Posts Tagged ‘Michael Bird’

Book Plunge: The Myth of Persecution

September 12, 2014

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

A friend took a photo of this book in a bookstore and sent it to me asking if I’d review it. Naturally, I said I’d see if I could find it and fortunately, I found it at the local library and ordered it eager to find out just how exactly Candida Moss had found out something that no other historian had found out in all these years. What I found out rather was that like many other revisionists, Moss sees all the evidence in favor of her position as ironclad and everything contrary to it as reason to be skeptical.

Moss actually plays her hand throughout the book saying how she wants there to be more constructive dialogue and that can’t be had as long as one side is saying that they are persecuted. Now if all Moss had said had been that the persecution card is played way too easily by both sides, there would have been no complaint. Indeed, Christians have too often played the persecution card. If you’re told to say “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” when you work at a department store, that could be silly and irrational and anything else, but it is hardly worth calling persecution when other Christians are losing their lives elsewhere.

But if Christians can play the card too lightly, Moss’s problem is she only plays it in one situation. If people are being killed, then that’s persecution, but if the government is not actively killing Christians, then she says persecution wasn’t going on. Much of the persecution going on would have been social  It could occur in being ostracized from society, being treated as shameful and deviant, loss of property, not being given basic rights in society, etc. This would have resulted in killing in severe cases.

Now Moss to an extent does recognize that there was a reason the Roman Empire did not like Christians, but she doesn’t really paint the full picture of it. Religion and politics would have been inseparable in the days of the Roman Empire and to go against the religious cult of the day, which would not include Jesus, would mean going against the political system. In short, being a Christian would be seen as being a rebel against the Roman Empire, especially if what you were saying was that your god, Jesus, was King.

Moss also at times in the book says statements that she does not back with sources. For instance, on page 16, she says “Scholars of early Christianity agree that there is very little evidence for the persecution of Christians.”

Perhaps they do. What would have been helpful is to see this claim which could in fact be a central point to her book be backed by naming some of these scholars. The reader who is wanting to know who these scholars are however will be disappointed. Moss doesn’t list them. The unaware reader will be caught off guard by such a statement. The aware one wants to see a statement backed with evidence.

Moss also tries to show a history of martyrdom, yet quite interestingly, sometimes the facts don’t really go that way, but she’s willing to show martyrdom anyway! For instance, consider Daniel and his three young friends. Do they count as Christian martyrs? Moss tries to show that they would have fit into a culture of martyrdom yet on page 48 says

Apart from the fact that Daniel and the three young men don’t die, these are exactly like Christian martyrdom stories. A pious individual refuses to perform some action because it goes against religious law and is condemned to death. This idea is linked to the expectation that the person will be rewarded for piety and the opponents will be punished. Everything we need for martyrdom we can find in Daniel.

Why yes! We have a perfect story of martyrdom here! You just have to ignore the fact that Daniel and three young men DID NOT DIE. Yes. That’s a minor little detail but aside from them dying for their beliefs, everything else is like they did die for their beliefs.

When she gets around to the claim of Tacitus, she uses many of the kinds of arguments we would expect from Christ-mythers. For instance, she says that it is anachronistic for Tacitus to use the term “Christians” since at the time of the great fire, the followers of Jesus would not be known as Christians. This is something that could be disputed, but let’s accept that it’s true purely for the sake of argument.

At the time Tacitus is writing this, the people who would read his book would know exactly who he was talking about. What would be problematic about him using a name like Christian to refer to a group that was the same in the content of their beliefs in the past? Is there a problem with using a term that would be a modern understanding of a group if it in fact identifies that group?

Also, she says that the writing takes place fifty years after the events. To this, the reply is “And?” Most of the writings of Plutarch take place that much later. Much of the other events described in Tacitus’s writings also occurred 50+ years later. Does Moss want to equally extend doubt to other writings of ancient history because of a time gap that is really small by the standard of ancient history?

