aren’t. This is the same thing that is done with the idea of Jesus being based on dying and rising gods, which is interesting since Ehrman argues against this idea in “Did Jesus Exist?”

Moving on to Evans, Evans deals with the idea that Jesus was not buried and shows that Ehrman just hasn’t interacted with the latest archaeological evidence. He points out that in many cases, crucified people would not be buried, but that Jerusalem would certainly be a different scenario due to Jewish laws and rituals and such. He also points out that Paul as a Pharisee would certainly have seen Jesus as buried and raised meaning raised bodily. Evans takes us through numerous archaeological findings and writings of Jewish Law to convincingly make his point. (This would also deal with Crossan’s view that Jesus’s body was thrown to dogs.)

After that, we have Simon Gathercole. Gathercole writes on the pre-existence of Jesus to deal with the way that the early Christians saw Jesus. He points out that Ehrman seems to switch back and forth between Christologies based on the idea he has before coming to the text, including the tunnel period, the period between 30 to 50 A.D.

I found it amusing to hear about how Ehrman wants to know the primitive Christology of the early church. (Keep in mind, he does not once also interact with Bauckham, who is part of the Early Highest Christology Club. Not once.) The reason this is amusing is that Ehrman is constantly speaking about how we have such great uncertainty about the text, yet he wants to take this text he thinks is so uncertain, and use this uncertain text to determine oral tradition in it, which we can only know from the uncertain text, and from that oral tradition get to what the early Christians believed about Jesus. Why is it that Ehrman is uncertain about the text but certain about the oral tradition that predates the text that he has no direct access to?

Gathercole also points out that the NT does not quote the OT in a straightforward way. He uses the example of the slaughter of the infants at Bethlehem. Rachel did not literally weep. Also, the slaughter was in Bethlehem, not Ramah. Still, Ramah is close to Bethlehem and Rachel is seen as one of the mothers of Israel. (Though interestingly, she would not be the mother of the tribe of Judah.) The NT simply did not use the OT the way Ehrman thinks it did.

After this, we come to Chris Tilling who writes about the interpretative categories of Ehrman. Tilling points out that Ehrman bases the Christology of Paul on Gal. 4:14, which is hardly the main place to go to find out Paul’s Christology. Ehrman, for instance, does not at all interact with the Shema, which would mean how it is used in a passage like 1 Cor. 8:4-6. Ehrman also says 1 Thess. is likely the earliest Christian writing that there is, yet he does not interact with the Christology in that letter either.

To make matters even worse, the only extended argument with Paul’s letters is the extended exegesis of Philippians 2:6-11. This is an important passage for Paul’s Christology, but there are numerous more passages. Amusingly at places like this, Tilling says Ehrman does not do the work of a historian. One can almost picture Tilling saying “Put some ice on the burn. It will help.”

Finally, we have Charles Hill who looks at church history and the deity of Christ there. He goes through several sources in the church fathers to show that this was indeed the reigning view and wasn’t some aberration as Ehrman would have you to believe. He also points out that the paradoxes that Ehrman thinks should be so embarrassing don’t really seem to embarrass the church fathers at all nor the writers of Scripture.

He also deals with the idea that the charge of killing God given to the Jews led to their persecution. Hill points out that Islam has a non-divine prophet who is not a Christian and has been responsible for going after the Jews. What is that to be blamed on? Does this mean Christianity has always been innocent of anti-semitism? Nope. Does this mean that that anti-semitism is justifiable? Nope. Does this mean that Ehrman overstates his case? Yep.

Finally, we have a conclusion from Bird wrapping up the whole piece. He reminds us of what was argued against in the previous chapters and wraps up with a conclusion that the orthodox view is correct. It’s not that Jesus became God, but that God took on flesh in the person of Jesus.

If there was one flaw that this book has in light of all the great benefits it has it is this. There is no index. The book would be greatly benefited to have an index to look up terms and Scripture passages and other parts like that. The notes are extensive and helpful, but I do hope future editions have an index.

Still, for those wanting to see another great response to Ehrman, it would benefit you to read this one. After all, you can be sure the internet atheists that you’re interacting with won’t be reading it.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

More on Snake Handling

November 18, 2013

Is being forbidden to take up a serpent religious persecution? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Here in TN, some of the big news lately has involved Andrew Hamblin and his snake handling. I have written previously on that here and here. As I live in Knoxville, I see much of this being talked about and frankly, I am concerned.

I am concerned at seeing a church where most people are not learning how to think and the great danger that anyone can say “God moved me” or “God told me” and that justifies anything. This is not to say that God cannot tell people to do things. He’s God. If He wants to, He will, but one needs to have a way in mind to know that it is indeed God speaking. Without that, one has no basis upon which to say someone is being moved by God or instructed by Him and someone else isn’t. We put ourselves in a dangerous position if we seek to put a divine source behind our feelings.

