Posts Tagged ‘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: But God Raised Him From The Dead

February 12, 2015

What do I think about Kevin Anderson’s book from Wipf and Stock publishers? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

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Wipf and Stock was recently letting reviewers have a free copy of this book and since it was about resurrection, I jumped at the chance, so my thanks first to Wipf and Stock publishers for this copy.

This is supposed to be the first monograph of its kind on the resurrection as seen in the work of Luke-Acts. For those with a more apologetic bent like I am, this is not meant to give you a defense of the resurrection. You will not find something like the minimal facts in here. You won’t even find an argument for the resurrection. What you will find is what the doctrine of the resurrection means in Luke-Acts and how it plays a major role if not the major role in the whole narrative.

Some especially interesting subjects are the looking at the concept of resurrection in Second Temple Judaism and the looking at resurrection in the pagan world surrounding the Jews. The resurrection is not cut and dried in the time of Second Temple Judaism. We know the Sadducees did not believe in it and the Pharisees did. Various texts in the OT are looked at to see if they talk about resurrection and then some writings from the period of Second Temple Judaism are looked at.

More interesting is the looking at the pagan world I thought. After all, many of us would view resurrection as a good thing. In the ancient world, not as much. There are strong indications that it would be like returning to a prison. This is helpful for those of us in the apologetics field as it gives us further evidence that indeed returning to the body would be seen as returning to the shackles of a prison. Contrary to what we might think, the resurrection was not thought to be a liked doctrine. That would explain why there were scoffers of the idea even in the Corinthian community.

From there, with the cultural backdrop of resurrection, Anderson looks at how Luke plays this out in his narrative. He spends plenty of time on Peter’s speeches and on Paul’s speeches. If there is a main theme that the resurrection is seen to help establish in the narrative, it is the theme of hope, which is also something Anderson writes about. What is the hope of Israel and how will it be established?

Anderson seems to end on the note that the resurrection will take place so the just will be rewarded and the wicked punished. I think it’s a bit more. The hope of Israel is that God will become king and Israel will be His special chosen people. Today, Christians also share that hope as we are adopted into the family of Israel and we preach the kingship of Christ with the hope that His kingdom will spread all over the world.

Note this book is not layman friendly. It does contain plenty of Greek and assumes a good background with the scholarly material, but if you’re into the heavy stuff, this will be a good addition to your library.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: With The Clouds of Heaven

January 27, 2015

What do I think of James Hamilton Jr.’s book published by IVP? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

With The Clouds of Heaven

With The Clouds of Heaven is a look at Daniel and the role it plays in the whole of Scripture, which is indeed a major one. I got this book largely because I do have a great interest in eschatology being an orthodox Preterist. So how did it deliver?

I thought Hamilton’s start was excellent at the beginning talking about how we have an assumed background knowledge when we make a statement. This is what we call a high-context society and the social science studies of the NT world are starting to bring this out more. Hamilton uses the example that he started writing this after the Super Bowl in 2013 where the Baltimore Ravens won. No one needs to be told what the Super Bowl is and no one thinks Hamilton is talking about a bunch of birds in Baltimore. Even I who is absolutely clueless on football knows that. Hamilton gives an example of what he said at his church as the pastor (And might I say it’s wonderful to see a scholar being a pastor too). His church does not have Sunday evening services so in the morning he said during announcements:

Warren and Jody are opening their home this evening to all and sundry. Evidently, there’s something happening on television tonight, maybe you know the details, apparently some commercials are going to be aired. If you’d like to watch the proceedings with others from our congregation, you’re welcome to bring a bag of chips, a jar of salsa, or a two-litre to Warren and Jody’s house.

According to Hamilton, when it was said that something was happening on TV that evening, there were smirks and snickers. Nowhere in this do you see the terms “Super Bowl” or “football game”, but everyone understands. I could go further and say nowhere do you see explained what a two-litre is, and yet Hamilton’s audience no doubt understood this term even if a reader unfamiliar with the language would not. Hamilton is also certainly right that many such allusions like he has in the announcements at his church take place in Scripture. A snippet from somewhere can bring to mind a whole passage.

