Posts Tagged ‘Gospels’

Book Plunge: Jesus: Evidence and Argument or Mythicist Myths?

November 21, 2014

What do I think of Casey’s book? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out!

If you had noticed a lack of Book Plunges on the blog lately, that’s because I was busy reading books in preparation for my debate with Ken Humphreys, and I am extremely pleased with how I did and I am certain that when you hear the debate that you will think the mythicist position was extremely lacking. Still, I did not want to be cocky so I chose to read all I could on both sides.

Maurice Casey was an agnostic NT scholar who seems to have reluctantly found himself drawn into this. I suspect it was something like the case with Ehrman where one of his main assistants, Stephanie Fisher, saw mythicism gaining ground on the internet. Casey decided to start looking into their writings. As can be imagined, he and Fisher both found them extremely lacking, and at the same time, extremely confident.

One benefit this book has is a rogues’ gallery of who’s who in Jesus Mythicism. Casey seems to have a special dislike for people like Earl Doherty, Neil Godfrey, and Acharya S. Interestingly, Ken Humphries is not mentioned at all. It would have been nice to have seen more about Richard Carrier and it would be interesting to know what Casey would have thought if he had got to read Carrier’s book.

Casey does rightly point out that we need to avoid fundamentalism, yet too often he seems to go extreme with that as well. How exactly does Ben Witherington get listed as a fundamentalist? He’s anything but! It’s also important to state that while some institutions of higher learning have a statement of faith, people who sign on to that and agree to teach there already agree with it based on years of research. I can point out that there is just as much on the other end of scholars who are willing to accept any explanation before they’d accept a miracle, no matter how bizarre. Despite that, they can still be excellent scholars and we should avail ourselves of their learning.

A major problem I had with the book of Casey’s is that he really makes a lot out of knowing Aramaic. There is no doubt that Casey was an expert in this field but too often, it looked like the Aramaic card was being thrown around too easily and that Casey’s knowledge of Aramaic meant that he was right in what he said. No doubt sometimes it was valuable, but like I said. It was used too much.

I also wish that something had been said about the extra-biblical evidences. It would have been helpful to include information in that regard concerning Tacitus and Josephus for instance. Mythicists will too quickly throw out the NT and twist any bit of data to go and accept the theory they’ve already arrived at.

On the other hand, Casey does make some excellent defenses of the Gospels including that some healing stories he thinks are accurate, though he does trace them to psychosomatic healings. It’s quite interesting that mythicism has got non-Christian scholars writing books that are showing the Gospels are reliable.

I also wish more had been said about high context societies including resources that could be used for further study. I find this is an important point that many people in the world of historical Jesus studies miss and they do so with great loss. Understanding the social world of Jesus really changes everything.

In conclusion, the book is a mixed bag. I am really thankful that many non-Christian scholars are stepping up to point out the flaws of mythicism and I hope more Christian scholars do so as well. If you are into this debate, if you can call it that, then you could be benefited by reading Casey’s book.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

A Response To Richard Hagenston

October 6, 2014

Is your pastor really not telling you some truths about the Bible? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Richard Hagenston is an ordained United Methodist minister and a former pastor who has written a book called Fabricating Faith: How Christianity Became A Religion Jesus Would Have Rejected. Now to be fair, I have not read the book yet, but someone sent me a link to the blog of Hemant Mehta, the “friendly atheist”, where he has a guest post by Mr. Hagenston.

Now I’d like to start with a sad statement. I think the reason many of these issues will never come up from pastors is that frankly, most pastors don’t even think about them. I have said several times that too many pastors are unequipped. I am not saying all pastors should specialize in apologetics, but all pastors need a basic knowledge at least of apologetics, they need to have at least one “Go-to” person in the church on apologetics, and they need to be able to emphasize the importance of apologetics to their flock. The sad reality is too many people in the flock have no clue what apologetics is, including myself for a long time, and this could be because many pastors don’t know either.

The result of this will be in the increasing amount of misinformation put out. On the one hand, Christians who apostasize from the faith will go out and share all this information that they never knew about, most of it coming from bogus sources on the internet. The second is that there will be too many Christians who will follow in kind because their pastor never protected them. Unfortunately, those who stay in the faith too often live in their secluded bubbles and ignoring the outside world, which kills any chance of their fulfilling the Great Commission.

That having been said, let’s look at the truths that will not be told.

The first is that the apostles did not know of a virgin birth.

The problem with such a claim is the same as illustrated by Christ-mythers. It relies on an argument from silence. If X never mentioned an event, then he didn’t know about it. We could only guess from something like this that a large population of the world at the time knew absolutely nothing about a volcano that destroyed Pompeii and Herculaneum. Because we deem something as important does not mean that the people of the time would have really wanted to talk about it.

Let’s consider the virgin birth. If the first Gospel written was Mark, why would Mark not mention it? It’s really quite simple. Mark is an inclusio document that is based on the eyewitness of Peter. Peter would most certainly have not been present for a virgin birth. Despite this, some think there could be a veiled reference in describing Jesus as the son of Mary instead of of Joseph in Mark 6:3.

Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him.

In fact, it could be the virgin birth would not be something that the writers would want to mention. As David Instone-Brewer points out in The Jesus Scandals. the virgin birth would have also been seen as an embarrassment. Not because if it was true that that would lower Jesus. It is because it would be seen with skepticism and in a Jewish culture, it would admit one sure fact about Jesus.

Jesus had a birth that was not normal.

Why would that be shameful? Because that could easily lead to the charge that Jesus was a mamzer, that is, a child born illegitimately. That might not be as big a deal here in modern America, but in the Jewish culture, that would really call into question your status as a righteous man of God. A writer like Matthew could have heard the rumors and think he had to say something and grasp onto Isaiah 7:14, which was admittedly not seen as Messianic at all. (Were Matthew making up a story, one would expect him to use passages that were seen as Messianic.)