Yet I see people in fact making such a claim. “If God tells someone to take up a serpent, who are we to disagree? Who are we to judge?” One wonders if we can say that if God tells someone to drown their children in a bath tub, who are we to disagree? Who are we to judge? If God tells someone to go on a shooting spree for Allah, who are we to disagree, who are we to judge?

Who we are are rational people that claim to know the God of the universe. The reality is if you are a Christian, you claim to know something about what God is like. You claim to know that God has revealed Himself in Christ and that God also will not contradict His nature. (And if you do not know this, then I urge you to educate yourself on the nature of Christianity. One of the best books you can get and still one for the layman as well can be found here.

If you’re someone who says “I’m not going to judge,” in some ways, you are already judging. Now there is a point to saying “I’m not going to speak yet because I haven’t looked into the issue,” and that’s fine. For me, the issue is clear, but to you if it isn’t, I have no problem with you going out and looking into it and coming back and making a judgment.

The problem comes when you say “I can’t judge and neither should you. No one can speak on this matter.” You’ve already made a statement that maybe this isn’t God at work, but at the same time, this doesn’t contradict the work of God either. What you are claiming is that the behavior is entirely consistent with the nature of God.

That’s quite a judgment isn’t it?

In our world today, the church views judge as a dirty word. It’s not. Matthew 7:1 does not say “Don’t ever judge.” It says to not judge hypocritically. Watch your standard of judgment. That’s what you will be judged by. If your standard of judgment is Scripture, then you must also be held to that same Scripture.

So when it comes to taking up venomous snakes in church, if you say no one can judge, you are in fact saying that this is consistent with God. We have no way of knowing if God is or is not telling people to not take up those kinds of snakes.

In wanting to avoid judging, you make a most severe judgment.

Now another claim being made also is that this is persecution and we need to remember the separation of church and state.

It’s so funny because usually Christians are the ones arguing against separation of church and state. Properly understood, it is a position I hold to. I in no way want to have the state married to Christianity. The problem is this is not a separation of church and state issue.

This is an issue of public safety and the law against holding venomous snakes like that is there for the safety of the public. It is not an arbitrary law without a moral basis. If one thinks it is, they simply need to come up with a reason why first off, the state should not care about people being able to take up venomous snakes, second, why they should drop the old law, and then third why they should in fact promote the churches that want to do this.

Until that is done, this is not the state trying to persecute.

How do I know some of this? Well I did something that I guess shouldn’t be done in finding out such information. I contacted the TWRA (Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency) myself. Yeah. I’m sure that’s terribly unorthodox. They could not comment on the case itself, which is understandable, but they could answer my questions on the snakes. In fact, my wife and I went to the free zoo day at the Knoxville Zoo and I spoke to someone in the office of herpetology (Which includes the study of snakes).

Both references showed me the dangers of these serpents. They are class I, the most dangerous class, for a reason. Their bites could lead to amputations by damaging blood cells and nerve cells and in some cases, could lead to death. This would be especially so for the children and for the elderly. To be able to handle these snakes, one must be a trained professional. My own wife as I said would like to have a fox someday, a class III animal, and she would require certification.

In fact, the Knoxville Zoo has even said that there were 53 snakes in Hamblin’s possession and some of them were in bad condition. Having just one snake would be a huge responsibility in itself, but how could one possibly care for 53 snakes? I do not even think I saw 53 snakes that day at the zoo. No doubt, they don’t keep all the snakes out, but if it takes a place like a zoo to care for that many snakes, how can a single church building do it?

If these snakes aren’t being cared for, then who knows what will happen if they get out and are hungry? This includes snakes like boa constrictors. Boa constrictors are indeed capable of killing children and would be more likely to do so I’m sure if especially hungry.

Now some people are comparing this to anointing oil or a King James Bible. If the state makes a law against these without a rational basis, and I contend that there isn’t one, then indeed it is an unjust law and one we are not obligated to obey, but the law against venomous snakes does have a rational basis and if we choose to defy it, we are actually acting out of pride and saying we are above the law.

So on what grounds could we argue against Muslims who want to claim the same in the name of Allah?

As for persecution, this is not persecution. Too often Christians in America are way too quick to scream “Persecution!” If someone dares to insult Christianity, we cry out that persecution has taken place. Being offended is not the same as being persecuted. Being mocked is not the same as being persecuted.

If you want to hear about real persecution, just listen to stories of Christians in Muslim or communist countries. In these places, you can be killed for owning a Bible. To take the name of Christ on your lips is to put yourself in the eye of the government as a target. Don’t count on them to defend you. They are opposed to you. This was in fact the position of the early Christians.