Moss also tells of how Polycarp was made to be like Jesus. In a sense, this is true. Polycarp would want to act like Jesus in how He died. This is common. Yet when she does this, she twists the story. On page 63, she says Polycarp is betrayed by someone close to him. Indeed, he was. We could think that this would fit in perfectly with the Judas image, but let’s look at what the account actually says:

CHAPTER 6

6:1 And when those who sought him continued in the pursuit, he departed unto another villa, and straightway they who sought him came up. And when they found him not, they apprehended two lads, of whom the one, when put to the torture, confessed.

6:2 For it was impossible for him to escape their notice, since they who betrayed him were of his own household. For the Eirenarchus, which is the same office as Cleronomus, Herodes by name, hasted to bring him into the arena, that he indeed might fulfil his proper lot, by becoming a partaker of Christ, and that they who betrayed him might undergo the same punishment as Judas.

Yes. The similarities are right there. We all remember in the Gospel accounts how Judas was captured by the Sanhedrin and then tortured until he fessed up to Jesus’s whereabouts and….wait. What’s that? Judas wasn’t tortured but gave the information on his own so that Jesus could be arrested? Hmmm. That does change things a little doesn’t it?

Like I said earlier, Moss too often accepts evidence easily that agrees with her and disregards that which doesn’t. If a text could have any editing or theological addition in it or anything that Moss just doesn’t understand, then we should consider it absolutely worthless as a historical account. If instead there is something that goes with her theory, we should accept it wholeheartedly without much in-depth looking.

For instance, Moss on page 144 writes about how the Christians presented themselves to C. Arrius Antoninus and desired to be executed in 185 A.D. This governor told them all to just go home. Moss sees this as Christians seeking martyrdom. Could it not just as well be a response to martyrdom going on and the Christians saying “Hey. If you want to deal with us, come here and get us!” It could be they would also be aware how problematic it would appear to the populace for the governor to go after a group of people like that. Consider it a challenge.

Moss also writes about a Christian monk named Shenoute in the fifth century who reportedly said “There is no crime for those who have Christ” in order to explain the destruction of a pagan temple. Did he says this? It would be nice to know, but in the endnote, all Moss has is a reference to an author who used that as the title of his book. It would have been better to have had a source of the original quotation itself. Perhaps Gaddis, who shes get it from, did get it from an original source. Should I not have that cited instead? What if I want to see the quote in its original context?

Now Moss is certainly right that too many people do look at treatment they consider persecution and say “I must be doing something right!” This is not the case. Biblically, if you are living a godly life in Christ Jesus, you expect to be persecuted, but because you are persecuted, it does not mean that you are doing something right.

The best way I can think of to conclude this is with the work of Dr. Michael Bird.

I’ve taught Christians from persecuted churches in Pakistan, Indonesia, Malaysia, Sudan, China, and Egypt. Persecution is no myth. These Christians, average men and women like you and I, have either seen or experienced some of the most unspeakable and inhumane evils one could mention. There is no myth here, only a cold and brutal evil that is faced by innocents.

Moss is obviously a religious academic superstar in the making. She did a great job on the Bill O’Reilly show giving his “Republican Jesus” a good going over. The Yanks will love her pommy accent. However, I can’t help but think that a few weeks visiting churches in Juba, Karachi, Alexandria, or Lebanon might give her some life experience to better inform her own career for a life in academics and the media. It’s one thing to write about the myth of persecution from the safety of a professorial chair with minions chanting for more tweets to bash the religious right; but it might be a harder myth to perpetuate after listening to a mother in Juba telling you what a Muslim mob did to her eighteen month year old son.

Yes. It would be interesting to see if Moss and her fans would be willing to go to these countries and see this going on and write the same thing. (Keep in mind as I write this that ISIS is the major threat right now and I know of no place where a site like “Voice of the Martyrs” was interacted with in the book) For now, I must conclude that Moss has shown instead that if you ignore everything opposed to you and emphasize everything that works in your favor, it’s easy to make a historical case. The problem with it is just that it won’t be true.

