Posts Tagged ‘historical Jesus’

Book Plunge: What Have They Done With Jesus?

February 24, 2015

What do I think of Ben Witherington’s book published by Harper Collins? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

WhathavetheydoneiwthJesus

Recently, I received an announcement in my email that this book was on sale on Kindle. Unfortunately, it is no longer at the sale price, but I scooped it up as soon as I saw it was. Why? Because frankly, Ben Witherington is one of the most phenomenal scholars that there is. I have been told that he has an excellent memory down to the page numbers of a book that he has read and is quite knowledgeable in many other fields outside of the New Testament.

Yet in this one, he’s talking about the New Testament and taking a shot at the bad history that is often presented. I knew I was in for a treat when the very first chapter was titled “The Origins of the Specious.” This is more of a classical humor that we often see from Witherington. Witherington says we live in a culture that is Biblically illiterate and yet Jesus-haunted. Jesus is seen all around us, and most of us have not done any real study on Jesus and that consists of more than just going to church every Sunday. The way that our culture buys into ideas on Jesus immediately has had Witherington tempted to write a book called “Gullible’s Travels.”

He gives an example of this when he talks about being interviewed by a major network and being asked if it could be possible that Mary was a temple prostitute who was raped and Jesus was the result. That would be why he said in Luke that he had to be in his father’s house. Yes. That was an actual question that was asked and the tragedy is that was his first question asked by this network as was said and not presented apparently as some crank theory to get his take on.

In our culture, too often the culture will ignore the hard facts found in scholarship on the historical Jesus and instead go with the bizarre crank theories that you can find on the internet and the History Channel. Consider for instance how the idea that Jesus never even existed is spreading like wildfire on the internet. People who will demand the strongest evidences for Christians when making their claims will accept the weakest arguments when made in favor of an idea like this.

So how does Witherington deal with all of this? Witherington suggests we look at the primary sources, the Gospels and the epistles, and see what we can determine about the lives of those who were closest to Jesus. He uses the strongest scholarship he can find and also brings out many of the realities of living in an honor-shame culture that too many people are unfamiliar with. (While unfortunately, they are quite familiar with The Da Vinci Code).

Witherington starts at a place we might not expect, with a woman named Joanna. Now I’m not going to give a full look at any argument. That is for the reader to learn when they get the book. Joanna is someone mentioned in Luke 8 and is seen at the crucifixion in Luke 24, yet Witherington also makes a compelling case that she is also the Junia that we find mentioned in Romans 16.

Witherington brings out an amazing amount of information on this woman just by looking at the culture that she lived in and seeing the best scholarship on the issue. We often think of preachers who are said to milk a text for whatever it’s worth. Witherington is not like that. He’s not trying to squeeze blood out of a turnip. Instead, he is more like a highly skilled detective calling in the person for an interview and asking as many questions to get to the truth and finding the person has a lot more to tell than was realized.

From there, we move on to Mary Magdalene who contrary to popular theory was not the wife of Jesus. As Witherington has said elsewhere, when she sees Jesus in John 20, we do not see her saying “Oh honey! So glad you’re back! Let’s go and get a James Dobson book and revitalize her marriage!” (We can also say in this that she never once asked Jesus to take out the trash.) Mary Magdalene is a woman with many legends told about her, but she’s also a woman with a remarkable story. The culture not being accurate about Mary Magdalene does not mean we should downplay her. This was an amazing woman with a shameful past who is an excellent example of the transforming power of Jesus.

From there, we move on to figures who we have more information on. We go to Peter and how he would have seen Jesus in his time and what information we can gain about what Peter did after the resurrection. Peter was known as Jesus’s right hand man and what he would have to say about Jesus would be of utmost importance. As Witherington goes on and shows James and Paul later, Peter will still play an important role there since if Peter gives the okay to these guys, they must have been doing something right.

After that, we go to the mother of Jesus. Mary is definitely another Mary with many stories built up after her. Witherington points out that we have Mariology, but we don’t have Peterology or Jamesology. Yet while those of us who are Protestants do think the pendulum has swung too far with the treatment of Mary by Catholics, we should realize the Scripture does say that all people will call Mary blessed, and for good reason and realize that Mary is an important witness to the truth of Christianity and who Jesus was and is.

From there, we move to the Beloved Disciple. Witherington has an interesting take in that he thinks much of the material in the Gospel of John comes from Lazarus. I must say that after reading the material, I find it quite fascinating. Still, it doesn’t mean John has no role in this. John could very well have been the editor of all the material and compiled it all together into a Gospel. This is possible and worth considering.

The next look comes from James, the brother of Jesus. James has often got a bad rap as being a legalist of sorts. Witherington argues that James was in fact an expert at how to handle possibly volatile situations. Paul was interested in the question of what Gentiles needed to do to be considered Christians. Did they need to be Jewish. James was wanting to make sure there was no entire cut from Judaism and that Gentiles would be sensitive to Jewish concerns so that Jews would want to remain Christians and was wanting to say that Jews could still follow and observe the Law as Christians and honor their heritage. While there was no doubt some disagreement between the two, if these two were brought together to discuss points of doctrine, there would be more nods of agreement than disagreement.

At the end of this section, I had a new respect for James and still do. It left me thankful that there were Christians like James who were put in very difficult situations and had to learn how to walk a line very finely to keep an early church together, and James did this without an instruction manual or without even having access to a New Testament. He also had no doubt had to rely on people like Peter a great deal for information on Jesus since James was not a disciple beforehand. That Peter let James lead the Jerusalem church shows what a remarkable amount of trust Peter had in James’s understanding of the Jesus tradition.

Also, we have a brief look at Jude. Jude is one of the shortest books in the Bible, but it is still a book of utmost importance and the look at Jude, one of Jesus’s brothers, will show the importance that Jude would have played in the society and how this little book contains big information on Jesus.

Finally, we get to Paul. We too often can see Paul as the originator of Christianity. This would not explain Peter and James approving of the work of Paul. It also misses the radical change that Paul had in his life, something Witherington brings out well. I have been at men’s study groups before where Paul came up and people have said they want to have faith like Paul. I have reminded them that if they want to have faith like Paul, they need to see the change Christ brings to the world like Paul did. We often do not see that.

Paul was a first-rate thinker highly educated and was the one who really first saw the implications of the death and resurrection of Jesus, even beyond that which Peter saw. This is remarkable since Paul was not part of the inner circle or even part of the twelve at the time of Jesus. Witherington gives a detailed look at the life of the Apostle to the Gentiles and how he changed the world in a way that it has never been the same since.

