Posts Tagged ‘Richard Carrier’

Along Came Poly.

February 20, 2015

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Does the covenant of marriage really matter? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Two days ago on February 18th, prominent internet blogger Richard Carrier, who seems to be the answer to all conservative NT scholarship in the eyes of internet atheists everywhere, wrote a post about how he is coming out polyamorous.

So what does it mean to be polyamorous?

A visit to the Polyamory society defines it this way:

Polyamory is the nonpossessive, honest, responsible and ethical philosophy and practice of loving multiple people simultanously.  Polyamory emphasizes consciously choosing how many partners one wishes to be involved with rather than accepting social norms which dictate loving only one person at a time.  Polyamory is an umbrella term which integrates traditional mutipartner relationship terms with more evolved egalitarian terms.  Polyamory embraces sexual equality and all sexual orientations towards an expanded circle of spousal intimacy and love.  Polyamory is from the root words Poly meaning many and Amour meaning love hence “many loves” or Polyamory.  Of course, love itself is a rather ambiguous term, but most polys seem to define it as a serious, intimate, romantic, or less stable, affectionate bond which a person has with another person or group of persons.  This bond usually, though not necessarily always, involves sex.  Sexualove or eromance are other words which have been coined to describe this kind of love.  Other terms often used as synonyms for polyamory are responsible, ethical or intentional non-monogamy.

Now if you want to say as I seem to take it that this entails a desire to have sex with many people other than one’s own spouse, then I will tell you that there are many many people who I think are really polyamorous.

Namely, every male on the planet, including myself.

But you know, rather than admit that you’re a person who has to learn to practice self-control and rather than admit that maybe sex is meant to be between two people who make a covenant together, it’s often easier to just come up with a name for it and in fact define it as a sexual orientation. In fact, Carrier himself says this. “The ability to be more transparent, public, and open about my sexual orientation is a major part of what I’ve needed in my life.”

And note that. “What I’ve needed.”

Of course,we can’t overlook the fact that there truly is someone for whom to have great sympathy in this situation, and that’s his wife who he has said he is divorcing after twenty years. One can only imagine what is going on in Jen’s world right now and we as Christians should indeed pray for her. After all, she has invested twenty years of her life in a man only to have him leave her.

It’s especially tragic if one really thinks there is a need for multiple partners. It’s going to a woman and saying “You’re not enough for me. I need more than you.” That hits at the core of a woman’s identity very often. This is especially the case of a woman who wants to be a one and only and not simply one among many. Whether Jen falls into this category or not, I cannot say, but I can say I’m quite sure she’s not a happy camper right now and I mean this with all honesty. I have the greatest of sympathy right now for her in this and plan to keep her in my prayers.

We can also be sure Jen is another victim of the “It won’t hurt your marriage” line.

Remember this. When marriage gets hurt, it is not just marriage that hurts. It is real people that get hurt.

So how did all this start? Carrier has the answer:

Several years ago, after about seventeen years of marriage, I had a few brief affairs, because I found myself unequipped to handle certain unusual circumstances in our marriage, which I won’t discuss here because they intrude on my wife’s privacy. In the process of that I also came to realize I can’t do monogamy and be happy. Since this was going to come to light eventually, about two years ago I confessed all of this to Jen and told her I still love her but I would certainly understand if she wanted a divorce. Despite all the ways we work together and were happy together, this one piece didn’t fit anymore.

You see, most of us find ourselves unequipped to handle some events in our marriage, and when we do, we go and get the help we need. Why? We are absolutely devoted to the person we love and want to be the best that we can for them. It is for that reason that on Facebook, my wife and I both have set up marriage groups. Mine is for Christian men only and hers is for Christian women only. These are men and women who are married, engaged, dating, or planning to marry. In both groups, it is about learning to love our spouse the way we’re supposed to.