In Christ,

Nick Peters

Holden’s Not Happy

April 30, 2014

Are people who use genre criticism truly opening Pandora’s Box? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Joseph Holden of Veritas Evangelical Seminary has written a long piece about genre criticism. Well, supposedly, it’s about genre criticism. Most of the post actually consists of just saying “We don’t like the way that our opponents speak about us and they should act better!” This is included in what has to be one of the longest paragraphs ever in the English language.

Noteworthy also is that Holden takes notice of a piece I wrote on another blog. This means Holden has made the mistake that Geisler didn’t, which is linking to my own work on this topic. Well for those who are here because they found that thanks to Holden, I’d like to introduce you to everything I’ve written on the topic which can be found here.

Holden begins his piece with this.

“Those within the critically-trained evangelical NT scholarly guild, I would assume, consider their ability to handle, teach, write, research, and discuss Scripture, a blessing given to them by God. Most, if not all, would agree they are also responsible to God and to those they interact with to imitate the character of Christ in love, especially to our own Christian brothers and sisters no matter what disagreements they have.”

Which got me suspicious right from the start. It’s a buttering up in order to knock someone down. Of course the ability to study the Scriptures and examine them is a gift from God, but let us remember, that we are to act in love no matter what disagreements we have. Let’s all remember those acts of love that are to be done.

What are they?

Giving pressure to someone so that they will lose their livelihood at their job.
Calling people behind the scenes to get them uninvited at conferences.
Passing petitions around behind their back in order to have them lose their reputation.
Ban and delete any challenges that come your way to said authority.

We could go on, but apparently, all of these things are okay to do in Christian love! These are just fine! What is not fine?

Actually writing a defense when these actions are done.
Writing satires that show the absurdity of a position.
Making YouTube videos that show the absurdity of a position.

Dang it! If only we’d all just put pressure on people to fire others and have them banned from conferences, we’d still be acting in Christian love!

Or is this one of the greatest examples of the pot calling the kettle black?

“One does not have to be a scholar to be aware of the susceptibility within the academy to be puffed up with pride and forget that the Word of God must guide our reason and interactions with others. To fall short of these standards is both unscholarly, unnecessary, and reveals little respect for the crucial issues pertaining to God’s Word. There is no place for a lack of respect, mockery, or the cavalier handling of various topics discussed within inerrancy despite what we think about views we deem as unpersuasive.”

Now there is a note after this and what does it link to? The dangerous heresy of Michael Bird! One wonders what Holden would have said to Isaiah when he joked about a man building an idol and making sure it doesn’t topple over. What would he said to Elijah about what he said about the prophets on Mt. Carmel? What would he have said to Jesus in Matthew 23? What would he say to Paul about wanting the circumcision crowd to go the whole way and emasculate themselves in Galatians 5?

It looks like Holden has bought into an idea of love as sentiment, when it is not. He has actually bought into an idea that is foreign to the text and imposed it on the text. This is the danger of removing it from the mind of the author. After all, the words can mean most anything then and you can superimpose your culture on the culture of the text and totally miss the meaning of what is said.

And if Holden wants to say there is a lack of respect, he needs to remember that people have indeed lost respect for Geisler and company and why is that? Because Mike Licona and Craig Blomberg are just awesome? No. That’s irrelevant to the fact. They’ve lost it because they’ve seen the way Geisler has handled himself and they don’t want any part of it.

There is also no reply to what Bird said. I happen to agree with Bird in fact. Bird made an honest assessment of the information contained in Blomberg’s book and it’s just not liked. This is like a bully on the playground who steals the toys from all the other children and doesn’t like it when someone comes and outsmarts him and takes away the toys that he stole.

“The Scriptures deserve our best. But what should we expect from critical evangelicals that deny historical affirmations presented in Scripture and/or view historical narrative in the Gospels as candidates for fiction? Perhaps I should adjust my expectations and not expect critics to handle issues pertaining to the Scriptures in a manner likened to those who actually believe the biblical author’s expressed intentions. Though this adjustment may be necessary when dealing with unbelieving critics, it should not dominate the landscape in this case since believers are involved.”