Another danger of this is that unusual births (Not virgin but unusual) was part of the system of pagan gods at the time. Jews were quite resistant to paganism at the time. Now they could accept some cultural aspects, but their religious aspects were by and large kept. Excellent information on this can be found in Jesus and His World by Craig Evans and The Jesus Legend by Greg Boyd and Paul Eddy. For a brief example, we see in the garbage of the Jews in Jerusalem few if any pig bones before 70 A.D. After 70 A.D., we see them. Why 70 A.D.? That’s when Jerusalem was destroyed and the Romans would have taken over the area and observance would not be practiced as much.

Why would Luke mention the virgin birth? Luke could quite likely have had Mary as one of his sources while he was in Jerusalem, which I suspect at this point happened when Paul was on trial as described in Acts and Luke had plenty of time. Luke wanting to show Jesus’s relation to all men could have shown that this happened this way to say Jesus is not just for the Jews. He’s for the Gentiles as well and his unique birth pictures that.

For John, John goes way beyond the virgin birth and has the fullest statement of pre-existence in the Gospels. If John is also the last to write, it could be that he would know what was covered in the others and feel no need to repeat that ground.

As for Paul, why would Paul really need to mention it? Now it could be mentioned in Romans 1 and possibly in Galatians 4, but is it really important to the message of Paul? In a high context society, this is what would have been known already. Paul is not writing a life of Jesus. He is trying to deal with problems in the church and there’s no need to interrupt an argument on whether Christians should be circumcised or not with “Oh by the way, Jesus was born of a virgin.”

For more on this, listen to my interview of Ben Witherington in the second hour of my podcast here and to my interview with David Instone-Brewer here.

Now could it be that the other apostles didn’t know of a virgin birth for arguments’ sake? Sure. You need more than silence to show that.

The second myth is that Jesus offered nothing for the Gentiles. The first two pieces of evidences are that first off, Jesus’s healing of Gentiles was limited, such as the healing of the Centurion’s servant, and second, the way Jesus treated the Syrophoenician woman.

It is interesting that the centurion’s servant is used as an example because in the story, Jesus says many will come from the east and the west to dine with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, while the sons of the kingdom will be cast out.

10 When Jesus heard this, he marveled and said to those who followed him, “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith. 11 I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, 12 while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

What the author misses is that Jesus’s first focus was Israel. He was coming to them to offer Himself to them as their king. It never meant He never saw anything beyond, but it meant that His message started with Israel.

So what about the Syrophoenician woman? Here we have a case of Jesus using sarcasm and I’d say in fact, pointing out the problems with the attitudes of the Disciples who most likely would certainly have seen this woman as a dog. Let’s look at the story.

21 And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon. 22 And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” 23 But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, “Send her away, for she is crying out after us.” 24 He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” 25 But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” 26 And he answered, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” 27 She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eatthe crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” 28 Then Jesus answered her,“O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly.

Jesus in the Gospels regularly challenges the assumptions of people around him. “Why is He with a Samaritan woman?” “Which one of these men is a neighbor?” “If this man was a prophet, He would know what kind of woman this is.” “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors, sinners, and prostitutes?” John the Baptist as well did this. “God can raise up children of Abraham from these stones.” Could Jesus be doing the same here?

Note that Jesus doesn’t complain about the presence of the woman. It is the disciples who do. The disciples are the ones who have no compassion for the woman and want Jesus to send her away. Jesus doesn’t go out directly since he’s trying to escape the crowd and rest for now along with his disciples. This woman must have sought him out then and Jesus’s first words in the dialogue are not to the woman, but are to the disciples.

Jesus in fact points to a schedule in His ministry to the woman. He never says “No.” He instead points out that His first priority is Israel. The woman in fact never disagrees. She never asks specifically to be made a focus. All she asks for is crumbs from the table. Pets in the house would traditionally be fed later, but surely she can get a little something for now. Jesus commends her on her faith which would no doubt have shamed the disciples who were supposed to be part of faithful Israel. Jesus in fact was being the true Israel by being kind to a foreigner and acting as a priest for a foreigner.

Let’s consider also another passage in Matthew. This is 21:43.

43 Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits.

This is part of the Parable of the Vineyard and we must realize how shocking this statement is. This would be like saying in our country that much of our financial abundance and our land would be given to a third world country outside of us. Many of us in America still have this idea that we are central in the story of history and everything revolves around us. Now I do love our nation, but we are not the focal point of history. Empires come and empires go.

If you were a Jew and heard this, it would mean the covenant promises were being violated by your people and God would leave you abandoned. The Jews had experienced that in the Babylonian exile and did not want to go through it again! They were the special nation. They were the ones chosen by God. How could they miss out on the blessings? Jesus’s words are absolutely shocking.

And of course, Matthew is the one that has the Great Commission in His Gospel as well ending out his own inclusio account. Jesus is said to be God with us in the virgin birth and he is God with us even to the end of the age.

The other piece of evidence is that Paul experienced resistance from the Gentiles. This is the passage used.

11 But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. 12 For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. 13 And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. 14 But when I saw that their conduct was not in step withthe truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?”

Yet in this passage, we see nothing about how Peter responded to Paul. Instead, we find the way that Paul responded to Peter and pointing out that Peter was acting out of line with the Gospel by living as though righteousness would be declared by following the food laws rather than through faith in Christ. What evidence do we find that Peter accepted Paul?

Now we could point to 2 Peter, but that is not usually accepted and since our writer later on writes about forgeries, I doubt he would accept it. So let’s go with Galatians itself.

