Posts Tagged ‘historical Jesus’

Debate Tomorrow

November 19, 2014

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

I want to let everyone know that tomorrow, I will be doing a debate on the podcast out of the U.K. called The Mind Renewed. My debate partner will be Ken Humphreys who runs the web site JesusNeverExisted.com. We will be debating the question of if Jesus was a historical figure or not. Obviously, you know that I will be debating the position that he was.

I do not know when the debate will be up though I have heard a possibility is that it will be up by Saturday. When it is, I plan to put a link up so anyone can listen to it. I do consider this an important debate as Christ mythicism is a position that while still ultimately found unpersuasive by scholars in the field, does rise up on the internet and especially in an age where everyone thinks that they’re an expert on historiography.

Still, I am honored to get to take part in this debate. I’m one of a few on the internet I think who has still insisted that these people need to be answered. I also take this as an example of how it is that we have to be doing better education in the church. It’s not enough to come and sing worship songs together, learn how to be good people, and then have a pizza party. We must educate. The data is out there. It can be understood by the layman. We just need to get it out.

We also need to teach some internet savvy. Unfortunately, in this day and age, anyone can set up a blog or a web site or make a YouTube video. Does that include me? Yep. That’s also why I have encouraged my readers to not take my word as gospel. By all means check me out with the best scholarship. If I make a mistake or you think I have made one, point it out. I have been in the business of refining my position.

Our people in the church need to know how to access information that they come across on the internet. Of course, the best way to do this is to go read the works of leading scholars. This is problematic in our day and age for a people who do not like to do such hard work. How can we expect them to. Do you not know what is on television this evening that we just simply have to watch? I am not opposed to having some entertainment as my wife and I watch several shows. I am opposed to living for entertainment without taking the time to study the issues that matter most.

To my fellow Christians, I simply ask that you pray for me. Pray that God will give me recall of the information that I have worked hard to learn and pray that this will be an edifying podcast that will draw people more and more to the true historical Jesus and of course, hopefully make them  be willing to research Him and in turn, come to find that He is the king of this universe and be willing to bend the knee to Him.

Thank you all.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Truth In A Culture of Doubt

September 26, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Christ,

Nick Peters

Book Plunge: The Story of Jesus In History and Faith

July 14, 2014

What do I think of Lee McDonald’s book on the historical Jesus? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Lee McDonald has written a book on the historical Jesus and one aspect of this book is that it’s quite unique from other books I have read on the historical Jesus. McDonald places great stock in history, but he also says we must go beyond history at times. History can produce the data but at times, there is an element of faith involved with what we do with the data.

I am pleased that McDonald does state his own personal bias upfront. I have no problem with an author doing that and I in fact have no problem with an author having a personal bias. We all do. We cannot avoid that. We should seek to limit our bias as much as we can, but at the end of the day, we must all realize we’re humans capable of bias.

For instance, in the debate about the Historical Jesus, data is not really the problem. Seriously. It isn’t. Most everyone out there seriously involved in the debate will agree to the same data. There are disagreements over some minor issues of course, but except for those on the fringe, such as the Christ-myth camp or the ultra-conservative hyper-inerrancy camp of the new fundamentalists, the data is not the problem.

And for data, McDonald is very thorough and presents plenty of data about the historical Jesus. He goes into each of the Gospels arguing about authorship and date of writing and purpose of writing and looks at the non-Christian sources to see what they say about Jesus. He interacts with scholarship everywhere on the spectrum.

But to get back to the issue, I really don’t like saying that faith is what is involved. Oh there is an element of faith in Christianity of course, but it’s not the case that faith becomes some kind of belief in regard to the evidence. Faith is rather an action in relation to the evidence. Faith is the act of loyally following through the evidence. I would in fact conclude that a historian can make a knowledge claim that Jesus did in fact rise from the dead. One can use history I think and demonstrate this.

While that is a criticism I have of McDonald’s book, it should not count against the overall excellent depth of information that is in the book and even if you’re highly familiar with Jesus studies, you’re sure to get something out of this one.

While McDonald agrees with the resurrection, I also think he’s fair about how far he thinks the evidence goes. He’s not going to defend a hard line inerrancy either. He does admit that there are some passages of Scripture that he sees as difficult to reconcile. Does that mean that they cannot be? Of course not, but it does mean that many of our explanations can often be so-so and just little bandages trying to sustain a view of inerrancy that cannot survive scrutiny.

In conclusion, I don’t agree with everything, and again, how many authors will we agree with entirely, I do think McDonald’s book is a welcome edition and that it would be a great help at a Seminary for students wanting to learn about the historical Jesus.

