Archive for March, 2014
Not the Intended Use

I am committed to the inerrancy of Scripture. The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy states that, “Holy Scripture, being God’s own Word, written by men prepared and superintended by His Spirit, is of infallible divine authority in all matters upon which it touches.” In the affirmation and denial section, article 12, it further states:

WE AFFIRM that Scripture in its entirety is inerrant, being free from all falsehood, fraud, or deceit.

WE DENY that Biblical infallibility and inerrancy are limited to spiritual, religious, or redemptive themes, exclusive of assertions in the fields of history and science. We further deny that scientific hypotheses about earth history may properly be used to overturn the teaching of Scripture on creation and the flood.

The question is whether the Bible touches upon a certain subject. Does scripture touch upon chemistry? Does it touch upon processed foods? There are many questions that we want answered and so we go to the Bible in search of answers. It is commendable to look for answers in scripture, but that can also be a dangerous approach. We need to take steps that we not read into a passage what was never its intent.

Every generation has battles that it needs to fight. Every generation has its own characteristic biases and predispositions that it needs to guard against. Each generation stands on the shoulders of those who have gone before them. But each generation also has the responsibility to examine afresh the teachings of scripture on their own terms to see where the previous generation may have mistakenly read their culture back into the text. Let’s consider a few examples.

Rabbits “Chew their Cud”

In Leviticus 11:6 we read, “And the hare, because it chews the cud but does not part the hoof, is unclean to you.” But critics of the Bible have tried to find an error here since rabbits do not chew their cud. An animal that chews its cud usually has four stomachs. They will eat their food and swallow it into one of their stomachs where it will be partially digested. They will then regurgitate that food, chew it again and swallow it again into a different stomach for further digestion.

Simply put, rabbits don’t do this. So is the Bible in error? No. These critics have taken our modern concept of chewing the cud and cast it back into scripture to try to find an error. The rabbit, does partially digest its food and then eat it again to complete the digestion process. The difference is that the rabbit will pass its food completely through and then eat it again instead of regurgitating it. These animals that redigested their food were considered unclean. These critics err by reading our modern definition back into a 14th century BC Semitic text.

Snakes “Eating Dust”

Another area that critics have attacked in the past is Genesis 3:14 which says:

The LORD God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, cursed are you above all livestock and above all beasts of the field; on your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life.

They laugh at how little these primitive people understood. Snakes don’t eat dust. They flick out their tongue as a way to “smell” the air. To the critics this is just another example of how you can’t take the Bible seriously because it is full of mistakes.

Snakes do crawl on their bellies, but they do not actually eat dust. However, the image of both of those is one of defeat and subjugation. For instance:

Psalm 72:9 May desert tribes bow down before him, and his enemies lick the dust!

Isaiah 49:23 Kings shall be your foster fathers, and their queens your nursing mothers. With their faces to the ground they shall bow down to you, and lick the dust of your feet. Then you will know that I am the LORD; those who wait for me shall not be put to shame.”

These critics are forcing the Bible to answer questions of anatomy and diet which it was not addressing. The point is that God is going to defeat the serpent. He will be subjected before the Lord God almighty!

The Smallest of all Seeds

In Matthew 13:31-32 we read:

[31] He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. [32] It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.”

Once again, critics attack the Bible’s trustworthiness. They point out that the orchid seed is smaller, so Jesus made a mistake. They desire Jesus to speak on the subject of botany so that if he slips up they can condemn him.

But Jesus was not speaking about botany. They are forcing the passage to answer a question that it was never designed to answer. It was commonplace for Jews to discuss something’s size in comparison to the mustard seed. As such it acted as an idiom of sorts. When we say “older than dirt” we aren’t making a genuine estimate of age. When we say “the sharpest tool in the shed” we are speaking of intelligence, not a blade’s edge. “Slower than molasses in January” draws a comparison without intending a literal measurement of velocity.

For most of these we can easily see that the critics have missed the point of the passage. We can easily see that they are forcing it to answer questions of diet or geography or botany which were never part of the intent of the passage. But at other times, because we are so caught up in a cultural war, we unwittingly follow the critics in their assumptions. The following are a couple of examples.

