Atheism: The Case Against Christ Chapter 5.

What are my thoughts on chapter 5? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

If you want any hard evidence that McCormick is uninformed on Biblical scholarship, chapter 5 is exhibit A.

To begin with, McCormick talks about the oral tradition and says that many scholars point to how reliable it is. It’s noteworthy that in all of this, he nowhere cites a scholar of oral tradition. There’s a good reason for that. None of them would support the nonsense that McCormick has in this chapter. McCormick acts as if oral tradition was just used by the Jews in order to pass down the laws of God.

This is just wrong. Oral tradition was used by the Jews to pass down the sayings of the rabbis as well, but even more, it wasn’t just used by the Jews. Every society at the time relied more on oral tradition than they did on written tradition. That McCormick treats this as if it was just a Jewish phenomenon shows us that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. While there was writing of course, the main way of transmitting information and what was seen as the most reliable was the oral tradition.

At Loc. 1645 McCormick says “The Christian who would corroborate the resurrection in this fashion cannot ignore the fact that Jews, rabbis, Talmud scholars, and modern Jewish experts on the Jewish oral tradition emphatically reject the claim that Jesus’s resurrection was incorporated into Judaism in this way.” and “If Jesus’s resurrection and other essential Christian doctinres that overturn Judaism were preserved by a time-honored and hallowed Jewish method, why does Judaism persist and deny the resurrection and those doctrines?”

Yes. He actually says these.

For the first part, of what relevance is this? Jews don’t believe Jesus rose from the dead for the most part. Okay. And? That somehow demonstrates that oral tradition, which isn’t exclusively Jewish, is unreliable? A modern Jewish expert on oral tradition (Which McCormick cites none) could uphold that the traditions of Jesus were reliably recorded in the New Testament but that they were wrong beliefs. That’s not a problem.

For the second claim, again, this isn’t a Jewish method but a method used by Jews. Every society used oral traditions and many non-Jewish societies today still use oral tradition. Why is it denied? Because Jesus was seen as a crucified criminal who failed the prophecies. Again, this doesn’t overturn the historical evidence.

McCormick wants to also paint the tradition in the story of a money bag being used as evidence. One cop passes it off to another and then to another. A corrupt cop can take some money out of the bag and then just change the amount that it’s said to hold and pass it off to the next. Isn’t this how oral tradition works?

No. Not at all. McCormick should have read some scholars like Vansina or Bailey or Sandy or Dunn or Small or anyone else. I have no reason to think that McCormick is really doing research when he doesn’t even consult sources for his claims.

Usually, oral tradition is compared to telephone, but this isn’t how it is. Instead, the stories would be told in groups. In those groups, there would be people who would be in charge of the tradition ultimately who were the gatekeepers. They would oversee the process and make sure the stories didn’t stray too far. Some minor changes were allowed for minor details, but the main thrust of the story had to stay the same.

In the telephone game, a story is whispered once to one person who cannot hear it again and they have to tell the same story to the next. That’s not at all what was happening. Stories were told in groups and kept in check in that way.

McCormick can then go on all he wants about what are the odds that one person did X in the chain, but this still assumes that individuals are involved in the chain and not groups and that there can be no back-checking. Again, it would be nice if he would reference some scholars of oral tradition. Perhaps I should comment on evolutionary theory and how it works and not cite any scientists who write on evolution. It would be about as effective. This kind of thing sounds convincing if you’re an atheist who has never studied the issue. If you’ve spent any time studying whatsoever, you’re being convinced, but of the opposite viewpoint.

Of course, McCormick says that between the events and the first recording, 30 to 100 years have passed and we only have two copies from two centuries later.

Well if he means complete copies, that could be. That number is quite likely changed now though as we’re constantly finding new manuscripts. However, we also do have partial manuscripts and quotations from the church fathers and writings in multiple languages all over the Empire. Does McCormick think all of them were somehow altered? Note also there is a difference between first writing and first copy that we have. For most other manuscripts, it’s several centuries between the writing and our first copy and yet they are viewed with far less suspicion.

Now someone might be saying “But Bart Ehrman says”. Yes. Let’s see what Bart Ehrman says.

If the primary purpose of this discipline is to get back to the original text, we may as well admit either defeat or victory, depending on how one chooses to look at it, because we’re not going to get much closer to the original text than we already are.… At this stage, our work on the original amounts to little more than tinkering. There’s something about historical scholarship that refuses to concede that a major task has been accomplished, but there it is. Novum Testamentum Graecum Editio Critica Maior: An Evaluation: TC: A Journal of Biblical Textual Criticism, 1998, a revision of a paper presented at the Textual Criticism section of the 1997 Society of Biblical Literature in San Francisco. http://rosetta.reltech.org/TC/vol03/Ehrman1998.html

And

In spite of these remarkable [textual] differences, scholars are convinced that we can reconstruct the original words of the New Testament with reasonable (although probably not 100 percent) accuracy. Bart Ehrman, The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings 3rd ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003), 481.

McCormick then goes on to say at 1715 that when the story gets written down and then adds “Which we would think would be an even more reliable method of recording” and then goes on from there. Well unfortunately, because we would think it would not mean that they would. In fact, the oral word was more reliable to them than the written word. As Papias said

“I used to inquire what had been said by Andrew, or by Peter, or by Philip, or by Thomas or James, or by John or Matthew or any other of the Lord’s disciples, and what Aristion and the Elder John, the disciples of the Lord, were saying. For books to read do not profit me so much as the living voice clearly sounding up to the present day in (the persons of) their authors.”

Teachers would often not like to write down their teachings because students could misunderstand them apart from their tutelage. All McCormick has done is show some cultural favoritism. Not only that, writing would reach far fewer people. Oral tradition was something everyone could understand and evaluate and keep in check. Writing was also costly and timely and would only reach readers and those who they would be read to. For a look at costs, consider this.

The cost of writing and rewriting was not free. A secretary charged by the line. Like anyone whose living depended on billing customers, the secretary kept up with how many lines he wrote each time. Although we do not know the exact charges for making drafts and producing a letter, we can make some educated guesses. A rough, and very conservative, estimate of what it would cost in today’s dollars to prepare a letter like 1 Corinthians would be $2100, $700 for Galatians, and $500 for 1 Thessalonians.” Richards, Capes, and Reeves, Rediscovering Paul p. 78

Of course, we have a quotation from Ehrman which ends with the classic “We have more variances in the manuscripts than we do words in the New Testament.” This sounds convincing again to an atheist who hasn’t studied it, but the reason we have so many differences is we have a large work and we have a large number of manuscripts. Ehrman elsewhere does show that most of these variants are inconsequential.

“It would be a mistake, however, to assume that the only changes being made were by copyists with a personal stake in the wording of the text. In fact, most of the changes found in our early Christian manuscripts have nothing to do with theology or ideology. Far and away the most changes are the result of mistakes, pure and simple — slips of the pen, accidental omissions, inadvertent additions, misspelled words, blunders of one sort or another. Scribes could be incompetent; it is important to recall that most of the copyists in the early centuries were not trained to do this kind of work but were simply the literate members of their congregations who were (more or less) able and willing. (p. 55) (Misquoting Jesus by Bart Ehrman)

McCormick then says that we know some works were not canonized and deliberately excluded. Indeed. A good researcher at this point would want to know what these manuscripts were and why. McCormick doesn’t, because McCormick is not a good researcher. Just tossing out a sound bite is enough.

McCormick doesn’t know apparently that documents included were to have apostolic authority in believing to be from an apostle or the close associate of an apostle, they were to be in line with the oral tradition, and they were to be accepted by the majority of the church instead of a few isolated communities. I invite McCormick to read some of these later writings and then he should know why they weren’t included.

McCormick also has something to say about the miracles at Lourdes in that the accounts don’t stand up to outside scrutiny. Is he not aware that miracle claims always call for outside scrutiny? It’s not just Catholics working in isolation and they error more on the side of caution.