This is monogamous marriage? Is it hard work. You absolutely bet it is. It’s one of the greatest lessons in self-sacrifice you learn. It is indeed about dying to yourself and learning to live a life where you actually have to realize what it’s like to not only put one person’s good above your own, but you have to learn what it is to do so with one who is so radically different from you, and even if you marry someone very similar to you, their being of the opposite sex makes them really much more different than you realize.

Yes. It is hard work, but it is also worth it.

Now you can go out and form many relationships with many people on a sexual level and just never really get to know them but have a time of pleasure with them, but as for me, I have decided already I have no desire to go wading in the shallow waters of multiple women. I have decided to dive deep into the ocean of my one. The key to real sex, I am convinced, is not going to be some technique or your physique or anything like that. Now these are all fine in and of themselves. If married people want to try a new technique in the bedroom that they both agree to, that’s fine. If they want to get in better shape to please their spouse and be able to do more, that’s fine. But you know what will make it best? It will be the raw unbridled passion that each person has for the other as a passion. It is knowing that the other person wants you for you and not just for sex. Sex is the icing on the cake of having one another.

This is something I have to keep in mind. I have to look at Allie and make sure constantly that I am treating her right. Am I using Allie as a means to get sex, or is sex the means that I use to get Allie? There is a world of difference between the two. If all you want is sex, go out on the streets with enough money and you can get that pretty easily. If what you want is another person, well that requires a lot more.

For many of us, that requires a covenant.

And that is really the great tragedy here. A covenant has been broken. The reason given includes the following:

But one of those things is the mutual understanding that we aren’t compatible with each other.

Most of us find this out before twenty years of marriage, but it does conveniently come out after affairs.

In reality, are any of us really “compatible” with one another? We all will change in the relationship, but if you really love the person, you change with the other person in mind and seek to grow in love towards that other person. If your main focus is on yourself, you won’t think about the other person. Granted, all of us have some areas of self-interest in a relationship and none of us do perfect in it, but we should all seek to strive for that.

Carrier says about this that:

It actually doesn’t make a lot of sense to expect a monogamous relationship to last, given that it assumes the contra-factual that people never change. If we never changed, we would never be learning, never growing or improving as a person. Which is not a commendable goal. And as both members of a couple change, as unavoidably they will, and even if each changes for the better, statistically, just on a basic bell curve reasoning (and thus simply as a matter of mathematical necessity), half are still going to change divergently rather than convergently, so we could predict on that basis alone that half of all monogamies will become non-viable. Which oddly matches observation.

We might want to learn something from that.

This is news for people who did monogamy for centuries and found that for some strange reason, it seems to work pretty well. Could it be that the problem is not that monogamy is hard but that divorce is easy? It doesn’t take much to say “I give up” when things get difficult. In reality, as you change, you learn to love through the change. Divorce in that way becomes a way of saying “I can’t love you the way you are.” It really says nothing about the way the other person is. It says plenty about the person who makes the claim.

Is the other person hard to live with? So are you. Is the other person someone who can annoy you at times? You do the same to them. Is the other person someone who makes no sense to you at times? You don’t make sense to them at times. This is all part of the reality of the covenant. You made a promise to this person when you married them to love them forever and they trusted you in that promise. What does it mean to be the kind of person who breaks that promise?

Now does this mean divorce is never an option? No. There are sad cases where it is. Two such cases I can think of are abuse and adultery. And still in these cases, while divorce can be a necessity, particularly in the case of abuse, it is still a tragedy. None of us should really celebrate when a divorce takes place. We should all have great sorrow. Even if in the case of a woman better off than with an abusive husband, it is still sorrowful that a covenant was broken and a woman has to live with that. As I’ve said before, pray for Jen.

As for those of us who are Christians, let’s make this a favorite case to show Carrier wrong in by loving our spouses the way we’re supposed to and striving for that every day. If you’re in the field of apologetics and you’re able to refute Carrier, but you do not do the job of loving your spouse the way that Christ commands you to, I could call you a fine apologist, but I can’t say I’d call you a fine Christian.