What do all these people have in common? It would take something miraculous to get them to do what they did. It would have to be an utter life-changing event. Witherington sees no other way to explain the rise of the church. As Witherington says:

“Here we are able to reach a major conclusion of this study. None of these major figures who constituted the inner circle of Jesus would have become or remained followers of Jesus after the crucifixion if there was no resurrection and no resurrection appearances of Jesus. The church, in the persons of its earliest major leaders, was constituted by the event of the resurrection, coupled with the Pentecost event! The stories of these figures, especially their post-Easter stories, are the validation of this fact. There would be no church without the risen and appearing Jesus”

I wholeheartedly agree with Witherington. The best explanation for the rise of the Christian church is the one that the church itself gave. God raised Jesus from the dead. Jesus is the Messiah and the fulfillment of the hopes of Israel. Jesus is the one who is bringing the Kingdom of God to man. By His resurrection, God is reclaiming the world for Himself and inviting us to take part in it.

I conclude with saying that this is a book that should be read entirely and its ideas grasped. The people around Jesus will not be seen in the same light again. Readers will also get great clues as to the dynamics that exist in an honor-shame society and what a radical difference that makes to our understanding of Christianity.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: How Jesus Passes The Outsider Test.

January 21, 2015

What do I think of David Marshall’s latest book? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

In the interest of admitting bias at the start, I will say I consider David a friend and he did send me this Ebook to review. I will still try to be as objective as I can, though I must admit the book is a joy and delight to read so it might not seem that way.

As I was going through Marshall’s book, I tried to think of a book that I could compare it to. Here we have a work dealing with the negative arguments of the day with a good touch of humor and stories and in simple layman terms that expresses the joy of who Jesus is. Mere Christianity as a comparison came to my mind a few times and I can’t help but wonder if a work like this if properly appreciated by the public could be a work like that of our own time.

In the book, Marshall is responding to John Loftus and his Outsider Test For Faith (OTF) as he calls it. Now Loftus has been criticized numerous times by even his fellow skeptics on this one, but still he trudges on with it. Marshall has taken a different approach and said “Let’s not go against the argument. In fact, let’s improve and refine it and see just how it is that Jesus stands in response to it.”

Marshall does remind us that this should change how we look at Jesus as well. We have made him so familiar and he quotes Dorothy Sayers in saying that we who follow Jesus have “declawed the lion of Judah and mad him a house-cat for pale priests and pious old ladies.” (Location 85)

Indeed, this is a benefit of Marshall’s book. You will come away from it with a greater wonder of exactly who Jesus is and frankly, that can be a sad rarity in many works today. We get so caught up in the academic side but Marshall’s book covers that as well as getting into the personal side which as I have said earlier, is because Marshall will regularly throw in some great humor and speak just like the man on the street speaks.

For an example of the humor, consider how he speaks about the OTF at location 378 and says “Is it simply an Ad Populum argument in a cowboy hat off the rack of the Fort Wayne, Indiana Wal-Mart?” For those of us who do know about Loftus and know about his signature cowboy hat, this is a passage that cannot really be read without cracking a smile and it comes at the reader unexpectedly. Regular dashes of humor like this keep the book moving smoothly. Michael Bird would be pleased.

It’s style like this that makes me think that this book could be easily read by non-Christians. Consider when talking about the sex market in Thailand at Location 905. Marshall says many Japanese and Westerners seemed welcome to the idea of the sex market. As Marshall says “And why not? Whatever feeble instinct we might have towards universal compassion, the male instinct for getting laid (our “selfish genes” on the prowl!) is visceral!”

Indeed it is, which is what makes the fact that Christianity has often overcome this so incredible. It is not because Christians are anti-sex, though no doubt some have been, but because Christians recognize the value of every human being, including the women that we are so often accused of being misogynistic towards. It is a Christianity that says every person is valuable for who they are that makes a Christian want to destroy the sex market.

Marshall also shows that he can have a touch of sarcastic humor and get his point across. In a criticism of Hector Avalos who actually thinks Luke 14:26 means that Jesus taught us to hate our family, Marshall says “And that was the only such passage Avalos could locate. With a little imagination, cults are largely (able) to find more convincing proof texts to show Jesus eloped and ran off to France to start a dynasty, or rode to Earth on the comet Haley-Bopp. But perhaps the best response to Avalos’ entire attack on the Christian tradition lies in Jesus’ own words also in Luke: ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do!’ (Luke 23:34)”

I could go on throughout but there are several places this occurs. That being said, what are many of the main arguments.

I will not cover everything and certainly not in the same detail. Marshall starts with the boldness with which Christianity spread and it must be said that aside from Jesus’s followers, everyone was an outsider at this point, and yet this outsider religion which would have been viewed with suspicion due to its being new was within a few centuries the dominant faith and began to go on to shape Western Civilization. In this chapter, Marshall does deal with objections from people like the prominent blogger Carrier. I leave that for the reader to see for themselves.

But this also ties in with another idea that Christianity fulfilled prophecy. One might think at this point that Marshall will go to Isaiah 53 or Psalm 22 and say “See? Look! Jesus fulfilled Messianic prophecies!” He does not. His point is that from even Genesis on, long before Christianity showed up, even if we went with a JEPD hypothesis, it was predicted that all the world would be blessed through Abraham. Messages of reaching Gentiles show up regularly in the Old Testament and when Christianity came, lo and behold, that happened.

But it wasn’t just Hebrew prophecies that were fulfilled! Marshall will show throughout the book that it was the hopes and dreams of pagans that were fulfilled too! So many of our myths rather than making the mythicist claim show a longing for the true God to intervene and save the world. Later, he will point to people like Buddha and Confucius who predicted that a great sage would come to speak. Confucius even said it would take place in around 500 years. Now one could go with a zany mythicist hypothesis that says all these cultures were being borrowed from, or one could go with a view more akin to Lewis and Tolkien that says that this is true myth being fulfilled.

Marshall also shows the gifts Christianity brought to the world. There was no dark age period where science was being oppressed. Christianity had been encouraging the usage of science. It was Christians who were building hospitals and universities and cathedrals and ending slavery and encouraging literacy. Of course, there was bad that came with the good and Marshall does deal with that in the book, but let us not ignore the great good, such as the efforts to shut down sex markets as spoken of earlier.

In fact, many who are non-Christians and reading this could be thinking it is good to get rid of slavery and the sex market, but why? Do we stop to think about that question? How many people today have been shaped by a Christian ethic and don’t even realize it? Now if one wants to point to Scandinavia as a sort of secular paradise, be prepared. Marshall has something to say about that too.

Marshall also does show that this does not show Christianity is true, but the hopes of all peoples being found so well in Christ and his answering the Hebrew and pagan longings of the day and the impact He has had on the world should at least give pause. While the approach is more of a defensive one, he does include a bibliography to look up claims made in the book that he has not had the time to address but that other scholars have.