A Flat Earth

In Matthew 4:8 we read, “Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory.” Again the critics point out that it doesn’t matter how high the mountain is, the earth is a globe and you can’t see the other side of it. So the Bible is mistaken because Jesus couldn’t see “all the kingdoms of the earth.”

But once again, they take our 21st century concept of “world” and read it back into the text. We live in the age of space exploration. We are familiar with NASA images of the Earth along with many other celestial bodies. The problem is that this passage is not about geography or astronomy or the shape of the earth in general. “World” (kosmos) had many different definitions in Greek. These critics want the Bible to teach on the shape of the earth so they can discredit it, but that is not what the passage is about.

They add to their critical repertoire by citing passages like Isaiah 11:12 in support of a square earth:

He will raise a signal for the nations and will assemble the banished of Israel, and gather the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth.

Yet Isaiah is speaking of the four points of the compass, not of the shape of the planet.

But some Christians have tried to defend a flat earth. They are eager to fight against the attacks of the unbelievers so they commit themselves to defending what they shouldn’t be defending – a bad interpretation. Thankfully not many Christians have done this (although there still exists a flat earth society). While most Christians have not tried to defend a flat earth, many have taken the same approach in trying to defend a spherical earth. They cite passages like Isaiah 40:22 to support the globe interpretation.

[22] It is he who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers; who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them like a tent to dwell in;

But this is no more about the shape of the earth being a circle than the four corners passage. In our zeal to defend we have unwittingly capitulated to the skeptics approach.

Geocentrism

Perhaps most famously, the Bible started being attacked for teaching geocentrism. Faithful believers again took the bait. They accepted the approach of unbelievers (and some believers of course) that the Bible taught about astronomy and then lined up on the opposite side.

At that time Joshua spoke to the LORD in the day when the LORD gave the Amorites over to the sons of Israel, and he said in the sight of Israel, “Sun, stand still at Gibeon, and moon, in the Valley of Aijalon.” [13] And the sun stood still, and the moon stopped, until the nation took vengeance on their enemies. Is this not written in the Book of Jashar? The sun stopped in the midst of heaven and did not hurry to set for about a whole day. [14] There has been no day like it before or since, when the LORD heeded the voice of a man, for the LORD fought for Israel. (Joshua 10:12-14 ESV)

Many believers, committed to the inerrancy of the Bible accepted the premise that this passage spoke about the motions of the heavens. Once that is accepted, they have to defend geocentrism.

Dr. Faulkners has admirably addressed this issue saying:

It is also important not to base doctrines upon any passage that at best only remotely addresses an issue. That is, if cosmology is clearly not the point of a passage, then extracting a cosmological meaning can be very dangerous.

It is better to understand what the text is about and then see if it is appropriate to ask secondary questions. Dr. Faulkner’s words are part of his critique of geocentrism, which is one of the best responses I have read.

What Did God Intend?

Leviticus talked about chewing cud, Genesis talked about eating dust, Jesus talked about the smallest seed, Isaiah spoke of the four corners, and Joshua talked about the sun standing still. Even though all of that verbiage was used, each of those passages was not about astronomy, botany, etc. They were pressed into service to answer a question that was not their design. I think we have fallen prey to the same kind of thinking in Genesis 1.

Darwin was highly influential. He help unbelievers to become “intellectually justified atheists.” His work was well employed by critics during the age of modernism and into the present to discredit the Bible. “Time” became a kind of genie in a bottle for them. Answers in Genesis has pointed out that it is absurd to think that a frog can become a prince when kissed, but for some reason it becomes reasonable if you add millions of years. I don’t think the science of evolution works.

However, many Christians, with a desire to defend the Bible, saw “time” as the answer. They pressed the genealogies and the days of creation into service to arrive at a date of creation. With that in hand, evolution’s genie in a bottle was gone. But I don’t think that this was the intent of either the genealogies or the days of Genesis. They were never intended to give us an age of the universe.

Joshua is not about cosmology. Genesis is not about the date of creation. Yes, Genesis does use the words evening morning, day and night. But Joshua also uses the terms for sun and moon and it says that they stopped and then later set. Since Joshua was not intending to give a cosmology, then forcing it to answer that question is misguided. Since Genesis was not intending to give a date or duration, then forcing it to answer that question is misguided.