To that end, we do need to establish better places in churches where men and women can come together. Men need to be able to connect with just men and talk about what is on our minds. Women need to have the same. In both cases, sexual issues should not be off the table. It seems often we talk about every aspect of marriage enrichment in church except the sexual one. That should definitely be discussed. Carrier’s embracing of polyamory should be a reminder to Christians that this stuff is becoming more and more acceptable. It’s not going to go away. We need to be prepared to handle it and not just with an apologetic defense of marriage, but a lived out defense of marriage.

Then of course, couples need to come together and be able to discuss the issues that they have, because all marriages have areas that can be improved on. The more we do this, the better able we are going to be to fulfill our duties as Christians. When I was dating Allie, I was studying philosophy. Now it’s New Testament, and I would change that part of what I said to her parents at the time that described my goal in life which is still the same. One goal is obvious, to get a Ph.D. in New Testament. The other goal? To get a Ph.D. in Allie. I want to be a student of learning who she is constantly and growing in my relationship with her more and more. Do I screw up at times? Obviously, but a mature man learns from his mistakes and strives to not repeat them. I just pray I be a mature man.

Keep in mind people that this is something that we should read about as a tragedy. I still do. The problem is not the institution of marriage. The problem is the people entering into it. Let’s try to change ourselves to be better at marriage. Too often we’re trying to change marriage to fit it to ourselves. If you are married, renew that drive today to be the best spouse that you can be.

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

Defend The Faith 2015 Day Two

January 7, 2015

What has been happening at Defend The Faith? Let’s Plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Today has been an active day at the Defend The Faith conference hosted by New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. We started with a talk from Tim McGrew on the evidential value of the Book of Acts, which was certainly an eye opening talk. Next we followed with a talk from Rob Bowman on the travesty of an article from Newsweek. Let’s just say that it was like using a tank to squash a slug. Again, these talks will all be online for a limited time after the conference for free so please take advantage of that time!

After a lunch, we went to hear a talk first from David Calhoun about the role that films can play in apologetics. I did realize exactly how out of the loop I am about so many great movies, excepting when the topic of Harry Potter came up seeing as I know the series very well as a fan and was able to make my own contributions at that point. There are definitely some movies I wouldn’t mind watching now.

We followed that up by going to hear Keith Loftin give a case for mind/body substance dualism. I found this one to be quite technical but quite good as well. I was surprised to see NDEs not covered well and I did ask about them which got us to discussing the research of Gary Habermas, who I must highlight because he will in fact be speaking tomorrow.

After that, many of us who are speakers got to go out to dinner together at a nice seafood restaurant. I did order a shrimp platter but there was no way I could go through all of it. Allie got herself some pasta. Meanwhile, I just got to enjoy great conversation with Rob Bowman, Rhyne Putman, Tom Gilson, Fred Smith, Tim McGrew, Bob Stewart, and so many others who were there. I considered it a real privilege. The people running this conference are so kind and generous. Allie and I have felt like honored guests.

After that, Tim and Allie and I went back to his apartment. Why? Because Tim is wanting to teach me Bayes Theorem, especially because it seems to be so misused, especially by a certain prominent blogger that is popular amongst atheists. I’ve got a lot of work cut out for me, but Tim is a really encouraging guy and takes the time to explain and says to not worry about mistakes. They will happen.

We went back to the seminary then to hear James Walker of Watchman Fellowship give a great talk on worldviews and different perspectives people hold on religion. Watchman Fellowship also has available all their profiles that they’ve written on various topics of religion available for purchase as a file you can carry on your mobile device, which could be quite helpful to get.

After that, Allie and I went back to Tim’s apartment for a little while where he had a few people there just discussing apologetics and how important it was. If only we could get more youth ministers especially to see the need imagine what a difference we could make in the world and it was wonderful to see young people really eager to know how to defend their faith.

Well that’s all it’s going to be for tonight. Allie was starting to fall asleep while we visited Tim and not because he’s boring. He’s not. It’s just because she was so tired and frankly, I am too. Tomorrow is my day to speak so I hope you all will pray for me that I will give an effective talk that will bolster up the Gospel.