This is one of the really good ones to read and it is very difficult to put down. If a print version comes out this year, I would rank that book as one of the best books already in Christian apologetics to read in 2015. We can be thankful that while atheists like Loftus try to undermine the teaching of Christ with objections like the OTF, that apologists like Marshall are able to put them to the service of the kingdom. In the end, because of Loftus, we now have a greater reminder of how awesome and unique Jesus is and that yes, he does pass the OTF.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Memory, Jesus, and the Synoptic Gospels

December 31, 2014

What do I think of Robert McIver’s book published by SBL? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

memoryjesusandthesynopticgospels

McIver’s book on the usage of memory in reporting the events of the Gospels is certainly one worth reading. It is meticulously researched and incredibly thorough in its approach and it even has a nice little appendix at the end that describes life expectancy in the ancient world and if the eyewitnesses would have been around for interview or even rebuttal around the time the Gospels were written.

McIver covers how it is that we form memories and what kinds of things memories are. He also goes into what are known as flashbulb and personal event memories. I will give two examples from my own life. I have clear and distinct (To use Descartes’s term) memories about many events that happened on 9/11. I remember sitting in the chapel at Bible college and seeing a professor come in and tell the speaker to announce we should be praying for the people of New York as a plane just crashed into one of the World Trade Center towers. I’m sure most of us thought it was a tragedy then. I remember hearing afterwards that a second plane had hit the second tower and no one thought it was accidental at that point. I remember being in the lobby watching this all unfold on TV and watching the towers fall. I remember walking around outside and noticing no planes in the sky.

For personal event, I remember well when I got married. I remember that I parked my car at the hotel we would be staying at that evening in the morning and pacing around with my tux while I waited for my best man to pick me up. I remember going to the restroom numerous times before hand to make sure nothing happened. I remember one of my groomsmen telling me how awesome Allie looked. I remember seeing her smile at me during the ceremony. I remember hearing my best man’s excellent toast. I remember riding in the limo. I could go on and on. Now note this does not mean I remember every little detail. There could be some things I get wrong. I certainly will not get the major things wrong. I know it was Allie and not Ashley I married. I know it was in the area of Charlotte and not Charleston. I know it was on July 24, 2010 and not on another date.

This is also something important. It’s quite amusing that the same people who complain that the Gospels supposedly weren’t written by eyewitnesses or don’t contain eyewitness testimony will then come and say that eyewitness testimony can’t be trusted. Is it infallible? Not at all. McIver from his research shows that eyewitness testimony tends to be at least 80% reliable and we often hope to have multiple eyewitnesses to further corroborate claims.

McIver also shows that we can generally guess how much of something will be forgotten but after a few years, many memories do reach a sort of locked-in state. Some secondary details could be iffy, but the primary memory itself will usually stay intact, provided of course that there are no major events such as some head injury of some sort or a debilitating condition that affects memory.

To go beyond this, McIver also has information on collective memory. This takes place in oral societies where stories are told repeatedly back and forth. It is often the gist of the story that is the main focus to get right. Minor details in the story can vary. The main information of the story is usually trusted to a few tradents who oversee the process and make sure the information does not get lost.

At this point, I did have one criticism. We do see a lot on how memory is done today, but I would have liked to have seen more on how memory worked in a pre-Gutenberg culture. We know the ancients prized memory more than we do and that they had better abilities of memorization due to not living in a culture where writing was readily abundant and you couldn’t use post-it notes or cell phones to store your data. You had to keep it all in your memory.

In examining the Gospels, McIver sticks to the synoptics and thinks the little aphorisms of Jesus are where we have the best information. Still, his points also about how events would be memorized are important. While there could be mistakes, we would not expect radical mistakes. You do not see someone who is blind being told to be of good cheer and later on think “Well I really think I saw them regain their sight.”

As you can imagine, McIver builds heavily on the excellent research of Richard Bauckham in Jesus and the Eyewitnesses. As I read through, I was wondering what McIver would be thinking if he had written this book after The Lost World of Scripture. The appendix I referred to earlier in this review is also extremely helpful in dealing with claims of many atheistic writers today who do use an argument that eyewitnesses would not be around at that time.

I’m very pleased to see research like this going on and those interested in whether the accounts of Jesus are accurate in the Gospels would be greatly benefited by reading this fine work.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Knowing Jesus Through The Old Testament

December 30, 2014

What do I think of Christopher Wright’s book? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

KnowingJesusOldTestament

My thanks first off go to IVP for sending me a copy of this work. It is the second edition that they sent me for all who are interested.

Let’s get a negative out of the way first because there is a lot that is good about this book. In fact, there is only one major negative that I find problematic and it was one the author explained at the beginning. That is that there is a lack of notes. Wright says he wants this to be most acceptable for a popular audience for easy reading, but I do think it could still be possible to have notes for those of us wanting to look up any claims. Lee Strobel after all wrote some excellent books for a popular audience and having notes and quotes of scholars didn’t slow that down at all. If a third edition comes out, I do hope it has that.

Now let’s get to the positives. The book is divided into six sections and each deals with both the New Testament and the Old Testament. If you’re getting this thinking that you’re going to get a list of passages in the Old Testament that are Messianic predictions of Jesus, you will not be getting that. What you will get is the grand panorama of the Old Testament played out and how Jesus saw Himself in relation to that.

Wright favors the Gospel of Matthew, which makes sense since Matthew is the most Jewish of the Gospels.He starts with the genealogy in Matthew and how we can be prone to just skip over that part without realizing Matthew put it in because he considered it important. Matthew is immediately connecting Jesus to the Old Testament so shouldn’t we see how this is done?

The first part is about the story of the Old Testament. What is going on in the Old Testament? Why did God call Abraham? Does this really bear any connection to the New Testament? Now you can understand the message of Jesus to a degree on its own, but if you really do want to understand who Jesus is, you must have a good and thorough knowledge of the Old Testament. Wright is certainly pointing to a problem in our churches that needs to be taken care of.

Next comes the promise of the Old Testament. What was really being promised to Abraham? Was the focus to always be on a piece of land in the Middle East, or is something more going on? It is by understanding the promises that God made in the Old Testament not just to Abraham but in all the other covenants, that we can truly see how Jesus is the fulfillment of those promises.

The third chapter is on identity. Who is Israel exactly? What are we to say their role is? How did Jesus see Himself in relation to Israel? This is of course one of many parts where we can get into some controversial issues, but throughout I found myself agreeing with the stance of Wright, who seemed to be a counterpart to the NT scholar N.T. Wright, and in fact, it was not a surprise to see N.T. Wright in the bibliography. Jesus is the new Israel living out the hopes and dreams of Israel and succeeding where the nation did not and living out for them the redemption they need.

The fourth is on the Old Testament Mission. Once we know what Israel truly is, what was their purpose? How did their purpose affect Jesus and His view of Himself? Did Jesus come without a purpose and did He act without a plan or was He deliberately working on a mission. Was the crucifixion an accident that Jesus never wanted to have happen or a last-ditch effort to pull off what He wanted, or was it what He had in mind all along?