For example, how many of us could be watching a show and hear a saying like “The Prodigal son returns.” When we hear this, we’re supposed to bring to mind the whole of the prodigal son story. None of this needs to be explained. It’s assumed that even if you’re a non-Christian, if you live in a Western culture, you know at least that even if you don’t believe Scripture, what the story of the prodigal son is. You know it’s a story about a wayward son that comes back home.

I appreciate also Hamilton’s insistence that Daniel is rightly in the canon and that a date that is more traditional does matter. I do wish there had been more on this as he compared Daniel with other writings at the time to show that they relied on it and thus it would have been accepted instead of being something new, but it would have also been good to have seen archaeological evidence presented, such as it now looks like Belshazzar was a co-regent and that’s why Daniel was offered the third highest position in the Kingdom. A later writer would not have known this.

The writing on how Daniel is laid out is also very interesting. Hamilton points to several chiasms that take place in the book. It is truly a marvelous work of literature. He also looks at the four kingdoms. I found it interesting on how after Daniel’s explanation of the dream of the statue with the gold head, Nebuchadnezzar makes a whole statue of gold, as if to say that if he is the gold, then he will make sure he is treated like he deserves.

When we get into eschatology, I did not find the stance of Hamilton too clear and what I did find, I do disagree with. I do not think there is anything in Daniel, especially the ninth chapter, about an antichrist figure. I’m convinced that Scripture does not speak of an antichrist person as much as an antichrist attitude. In that, everyone is either for Christ or they are antichrist. It’s interesting that John is the only one who uses the word, and yet nowhere in Revelation do you find anyone described as the antichrist. I in fact think the abomination described in Daniel 9 is that the pure Son of God was crucified in Jerusalem. What happened in the Middle of the week? That was when Stephen was stoned. It’s noteworthy that when that happens, he says he sees the Son of Man (How often is Jesus called the Son of Man outside the Gospels) standing at the right hand of God. Why standing? Hebrews says He sat down. He’s standing because that’s what you do when you judge. Jesus is pronouncing judgment on the Jews who have now killed the first Christian martyr.

This affects how I also read the way Hamilton thinks the rest of the NT interprets Daniel. I do think the section is interesting as it is a contrary viewpoint as far as I’m concerned, but I just don’t find it convincing and I leave it to readers to see the data that Hamilton provides.

If you like to study eschatology, I do think this is an important book to read and there needs to be serious look at Daniel and not just about eschatology, but how it relates to all of us as a whole. While I disagree with a good deal of what Hamilton says, he has done his homework and that is commendable and I do think again, that a church with a pastor who is also a scholar is indeed blessed. If only more of our pastors would strive to be if not scholars, at least be scholarly, we would all be better off.

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

When Shame Dies

January 19, 2015

Is anything wrong in our culture besides saying that something is wrong? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Many of you are quite likely fathers of daughters and so when I present an article called “What It’s Like To Date Your Dad“, you could be thinking, “I encourage fathers and daughters to have date nights. It’s one of the best ways I find out what’s going on in the life of my daughter, find out about the boys in her life, get to know her as a person, and just have some real bonding time together.” God bless you if that’s you. You’re being a good father.

But that is not what the article is talking about, unless you mean your date nights with your daughter end with the two of you making out in the bedroom together.

Unfortunately, this is what has happened. The girl in the article describes meeting her long lost father who had been missing from her life for years and feeling sexual attraction to him. Apparently, it was mutual. She describes meeting him and then within five days she lost her virginity to him. Note that this happened in the house of his girlfriend who he was living with at the time. (By the way women, if a man is willing to leave another woman because he thinks you’re better, be cautious. Who’s to say he won’t do the same to you when he finds someone he thinks is better?)