At 1813, McCormick tells us that the Gospels and Q are the only early written sources we have. Completely absent is any mention of Paul which contains the earliest and best material on the resurrection. Again, exactly how out of touch is McCormick with scholarship today?

He concludes the chapter saying it is true the histories and transmission of the information is much more convoluted than the simplified model he has given. No. In reality, the way of tradition as stated is quite simple as I have argued. It is McCormick’s story that is convoluted. Of course, he would know this if he bothered to read any scholars on oral tradition. Unfortunately he does not, and yet he wants us to somehow treat him as an authority.

I don’t have enough faith for that.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Atheism: The Case Against Christ. Chapter 4

What do I think of McCormick’s continuing argument? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

McCormick early on has a list of people he thinks were in the chain that gave us the New Testament. These are first off, the witnesses who claimed to see the events. Next come the repeaters who repeated the story until it was written decades later. Third are the authors who wrote the books. Fourth are the copyists who copied the works. Finally are the canonizers who put them in the canon.

Now of course, there’s no real work done on identifying the authors. McCormick looks at writers like Ehrman for the most part and just assumes the writers aren’t the ones on the book. Don’t expect to see interaction with contrary scholarship in that regard. It won’t happen.

For instance, let’s suppose that Mark is the testimony of Peter. Have we not skipped a piece of the chain? Is it not the case that there are no repeaters but Mark is just recording what the witness said? What about Matthew? If Matthew is the author of his Gospel, have we skipped others altogether?

Never mind the questions of how sources were used. Matthew could be a witness and still use Mark. Why?  Because if Mark is the testimony of Peter, then Peter saw activities that Matthew didn’t. What in fact of the fact that some writers would even use a scribe still? Does that mean that they are not the author? What if the author refers not to a direct writer but the main source for the material? These are all good questions to ask. McCormick doesn’t.

Now to be fair, McCormick is right when generally, if a manuscript is from the 4th century and one is from the 8th, we should take the 4th century one more seriously. Of course, if we saw the 4th century one had been highly mutilated, say by a sect opposed to orthodoxy that heavily tampered with it, that might change things, but all things being equal, earlier is better.

There is much here about how reliable eyewitnesses are. (By the way, it’s worth pointing out this book came out after Jesus and the Eyewitnesses. Don’t expect to see McCormick interacting with that.) McCormick says we would need to have the success/failure rate of the eyewitnesses. This would be nice for the Bible, but the problem is we don’t really have that for ancient history. We can’t go and cross-examine. Now if McCormick wants to rule out the New Testament on these grounds, I wonder if he’s willing to treat other ancient works the same way.

McCormick starts with an example such as a man making predictions about sporting events and who will win. Then he takes us over to Lourdes and points out that a number of people claim a miracle and so many of those are false so we should probably think that the others that are not shown to be false are likely false. Unfortunately, we have switched standards here. We went from one man by himself to rather a more general claim and said “If a lot of people are wrong with one claim, then others making a similar claim must be wrong.” These are not identical.

If we want to go with general, then we could say perhaps if atheism is true, then we should say that the reasoning capacity of people is terrible since so many are theists. Since people are terrible reasoners, we ought not trust the reasoning of atheists. After all, they are people. No. With Lourdes, we treat each claim on its own. Note that also not all the claims are said to be false claims. They’re just not verified claims. Those are two different things.

McCormick also wants us to know if the Biblical writers would be more or less reliable on what they saw? His answer is less because of who they were and when they lived. This is indeed a textbook example of chronological snobbery. Lewis would be amazed at how far McCormick takes it.

McCormick talks about a supernatural belief threshold (SBT). Of course, never mind that some of us question the usage of the term supernatural, but McCormick likes to use words like magic and such regularly. It’s kind of like he thinks those words are magic and as soon as you say them, you show how ridiculous an argument is.

At loc. 1163 he says that if you went to someone with a low SBT threshold, they would be more prone to accept more false beliefs. McCormick unfortunately only applies this to “supernatural” claims. One wonders if he doesn’t see himself as having a low threshold for claims sympathetic to his worldview. For instance, he seems open to Jesus mythicism. Does this not show a low threshold on his part? We’ll in fact see many other claims he believes without citing scholarship in this book. What about the fact that on the internet so many atheists share memes that are just blatantly false?

Perhaps McCormick should encourage cleaning out the house of atheism first.

McCormick also says that if he was a Protestant speaking against Catholicism or a Christian against Islam, the claims would likely be well received. Well no. I would want to evaluate the claims first. Even if a claim argues against something I am opposed to, I want to see if it’s true or false. Just because McCormick easily believes claims that agree with him doesn’t mean the rest of us do.

McCormick also says people living in an agrarian and Iron Age society with low scientific knowledge, education, and literacy would not be very skeptical. Well isn’t this amusing?

For one thing, McCormick is wrong about the Iron Age.

The accepted date for the end of the Iron Age is 587/586 BCE, with the conquest of Jerusalem by the Babylonian army, the destruction of the Temple and the end of the Davidic Dynasty. A glance at the historic – archaeological reality shows that this date is of no significance in most areas in the Land of Israel because throughout Samaria, the Galilee, Negev, Philistia and Transjordan no ruins from this period were found and no crisis occurred amongst the material culture. The events of 587/586 BCE only affected Jerusalem and part of the area of the Kingdom of Judah, whereas areas to the south of it were previously captured by the Edomites. It must be that the trauma of the loss of national independence, the destruction of the Temple, and their impact on previous generations of scholars of the Land of Israel, is what established this date as the end of the Iron Age. The date, therefore, is more historical-theological than it is archaeological. It turns out that the material culture of the country – that is, the types of ceramic, types of buildings, burial practices and even the language and writing – continued after the beginning of the sixth century BCE. Fundamental changes in the settlement models and the material culture began only later, at the end of the same century, around the year 520 BCE. Then the rule of the Persian Achaemenid empire was established, the import of the Greek Attic pottery increased, commerce increased and the settlements began to abandon their places on the traditional tells. At the same time the Aramaic writing and language are also replacing Hebrew writing and the Hebrew language and a new ‘ethnic map’ is created in the country with the penetration of the Edomite, Arabic, Phoenician, Greek and other populations.

Please note that this is something that I found just by doing a brief Google search. It’s a shame McCormick couldn’t do likewise. He must have a low Skepticism Belief Threshold (SKBT) where he will believe any claim that argues against Christianity. If McCormick isn’t willing to verify a simple claim like this, why should I trust him on all these other claims?

As for low scientific knowledge, not really. The Greeks for instance in that culture were making incredible advancements. People were interested in science. Either way, to say there was low knowledge does not mean there was no knowledge.

McCormick might be surprised to learn that in Israel, the dead were buried. Why? Because if a resurrection took place, it wasn’t until the end. Resurrections didn’t just happen. It was also known that people don’t walk on water so fishermen built these things called boats. They also had laws against adultery and laws on inheritance because they knew what it took to make a baby. These were not new discoveries.

And finally, illiterate does not equal stupid. Most people were so busy working that reading was not something they had the time or money for. That does not mean they did not possess knowledge. Did they lack formal education often? Yes. Again though, that does not equal stupid, unless McCormick wants to say something about anyone without a college degree being stupid today.

McCormick also says when people are more educated, they are less likely to believe. Well that would depend on what they’re educated in. If students are taught bogus lies like “Science and Christianity are in conflict” then of course an education will make them think Christianity is false. Do they have any arguments for it? Well my interactions show that for the most part, they don’t.

Furthermore, while we might have more knowledge today, overall, I would think most people in ancient and medieval history were getting better educations. They were thoroughly learning how to think when they were educated and tried to study and learn as much as they could. We have more access to knowledge today, but we also have more people relying on Google for everything instead of reading books.