If we look at what we go through and say that it is just what they went through, we are disgracing our brothers and sisters in the world who are undergoing real suffering on behalf of Jesus. We should all be humble in the face of that. Now I am open to the possibility that that persecution will come. I think we’ve opened ourselves up to it by refusing to stand up for Christ. Should my time come, I hope I would be ready to die for Christ. I’d like to say I would do so with certainty, but the example of Peter in Scripture makes me hesitant to do so. It is easy to talk, but when reality comes, let us hope our actions will be in accordance and for readers, pray for me that they would be if the time came.

What we need to ask ourselves in the church is if the taking up of snakes is really what we want to make our rallying case. Do we want to say that God supports or encourages this or sees it as something that should be done? We’re making a statement either way.

If you want to support, do something to support those Christians who are really suffering persecution elsewhere. Do something to support the work of spreading the gospel more and more. Don’t just support prayerfully and financially, but give of yourself in the work. Be willing to put yourself out there where you can.

In the body of Christ, we all have different roles to play. Mine’s that of Christian apologetics. This is what God used to open me up to the reality of who He is after all. It brings me great joy to defend Christianity and to help people who are struggling with their doubts. This happens not only on this blog, but in private emails that come in regularly.

But you know what? Not everyone is meant to do this. Now I think every Christian is to have a basic apologetic. Every Christian should be able to make some case for the resurrection of Jesus. Not every Christian is to be a scholar and that is the difference. We need scholars who are Christians, but we don’t need all Christians to be scholars.

We need Christians who are doctors. We need them who are teachers. We need them who are astronomers and scientists and garbage pick-up men and plumbers and CEO’s and most anything else. We need Christians who can witness to someone on the street and Christians who do so through the means of the computer. We need Christians who work in soup kitchens and with the sick and homeless and those in need and we need Christians who are in the classroom teaching the next generation. We need all of them.

We have to watch ourselves by what we support for that is what the world sees. They need to know that we are devoted to Christ and we take a representation of Him seriously and any attacks that come against him just as seriously and realize that not all battles are divine battles just because they involve a Christian.

Many of you out there are concerned about the state of America. So am I. The reality is we have more means than the early church did, more technology, more ability, in some ways more knowledge (Unfortunately, we don’t have people with firsthand experience of the resurrection of Jesus so much and the culture is different), etc. The church had far far less at the start and overcame the Roman Empire. If we don’t do so much with what we have been given, we will be held accountable to Almighty God.

Let any reader choose the way they will go forward. I’ve already chosen how I’m going to fight this battle. I see the apologetics ministry as absolutely necessary for reclaiming our world for Christ. I do not see snake handling at all that way, and in fact see it as a detriment.

If you want to defend it, by all means go ahead, but you have also in fact made a judgment about God. I just ask that you seek to see if you are right, because the greatest judge of all will not be mocked or fooled.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Thoughts on Joseph Atwill

October 14, 2013

Did the Romans invent the Christians? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

There has been much talk lately about Joseph Atwill and his claim that Jesus was invented by the Romans. It’s still bizarre to think the Romans would create a religion that they would go out and persecute. Still, many are claiming that Atwill is a biblical scholar as even the press release about the announcement said.

Reality? He’s not.

Is that the opinion of someone like me, a Christian who believes strongly in the reliability of the NT? No. That’s even the opinion of a Christ myther himself like Richard Carrier. Unfortunately as Carrier points out, news of this has not reached Richard Dawkins. Carrier also adds that Robert Price and Acharya S. disagree with this idea. As Carrier says about these people like Atwill:

They make mythicism look ridiculous. So I have to waste time (oh by the gods, so much time) explaining how I am not arguing anything like their theories or using anything like their terrible methods, and unlike them I actually know what I am talking about, and have an actual Ph.D. in a relevant subject from a real university.

If those three, some of the biggest names in Christ-mythicism, say that your theory is bunk, it’s quite likely that it is.

Now it’s rare to find scholarly talk about an idea such as this. Why? Because by and large scholarship ignores crank theories like this. In fact, most people if they really thought they had something would want to take their idea to the scholars first. Larry Hurtado has said that

I haven’t heard of the guy before either (Joseph Atwill), largely because, well, he’s a nobody in the field of biblical studies. No PhD in the subject (or related subject), never held an academic post, never (so far as I can tell) published anything in any reputable journal that’s peer-reviewed, or in any reputable monograph series, or presented at any academic conference where competent people could assess his claims. Instead, per the flimflam drill, he directs his claims to the general public, knowing that they are unable to assess them, and so, by sheer novelty of the claim he hopes to attract a crowd, sales, and publicity. It’s a living, I guess (of sorts).