The fifth is Jesus and Old Testament Values. Now here I would have liked to have seen a little bit more, especially as one who deals with all the supposedly problematic morality in the Old Testament. Still, Wright does bring out how much of our modern morality is really nothing new. It comes straight from the Old Testament and how this way of thinking shaped Jesus to live out His life the way He did.

Finally, what about the Old Testament God? Wright deals with a common claim in this one that says “Why didn’t Jesus just come out explicitly and say ‘I’m God!’ ” Wright points out how problematic that would be since God would be a loaded term and Jesus would have been confused with the Father. Instead, Jesus spoke by His actions and let His disciples work out the results, and indeed they did. Wright is certainly correct that the view of Jesus as being in the divine identity was extremely early.

Again, my main criticism was the lack of notes and scholarly quotations, but overall, that should not detract from the gold mine of information available here. Knowing where these claims can be easily found would make this far more helpful, but for the lay reader, they will still get plenty, as will the more academic reader, like myself, who prefers to read something quite meaty.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: The Good Shepherd

December 24, 2014

What do I think of Ken Bailey’s latest. Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

thegoodshepherd

Ken Bailey has been one of my favorite NT scholars ever since I read Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes and this latest book from IVP is no exception. Bailey writes from the perspective of someone who has lived in the Middle East teaching and knows the way life is there and recognizes many of the similarities that take place with the Biblical text. He also interacts with ancient and medieval writers many of us would have overlooked to bring us the best insights on the text.

The Good Shepherd is no exception. In this one, Bailey starts off with looking at Psalm 23 and goes from there throughout the Old Testament and into the New Testament to see how the account in Psalm 23 plays itself out later, including in the story of Jesus in the New Testament, who is the personification of the good shepherd that had been hoped for in the 23rd Psalm.

Bailey’s insights into life in the Middle East are invaluable as he has interacted with numerous shepherds and knows the lay of the land well and how shepherding works with the climate. He is not just writing about the behavior of sheep and shepherds in the abstract. He is speaking from the perspective of someone who knows shepherds well and someone who knows from them how sheep behave.

Bailey’s reading will open you up to new ways of reading the text that you had never considered. He is especially good at showing the ring composition that takes place in the writing of the account. The book is also written in a format that is easy to understand and yet also has the scholarly references throughout for those who are wanting to get that kind of approach as well.

When it comes to the New Testament view of the good shepherd, I found most fascinating to be the look in Mark 6. Most would not see this as a good shepherd passage, but Bailey brings out that it indeed is one. He paints a contrast between the banquet that King Herod throws early on that turns out to be a banquet of death where John the Baptist dies, and the banquet of life where Jesus provides a meal for over 5,000. It’s clear to Bailey that Herod would have had his spies in the area to see what Jesus would have to say as a popular leader about the death of his cousin.

I find once again that Bailey has given an excellent piece of work for all of us to consider. If you want to know about the life of Jesus as the good shepherd and especially how this relates to the grace of God found in Jesus Christ then it is absolutely essential that you read this book. Scholarship is blessed to have someone like Ken Bailey writing for us and I hope that the future works that he produces will be of excellent service to the church as well.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Raphael Lataster in the Washington Post

December 22, 2014

Does the evidence for Jesus just not add up? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

So as Christmas time comes again, you can expect that the crazy and bizarre will come because what better way to celebrate Christmas than to go after Christianity? And of course, you have to pick the view that is the weakest and most obscure and present that as if it was a new idea that is gaining serious traction in the academy when really, it quite frankly isn’t. The hypothesis under question has never been taken seriously in the academy. But then on the internet, everything is different. You can say whatever you want and be taken as an authority just because you have a blog or a web site.

DrewCarey

So what hypothesis is this? Why it’s that Jesus never even existed. Who is putting it out? Raphael Lataster. Does that name sound familiar? It should. I reviewed his book about a year ago on this blog and found it severely lacking. David Marshall also reviewed it and has suggested that it is the worst atheist book ever. J.P. Holding’s review has a part one and a part two. But go to the Society of Biblical Literature and is anyone talking about Lataster? Nope. Nor is there any mention of his hero Richard Carrier.

But now there’s an article and Lataster is writing an article and unfortunately, for too many who do not know how to do history, the case can sound persuasive. So let’s look at it. For all interested, the article itself can be found here. If you think I’m misrepresenting Lataster, feel free to check.

So let’s dive in.

Did a man called Jesus of Nazareth walk the earth? Discussions over whether the figure known as the “Historical Jesus” actually existed primarily reflect disagreements among atheists. Believers, who uphold the implausible and more easily-dismissed “Christ of Faith” (the divine Jesus who walked on water), ought not to get involved.

Now I did point out in my book review that Lataster too quickly assumes the Christ of Faith and the Christ of History cannot be the same person. Maybe they aren’t, but shouldn’t we study the question before we actually decide on it. Lataster says the Christ of Faith is implausible? On what grounds? Because He walks on water. Only if miracles cannot happen. Has Lataster shown that or has he just assumed it? It’s the latter. Even in his book he could have at least tried to cite Hume as if that would have been some sort of argument. He doesn’t. Instead the Lataster of faith is too dismissive of the Christ of faith.

Fortunately, Lataster has already drawn a line in the sand as well. if you’re a believer, don’t get involved. Let’s see how this works. “Let’s discuss whether there is a god or not, but atheist philosophers need not get involved.” How far would it go? Unfortunately, in the world of scholarship as it really is done, scholars all have to act by the same rules. If you want to make an argument, you have to provide the data for it. It doesn’t matter what your worldview is. You make your case before your fellow peers who could hold a contrary position. They might not agree, but they will decide if you have made a real argument for your position.

Perhaps the problem is Lataster just isn’t familiar with how the world of scholarship works.

For what it’s worth, my stance is bias is too often used as an excuse. It is data that matters and data does not know bias. It is in the interpretation that you can start to see the bias. Yet bias can also make one want to be more careful to present the truth. A final point on this topic to make is the one once made by N.T. Wright. You might have a biased scorekeeper reporting the score at a football game, but that doesn’t mean he won’t tell you the right score.

Numerous secular scholars have presented their own versions of the so-called “Historical Jesus” – and most of them are, as biblical scholar J.D. Crossan puts it, “an academic embarrassment.” From Crossan’s view of Jesus as the wise sage, to Robert Eisenman’s Jesus the revolutionary, andBart Ehrman’s apocalyptic prophet, about the only thing New Testament scholars seem to agree on is Jesus’ historical existence. But can even that be questioned?