In Galatians 1, we read the following:

18 Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and remained with him fifteen days. 19 But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord’s brother. 20 (In what I am writing to you, before God, I do not lie!) 21 Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia. 22 And I was still unknown in person to the churches of Judea that are in Christ.23 They only were hearing it said, “He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” 24 And they glorified God because of me.

No resistance here.

And from those who seemed to be influential (what they were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality)—those, I say, who seemed influential added nothing to me. On the contrary, when they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been entrusted with the gospel to the circumcised (for he who worked through Peter for his apostolic ministry to the circumcised worked also through me for mine to the Gentiles), and when James and Cephas and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given to me, they gave the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and me, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. 10 Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do.

No resistance here either.

In fact, if tradition is true and Clement was the disciple of Peter, then we could see what Clement says about someone his teacher would have supposedly opposed.

We read the following in 1 Clement 47:1

Take up the epistle of the blessed Paul the Apostle.

Again, not real resistance.

So thus is the second secret dealt with.

For the third, how about Jesus never claiming to be God in the synoptics?

The first major mistake here is that the only way to many people to claim deity is to go around saying “Hey! I’m God!” In reality, in the ancient world, like much of today, actions spoke louder than words and Jesus regularly pointed to His actions. This would be His claim to forgive sin, and this apart from the temple itself, His claim to be the Lord of the Sabbath, and His claim to send out the angels in Mark 13 as well as His strong claims about sitting by the right hand of God and coming with the clouds (Language of theophany) in response to the high priest.

While more passages could be listed, let’s look at what Hagenston says.

In fact, all of those first three gospels show Jesus scoldingly saying that he should never be thought of as God. Mark 10:18 depicts Jesus as saying, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.” Obviously, he took offense at the mere thought that he might be considered to have the same righteousness as God. He is shown making the same point in Luke 18:19 and Matthew 19:17.

Obviously? No. Not obviously. It might seem that way to a modern Western reader, but in the ancient world, Jesus would have known this man was trying to butter him up as it were. How will He respond to a compliment of an exalted type? Does He deny that He is good? Then why should anyone listen to Him? Does He affirm His own goodness? Then what kind of person is He claiming to be? Jesus instead deflects the comment without once denying it. “Okay. You want to say I’m good? That applies to only God. Are you ready for that level of commitment?”

Unfortunately as the story shows, the man was not ready for it.

For more on this and how the church perceived Jesus early on, see my interview with Charles Hill, Michael Bird, and Chris Tilling on How God Became Jesus . For a look at how the ancients would have viewed Jesus from their perspective, see my interview with E. Randolph Richards here. For a defense of the incarnation and Trinity, see my interview with Rob Bowman here. 

The next objection is that the Gospels have irreconcilable differences in the resurrection accounts.

Let’s suppose that’s true.

So what?

Most scholars today defending the resurrection don’t even go to the Gospel accounts to do so. They go to 1 Cor. 15 and Galatians 1-2. Inerrancy is not a requirement for the Gospels to be true or even reliable. (Although one could find in commentaries several ways to reconcile the resurrection accounts.) So what does Hagenston say?

To add to the confusion, the Gospel of John shows Jesus appearing in both Galilee and Jerusalem. The actual appearance of a resurrected Jesus would have been so stunning that it raises the question of why there was not even one record of such an event that made a deep enough impression to be passed down in all the gospels.

Once again, the problem is the argument from silence. There are any number of reasons why such an appearance would not be mentioned, including it not being really needed. One account with more than one witness would have sufficed in a Jewish court of law. Of course, for an excellent defense of the resurrection, the best work now is Michael Licona’s “The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach.” You can hear my interview with
him here. You can hear my interview with Gary Habermas on the same topic here.

Next is the claim that Jesus opposed public prayer. Did he?

“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.

“Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

“And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

How is it you are not to pray publicly? You are not to pray publicly to be seen by others. Jesus would have known about several public prayers in the history of Israel, such as Solomon at the temple ceremony in thanking God for it. This was in fact proper for someone acting as a priest to the people. Jesus condemned instead showman prayers, prayers done just to receive glory for oneself.

The next claim is that some books of the Bible are forgeries and this is most notably, the pastoral epistles. Hagenston does bring up some reasons why they are thought to be forgeries.

However, there is wide agreement among many Bible scholars that they differ so much from Paul’s vocabulary, style, and teachings that they could not be by him.

It’s interesting that he talks about the teachings being so different and then in the next paragraph compares 1 Cor. 14:34-35 to 1 Tim. 2:11-15. Of course, he does say 1 Cor. 14 is likely a later insertion. It is quite possibly an interpolation. Also possible is that Paul was quoting the words of the Corinthians to them. We know earlier in the epistle he has women taking part in worship in chapter 11.

But to look at the earlier argument, yes, there are differences, but this can also be expected depending on who is being written to. For instance, these letters are personal letters. The only other example we have of this from Paul is Philemon. If I write an email to a friend, it will be quite different in all of those ways from an email I could write to my wife.

This would be easier of course to reply to had Hagenston given more concrete examples. He didn’t. For a look at the teaching on women however, see my interview with Lynn Cohick here. For the question of forgeries, see my interview with Andrew Pitts here.

Next is that some contradictions in Scripture are intentional. The first example is Psalm 51. What does Hagenston say?

An Old Testament example is found in Psalm 51. That psalm was written after Babylonia destroyed Jerusalem (and its Temple that had been built by Solomon) and led the city’s inhabitants off to exile. Since the Temple was no longer available for sacrifice, the author of Psalm 51 offers comfort in Verses 16 and 17 by saying God does not even desire sacrifice but only a contrite heart.

But then, in a clearly intentional contradiction, someone who disagreed with that came along and added, immediately afterward, Verses 18 and 19 saying that God would be delighted by sacrifices that would follow a rebuilding of Jerusalem.