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.


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.


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

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

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

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

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

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

And yet they’re all accepted.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Getting back to Lataster:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Christ,
Nick Peters

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

November 21, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Some Tips On Research

July 15, 2014

Is there a proper way to go sifting through claims and separate the wheat from the chaff? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

As Christians, we are to be people of the truth, and therefore we need to check as much as we can and find out if it is true or not. If we say something that is false on a major issue at one point or something that is easily disproven, then it damages our testimony when we proclaim Christ as the risen Lord.

Of course, this also applies to too many atheists who don’t bother to do proper research either. There can easily be confirmation bias going on on both sides. Christians can too often readily believe anything if it meshes with their view of reality, such as an interpretation of Scripture. Atheists can believe many claims just because they happen to go against Christianity despite being seen as jokes in scholarship of the day.

So let’s give some tips.

First off, when you’re doing internet research, be extremely careful. Anyone can set up a blog or a web site today and look authoritative.

“Well don’t you have a blog here? Shouldn’t I be suspicious of what you say?”

Please do.

Seriously. Please do.

If you don’t think I’m a trusted authority, by all means look up what I say. If I’m wrong about something, I want to know about it and if you make a persuasive enough case with good evidence and scholarship, then I will be able to change my mind.

The source is something that must always be considered. No. This is not the same as a genetic fallacy. The claim can be right or wrong regardless of the source, but the source tells you the degree of credibility you need to give it at the start.

Want an example? Sure. Unfortunately, this is a real one. A Muslim actually posted in a Muslim debate group I used to frequent that modern scholars knew the stories about there being ancient Greek civilization were mythical. I’m not talking about Atlantis or believing in Greek gods or anything like that. I’m talking about the civilization period. This lady posted a video to show the professors talking about it.


The Onion.

For those who don’t know, the Onion is a satire. The articles are entirely jokes not meant to be taken seriously. I’d like to say this only fools crazies on the internet. I’d like to, but I’d be wrong. Huffington Post lists several examples here.

There are several sources out there like that that are satirical. Be on the lookout for them. If you read on a web site something that seems bizarre, there is no harm of just doing a simple Google search to see if the site you are reading this on is satirical.

A place Christians can often make this mistake at is end-times hysteria.

Too many things have been reported to be the Mark of the Beast and every time that they’ve been shown to be false, another one just rises up. There is a new sensation going on constantly in many dispensational circles. If you’re one of those dispensationalists who is not jumping at everything called prophecy fulfillment, I have no problem with you. In fact, I’m quite pleased that one of the best criticisms of The Harbinger is actually by a dispensationalist.

Definitely shame on you if you buy into these people that are certain they can tell you when Jesus is coming back. They can’t. They won’t. Guess what it does to the cause of Christ when people sell all they have and travel across the country proclaiming the end because of what someone like Harold Camping said?

This gets us into moving past considering the source and then really looking at the claim. A claim can seem plausible and from a source that could be reliable, but it could also be false. This kind of event happens on Facebook constantly. Someone will put up a news story and then everyone will share it and talk about it except for that one problem.

The story isn’t true.

A famous occurrence of this happening is when an email was going around several years ago about NASA finding Joshua’s last day. NASA had to respond to calls from people wanting to know more about it and unfortunately being told that the claim wasn’t true.

In politics, this can happen often. I’ve had someone in the past who would regularly email me something about Obama that was a highly negative story that would be such a great exposing of who he really was.

Except for that same problem. It wasn’t true.

And keep this in mind. Politically, I am no supporter of Obama. I am so conservative in my politics I prefer to fly on planes that have two right wings. Obama politically to me is an opponent, but if I want to expose my opponent, I want it to be on true grounds, and not false grounds. We should not want those who we are in opposition to to be spoken of falsely.

This is also why when someone says “Dr. X says such and such” you should ask some questions.

Who is this person?

What is their doctorate in?

Do they teach at an accredited university?