While there is disagreement, there is also material here that is simply false. There is much besides his existence that is agreed upon by NT scholars. His crucifixion for instance is universally accepted. Also scholars are largely in agreement that Jesus had a connection with John the Baptist and had twelve disciples and that after his crucifixion his disciples claimed to see him alive again. He was a teacher who spoke in parables and many will even tell you he was at least viewed as a great healer.

The first problem we encounter when trying to discover more about the Historical Jesus is the lack of early sources. The earliest sources only reference the clearly fictional Christ of Faith. These early sources, compiled decades after the alleged events, all stem from Christian authors eager to promote Christianity – which gives us reason to question them. The authors of the Gospels fail to name themselves, describe their qualifications, or show any criticism with their foundational sources – which they also fail to identify. Filled with mythical and non-historical information, and heavily edited over time, the Gospels certainly should not convince critics to trust even the more mundane claims made therein.

It’s hard to think of a paragraph with more misinformation in it than this one. Let’s consider this. A lack of historical resources. The books of the NT can all be dated to within the first century. That means we have 27 writings with varying degrees of information about the historical Jesus. Lataster wishes to dismiss them saying the reference the clearly fictional Christ of faith, which is of course the presupposition of the Lataster of faith. Even still, scholars do not use this as a reason to dismiss them. Some legendary material or embellishment does not mean the historical core has been entirely destroyed. In fact, it’s quite bizarre to think that within a few decades in the ancient world, the entire history would have been overturned.

Next we are told they are written decades after the events. Okay. The problem? Much of what Tacitus and Josephus wrote about was also decades later. Scholars don’t see that as a problem. Hannibal who nearly conquered the Roman Empire has the first major account of him being written decades later by Polybius. From Hannibal’s own lifetime, we have only a scrap that mentions him. That’s it. A guy who nearly conquered the Roman Empire and he gets a scrap. Yet somehow, we’re supposed to think that a crucified Messiah who would have been seen by the outside world as a flash in the pan phony baloney would be talked about the world over? The ancient world would have dismissed the “Christ of Faith” just as quickly as Lataster has.

But let’s make the case even more interesting. Lataster has a great adoration of Carrier. Carrier has replied to the claim that there’s more evidence for the resurrection than Caesar crossing the Rubicon (Which I am not defending here) by saying the great scholars of the age talked about Caesar crossing the Rubicon. As I said in an earlier post when dealing with that idea:

But what’s most interesting about this is the fact of every scholar of the age. Let’s use a site like this.

Here we find Suetonius was born in 71 A.D. At the start, this puts us at 120 years+. Let’s suppose for the sake of argument that Suetonius waits until he’s 30 to begin writing. That would mean this reliable account is 150+ years later.

Appian?

He was born in 95 A.D. That puts us at 144 years+. Let’s suppose he waited until the age of 30, and it’s more likely he waited until later. If we give 30, then that means he wrote 174+ years later.

Cassius Dio? He was born in 164. This puts at at 213 years+. He started writing the Roman Histories at the earliest in 211. That puts us at 260 years+.

Someone had said something about the accounts of the resurrection being two to three centuries later….

But strangely enough, Cassius Dio two to three centuries later is okay.

Plutarch would be the earliest being born in 46 A.D., but this puts us at 95 years+ and if he waits till thirty, well that’s 125 years+.

That means not ONE of these sources could have talked to an eyewitness of the event. Not one of them was a contemporary of Caesar either. Not one of them would have been a firsthand account.

And yet they’re all accepted.

But the biggest problem with all of this is that Lataster is reading a modern culture onto the text. In the modern world, you don’t wait until later to write something. You do it immediately. Memory is not as trusted a tool. In the Biblical society, the written word is not as trusted and the oral tradition is more reliable and more trusted way of communicating. Lataster could have been benefited by reading a work such as The Lost World of Scripture or hearing my interview with one of the co-authors, Brent Sandy. Unfortunately, he probably won’t because both of the authors are Christians so yeah, we can just dismiss them.

Next all of these come from Christian authors eager to promote Christianity, so we can dismiss them. Perhaps we should dismiss the writings about the rabbis since they were written by their disciples easy to promote them. Perhaps we should dismiss Plato’s writings about Socrates since he was a disciple eager to promote Plato. Perhaps today we should dismiss holocaust museums by Jews who have a bias obviously eager to avoid another holocaust.

Or perhaps we should remember that in the ancient world, like today, everyone wrote to promote something and bias was in fact viewed as something important. No one wanted to read something without passion. Would it work if I just dismissed Lataster because he’s an atheist and therefore he clearly has a bias against any idea that would be associated with religion? No. Data is still data. Arguments are still arguments.

As for the Gospels not naming themselves or their qualifications or failing to show any criticism with their foundational sources, this also is not really a problem. Many authors in the ancient world wrote books anonymously and their authorship was identified by others. Just saying “anonymous” does not work. Upon what grounds does Lataster dismiss the testimony of the early church fathers and the internal arguments given for authorship. Also, E.P. Sanders has pointed out that the authors would remain anonymous due to their desire to focus the attention on the life of Jesus rather than saying what they were writing was “Their version of the life of Jesus.”

And as for interaction with sources, Lataster is assuming it would be done as it would be today. Richard Bauckham has made the case in Jesus and the Eyewitnesses that the authors used various methods to identify their sources. He argues that as the tradition goes through the Gospels, names are not added but dropped and that a named figure can normally be seen as a source, with obvious exceptions like Judas Iscariot. Generally, if a character that is not Jesus or one of the twelve is mentioned, this person could likely have been a source. Just look later in the other Gospels to see.

As for filled with mythical and non-historical information, well that could be show, but it would be nice to see an argument rather than just an assertion.

And as for heavily edited over time, has he read nothing of textual criticism? The Gospels have been copied, but they have not been so edited over time that we don’t know what the originals said. Very little of that is debated. This is the kind of objection that gets tossed around commonly, but it won’t find scholarly support.

The methods traditionally used to tease out rare nuggets of truth from the Gospels are dubious. The criterion of embarrassment says that if a section would be embarrassing for the author, it is more likely authentic. Unfortunately, given the diverse nature of Christianity and Judaism back then (things have not changed all that much), and the anonymity of the authors, it is impossible to determine what truly would be embarrassing or counter-intuitive, let alone if that might not serve some evangelistic purpose.

It is? No. Not really. All we need to do is study the work of the context group of scholars. Perhaps we could use some resources like The Greco-Roman World of the New Testamentor Honor, Patronage, Kinship, Purityor Misreading Scripture With Western Eyes, Just like he is with the Christ of Faith, the Lataster of Faith is too quick to dismiss a claim that he disagrees with. (and let’s seriously hope that he himself did not link to wikipedia to explain the criterion of embarrassment, though I fear he did.)

The criterion of Aramaic context is similarly unhelpful. Jesus and his closest followers were surely not the only Aramaic-speakers in first-century Judea. The criterion of multiple independent attestation can also hardly be used properly here, given that the sources clearly are not independent.