Hagenston sees a contradiction between offering up the sacrifices of a broken and contrite heart and then switching to offering bulls. This is only a contradiction if you hold to a view that is a legalistic one of Judaism. Judaism instead more often saw the sacrifice of bulls and other animals as something done not so much to earn forgiveness but to show forgiveness. The proper response to forgiveness was to offer something of value to you.

Since God pronounced David righteous by his contrite heart, David would respond by offering up bulls on the altar.

Hagenston goes on to say.

In the New Testament, we see an example in what the gospels say about the message of John the Baptist. The gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke all depict John the Baptist as saying he was offering a baptism for the forgiveness of sin through repentance alone. But, writing later, the author of the Gospel of John didn’t like that at all. He wanted to say that forgiveness comes only through sacrifice, the blood sacrifice of Jesus himself. So, in contradiction to the other gospels, he says that the message of John the Baptist was to proclaim Jesus as a pending sacrificial Lamb of God.

Once again we have the same kind of scenario going on here. As I read the texts, I do not see repentance alone. In the texts themselves, John says to bear fruit in keeping with repentance. We know from elsewhere in the Gospels that John’s disciples fasted, for instance. Jesus is seen as walking out of lock-step with the tradition. We see John saying nothing about sacrifices. He doesn’t commend them and he doesn’t forbid them.

The final is that apostles taught by Jesus insisted Paul was wrong about His Gospel. What does Hagenston say?

As for the identity of Paul’s opponents, in 2 Corinthians 11:13 he calls them “false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ.” But who were they? In 2 Corinthians 11:5 he sarcastically calls them “super-apostles.” In that time, “super-apostles” could have meant only one thing: the original apostles.

Is this possible? Sure. Some commentators are open to it. Is it a done deal? Not at all. Hagenston gives no argument for it. There are not scholarly authorities cited. It is only an assertion.

Hagenston will need to make an argument and do so interacting with the best scholars in the field. Until he does so, there is really nothing that can be said.

In the end, I find many of Hagenston’s criticisms lacking. While he says he is still a Christian, and that could be the case until he starts denying Christ rose from the dead as I do not see inerrancy as an essential of the faith, he seems to have come from a more modern perspective and is not interacting with the scholarship in the field. As is too often the case, he gives a one-sided presentation.

I conclude the way I started. This is precisely why more education and awareness of apologetics is needed in the field.

In Christ,

Nick Peters

Deeper Waters Podcast 7/12/2014: Talking About Plutarch

July 10, 2014

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

First off, for all interested, the podcast is now up on ITunes! All interested can find a link to the podcast here. Please be sure to leave a good review of the podcast so that others will be encouraged to listen to it as well. So now, let’s get to what we’re going to be talking about.

We’re going to be bringing back one of our favorite guests to the show, at least considering that so many people wanted to call in and ask him a question last time he was on! In fact, this is a guest that I can call family and mean it. My guest is going to be my father-in-law, Mike Licona, and we’re going to be talking about the works of Plutarch and how they relate to the study of the Gospels.

Some of you might not know who Mike is, so let’s get some introductions in.

Mike

According to his bio:

Mike Licona (Ph.D.) is associate professor of theology at Houston Baptist University and president of Risen Jesus, Inc. He has a Ph.D. in New Testament Studies from the University of Pretoria, which he earned with distinction and the highest mark. Mike was interviewed by Lee Strobel in his book The Case for the Real Jesus and appeared in Strobel’s video The Case for Christ. He is the author of numerous books including The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach (IVP Academic, 2010), Paul Meets Muhammad (Baker, 2006), co-author with Gary Habermas of the award-winning book The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus (Kregel, 2004) and co-editor with William Dembski of Evidence for God: 50 Arguments for Faith from the Bible, History, Philosophy, and Science (Baker, 2010). Mike is a member of the Society of Biblical Literature, the Institute for Biblical Research, and the Evangelical Philosophical Society. He has spoken on more than 60 university campuses and has appeared on dozens of radio and television programs. For more on Mike’s ministry, visit http://www.risenjesus.com.

Mike’s latest studies have been of Plutarch to see how Greco-Roman Biographies were written at the time and how that can help us understand the Gospels better, especially when dealing with the idea of “contradictions.” This of course will spark some inevitable questions.

Are the Gospels really in the genre of Greco-Roman biography? Why should we study something like Greco-Roman Biographies? Why think the Gospel writers would use a form of literature that could be considered pagan to get the message of Jesus across? Can studying something from the culture really help us to understand what is going on in the Gospels themselves?

Then of course, we’ll be looking at some favorite “contradictions” and seeing how it is that studying the Gospels as Greco-Roman Biographies can in fact help us to figure out what the solutions to these contradictions are. Mike is a thorough scholar and one who you will appreciate getting to listen to so I hope that you’ll be looking for this podcast to show up in your ITunes feed as we talk about the study of Plutarch.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Deeper Waters Podcast 3/22/2014: Charles Hill

March 20, 2014

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

TextandCanon

This Saturday we have quite a show planned for you. He is the co-editor of the book “The Early Text of the New Testament” and the writer of “Who Chose The Gospels?” as well as a contributor to the upcoming book “How God Became Jesus.” That is Dr. Charles Hill.

CharlesHill

Dr. Hill got his Bachelor’s at the University of Nebraska. His Master’s came at Westminster Theological Seminary and he received his Ph.D. at Magdalene College, University of Cambridge. He is currently professor of New Testament at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando.

Let me put his lists of books and accomplishments and such this way. His CV is thirteen pages long. It would be extensive to list all of them.

So let me give you some idea of the kind of thing that we’re going to be talking about.

First, we’re going to spend about an hour talking about the early text of the new testament. This is also the title of the book that I mentioned above and we’ll be looking at how it is that we can believe that the text of the NT has been handed down to us reliably, which will be held in distinction to someone like Bart Ehrman.