I’m sure some will disagree with me on that mark and insist that it did intend to give us a duration. Why did Moses tell us it was day one and then day two all the way to day seven if he didn’t intend to tell us how long it took? I would turn the question around and ask, “Why does Joshua say that the sun stopped and that later it hurried to set if he didn’t want to tell us about the motions of the heavens?” But my answer is not merely negative, I just want people to realize that even though the text uses actual words like day and night, sun and moon, these texts may have a different aim than whatever question we want answered.

“Speak!” Say the astronomers to Joshua 10. “Tell me whether heliocentrism or geocentrism is true.” But the text is silent. It refuses to answer. God demands we pay attention to what he wants to say in the text. But we keep insisting that God talk about the things we want to know. But it doesn’t work that way. “Speak!” says the 21st century clock-oriented westerner to Genesis 1. “Tell me whether the days were long or short.” But the text is silent, it refuses to speak.

Utmost in our minds needs to be understanding what God wanted to say in a passage.

Time Tensions Part 5

There are Time Tensions with Science

This is the last “time tensions” post I will do before moving on to discuss more positively the Analogical Day View. I saved this for last because I consider it almost irrelevant to my position. The Analogical Day View does not hing on science, it is based on the text of scripture. However, we shouldn’t ignore what God has revealed in nature either.

This is a vast subject. Thousands of books have been written on the subject and I have only read a fraction of them (however there can be a lot of overlap from one book to the next). The science will range from that which is intuitive and straightforward to highly technical. Some measurements are highly variable and are therefore unreliable. For instance, measuring the amount of silt deposited in a river delta. In theory if a river deposits X tons per year, then we can measure the total tons of deposits and then get the total number of years. However, the amount of silt the river carries may vary from year to year. Maybe for the first thousand years it was just a tiny creek which carried almost nothing. But then again maybe it was huge and flooded regularly depositing massive amounts. There are other ways that we can discern certain aspects of its history, but the point is that this is so variable that it is not a reliable guide.

Most measurements that are used, however, are not that way. Scientists try to use measuring tools that have little to no discernable variation in them. The speed of light is a good example. As far as we know, the speed of light does not change (yes I have read Barry Setterfield’s work, and yes I am familiar with passing light through highly refractive medium, no I don’t find them convincing or relevant).

Radiomentric dating is another method that yields vast ages. Some elements show striking variations in decay rates (which would severely mess it up as a clock) such as dysprosium and rhenium. But these are not the ones used to date things (I am also aware of the RATE study). Many other elements show very little variation and therefore serve as good measuring devices. Initial amounts of daughter isotopes can sometimes be eliminated as a factor by using isochron dating. On the whole I consider this to be a reliable dating method.

There are many more methods for measuring the age of the earth. Many of these are completely independant of one another. Yet they all correlate to give dates well beyond what most young earth creationists are willing to concede. One may quibble with some of these measurements, but for the most part I consider them to represent good science, and trying to discredit all of them starts to look like desperation.

It is like measuring your table with a wooden ruler. That has some problems, because how do you know you placed the start of the ruler exactly at the same spot as the end of the ruler from your previous measurement? Then you measure the table with a tape measure. This also has problems because metal can expand and contract with temperature. Then you measure it by rolling a 2” diameter cylinder with a paint stripe across the table and counting how many times the stripe comes up. And so on. Each of these may have some problems, but they all seem to give an answer that more or less agrees with the others at around 8’ or 96 inches. Suppose further that someone says they think the table is only .00005” long (that is about the size of a virus). That is the level of error that has to be in each of these measurements to yield a date similar to what YEC proponents would accept.

I was not one who was ready to accept the vast ages. I read through a lot of material trying to debunk the ages. But there was no way I could credibly deny the validity of all of the measurements, and I certainly could not prove that they were off by a factor of a million. There are a number of unresolved problems with the standard paradigm. However, most of these problems still represent ages far beyond the 6-10,000 year timeframe.

The maturity view takes the position that God created the universe mature which means that it has the appearance of age.  Adam was created as an adult, so he looks old even though he was just created. I find no objections to this view as far as it goes. But problems arise when we consider things that are not necessary to maturity. Adam was created mature, that is fine. But if Adam’s skins had scars which indicated a healed cut, or knits in his tibia which indicated a healed fracture, then we have a problem. These things indicate a history that never happened. The same is true in the universe. Just to take one example, supernova are stars that have exploded (click the above image for reference). If we see a supernova of a star too far for its light to reach us in 10,000 years, then we have just seen a video of something that never happened.