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

Book Plunge: The Christians As The Romans Saw Them

July 7, 2014

What do I think of Wilken’s book on how Romans viewed the Christians? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Wilken’s book has been seen as a classic in the field on investigating what were the opinions of the Romans on the Christians that goes from Pliny all the way to Julian the Apostate.

As one goes through the book, they see that over time, attitudes change as the Roman Empire has to get used to the growing Christian church. For Pliny and Tacitus, it was just this bizarre little group and hopefully it will go away before too long. For Celsus, it was a threat to true religion that needed to be dealt with. For Porphyry, it was here to stay, but let’s try and make it fit into the Roman system.

Let’s start with Pliny. Pliny saw the Christians as people who were practicing a bizarre superstition. In fact, it was hard for him to know what Christians really did believe as all manner of rumors were told about them, such as that the Lord’s Supper was a meal of cannibals and that regular orgies went on at their “love feasts.”

Pliny made it a point to sentence any Christian who was brought to him, but he also did not go out seeking out the Christians. There was not much study done of them directly and they were seen by people like Pliny as a burial society that would make sure the deceased in the group were given proper honors when they died.

This goes on to people like Tacitus and others. A recurring theme that shows up is that the Christian religion was new and as new, it was viewed with suspicion. Picture the crowd you see at a Baptist church saying “We’ve never done it that way before!” The people who the ancients saw as the ancients were deemed to be the closest to the gods. The best way to live was to follow their pattern. If you went against that, you would bring about the wrath of the gods. New beliefs were looked at with suspicion.

As time passes on, we get to Galen, a physician who actually saw the new movement as a philosophy. It was clear also he had read some of the writings of the Jews and the Christians as he referred to Moses and Christ and what they taught. He did not accept what they taught, but Galen was someone who was never married to any one philosophical school but studied them all. At this point, Christianity is starting to come more into its own and starting to interact more with the academics of the day.

Once we get to Celsus, we have the first real argument against the Christians that we know of. What’s most fascinating when we get to these critics is that the objections they raised are still around today. Ever hear the claim that the Gospels are just hearsay? It was around back then and it was being investigated back then. Ever hear the claim that Christians are people who don’t think and just believe on blind faith? Celsus himself raised that charge. He claimed that it was the foolish people who believe this stuff but the Christians grow quiet when the scholars come around. There was even raised the question about “What about those people who came before Jesus or who never hear about Jesus?” Yes. There is nothing new under the sun. These people were answered back then and they must be again every generation.

Porphyry takes another stance. In fact, he was seen as the most dangerous critic from a purely intellectual perspective and was still being answered centuries later. He had heard Origen’s answers to Celsus and he was not convinced. He began his own writing and he was the most learned critic of them all.

Porphyry could have been said to know the Bible as well as his opponents. He raised objections about the dating of the book of Daniel and questions about consistencies in the Biblical record. If that was all that he had said, he would not have been seen as the most dangerous critic of all. Once again, those questions were debated and addressed back in the day.

What made him most dangerous was his challenge that Jesus should be accepted but as another wise man who was just divinized over time. (Bart Ehrman has not produced a new idea at all.) Jesus had taught the Kingdom of God and the worship of God and his apostles came and changed it into a message about Jesus.

Because of this, worship was being changed from the worship of the true God to the worship of Jesus. It’s not a shock that within a century of Porphyry’s death the Arian controversy broke out. Porphyry put Christians in a puzzle as he did highly praise Jesus and esteem Him, but He said Christians were getting it wrong by worshiping Jesus.

The last one looked at is Julian the Apostate. He became emperor with people thinking he was a Christian, only to find out that no, he wasn’t, and he decided to use his power as emperor to try to restore paganism. His main aspect get at was that of Christianity and Judaism. How could Christianity claim a connection to Judaism when it cut itself off from Judaism?

Interestingly, for the Christians of the past, the destruction of the temple was seen as a way of saying that God was done with the Jewish system. As long as the temple was in the state of destruction, then God was certainly out of covenant with the Jews. This was seen as evidence He had moved to the Christians.

This is particularly interesting since Julian decided he would rebuild the temple and lo and behold, he died shortly after that and the project was abandoned and never finished. It would be interesting to see what he and the Christians would think of so many modern dispensationalists who see it as their duty to help rebuild a temple in Jerusalem.

Despite this, Julian’s objections are still around. They have also still been answered. Those who do not learn history are condemned to repeat it. The sad reality is that too many skeptics think they are finding new objections that have not been answered when they have been, and too many Christians are doubting severely and sometimes abandoning the faith not knowing the answers they need might have already been given centuries ago.