As I wrote in my review of this book, it is indeed very scholarly. I won’t claim to understand a lot of the fine points of language that are in it, so hopefully we’ll be getting something here that can be readily understood and increase the certainty that the text that we have is reliable.

From there, we’ll be talking about the book “Who Chose The Gospels?”. This one is a book that will be definitely much more accessible. In fact, I’ve even let a friend of ours borrow it for the time being because it’s so accessible to everyone.

This is an entertaining read on canon criticism that deals with many of the ideas of conspiracies in getting the Gospels in the canon, poking fun throughout at the idea of who all was involved in this grand conspiracy to bring us four Gospels.

Both of these of course are extremely important for the texts of the New Testament. We need to know about the reliability of the text that we have insofar as it is text. (After all, saying the text has been handed down reliably says nothing about if the message in the text is true.) We also want to be sure that we have the Gospels that God intended for us to have.

That’s why I’m delighted to have on the show a scholar who specializes in these areas. I hope you will be just as excited as I am and be ready to listen to our program when it airs on March 22nd. As always, the call in number to the show if you want to call and ask a question is 714-242-5180. The time of the show will be from 3-5 PM EST.

The link can be found here.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Who Chose The Gospels?

February 17, 2014

What do I think of Charles Hill’s book on the Gospels? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

whochosethegospels

It has been said by some scholars that there was a sea of Gospels. Often we’re told that there were eighty or so up for consideration into the canon and yet, only four was chosen. Conspiracy theorists begin immediately looking at the data and see that somehow, a church being persecuted regularly by the Roman Empire and without any real power in the world, managed to control enough to make sure that their books came out on top. There were several Christianities that were vying for the spot of being the authentic one, but lo and behold, the party deemed today as orthodox won out and silenced all the others!

This is a narrative taught as gospel itself on the internet and in sources such as “The Da Vinci Code”, yet is there really any accuracy to it? Could it be that programs with such conspiracies such as one can find on the History Channel are really inaccurate and the truth is a lot more tame than that?

Charles Hill in “Who Chose The Gospels?” looks at this question and while there were other canon disputes, his main area he wants to look at is the Gospels. If you’re wanting to see how the church decided which epistles to include in the canon, you will be disappointed. If you want to see how the church arrived at four Gospels, you will not be.

Hill starts with the claim about multiple Gospels and says really, there weren’t as many as thought. These were Gospels that might pop up somewhere and be a flash in the pan and then just go off. They are harder to find because they just weren’t deemed as valuable.

An interesting way of showing this is that Hill takes us to Egypt where heterodoxy was most prevalent and shows that even there, if we look among the findings that we have, the canonical Gospels come out far and above on top! This means that even where heterodoxy was the leading contender, orthodox Gospels were still the primary Gospels that were being copied.

Of course, we need more to demonstrate the claim. The first person we go to is Irenaeus who wrote in the second century. Irenaeus gave an argument that there can only be four Gospels since there are four zones of the world and four principle winds, etc. He speaks about how the four Gospels represent the four creatures in the vision in Revelation, which no doubt has shades of Ezekiel there.

Now the modern person scoffs at this argument, and indeed if this was Irenaeus’s only reason we could understand it, but Irenaeus is not making an argument from reason so much as he is making one from aesthetics and as an aesthetical argument, it would be seen as quite good in Irenaeus’s day. Hill points out that to meet the argument, one would have to argue that “There is no harmony, proportion, or beauty to creation.” (p. 38) If someone wants to make such an argument, good luck. I hope such a person is not married. Their spouse will not be happy hearing there is no beauty in creation.

The main point to get is that early on, the second century, Irenaeus is already saying that there are four Gospels. This goes against the idea that the idea of four Gospels was suddenly foisted on the church in the fourth century. (No doubt with Constantine, who as we all know is the cause of all the problems in the church.)

But maybe Irenaeus is a lone example.

Except Hill shows later fathers who held to the four. Hippolytus, Tertullian, Origen, Dionysius, Cyprian, Victorinus, Marinus, and Euplus. If Irenaeus was acting alone, he sure tricked a lot of people into going along with the scheme.

Of course, if you can’t deal with Irenaeus’s arguments, there’s always one route you can take. You can just go after his character. Hill spends the next chapter looking at the way Irenaeus’s modern opponents paint him as a mean-spirited and aggressive bully.

What’s neglected by these people is that Irenaeus was speaking in the common style of his day. Do we do this today? Not often, though some do still. What does that mean? Does that mean we’re better? No. Whether the language is appropriate or not is not determined by the reigning zeitgiest of the day.

Furthermore, Irenaeus does also make charges of some of his opponents of sexual misconduct. Hill says it’s a surprise the feminists of today aren’t siding with Irenaeus, but alas, they’re more willing to give the benefit of the doubt to the offender when Hill makes an excellent case that there’s good reason to think this charge was an exception for Irenaeus and one he made because he had good reason to think it was true.

Yet still, one could say Irenaeus was late second century. Fair enough. What if he had some co-conspirators who worked with him on this plot to foist four Gospels on the church? Hill looks at a teacher, preacher, and canon-list maker.

Enter Clement of Alexandria. Living in the Egypt area, Clement would have been familiar with the non-canonical Gospels and indeed he did read them, but if you want to know where his devotion lies, it’s to the Canonical ones. The ratio of citations of the canonicals to the non-canonicals is about 120 to 1. He speaks much more favorably of the canonicals saying they are acknowledged and handed down to us. This is not said of the others.

Well sure, but didn’t a community use the Gospel of Peter? For a time, yes, as approved by Serapion, until he got to read the Gospel for himself and then banned it from public reading. (Note that it is not recorded that he ordered it to be destroyed) Also, it’s important to realize that this Gospel was just being put forward when Serapion arrived. It was new and thus not one of the handed down ones.