Are they respected in the field by those who agree with them and those who disagree with them?

Is their doctorate in a relevant field?

If those questions are answered in a way that gives credibility to the person then you need to look at the claim more. Unfortunately, too many videos that present these claims do not include proper citation. For instance, I just got done watching a video by some Christ-mythers who would say “X said this.” Where? Who knows! Rarely was anything ever said.

Christ-mythers, by the way, are excellent examples of people who do not do research. The Christ-mythers will fail in the field of NT and history at the questions above as none of them will be respected in the field by people they disagree with.

Consider Richard Carrier for instance. Carrier is highly respected and admired among internet atheists. Take that crowd away and there’s nothing. Most people in Europe have never even heard of him. Compare that to someone like N.T. Wright who teaches at an accredited university and is recognized as a top-notch biblical scholar by even his opponents.

I am interested in seeing what’s going to happen in the future for all the internet atheists who have put all their eggs in the Carrier basket.

This brings us to the next point. See what the opposition has to say. Read the best scholarship that you can on the other side. A question I often ask internet atheists nowadays is “When was the last time you read a work of scholarship that disagreed with you?”

Let’s return to the Christ-myth theory as my favorite example. How many times do I meet internet atheists who say “We don’t even know that Jesus existed.” Yeah we do. Scholarship across the board has held he does for years and theories that he did not exist have been found to be extremely lacking.

The reply will often be that these are a bunch of Christers trying to save their faith. The answer is that this is simply false. A large segment of the Society of Biblical Literature is non-Christian for instance. Bart Ehrman is a member of the SBL as are others who would say they’re atheist, agnostic, or liberal. (Some could say they’re Christian, but only in the sense that they follow the ethics of Christ without believing in anything miraculous about him.)

Also, even Christian scholars have to have their work pass peer-review. It won’t necessarily mean that their reviewers agree with their conclusion, but it will mean that they’ve shown they’ve done their research and are able to defend their view.

When you read this opposition, try to read scholarly opposition as much as you can and read it when published by an academic publisher. Of course, not everything is like that, and I say that as the co-author of two ebooks. A claim being in a non-scholarly source does not make it false, but it does mean you should always be willing to check the source of the claim and make sure that the person is interacting with the best in scholarship on the issue.

For an example of interacting with the best scholarship on the issue, consider the new atheists. The new atheists regularly have a habit of NOT interacting with the best of their opposition. I believe I have demonstrated that in this post.

By and large also, I do prefer books to videos and blog posts and such. Don’t discount those entirely, as I am a blogger after all, but try to see them as stepping stones. That’s why on my podcast I try to bring the best in scholarship and hope that it will be a stepping stone getting you to want to go look at the works of the scholars that I interview.

This also applies across the board. Don’t think I don’t practice what I teach either. Of course, I will make mistakes, but I spend plenty of time reading and studying. You can follow me on Goodreads if you want to see what it is that I’m reading. There is no such thing as being knowledgeable in the field without doing the research. There is no shortcut to learning. There are many ways to learn, but all of them require work.

Do good research. I don’t care what position you have. Just research it. In fact, I would rather talk about theology with an informed atheist more than an uninformed Christian. My standards are the same on both ends. I respect people who do the research about what they argue and know the other side well. I don’t respect those who are dogmatic on their side without doing any background research.

Be a part of the former. Study.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: The Wrong Jesus

May 16, 2014

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

Greg Monette is a good friend of mine who is doing his doctoral work under Craig Evans. He recently sent me his book “The Wrong Jesus” and wanted to see what I would think of it. I am pleased to say that this is a book I can indeed highly recommend for seekers and those learning to defend their faith.

Monette starts off with a piece on why it is that history matters. He talks about his own journey into doubt and how it was that the only way to get past it was to study the evidence. He gives the wise advice that there are no shortcuts in this field. I fully agree and that is something that must be stated in our society today that likes to think that everything is right at our fingertips which should include understanding. Data and facts can be present immediately to us. The understanding of that data is not.