McCormick says the people of the past would not know that the Earth moves or what the sun is or what electricity or hydrogen was. To which I say, so what? How does that mean that they were ignorant in what else they believed? Is it the mark of an intelligent man that he knows the Earth moves around the sun, which is a large star, and what hydrogen and electricity are? There are plenty of people today who are very foolish who can answer those questions.

We could just as well say what would people say 2,000 years from now? We should not believe what those people believed because they did not know about XYZ? If that is the case, should we believe anything today? I suspect McCormick would rightly say we should go by the evidence we have. Indeed. That’s just what the ancients did. The evidence at the time indicated that the sun moved and not the Earth.

McCormick also says they did not know what caused disease or pregnancy or death. Again, we have the same problem, but the second one is just ludicrous. The ancients did not know that sex caused pregnancy? If they didn’t know this, then please tell me when this was discovered. Now if McCormick wants to say “They knew that it was sex, but they didn’t know all about it like we do” then I say “So what?” That means they’re automatically wrong?

As for death, they might not have known exactly like we do, but they knew about death. Dare I say it but these people saw death a lot more than McCormick did in a culture where it’s pretty much isolated from us and we only see the dead person usually made up well in a funeral home somewhere. Not so for them. Death was an everyday reality.

And of course we have the gem at 1202 about Jesus that says in parentheses “If he was real at all.” This is how we know we have someone who just really isn’t interacting with scholarship. McCormick has a low SKBT.

McCormick then says at 1230 that if modern people accept magical claims about people they admire, how much more people 2,000 years ago? The problem is Jesus wasn’t admired. Now of course, you could say His own followers admired Him, but not outside of that. He was a crucified criminal. That is indeed something abhorrent to the people of the time.

““How grievous a thing it is to be disgraced by a public court; how grievous to suffer a fine, how grievous to suffer banishment; and yet in the midst of any such disaster some trace of our liberty is left to us. Even if we are threatened with death, we may die free men. But the executioner, the veiling of the head, and the very word ‘cross’ should be far removed not only from the person of a Roman citizen but from his thoughts, his eyes and his ears. For it is not only the actual occurrence of these things or the endurance of them, but liability to them, the expectation, nay the mere mention of them, that is unworthy of a Roman citizen and a free man.” (Cicero, Rab. Perd. 16, trans. Hodge 1927)”

Saying a crucified criminal was the Messiah would be like going around today saying that a convicted pedophile should be the next president of America. In fact, Christianity should have died out quite early just like other beliefs have that have a disaster happen to the leader. Instead, the reverse happened. It would be good for McCormick to ask why, but he can’t get to this question because he already is beginning with a false presupposition.

At 1238, McCormick asks “What would a an ordinary person in the first century be led to think if he had a hallucination, heard something strange, had a remarkable dream, or had some other notable experience?” These are indeed good questions. Each one is worthy of research. Unfortunately, they are not researched and one thing I can assure McCormick of. They would not think “resurrection.”

Of course, at 1246 he says “It may have even been reasonable for them to think Jesus was resurrected, given that they just wouldn’t have known any better.” Maybe it would have been. It would be a great question to explore. Unfortunately, it is not. McCormick is not a researcher in this area. He can ask the questions, but he never follows up in getting the answers.

For one thing, just seeing wouldn’t be enough. There would have to be an empty tomb. McCormick never touches the burial of Jesus. He never also explains the group appearances which cannot be hallucinations. He says at 810 for instance about the witch trials that it strains incredulity to think there was a conspiracy or a mass hallucination. Okay. Then let’s assume McCormick rules those out to explain Jesus. What will he give?

At 1269, he says that it would be far more unlikely and surprising for Jesus’s followers to not have reported seeing Jesus return from the dead and for none of them to hallucinate Jesus. Unfortunately, this still assumes that if they thought they had seen Jesus, then this would mean they would jump to resurrection. No. More likely they would think that Jesus was in Abraham’s bosom. They could have a view of divine exaltation where Jesus had been honored by God in the Heavens, but going the route of resurrection would be the most extreme and the most dangerous route to take.

He also says that “the information we have are hearsay reports from the authors of the Gospels, which were created decades after it is alleged that Jesus appeared to the disciples.” Of course, we are not surprised that he does not interact at all with 1 Cor. 15 which is not decades later but rather has material that is just years later if even that long. He can talk all he wants about the ending of Mark, but meanwhile the real opponents of his position are pointing to a totally different area. That McCormick doesn’t interact with this shows that he is not aware of the material he is arguing against.

Even if we granted this, decades later is not a problem. Most ancient history is decades later. Heck. A great deal of it is centuries later. This is not seen as a problem. Decades later is something that is often tossed out to make the accounts seem problematic. For those who know about ancient history, it’s par for the course. Most historians would love to have four biographies of a Caesar written within a century of his life.

McCormick also says that this central source of information, the ending of Mark, which he has wrong, did not surface until one to two hundred years after the events.  I don’t know any scholar of the resurrection who makes a case based on the long ending of Mark. McCormick has just built up a straw man. McCormick thinks he has a good point. Unfortunately, he just has a low SKBT.

McCormick also says that resurrection reports are not uncommon. Oral Roberts and Pat Robertson report them. Yes. In a society where resurrection is seen to be a good thing and built on a Christian worldview where resurrection is now seen as a good thing, some people report resurrections. Today, it’s not so much of a stir. We can be skeptical, but we don’t balk at it. In the ancient world, that would be different. This is just McCormick imposing his culture on another.

Ironically, at 1372 McCormick says that for many tasks, the worse we are, the more confidence we express. This is the Dunning-Kruger effect. If anyone wants to see it at work, read McCormick’s book. McCormick is thoroughly incompetent with resurrection studies, but writes a book with confidence thinking he has proven his case. Of course, this is because he has a low SKBT.

McCormick also points to a study by Solomon Asch that shows that people seek to conform to the group even if patently false. McCormick thinks this is an argument to show the disciples would believe the resurrection. It’s just the opposite. The social stigma of believing in Jesus would be so great the disciples would be pressured the other way.  For more on that, listen to my interview with Larry Hurtado on Destroyer of the Gods here.

It gets even worse. McCormick claims that IQ scores have gone up on a regular basis so obviously, they would be even worse in the past. McCormick should realize that psycho-history was abandoned years ago. This kind of argument is just the worst kind of snobbery.

When we get to 1545, he says that the possibility of someone returning from the dead would seem like common sense to the ancients given the right background information and expectations. Why? Who knows? Resurrection was only thought to happen at the end of time. The reason the resurrection was talked about as such an unusual event was just that. It was unusual.

At 1568, he tells us that the Christians were deeply religious converts who were actively discouraged from being skeptical or critical about extraordinary claims. Well yeah, unless you consider active shaming or persecution to be discouragement. Their entire social lives would discourage them from this.

He then says “Unless you are a historically minded Muslim or a Mormon who takes the stories about Joseph Smith’s encounters with the angel Moroni to have actually happened, you would probably take a parallel argument to the one I have made against Christianity in this chapter against Roman superstitions, Islam, or Mormonism to be completely plausible.”

No.

I do not think these kinds of arguments are plausible at all. I would prefer arguments that actually study the culture at the time and not only ask questions but research them. Of course, this is because I have a high SKBT, unlike McCormick.

Even more amazing, he admits at 1582 that even if the story of the resurrection was true, because of all that he mentioned, we should not believe the story. At this, we have to wonder what would convince McCormick. He never says.

We could say more, but that’s enough for chapter 4. Next time we’ll cover the fifth chapter.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Part 1 can be found here.

Part 2 can be found here.

Part 3 can be found here.

Part 5 can be found here.

Atheism: The Case Against Christ. Chapter 3.