Wilken’s book is an amazing read to learn how Christians were viewed by those on the outside. It’s worth noting as well how many arguments were not made. It was never claimed Jesus never even existed. It wasn’t even claimed that Jesus never did miracles. These are seen as main arguments today, but they weren’t in the time of the first critics of Christianity.

I encourage people to get this book and read it.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: In Search of Paul

June 10, 2014

Do Crossan and Reed find him? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

One of the most important lessons you can learn in studying is to read those who disagree with you. Too often, we have the idea that all of them can be liberals who dream night and day about how they can undermine the Bible and destroy the faith of some at every chance. In reality, when you read them, one can often find a seriousness to the Biblical text and get valuable insights in interpretation and in fact make special note of where they agree with you. Of course, I still think they are wrong in much in the long way, but we should listen to their voices as they can most easily question our own presuppositions.

In Search of Paul by Crossan and Reed is a book looking at the Roman Empire’s “gospel” in contradiction to the “gospel” that Paul taught. Both sources were claiming that there was a man who was deity and who was going to be the ruler of the world and usher in a new age.

They’re right too. Rome was indeed seeing itself in a position of restoring the world and shaping it the way it ought to be and the divine Caesars were bringing blessings to all people. This is probably why elsewhere Crossan has said that Mark 1:1 where it talks about the beginning of the Gospel of Jesus, the Son of God, could be translated as “In your face, Caesar.”

This is something I’ve used in my own apologetic. In the clash of these two forces together, neither one of them wanting to compromise an inch, it is a wonder that it was in fact Christianity that won out. How did a shameful traitor and blasphemer to YHWH (by the standards of the world) come to be the one that eventually even the Roman Emperor bowed a knee to, and this without the Christians raising a sword?

But that is another question for another time and those interested can pursue my writings elsewhere and find my answer.

To return to the review, Crossan and Reed also bank on a hypothesis that Paul in his journeys went most to the God-fearers. These were people who admired the Jewish worldview and believed in the Jewish God, but they didn’t follow through entirely. For some bizarre reason for instance, the men were hesitant to get circumcised. I can’t imagine why….

Unfortunately, this is what I consider the weakest part. It’s not really explained well and when it comes to Acts, the parts that go against the theory are deemed to be non-historical without any real argument. If they give one elsewhere, it would have been good to have seen a reference.

The authors ask why would Jews care about these God-fearers coming to believe in Jesus? They also ask why would the pagans have cared about some pagans becoming Christians. Actually, both of these questions are quite simple to answer.

Jews would care because this would go against the honor of God. They didn’t want people going around saying that the Messiah had come and that Messiah was a crucified criminal. It also didn’t help that the leaders of Israel were being blamed for this. If this went unchecked, then that would mean that God would surely come and judge the nation. They were in violation of the covenant and the new movement had to be stomped out.

Why would pagans care? Simple. These people would be deviants in society. “You’re not worshiping the gods or the emperor? You’re in fact proclaiming our gods are not real and that the emperor is not deity? If you keep this up, the gods and/or Rome will judge us!” Both groups had something to gain by going after the Christians.

Despite this disagreement, a good reader will learn much from this book. The story is also told with powerful descriptions of visiting the areas where the events took place in modern times. One gets to see how the Empire was growing alongside of Christianity and go through the letters of Paul deemed to be authentic and see how they could be translated in light of this information.

Another point of interest is that Crossan and Reed want to tie this in to modern America today. How are we like the Roman Empire and differnt from them? I found myself puzzled though in wondering what great message Jesus taught that was so unique that it is still here today from a non-Christian viewpoint. For Crossan and Reed, the impression is that it is about the end of violence, but this does not seem to be the main message of Jesus.

As NT scholars agree, Jesus’s message is the Kingdom of God and the message would then be that God has begun His rule and He has begun it in the person of Christ. The resurrection would be the vindication of that claim. (As well as providing forgiveness of sins.) This is the solution to the problem of evil. God is reworking this world and reshaping it by the spread of the Gospel.

Non-violence would be good, but to what end? Just so we can all get along? If Jesus’s message had simply been that we should love one another and avoid violence and live in unity, it is hard to imagine how it is that He would have been crucified. It must be something much more radical. This is the problem I have with Crossan’s Jesus every time I read about Him. He’s a nice guy. There’s nothing wrong with being a nice guy, but nice guys while they finish last, do not get crucified.

Despite these differences, I do encourage Christians interested in the historical Jesus and studying Paul to read Crossan and Reed’s work. It will be very eye-opening and reading a stance different from your own will help you inform yours.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Five Views on the Historical Jesus

May 7, 2014

What do I think of the five views? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Historical Jesus study is one of the most controversial fields today. Despite what many atheists today think, it’s not filled with conservative evangelical Christians. Oh sure, some are in there, but any one can be a historical Jesus scholar regardless of their worldview.