As for the canon-list maker, this refers to the Muratorian Fragment which dates to the second century, to be fair, it only mentions two Gospels as the part that lists the first two is missing, but the two mentioned are Luke and John. No scholar doubts Matthew and Mark are the others.

But what if we went even earlier? How about Justin Martyr and the memoirs of the apostles? Hill shows there’s good reason to think Justin knew all four Gospels. Why not name them? For one thing, he was writing to the emperor and citing his own authorities would not be a convincing case. Is a Christian convinced when an atheist cites the God Delusion? Nope. Is an atheist convinced when a Christian cites Scripture? Nope. Are either convinced when a Muslim cites the Koran? Nope.

Well what if in this conspiracy Justin also had co-conspirators? If so, he had awfully strange bedfellows for a Christian.

The first would be Trypho. While Trypho never names the Gospels, there is assumed a familiarity with the Gospel between Justin and Trypho. (Gospel could refer to the message but also, all four Gospels could be spoken of singularly as the Gospel) There is no indication of material from non-canonical Gospels. The same applies in fact to the Emperor and Senate Justin wrote to. Justin refers to written records which record what happened, namely acts, and why not think that this refer to the Gospels? Justin also indicates these memoirs would not be hard to obtain.

Next would be Crescens, an early Christian opponent. Justin says Crescens has likely not read the Gospels and if he has read them, he has not understood them. What does this tell us? It tells us that there was a written source where Justin thought one could find the truth of Christianity.

After that is Celsus who tries to use the Gospels to disprove Christianity and points to items in there like the supposedly contradictory genealogies and which Gospels is it that have those genealogies? Only two! Matthew and Luke! Canonicals! Celsus also refers to other claims that are only found in the other canonical Gospels. Even the Gospel of Truth and the Gospel of Judas show a dependence on the canonicals and in fact that they are responding to the canonicals.

But what if the case for the four can go back even earlier!

Now Hill takes us to the Apocryphon of James which is in fact, a response to material in the Gospels, such as the Gospel of John. Another work, the Epistle of the Apostles, responds to that, which means that it too had to know about the Gospels.

Hill also asks here if Marcion invented the canon and concludes that he did not. In fact if anything, he was dependent on a prior idea of a canon. He had to edit some materials in order to begin to have a canon.

Finally, he points to Aristides who wrote to the emperor and pointed to written sources the emperor could obtain and included references to Jesus that come out of the Gospels.

The trend continues. Polycarp shows familiarity with the Gospels. So does Clement of Rome and the Epistle of Barnabas has a reference to Matthew in it that many scholars to this day have tried to deny.

Finally, we come to Papias. Hill points out that when Papias lists the apostles, he lists them in the order they are found in John. It’s either an amazing coincidence, or else Papias was familiar with John. He also goes to Eusebius at this point with further testimony from a source Eusebius does not name but Hill makes a fascinating case concerning. In fact, Hill argues that it could be the apostle John was the one who collected all the Gospels after writing his own and passed them on.

So this still leaves the question.

Who chose the Gospels?

For Hill, it would be like asking how you chose your parents. You don’t. You just recognize them. The Gospels essentially chose themselves. They were recognized on the basis of what they were and the church could not deny it. There were no grand conspiracies. There were no power plays going on to push these to the front. This was just the natural order at work.

I have here given a brief synopsis, but if you are interested in this debate, you owe it to yourself to read this book. It is difficult for me to think of a way someone could hold to the crazy theories often put on the internet today in the light of Hill’s research and we owe him a great debt of gratitude for putting together a fine and engaging work.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Why Arguments From Silence Are Weak

December 2, 2013

Does silence on cases involving Jesus reveal a problem? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

One of the #1 arguments used by people like Christ-mythers is the argument from silence. Surely if Jesus was a historical figure, more people would talk about him! This was the Son of God! This was someone going around doing miracles! Why isn’t he being talked about everywhere?

Some people compare this to the modern world. If some great phenomenon happened, such as, say, a meteor hitting Mt. Rushmore and destroying it immediately, this would be talked about the world over immediately. You would suddenly have bloggers writing everywhere! News teams would swamp the area! Even as far away as the other side of the world, people would be talking.

Yes. Yes they would be. The problem is these modern comparisons fail. Let’s note some important differences.

First off, this all takes place after what Brent Sandy and John Walton have called in their book “The Lost World of Scripture”, the Gutenberg Galaxy. (The title is not original with them) Readers interested in The Lost World of Scripture are invited to listen to my interview with one of the authors, Brent Sandy, here and read my review of it here.

After Gutenberg everything changes. People can produce books much more quickly and efficiently. As a result, the number of books goes up and the cost to make them goes down. Because of this, literacy will go up as more books can be distributed to the public and there is in fact more leisure time rather than much time spent on the tedious task of copying a manuscript. Of course, it’s still not as efficient as today’s methods, but it is much more efficient.

Move forward to today and everyone can get their opinion out there. As soon as you see a story on the news, someone can comment on it and it can be anyone. Twitter is an excellent example of this. A news story takes place and people are immediately sharing it and in fact sharing links to it.

Over Thanksgiving while visiting the Liconas, we were watching a football game on Thanksgiving night. (I say we loosely. Allie and Mike were watching. I was reading more. Football just bores me honestly, but my wife and father-in-law are both Ravens fans.) Mike was getting tired and so was Allie and we all decided we’d just go to sleep.

Now this game was not played in the city where we were, but there was no doubt that when we woke up in the morning, we would be able to tell who won. In fact, immediately when the game was over, we could have been told who won. The age of mass communications has made this kind of knowledge much easier to come by.