Was this a one-time thing? Nope. The girl now says that they are engaged and that they will get married and that they plan to have kids.

And this is also being defended. You can find many comments that do say that this is sick and this guy should go to jail since the girl is a minor. But then, there are others who are saying “Well who are we to judge?” and “As long as they’re happy that’s what matters.” While some of this goes into the marriage equality debate, it’s important to remember that when this whole thing started, we were told there was no slippery slope at all.

I think it’s conclusive now that that statement was wrong. We are sliding down that slope. People are defending a father having sex with his own daughter. Why?

I am convinced the reason is that they have no choice.

Sex has been treated like a deity in our culture. In a way, I understand it. If you remove God, then in all honesty, sex is the most transcendent experience that you have normally. It is radical and earthshaking and totally transforms your view of the other person. The next closest thing, and I cannot speak from experience on this one, could be drug usage. In any case, people are searching for the transcendent.

Let’s be clear also. We are a pleasure loving society. Of course, I am not anti-pleasure, but I am opposed to assuming our pleasures are the highest good. (This is not to disagree with someone like John Piper’s Christian Hedonism. I disagree with Piper in other areas, but I think he’s correct on this one.) There is no doubt of course that sex brings with it a great deal of pleasure and for many, it could be the highest pleasure. (And as far as the pleasures of the body go, yes. This one is right at the top. There is no comparison.)

So when we start talking about our society’s obsession with sex, let’s be clear right at the start. It makes sense. Since men so often think about sex, let’s note that those of us who are Christian men could be said to be just as much obsessed. Even when times come that we are not thinking about sex, it is always on the back burner and it can be brought up to our mind again immediately.

I remember the Christmas when my parents got me my first car. What did I want to do immediately? I was driving to see all my friends to show it off. I had my own set of wheels and it was a taste of freedom and I was looking forward to going everywhere I could, but I had to make sure everyone knew exactly how much I was going to be enjoying the freedom and experience I had.

Our society has done the same with sex.

When we thought we had liberated it, we wanted to show it everywhere. In the past, all you needed to see in a movie was a man and a woman going into a room and seeing the door close and perhaps hearing a click of a lock. You didn’t need to see what was going on. It was known. We can all be sure that our imaginations work well enough to supply the details. This is also why I tell men to wait until marriage to have sex as your view of women will also change. It’s very easy to imagine a relationship with a fully-clothed woman.  This is why myself and many other Christian men have to do the look away or the sky look when we’re out in public and see other women.

How much harder is it when you can so easily see them taking their clothes off right in front of you? Modern media has made that possible. Sexual relationships outside of marriage are seen as the norm and common. Of course, we just have to ask who are we to judge? As long as people are happy, what right do we really have to intrude? Are we going to be seen as prudes?

Now as I’ve said, we should not be prudes. None of us should be anti-sex. What we are really for is sex in the right place and in the right context. Put it right there and Christians should agree that it’s absolutely wonderful and a gift from God. Put it in the wrong spot and it’s just like nuclear energy. It’s fine when used properly and directed toward a proper purpose in the proper context, but get it wrong and you get Chernobyl.

A few months ago, one of my friends put up a status on Facebook saying our culture’s problem is we think way too much about sex. I argued that was the exact opposite of our problem. We do everything but think about sex truly. We have thoughts of it of course, but think about it? We do it. We dream about it. We fantasize about it. We do everything but really think about the act itself. It’s become more of a reflex than anything else.

If you don’t think but just say “If it feels good, do it” and don’t really see a purpose to sex, then in the end, how can you say someone is misusing sex? The only way to misuse it is if you think there is a proper use of it. Remove the proper use and there is no misuse. What becomes allowable at that point? Anything at all. Why is this trumpeted everywhere? Because we have to have acceptance. Without acceptance, all that is left is shame.

And that ultimately is the problem in our culture. We are becoming a culture without shame.