Do the Salem Witch Trials disprove Christianity? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I’ll be quite blunt at the start and say the Salem Witch Trials is not anything I’ve really looked into specifically. Of course, that means that when I approach them, I’m going to be agnostic. I do not claim to know what exactly happened there and I would really have to study the historical data. If any readers have any comments and some good sources to recommend, I welcome them.

McCormick begins with what is often said about the NT by Christians. We do have eyewitness accounts. We have the early church was persecuted. We have archaeology verifying many of the claims of the NT of a historical nature. This is all good, but now McCormick switches to the Salem Witch Trials. What happened?

He points out that there you have people claiming to see witchcraft going on. They all came from diverse backgrounds and social strata. They were all passionately convinced. People had a great deal to lose if they were wrong, such as friends and family. McCormick says it seems very unlikely that there would be an ulterior motive for being able to risk putting friends and family on trial.

McCormick says the accounts were investigated and we have hundreds of documents from the time. He claims we have enough documents to fill a truck. What was going on?

McCormick says he is of course not making a case for real witchcraft. It is a hypothesis, but one he doesn’t consider likely. He says it is not the best or most probable one. The point he wants to establish is that the accused were not witches and you and I probably do not believe that.

Now to be fair, I’m skeptical, but I would like to see what was going on then and what the better explanations were. What explanation would best explain the data that we have? Therefore, as I come at this as someone who has not studied the events, I look and see what can explain it. I wonder if McCormick can do that for me or not.

Now of course, McCormick has statements about the Gospel stories being hearsay and anecdotal and such. We will look at that more in later chapters, but naturally, he doesn’t at all bother to interact with 1 Cor. 15. We’ll also find he doesn’t really back his claims about the Gospels and the historical information we have, but I want readers to know that this is going to be discussed in a later chapter.

McCormick thinks with his comparison, there are three things a believer can do. The first is bite the bullet. He might lower his threshold of evidence to accept both claims. Now to clarify, this isn’t my claim yet. My claim is simply that I don’t know and I prefer to not speak on a subject I don’t know about. Of course, I’m skeptical, but I’m not going to approach the data and say “I want to know what happened. Witchcraft is ruled out.” McCormick says we shouldn’t accept real witchcraft though because the best explanation doesn’t involve that.

In this also, McCormick says lots of religions claim exclusivity and they do so on the basis of their historical miracles.

Okay.

Like what?

McCormick gives no examples. For Islam for instance, the only miracle I understand to be certain is the Koran. Buddhism is atheistic classically and miracles would prove nothing. Hinduism meanwhile is pantheistic. Miracles don’t fit. Mormonism could be close, but even this one is supposed to be built on a prior Christian worldview. Even still if I grant just Mormonism, then that’s just one. I can’t help but think of the words of Sheldon Cooper.

McCormick also asks “How does the evangelical Christian, who explicitly denies the doctrines of other Christian denominations, explain the widespread occurrence of miracles in those churches that seem to legitimate their actions?” (Loc. 895)

Like what?

I mean, I know many Pentecostals claim miracles, but I don’t know any who would say “Therefore Pentecostalism is the one true faith and all other denominations are hellbound.” I also don’t think many would say that therefore everything they believe about God is absolutely right. McCormick acts as if a miracle can only happen because God wants to give a big affirmation to a movement. That could be, but it doesn’t necessitate it.

I have no problem accepting miracles in other religions for instance. Perhaps God is giving some common grace to someone. Perhaps there is demonic activity going on with false wonders. I do not know. I’m also fine with that. The main point is I have no problem explaining it.

Now let’s put the shoe on the other foot. Let’s go to McCormick and say that how does he explain it if there is one bona fide miracle and there is no natural cause whatsoever? McCormick’s worldview is in a bind then. Mine isn’t. Chesterton said years ago that the theist believes in a miracle, rightly or wrongly, because of the evidence. The atheist disbelieves, rightly or wrongly, because he has a dogma against them.

McCormick also says that if some other entity is acting, then one of the central pillars of the natural sciences has been undermined. (loc. 910) He asks if my evidence for the resurrection is better than thinking the entire scientific enterprise’s naturalistic worldview is correct.

First off, there are plenty of scientists who do not share a naturalistic worldview. Consider Francis Collins or John Polkinghorne. What McCormick means is “Is my evidence for the resurrection better than the evidence for naturalism held by atheistic scientists.”

The answer is yes. I do not find the naturalistic worldview at all convincing. McCormick has given me no reason to think that it is and seems to have this strange idea that miracles undermine science. Why? We are not told. Science only tells you what happens if there is no outside interference. The fact that an outside agent could interfere does not mean there are no processes that would happen on their own regardless.

In fact, miracles rely on a natural order being a given. After all, if there is no natural order, then how could you recognize a miracle? If there is no natural order, you drop a rock and it falls. The next time it floats through the sky. The next time it shoots like a rocket through your neighbor’s window. (Interestingly, the rock dropping idea comes from Hume who did decide to argue against miracles. Wonder why he wanted it both ways.) It is only if rocks consistently fall can you recognize a miracle if one does not. It is only if dead people stay dead and virgins don’t give birth that you can recognize a miracle if a dead person returns to life and if a virgin gives birth. (And of course, I do affirm the virgin birth.)

This is simple thinking. It’s a wonder McCormick doesn’t see this, but in these statements he has just revealed his hand and said he would not believe in miracles because his own worldview will not allow it. Well it’s nice to know who’s coming to the evidence with their presuppositions ready.

The second response McCormick says can be taken is to deny the analogy. He says this is doomed to fail because it will end in ad hoc rationalization and special pleading. (Loc. 918) Well it’s good to know that the conclusion has already been reached even before hearing the case.

I think some differences are the NT world was an honor-shame context instead of a guilt-innocence context. It was agonistic instead of individualistic. It was a movement that lasted hundreds of years under persecution instead of one that died out in about a year (According to the time given by McCormick.) It went against prior accepted beliefs whereas the Witch Trials I gather were built on a prior worldview.

But for McCormick, these are just ad hoc and special pleading instead of, you know, real historical facts.

He also says there are many other claims that are false like the Hindu milk drinking miracle, but you can do this with a tablespoon in your own house. Some surfaces just naturally take in the milk. As for Lourdes, I would refer him to Keener’s work. I’m not about to say that all such claims are false.

Still, the real howler comes when he says “The original accounts of Islam, Mormonism, Buddhism, and Hinduism are filled with supernatural claims, and the circumstances surrounding their advents resemble Christianity in too many relevant respects.” (Loc. 934)

Really?

Okay. What are the supernatural claims that are in the original accounts of Islam? Muhammad is said to have done no miracles save providing the Koran. The miracles come in the biographies that come 100+ years later. These are not the original sources.

Buddhism and Hinduism? We have original sources for these? I would love to get to see the original account of Buddhism and Hinduism. Does McCormick have them? Does he have some evidence that their origins were comparable to Christianity’s or does he just want me to take it on faith?

The closest you might have is Mormonism, but even then that is shrouded in mystery. We do have evidence of Smith being a con man. We have multiple accounts of the beginning and no clear details on what happened. The original Book of Mormon that you can find has a number of grammatical and such errors that are changed in later manuscripts deliberately.

I take it McCormick really hasn’t looked at the evidence of these religions too much. He’s just accepted claims on faith. A shame. A good researcher would do otherwise.

He also says that Salem shows we don’t need to have a fully articulated naturalistic explanation to believe there is one. (Loc. 956) Good to know. We have a position of faith. McCormick doesn’t have an explanation for why all these people would see XYZ and be willing to put their loved ones on trial but, well, we know there HAS to be one! There has to be and we know this because naturalism is true. We know naturalism is true because these events don’t happen. They don’t happen because naturalism is true. Again, we are ultimately arguing in a circle.

Now a good researcher would want to know what that explanation is. Is there one? I don’t know without studying it myself, but when it comes to Jesus, I invite McCormick to give his better explanation. Until he can give one, I am justified in my conviction that Jesus rose from the dead.