Second, if literacy is up, then it turns out that the written word can often become the best way to spread information, though even this is not always the case. Today, we can use videos on YouTube or for news just go to a news broadcast. The visual is still a powerful aid to get the message out. Something that made the Vietnam War so different was we could really see the images of it. People who heard the Kennedy/Nixon debate for the most part said Nixon won. Those who watched for the most part said Kennedy won. The visual is definitely having an impact.

Third, when information is written down more and more, memory will take less and less place in society. An oral culture thrives on memory far more than we do and seeks to have all its information not so much in individual memory, but rather in collective memory. (Again, see Sandy and Walton above) You could change some secondary details in a story, such as some chronology, but the primary details had to stay the same.

We still do this today. If I have Jehovah’s Witnesses or Mormons visit me, I will certainly call my own parents to give an account of what happened, but my parents are not apologists so I give a basic account. When I call Mike then or my former roommate or write it out here, the account gets more and more detailed. Why? Because these are the people that know the language and I can communicate it to them in a different way.

It’s not for these reasons alone that written sources were not used the most in the ancient world. As alluded to earlier, cost was an issue.

Here is what one writer says about the issue who happens to have a PH.D.

“By the estimates of William Harris, author of Ancient Literacy (1989), only 20% of the population could read anything at all, fewer than 10% could read well, and far fewer still had reasonable access to books. He found that in comparative terms, even a single page of blank papyrus cost the equivalent of thirty dollars—ink, and the labor to hand copy every word cost many times more (p. 195). As a result, books could run to the thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars in value each. Consequently, only the rich had books, and only elite scholars had access to libraries, of which there were few.”

Of course, I already am sure that several out there are saying that this is just another Christian excuse for not having writing. It’s a convenient little remark that is meant to explain away a problem. For those who think that, there is a problem. Here is the source for this statement.

“Richard Carrier, Sense and Goodness Without God, 2005. p. 232”

Carrier himself is a Christ-mythicist, but I have no problem with this here. To get just the papyrus of a single page could cost $30. Ink and labor would cost more. Add in as well that for these books someone else would have to deliver the book which would be a delivery charge and you’d have to make sure someone was there who could read the book. Usually, the deliverer would serve as a reader and he would have to know the content well enough to be able to explain it to the audience, properly read it with all the nuances in speech, etc. This was a costly enterprise!

So let’s compare these methods.

One method, writing, costs an exorbitant amount to produce and reaches only about 10% of the population at the most. Oral tradition, which in the ancient world was just as reliable if not more reliable, was absolutely free and could spread the word far and wide to everyone who could speak the common language.

Which one will be done? Decisions decisions….

Today we value the written word the most, but the problem is this is an anachronism on our part where we throw our modern mindset back into the ancient world. It is saying “We value writing today and seek to write things down immediately. Weren’t the ancients the same way?” No. No they weren’t.

Another point when it comes to Jesus is as I have written about elsewhere, Jesus would have essentially been a nobody in the ancient world. He could have been popular in some circles where he was, but that does not extend everywhere.

Many a town can have its own celebrities and such. Politicians in states can usually be known in their states, but unless they do something really big or have a scandal of some sort, that fame won’t likely extend much beyond that. A professional athlete who’s not that well-known can still be a celebrity in his own town.

Jesus lived in an area that was important as a trade route that connected three continents, but it was not viewed as important for its culture. The culture was certainly tolerated by the Romans due to it being old, but it was not something that they celebrated. What was Rome interested in? Power and glory. What were the Greeks interested in? Knowledge.

So who was Jesus?

Jesus was a rabbi. He was a preacher who supposedly did miracles (Oh who would believe in that stuff? Not an educated Roman). He never ran for political office. He never as an adult traveled outside of his own country. He never led any troops into battle. He was such a weak figure that it only took a small cohort to arrest him. The Romans didn’t have to call in an army or anything. The movement was put down in a weekend. (Of course, the resurrection did change that) Worst of all, He was crucified, the most shameful death of all, something that any Messiah and Son of God claimant would surely avoid.

It’s quite amusing to hear Jesus then being compared to other people at the time who we have records of such as, say, the Caesar on the throne. Yes. We all know that a Jewish rabbi should get as much attention as the reigning Caesar at the time. Let’s keep in mind that some who have made the mistake of thinking that the sources are equal have in fact admitted it was a mistake. See here for details. Of course, we all will make mistakes in our research from time to time. By all means, check all claims from everyone.

Yet we are told that there are no contemporary eyewitness accounts for Jesus. Indeed, there are none for Alexander the Great. Tim O’Neill at Armarium Magnum gives a comparison with this in using Hannibal. As he says:

“To highlight how easily a peasant nobody like Jesus could very easily pass without any surviving contemporary notice at all, I held up the example of someone at the other end of the scale of fame and significance to Jesus and who, despite this, also has zero contemporary references that have survived to us. Hannibal was about as far from a Jewish peasant preacher in terms of fame and significance as you could get in the ancient world, yet we have no contemporary references to him at all. None. This shows that the nature of ancient source material is such that we have contemporary references for virtually nobody, including people much more significant than Jesus. So making an argument about the existence of any ancient figure based on the lack or otherwise of contemporary references is patently ridiculous; doubly so for a peasant preacher.”

Source here.

And once again, before someone writes this off as another Christian grasping at straws, please keep in mind Tim O’Neill is an atheist. He has no desire to promote Christianity, and while I disagree with him on his historical conclusions concerning who Jesus is and what He did, I have great respect for his methodology and for his also not putting up with atheists making bad historical arguments.

If Hannibal does not receive this then why should we expect such for Jesus?

In fact, all of this assumes that the gospels are not contemporary and are not eyewitnesses or based on eyewitness accounts. Luke explicitly says he spoke to the eyewitnesses. Few people in fact I see are actually responding to a work such as Richard Bauckham’s “Jesus and the Eyewitnesses” to see if it could be that the gospels are eyewitness accounts.