So what happens when you get five scholars from five different fields to come on? Everyone ends up critiquing everyone and that’s the great benefit of these counterpoint books. One gets to see multiple perspectives and how they interact.

The first view is Robert Price’s.

It’s hard to say that without snickering.

Why? Because Robert Price is one of few on the planet in the field who actually holds to the idea that Jesus never existed. His essay naturally fails to deliver as he does not interact with sources outside of the NT hardly, such as Tacitus, and he too quickly dismisses the passages in Josephus. Meanwhile, he wants to find a parallel for everything in the Gospels somewhere in the OT, and some of them particularly amusing. For instance, the healing of the paralytic in Mark 2 who was lowered through the roof is based on King Ahaziah being afflicted by falling from his roof and then the result of him lying in bed.

If you think I’m making that up, it’s on page 69. I am not.

Now of course there are some Old Testament parallels, but it should not surprise us the NT would be written in the language of the OT since these were people familiar with the OT and would be making allusions to it seeing Jesus as a fulfillment. This would in fact give honor to the person of Jesus.

The responses are just as hilarious, particularly James Dunn’s response. Dunn is absolutely stunned that someone like Price even exists. Interestingly, another scathing critique of Price’s essay comes from John Dominic Crossan.

Crossan’s essay is in fact where we’ll go next.

Crossan presents a Jesus who interacts much with the politics of his day and talks about God bringing His Kingdom. So far, so good. Yet for Crossan, Jesus had followed John the Baptist in a more apocalyptic message, but then toned it down when He saw John beheaded and decided to say the Kingdom was here in the sense that God was making His presence known. It was already here. From that point on, Jesus is a teacher of the love and grace of God.

It sounds well and good, but keep in mind Crossan has also said the crucifixion of Christ is as sure a fact as any in ancient history. As I read Crossan’s essay I kept wondering “How on Earth would this Jesus be crucified?” This Jesus might be at worst an annoyance, but He would not strike anyone as a political revolutionary. He would not be teaching a message that would be radical to the people of the time.

This Jesus then is not the one that I think could be the Jesus of the Gospels. He would not be someone who is stirring up controversy whatsoever. Pilate would not have considered him a threat. No one would have considered that He was in anyway thinking He was a Messiah or a King.

The next essay is by Luke Timothy Johnson. Johnson has a unique approach and it’s rather difficult to figure out. He wants us to study history, but he wants us to realize that history has limits. From what I gather, Johnson is more interested in us getting to know the person of Jesus by reading the Gospels as literary works. No harm there. That should be done.

My concern with this is that it gives the impression that it’s praising history from one viewpoint and going against it from another. If Johnson’s view is that studying the Gospels will not tell us everything about the historical Jesus, well who would disagree with that?

At the same time, I do think Johnson deserves the rightful praise for reminding us that whatever genre the Gospels are, and I hold that they are Greco-Roman bioi, that we should definitely read them as works of literature.

The next essay is James Dunn. Personally, I found this one the most helpful essay of all. Dunn presents a brief look at what he has in Jesus Remembered, a massive work of his on the historical Jesus. He invites the reader to look into the question of the oral tradition and reminds us that our society is different from theirs.

He also asks us to look at why things happened. Why did Jesus have such an impact on the disciples and this even before the events of Easter? What was it about Jesus that made the difference? These are the kinds of questions that need to be asked, especially when dealing with more fundamentalist types like Bart Ehrman.

Finally, we have an essay by Darrell Bock. Bock comes from the evangelical sphere so he’s also the only one to really talk about the resurrection. I found Bock’s essay interesting but in some places, lacking. Why when Pilate’s actions are mentioned is not the death of Sejanus mentioned that would highly affect Pilate’s response? Still, one will find a good presentation of a common evangelical view of Jesus in Bock’s essay.

Of course, a book like this cannot cover everything, but it will give the layman a good introduction to how historical Jesus study takes place. I highly recommend it.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: The Historical Figure of Jesus

April 25, 2014

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

E.P. Sanders is really one of the most important writers in recent times on the historical Jesus. His works have been highly influential and while he does not come from the Christian perspective, he does I think seek to treat the Gospels fairly and not always with a hyper-skepticism, although I think there are times that the skepticism that he has is unwarranted.

Let’s start with something he does not say. Not even on the radar at all for Sanders is the idea that Jesus never even existed. This despite the idea that internet atheists will often insist that there is some debate to this. In fact, he will tell you that we know a lot about Jesus. In fact, on page 3, he tells us that the sources that we have for Jesus are better than the ones that we have for Alexander the Great.