In saying why he doesn’t bother with it that much, Hurtado says that

It’s not necesssary to engage something so self-evidently unfounded and incompetent. If his press releases at all reflect his stance, it’s not worth the time. We scholars have enough to do engaging work that is by people with some competence. There isn’t time or value in dealing with nonsense. And Atwill and his ilk don’t really want scholarly engagement anyway. Again, let it go.

And when told Atwill would want scholarly engagement Hurtado says

No. He wouldn’t. Otherwise, he wouldn’t avoid the normal scholarly venues to test theories. These people know that they would be shredded by competent scholars.

And yet, it’s making a buzz. Fortunately, even some atheists like P.Z. Myers are condemning it. Myers does not hold back.

I think a few too many atheists are seeing “Scholar Says Jesus Was Fake” and are not thinking any more deeply than that. The whole idea is ridiculous.

If you’re one of the many atheists who gleefully forwarded this to me or credulously mentioned it on twitter…hello, there. I see you’ve already met the good friend of so many half-baked wackos in the world, Confirmation Bias.

That many atheists did in fact spread this immediately and treated it seriously shows that there is indeed a great deal of ignorance in the atheistic community. “Well what about your Christian community?!” I’ve been saying for years the church has failed to educate its members and their fear at something like this is a prime example of it. Our tendency to want to protect ourselves more than anything else keeps us from really isolating with these issues going on in the real world. As I told one skeptic recently, I condemn ignorance on all sides.

Here are some of my problems with the whole theory.

First off, it will HAVE to deal with all the counter-evidence. Can he deal with Tacitus? Can he deal with Josephus? (I know his theory claims to rely on Josephus, but will scholars of Josephus support it?) Can he deal with Mara Bar-Serapion? How about a question of the reliability of the NT? Can he deal with claims for that?

Second, what about the Pauline epistles. The earliest epistles come before Josephus wrote. These epistles also include a creed such as in 1 Cor. 15 that comes to within a few years at most of the resurrection event. Can Atwill’s theory deal with this?

Third, can he demonstrate that the gospels in the genre of Greco-Roman biographies would be able to be read in this way? This theory has been tried over and over by so many people and it has never ended well. Why give Atwill any credit?

Fourth, does he have any evidence from the Roman perspective? Does he have some ancient mention of Jesus that we have never found even though scholars have been looking through works of ancient society? What would this say for Christ mythers who say that there is no mention of Jesus? Why mention Jesus if Jesus was not being talked about?

Fifth, can his theory account for the dating of the NT? Would this not presuppose that the gospels were written after the writings of Josephus? Has he made a case for that? If Josephus based his account on the gospels, which he didn’t, then Atwill’s theory is in trouble. Atwill will require a late date. It would also require the writings of Josephus to also be in Jerusalem at the time already and being read, which will be problematic enough even if just Mark dates to before 70 A.D.

Now by all means, let Atwill present his evidence, but keep in mind he’s trying to bypass the scholarly community and go straight to the sensationalist route. That might be a more popular approach, but it’s not the proper approach to academic work of this nature. The reason one seeks to bypass the scholarly community is most likely because one cannot survive scrutiny under that community.

Check the sources always on claims like this. That so many atheists have passed this on shows that there is just as much blind faith and lack of biblical scholarship in the atheistic community as in the Christian community they rail against. That so many Christians get scared of something like this is an important demonstration of why the church needs a good education in basic apologetics.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Love Still Wins

September 30, 2013

Do I think Tony Watts has a case against Rob Bell. Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

I was sent an advanced copy of the book “Love Still Wins” for a review. In preparation for debate as I told the author, it would have to wait. I had one other book before it and then I was able to get started on this one.

It was a topic I take very seriously. My wife had been a great admirer of Rob Bell for some time and I’d heard some of his videos which I thought had excellent points. I had also read Love Wins and while there were some valuable ideas in there, overall, the theme was dangerous. The biggest problem I had was I don’t know where Bell stands. If he’s a universalist, could he just come out and say it? He never does. Of course, I find it even more problematic that he’s not come out in support of redefining marriage.

I appreciate that Tony Watts, the author of Love Still Wins, has written a response to Rob Bell. Watts and I reach the same conclusion in that Bell’s teaching is wrong. I’m not sure if I’d go as far as Watts to say heresy. I have seen the debate several times as to whether or not universalism is a heresy. This has even been among conservative Christians who don’t hold to universalism.

Despite our agreement on the conclusion, I did think there were some matters that were lacking in the book. First off, I do think the style that Watts writes in is not going to be one that reaches people who are followers of Bell. Watts writes in a more “preachy” manner than anything else using biblical terminology. You see terms throughout such as referring to the regenerate and unregenerate. I know what that’s talking about, but I wonder how many readers who aren’t as skilled theologically will catch on. It is terminology one doesn’t often hear used today and terminology that I think will be a turn off.