Since the Analogical Day view does not take an official position on the date of creation, then it has no fight either with those who say it is old, or those who say it is young. Although personally I think an old earth is easier to defend.

But science can never determine your interpretation. The Bible is a written text. The law of gravity has no effect on the meaning of a passage. Genre, grammar, lexical analysis, historical and cultural context, comparative literary analysis, structure of the text, mood, all of these determine meaning – not science.

So why bring it up? Because people err. Maybe we missed that our text is arranged in a chiastic structure. Maybe we missed that our passage is in an abecedarian structure (easy to miss if we are not reading it in the original languages). Maybe we are unaware the the semantic domain of a certain word. All these and more can lead to a wrong interpretation. If our interpretation is incorrect, then it may conflict with other parts of the Bible, or with our experience in nature. These conflicts are red flags. Red flags to not solve the problems, they only highlight that there are problems. It gives us pause to consider if we may have missed something in our interpretation.

Time Tensions – Part 4

Tsamach – “grow” (Gen 2:5, 9)

Chapter 2 is describing the 6th day of creation. One of the textual indicators that this day is longer than 24 hrs is the kind of things that are here described. Verse 5 is in the perfect which, at the beginning of a pericope, typically indicates background material. In that verse we are told that the circumstance before the creation of man were that there were no plants for the Lord had not cause it to rain.

When no bush of the field was yet in the land and no small plant of the field had yet sprung up—for the Lord God had not caused it to rain on the land, and there was no man to work the ground, (Genesis 2:5, ESV)

The conditions were described by way of negation, nothing had grown for there was not yet rain. Later, in verse 8-9, we read that God planted a garden.

And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed. 8And out of the ground the Lord God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. (Genesis 2:8-9, ESV)

For a tree or other plant to grow would be more than a day. There are terms like `alah and Gadal and Hayah which are broad in their uses and were used to describe the growth of the plant for Jonah in a day. However, even those when used of plants normally describe a normal growth. Yet, the word for “spring up” in both verse 5 and 9 is the Hebrew word tsamach which simply means “grow.” When we look at other places that we see this verse, it is clear that this is a normal growing process.
Gen 3:18 “Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you; And you will eat the plants of the field ;
Ex 10:15 They shall cover the surface of the land, so that no one will be able to see the land. They will also eat the rest of what has escaped -what is left to you from the hail -and they will eat every tree which sprouts for you out of the field.
Lev 13:37 “If in his sight the scale has remained, however, and black hair has grown in it, the scale has healed, he is clean ; and the priest shall pronounce him clean.
Deut 29:23 ‘All its land is brimstone and salt, a burning waste, unsown and unproductive , and no grass grows in it, like the overthrow of Sodom and Gomorrah, Admah and Zeboiim, which the LORD overthrew in His anger and in His wrath.’
Jud 16:22 However, the hair of his head began to grow again after it was shaved off.
2 samuel 10:5 When it was told David, he sent to meet them, for the men were greatly ashamed. And the king said, “Remain at Jericho until your beards have grown and then return.”
Job 38:27 To satisfy the waste and desolate land And to make the seeds of grass to sprout ?
Ps 104:14 He causes the grass to grow for the cattle, And vegetation for the labor of man, So that he may bring forth food from the earth,
Ps 147:8 Who covers the heavens with clouds, Who provides rain for the earth, Who makes grass to grow on the mountains.
Ecc 2:6 I made ponds of water for myself from which to irrigate a forest of growing trees.
Isa 44:4 And they will spring up among the grass Like poplars by streams of water.’
Isa 55:10 “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, And do not return there without watering the earth And making it bear and sprout, And furnishing seed to the sower and bread to the eater
Isa 61:11 For as the earth brings forth its sprouts, And as a garden causes the things sown in it to spring up, So the Lord GOD will cause righteousness and praise To spring up before all the nations.
Eze 16:7 “I made you numerous like plants of the field. Then you grew up, became tall and reached the age for fine ornaments ; your breasts were formed and your hair had grown. Yet you were naked and bare.
Eze 17:6 Then it sprouted and became a low, spreading vine with its branches turned toward him, but its roots remained under it. So it became a vine and yielded shoots and sent out branches.