As for the Aramaic context, again, he is too quick. Did others in Judea speak Aramaic? Sure. How does that help explain that being used by those writing to people in the Greco-Roman World? Now if he does think any Gospel was written by a person from first century Judea, shouldn’t we trust they would have known if this Jesus fellow had never even existed, especially since as scholars agree so much with today, the Gospels are Greco-Roman biographies.

For multiple attestation, again the Lataster of Faith simply throws out an assertion and that’s it. They are clearly not independent? Says who? What’s the argument? Show it. Why is it that we are often told the Gospels are dependent on each other and then told that they hopelessly contradict? Why do we talk about the synoptic problem at all? Could it be that similarities in the Gospels could actually be because, oh I don’t know, I mean it’s a bizarre idea and all I’m sure, but could it just possibly be they are all about a real historical person that walked the Earth as NT scholars agree?

Paul’s Epistles, written earlier than the Gospels, give us no reason to dogmatically declare Jesus must have existed. Avoiding Jesus’ earthly events and teachings, even when the latter could have bolstered his own claims, Paul only describes his “Heavenly Jesus.” Even when discussing what appear to be the resurrection and the last supper, his only stated sources are his direct revelations from the Lord, and his indirect revelations from the Old Testament. In fact, Paul actually rules out human sources (see Galatians 1:11-12).

The silence of Paul naturally has to be played. So supposedly some mention of Jesus could have greatly bolstered Paul’s claims at times. When are these times? Can he tell us? Or are we just to trust the Lataster of faith? Paul only describes a Heavenly Jesus? Okay.

The Jesus who was crucified on the Passover by the Jews. He was born of a woman and under the law, and descended from David. He instituted a meal with his followers on the night of his crucifixion and was buried and was claimed to be seen alive again after a resurrection. Of course, Lataster would say these are all about a heavenly Jesus which is interesting since we have arguments from silence yet if we follow that criteria, where do we see mention of this heavenly realm where all these events took place or of a heavenly Jesus? Lataster would want to say that Paul rules out human sources, but this is the mistaken idea that gospel must necessarily mean “knowledge of the life of Jesus.” It doesn’t. It also refers to the truth that Jesus is the risen Messiah. Paul had that made clear to him on the Damascus road experience. He is saying he was not persuaded of Christianity by humans but by God Himself. In fact, in the passage in Galatians, Paul is really comparing himself to Jeremiah regularly with a divine call.

Also important are the sources we don’t have. There are no existing eyewitness or contemporary accounts of Jesus. All we have are later descriptions of Jesus’ life events by non-eyewitnesses, most of whom are obviously biased. Little can be gleaned from the few non-Biblical and non-Christian sources, with only Roman scholar Josephus and historian Tacitus having any reasonable claim to be writing about Jesus within 100 years of his life. And even those sparse accounts are shrouded in controversy, with disagreements over what parts have obviously been changed by Christian scribes (the manuscripts were preserved by Christians), the fact that both these authors were born after Jesus died (they would thus have probably received this information from Christians), and the oddity that centuries go by before Christian apologists start referencing them.

With the claim about contemporary and eyewitness sources, we have already mentioned this earlier. Tacitus and Josephus wrote about many events they were not eyewitnesses or contemporary to, and yet this has not been a problem of historians. It’s a made-up criteria of Christ-mythers. To say we have no eyewitnesses, Lataster will need to interact with works like those of Bauckham’s cited earlier. We can expect he won’t because, hey, this is Christian scholarship. As for Tacitus and Josephus being shrouded in controversy, it is only over what is being talked about but not that there is doubt over Jesus’s existence.

Josephus has the most controversy and it’s hard to think of a better article on Josephus than that written by James Hannam. For Tacitus, there is not nearly that level of controversy. It would have been nice if Lataster could have named some scholars who are doubtful of the reliability of these passages. As for apologists not referencing them, why would they need to? None of their opponents were arguing that Jesus never existed. Celsus even accepted that Jesus did miracles. He just said he did them by dark arts learned in Egypt. What good would it do in debates to show a reference that simply argued for the existence of Jesus when no one was debating that?

Agnosticism over the matter is already seemingly appropriate, and support for this position comes from independent historian Richard Carrier’srecent defense of another theory — namely, that the belief in Jesus started as the belief in a purely celestial being (who was killed by demons in an upper realm), who became historicized over time. To summarize Carrier’s 800-page tome, this theory and the traditional theory – that Jesus was a historical figure who became mythicized over time – both align well with the Gospels, which are later mixtures of obvious myth and what at least sounds historical.

Remember boys and girls, when you’re an atheist writing on the NT on the internet, it is essential that you cite Richard Carrier. Well who can blame him? After all, look at what we know about Carrier!

Richard Carrier is a world-renowned author and speaker. As a professional historian, published philosopher, and prominent defender of the American freethought movement, Dr. Carrier has appeared across the U.S., Canada and the U.K., and on American television and London radio, defending sound historical methods and the ethical worldview of secular naturalism.

Wow. A world-renowned author and speaker! Why who wouldn’t want to pay attention? How do we know that this description is accurate? What reason do we have? It comes from Richard Carrier himself. As for his book, I’ve read it and found it extremely lacking as he gives the sound of one-hand clapping and like the Lataster of Faith, too quickly dismisses those he disagrees with. Expect a fuller review in the future after I go through the footnotes with a fine-tooth comb. What I have observed with mythicists is that they are often unreliable in their use of sources. Of course, we could question that Richard Carrier even exists. I mean, surely if he’s such a well-acclaimed figure some university by now would have scooped him up and had him teaching. Awfully suspicious….

Getting back to Lataster:

The Pauline Epistles, however, overwhelmingly support the “celestial Jesus” theory, particularly with the passage indicating that demons killed Jesus, and would not have done so if they knew who he was (see: 1 Corinthians 2:6-10). Humans – the murderers according to the Gospels – of course would still have killed Jesus, knowing full well that his death results in their salvation, and the defeat of the evil spirits.

So what does the passage say? It says the rulers of this age. Does it say demons? No. It just says rulers. Now could the word used refer to demonic powers? Sure, but Lataster’s argument here is weak. How often are we told that an omnipotent God could have devised another way. Perhaps there was one then if the Jews had accepted the offer of Jesus, but let’s look at the main argument.

For one thing, when Paul speaks of archons (The word translated as rulers) he normally adds a predicate if they are non-corporeal, such as of the air or something of that sort. Second, look at chapters 1 and 2 of 1 Corinthians. You find a consistent focus on earthly activity. Why should we think that there has been a sudden switch to a heavenly event? It’s a popular theory of Doherty and Carrier, but it just hasn’t caught on with scholars. There’s a reason for that.