Second, I find some of Watts’s language to be ambiguous. Watts writes on page 19 about popular culture and I was a bit puzzled at this. Popular culture was never defined. For instance, if a message is made that is geared towards sports fans, is that using popular culture? Is it wrong? How about books that have come out about the Gospel According To X, where a pop culture series is looked at for Christian themes. Would Watts have a problem with this? I don’t know.

Third, some of Watts’s case itself in hermeneutics I found to be troubling. Watts tells us that we need a plain or literal interpretation that would be according to the ordinary sense. But plain and ordinary for who? A 21st century American? A 19th century Englishman? A 17th century Japanese man? A 12th century Frenchman? A 5th century German? A 1st century Jew? All of these will have a different idea about what the “plain meaning” of the text is. (It’s also worth pointing out that the term literal really means “According to the intent of the author”.)

In fact, this gets us into the other big problem I had with this part. Watts says an important part of a sound hermeneutic is to have a distinction between Israel and the Church. As an orthodox Preterist, the reasons I found given to make that distinction were incredibly lacking. Most any Preterist would be able to explain these easily. In fact, I find the dispensationalist hermeneutic to be one incredibly damaging. Consider how many people are said to be “prophecy experts” today and yet when they speak about Middle Eastern events, they always turn out to be wrong. How many people have come and gone that were “The Antichrist”? Yet at the same time, these same people will go after the Jehovah’s Witnesses, and rightfully so, and use as one of their arguments that their prophecies are always wrong. Of course, I believe all prophecies of Scripture are true, but I don’t agree all interpretations are true. Because of this idea being put in there, which I find completely pointless to the overall scheme of defending the doctrine of Hell, I found myself unable to appreciate much thinking that I did not really trust Watts’s hermeneutic and wondered that if these passages were being misapplied, how many others were?

In fact, some statements he put up of Bell’s along these lines I found myself agreeing with. He claims that Bell thinks any view that claims objectivity is warped and toxic, with this quote especially. “The assumption is that there is a way to read the Bible that is agenda- and perspective- free…. When you hear people say that they are just going to tell you what the Bible means, it is not true, they are telling you what they think it means.”

Now the only part I disagree with is that they could be telling you what the Bible means. Some interpretations are right after all! Yet if Bell’s point is that we all come to the text with prior agendas and perspectives, he is absolutely right! I as a Preterist am tempted to read passages that way and interpret them according to that prior framework. The same for a dispensationalist. It also applies for a Calvinist or an Arminian and for a Young-Earth Creationist and an Old-Earth Creationist. We will never learn from Scripture if we come to it always presupposing our interpretation is correct. One part of good objective Bible Study is to try to see past your own culture. (That includes seeing past your idea of what the plain and normal sense is.)

Another passage he gives where I agree with Bell is when he says that Bell writes that “To think that I can just read the Bible without reading any of my own culture or background or issues into it and come out with a ‘pure’ or ‘exact’ meaning is not only untrue, but it leads to a very destructive reading of the Bible that robs it of its life and energy.”

I agree with this. The Bible was written in a high-context society. When Paul writes his epistles, there is already an oral tradition going around that did not need to be repeated. The Bible is written assuming you understand much of the culture, language, figures of speech, geography, etc. Consider the book of Revelation. Revelation rarely rarely quotes an OT Scripture, but it has been said that about 2/3 of the book is alluding to various OT passages and if you do not understand the genre of apocalyptic literature, you will horribly misinterpret Revelation, especially if you go by what the “plain sense” of it is.

This doesn’t mean that objectivity is not possible. It means that if we want to be objective, we must work at it. We must seek to understand the culture of the Bible even better. (Something most critics also fail to do.) When I learn about the world Jesus lived in even more, I will better understand the NT.

I find this in contrast to Watt’s view where he writes about Sola Scriptura on pages 20-21. I hold to this view if it’s properly understood. If by Sola Scriptura, you mean the Bible is the final authority, which Watts does say, and that nothing that we hold in Christianity to be true can contradict it, no problem. If you mean though that the Bible is sufficient in itself for understanding, I disagree. Reading the Bible in a cultural vacuum will get messages out of it that the authors never intended.

Fourth, I found that it seemed to me like Watts was often saying “It just is” in response to a question of “How is it right for God to send people to Hell?” On page 137 we read “God has spoken on the matter of hell, and despite our inability to reconcile it with what we might call ‘love’ does not matter.”