Shame in itself can be seen as a bad thing. No one likes to experience shame. Note I am not talking about guilt. Guilt is the internal feeling that you have done something wrong. Shame is the external awareness that your actions are not accepted by society and that you internally notice their condemnation. If society is not condemning, there is no reason to hide, so do what you want.

Ultimately, when we sear our morality this much, we actually cheapen ourselves and the world around us. What does it say about a woman who’s willing to take her clothes off for just anyone whatsoever? It doesn’t speak of a confident woman. It speaks of a woman who just sees herself as a body and of her body as the highest good she has to offer. Ultimately, it speaks of a woman who is treating herself in a cheap way.

The Christian ethic here is different. Here, the woman is told to say that she is a temple and in fact a temple of the Holy Spirit, which means she is to be honored above all. You don’t get to enter that temple cheaply. The right to come into that temple comes with a price. You must be in covenant with the person themselves in order to have a right to go into their temple. What is the price the woman charges? Your whole life. Until death do you part, you are hers and hers alone and she is yours and yours alone. You are to be faithful to her and be to only her and only then are you granted the right to enter the temple.

That we look on this as bizarre and look on the other as common tells me our society does not know what shame is really any more. As said, shame normally has a bad side to it in that no one wants to experience it, but when we do, it can be an indication that we are actually doing something wrong. If we do not have shame, then we are just like a person with CIPA who is incapable of feeling pain. It might sound nice to not be able to feel pain at first, until you realize how much not feeling pain can cause you trouble. Pain is really a gift in that case. Without being able to experience pain, we would have far more suffering in this life.

If there is no shame, then we will not be able to say anyone is doing anything wrong. We might be able to say we find it personally gross, but can we say it is wrong. “Oh I would not want to have a sexual relationship with my father, but can I really say what they are doing is wrong?” In fact, the only thing that is said to be wrong today it looks like is to say that anything is wrong.

But if some things are wrong, then silencing that warning is not helping us. It’s hurting.

If we as a society defend this, then we have to ask really where will it end? We can say that some things today are unthinkable. That’s what we would have said about redefining marriage thirty years ago. Today, it’s becoming more and more common. How many times do you see the homosexual on the TV show being seen as a celebrated figure? Even if you think the belief is wrong that homosexuality is wrong, there can be no doubt that society had a strong stance against this in the past and it would have been seen as unthinkable for many.

We have a precedent for where this is going and that there are people who are willing to defend a father sleeping with his daughter is ample demonstration of that today.

On the other hand, while society has no shame, the tragedy for the church is that we do have shame. We act like sex is something shameful to talk about. It’s not. God talks about it a lot in Scripture. Someone once told me years ago says that God talks about sex all the time because He knows that we think about it all the time. Some might object “Well why do Christians have to seem to put their noses in everyone’s bedroom and saying what they think is wrong?”

It’s not that we’re putting our noses in your bedrooms. In fact, I don’t know any Christians who are for being the sex police as it were and monitoring what goes on in bedrooms. It’s that what is going on in your bedrooms is being thrust in our face every day and when we dare say anything about it, we are immediately told that we are just talking about it too much. We’ve reached a point where a Christian cannot really have a discussion about the issue. We have to start out saying “I’m not a homophobe,” or “I don’t hate homosexuals” or something of that sort. Why? Because the “tolerant” opposition has said that if you disagree, you must be a hater or something of that sort.

For all the talk on tolerance, you’d think this Gospel that was preached would be practiced some.

Christians sadly then end up giving just a negative message on sex. We need to give a positive message, kind of like the kind I said earlier in this post. We need to celebrate and uphold sex. It has been said that one problem in our culture is that unmarried people are having too much sex and married people aren’t having enough. Why should the society outside of the church think that the church has no problem with sex if we seem to have such a negative view of it?