So what do the mainstream (and non-Christian) scholars say about all this? Surprisingly very little – of substance anyway. Only Bart Ehrmanand Maurice Casey have thoroughly attempted to prove Jesus’ historical existence in recent times. Their most decisive point? The Gospels can generally be trusted – after we ignore the many, many bits that are untrustworthy – because of the hypothetical (i.e. non-existent) sources behind them. Who produced these hypothetical sources? When? What did they say? Were they reliable? Were they intended to be accurate historical portrayals, enlightening allegories, or entertaining fictions?

Yes. They don’t say much, for the same reason many evolutionary scientists don’t say much about young-earth creationism, or that geologists don’t say much about flat-earth theories, or that astronomers don’t say much about geocentrism, or that Hitler historians don’t say much about the holocaust never happening. They don’t because it’s viewed as a crank theory. If they even mention it, that will give it some sort of credibility. Any writing is done out of a reluctance because the idea is so annoying.

Ehrman and Casey can’t tell you – and neither can any New Testament scholar. Given the poor state of the existing sources, and the atrocious methods used by mainstream Biblical historians, the matter will likely never be resolved. In sum, there are clearly good reasons to doubt Jesus’ historical existence – if not to think it outright improbable.

It’s nice to know that Lataster has already assured us we don’t need to look at the scholarship. I happen to disagree and think that yes, Ehrman and Casey can tell us. In fact, the world of NT scholarship as a huge huge majority has already told us. Christ-mythers meanwhile are just a group trying to make a lot of noise but just not getting the attention they want from the academy. Until they come up with decent arguments, they shouldn’t.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Christianity on Trial

December 16, 2014

What do I think of Mark Lanier’s book? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Christianity on Trial

I wish to thank Mark Lanier for sending me a copy of this IVP book for me to review. My first encounter with Lanier came when I heard him on Unbelievable? and thought he did an excellent job. I figured I would see if I could get Lanier to come on my own program as well, but first I’d want to see if his book was just as good as his appearance.

Overall, I conclude that it was. Lanier’s book is another one of those gateway books that is meant to get you searching and moving in the right direction. Lanier interacts with the opposition for his viewpoints and presents his case in a readable way. It’s not a narrative, but the main sources that he uses in each chapter are stated at the start as the witnesses that he calls forth. Some would agree with his conclusion. Some wouldn’t. All must be examined.

Lanier also starts out each section with a description of life in the law industry. One of the more amusing stories is the story told about Tom Smith. I’ll leave that for the readers to find out on their own, but I was thinking at the end that if this guy did not show up in a book sometime like “America’s Dumbest Criminals” then something would have to be off.

Something I found pleasantly surprising about this book is that unlike many in the area of apologetics, Lanier does not constantly quote works of leading apologists as answers. In fact, he hardly quotes them if he does at all. I do not doubt Lanier has read a lot of them, but for most of his sources, he’s trying to avoid that and just using the reasoning tools me all have to examine cases.

Lanier does cover several topics in this work. The existence of God is one that is covered quite thoroughly. I do wish more had been said about the Bible and the historical Jesus. There is thankfully a chapter on the resurrection, but it would have been good to have seen a prior chapter on the accuracy of the Bible in general and that it has been handed down reliably. I also did not think the chapter on morality answered the question the best, but even when I did not think the answer was the best, the argumentation is still quite interesting.

I would have also liked to have seen more of a bibliography. This would have been a good time for Lanier to have done something J Warner Wallace did in Cold-Case Christianity. I think a future edition could have ended with an appendix on the topics and lists of other “expert witnesses” that could be called forth to make a case.

Still, Lanier is an excellent thinker and I’m pleased to see a sharp trial lawyer using his mind to defend the Christian faith. If you’re looking for that book to get someone started thinking about Christianity, I highly recommend that you give deep consideration to Christianity on Trial.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Ken Humphreys Does Some Quote Mining

November 28, 2014

Is that quote being given accurately? Let’s dive into the Deeper Waters and find out.

It looks like Ken Humphreys is watching Deeper Waters after my debate with him. Good for him. Unfortunately, it looks like his quoting skills are not the best. The worse problem is that his followers will not check the primary source, my blog.  This is going to be even more difficult for them because he on the post does not give a link to my blog page. He has a date, but that’s about it.

So what does it say?

KenHumphreysDishonesty

So what does Humphreys have quoted from there if you can’t see it?

Bedard and Porter are spending time on this topic is not because the idea of Harpur’s is a serious debate in the academic community. It’s not. They wrote it for the same reason I had my recent debate with Ken Humphreys. It is because this is affecting the rank and file of the church and instilling doubt in them.

Well that certainly sounds damaging. This is reaching the rank and file. Surely mythicists can rejoice. Well they will anyway, but why is it reaching the rank and file? What else did I say about mythicism? Let’s look at the quote in the full context on the original post.

Unmasking The Pagan Christ is a response to the book of Tom Harpur’s called “The Pagan Christ.” It’s important to note that the reason authors like Bedard and Porter are spending time on this topic is not because the idea of Harpur’s is a serious debate in the academic community. It’s not. They wrote it for the same reason I had my recent debate with Ken Humphreys. It is because this is affecting the rank and file of the church and instilling doubt in them. This is also because we as the church have been doing an abysmal job at equipping Christians to answer challenges so much so that even the craziest of theories has an impact.

Do note the part that I have bolded. That is hardly speaking well of mythicism. In fact, it is speaking more against the church and how unequipped we are. This is how bad we are. Even a theory as ridiculous and groundless as mythicism can affect the church because they are unprepared and do not examine their worldview.

Why would Ken not mention that part? Why would he even make it look like I had a whole paragraph and start it in the middle of a sentence?

Want to see more evidence of this? Just look at other places in my post.

Thankfully, there are people out there like Bedard and Porter who are doing the work to make sure that this kind of material is dealt with. A large number of scholars have had the right attitude towards mythicism  (This is nonsense) but had the wrong response. (Therefore if we ignore it, it will just go away.) This is especially so for Christian scholars who ignore this not at their peril, but at the peril of their fellow Christians who aren’t as equipped.

I also make clear that this is not just Christian scholarship.

Of course, atheistic scholars and others have a role to play in this as well. There are atheistic scholars out there who are frankly quite embarrassed by how many atheists are jumping on the mythicist bandwagon, as they should be. For atheists who complain about Christians arguing against them on evolution without studying science (And they are certainly right to do so!), it looks like too many atheists are jumping on this idea without really studying history.

I have bolded the above for all readers.

And how did I end the post?

I am thankful that books like this one exist and I hope more do come. Mythicism cannot be ignored at this point. It is not because it is a powerful theory. It is not. It is because it is a theory that leads away people from doing sound and real history. It results in a conspiracy theory thinking that is extremely anti-intellectual and anti-historical. It is my hope that scholars of all worldviews and positions will start to deal with this and give it the deathblow and humiliation that it deserves.