Well actually, I think it does matter a great deal. This kind of reply I think is just a silencer saying “Even if we can’t reconcile it, He’s God and He’s love and He can do what He wants.” I happen to think the charge is real and one that is worth answering. I wrote in the side of the book at this point “How does love win?” Does love win just because we say it does and wins by definition then? Why can’t Bell say the same thing? He’s right by definition. He can say “Love does not do this. Therefore, love wins.”

I wonder what kind of view Watts has. For instance, he says on page 123 that more will be lost than saved. This is based on Matthew 7. Yet what about Revelation 7? Revelation presents us with a great multitude no man can number. I consider Matthew 7 to be based on an immediately reply to Jesus’s ministry and not to the long term. Note that even in the next chapter Jesus talked about many coming from all directions to the feast of God. With Watts having a multitude going to Hell, I found myself wondering “How does love win?” Add in that this is especially so that this is because of the “divine decree.” Does that mean for Watts, God has decreed that more would be lost than saved. Why?

I also found myself unsure about Watts’s stance on those who’ve never heard. My position is simply that the judge of all the Earth will do right. Watts rightly emphasized the importance of preaching and pointed to Romans 10 with “How can they hear without someone preaching to them?” Yet a verse Paul quotes there is this one:

“Yet their voice goes out into all the earth,
their words to the ends of the world.”

This is from Psalm 19. What is the voice in that passage? That voice is the voice of general revelation. I find pointing to a passage like Acts 4:12 to be problematic. No one can be saved apart from the authority of Jesus Christ, which is what is meant by the name. Does that mean they have to know the name entirely? I’m honestly not sure. I keep these facts in mind.

The Bible tells us we are to do the Great Commission. There is no justification for not doing it so we can’t use the idea that God can get a message out another way as an excuse.

The Bible also says that the judge of all the Earth will do right.

What about those who’ve never heard? Get them the gospel as soon as you can, but at the same time, realize that if there was no way we could have done it, He has His own ways. (This has been seen in dreams and revelations in other places.) In the end, no one on the last day will be able to say to God “It was not fair.” I conclude ultimately God will rightly judge based on the light each person had.

A final concern is that I would have liked to have seen more scholarly interaction. For instance, some references in the book were based on class notes. Surely one could have gone out and found an academic book with the same idea that would present the case just as well? Watts says he studied under Gary Habermas on the historicity of the the resurrection at Southern Evangelical Seminary. If that’s the case, why not read some of Habermas’s material on this and use it, such as in “Beyond Death”? There are other great books on this such as “Hell Under Fire”. Why were not any of these kinds of works consulted to get a more evangelical position on Hell? (For instance, I got the impression on page 135 that Watts believes Hell is really a place of actual fire) I would have much more appreciated seeing scholarly interaction to critique Rob Bell.

In the end, I do appreciate Watts’s desire to deal with what Bell has said, but I think that the ways that I’ve given would be important steps to consider in making the ideas more marketable for people who are in agreement with Bell.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Ehrman’s Introduction To The New Testament

February 9, 2013

Are our students ready for Seminary? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Yesterday, I went on a search through local churches in our area to see how many of them were interested in having a speaker come talk about apologetics-related topics. I would consistently find that there were youth programs and college programs, but on only two churches can I recall finding anything remotely related to apologetics.

Oh you can find about concerts and pizza parties and “Jumping into God’s Word!” everywhere. What you cannot find is serious content. It is more important to keep our youth entertained. Still, there will be some who will want to go off for higher learning and that includes in the Christian faith and when we send them off to Seminary or Divinity School or something of that kind, we can be sure that they’ll be safe. Places that teach the NT will teach them the beliefs that they grew up with.

If you really believe that, you are part of the problem.

I have been making it an effort to study Bart Ehrman’s material more. In wanting to get the most of his thought, I ordered his “Introduction to the New Testament.” Now Ehrman does say that he’s just trying to go with what historians can say about the Bible. If you want to believe the Bible is the Word of God, he’s not going to tell you to not do that.

However, he sure won’t give you any reason to think that.

Now of course, Ehrman does have some good material in there. There are some interesting ways to look at the text and a good student of the NT should be prepared for that. Yet despite his saying that he doesn’t want to persuade you of X, the end result is that his book will persuade you of X if you are not prepared.

Sorry parents and ministers, but pizza parties are not preparing us.

“But we are teaching our youth what the Word of God says!”

Until they meet an Ehrman who tells them through his book in a Seminary that the gospels are by anonymous authors and we can’t really study miracles and the accounts are written late and that there were other holy men walking around doing miracles and that most critical scholars think that a number of books in the NT are pseudonymous and that there are numerous contradictions in the Bible.

It will be hard for the youth to think the Bible is the Word of God while accepting all of that.