He also deals early on with the idea that Jesus never even existed. While I think he did a fine job on this chapter, I was concerned that Richard Carrier was never mentioned. It is not because Carrier makes good arguments against Jesus’s existence. It is that Carrier is much better known to the laypeople I suspect than Robert Price, which I particularly notice when atheists regularly cite Carrier in response to any scholar whatsoever.

From here on, Monette deals with various questions such as the reliability of the New Testament texts, the question of if archaeology has helped us understand the Bible, if Jesus was a femininist, were the birth accounts based on legends, and were the Gospels written by eyewitnesses. Of course, there are others, but these are all important questions to be asked.

In fact, a major criticism that I would have is that in fact the book is not long enough. There were many areas I would have liked to have seen more expansion on. Sometimes it would seem like I’d get enough to just get someone’s feet wet and then it’d move on. Still, I understand the book could have been doubled in size had my desires been met. Fortunately, Monette does make up for this by having recommended reading at the end of every chapter.

Also at the end of every chapter there is a section that contains questions for discussion. I find this to be an important aspect to have in a book like this and I would be thrilled if the day came that people were reading The Wrong Jesus in church small groups more than reading books by, say, Rachel Held Evans or Joyce Meyer or others.

Monette also throws a lot of humor into the book which I consider a plus. An excellent example of this is his counter-theories to the resurrection where he plays out humorously why the opposing explanations for the resurrection just do not work. There is a good deal of sarcasm involved here which is always a bonus for me.

One aspect that is lacking in the book is that there is no index. It would be incredibly helpful to be able to look up something in the index for future reference if anyone comes back to the book for a second time, which I would encourage that they do.

In conclusion, Monette has given the church an excellent book that is well-written and engaging and can keep the reader’s interest. More importantly, it’s filled with excellent information that will prepare the reader to go out and fulfill the Great Commission.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

The Apostle’s Creed: I believe in Jesus

March 28, 2014

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

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

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

Quite good actually.

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

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

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

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

So what do we have on the existence of Jesus?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This passage is known as the Testimonium Flavianum.

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

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

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

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

What about the second passage?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our next source is Seutonius.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What about the second reference?

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

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

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

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

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

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

What did he say?

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

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

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

Feel free to say who is a better candidate.

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

“But the YEC position is totally bizarre!”

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

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

He has not convinced those in scholarship of that.

There’s a reason for that.

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

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

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Sense and Goodness Without God Conclusion

February 25, 2014

What’s the final word on Carrier’s book? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

So there’s not much left in this one so why not wrap it up and see what the overall conclusion is?

The first conclusion is that Carrier has drawn a line in the sand and stated who his enemies are. As he says on the final page to his fellow secular humanists:

“And we also gain a sense of community and conviction through fighting against our common enemies–the foes of reason, truth, and liberty.”

Yes. Everyone who is opposed to secular humanism automatically somehow is an enemy of reason, truth, and liberty. Now of course, if secular humanism is the truth (Which it isn’t), then fighting against it is fighting against the truth, but does that mean one is necessarily fighting against truth? No. They could honestly believe secular humanism is false and in that sense are fighting for truth. In reality, I am of the firm contention that everyone is fighting for truth.

Yet I have this problem with atheism automatically being seen as the party of reason. It is a kind of hubris that I think has led to the conclusion to many that because you are an atheist, then any conclusion you reach is automatically reasonable. After all, if you aren’t hampered by superstition, how could it be otherwise? You’re the one who is always going by the evidence then after all!

In reality, what I notice about atheists is they’re just as prone to believing falsities as the Christians that they condemn. It’s just harder to reason the atheist out of them because more often than not, they automatically do assume they use reason and their opponents don’t.

Take the claim of confirmation bias. It’s a claim I hear all the time. I go and present a case for the historicity of the resurrection based on evidence and what do I get? Well you just believe because you have confirmation bias.