Ah. This has just got rich. Since there are people who apparently deny the historicity of the Bible, then we should not be surprised that their character is not in accordance with the Bible. Once again, getting someone disinvited to speak at conferences and having petitions going on behind one’s back? This is all well and good! This is within the bounds of how people who disagree should act! Making jokes and writing comedy pieces? Hideous villains! How unchristlike you are!

And again, the historical narrative is not being called into question. What is being called into question is whether some parts should be read as narrative or not. You don’t make the case that they are by asserting that they are. You make it by giving an argument why from the same methodology.

For instance, I am going to be doing my Master’s research on the Matthew 27 account and the resurrection of the saints. Now if Mike Licona reads my work and finds it persuasive, and my view turns out to be that I think he’s wrong, here’s what will happen. Mike will change his mind. That’s what happens when you follow the evidence where it leads. That is how you change someone’s mind. You don’t change it by saying “If you don’t agree with me, I won’t let you play in my sandbox any more.”

“Yet despite identifying with evangelical traditions, stereotypes, impugning motives, demeaning comments, and personal attacks are offered without hesitation. For example, see Blomberg’s descriptions of ICBI inerrantists who are likened to the far right and far left of “Nazism,” “Communism,” describing them as “far right,” “extreme,” and should “avoid them like the plague,” they “hindered genuine scholarship among evangelicals,” “overly conservative,” “hyperconservative,” “ultraconservative,” and do “disservice” to the gospel in CWSBB, 7-8, 11, 120, 125, 141-45, 214, 217.”

Anyone who read Blomberg’s book would find this hysterical. Blomberg is using an analogical argument and for what its worth, I for the most part agree. Avoid extremes. Note also that Blomberg points out misrepresentations made by Geisler and Farnell that are not acknowledged in this piece. Note that he points out how Robert Thomas said that he was experiencing a “satanic blindness.” That’s apparently okay.

“Obviously, this is an attempt to standardize his own critical views as “mainstream” by radicalizing and polarizing the opposition.”

Why is it that Blomberg is the one guilty? We could just as well say Geisler and Holden are guilty of this. After all, the view that we can’t know the authorial intent of an author is not what has been seen as mainstream. Note also the well poisoning by saying that Blomberg’s views are critical.

Blomberg in fact has done much to defend the Inerrancy of Scripture including writing on the historical reliability of the Gospels and his belief in Inerrancy stems from the fact that he did the historical study on the Gospels, the kind that people like Holden seem to want to avoid.

” In addition, Blomberg offers an angry and bizarre satirical rant against those critical of his view, asserting that Geisler, a former ICBI framer and staunch defender of inerrancy, “Denies…ICBI Inerrancy!” and should be cancelled from speaking engagements.”

And here, Holden has made the mistake. He has shown that my work has been noticed by him. Well it was never linked to before, but now we can say it has been so thank you very much. We eagerly anticipate since it has been shown that we are in the orbit how a response will come to the open challenge, you know, the one that has been regularly denied by Geisler et al.

I also do not think Blomberg has any anger in this rant at all. What Holden and people like him do not realize is that by now, what he is defending has just come across for the most part as silly. Of course, Holden will see this as saying Inerrancy is silly. It is not. What is bizarre is this view that wants to avoid any real interaction with NT scholarship.

“Bird is not exempt from these personal attacks either, he says Geisler is the “villain,” and his views are “extreme” and “to the right of Attila the Hun,” “not a…pleasant chap,” and remarks Geisler “has never found an institution worthy of him.”

Keep in mind, this is not acceptable. All the other behaviors mentioned above? Entirely acceptable! Note to people like Holden, we’ll think you have a case here if we start seeing our opponents practice what they preach. Geisler went public first going all out against Mike Licona and then didn’t like it when he realized all the opposition he unleashed.

“Licona has his share of doozies as well (e.g., Geisler and company are theological bullies, satirical mockeries of Geisler in cartoon form, etc).”

Something seems to escape Holden here. Is Geisler being a bully? Well geez. Maybe that is the case. Maybe people have been looking at the behavior and saying “Geisler is being a bully.” Let’s suppose for the sake of argument even that that’s wrong. That it’s even being said should raise up some concern. Why is it so many people who used to respect Geisler now want nothing to do with him? Could it be because of actions in this whole crusade?