Too often, our messages have in fact been just that. Negative. There is a time and a place for the don’ts, but there is a place for the positive and we must give the positive. I can still think of years ago as a college student being in a church service and hearing a pastor speak to teens who had just done the Silver Ring Thing. He was telling them if they have sex before marriage, that will be for selfish reasons. Okay. I can agree with that. Fine. So what were the reasons to not have sex before marriage?

Think of the guilt that you’ll feel. Think of how embarrassed you’ll be on your wedding day. Think of the possibility that you could get pregnant or you could get an STD.

And as I was listening I was thinking “Those sound like selfish reasons to me too.”

Never seemed to occur to say “This is wrong. It’s wrong because God made sex and here’s how He made it to be used and why and here are the benefits when you use it this way.”

In fact, during this sermon I was getting bored.

Note to all pastors reading this. If you are preaching a sermon on sex, and your audience is getting bored, especially college age guys, you are doing something wrong. (In fact, we could say at this point if you preach on Christ and your audience is not keeping interest, you are doing something wrong.)

If we do not get our message out about what sex is, our youth will only hear one message and that message will far overwhelm ours. Think back to when you were dating. If all you had when you were alone with your boyfriend/girlfriend at the time consisted of nothing more than a few verses from Paul, do you really think that those alone would have overpowered your hormones at the time? Those of us who are married today know well that in the proper context it’s still extremely difficult to override our hormones if we have to and those hormones can often provide some darn good justification for something we want.

We need to get our positive message out and we need to celebrate it. Yes. What goes on in our bedrooms is a private matter, but the subject matter of our bedrooms should be discussed. Churches need to have messages on sex on a regular basis. Why? Because the people in your congregation are thinking about it on a regular basis.

If you lived in Salt Lake City and were the pastor of a Christian church, you would need to have messages addressing Mormonism regularly because your congregation sees it regularly. If you lived in Egypt in the same situation, you would need to talk about Islam. If you were an Israeli pastor in Israel, you’d talk about Judaism. Well in America, the great deity that is being talked about is sex, and we need to talk about it.

As it stands, our culture not only looks at illicit sex with approval, but broadcasts it. This girl in the article I linked to earlier has her fifteen minutes of fame today. Why? She is sleeping with her father. These kinds of stories are being broadcast everywhere. Just look at the magazine rack in the grocery store. This woman in the story is being interviewed as if this is a real deep human interest and we all want to know what it’s like to be sleeping with your Dad.

How do we reverse the trend where sexual stances that should be shamed are celebrated and sexual stances that should be celebrated are shamed?

For one thing, we have to drop out of this mode of “It’s not for me to judge.” Of course it is. Jesus did say judge not, but He spoke of hypocritical judging. Not all judging. How else are you supposed to know who the pigs and dogs are that He spoke about? If you have enough information to make a judgment, then you need to make a judgment. Believe it or not, how someone feels is not the most important thing in the universe. Whether they’re doing something right or wrong is more important.

It’s also because of our individualism. The self-esteem movement has told us that how we think about ourselves is most important, but in reality, I don’t think any of us have fully bought into that myth. Why? Because we are all still seeking everyone else’s approval. But if we hold to a strong individualism, then you dare not speak out against what the individual does. What right do you have to speak against their feelings after all?

Reality is that we can reverse the trend and the best way the church can do this is simply to be the church. We must speak where Jesus would speak and be silent where He would be silent. Jesus had the greatest of love for sinners, but He never once hesitated to call sin sin. Many of us consider the story of the woman caught in adultery, but even then while Jesus did not condemn her, He did say “Go and sin no more.” (I do not think the story was part of the writing of John, but I do think that it is a true story that found its way into the copies of John.) Jesus called the action sin still. You can have utter hatred of sin, as Jesus did, and total love of sinners, as Jesus did.

We should not be ashamed of our stance on sex and we should in fact celebrate sex, while making it clear that we find what the world does shameful. When Duck Dynasty had its situation with people caling A&E and disconnecting their cable, what saddened me most afterwards was how Christians stopped their actions after their show was restored. Christians were willing to fight for a TV show, their entertainment, but they were not willing to keep going for marriage.