Sanders starts us off largely with the political setting and the theological setting of Jesus. What was Rome doing at the time of Jesus? What was going on in Judaism at the time? Both of these are essential questions and readers who want to go with the Bible only and no extra-Biblical information will find that their attempts to understand what was going on in the life of Jesus are highly lacking since they do not consider all the sources. This is remarkable since even Sanders agrees Jesus was not thought much of in his time and Palestine was not thought much of either.

Sanders also even addresses the common charge that the Gospels are anonymous. He tells us on page 66 that in the ancient world, to have an anonymous work implied complete knowledge and reliability. To put a name to the account would be just saying “In my opinion, this is what happened.” Could it be that despite what internet atheists say again that there was an entirely valid reason for a work to be anonymous?

My main contentions are largely twofold. First off, on page 143 he quotes Cicero’s view that there are no miracles. (Despite the ancient world supposedly consisting of gullible people, Cicero would be right at home with the intellectual elite of his day) Sanders says he fully shares this view. Unfortunately, this view is not defended. Now can one investigate miracles fairly despite disbelieving in them? Yes. All one needs to do is take a non-dogmatic stance. It is just saying “I don’t believe in miracles, but I am open to the evidence.” Then look at the evidence and be skeptical, but make sure your skepticism is reasonable.

The other claim is one that shows up repeatedly and that’s that Jesus was wrong about his coming at the end of the age. This too often relies on a more literal reading of the text than on the kind that I believe Jesus fully intended us to get. Unfortunately, this kind of viewpoint has been bought into by several skeptical writers including Ehrman. Many who do this also tend to state repeatedly that we can’t take the Gospels literally. It is quite amusing that we’re repeatedly told to not do this and yet on this point, that is exactly what the skeptics do.

Still, someone is impoverished if they don’t take advantage of reading authors like Sanders. While the Christian will disagree with his ultimate conclusions, there is still much valuable information to learn and we owe it to ourselves as good investigators to do so.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

The Apostle’s Creed: I believe in Jesus

March 28, 2014

What is the case for the historical Jesus? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Since I’ve already looked at the words I believe, there’s no need to reinvent the wheel here. So let’s move on to the next line and notice that it says that I believe in Jesus.

At the bare minimum, let’s start with Jesus. What is the case that there was a historical Jesus?

Quite good actually.

You see, a lot of Christians don’t take the time to look for this evidence. A lot of atheists don’t either, or just disregard whatever evidence is presented because it doesn’t reach a bar that they arbitrarily set. Many don’t bother to take the time to see how the ancient world worked, to which I have some excellent resources on that here, here, and here.

Ancient historiography is not modern historiography. In our day and age, we have numerous recording devices and we all have access to ways to read and write for the most part. All of us communicate through the written word to some extent and we have added mediums the ancients didn’t such as television and the internet.

Also, ancients by and large had much better memories than we do. Why should we? We can make post-it notes and have our phones be our memories and save information on our computers. If you don’t have access to technology like that, chances are you’ll use your memory a lot more.

Let’s also keep in mind some realities which I’ve explained further in an article like this that would show that in the ancient world, Jesus wasn’t really worthy of mention. He never ran for office. He never went into battle. He never traveled as an adult outside of his country. He never wrote anything that lasted. To make matters worse, he was crucified as a Messiah claimant. You might say he did miracles, but so what? You think a historian in Rome is going to take seriously the claim that a supposed Messiah who was crucified did miracles? Nope.

So what do we have on the existence of Jesus?

Well right off, we have Paul’s letters. Now some will say these don’t say a lot about the historical Jesus. That’s right, but why should they? Paul is not attempting to write a biography. He’s wanting to deal with misunderstandings that have taken place. Yet there are times he does refer to the Jesus tradition.

In 1 Cor. 11, he has the Lord’s Supper.

In 1 Cor. 7, he has the Jesus tradition on divorce and marriage.

In 1 Cor. 15, we have the excellent creed that dates to within five years of the resurrection event that lists the appearances of Jesus.

In Romans 1, we have the testimony that Jesus was of the line of David.

In various places in the Pauline epistles, we have the statement of Jesus being crucified.

In 1 Thess. 4, it is believed we have some Jesus tradition in the fourth chapter concerning the resurrection.

In Galatians 1, we learn that Jesus had brothers, especially James.

Now some of you might be saying “And don’t we have in 1 Tim. that he was crucified under Pontius Pilate?” We do, but most skeptics will not accept 1 Timothy as an actual Pauline epistle. It is universally accepted that Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, and Philemon are authentic however.