A third way McCormick says we can respond is to say evidence doesn’t matter. Now this way apparently works fine for him, but it doesn’t work for me. I say the evidence does matter and it does need to be explained. Unfortunately, McCormick has left out the fourth way to respond.

That way is to look at all the data and ask questions a researcher would ask and then seek to provide an explanation. As I’ve said, I haven’t looked so I don’t have one. Unfortunately, McCormick doesn’t give me one either. All he ends up saying is “There has to be a natural explanation and likewise, there has to be one with Jesus.” That’s just question-begging. It would have been good for McCormick to do the hard research and read all scholarship he could find on this. Unfortunately, no such exercise took place.

Let’s hope he doesn’t make the same mistake with the resurrection.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Part One can be found here.

Part Two can be found here.

Part four can be found here.

Part five can be found here.

Atheism And The Case Against Christ Chapter Two

What do I think of the second chapter of McCormick’s book? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

As we come to the second chapter, we get to the history of the Jesus story. Now I have to say that while the first chapter gave me some hope, pretty much everything else from then on goes downhill and it keeps getting worse and worse. Every night when I close my Kindle, I go to sleep astounded that someone could just be so unbelievably uninformed of what they write about.

To begin with, at location 482, when it comes to Jesus, McCormick tells us that the existence of such a person is an active point of some disagreement.

Sure. If he wants to say the age of the Earth or the idea of evolution are also active points of disagreement. Now I’m sure he’d say those are settled questions, but you will find more authorities in the field who question those claims than you will find those who question the existence of Jesus. Still, McCormick buys into the idea that there’s some debate going on about the existence of Jesus. As Jonathan Bernier says

And on those matters Carrier fails, as has been shown repeatedly by various NT scholars, professional and amateur, here on the interwebs (which, one should note, is just about the only place that this “debate” is taking place. It’s certainly not taking place in the academy. Kinda like what fundamentalist Christians euphemistically call the evolution “debate”; the debate, it turns out, exists primarily in their heads).

Unfortunately, as we go through this book, we will see more of the same. Regularly McCormick will speak of events like the alleged crucifixion and such. Most of us back in reality have realized that when someone is open even to mythicism, they’re pretty much entirely unreliable on history.

McCormick will also say the Gospels were not by the people attributed to them and they do not contain eyewitness testimony. Of course, it would be good to have claims like these to be backed. I realize there are many scholars who would hold to this, but McCormick doesn’t even bother making an attempt to name any such scholars. Instead, it’s just thrown out there. One would think that if you were making a case, you might do something bizarre like, I don’t know, make a case.

McCormick tries to respond to the idea of Jewish oral tradition and says the problem with saying the Gospel stories were handed down that way is that Jesus was seen as a radical new teacher so why would His teaching be preserved in Jewish oral tradition. It’s simply amazing that someone thinks that this is an argument. Did the Jews use a different rule for memorization with their tradition than they did for anything else? Are they not aware that rabbis would quote teachings from other rabbis and who they received them from? Is McCormick not aware that even in non-Jewish societies oral tradition is still a reality and even in some parts of the world today still is? Oral tradition is not married to Judaism. Judaism uses oral tradition, but it’s not the case that oral tradition uses Judaism.

Instead, Jesus’s teachings as a rabbi himself would be memorized the same way. It’s also fair to say that Jesus as a traveling teacher would give the same parable or sermon more than once. Just this month, I have spoken at two different churches and given essentially the same talk. Of course there are variations in what I say, but the talk is still the same. Are we to think that something like the Prodigal Son was told only one time and that was it? Jesus was completely different from every other teacher in that He taught a message once and never repeated it?

Jesus also used aphorisms. These are short pithy sayings that are easy to remember. Judge not lest you also be judged. What profit a man to gain the world and lose his soul? These are short sayings that would be readily remembered.

Not only that, there’s also the point that in an age without post-it notes and computers to recall information, that people will rely on memory more and have better memories. A good researcher would have interacted with memorization at the time of Jesus and in oral traditions. Unfortunately, McCormick does not do this because he is not a good researcher.

At 512, McCormick says it’s relevant that none of the original Gospels or any other NT documents have survived. For people who don’t know a thing about ancient history and the transmission of documents, this can seem like a powerful point. For anyone who’s read anything on the topic, it doesn’t matter at all. Reality is I don’t know of a single original ancient document we have. All we have in every case is copies. If McCormick wants to know how the NT stacks up with relation to copies in comparison to all other ancient manuscripts, we have far more manuscripts and such of the NT, in far more languages, and far closer to the time of the original writing than any other ancient document bar none.

Of course, don’t count on McCormick to tell you this. No. McCormick is simply a popularizer of tired old canards that only appeal to uninformed atheists that want something to make them think they have a stumper. They don’t. It’s quite sad that McCormick quotes Ehrman’s book on the NT and how we have copies of copies of copies and thinks he has a point. McCormick. Did you read to the end of the book, like I did?

In spite of these remarkable [textual] differences, scholars are convinced that we can reconstruct the original words of the New Testament with reasonable (although probably not 100 percent) accuracy. Bart Ehrman, The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings 3rd ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003), 481.

McCormick also says that even if we talk about the preponderance of documents later on, that doesn’t prove their accuracy and more than a million copies of Sherlock Holmes proves he was a real person. Could someone please find the scholar who is arguing that because we have multiple copies of the NT that it must be true? Please let him know he’s doing us a disservice.

Oh wait. That’s not being said at all. All that’s being asked by textual criticism is “Do we have what was originally written?” Whether it is true or not is completely irrelevant at this point. Once again, someone informed on the topic would know this, which is why McCormick doesn’t.

Of course, McCormick has something to say about canonization. After all, there was a vast number of works floating around the Roman Empire by Christians and by the heretics as well and such and only a few made it in the canon. In trying to find which ones belonged in the canon and which ones didn’t, McCormick says “A variety of criteria drove this separation.” Now someone who really wanted to know about history and this process would then say “Ah. What were these criteria? Why did the Gospel of Matthew make it in and the Gospel of Thomas didn’t?” These would be good to know. All McCormick points to is ideological and political disputes.

Well for those who don’t know since McCormick hasn’t informed you, let me list some criteria. First, was the text written by an apostle or the associate of an apostle. Now McCormick might think that it wasn’t written by those people, but the question was did the church think it was? Second, was it accepted by the church as a whole? One little community over here liking the Gospel of Peter does not mean everyone thinks it should be canonical. Third, was it in line with what was known to be from the apostles?

These would all be helpful to know about, but of course, McCormick doesn’t mention them. It’s also important to note that the debate also was more cautious than anything. Many books we have today were heavily disputed and claims of authorship are nothing new. These were debated even then.

If he wants to know about the other Gospels, well one thing he could do is read them. If you read through the Gospel of Thomas, you will find that it really doesn’t fit with the picture of Jesus. Also, all of these works are extremely late. All the canonical Gospels can be dated to the first century. The other Gospels come later long after all the apostles have died.

Naturally, McCormick has something about the accounts being written 30-100 years later. (Although I highly question the 100 date.) One wonders what McCormick thinks about the fact that this describes practically every work in ancient history. How skeptical is he of events that are written about when they’re all this late? McCormick also would have you think that the writers had no clue about the story and then just wrote it down. Could it not be that they’re out there teaching about what they’ve seen and then after years of speaking about it decide to write it down? Such ideas never come to McCormick. Again, this is because McCormick is just not a good researcher in this area.