Does that answer my case at all? Not one bit, but it sure allows my opponent to ignore my case. To show what a problem this is, let’s suppose for the sake of argument that I do have confirmation bias. (I would not deny we all have bias, but confirmation bias is something different.) How does that change my case? Could I not have confirmation bias and my belief still be true? If you want to show my belief is false, what you have to do is to address the evidence that has been presented.

After all, in reality, we can all believe true things for terribly wrong reasons. Someone could be an atheist because they don’t want a God watching over them and want to get to sleep with their girlfriend and any other woman that they want. Is that a bad reason to be an atheist? Yep. Does that prove you’re wrong if you hold atheism for that reason? Nope.

Suppose someone wants to be a Christian just because they want fire insurance as it were. They have never once studied the historical evidences of the resurrection. They’ve never asked themselves the big questions. They like going to church and having a good worship time and seeing their Christian friends.

It’s hardly the life of discipleship that Christ calls us to, but is such a person wrong in their opinion because of that? No. This person truly has taken a leap of faith (In the atheistic sense). They’ve just landed in the right spot fortunately.

As for liberty, our nation was founded on Christian principles. (In fact, if you really want to see Carrier taken to task on this one, look at this two-part series starting here. Somehow in all of that, we did maintain our liberty. America was a place where you could go for freedom.

Somehow, Soviet Russia was not that place.

Carrier by saying he is fighting against us has already got me concerned. Considering the statements he’s made on abortion and that he will disavow any opinion because it is a religious opinion, why should I think his secular country will truly be a place of liberty?

So suppose I don’t go along with this, and I don’t. What’s the word to me?

“Failing that, if you’d rather pass, then I would like to extend another plea: for tolerance, acceptance, and understanding.”

So I’m going to be declared an enemy of reason, truth, and liberty, and your response to declaring me your enemy is that you want me to tolerate, accept, and understand you?

Now tolerance in the classical sense can be done! We can agree to disagree on this point! But note that we will disagree and that will change and the best way to move forward is to keep discussing the ideas. Even if you’ve already decided my belief system is nonsense, the best way to handle that is not to just declare it but to show it.

Too many atheists today do what I call atheistic presuppositionalism. It is assumed that their belief is the way the world really works. There really is nothing outside the natural world. Matter really contains the principle of its own existing in itself. There really are no miracles. The Bible really is not reliable at all. Jesus definitely did not exist. Etc.

These positions aren’t really argued for, they’re assumed. Then when you disagree it’s “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” Whose worldview is considered extraordinary? Why it’s the theist after all! Why not have each of us argue for our position? You think miracles are nonsense. Okay. I understand it. Argue for it. Don’t assume it. I think miracles can happen. Yeah. I’ll also argue for it.

So barring that I don’t buy into the system, I can of course try to understand where you’re coming from, but why accept it? Isn’t that just a way of saying “Knuckle under and submit?” Now in a country like America you can say “We won the vote so we get to do this for awhile provided it’s all done legally.” Sure. Of course. But the minority still has a voice. It doesn’t mean you have to follow, but it does mean that they can speak and be heard still.

Carrier can talk all he wants about how fine a secular humanist system will be, but based on what I’ve seen in this book and in history elsewhere, I’m quite sure that such a system would in fact become a tyranny.

So in the end, what do I think of Carrier’s book?

I think Carrier has the problem of thinking he is an authority on everything and that that will undermine him greatly. I also think too many atheists are placing all their eggs in the Carrier basket and that will hurt them later on, particularly as more and more NT research is done which will in fact do further damage to any Christ-myth hypothesis. Unfortunately for them, no matter which scholars you cite about the reality of Jesus’s existence, you’re always given back “Richard Carrier.”

Carrier is not the authority that he thinks he is. Oh he’s popular on the internet to be sure, but how many papers does he have published in the Society of Biblical Literature? Go ahead. Look for yourself. Compare this with others like N.T. Wright, Michael Licona, John Dominic Crossan, William Lane Craig, Marcus Borg, and others.

But in the end, the Christian community needs to be thankful that Carrier is out there.