After this, we also have all four Gospels. These Gospels date to the first century. For most ancient figures, if we had four sources like this within a hundred year period, we would be absolutely thrilled! Yet strangely enough, that bar is changed when we come to Jesus. Of course, anyone wanting to know about how the Gospels can be trusted is invited to listen here.

So let’s go on to sources outside the Bible. A great work you can read on these sources is “Jesus Outside the New Testament” by Robert Van Voorst. Let’s start however with Josephus. The longer reference is here.

“Antiquities 18.3.3 Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man, for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews, and many of the Gentiles. He was the Christ, and when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men among us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; for he appeared to them alive again the third day; as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him. And the tribe of Christians so named from him are not extinct at this day.”

This passage is known as the Testimonium Flavianum.

There is also no doubt that there are some interpolations in here, which means later scribes added some material. The question is, is the whole thing an interpolation?

The leading Josephus scholars say no. We do have here some authentic language that comes from Josephus with some parts added in.

Yet some basic truths we could learn from the passage is that Jesus was a Jewish rabbi who was seen as one who worked miracles. He claimed to be the Messiah but was crucified under Pilate. There was a belief that He rose from the dead and the Christians named after Him persist to this day.

The idea that Jesus never existed and Josephus never mentioned him is not popular among Josephus scholars. It is a wonder why it is that we should take seriously the claims of internet atheists over scholars in the field.

What about the second passage?

Antiquities 20.9.1 But the younger Ananus who, as we said, received the high priesthood, was of a bold disposition and exceptionally daring; he followed the party of the Sadducees, who are severe in judgment above all the Jews, as we have already shown. As therefore Ananus was of such a disposition, he thought he had now a good opportunity, as Festus was now dead, and Albinus was still on the road; so he assembled a council of judges, and brought before it the brother of Jesus the so-called Christ, whose name was James, together with some others, and having accused them as law-breakers, he delivered them over to be stoned.

Well this is not considered to be an interpolation at all and the reference to Jesus here points back to an earlier reference. Without the earlier reference, this latter reference makes no sense. From here, we would also get the idea that Jesus does indeed have as his brother James, which is consistent with Paul.

Next is the Roman historian Tacitus. Tacitus wrote in his Annals in 15.44 that

“But not all the relief that could come from man, not all the Bounties that the prince could bestow, nor all the atonements Which could be presented to the gods, availed to relieve Nero From the infamy of being believed to have ordered the Conflagration, the fire of Rome. Hence to suppress the rumor, he Falsely charged with the guilt, and punished Christians, who were Hated for their enormities. Christus, the founder of the name, was Put to death by Pontius Pilate, procurator of Judea in the reign Of Tiberius: but the pernicious superstition, repressed for a time Broke out again, not only through Judea, where the mischief Originated, but through the city of Rome also, where all things Hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their Center and become popular. Accordingly, an arrest was first Made of all who pleaded guilty; then, upon their information, an Immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of Firing the city, as of hatred against mankind.”

Interestingly, this is also the only place that he refers to Pontius Pilate.

Tacitus is seen as one of the greatest if not the greatest Roman historian. There is no reason to think that he uncritically shared a rumor and this is in fact something that a Christian would not write. It is not flattering to Christ at all. It refers to a mischievous superstition and indicates that it was something hideous and shameful.

Often reasons for rejecting this passage include that Tacitus gets the idea wrong about Tacitus. He was a prefect and not a procurator. Yet it’s just fine to think that Tacitus was using the title that was around in his day to refer to Jesus. There is also a possibility that there was a fluidity between the terms. To say that it is a hard and fast error is a huge burden for the skeptic.

Our next source is Seutonius.

“As the Jews were making constant disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus, he expelled them from Rome.”

This could in fact be a reference to what is talked about in Acts 18 when some Christians were expelled from Rome as well. At that point in time, there would not be known to be much difference between Jews and Christians. Still, some are skeptical of this.

For instance, Raphael Lataster writes that Chrestus refers to “The Good.” I wrote to my friend Ron C. Fay, a Greek expert, on this regards, only to have him tell me that it’s a Latin term and does not mean “the good.” In fact, when I contacted other Greek experts, including my own father-in-law, Mike Licona, none of them thought such a thing was even plausible.

On a prima facie basis then, there is no reason to disregard this. The burden is on the part of the mythicist.

Next we have Lucian who did not care for the Christians at all. The first reference?