There’s a lot here then that was left out.

Unfortunately, this is par for the course as mythicists have a tendency to quote sources out of their proper context and as well rarely go back to the primary sources. (Again, why didn’t Humphreys include a link to my post so all could see it for themselves?)

So in short, as is being said, the reason this is concerning is not because the theory is powerful. It’s not. It’s because people are uninformed. I’m sure many atheists would say the same about ID or YEC, beliefs they both can’t stand. Why do these reach many people? Do atheists think they reach them because there’s sound and convincing evidence? No. It’s because the people just don’t know the issue well enough. (And I am not able to comment on the rightness or wrongness of if they do or not.)

Besides, if I can see that Humphreys isn’t even getting my blog post right and is leaving relevant material out in his quoting, then why should I trust him on the rest of his research?

Of course, this could change if the photo is taken down and the real quote given in its entirety with the surrounding context, but I suspect that won’t happen because on the whole, it’s a condemnation of mythicism, which it deserves.

We’ll see what happens.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Apologetics for the 21st Century

November 26, 2014

What do I think of Louis Markos’s book? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

For all interested, yes, I am going to be continuing my reviews of some Christ-myth literature, both pro and con, but I’m also busy reading several other books now so I plan on reviewing those as I finish them, so I should have plenty to keep me busy. This also includes a comment posted earlier this week by a Robert G. Price. I have it on my Kindle and when I finish the reading I need to do first on there I plan to get started and write a response. For now, let’s move on to Markos’s book.

Markos’s book is divided into two parts. The first part is looking at major names that have been influences in the world of Christian apologetics. The second part is looking at an apologetic case for the existence of God, the resurrection of Jesus, and the reliability of Scripture, as well as looking at questions about the Da Vinci Code, the new atheists, ID, and the conversion of Antony Flew to theism.

The first part of the book is without a doubt the better part. If you’re familiar with apologetics, you’ll still get something out of this, particularly on the parts about C.S. Lewis. If Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist, then in Markos’s view, Lewis made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled Christians.

Not that Lewis was without his influences. Although a whole chapter isn’t on him, J.R.R. Tolkien would be among this group. There is a chapter devoted to Chesterton, who is a man more apologists, and in fact everyone for that matter, should be aware of. Chesterton’s writings are brilliant and some of his fictional works are quite entertaining. I can still recall my former roommate before I got married borrowing my copy of the Complete Father Brown Mysteries and planning to read a little bit before going to sleep one night. He had a bone to pick with me the next morning because he didn’t get to sleep until about 1:45 A.M. or so due to having to finish three of the mysteries.

Part Two will give some good information to people who are learning apologetics, though if you’ve read a lot of literature, you probably won’t find much new here, but that’s okay. Writing has to be done on different levels. While I do prefer the first part, I find Markos’s style here is down-to-earth and easy for all to grasp.

What are some areas I’d improve on?

The first is that I would have liked to have seen some citations. Markos does have a bibliography to be sure and he does recommend books and tell you who some big names are in the field, but that could be improved simply by having notes of some kind so you can see where these arguments that you’re getting come from.

Second, I would have preferred to have references made not to apologists so much as scholars. Some of the apologists cited are scholars in the field. The reason is that too often if you’re in debate and you cite someone and you say they’re an apologist, an atheist will be more prone to dismiss them.

Third, there were some claims that I think are incorrect. For instance, on page 168 we’re told that a whole generation is not enough time for a resurrection myth to form let alone a few years, but this is false. There have been people who have had myths made about them in fact the very moment that they died. This has even happened in the ancient world. What the real claim being referenced is is that there’s not enough time for a myth to totally replace the true account. That one I stand by.

Finally, I think there can be a danger of casting one’s net too wide. I understand wanting to have a comprehensive case, but I think too many apologists think they have to make an argument on history, philosophy, science, and everything else out there. I find it better to be more specialized in fact and rely on other members of the body to make arguments where you’re lacking. For instance, I avoid debating science as science. Evolutionary theory doesn’t matter a bit to me to my interpretation of Genesis or the reality of the resurrection.

I would have liked to have seen more in the first part overall. The first part was for me the most engaging of all. The second part is still a just fine introduction, though if you have read widely already, you will not find much that is new. Still, if you’re someone who is just getting started in learning about a defense of the Christian faith, this would be a fine gateway.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

The Reality of Jesus

November 24, 2014

Should it change you when you realize the reality of Jesus? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

My debate with Ken Humphreys is complete and you can find a link to it here. I am very pleased with how the debate went. It is my continuing hope that mythicism will be soon seen as an embarrassing fad that will pass away. I do think as a Christian that the reality of atheists jumping on the mythicist bandwagon is only hurting their cause. They are missing out on far better scholarship in the NT, including from fellow atheists, and damaging their cause from an academic perspective by going with a fringe belief.

Last night I was thinking about it and how really overwhelming the evidence for Jesus is and it struck me as how incredible it is that this is a reality. Now of course the existence of Jesus does not demonstrate that He was the Son of God who did miracles and rose from the dead, and of course atheistic scholarship has their own reasons for thinking he didn’t as well as liberal scholarship that would even identify itself as Christian, but as one who has read much of this, I really consider the counter-arguments quite weak.

Which gets us to the idea that Jesus is a historical reality that everyone deals with and as has been said before, everyone seems to want Jesus on their side. Muslims have Him as a prophet and the messiah and there are many good attributes of Him given in the Koran that are not given to Muhammad. Buddhists and Hindus like him as an avatar figure. Every religion that has come after Jesus has had to say something about Jesus. Even Richard Dawkins has spoken about a movement that he would like called “Atheists for Jesus” to which he thinks Jesus in humility would prefer to say “Jesus for atheists.” In a sense, I think Jesus certainly is! Jesus is not against atheists as people after all.

But if we are Christians, we need to realize that one of the starting claims of our system is true. Jesus really did walk among us. If that’s enough to excite us, imagine how exciting it is to think about the reality that Jesus is the Son of God who died and rose again. As is said in 2 Peter, we are not following cleverly devised tales. We are following what Luke said is an account that he made sure of.

Christianity is a unique faith in that it deals with historical realities. It makes the claim that these events happened and they happened at a specific place and time. Studying the history and the culture can actually educate us on our faith. In fact, if we are Christians, we have to realize that study of reality period can tell us something about Christianity. Christianity has something to say about everything. There is no one area that is left uncovered.

When Jesus is seen as a historical reality, something must be done with Him, which could be why so many are trying to shortcut and just say there is no reality to Jesus period. I am convinced that it’s an enterprise doomed to failure. The question remains as it was said long ago. Who do you say the Son of Man is?

In Christ,
Nick Peters