After all, what this is doing is simply lowering the standards of atheists everywhere. They’re showing they’re willing to believe it if it comes from their favorite authority. Who cares if the entirety of the scholarly community sees the Christ-myth as a joke? Carrier says otherwise and we will believe!

So if someone wants to follow Carrier down this path, well by all means let them do so. We’ll just wait around 10-15 years to see what happens when all the eggs in the basket turn into egg on the faces of our intellectual opponents.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Sense and Goodness Without God Part 16

February 24, 2014

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

There’s not much to be said on morality at this point and there’s really very little in the basic chapters on beauty, so I’m going to skip ahead to the last major section which is on politics.

I’ll be upfront about my politics in discussing this so all can be warned of any bias on my part. I am a conservative. I often refer to myself as so conservative I only fly on planes that have two right wings. I have lately in fact chosen to not identify that much as a Republican since many of them seem just as problematic to me as their Democratic opponents.

Carrier describes himself as a moderate. In fact, he is quick to point out that the moderate is the most rational political animal in any society.

Gotta love that humility huh?

When Carrier describes his reaction to media reports, he says on page 385 to

“Look at it all, but assume most of it is false or deceptive–and, sifting through it all, try to identify on your own what is most likely true, and what most likely isn’t.”

Apparently, the exact same approach used for Scripture.

Carrier also says we don’t need to worry about someone who is a saint in their private life. What matters is how they will live in their public life. I can’t help but see this as quite naive. If someone will lie and cheat and steal in private, why should I think they won’t do so in public? If they don’t, they are in fact living a double life and one side of those images is false and I’m willing to bet it’s the public one.

Of course, none of us can be perfect. We’re all going to have our moral failings. Still, we should seek someone who is trying to live the good life in private as well as in public.If I had children, why should I trust you with public policy of mine if I knew you were something like a deadbeat Dad at home?

When it comes to what should be done about our problems, apparently Carrier has a great idea. As we read on page 395,

“But the simple act of paying off massive public debt is undeniably useful.”

Why yes! Paying off the public debt is simple! Why didn’t we think of that earlier? Now that we know this, we should be able to eliminate the national debt in no time! No one would of course doubt that it would be “useful” to pay off the debt, but it is not simple. Still, Carrier has a plan.

What is it? The government can buy up all the commercial forests. Then, it will rent the land out to lumber companies. Since the government has to maintain this source of revenue, it will then maintain the forests making sure they’re kept environmentally safe. Next would come the mining and oil companies.

Yes. All of this together would pay off the trillion dollar debt.

And who is going to pay for this massive operation? Who is going to pay to hire all these employees in charge of all of this? Who is going to pay for all the new regulations going on? In turn, it will simply give the government even more power over all the basic goods we have in our lives.

I can’t help but wonder what makes Carrier think he’s someone I should take seriously on economics.

Naturally, this government that Carrier wants will have a commitment to secularism. As we see on page 403.

“Likewise, there is no valid ground for criminalizing abortion, for there is no sufficient evidence to convince any objective court of law that people can exist without a brain (see section III.6 “The Nature of Mind”), so elective abortion before the formation of a cerebral cortext (usually sometime between the 20th and 24th week of gestation) does not violate anyone’s rights by any standard except a solely religious one. Only educated medical professionals are capable of determining precisely when a cerebral cortex has formed, or when an abortion is necessary to save the mother’s life, and these facts will vary with every case. Thus, it is not something that can be honestly legislated, without imposing religious beliefs on people, hence depriving them of their religious freedom.”

This must be news to people like the secular pro-life alliance that are staunchly pro-life without religious reasons. But alas, perhaps we should say that Carrier has spoken and the case is closed. It’s clear then that when secularism rules the day, all other cases are seen as secondary. If you believe something for religious reasons, it will automatically be discounted. As we will see later, Carrier has a strong penchant for opposition of a fierce kind to those who oppose him.

But, I suspect that will be next time and that could be when we wrap up this series.

In Christ,
Nick Peters