But apparently, making a satire about not having Geisler speak at your conferences for denying inerrancy is unacceptable. Actually doing that in reality as Geisler has done to his opponents is entirely acceptable.

“There is no reason why critical NT interpreters cannot be cordial in fostering an atmosphere of discovery rather than elevating fraternity above orthodoxy. Though ad hominem can be an effective way to make an orthodox view look “radical,” it is actually Bird, Blomberg, and Licona’s view of Scripture that are alien to the church’s view of Scripture from its beginning and to the ICBI definition.”

I’ll give you a hint who the first person was who was not cordial in this and his initials are N and G. Yet with this last sentence, it makes one wonder if Holden and others think when Jesus gave the Sermon on the Mount, that He also included all the statements in ICBI. ICBI has been lifted up as the standard definition of Inerrancy of the church historically. It is a wonder how this could be known without knowing authorial intent of the speakers of the past, but oh well. Could it be instead that a view that wants to divorce the text from its social context and culture is actually the one that is aberrant.

Now rather than go through all of this, let’s skip down to get to some real meat. Note that in all of this so far, not one thing has really been said about the subject matter of the title. From ICBI we get

“We deny that generic categories which negate historicity may rightly be imposed on biblical narratives which present themselves as factual.”

And the question then is “What presents itself as factual?” For instance, the temptation narratives present themselves as factual accounts. How did they happen? Was Jesus first tempted to jump from the temple or was he first tempted to worship the devil? OT narrative accounts of the Israelites totally destroying the Amalekites then have just a few chapters later the Amalekites showing up again to fight. This has been the problem with interpreting the texts in a literalistic fashion. (Interestingly, according to Holly Ordway who is an expert on literature at HBU, the word literal really means “according to the intent of the author.”)

“What is more, Article XVIII rejects “the legitimacy of any treatment of the text or quest for sources lying behind it that leads to relativizing, dehistoricizing, or discounting its teaching…” ”

And once again, the mistake is made that you cannot dehistoricize a text that was never meant to be historical to begin with. If the case is made that it is not to be read as historical, one needs to make an argument why it is wrong by showing the flaws in the opponent’s argument. One does not do so by just saying “Well they’re wrong!”

“Any attempt to arrive at the biblical author’s unexpressed intentions to dehistoricize his expressed intentions through extra-biblical literature is guess work. The biblical author’s unexpressed intentions are lost to us at his death, so nothing short of a séance will suffice in securing unexpressed intent!”

And insofar as it goes, this is correct. We do have to guess. We often have to guess what is meant when we have the author of a piece right there. This includes all forms of language. How many guys out looking for a lady have asked their friends the question “Is that girl flirting with me?” just by body language? How many times has a husband or wife expected their spouse to “get the message” without saying something explicitly?

Could it be Holden’s problem is he wants absolute 100% security?

Well if that’s what he wants, he won’t get it.

What people do in this case is they make a strong case and seek to not grant 100% certainty, but seek to remove reasonable doubt. This is the standard in court cases in our country. You can still make a strong case and go with reasonable likelihood.

And what if we say that we are certain all these texts have to be taken literalistically? What happens then when something like Galileo happens? The text was often being interpreted in a literalistic way? What was most persuasive in showing us that was wrong? Extra-Biblical information. Would that be seen as dehistoricizing the text?

“Similarity in genre does not secure our knowledge of unexpressed authorial intent no matter how “similar” it is to the Gospels, since we would still be left without knowing whether the biblical author’s intent was the same as the pagan author’s intent. Anything else is pure speculation. This method elevates what the author intended to say over and above what he did actually say.”

But in fact, if Geisler and Holden say we have to take these as historical, then upon what grounds will they deny that other accounts are not to be taken as historical? Do they take the miracles of Apollonius in the same way? Do they take the events at the death of Caesar and others the same way? How do they get to the Biblical text being the right one without begging the question?

Also, it is not pure speculation. I suspect Holden thinks this because he has not really interacted with NT scholarship. It is reasonable assumptions made based on the evidence.