McCormick also quotes Ehrman thinking that it’s astounding that no two manuscripts of the NT we have are identical. Well geez. What’s so scary about this? Most differences we notice are slips of the pen or spelling mistakes. They’re easily detectable. Sometimes, there would be manuscript changes that were intentional and not for malignant reasons. Suppose you’re writing out the text for the sermon this Sunday at your church in the ancient world. You start out with a section about Jesus going into the city and it starts with “He went into the city.” Well your audience might not know who He is, so you just put in “Jesus went into the city.” This is a change that could take place and it’s easily noticeable. McCormick instead thinks like a conspiracy theorist as if there’s some grand cover-up and by noticing that there are differences in the manuscripts, he’s shown the emperor has no clothes. These differences were known from the beginning in church history. McCormick is just 1,800 years behind the times.

Naturally also, McCormick does not interact with 1 Cor. 15 significantly at all, despite this being the earliest account we have of the resurrection story. There is nothing about it being an oral tradition that can date to at the latest about five years after the events. (Note for atheist readers who don’t pay attention to scholarship. I’m not saying the letter of 1 Cor. 15 dates to this time but the material in the creed in this text does.)

McCormick does say that if believing requires more or different scholarship than he has given, then most Christians have ungrounded belief. With this, I agree. I am not saying all Christians need to be reading scholarship constantly, but churches need to be educating their laypeople on what the scholars in the field are saying so that Christians have more than a testimony and a feeling to back their worldview. Of course, McCormick himself has unreasonable grounds for his unbelief.

McCormick also says that what Christians also did is just made a document based on what they already believed and then noted how it all fit together so well. It’s amazing that he says this after talking about all the divergencies in the resurrection accounts. Of course, I’ve already pointed out what went into canonization and there were plenty of works that McCormick could have read, such as writers like Lee MacDonald or Michael Kreuger, but sadly he doesn’t avail himself of those.

McCormick also says that with our sources, we have a disturbingly short list for the most important event in human history. Of course, McCormick says this as someone in a post-Gutenberg culture who believes the written word is the best way to establish anything. One also wonders who else should have written about this? Why should they? McCormick doesn’t answer those questions. He just says we don’t have enough writings. How many do we need before he thinks the case deserves a fairer hearing? If this is the most important event, would a thousand be enough? Ten thousand? How many?

While no doubt not everything in this chapter has been covered, enough has been. McCormick is speaking about matters he knows not. It’s a shame he’s seen as an authority for some reason.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

A review of chapter one can be found here.

A review of chapter three can be found here.

A review of chapter four can be found here.

A review of chapter five can be found here.

 

Deeper Waters Podcast 8/27/2016: Holly Ordway

What’s coming up on this week’s Deeper Waters Podcast? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and fall out.

Christ and culture. How do the two interact? This has long been a subject of rigorous debate. There are some who want to think that we should isolate ourselves and have nothing to do with a wicked and sinful culture around us. There are some who think we should dive in full throttle and many times like to Christianize everything and before too long our bookstores are filled with what is called “Jesus junk.”

Not only those situations, but how do we interact with cultures outside of our own? While in the past, you had to leave the country, nowadays, you can just go to a different part of town with a different ethnicity that lives there and find yourself in a different culture. Here in Atlanta, I’ve seen a number of Korean churches for instance, which are no doubt a different culture. How do we interact with these?

To discuss these questions, I decided to have someone come on who is well read in the area of literature and has in fact spoken on my show on literary apologetics. She’s a Catholic Professor over at HBU and always a fascinating person to talk to. That guest is Dr. Holly Ordway. Who is she?

Ordway photo

According to her bio:

Dr Holly Ordway is Professor of English and faculty in the MA in Apologetics at Houston Baptist University; she holds a PhD in English from the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She is the author of Not God’s Type: An Atheist Academic Lays Down Her Arms (Ignatius, 2014); her work focuses on imaginative apologetics and on the writings of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, and Charles Williams, and she is the Charles Williams Subject Editor for the Journal of Inklings Studies. Her current book project is Tolkien’s Modern Sources: Middle-earth Beyond the Middle Ages (Kent State University Press, 2019).

We’ll be discussing how Christians should interact with the culture around them. Many of us would hesitate to say that we should not have any interactions, but at the same time we can see people who can go too far in their interactions. What is the path of wisdom in these situations?

I’d also like to discuss about what aspects of the culture we can enjoy as well. Does everything have to be 100% pure? Is it wrong for a Christian to read a novel by a non-Christian and enjoy it? What about watching shows and movies that are by secularists and others? Is this a case of Romans 14 or not? How does a Christian also interact with just pleasure itself? Is it wrong to take the time to read a fantasy novel or watch a TV show or movie when we could be doing things for the Kingdom?

I hope you’ll be here this Saturday. For those wondering also, we haven’t recorded in the past few weeks since Larry Hurtado due to my being out of town for the funeral of a friend. Hopefully nothing will happen this time. Please also go to our ITunes page and leave a positive review of the Deeper Waters Podcast. I love to see them.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

A Review of Atheism: The Case Against Christianity

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

I was asked by someone to read this book and see what I thought about it. I was expecting to see a really strong case. McCormick is a Ph.D. in philosophy. While it’s not history, philosophers usually tend to be really good thinkers and I was really thinking I’d see more of the same.

In fact, the book started out with a lot of promise on why we should believe something and that the benefits we get from believing something don’t entail the truth of that something. All of this had a lot of promise to it. Unfortunately, that promise died quickly. It died so quickly that I soon realized that to review this book, I would need to do a lot more than just one blog post. McCormick’s book is full of errors and bad analogies and show really the same typical approaches from atheistic writers.

It’s also worth noting that I don’t get much hope still when I see the acknowledgments include thanks to John Loftus and Richard Carrier. I saw both names and thought “Well maybe he’ll make a better case anyway.” I was disappointed.

At the start, McCormick is partially right when he says at location 71 that “A God who performs miracles to accomplish his ends, prove his divinity, and foster belief is the foundation of the Christian religion—as well as many other religions.” I would not say the resurrection is there to prove that YHWH is divine for instance. It would not even be to prove that Jesus was divine per se. Many of us have this idea that the Gospels were written to show Jesus is fully God and fully man. While they do that, that is not their purpose.

I also think McCormick is wrong about miracles. For instance, classical Islam only claims one miracle, the Koran itself. Buddhism would not have miracles and they do not fit well in Hinduism either. You could look at a more modern religion like Mormonism, but as we’ll see later on, that builds on a Christian foundation already.

Still, McCormick is right that a God who performs miracles is essential for the Christian religion. You can take the miracles out of Christianity and you might have a nice ethical system, but you do not have a religion. Jesus is just another great teacher and frankly, we’ve had a hard time listening to great teachers already anyway.

I also wonder what McCormick means when he says “We must reject attempts to redefine God in some nonliteral fashion.” (Loc. 94) Why must we do this? Should I believe God literally in His nature has a body and that passages speaking about the hand of the Lord are literal? Would it surprise McCormick to know that a lot of passages that we might think are “literal” today were not seen that way by the early church because that would not be seen as fitting for the glory of God?

Now to say something I definitely agree with, I agree at loc. 102 when McCormick says “If the typical claims about Jesus are true—he is the son of God, he died for our sins, his forgiveness promises eternal salvation, he was resurrected from the dead, and so on—then he is the most important person in human history.” One would think with such a recognition that McCormick would take the case more seriously. As we will see, he does not.

McCormick also at 149 has the usual atheistic view of faith. “Faith is how we describe believing when the evidence by itself, as we see it, does not provide adequate justification, but we are motivated to believe anyway by hope.” Of course, I have my own view on faith. While McCormick’s view might be what Joe Christian means today, it is not what the Biblical writers meant and if we are approaching the Biblical text to see what it says, we need to see what the authors meant.

I do agree also at Loc. 173 that if the historical facts do not matter, then all religions are on the same footing, insofar as they claim to be true. Christianity is a historical religion. That needs to be acknowledged. This isn’t about events that happened long long ago in a galaxy far far away. These are events that happened at a real place and a real time.