Remember church. We can win battles. We often do. We just don’t usually show up.

Go look at the above story again. Really look at it. A girl is sleeping with her father. If she has a boy, he will be her son/brother and if she has a girl she will be her daughter/sister. The father will always be a father/grandfather. The reason she is able to do this so confidently in society is she sure she will be accepted.

How far is this going to go?

As far as we let it.

How far are you willing to let it go?

If we do not speak today,will there be anyone to speak in the future?

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Defend The Faith Day Three

January 8, 2015

What happened at the third day at Defend The Faith? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Today was the last day of the conference for us. Not because it’s a bad conference or we just want to go home. Not at all. Allie just has a women’s retreat that she had booked months ago before we ever heard about the conference and she has to be home so we can take her to that. Still, I will make tomorrow’s post and Friday’s about the conference. Unfortunately, my guest for Saturday on the show had to cancel and I figure it’s both my Mom’s birthday and I have to pick up Allie from the retreat, so why not just have some time of rest?

The day started with David Calhoun giving a version of Lewis’s argument from reason. This one has some points that are not exactly found in Plantinga. It also doesn’t depend on your stance on if evolution is true or not. The only one it says is not likely true is purely naturalistic evolution. If you have a theistic evolution of sorts, then your position is still safe.

The next session was one of Tom Gilson speaking on a new twist on the quadrilemma he has come up with, according to Dan Wallace. His approach is to look at Jesus as the person of impeccable moral character and also all-powerful and asks how hard it would be to imagine the typical illiterate fishermen created such a character. My description cannot do the argument justice so I recommend you click the link and check it out for yourself.

After a lunch, Allie and I went to a breakout session of Tom’s again. Let me mention at this point to please be praying for Tom with a foot injury he has. In this talk, he talked about missions and apologetics. This was one of the best sessions I attended as we talked so much about what the average college student believes today. They have misconceptions about love, sex, they’re relativists, they’re naturalists, they are experiencing freedom for the first time, they lack a sense often of obligation or responsibility, and usually they rely on Google scholarship.

Of course, this is a generality, but much of it applies in various degrees to American college students. This is our mission field. We are no longer living in the 1950’s. It was the discussion in the classroom that made this one so great. Tim McGrew and Tom were usually together and Tim was sitting in the audience for this one and he had a lot of good things to say.

Next we went to a talk by Sarah Ankemann on morality and making a case for absolute morality. Might I say at this point also that it’s great to see more women getting involved in apologetics? It’s usually a man’s field, but we need both sexes to be involved. A lot of interesting discussion came about in this one as well and we do plan on having Sarah come on the show in April to discuss autism since she has a son on the spectrum.

Then came my time to speak. I spoke on Gentlemen, We Are At War. I had a full classroom so much so that some people came in and left. The audience was entirely receptive and I pointed out the dangers that are usually faced on the internet. More people need to learn how to deal with popular internet skeptics and various theories like Christ mythicism and the pagan copycat idea. Many people in the audience thanked me for the talk which was incredibly warming to hear and humbling at the same time.

After a dinner, Tim McGrew and I again spent some more time working on Bayes’ Theorem together. I’ve said before what a great figure Tim is and I mean it. In fact, when I saw him last tonight, I had to give him a hug again, and I think it was a sad moment for both of us. I think we’ve both enjoyed getting to connect with each other and it will always be a special memory. We’re both hoping we can do it again next year.

But you need to know the final talk was Gary Habermas. He spoke on emotional doubt and while it’s a talk I’ve heard several times before, I always hear something new in it. If you struggle with doubt, I really urge you to go to this web site and listen to his talks on the topic and also download two books he has for free on the web site. They will be a great help if you apply them.

That’s all for now. Tomorrow Allie and I head back, but it’s been a great time here in New Orleans. We really hope we can come back again next year!

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