We could go on with this, but there would just be more of the same. What we see going on with Holden is just paranoia and panic. What is truly fearful to me is not that some would use historical criticism to argue against the text. That will happen regardless. What is fearful to me is evangelicals being frightened at that thought? Why? Will the Bible not stand up? For me, I can say throw at the text all the tests that you want to. If our scholarship is done rightly and honestly then in the end, if the text is inerrant, it will come out unscathed.

Now we’ll just sit back and wait to see if Geisler will respond to the challenges presented or just keep pushing the panic button.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Holden’s piece can be found here.

Hounds Of Heresy Go Bird-Watching.

April 23, 2014

Who’s the next target for Geisler and company to go after? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

First it was Michael Licona that was in the sights of Geisler in a crusade that he still hasn’t stopped to this day. Next, it was Craig Blomberg. It is not too surprising that next on the list is Michael Bird, which could have something to do with the review that Bird had of Blomberg’s chapter on inerrancy.

Forget the Spanish Inquisition. We now have the ICBI Inquisition going on and who dares to stand in its path?!

It seems unheard of to the ICBI supporters that someone could believe in inerrancy and not think ICBI itself is inerrant. There are other ways to look at inerrancy that do not put the Bible on any lesser level. If anything, the stance on ICBI is practically getting to be an idolatry of a certain view of interpreting the Bible, a view that is indeed highly modernistic and that divorces it from the social context it was written in.

This time, the writing is done by Joseph Holden of Veritas Evangelical Seminary. I will be including a link at the end.

“The current trend among evangelical New Testament scholars to utilize or approve of genre criticism (e.g., Craig Blomberg, Michael Licona, Darrell Bock, Michael Bird, Carlos Bovell, Kevin Vanhoozer, et al) to de-historicize the biblical text appears to stem from an aversion to the correspondence view of truth. To achieve their criticism, correspondence is replaced with the preferred intentionalist view of truth that seeks after unexpressed intentions and purposes of the biblical author as they correspond with extra-biblical literature of similar genre to determine meaning. For Bird, the Gospels give us a reliable “big picture” about Jesus, but the details do not matter. ”

Keep in mind, these are the same people who say that you cannot know authorial intent. Supposedly, this is so, but these people are mind-readers enough that they know that all of these scholars that they’re talking about have an aversion to the correspondence theory of truth. Why yes. This must be so. The past few days before writing this I have been with Michael Licona at his house and I know that whenever I say “Correspondence theory of truth” he reacted the way Clark Kent reacts to kryptonite. Yep. Obviously, whenever any of these scholars speak up, we just need to say “Correspondence theory of truth.” It will work better than garlic does on Dracula.

Maybe, and yea, I realize this is a stretch, but maybe, just maybe, these people use genre criticism because they actually believe the Biblical writings are writings of a specific genre and they’re seeking to understand the text.

But no, surely it can’t be that! Surely it must be the case that NT scholarship is all about finding a way to destroy the Bible! They all have their eyes set on ICBI as well! This must not be allowed to happen! We simply must preserve ICBI at all costs no matter what and if that means cutting ourselves away from the academy and having a Bible that bears no relation to the culture that birthed it, then so be it!

Let’s suppose for the sake of argument that arguments that show that the Gospels are of the genre of Greco-Roman bioi are wrong. Let’s suppose that Burridge and Talbert and others who most argue such are incorrect. If that is the case, how does one show this? Hint. It is not by standing up and shouting “ICBI Inerrancy!” It is done by actually reading their works, going through them, and demonstrating with scholarship and not ICBI presuppositionalism that the claims are wrong. If in fact, this can be done, the world of NT scholarship will be grateful. Scholars of all persuasions don’t want to believe claims that are false.

So for Geisler and his followers, there is no shortcut here. You do not get to presuppose your position and then say all other contrary are wrong. You simply must do the work.