Around 211, McCormick points out that Carrier says Herodotus mentions several bizarre events that took place at a battle. Many of these are fascinating, but unfortunately, McCormick is not a researcher. In fact, there isn’t even a primary source cited but rather just a reference to Carrier himself. A researcher when seeing these claims would want to know “Where does Herodotus say them and what is the explanation?” “What is the distance between the events and the time of writing?” “What do leading historical scholars, especially those specializing in Herodotus, say about these events?” Unfortunately, these are not asked. As we will see later, the evidence for Jesus is far better.

There’s also of course something on science and Christianity. After making a case for evolution, McCormick says at 266 that “These discoveries are at odds with Christian views of sin, vice, weakness of will, or the magical transmission of moral guilt across centuries from Adam and Eve on to their remote descendants.” One wonders what would happen if McCormick came across Christians that have no problem with the idea of evolution. Perhaps it is not Christians that have the problem with literalism but rather atheists?

I also agree at loc. 334 that a miracle is not just a fortuitous event, though I think describing it as a violation of the laws of nature is problematic, and I will have more on that when we discuss miracles later on. I do think sometimes it can be a fortuitous event. Let’s suppose the Red Sea parting happened and it was due to a wind and that this does happen from time to time as is claimed. The miracle then is not that it happened, but that it happened when it happened.

Of course, McCormick is right throughout that we must take the evidence seriously and that we shouldn’t believe just because we like the outcomes of Christian belief or it makes us good people. The question will be, does McCormick have a case? As we will see, he does not.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Part 2 can be found here.

Part 3 can be found here.

Part 4 can be found here.

Part 5 can be found here.

Book Plunge: Unmasking the Jesus Myth

What do I think of Stephen Bedard’s book on Jesus mythicism? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I want to thank Stephen Bedard for sending me his latest book on this topic. Bedard is one Christian who still wants to give time to Jesus mythicism and addressing it. I do as well, but it is becoming less common mainly because when we meet anyone who is a mythicist, we tend to see them as beyond reasonable discussion. The rules of historiography are changed to allow for this.

Bedard has put together a small book that you could read in a couple of hours on the topic so you can be familiar with it. He has put some of the most important information in there such as stories of the pagan gods that Jesus is said to be a copy of. He also points out that this is not a scholarly debate at all. Instead, it is a debate that is largely taking place on the internet. If you meet someone who says academics in the field don’t even know if Jesus existed, you have met someone who doesn’t know what they’re talking about.

Of course, at this, someone is going to say “Richard Carrier!” Yes. Bedard talks about him as well and Robert Price as lone exceptions to the rule of scholars in the field. Note that these are exceptions. They also do not teach at accredited universities. There’s a reason for that. Mythicism is just not taken seriously.

Still, since Carrier is mentioned, I do wish Bedard had spent more time talking about Carrier’s hypothesis about Jesus being a cosmic being who was supposedly crucified in outer space and that the accounts eventually became historicized. The dying and rising gods idea is still out there and still needs to be addressed, but this is an approach that a lot of people are not familiar with and can lead to some people being caught off guard.

In fact, this is the real ultimate problem with mythicism. It is not that the arguments are so powerful. It’s that they’re so bizarre. Many would have a hard time answering them for the same reason they’d have a hard time answering objections to the idea that we really landed on the moon. Moon landing conspiracy theorists have outlandish claims that a man on the street will not be familiar with and even if you read scholarly literature you will not be familiar with. Mythicists tend to take this strange ideas and run with them thinking they’re gold. When you listen to a mythicist talk, you will often hear unaccepted claim after unaccepted claim in a sort of shotgun approach. (I was there when Craig Evans debated Richard Carrier. I saw Carrier doing just this.)

Still, Bedard’s book is a good summary of the situation. If you have read extensively on this topic, you won’t really find anything new here, but if you aren’t familiar with it, then Bedard’s book can be a really good place to begin. While it is short, it is indeed filled with important information to help you counter the claims of mythicists.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

A Tribute To Steve

What difference can a life make? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Some of you might have wondered where Deeper Waters has been. I did not do the podcasts these past two weeks due to emergencies that came up and took a break from the blog. On Monday, we received word that our friend Steve who we knew had terminal cancer was on his last legs. We had planned to go back to Knoxville on Thursday, but we went Monday instead. We got back just last Saturday, the longest we’d been away from our home like that.

Let me tell you a bit about Steve first. I met him and his wife Mickey at our church in Knoxville, The Point. We were part of a couples group and in came this couple I’d never seen. This small blond woman and this big guy who looked like a barroom bouncer covered in tattoos.

Okay. This is new.

Now I grew up in a culture where this didn’t fit with me, but I have learned to unthink some things and so I decided to have an open mind. We slowly got to know this couple. At one point, they said they like politics, but they don’t talk about it because it becomes such a heated subject then. I figured “Well we’re in the South and most of us are conservative, so these must be some liberals.”

And as time went on, I found out I was wrong. These two were just as conservative as I am. They are great Reagan conservatives. We formed a good friendship with them. They even came to our house. Steve told us about his story growing up and when Mickey and Allie did some cooking together, we put our time to more beneficial matters.

That’s right. We watched Smallville together!

Some time later, we learned that Steve had stage 4 esophagus cancer. Now I have to tell you Steve is quite likely the toughest guy I know. I was sure if anyone could beat cancer, it would be Steve. We would see him go to the hospital going in and out of chemo. They would try to bring cats for him as well because this big tough guy had a kitten fetish. Even if it was a stuffed kitten, he loved it.

Steve was also a selfless guy. Allie had been going through a hard time before we knew how bad Steve was this month and she called to talk to Mickey and Steve even with his cancer was just asking “Is Allie okay?” She was amazed that he was still focused on helping her with her by comparison small problems. That’s Steve for you.

When we went back a couple of weeks ago, the big tough guy I knew was unrecognizable. I don’t know if he heard anything that I said to him. It was like there was just a shell there at this point and we spent our time with Mickey offering her our comfort and support. At times I would go out to the car alone such as when I had to deliver some clothes to the church for her and just cry a bit on my own before I drove on.

In fact, Mickey wanted to see if Steve’s shoes he’d got would fit me. They didn’t, but honestly, I was kind of relieved they didn’t. I did not think that I was at all worthy to wear Steve’s shoes. I still do not.

In Knoxville, we waited. We knew the time would be soon, and it put us in an odd situation. You see, you always hope that a miracle will take place, while still knowing that the person is in great pain and maybe the best thing to do is to just let it all come to a close.

On August 12th, it did.

We were some of the first to receive the call early in the morning. I was saddened, but at the same time relieved that the battle was over. Still, there was a sense about it that it was unreal. There was a part of me that was always wanting to say “Surely the story is not supposed to be like this.”

C.S. Lewis has written that in the face of evil, it’s not the case that the great fear is that God does not exist. It is the great fear that God exists and you are about to see what He is really like. Why Steve of all people? Why? As I told my pastor that week, there are times I hate being in ministry. Especially since I have to go out and still defend the goodness of God. Don’t take me wrong. I definitely believe that God is good, but sometimes the emotions can seem to overtake the reason.

At the funeral, I was one who came up to speak in the sharing section sharing briefly some things that I’ve shared here. I sat down and from time to time I’d lose it a bit when I saw a picture and had to pull myself together. I remember at one point during a meal time that I went into the room where the body had been and saw nothing there.

It was then that I practically could imagine in my mind a sort of battle taking place. As if I wanted to take on death itself saying that it had come for the wrong person. Is it ridiculous to think one could fight death like that? Yes, but I think we can all understand where I’m coming from with that.

I was also an honorary pallbearer and so I was at the graveside service. Even there, I had to hold things in. I was thankful for the bishop who spoke there in mentioning the resurrection. That is the fact that changes everything. It is a fact also all too often not mentioned at funerals. We talk about Heaven, but we don’t talk about the resurrection. Guess which one Paul talked about the most.