And what are they to counter Ehrman with? Faith? No. Faith is not meant to be a counter. It is not meant to be a leap in the dark. It is meant to be trust on reliable evidence and unfortunately, going to that big youth concert is not giving the youth the tools they need to be able to have that reliable evidence. There is only one way for them to get it. They must be taught it. Either parents and churches will teach them what they are to believe about the reliability of Scripture, or rest assured people like Bart Ehrman will.

It is quite disappointing to find that Ehrman never really gives counters to his positions. For instance, when discussing who wrote the Gospels, he never lays out the case for why some scholars think Matthew wrote Matthew. Any mention of the church fathers saying X wrote a Gospel are seen as “hearsay” because they are too late. (Although apparently 20th century interpreters are not too late.) It doesn’t matter that the tradition is quite constant about the authorship of the gospels and these are the people who would have been in the position to know. Ehrman will give no reason why you should think Matthew wrote Matthew, but he will give you reason to think that he didn’t.

The same goes with dating. Ehrman will tell you that these accounts were written after the events and use time descriptions that sound like a long time, without bothering to mention how long after the fact it was that other ancient biographies were written and that the time is like a blip in comparison.

When discussing a passage like 1 Cor. 15, Ehrman will say some people use it to defend the resurrection, but absent is any mention of the arguments that are used by those people. In fact, Ehrman says very little about the resurrection. He certainly gives no other explanation for the data. This is increasingly a concern of mine. Ehrman will give the impression that there is no one in scholarship who disagrees with the position of critical scholars and if they are, they are certainly in the minority.

His usage of Acts is quite odd. When Acts suits his purpose, such as when saying that Peter and John were uneducated, then Acts is reliable. When Acts disagrees with what he says, as it does numerous times, then Acts needs to be taken with a grain of salt. Why should I accept Acts 4 as reliable when I should question the “We” passages? This would be particularly so since Acts 4 would be early and the writer would not likely have been an eyewitness.

To be fair, a few times Ehrman will list evangelicals in the recommended books, but the overall tone of the book is clearly one that is meant to show that we should not trust the accounts.

Interestingly, when it comes to the text of the NT, his main area, Ehrman says the following on page 481:

“In spite of these remarkable differences, scholars are convinced that we can reconstruct the original words of the New Testament with reasonable (although probably not 100 percent) accuracy.”

This isn’t the impression you’d get from books like “Misquoting Jesus” or “Jesus Interrupted.”

So now let’s return to the college youth groups in churches. Our youth are not prepared. What are we to do with this? If we don’t do anything, then when the student goes off to college and starts reading Ehrman’s book, there will be one of three possible responses.

1) The person will apostasize or at least severely water down their faith effectively nullifying any good they could do for the kingdom.

2) The person will hold on to their faith but purely as a “faith” position and will isolate themselves from the world and not bother interacting with disagreeing thought, again effectively nullifying any good they could do for the kingdom.

3) The person will actually study Ehrman’s arguments and read the other side and make a defense for the Scripture.

Sadly, #3 will be the rarity if it ever happens.

We must be doing better. There’s nothing wrong with having some pizza parties and concerts and such, but if this is all we are doing for our youth, we are sending them off to have their faith destroyed, and no amount of pizza will restore it.

The choice is ours. We can determine who will teach our youth how to think about the Bible. It will be us, or it will be our opponents.

Choose wisely. Their eternity and the eternity of people they reach could hang in the balance.

In Christ,

Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Did Jesus Exist?

September 10, 2012

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

I’ve had this one sitting for awhile meaning to read it but some of you may know how it is. You find one more book that you want to order at the library and you do so and that becomes another and then another and then another and those books you have at home that you’re meaning to read never seem to get there. Encouragement from others on this book finally got me to sit down and go through it and I do agree, it is a good book.

A great advantage that we have in this book is that this is someone that normally the atheist community respects, although there has been quite a backlash against Ehrman since he wrote it. It is quite amazing that atheists who often say Christians go against all of scholarship in being against evolution can often themselves do the same in going against all of scholarship in being Christ-mythers and yet they think that this is a respectable position. It is not. It never has been. It never will be.

Not only this, Ehrman gives plenty of evidences that the Christian can use in dating the evidences. For instance, Ehrman says within a couple of decades of Jesus’s death, we have numerous accounts of his life in a wide geographical area. He notes that there are at least eleven sources. (82-83) He makes it clear that there are possibly more. On page 108 we read “The Other is that the Acts account gives clear evidence of being very early and Palestinian in origin.”

Also, Ehrman does not hold back when he speaks about people like Acharya S. and Freke and Gandy in “The Jesus Mysteries.” He repeats a number of statements that he refers to as howlers that can be found in them. He will also throughout the book deal with other Mythicists like Richard Carrier, G.A. Wells, Earl Doherty, and Robert Price. I do know Price has recently responded to Ehrman’s appearance on Unbelievable? talking about this and Carrier was quite vehement in his reply to Ehrman.