““My own approach is what I would term “believing criticism.” This approach treats Scripture as the inspired and veracious Word of God, but contends that we do Scripture the greatest service when we commit ourselves to studying it in light of the context and processes through which God gave it to us. Scripture is trustworthy because of God’s faithfulness to his own Word and Scripture is authoritative because the Holy Spirit speaks to us through it. Nonetheless, God has seen fit to use human language, human authors, and even human processes as the means by which he has given his inscripturated revelation to humanity. To understand the substance of Scripture means wrestling with its humanity, the human face of God’s speech to us in his Word.” (Bold parts Holden’s)

So here Bird makes a statement upholding Scripture and celebrating it as the Word of God, but because it is not an ICBI statement and because of how it suggests we study the text, this is a statement we should be wary of. Looking at the first part that is bolded, why on Earth is this controversial? Was the Bible really written in a vacuum? This is more of a fax from Heaven approach to the Bible than it is a scholarly approach.

Is it strange to think that the biblical writers would think that the audience they were writing to would know a basic background? Consider Revelation. If you read this book, it is full of allusions to the OT. The writer of the book assumes that the reader has a fluent understanding of the OT. Paul did the same with his epistles where he quotes the Old Testament regularly and does so assuming that even his Gentile readers will know what passages he’s talking about. Most noteworthy now is the interest in intertextuality. Robert Gagnon brings out for instance Romans 1 where Paul talks about the creator, male and female, etc. all of which alludes to Genesis 1. This assumes a background knowledge of the text.

For the second part, yes, the Bible is also a human book. It is written by humans for humans, although these humans who wrote it were guided by the Holy Spirit. Isaiah, for instance, is supposed to be magnificent in his use of Hebrew. If you’re reading Greek, you are told to start with works like the writing of John because they are easier to read rather than go with Luke who is quite difficult to read. Writers had their own interest, style, mannerisms, etc.

The idea of the bolded parts however is not to respond to them. It is to be seen as code words that the readers should be warned about. Because Bird refers to Scripture as a “human” book, he is to be seen as lowering it.

It makes one wonder if saying Jesus is fully human would also be seen as lowering Him. In reality, denying He’s fully human would not just be wrong, it would be deemed heretical.

After due allowances are made for the artistic license, theological embellishment, and inherent biases of the tradents of the tradition, our witnesses to Jesus remain steadfast in their conviction that the Jesus whom they narrate is historically authentic as much as he is personally confronting.” (Emphasis added.)”

It is quite likely that Holden is not familiar with NT scholarship and does not realize what is being said. Would it be denied at all that writers who write something have a bias? It would be ridiculous to think that they don’t. I have no problem saying the Gospel writers were biased. Every writer is. The atheist who would show up here and say “Because of that, we can’t trust them!” also has a bias. Bias is too often an excuse to avoid dealing with real arguments.

As for artistic license and theological embellishment, these are things we need to look out for and interact with. Could someone describe something in terms that would not be meant to be taken literally but rather to illustrate something about the subject? Sure. How do you know that? You know it by doing historical study. You do not affirm or deny it by simply standing up and saying “ICBI Inerrancy!”

If you want to do that, go ahead. Just don’t expect NT scholarship to take you seriously. You wouldn’t be taken any more seriously than a Muslim would take you seriously who had a similar view about the Koran and responded to all criticisms of it just by saying “The Koran is inerrant!”

“This means that we are actually liberated to read the Gospels as they were intended to be read: as historically referential theological testimonies to Jesus as the exalted Lord. It does not matter then whether there was one demoniac (Mark 5:2; Luke 8:27) or two demoniacs (Matt 8:28) that Jesus healed on the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee.”

And Bird is right. This is an important question to discuss, but it is not an essential one. The fate of Christianity does not hinge on how many demoniacs there were and there are numerous approaches one can take in genre criticism that would reconcile any supposed contradiction. The idea that Holden presents is one that says that if we are open to any idea that some one aspect is not as essential as another then we can throw it all out.

The reality is that if this is seen as a contradiction, then every Christian has to give some response. ICBI supporters have to give a response. Those who hold to inerrancy or infallibility in some other manner have to give a response. Some Christians might hold to neither of those and just say “It’s a contradiction, but there’s a strong historical case for the resurrection anyway.” Still, everyone has to give a response. What is the problem with looking at the scholarship and giving the best response one can? Can one really defend the Bible from charges of contradiction by avoiding the best scholarship and historical evidence? Should we not seek to follow the evidence wherever it leads, including the evidence of scholarship?