There is an emptiness here always. We still keep in touch with Mickey and plan to do so always. Mickey is still a great encouragement to my wife, but I think the greatest honor we could give Steve would be to live our lives accordingly in honor of the Christ He loves. I’m also often trying to speak of Steve not in past tense but in present tense, because it’s not as if Steve no longer exists. He exists in a different way now. He and Mickey may be separated now, but it is a temporal separation.

If you would like to see Steve and sign his guestbook, for the time being you can go here. On the show, I had meant to do a call for donations if that came up. Since I was not able to do the show, I would ask per request of Mickey that if anyone wanted to send something to help, they would prefer to have something done in Steve’s name for the Disabled Veterans of America.

Steve. We miss you greatly. Even as I write this, there is a great sadness. I hope my life is lived in such a way to honor the Christ you always seek to honor.

(For all interested, my wife Allie’s blog on Steve can be found here.)

In Christ,
Nick Peters

What Is Not The Gospel

Do we make secondary issues the Gospel? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Recently, I wrote about the topic of “What is the Gospel?” At this point, I think it’s important to answer what it is not. Now when I say the Gospel is not X, that does not mean that X is unimportant. X could be an issue worth studying on its own. It could even be something that is true. What I am saying is that we don’t want to marry it to the Gospel where that if X is not true, then we have no Christianity. So what are some things that the Gospel is not?

First, the Gospel is not inerrancy. Again, this does not mean that that is false, but it does mean that an error in the Bible does not mean we pack it all up and go home because Jesus did not rise from the dead. As I have said before, imagine going up to a skeptic. Their argument that Jesus didn’t rise? The Bible has errors in it. (This does happen. Someone like David McAfee in his book Disproving Christianity, which I have dealt with, argues against Christianity not by even touching the resurrection but by listing Bible contradictions.)

Suppose you respond to this person who has given you a web site of 101 Bible errors by going off and researching all of those errors and proving to your opponent’s satisfaction even that they are not errors. Will he convert? No. He’ll just go get another list of 101 errors. You will in turn be playing “Stump the Bible Scholar” over and over. In fact, you will STILL have to prove the resurrection lest he say that treating the resurrection as a fact is an error.

There are also plenty of devout Christians who do not believe in inerrancy. I disagree with them, but I don’t doubt their sincere love for Jesus. Of course, I am not opposed to Biblical reliability or anything like that, but the Bible is not an all-or-nothing game.

Creation is also not the Gospel. This is a big one in that we often think that unless the world was created in six literal days a few thousand years ago, then Christianity is false. Not for a moment. Someone still has to answer the question “What do you do with Jesus?” We all still have to explain the historical data surrounding Jesus.

Creation is a big one because so many ministries make their focus on creation. It’s as if if evolution were proven to be true, we would all be doomed. How would evolution show Jesus didn’t rise from the dead? The historical evidence is still right there. It still has to be explained somehow.

By the way, I mention young-earth creationism specifically because that’s usually the one this gets married to, but I would say the same if you married Christianity to old-earth creationism or to theistic evolution. Again, I am not saying don’t care about your view of creation or that it doesn’t matter. I’m just saying it’s not an essential.

Calvinism or Arminianism is not the Gospel. For the former, you can actually see a lot of Calvinists out there saying “Calvinism is the Gospel.” Well what does that mean for those of us who aren’t Calvinists? We don’t believe the Gospel then? Are we just second-rate Christians? What exactly?

Calvinism might explain how a person comes to believe, but how does that explain what happened to Jesus? It doesn’t. A Calvinist and an Arminian could use the exact same arguments for the resurrection of Jesus. Of course, I have many friends who are devout Calvinists and I have no wish to dissuade them from that, but I just caution them to please not marry it to the Gospel. Calvinists usually are the main ones doing this, but I’d say the same to Arminians and in fact to Molinists as well.

Eschatology is not the Gospel. Eschatology does have some tie-ins obviously with the resurrection, which is an eschatological event, but your view on eschatology is not the Gospel. This is probably the biggest one for me on the list because I am a staunch defender of orthodox Preterism. If I was shown to be wrong, I would have a hard time explaining a lot of passages, but my view of Jesus would still stand as far as the resurrection is concerned.

One exception I could make to this is the view that everything happened in 70 A.D. This position is problematic to me because I think in the end, it has to deny the bodily resurrection of Jesus. Our future resurrection is said to be like His bodily resurrection. If our resurrection is not bodily, then neither was His, and that’s a big problem. That means Jesus did not really conquer death. Note then the one exception I have is an exception because of what it says about the resurrection.

As far as I’m concerned, these are the biggest kinds of issues often concerned with what the Gospel is. When I meet someone and I want to know if they’re a follower of Jesus, I ask them about their view of Him. I look for what they think about Him. If they accept His deity, bodily resurrection, and His being the second person of the Trinity, I normally have no problem whatsoever. Now could some of them have a false view of how they are saved? Yes. Some Protestants for instance can have a works view of salvation. I don’t think that disqualifies them. They can be saved in their ignorance. It’s also why I’m not ready to cast out my Catholic or Orthodox brothers and sisters.

When it comes to defending Christianity and the Gospel then, the #1 thing to defend is Jesus rising from the dead. If that’s false, then let’s pack it up and go home. If it’s true, then we will find an answer for the secondary issues somewhere along the way and even if we don’t, we still have Christianity.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

Deeper Waters Podcast 8/6/2016: Larry Hurtado

What’s coming up this Saturday? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

All religion is pretty much the same. Right? There was a smorgasbord of religious beliefs in the first century and Christianity wasn’t any different. Right? Don’t people convert for many reasons and Christianity was another choice? Wouldn’t people have been just fine with you being a Christian as they were any other system?

My guest this week is Dr. Larry Hurtado. He is the author of the book Destroyer of the Gods. While it is not out yet, I have got to read an advance copy and it is excellent. Hurtado shows that Christianity was radically different from the religious system of Rome but replaced it so much that today we treat Christianity as the norm.

So who is Larry Hurtado?

Hurtado high res

According to his bio:

Larry W. Hurtado is Emeritus Professor of New Testament Language, Literature & Theology in the University of Edinburgh.  He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, and a former President of the British New Testament Society.  Author of ten books and over 100 articles in journals, multi-author and reference works, his research has ranged broadly on issues in New Testament textual criticism, physical/visual features of early Christian manuscripts, the Gospel of Mark, early Christian worship, and the origins and early development of devotion to Jesus.  Born and educated in the USA, he taught previously in Regent College (Vancouver) and the University of Manitoba (Winnipeg).  He lives in Edinburgh and is married to Dr. Shannon Hunter Hurtado (art historian).

We’ll be discussing what it was that made Christianity unique. What were the social stigmas involved with being a Christian? Why did they matter so much? Why was it Christianity was seen as unique for denying the gods when Jews did the exact same thing?

We will also get more basic and discuss questions like what was religion in the ancient world? What was its relation to the state? Was there really any such thing as separation of church and state? Was there such a thing as a divide between one’s private life and one’s personal life?

If one became a Christian after having been a Gentile, how would their life be different? How would their social interactions be different? What risks were they taking? Would they lose their honor and reputation? Their jobs? Friends and family? Maybe even their own lives?

And what about books? What was it about Christianity that made it a religion of the book as opposed to most other systems out there except for perhaps Judaism. How did Christianity shape the world so that today the modern book is a concept that might not have been otherwise?

Be watching for these kinds of questions on this Saturday’s show. This is an exciting book to read and one that I hope gathers more attention in the scholarly world. I’m honored to get to have Dr. Hurtado on my show to talk about it and I hope you’ll be listening and please consider going on ITunes to leave a positive review of the show.

In Christ,
Nick Peters