As for contemporary, I recently had Dr. Paul Maier on my show which can be heard here who said no scholar he knows of who studies the ancient world would accept the idea that only contemporary accounts are to be used. If we followed such an account, we would have to throw out much of ancient history. In fact, Carrier saying why he thinks the accounts of the crossing of the Rubicon are more reliable than that of the resurrection says the following:

“Fourth, we have the story of the “Rubicon Crossing” in almost every historian of the period, including the most prominent scholars of the age: Suetonius, Appian, Cassius Dio, Plutarch.” That can be found here. Little problem with this. Not one of those scholars is a contemporary.

Let’s consider Appian. From Livius.org, we get this. This tells us that Appian would have written in the second century A.D. Carrier dates the crossing of the Rubicon to 49 B.C. This means that Appian wrote at least 149 years later and unless he wrote when he was 5 years old, it could have been written around 200 years later.

Information on Suetonius is here.

What does this mean? Suetonius was born 120 years after the event and would have written later as well of course.

Cassius Dio is even worse. We are told he started his work in the 190’s and wrote the Roman History from 211-233. So let’s go with 211 being the date of the writing of the event just to be as generous as possible.

This is 260 years later!

Finally, there’s Plutarch. Plutarch’s information can be found here.

This means Plutarch was born 95 years after the event.

Now if all of these are acceptable to be seen as accounts of historians of the age writing about these events, then if the gospels are before 125 A.D. (30 + 95) then we should be on good grounds. In fact, most liberal scholarship today would date the gospels to around 80-95 A.D. This isn’t even counting the Pauline Epistles which speak of these events even earlier. If 95+ counts for Caesar, why does it not count for Jesus?

In fact, James Crossley has argued for an early date of Mark, perhaps going into the 40’s. Once again, I’d like to remind readers that Crossley is not a friend of evangelical Christianity. He is an atheist. See an interview here.

Another claim is that the gospels are anonymous. We are not told what this has to do with the price of tea in China. I suppose if every skeptic was immediately convinced of traditional authorship, then they would suddenly accept them as valid historical accounts.

Yet as Paul Maier told me on the show, this is really a weak argument. A large number of works from the ancient world are anonymous and we know about who wrote them from outside sources. Besides, even if there was a name on them, why think that would be accepted? The Pastorals have the name of Paul on them, but most critics do not accept Pauline authorship of those works. To establish authorship of a document requires more than having the name on the document. This will require a methodology of determining authorship. Unfortunately, most skeptics today have no such methodology and just want to shout out “anonymous!” as if that alone is an argument. For those interested, I plan on writing in the near future why I consider the gospels to be by their traditional authors. Those interested in more right now can look at my interviews with Dr. Tim McGrew and with Andrew Pitts.

Let’s also not forget something else. Much of the writing of the ancient world has sadly not survived. Some of it was destroyed intentionally unfortunately, but some of it is just lost due to the ravages of time, and this includes Christian writings. Much of what we could find about Jesus would be in the area of Jerusalem and yet we are told by Josephus that after its destruction one would never know a city had been there.

It is for all of these reasons that arguments from silence is weak. The principle to follow is that where we would expect silence anyway, the argument from silence is weak. The rest of the world would not have been interested in a failed Messiah who was crucified and never ran for office or led an army. Miracles would only be scoffed at.

What is required? Doing real history which will require real work, including reading as much as one can on an argument. Too many atheists for too long have been using simple arguments without doing the heavy lifting of real historical work. They may think they are damaging the Christian cause, but in reality, they are only hurting their own cause.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Deeper Waters Podcast 8/31/2013: Jonathan Pennington

August 30, 2013

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

Many of us who read the Bible tend to avoid the gospels. Yeah. They’re about Jesus. There’s a lot we appreciate. We like to read the great miracle stories and events like that, but we just don’t really understand a lot of the gospels, well aside from the main events of Jesus’s life and oh yeah, He’s God.

What we tend to jump straight to immediately are the Pauline epistles. We want to know what Paul said because that is where most of our doctrine comes from. That’s where we get the most about justification by faith, for instance. That is where we learn about the life of the church. The gospels are often seen as the snacks that prepare us for the main course of Paul. The gospels give us the life. Paul gives us the difference.

On the show this Saturday, my guest, Jonathan Pennington, thinks we’re missing a great deal of what the gospels have to say to us and that is because we do not know how we are to read them properly. Jonathan Pennington is the author of “Reading the Gospels Wisely” and he’ll be on my show to tell us just how it is that we’re supposed to do that.

What are the gospels? What is their purpose? Is it more than just the life of Jesus and showing His deity? Why does Jesus speak so much about the Kingdom of God, a concept that seems to be hardly ever spoken of in our churches today? What difference does the background material that the gospels was written in make? In fact, most churches today are unfamiliar that there is background material. Jesus just came to a world like theirs, except not as technologically advanced. People thought just the exact same way after all.

If that’s a false belief though, we are not reading the gospels wisely. Are we missing out on a real meal in the gospels if we think that Paul has the full deal for us? This is not to undermine Paul, but in our valuing of Paul, let us remember that Paul did what He did because of what happened in the gospels and if we want to be people who value the epistles, we have to be people who value the gospels.

So we’ll be discussing how it is the gospels were written, what methods we should use when reading them. More importantly perhaps, what methods should we not be using when reading them. Why were they written and what is is that the gospel writers really want us to get out of the messages?

I hope you’ll be planning to join me on the show this Saturday from 3-5 PM EST to discuss “Reading the Gospels Wisely” with Jonathan Pennington. The link can be found here. The call in number if you want to ask Dr. Pennnington a question is 714-242-5180. I look forward to this show and I hope you’ll be there to appreciate the wisdom of Dr. Pennington as well.

In Christ,
Nick Peters