Ehrman also includes a basic historiography and tells us about how we can establish someone’s existence in the ancient world. He lays myth to the idea that the Romans kept excessive records and points out that there is hardly mention of many people whose existence we do not doubt in the ancient sources. Josephus is not mentioned for instance. Ehrman also thinks it’s implausible to point out that Caesar is mentioned, as if the person who rules the Roman Empire could be compared with any person living in the Empire. (Nevertheless, Jesus does get an impressive number of mentions)

I do think his responses to why Jesus isn’t mentioned in other sources are weak. I would answer that the reason Jesus isn’t mentioned is the same as it would be today. Suppose you hear about someone halfway around the world who is working miracles. Are you really going to investigate it? Even if you get on your computer, you’ll find one site that explains it away and that can be enough. Most of us don’t take that claim seriously, even if we believe in miracles!

Now transplant that to the Roman Empire. Suppose you’re in Rome. You hear about this Jewish rabbi in the backwater area of Palestine who is doing miracles. What are you going to say? Simple. “What a bunch of ignorant superstitious people.” You’re not going to bother because you’re predisposed to be against miracles, especially if you hear about a resurrection. After all, who wants to come back to life anyway? Finally, if you hear he has been crucified, well that clinches it. No great ruler would be crucified.

In fact, this is something Ehrman states repeatedly with regards to crucifixion. Jesus’s crucifixion is not something the early Christians would have made up. They would have done anything to avoid it, but the reason that they preached it is that they could not avoid it. It was an undeniable fact and they not only had to share it, but they even saw the basis for it in the Scriptures. If this was the wisdom of God, they were to find it.

Also, Ehrman does a number on the position that because something is in the Bible, we should not accept it as evidence. Ehrman believes the atheist is as wrong as the fundamentalist Christian. It is neither fair nor scholarly. Something does not fall outside the realm of historical inquiry just because the word “Scripture” is given to it. He also says there is no God-given hermeneutic for reading them and they are human and historical. Christians can agree by and large. While we think there is a divine origin, it is also through human authors.

In looking at a response to Mythicist themselves, Ehrman repeatedly points out that the whole of scholarship is in disagreement. The book gives an impression of one Ehrman is disappointed he has to write. The idea is that this theory is so absurd that it does not even, as he says, get a toe-hold in the academy. This also includes even the claim that Nazareth didn’t exist of Rene Salm and Ehrman frequently quotes scholars on the subject, seeing as archaeology is not his area, who make it clear how shoddy they think Salm’s approach is.

He also goes after Kersey Graves, who is a regular source for mythicists, and says that not one of his claims is footnoted with any scholarly evidence. Where does Graves get his information from? We don’t know. We do know that numerous mythicists online are still quick to point to his material about 16 crucified saviors. It is always important to ask people who make the claims about Jesus being a copycat Messiah to back their claims with primary sources.

When it comes to those pagan beliefs, Ehrman says that they did not have a foothold in Palestine and that while there are similiarities, there is no basis to say copying was going on. This brings up a point some readers might wonder about. What do I think about this book in comparison with J.P. Holding’s “Shattering the Christ-Myth.” After all, Holding spends much more time on the matter of copycats then Ehrman.

Overall, I do think Holding’s work is more thorough and better at dealing with the copycat theory and every other aspect. This could also be because Holding’s material is written by a group of individuals. One wonders how long one could write individually on the Christ-myth before one thinks they were repeating themselves. One can find much more in Holding’s book on Mithras, the Testimonium Flavianum, and Remsberg’s list. (I don’t think Remsberg is even mentioned in Ehrman’s.)

Many Christians find disappointment with Ehrman’s book at the end when he describes Jesus as a failed apocalyptic prophet. Coming from a Preterist perspective, I did not find this section disappointing but rather confirming. After all, I see Ehrman as reading the predictions of Jesus with the same fundamentalist thinking he condemns elsewhere. I can easily look at the text and say “Jesus was an apocalyptic prophet and He was right!”

While I do think Holding’s material is superior for the reasons given, I still think this is an important one as the skeptic is more prone to listen to someone like Ehrman. I will still be including links to both resources.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Shattering the Christ Myth can be found [url=http://www.amazon.com/Shattering-Christ-James-Patrick-Holding/dp/1606472712/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1347303077&sr=1-1&keywords=shattering+the+christ+myth]here[/url]

Did Jesus Exist? can be found [url=http://www.amazon.com/Did-Jesus-Exist-Historical-Argument/dp/0062204602/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1347303116&sr=1-1&keywords=did+jesus+exist]here[/url]