“It was then that he learned the wondrous lore of the Christians, by associating with their priests and scribes in Palestine. And—how else could it be?—in a trice he made them all look like children, for he was prophet, cult-leader, head of the synagogue, and everything, all by himself. He inter preted and explained some of their books and even composed many, and they revered him as a god, made use of him as a lawgiver, and set him down as a protector, next after that other, to be sure, whom they still worship, the man who was crucified in Palestine because he introduced this new cult into the world.”

What we could get from this is that Christians worshiped Jesus and that Lucian believed that they were gullible in doing so. This would also help indicate that Christianity was a shameful belief at the time. I take the reference to a synagogue to actually show some confusion on Lucian’s part in thinking that Christianity was a sect of Judaism, or else he is just referring to a gathering that he sees as an off-shoot of Judaism, which is correct insofar as it goes, and would meet at a synagogue then as that’s where Jews met. The other lawgiver in this case then could be Moses.

What about the second reference?

“The poor wretches have convinced themselves, first and foremost, that they are going to be immortal and live for all time, in consequence of which they despise death and even willingly give themselves into custody; most of them. Furthermore, their first lawgiver persuaded them that they are all brothers of one another after they have transgressed once, for all by denying the Greek gods and by worshiping that crucified sophist himself and living under his laws. Therefore they despise all things indiscriminately and consider them common property, receiving such doctrines traditionally without any definite evidence.”

Again, this is hardly a flattering statement to the Christians and not one that they would make up. They would not refer to Jesus as a crucified sophist and say that they accept claims without evidence. (So yes, this also means that the claims of Boghossian are nothing new.)

There’s also Pliny the Younger, who wrote about the behavior of Christians and said

“They affirmed, however, that the whole of their guilt, or their error, was, that they were in the habit of meeting on a certain fixed day before it was light, when they sang in alternate verse a hymn to Christ as to a god, and bound themselves to a solemn oath, not to any wicked deeds, but never to commit any fraud, theft, adultery, never to falsify their word, not to deny a trust when they should be called upon to deliver it up.”

Here we have indications that these people were willing to die for Christianity, which is why Pliny is supposed to arrest them. They are being tried as if guilty of a crime. Surely if they were convinced this was a myth, they would not be willing to do so. Therefore, early on, we have belief in Jesus as a deity. How did this happen entirely within a relatively short time with zero reality behind it?

Finally, we’ll look at Mara Bar-Serapion.

What did he say?

“What advantage did the Athenians gain from putting Socrates to death? Famine and plague came upon them as a judgment for their crime. What advantage did the men of Samos gain from burning Pythagoras? In a moment their land was covered with sand. What advantage did the Jews gain from executing their wise King? It was just after that their Kingdom was abolished. God justly avenged these three wise men: the Athenians died of hunger; the Samians were overwhelmed by the sea; the Jews, ruined and driven from their land, live in complete dispersion. But Socrates did not die for good; he lived on in the teaching of Plato. Pythagoras did not die for good; he lived on in the statue of Hera. Nor did the wise King die for good; He lived on in the teaching which He had given.”

Now some might say Jesus isn’t mentioned by name. Fair enough. But let’s see what we know about this person. He was a teacher of the Jews. He was said to be their king. He was said to be wise. After executing (Not just killing but executing which I take to refer to a capital offense) him their kingdom was taken away from them. This king lived on in the teaching he had given. (Note he does not say was resurrected as a Christian would.)

Okay. So someone wants to say it wasn’t Jesus.

Feel free to say who is a better candidate.

In light of all of this, and without strong evidence to the contrary, I find it no shock that NT scholarship doesn’t even debate this question any more. There are more certified scientists who hold to a young-earth than there are equivalent scholars in ancient and NT history that hold that Jesus never even existed.

“But the YEC position is totally bizarre!”

Yes. A number of skeptics might say that, but if you want to be consistent and consider Christ-mythicism as a serious position, then you should do the same with YEC. Note I say this in no way to insult YECs. I am not one, but I am happily married to one. (My own wife just doesn’t really care about the debate and even respects Hugh Ross far more than Ken Ham.)

For the Christian who says they hold to a historical Jesus, they are on the firm ground of NT scholarship. It is the internet atheist who has convinced himself he knows better.

He has not convinced those in scholarship of that.

There’s a reason for that.

And oh, if someone wants to say that this is just Christians saying this, two non-Christian scholars, Maurice Casey and Bart Ehrman, have also written against Christ-myth nonsense.

Again, there’s a reason it’s considered nonsense.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Sense and Goodness Without God Part 10

January 14, 2014

Why do I not buy Carrier’s “refutation” of the resurrection story? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

As we continue through Richard Carrier’s “Sense and Goodness Without God” we come to a favorite piece of mine. In this, Carrier compares the evidence for the crossing of the Rubicon by Caesar to that of the evidence for the resurrection.