Whether it is used of the growth of grass, or trees, or hair, or even of humans (as a metaphor for national growth) it always has a normal growing process in mind. For God to plant, water, and grow these plants and trees would take far longer than 24 hrs. This is the normal, straightforward reading of the text. In order to make this work for a 24 hr period, one has to posit a superfast growth like one can see in time-lapse videos that cover weeks, months, or years. In order to make the 24 hr day view work, one has to ditch the standard definition of tsamach.

This is just how we harmonize a passage. We assume that God wrote in a coherent way. The normal definition of day would be 12-24 hrs. The normal definition of grow (especially for trees) takes much longer than 24 hrs.

Time Tensions – Part 3

The Sixth Day - General Activities

On the sixth day, God created animals. We are not told how that happened whether slow or fast. Presumably it was fast (possibly immediate). God also created man. If there is anything to the order from chapter one, then man was created after the animals. We are told more about the creation of man. Specifically, God formed him from the dust of the ground. The term “formed” comes from the Hebrew Yatsar which is used of potters and of forming in 1 Chron 4:23 and Isa 29:16. It is used of the making of an idol in Isa 44:9-10. This would normally communicate a process of a certain amount of time. Certainly God could have done it quicker, but he could also have inspired different words that did not indicate a process. The most reasonable interpretation is that the creation of man did take some time. Once man has been formed, God breathes life into him, plants a garden, and places man into the garden giving his the command to “work it and keep it.” It is possible that Adam did not obey but simply waited for God to give him a different task. However, it seems more reasonable to believe that Adam actually obeyed and worked the garden. Depending on one’s garden, this is a task that will require several hours a day for many days. That need not be the view however, since it seems that the context is one “day.” Still there would be some passage of time in this activity (hours?).

The next task that God gave to man was to name the animals. In Genesis 1 were are told that God created the plants and the animals according to their “kinds.” The word “kind” translates the Hebrew term Miyn. It is hard to know just how broad the categorization of “kind” was. In Leviticus 11, God is giving directions on what animals Israel was to consider as clear or unclean.

“And these you shall detest among the birds; they shall not be eaten; they are detestable: the eagle, the bearded vulture, the black vulture, 14 the kite, the falcon of any kind, 15 every raven of any kind,16 the ostrich, the nighthawk, the sea gull, the hawk of any kind, 17 the little owl, the cormorant, the short-eared owl, 18 the barn owl, the tawny owl, the carrion vulture, 19 the stork, the heron of any kind, the hoopoe, and the bat.

20 “All winged insects that go on all fours are detestable to you. 21 Yet among the winged insects that go on all fours you may eat those that have jointed legs above their feet, with which to hop on the ground. 22 Of them you may eat: the locust of any kind, the bald locust of any kind, the cricket of any kind, and the grasshopper of any kind. (Leviticus 11:13-22, ESV)

Looking at this list which uses Miyn to refer to these animal’s “kind” we can see at some level how broadly Israel understood the term Miyn or kind. Verse 17 lists 4 kinds of owls. We could look for other classifications, but it seems that the term “kind” roughly corresponds to what we would understand as species. We ought not read our taxonomy back into the text, but there is a rough correspondence between our classification level “species” and their classification level “kinds.”

We have approximately 10,000 species of birds in the world. Mammals hover around 5500 species. If we include all animal species, we are looking at 8.7 million species, but given that Genesis only mentions what appear to be birds and mammals, our number would be closer to 15,000 species. In a 24 hour period, Adam would have to name more than 10 species every minute. It is unlikely that Adam was trying to identify animals in the dead of night, so his available time is closer to 12 hrs. This makes for 20 “kinds” every minute.

After Adam is done naming the animals and it is clear that there is no one for him, God puts Adam into a deep sleep. God certainly could have done this with Adam while he was awake with no pain, but God chose to put him to sleep.

So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. 22 And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. 23 Then the man said, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” (Genesis 2:21-23, ESV)

These are a lot of activities to squeeze into one day. It strains credibility to suggest these were accomplished in one day. Some suggest that before the fall Adam had superhuman abilities. But that is nowhere to be found into the text. It is something that has to be added in order to make it work.