“Jesus healed a demon possessed man in the vicinity and Matthew just likes couplets, making everything two’s where he can! Similarly, trying to prove that mustard seeds really are the smallest plants of the earth (Mark 4:31) or that Peter denied Jesus three times before the cock first crowed and then three times again afterwards (Matt 26:69-74; Luke 22:56-60; John 18:16-27; Mark 14:66-68) is like trying to understand the Magna Carta by arguing about whether the commas are in the right position. John Calvin himself said: ‘We know that the Evangelists were not very exact as to the order of dates, or even in detailing minutely everything that Christ did or said.’[Calvin, Commentary on a Harmony of the Evangelists (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1989), 216]. The Evangelists give us the big picture about Jesus, the gist of his words, the major outlines of his career,

Bird has given an argument based on Matthew. It is either true or it isn’t. That’s what the correspnodence view of truth is about after all. He’s saying “The reality is that Matthew likes couplets so let’s not be surprised that Matthew has pairs in his Gospel.” He even goes back and shows that Calvin had the same approach. Who disagrees? The moderns who think the Bible must meet their standards. (And this will make people perfect prey for modern atheists who ask why a cure for cancer is not found hidden in Scripture.) The view of Bird is indeed that the Gospels give us the big picture, but they surely don’t tell everything. John even agreed in the end of his Gospel! What Holden should do is actually respond instead of just inspire fear.

“they position him in relation to the prophetic promises, and they declare the all important significance as to who he was and why he died. The details should not be treated with indifferences, but they are not the focus of the stories we call “Gospels.” While I think the overall historical reliability of the Gospels is vitally important less we treat Gospels as religiously laden fiction, we should not import anachronistic and modernist criteria of historical reality into our treatment of the Gospels and make it a condition for theological validity:” (Emphasis Added.)”

Bird is absolutely right here as well. The Bible was not written to a 21st century American culture. It was written to and in a 1st century Mediterranean culture. (I mean the NT of course, though the OT was written to a similar culture.) The writers were soaked in a culture of Second Temple Judaism and wrote from that position. It is just bizarre to think that somehow these writers when writing were totally unaffected by their culture and wrote works that bore no relation to their surrounding culture.

If Holden and others want to say that modern criteria must be used that are foreign to the biblical text, then if anyone has a problem with correspondence, it would be Holden and others.

“So then, how do we as a believing and confessing community approach the critical questions that the texts of the Gospels present to us?…. It entails we go through the Gospels unit by unit and ask what exactly did Jesus intend and how would his hearers have understood him. It equally entails asking why the Evangelists have told the story this way and why do they have the peculiarities that they do. Third, we have to explore the impact that the Gospels intended to make upon their implied readers and how the Four Gospels as a whole intend to shape the believing communities who read them now.” (Emphasis added)

How utterly horrible! We should ask why the authors wrote what they wrote! Fortunately, while we are not allowed to do that with the Gospels, we are allowed to be told by Geisler why it is that he wrote ICBI and what the founders intended. We are also not allowed to use 1st century culture, which 1st century people had access to, to interpret the Gospels and epistles, but we are allowed to use 20th and 21st century science, which the ancient Israelites did not have access to, to interpret Genesis 1.

Holden will go on to write about how Bird and others are in denial of the ICBI view of Inerrancy. At this point, it is practically as if ICBI is a known truth that all Biblical scholars are to submit to and those who use historical scholarship are just people who are in denial.

There is a reason more and more people are moving away from ICBI. If this is the kind of thing that ICBI leads to, why should we want any part of it? Who is responsible for this destruction of the validity of ICBI? No one less than Geisler himself.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Holden’s article can be found here.

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

March 27, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The link can be found here.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: How God Became Jesus

March 17, 2014

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

HowGodBecameJesus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Christ,
Nick Peters