Now to be sure, I am not making any claim about the quality of the evidence for Caesar crossing the Rubicon in 49 B.C. I am simply looking at Carrier’s argument to see if it holds up or not and I contend that it does not.

So what are the points? Carrier’s first is that this event is a physical necessity. Rome’s history would not go as it had without it. Yet is this the case? Caesar did have to move his troops into Italy of course, but did he have to cross the Rubicon? We can say that would be the most convenient way to do so, but it was not the only way that it could have happened.

Carrier says all that is needed to explain Christianity is a belief, but this is not the case. Of course one would need to believe in a resurrection, but what events would have to happen for there to be a belief in the resurrection?

First, you would need a historical Jesus, which Carrier does not accept

Second, you need to have it known that he died.

Third, you need something to explain that this death was not the end.

This isn’t even counting all the social factors that go into play with Christianity.

The next piece Carrier points to is physical evidence. To begin with, what kind of physical evidence does Carrier want to see? He really thinks the evidence for a crucified Jew in Palestine should be compared to that of a major event by Julius Caesar?

Well actually, we do have some physical evidence. We do in fact have documents. We have the Gospels, the Pauline Epistles, Acts, and of course the rest of the New Testament. We also have writings outside of the NT such as Tacitus, Josephus, Suetonius, etc.

We also have the claim that the tomb was empty, which would be a physical claim that could be checked, and the claim that one could talk to eyewitnesses who claimed to have seen the risen Jesus. Carrier also says it has been proven the Shroud of Turin is a forgery. Unfortunately, he does not say by who or when this was done. Perhaps he wants me to take it by faith.

Carrier also says we have unbiased or counterbiased corroboration for Caesar. Well not really. His enemies could attest to this in fact to show that Caesar was a threat. It is also interesting that Carrier says we have unbiased sources when he says his friends wrote about it. How are those unbiased?

Yet what does he expect for the resurrection? Obviously, if someone believes Jesus was raised, then they are going to be biased. Who will write a testimony saying Jesus was raised and still reject Christianity in Jesus’s day? (I say then because today, Pinchas Lapides is a Jew who holds that Jesus was raised but does not believe He was the Messiah.)

On the other hand, if someone writes against the resurrection, we can just as well say they are biased. The resurrection would focus on the claims Jesus made for Himself so you could not approach the subject or speak about it without some bias.

The fourth one is my favorite. In this, Carrier says the crossing of the Rubicon appears in almost every history of the age, and this is by the most prominent scholars. Who are these guys? Suetonius, Appian, Cassius Dio, and Plutarch.

What about the resurrection? It’s not mentioned until two to three centuries later. There’s also the point that the ones who wrote about the Rubicon were quite scholarly and show a wide range of reading and citation of sources, whereas the historians of Christianity in the first century did not.

Yes. Paul was definitely a slouch in scholarship. Only trained under the best of his time and his writing shows a great skill in Greco-Roman rhetoric and argumentation.

Also, the Gospels do cite eyewitnesses in their own way. For an example, in Mark’s Gospel, Peter is the first and last disciple mentioned. What’s the point of this? It shows it’s an inclusio account whereby Peter is thus known to be the source. Aspects like this can be found in “Jesus and the Eyewitnesses” by Richard Bauckham.

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.

And you know what? I have no problem with that. That’s the way ancient history is done, but when Carrier gives these names, he doesn’t tell the audience when these people lived and wrote. It’s a double-standard.

The final piece of evidence is that apparently, we have Caesar’s own words. Unfortunately, we have no such statement of “I crossed the Rubicon” or “I crossed the river” that I know of in relation to this event. So how do we have Caesar’s own words?

Carrier then says we don’t have any writings of Jesus. This is true. We also don’t have writings of Socrates. As is pointed out in “The Lost World of Scripture” most teachers did not write out their works. Instead, they left it to their disciples. Most teachers also did not care for writing their works since they feared their works could be misunderstood. For those interested in where to find information on this, see here and here.

Carrier also says the names of the Gospels were applied later and on questionable grounds. What were these grounds? Well he doesn’t tell us. Here you can listen to Tim McGrew answering this question and if one is interested in charges of forgery, go here.

Carrier also says Paul saw Jesus in a vision. Evidence of this given? None. Of course, if Jesus did not rise, it would have to be a vision, but what if He did rise? And further, did Paul really think He had just had a vision, or did he think that Jesus physically appeared to him?

In the end, I conclude that Carrier’s argument is just based on false assumptions all throughout and at times, not entirely honest.

We’ll wrap up on history next time.

In Christ,
Nick Peters